When I initially read this story, I was struck by the challenges Katrina faced while pregnant -- a reminder that there are many health issues that can make pregnancy more difficult than normal, whatever normal means! I also loved how her doula set things up for Katrina to not only ease Katrina's adjustment to the hospital, but to also ease her mind. Katrina makes unique, comfortable gowns for moms to labor and birth in -- so when you are done reading her story, go check out her website!
I think it is important to tell you the story of how baby Graeme (pronounced grey – UHM) came Earthside because the more we hear about birth the less we fear birth and that is a catalyst for the continuing change towards mother centered birth. This is his birth story.
My mother had lived with us for several months before Graeme made his entrance. This was because I have Rheumatoid Autoimmune Arthritis or as it is now called Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease (it does NOT have me. :)) and it was actively flaring during pregnancy. I was unable to keep up with the demands of a household and our high-spirited toddler. This made for a unique environment with both good and bad points. By the end I believe we had become weary of the dynamic so you could feel the sizzle of anticipation in the air both from waiting for the baby, waiting for my disease levels to subside, and waiting for the end of our situation. I was told during pregnancy that having another child would be a very bad idea because of the many mounting health problems so having mourned that and come to terms with that I was very very ready to be done. When you come to terms with something, accept it, and move on and you have to wait several months for the moving on to come to an end it gets tedious. You are just waiting and pulling forward one day at a time to see a goal. It’s like closing the chapter to a book but you are watching the two covers come together in slow motion and it catches your breath. Ready to be done.
I had followed the pattern like my daughter’s labor I had labored off and on for 2 weeks. Real bouts of labor followed by several days of nothing. I thought this was Braxton Hicks, but my doctor once again told me otherwise. Graeme was born on a Monday morning. The Thursday before I had my last prenatal appointment and my doctor who has practiced over 30 years said “You are a 7 and you are 78% effaced. See you at the birth center this weekend or Monday.” Having seen it all he is never wrong. He told me with my daughter “see you in the next day or two” and she was born the next day. Yes he sent me home. He is one of the few doctors out there who trust the natural birth process completely. Trusts a mother’s body to do what it is intended to do. He only intervenes when it is absolutely necessary. I am fortunate to have had him as my doctor for the births of my children.
On February 10th, 2014 at 3:35 am I went to the bathroom. I felt a ton of pressure and was unable to go to the bathroom. This felt different to me. I had felt pressure sitting down for weeks but it became clear to me that this was different. I literally could not contract the muscles to go to the bathroom. This was a lot of pushing down. It didn’t feel like contractions to me but I felt “opening” and so I continued to sit as the half squat was helping that action . I was 39 weeks 4 days pregnant so I wasn’t sure if this was “it” or not. Then I began to feel the pressure come and go. This hadn’t happened this intense before. I started timing these “pressure “waves”. Before I could even get the timing app started I felt my body lurch forward. Labor is like that. You feel yourself being pulled and pushed down from inside. It is a powerful, earthy, painful and at once strange feeling. I texted my husband and said “Hey I’m stuck on the toilet in labor. Finding pants now.” He said “Ok. Waking Nana. FYI Blowing snow”. It was blowing snow across the highway and there was an advisory to avoid travel if possible. I feel very fortunate that we had my Mom living with us and we could just go, no having to wait or anything. We would ordinarily stay home until later stages of labor but my contractions STARTED at 3 minutes apart and we didn’t want to end up on the evening news as that couple who gave birth on the side of the road in blowing snow. (Congrats to those who do. You have bigger balls than I do.)
3:40 am Got in the car. Contractions 2 1/2 minutes apart. Cascading one on top of each other. Couldn’t breathe. I texted our doula/longtime friend that I was “going to the hospital now” and off we went.
White knuckle driving in the dark on an icy highway with no lines, high wind, and snow.
Growl at husband “No” when he attempts to put music on. Growl at him “No” when he attempts to turn it off. Poor fella couldn’t win. Yell at him “IF YOU COULD ATTEMPT TO NOT HIT POTHOLES THAT WOULD BE GREAT! THANKS!!!” with my eyes shut breathing through the wham wham wham of hard fast labor. Didn’t realize that we were two blocks from the hospital when he hit the pothole and this car trip was almost over. Laboring in the car sucks butt. I don’t recommend it at all.
4:10 am. Arrive at hospital. Nurse Stacey comes out. She is pretty great, she recognized me because she had talked to my doula. Nothing like being recognized to bring the walls down. My amazing doula had pre-arranged many of the nurses and people who were a part of our team. One was a homebirth midwife in another state, my post birth nurse who cared for us was a doula for many years and was wonderful. RN Stacey has many children herself. I had a 180 degree experience from last time. I am a sexual assault survivor so this was all pre-arranged to preserve my mental health and command the respect my body needed to do what it needed to do without the anxiety. This time no one asks me to do intake paperwork. My contractions are still 2 1/2 minutes apart. I am trying to keep cool through the pain. Fast labor is no picnic. It is like taking the entirety of regular long labor and smashing it into a few hours. Intense, overwhelming, terrifying and at times makes you doubt yourself and your ability to do it.
