6 hours after posting the entry “Progressing“, Alora Grace Bennett was born.
What a rush.
Let’s see if I can recap the “birth story” for everyone, and for posterity.
Just after my post (12:45pm), Heather sat down to notify her office and set auto-replies on email. She had contractions, but it seemed they were spread out enough that we had some time. I expected that it would be several hours (if not the next day) before we had anything exciting to tend to. My goal was to remain calm and to clear the deck of errands so we both could sit together to relax and have a movie-filled rest of our day. Some quality time and calm before the storm.
While Heather was taking care of business, I took to errands. The carseat base was anchored. We had some lunch (pel meni). I started a couple of whole chickens baking in the oven (with some recipe coaching from Sharon). I may have even done some dishes. My camera bag was packed since Penny (our photographer) wouldn’t be back from a trip in time for our family adventures. Who’d expect for a first baby to arrive 10 days early?
Heather was still on the computer, so I decided to distract myself and run a quick errand to pick up our veggie box & mail. On the way back, I walked through Super Bear to grab a newspaper and a couple other items.
Getting back home around 1:30, Heather was finalizing the birth center bag of stuff. She handed off her phone for me to hit the start/stop button on the contraction timer. She had been regularly forgetting to stop the timer after each contraction. Each labor pain stole her attention and while it faded she’d just start back to packing the bag and forget to stop the timer.
Over the next few minutes, I realized it was essentially “Go” time. Strong contractions, 1-2 minutes long, 3-6 minute durations. Wow, I guess we’re not waiting ‘till tomorrow!
I went into uber-efficient mode; my goal was to get the bag finished so we could get out the door. Of course, packing went slowly – at least in my mind. In my eyes, nothing was imperative; I could skip brushing my teeth for a day, and I certainly didn’t need a second pair of pants. But Heather wanted to slowly walk through the recommended list. Between each contraction, I would grab the next item. Socks. Belly bands. Toiletries. Plastic champagne flutes (yes, really). Birth gowns. Diapers. Wipes. Carseat. Frozen lasagna and mixed berries into the cooler.
Between the packing of items into the car, and standing calmly with Heather as she bore through another strong contraction, I left a message for Shayna (our Doula) and spoke with Kaye (our Midwife) to let her know of the progress. Her prognosis, “C’mon in!”.
I grabbed the handsfree headset and jammed it into my phone and finished loading the bags in the car. On the drive, I called folks (Mom, the Wildes, & Penny) to let them know that we’d be at the Birth Center momentarily.
Upon getting to the Birth Center, Merri-Grace (the student midwife) showed us to the room we’d be in and slipped away. It was our second pick of the three, but someone else was in the first trying to get their labor going. Heather was still contracting heavily, so as soon as we made it to the room, I dropped the coats & bag, and Heather immediately asked for a yoga ball to find a comfortable position.
From that point forward, I recall every minute. In hindsight though, my recollection feels hazy. I think it’s because we settled into a relaxed flow of what labor required of us. Heather was an expert at relaxing her brain and allowing everything to unfold. She took suggestions gracefully and gave her own
directions clearly. Pretty close to our arrival we switched into Heather’s birthing gown and my trunks and hopped in the tub.
As a husband, initially I was surprised how little I needed to do. I basically held Heather’s hand or was simply calm to help her manage her pain. As she entered a contraction, she would periodically squeeze my hand and I quickly learned that she preferred that I not squeeze back, nor reach out to gently touch her elsewhere. I would offer up my 2nd hand but most often she would just close her eyes and moan through the discomfort.
Shayna arrived soon after we were in the water and I was immediately thankful to have her on team. As she entered, she dimmed the light and quieted the drain, which somehow magically helped us to feel more relaxed and at peace. She tended to Heather expertly. I had grabbed a washcloth and wet it with cool water, but as Heather was holding my hand during and between contractions, I couldn’t reach it to wipe her head or neck. Shayna allowed me to be an emotional support to Heather while she managed the physical support of sips of water, cool cloths, and snacks. With Heather’s eyes frequently closed with contractions or relaxation, Shayna and I would make eye contact and I could sense her excitement and joy of helping, and it was nice to have someone else to share it with since Heather was a bit distracted.
There were no clocks in the room, so I didn’t really have any concept of how long things were taking. It was just a steady stream of contractions. I aimed to relax everything about myself so that there was no tension passed to Heather, including slowing my breathing rate. When Heather was coming off of a contraction, often her breathing would be rapid, so I expected providing the sound of my own slower breathing would help with relaxing. Eventually Kaye arrived to use a doppler to listen to the baby’s heart rate and make some suggestions like deeper moans or shifting positions. I recall her checking Heather and announcing that she was 8cm dilated.
At some point, Heather’s moans shifted slightly and, immediately, Kaye noticed and asked if she had felt more of an urge to push. Heather gave the affirmative and somehow labor seemed to accelerate. Perhaps contractions were cresting more rapidly, or the breaks were shorter, but I say ‘somehow’ because everything still seemed slow-motion. Perhaps it’s why people talk about time standing still in intense situations.
