So for those who don’t know… exactly two weeks ago, I had a BABY! Life has been a crazy whirlwind ever since. I am so incredibly thankful though for my healthy baby boy who we named Theodore William John (Theo for short)!
Because I love when others share their birth stories, I have decided to share very candidly his detailed birth story below! WARNING– IT’S LONG! Maybe as long as my 12 hour labor! lol! But enjoy if birth stories are your thing!
Also for those wondering, I am still shooting weddings and portraits this year. I return to portraits mid-April and Weddings in mid-May. I am still booking 2015 weddings and replying to emails as timely as I possibly can!
Theo’s Birth Story
Theo was born 13 days early at The Santa Barbara Birth Center with an all natural, drug free labor that was about 12 hours long. My whole pregnancy I was convinced I’d go into labor on the early side because all the petite ladies I know who’ve given birth have been 2-3 weeks early, and I hypothesized that it’s because the babies run out of room in a tiny mom’s body! So around 37 weeks I began wondering if it was go time… On Friday of the MLK Jr weekend, I truly felt I could not get much bigger and he’d arrive soon. My cousin & his girlfriend came to visit that Friday and the entire time I had light contractions… and I thought we might have to cut the night short due to me going into labor. But no such luck. When I got into bed that night the contractions faded. Saturday I felt miserable, almost like I was getting sick… kind of a nauseous and tired feeling. I slept a lot that day. In hind sight I think my body was resting up for the adventure to come. On Sunday I woke up again feeling nauseous but realized it came in waves, and at some point realized they might be contractions. But they were easy enough to ignore so I tried not to get too excited. That morning AJ made me delicious pancakes and I told him what I felt. We both hoped the baby might come that day and tried to do a variety of activities to make labor jump start. Nothing really intensified the contractions though. I decided that we should go out for dinner to Los Agaves that night in case this was our last chance to go out to a restaurant (good call me!) and I made sure to eat the habanero salsa in hopes the spiciness might further induce stronger contractions. Many people at the restaurant asked when I was due and I kept replying “any day now” and I remember thinking, “well it could be any second now, my water could break right here! Wouldn’t that be funny?!”
We went home after dinner and decided to watch some Sunday night TV. I really wanted to get labor moving, and noticed that naps or lying on the couch did not help them, so I made sure to sit extremely straight up. First we watched Girls, which I could pay full attention to. Then we watched Grand Budapest Hotel which I enjoyed but remember also being a little focused on the contractions. The movie ended around 11 and we decided to go to bed. I realized labor would probably not be happening that night and decided it’d be wise to rest. We got into bed, and I got comfy. Stella in her usually cuddly mood hopped atop me and did her cuddle blitz where she walks around on my tummy. I remember it was extremely tender and saying “Ow Stella!”… Then she decided to curl up on my belly and she purred which felt so good. The moment I fully let go and relaxed I felt and heard a POP inside me that felt like an explosion. It scared me and at first I had no idea what it was or could be and worried for Theo. It scared Stella too as she jumped in the air when it happened! I screamed “Ah” and told AJ “I think maybe my water broke… but I don’t feel wet”… So I got on my knees and sure enough pink watery liquid began to trickle out. I believe my exact thoughts were “HOLY SHIT” and AJ jumped out of bed in a state of excitement and maybe panic. He threw on his clothes really fast even though I reminded him that just because my water broke did not mean it was time to go to the Birth Center. We had been instructed to call when active labor started (contractions 5 mins apart lasting a minute each) and at that point I’d be pretty far in “labor land” unable to talk or function normal… which was not the case yet. AJ said he still preferred to be dressed! He frantically packed the rest of our birth center bag and I felt my first stronger contraction. I moved through contractions in the closet area of our bedroom, pacing, getting on hands and knees, using the wall to rub my back against… after maybe an hour of that I finally felt the contractions maybe hurt enough it was worth at least calling the midwives.
Jenna was on call that night and I was really happy because over the course of the pregnancy I got to know her best because she ran the PreNatal Group Meetings every other Tuesday which I always attended. I love Jenna and she has a calming way about her that reminds me of my beloved yoga coach Melanie… so I was happy to know Jenna would definitely be at our birth! Jenna said it didn’t sound like we were ready to come in yet, but she suggested I shower and see if that helps easy the pain for the time being and gave AJ more detailed info on how to know when to call back. I took the shower and in there things got more intense. But the shower felt good. It was then I began making low sounding noises with an open jaw with each contraction, something I did the whole rest of the labor! Everything felt pretty manageable… Until the water heat pooped out and the shower got cold. I tried laboring in our living room and remember crawling around the floor in pain. So AJ called Jenna again and she said we could go to the birth center.
