This story had me on the edge of my seat! Monica Wilkinson was determined to have a natural, med-free labor and delivery, and with much determination she did. Sometimes complications arise during birth, but luckily this momma had amazing midwives looking out for her and baby Lili.
Hello! I am Monica. I found out I was pregnant in December of 2012, and my first thought was that this was the best Christmas present ever! My second thought was that I wanted a natural birth. My best friend had tried for a natural birth less than two years before and had ended up with a c-section, which had led me to begin exploring my birth options. My family is not very “crunchy” and had always had hospital births, but after doing some research I was convinced that a natural, unmedicated birth was what I wanted. I found a great midwife and did everything I could to prepare my mind and body, but I was still a little unsure of how I would handle it, since this was my first child. I had my bag packed ready for labor by 38 weeks, but little did I know that I would have to wait quite a bit longer!
Day after day dragged by until I was 12 days past my due date. I had been doing everything I could to try to get the baby out but she just wasn’t ready to come. I was getting nervous because I knew that as of Sept. 2nd I would be 42 weeks and therefore unable to have a drug-free birth at the birth center which I so wanted. I tried to prepare my heart for the possibility of an induction at the hospital but continued praying that she would come before that date. I woke up on Saturday, August 31st around 6:30 in the morning to use the bathroom (which I was used to doing about 10 times a night at this point) and my water broke. However it wasn’t a lot, so I knew that it was just leaking and hadn’t fully broken.
I called my midwife, Jennie Joseph, to let her know, and she told me to go ahead and still try to get an ultrasound later that morning as I had planned. I tried to go back to sleep but of course couldn’t sleep because I was too excited! The day had FINALLY come and I would be meeting my Liliana soon! My friend Kristel came to drive me to the radiology place, which we discovered was closed on the weekend. Jennie tried to get me in somewhere else that wasn’t open yet so Kristel and I decided to walk around in the meantime and then we went to Chick Fil A for breakfast. As we were leaving Chick Fil A, my water gushed out more in the parking lot – embarrassing! Had to go back in and clean up in the bathroom.
Jennie called around 10:30 to tell me that she couldn’t get me in for a scan anywhere but to go home and wait for contractions and call her back later. I had mild contractions all day that just felt like menstrual cramps but they were still pretty irregular. My mom and sister Angela came over around 4:30 and we watched a movie to pass the time. I was having contractions every 4-10 minutes but still no consistent pattern. I got a little frustrated that labor didn’t seem to be progressing as I had thought it would. Jennie called at about 7:30 and told me to go ahead and come in to the birth center to get an antibiotic since my water had already broken so much earlier.
So my husband Sam and I headed out with my mom and sister and met Mary, one of the midwives in training, at the birth center. She checked me and said I was dilated to 2cm. (Only 2 centimeters? I had been having contractions all day!) Jennie arrived and advised me to try to get some sleep before labor got too intense. Sam and I laid down and I slept for about 20 minutes before my contractions started getting more painful and I started timing them again- 5 minutes apart. Suddenly they were more consistent and I got excited, so of course I couldn’t sleep yet again! My best friend and “unofficial doula,” Amanda, arrived and we all visited for a bit and kept timing. At this point it was around 1AM, I was still only dilated to 3, and I labored in bed and on the ball while Sam slept peacefully next to me. Jennie suggested that I try to sleep between contractions, which sounded impossible at the time, but I took her advice and kicked everyone out and eventually I was so exhausted from the pain that I was able to sleep for a few hours while having more intense contractions every few minutes. I was moaning like crazy to try to cope and keep myself from tensing up. At this point I was super nauseous and was throwing up with the contractions, so they put an IV in to keep me hydrated. (I hate the concept of IVs but I couldn’t keep any water down and throwing up was super painful!)
It was around 5 or 6 in the morning when Jennie checked me again and I was dilated to 5. I remember thinking, 5?! What on earth? This is only HALFWAY and it feels like this?? I couldn’t sleep anymore so Jennie walked me up and down the halls to try to get contractions going quicker. I could feel them getting stronger and tried to walk fast to get them going; I was so exhausted that I just wanted to get it over with so I tried to be open to the pain. After about 30-40 minutes of walking, I went back in and labored on the ball and in bed some more. All I can remember is that lots of hands were massaging me and each contraction reached a high point about 30 seconds in where it was almost unbearable and I could not move or speak. Amanda was timing the contractions and telling me when I was at the halfway point, etc. which helped a lot. I wanted to get in the water so badly and I remember thinking to myself, “Ok, I can’t do this anymore, it’s too much, I just want to go get some drugs and get this over with!” But I didn’t dare voice that out loud because it would make it too real and I didn’t want to waste energy complaining. I wanted to give up so bad but I knew that it was so close to being over, and I had made it this far, so I just asked the Lord for some extra strength and tried to empty my mind of negative thoughts. I am told this phase lasted for 3-4 hours, but I had absolutely no concept of time at that point. All I know is that I was relieved when eventually Jennie told me I was 7 cm and I could get into the water.