We get into the room and I had to sit on the bed because we needed to get antibiotics in. I don’t want to but I have to. I tested positive for Group B Strep during pregnancy and despite measures to get rid of it at home we didn’t succeed.
They get a line in and get antibiotics going. They try to get a heart beat on baby. This time manually. I am not strapped to the machine thank goodness.
Doula Lindsay arrives around 4:30am
They want me to stand to get a heartbeat on the baby. Husband steps out to get water. My doctor has arrived and he is sitting with his feet up on the front desk chatting up the nurses. Typical for him. He’s a character.
I HATED standing. I had to rest my head on my doula’s chest to get through it. I kept moaning/half-crying “Get me in the water. I want the water now.” “I can’t do this without the water.” Water reduces pain levels greatly and it is SO MUCH EASIER to labor in water. 110% easier. A nurse is running the water while we try to get a heartbeat. In fast labors sometimes the baby gets squeezed so much, so hard that the heartbeat isn’t consistent at all. Fast labors are hard on mom and hard on babies; they aren’t completely “normal”.
About 5 am Graeme finally cooperates and I can get in the water. Thank the Lord! At this point I was in so much pain that I didn’t even realize my husband still wasn’t there. I was so hyperfocused breathing through the pain. Contractions are on top of each other. I can hardly breathe. My doula says “breathe.” I breathe in.
As I sit in the hot water I lean back. Worst idea ever. I almost throw up it hurts so bad. I lean forward into almost a squat. Doula pours hot water on my stomach. It doesn’t help much. These contractions are so much more painful than with my daughter. My husband comes back. I cry “I can’t do this. I need pain medication” My doula says “you are doing this. You can do this.” I didn’t know that I was so close to having the baby. This was transition. I wish someone had told me, in retrospect, because I know the stages of labor. I thought this level of pain was going to go on for hours and I started crying. I started to not know what to do with my limbs. Almost flailing from the level of pain.
“I need to stand. I can’t sit here any more. I have to stand.”
6:15 am I stand and get out of the tub supported by my husband and my doula.
Yanno how they say when your water breaks it is never like it is in the movies? This was like the movies. WHOOSH it splashes everywhere. The bathroom floor is coated in amnion. Sorry about the shoes guys! (Never wear shoes to a birth if you can help it. Feet are washable.)
As soon as I stood up I started to push. When natural labor is unencumbered and progresses on its own a beautiful thing happens. The body pushes on its own. No orders. No instruction to push. I have to stop every foot on my way to the bed to push. I half-squatted every time and groaned that gutteral, earthy groan, down into the floor using my husband and doula for support.
I reach the bed. I feel I need to sit up with my breasts right against my knees. I begin to push and the team gets ready. No one counts this time. I push as the contractions tell me to. Which is a wonderful thing.
My son was a big boy so the nurses and our doula keep saying “pull those legs wider” I do. I hear my hip pop slightly out of socket and feel the pain of that. But I know this is the end of it so I keep going. I push that pain to the back of my mind and focus on the goal.
Something crucial happens. My doula tells me to “relax”. When a person tenses while pushing she tears. If she relaxes then the baby does their work and they don’t tear. That tissue is supposed to stretch and it will if you relax it. This was the ticket for me. Every time she said “relax”, I did. I am ever grateful for that. My son slowly corkscrews out. On his way out, I didn’t know it, but he split a vein with his shoulder. There was a lot of blood. And my doctor, being the calm man he is, says “Don’t look down” even though there was a lot of blood. My husband retained composure holding my hand even though he said it was a lot of blood and freaked him out a bit. He said nothing. That is an amazing gift he gave me so I wouldn’t panic.
6:37am Graeme is born. He cries and they place him skin to skin on my chest. He latches like a champ. I cry tears of joy at the instant ability of my eager baby to nurse. We had a long trial with my daughter and his gulping noises fill my heart to brim. I rotate my hip back into place after my doctor stitches my vein and minor tears. We wait for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting. I deliver the placenta which turns out to be huge and my doctor says “I’m sorry” as it comes out because it is folded over on itself. It’s like birthing another baby. Kudos to you twin moms out there, you rock. The placenta weighed in at just over 6 lbs. This is not uncommon for moms with active autoimmune disease during pregnancy. The placenta had to work extra hard to keep my baby boy safe. I am grateful for this organ and what it did for my son.
He is here. He made it. Hello baby boy.
Katrina Tholen is the mom of two, and owner and designer of Luna Labor gowns. Luna Labor started on June 3rd, 2011 as an idea. Katrina had made her own labor gown based on a basic scrubs pattern. She really enjoyed having the bright colors of her personal labor gown and the fact it was washed in her own home with her own detergent. The next day when Katrina's doula visited she said “those gowns are great, I bet you could sell those” and that was it! Katrina's gowns fit better than hospital gowns and have all the capabilities for laboring and breastfeeding. Her doula for Graeme's birth was Lindsay Bench of Welcome Baby Doula Care.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)