During the drive the contractions stopped and I was really scared Jenna would send me home for stalled labor when we got to the center. She checked me and I was 1cm dilated but totally thinned out and said she could manually open me to 3cm and I could stay and see if labor picked up. Uh, YES. I did not want to go home. After she got me to 3cm, I hopped in the birth center shower (which has continuous heat) and labor started picking up again. The shower felt good and I was relieved and welcoming of the contractions because I really wanted things to progress. Jenna put AJ to bed because it would be a long night and I was coping OK on my own. AJ slept for the next 4.5 hours. I labored a long time in the shower but remember telling Jenna I was really tired and was wondering if there was a way I could rest deeper between the contractions. She told me I could do the contractions while laying on my side on the bed and relaxing. I said OK. This was really hard because laying still and relaxing into a contraction is very challenging as you are face to face with the pain. The rest between was great but I couldn’t do it for long. I think at some point around this time I may have done some hands and knees position on the bed, and also ate some peanut butter & jelly toast which Jenna lovingly made for me… in typical Ashleigh fashion I was starving! A PB+J never tasted quite so good!
This is where things get hazy as they get more intense. I think at this point I went into the tub and labored in there for awhile. At some point Jenna checked me but never let me know my exact dilation, only that it was much to my sadness not time to push. I later found out from AJ, I was only 5 cm dilated so thank goodness she hadn’t told me or I would’ve felt really discouraged. I think I labored in the tub for a while and then Jenna suggested I go back to the shower. She also asked if it was OK if she take a break and rest because she needed to rest before I was ready to push. She assured me the midwife assistant, who luckily was Jen who taught our birth class would be there soon. I said yes, and asked if AJ could join me in the shower to rub my back through each contraction as Jenna had done. She said she was thinking the same thing, so AJ was awoken and joined me. Sadly, AJ was not a pro at counter pressure massage for labor like Jenna and I was a little annoyed with him in the shower! My back hurt so bad with each contraction and the counter massage was the only way I could get through it. Thankfully Jen arrived and took over. Jen and Jenna were saints through my labor till the end, lovingly rubbing my back. I know I couldn’t have done it with out them and I can’t imagine how bad their own backs must’ve hurt being hunched over for hours rubbing me! Seriously, bless their hearts.
I don’t exactly remember when I got back in the tub but when I did I was shocked to see bright sunlight in the birth room. I realized I had no concept of time. At this point, things were strong and hard and the light really bothered me. I closed my eyes somewhere around here and maybe only opened them a few times in between this moment and the moment Theo was born. So everything at this point is hazy, voices, smells, feelings. I remember having a conversation with Jenna about when she would check me again. I was terrified she’d check me and say I was still not ready to push and then she’d have to wait a few more hours to check me again, so we decided to hold off. She left to rest. Jen & AJ were there. Things were so intense at one point I had Jen rubbing my back and AJ spraying the shower type water handle on me. Then another midwife assistant Malti also arrived to help. At some point I gulped down a smoothie. I was howling with each contracting and dropping long, slow, deep sounding F-bombs. Like a an “OM” in Yoga except replace “om” with “fuck”. Just keeping it real! At one point I opened my eyes and saw Alice, my second midwife, in the hallway smiling. So many hands were on deck to support me. I had my eyes closed and remember grabbing for any one and I must have grabbed AJ’s hand. I didn’t know who’s hand it was till I felt his ring. I remember saying “I can’t” and Jen reminding me that “I was” … I was doing it and each contraction had me one step closer. I remember contemplating drugs & the hospital and reminding myself the many reasons why I didn’t want that. I remember feeling the urge to push kinda sorta.
Jen told me I was very close and Jenna was coming back to check me. I asked Jen how she knew I was close and she said it was easy to tell by how I sounded. Jenna checked me and said I was fully dilated, the baby was very low and I’d be meeting him soon, it was time to push and she wanted me to get out of the tub. I really wanted a water birth, or so I thought, so I asked to push in the tub. I totally did not know how to push effectively though and I had apparently been on my hands and knees in the tub for hours. I remember hearing Alice saying they needed to get me off my hands & knees or I’d be bruised up. After some time of non-effective pushing, Jenna explained it was important we switch it up before I tired myself out. Honestly, she was right as I was already tired and had not a clue what I was doing. So I listened.
The pushing part of labor was the worst for me. I can’t exactly tell you the order it all happened but we tried a myriad of pushing positions, each one I resisted because I had to learn to push in a new way. I did side-lying squat, I did on the birth stool, I did hands and knees on the bed, I even labored on the toilet because I had to pee extremely bad for hours but couldn’t get it out. In fact, they had to put a catheter in me because they thought my full bladder was making things not progress. They were right it was excruciating to have to pee so bad and not be able to. I was terrified of the catheter but I didn’t even feel it. I guess my other pains were worse! And the relief of emptying my bladder helped a lot.