I had originally planned to kick everyone but Sam out when it came time for transition and pushing, but at that point my need for support far outweighed my need for modesty/privacy. I needed everyone right there with me and nobody better dare walk away! I got into the water and felt immediate relief. The water felt so good but I could tell my contractions were intensifying quickly. I was so out of it that I wasn’t even able to speak in full sentences..I was grunting my requests to no one in particular like a child… “Hungry! Too hot! Cold cloth!” Jennie instructed me to “ohhhhh” through the pain and so I tried to focus on that…but it was getting so intense that I wanted to scream it. I started feeling a lot of pressure and started to bear down through contractions. I stood up and squatted while starting to push. After pushing through 10-12 contractions, Jennie had me get back up on the bed. I had wanted to try a water birth but the water was slowing my contractions down too much.
I pushed through more contractions and she told me that the baby was very close. However I didn’t feel the “ring of fire” that I so often hear about, only very intense pressure. Sam held a mirror so that I could look and see how close she actually was. I could see the placement of her head but I could not figure out why she wasn’t going any further. I pushed as hard as I could but baby girl was barely moving. And that’s when things began to get scary. Jennie grabbed the doppler and listened to the baby’s heart rate and everyone could hear that it was very slow. I heard her tell the birth assistant, “call 911,” and I knew that was a bad sign. Jennie does not call 911 unless she has a real legitimate concern, and I could hear the seriousness in her voice as she spoke to the operator. However she remained completely calm and present with me and I found myself staring into her eyes and completely trusting that she would know the right thing to do. Amanda and Angela were right by my head whispering comfort to me and Sam was next to me holding my leg and the mirror. I continued to push as the paramedics arrived- there were 8 men in the room now, on top of the 6 I already had with me (it got VERY HOT in there!), and they stood on stand-by in case we needed to rush to the hospital. Thankfully these same paramedics had already worked with Jennie very recently, so they trusted her and gave her space to do her thing. (I remember one of the guys saying “I’m going to prick your finger, is that ok?” and I didn’t respond but I thought “Are you freaking kidding me? I am pushing a baby out! I don’t care if you poke my finger!) I was scared because I wasn’t sure what was going on and I felt like I had no more energy at all. I have seriously never felt so drained of energy in my entire life.
Keeping my eyes open was a struggle, let alone pushing with all my might! Jennie continued to check the baby’s heart rate between pushes and it was fluctuating from about 40-120. She told me very gently but firmly that we needed to get the baby out and to push as hard as I possibly could. In my mind I knew I was already pushing as hard as I could but I didn’t have any choice but to fight harder. My contractions slowed down and did not help me like they should, but I pushed anyway. I kept asking the Lord for strength in those final moments and that He would protect my baby. I kept asking God, “Please get her out with this next push,” and when it didn’t happen, I just asked Him again. (Looking back I think this is part of the reason why Lili was almost two weeks late – I kept asking God to do things according to my timing and I eventually just had to learn to let Him work according to His timing, and this built my patience and trust in Him for those moments.) I pushed so hard that I was growling/ yelling and lost my voice for a while afterward. I saw her head just starting to crown and tried to hold it there but I could hardly breathe. They had to give me oxygen, which drove me nuts and I kept wanting to smack that mask off my face but I knew I had to try to breathe with it so I tried to take slow breaths. Jennie decided to cut an episiotomy to help the baby out, which I wasn’t thrilled about, but at that point I welcomed anything that would help. I felt the cut and it stung like heck but there was so much pressure down there that it didn’t feel as painful as I had built it up in my mind to be after months of research.