We attempted to adjust positions so that Heather could have gravity assist, but she was in no state to hold herself up. For a while I kneeled in the tub in front of her to hold her up, but with her and her gown being wet & slippery it was a bit of a losing proposition. Another switch. For a few minutes she rested by leaning over the edge of the pool, but Kaye encouraged us to move out of the pool onto a “birthing stool” which allowed her to keep her hips more open, but still to have support. She leaned on me, especially during contractions and just kept on keeping on.
It was a tight squeeze (ha!) in the room. Heather and I were clutching each other in the center of the room, her on the stool next to the bed, me kneeling next to her at the end of the counter. Next to me, on the floor in front of Heather, Kaye was monitoring the progress and baby’s heart rate after every contraction. From what I could tell, Madi (our 2nd Midwife) and Merri-Grace were behind Kaye. It was mostly a blur, with moments of recognizing how close I was to having my glutes cramp up. Behind Heather, Shayna provided sips of water to an exhausted momma and blew on Heather’s bare back between damp wipes of a cloth to cool her down. At one point, she offered me a stool, which was a kind gesture, but it was just too low for me to use while supporting Heather during her contractions.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in the waiting room hearing Heather work. We had several visitors waiting: my Mom and the Wildes crew (Bill, Sharon, Myrica & Paxton). I personally don’t like to hear others in pain, and to be separated from the actual experience must be harder yet. Everyone remained in good humor.
Sharon relayed a funny conversation between her & her 11yo son, Paxton. He had been visibly uneasy with hearing Heather in pain, pacing the waiting room. At one point, he asked, “When is it going to be done?” Sharon replied, explaining that it wasn’t all pain, and that Heather was using some of those sounds for power so that the baby could slowly inch down the birth canal. His humorous quip: “Dang! How long _is_ that birth canal?”
When Alora finally emerged (at 6:53:53pm, 2/26/14 – we have a photo with timestamp to prove it!), I was lucky enough to help catch with my one free hand (Heather had my other firmly in her grip for the final contraction.) After catching Alora’s head and shoulders, I recall a significant rush of the waters and blood behind her; I hadn’t expected that. The midwives were great about clearing any soiled cloths and rapidly getting Alora wrapped in clean towels. We had hoped to get the baby immediately to Heather’s chest, but the cord was short. In the awkward moments after the birth, we helped Heather off the birthing stool and on to the bed, then set Alora as high up as she could be. My mother, Dianna, was called in to come cut the cord.
We laid in bed while Kaye waited for the placenta to detach and be expelled. She then stitched up the tearing Heather endured. While her cervix was soft and everything moved smoothly throughout the labor, it turned out that Alora’s arm was up near her head in a superman pose while she was coming out. We can’t go back in time, but the suspicion is that there would have been no challenges whatsoever had both her arms been along her chest during the birth. Oh well. Battle scars, right?
Once stitches were in place, the midwives slipped out to give us time alone with our new daughter. We were both exhausted & elated. As cliche as it is, there really aren’t words for such a moment. Triumphant, spent, and in love.
The evening progressed with our visitors each spending a few minutes in the room. I think we would have liked to take our time with everyone, but all politely excused themselves recognizing the significance of what we had been through over the last several hours. Plus, there was plenty of activity with a newborn checkup, some measuring, and coaching on care. 7lbs, 1oz. 19” long. 13” head circumference. 100% perfect.
Before we could leave Kaye wanted solid latching to assure Alora would receive the necessary nutrients as we headed home. Everyone worked together, but eventually we reached a point of exhaustion and/or exasperation and we opted to go home to our own house and bed. We were outfitted with a breast pump and suggestions to establish a latch as well as plans for Shayna to come in the morning for more coaching and assistance.
Getting Heather to bed with a smoothie and water, I set Alora on her chest and got to other errands of emptying the car, putting food away, and setting up our new breast pump. We slept in staccato throughout the night, but it was worth every sleepless moment. Someone would move which would set off a chain reaction of activities. Alora would stir, which led Heather to attempt to nurse, which led to me to get up to help Heather move pillows into the proper place. By the time 8am rolled around, I was essentially delirious, but awake, and wise enough to take Alora into the next room to allow Heather to sleep.
Shayna had texted earlier and said that she would be over at 9am to check in. I sat in the living room with Alora on my chest, eyeing my own little miracle sleeping away. When Shayna arrived, I realized that I had dozed off and was still pretty tired myself. After a quick check in with both of us, Shayna set to making a breakfast wrap for Heather and I suddenly was shocked with how good real food sounded. After she brought Heather her food, she took Alora in to begin the nursing. I inhaled my breakfast and crashed on the couch. Most of the day I was somewhat zombie like. It wasn’t until the next night that I actually slept enough to recharge my batteries and function like a human.
One thing that surprised me was the physical drain I experienced. I always envisioned myself handling the sleeplessness well, but I never accounted for my own exertion to support Heather through the labor. The days following the birth, I found my muscles asking for attention while they recuperated. Part of the issue was dehydration from being in the hot tub and a warm room while holding Heather up during contractions. Lesson learned. Dads need to fuel well during labor too!
I feel like I can continue telling the story minute by minute as it continues in perpetuity, but as far as a birth story goes, I’m pretty sure I hit the highlights. It’s a wild mix of emotions to be a father. I am surprised at how natural I set to the task at hand. Calming our child, providing diaper changes, and overall intrinsically proud as I continue to meet the needs of my growing family.
Thanks for reading along,