All through pushing I was in SOOOO much agony. My back hurt so bad, and then pushing was hard and painful too. I kept not going into it they said, which reminds me of how I am during an exercise class. I have a hard time going straight into the physical challenge & pain of it. No back rubs were enough at this point. They suggested I lay on the bed with my legs in a diamond shape in the air and I pull on my feet with each push. Surprisingly this position felt best because the bed supported my back. Jenna used her hands to guide me where to push. They coached me but kept saying I needed to listen to my body for when it was right timing to push to make use of the contraction. I never really fully knew what that meant or if I did it right. I remember being frustrated and feeling defeated. I remember Alice giving me the tough love of “you have to” or “you can and you will”… I remember Jenna and Jen giving me cheers and words of encouragement. And finally I knew I was really close when they brought AJ in. It hurt soooooo badly. I literally felt that “ring of fire” burn of being ripped open and I just freaking pushed because I was almost at the finish line and the only way for the pain to end was for me to meet it face on. I remember being told his head was out. I remember hearing AJ sobbing behind me. The shoulders took a few more strong pushes that I barely had energy for. I felt some tugging and then relief! He was out and then he was on top of me! All blue and slimy. I think AJ said “look at him! look at him!” and I remember saying “Oh my god. Oh my god.”
I was really in shock. I was in shock I did it. I think I was a little in shock that there was a baby now and I was no longer pregnant. I was in shock of how my now non pregnant stomach looked and wobbled. I had been so focused on getting through labor pain, I almost forgot the prize at the end was a baby, not just relief from the pain. I remember there was some chaos with them listening to the his lungs and his cry because he still had fluid in his lungs or something. No one was panicked but there was definitely more commotion than I had anticipated. I somehow wasn’t too worried and knew he was okay but I asked because they were so focused on him. Honestly after that is a blur. He was on top of me, I was trying to see him. He had hair that looked kinda brown but I didn’t really see his whole face. I delivered the placenta with him on me. Soaking it all in. I finally saw his face and remember being like “weird he looks exactly like his ultrasound picture” even though at the time of the ultrasound, the picture made no sense to me. AJ was still weeping.
The hours after the birth were really crazy. I felt a little out of my body. I was so dang impressed at myself for giving birth but also a little traumatized by all that physically happened and definitely traumatized by how my non pregnant body looked and all the after gore still coming out of it. At some point we tried breastfeeding but he couldn’t latch right away. Then I needed to pee. Then I had to be stitched so AJ got to hold Theo. They were bonding so sweetly and seemed so smitten. It was so cute to watch. I talked to Jen & Jenna a lot through the stitches because I think I was trying to process all that had just happened.
When it was time to go home, I was panicked, I felt clueless and like a terrible mother. Who was this little dude I was now supposed to take care of and how would I be able to do it?! What would I do? I barely knew how to feed him. I think I was still in shock of all that happened, processing and I felt like maybe we should have bonded more after the birth because it seemed to me AJ was already a baby whisperer. We made it home. And the first night was confusing. The first whole week was absolutely insane, terrifying, emotional, the hardest of my life. I have to say I thought the birth would be the hardest thing I ever did but as it turns out that was a cake walk compared to raising a tiny human and breastfeeding him 24/7. But with each moment I fall more and more in love with Theo’s sweet face and funny personality. Each day is a little easier and I am excited to figure out my new life with his new life. In a way Theo’s birth story is both my birth and death story. My old life and everything I knew about myself died during giving birth and a new life and new woman was born. AJ says this new person I am is amazing. I am unsure because it’s all so new, and I know it will never be the same, But I am excited to not only know this new little person I birthed but also the new me I birthed on 1/19/15 as well!
Another thing I have to say, is despite the difficulty and challenge of giving birth the way I did, I am so thankful for the experience. I was surrounded by such an amazing team of loving women, who even have been at my house almost every other day since he was born. These women cheered me on, believed in me, rubbed my back, call me at every question and freak out, reassure me, and made sure that I figure all this out. I don’t think I would ever get this level of emotional care (and physical care) at a hospital. I don’t yet know for sure if I have a second baby in my heart yet but if I do I would want to use the birth center again. It has truly been a community boosting, spiritual and personal growth experience for which I am truly thankful!
Below is the only photo I have from the birth, taken a few minutes after he was born. I wish I had more photos of the experience but am thankful I at least have this one!