After about 45 minutes of intense pushing on the bed, I finally felt her head and Jennie pulling, and I heard her say “Oh! Her hand’s by her face!” Even in my drowsy state I thought to myself, “Okay, so I’m not just a wuss. There is actually something causing this to be so difficult.” One more huge push and her body slipped out! I felt so much joy that it was finally over, that I had done it, and that my baby was finally here. I expected someone to put her on my chest, but then I looked down and saw that Jennie and the paramedics were frantically working on her. My heart dropped again when I saw that she was very blue, and Jennie was pushing tubes down her throat and sucking out a bunch of brown goo. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her and I could hear her struggling to cry and she wasn’t moving much. For a brief moment I thought of the possibility of losing this child that I had just worked so hard for, but I pushed that thought away quickly and I just kept praying as I reached down and held her little hand and talked to her. I realized that she had her first poo (meconium) on the way out and she had swallowed a bunch of it. Amanda kept saying “she’s okay, she’s alright” but I wasn’t convinced, but sure enough, after a few minutes she started to ‘pink up’ and cry more. They finally put her on my chest and she started breathing more rhythmically. (The amazing healing power of skin-to-skin contact!!) I was so relieved that she was okay, but she continued to cough up the meconium.
As I held her, I felt another contraction and knew it was time to push the placenta out. I pushed about half as hard as I had before and it felt like it shot out of me! We decided to go to the hospital so they could make sure that the baby didn’t have the meconium in her lungs or get an infection. Jennie was going to stitch me up while Sam went with her to the hospital. I was sad that she would be leaving me so soon but I knew it was best and it comforted me to know Sam would be with her. Then Jennie changed her mind and said I should just go have them stitch me at the hospital too so I could be with her. I am so glad she made that decision because if they hadn’t admitted me, I would have been away from her for a couple of days.
We took separate ambulances to Winnie Palmer – Sam, Jennie and Liliana in one, and Amanda came with me in the other. (Jennie said that Lili was just staring at her daddy all the way to the hospital!) When we got there, they brought Lili in to see me for just a few minutes and then they took her up to the NICU. The doctor came in to stitch me up and even though they numbed me, it was sort of terrifying having to get stitches down there and I had to just close my eyes and try to relax. Luckily the doctor was very sweet and Jennie and Amanda were holding my hands the whole time, while my mom and Angela were there for support as well. Although I usually HATE hospitals, I was impressed with how well Winnie Palmer Hospital took care of me and Lili and no one ever complained about too many visitors in the room or anything. After they fixed me up, they said they would move me up to a room where I would be closer to Liliana and that hopefully she would come out of the Transitional room soon to be with me. It was a few more hours before anything else happened, and sweet Sam kept going to check on Lili, and he took some pictures to show me. They brought me a pump so I could try to get her some food, but colostrum is very difficult to pump so sadly she didn’t get much.
I was emotional because I felt like I didn’t even know my baby yet, I had only held her on my chest for a few minutes and I was so worried about her that I hadn’t really taken the time to look at her and bond with her. I also really wanted to be able to nurse and I was worried about breastfeeding challenges. Eventually the nurse came in and told me she was taking me up to see her (yay!) and then to my room. This was the first time that I got to see her all cleaned up and hold her without being totally out of it, and it was pure joy. I wanted to hold her forever and I was so sad when I had to give her back! I got settled in my room and tried to distract myself by socializing with my mom and sister. Just as they were getting ready to leave, Sam came back from one of his many visits to see Lili and said “Guess who’s coming??” They brought my baby girl in and said she was stable and doing very well, and I finally got to nurse her – and she was able to latch on without any issues! Praise God!!
We ended up staying in the hospital two more days so they could watch her for infection or any other issues and also monitor my bleeding. We finally came home on Tuesday evening and started our life with this precious little one! All in all, natural birth was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, especially with those complications at the end, but the reward in the end was so very worth it. I learned the importance of flexibility and preparation, but especially the importance of having a team of people around you that you trust and who know how to help you- ESPECIALLY when you are going drug-free.
There were times in labor that I honestly felt like I was empty but I was drawing strength from God and the people around me. My mom (although she was a nervous wreck!) was praying for me the whole time. Amanda and Angela doing the little things like whispering in my ear or putting a cold rag on my head made a HUGE difference! Sam quietly supported me and was just so very calmly and lovingly PRESENT with me, and I think I fell in love with him all over again. Jennie was the best midwife I could have asked for. I fully trusted her judgment and I don’t think I could have gotten through it without someone like her. Luckily my baby girl will get to grow up with these loving influences surrounding her as well, and that puts my heart at ease. I can’t wait to do it all over again!