Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ralphie's Birth Story

2 AM February 10th, 2012 I roll out of bed and fall onto all floors breathing in that first "cleansing breath" as a contraction, this time too strong to allow me to stay in bed, rips through my lower abdomen and around to my back, and through my front again.

It lasts over 30 seconds, and when I can I get up and start to walk. Slow deliberate steps, breathing deeply with each one. Two more hours like this and I wake my husband (who still can sleep through anything) - I've lost track timing, I can hardly move and I'm ready to scream - except that would take too much effort.

Thursday morning, February 9th, had been my first "normal" day after fighting and being conquered by the dreaded nova virus, that had sped through Charlotte in the past two weeks. I spent the first part of the week vomiting, hydrating, vomiting, hydrating, and vomiting some more. Baby had stayed active, but I knew I hadn't kept enough liquids in me. So, when I woke feeling almost normal Thursday morning, it was a welcome relief. I spent the morning slowly catching up on the household things - laundry, cleaning (very dirty) bathrooms, dishes and just general straightening up. By 1pm I felt a little crampy, and thought I had pushed myself too much. I had just been sick, I still needed to take it easy, right?

Little did I know that the cramping sensations were the beginning of my labor pains.

I went to work at 2pm walking a little funny, and holding my belly a lot. Thank goodness Thursdays are our easy day, I thought. By 5pm the light cramping was taking my breath away, and I found myself squatting, lounging, leaning, crouching as I made dinner for the kids and their parents. 6pm finally came and I bounced gently on the yoga ball at home while I told Daniel all about the pain, and we tried to figure out what it could be. (LoL).

Perhaps "labor" would have flashed in our minds if I wasn't only 35 weeks and 4 days pregnant. If I hadn't been sick... if we were remotely anxious for our baby's arrival.

But truthfully, we hadn't even begun to get antsy. The nursery wasn't finished, the hospital bag wasn't packed, we still had 3 weeks left in our birthing class - and I hadn't gone to get that pedicure or taken maternity pictures yet! We each had full "To Do Before Baby" lists. March 11th was still a whole month away, and by George, almost every first timer goes late these days!

I managed to eat some dinner (pizza... so healthy) and we watched a Seinfeld, as our Thursday tradition has it. But by 7pm the idea that these were contractions from Baby began to bounce in my head, so I called my mom who encouraged me to start timing (and please, keep her posted.)

For the next hour and half the contractions averaged between 7-9 minutes, and I was able to keep myself occupied between the pain well enough. Around 9:30pm Daniel suggested I get some rest (good, man!), and I was able to for several hours, though I was cognizant of continuing pain through the night.

I was able to rest, that is, until that first debilitating, out-of-this-world-painful, can't-even-mumble-a-word contraction at 2am. 

When I woke Daniel at 4am he immediately began timing, and mentally calculated the progression that had occurred in the last 12 hours - this doesn't seem like false labor, he thought.

By 6am we reached the 5-1-1 we'd been told should send us to the hospital. Each contraction was about 5 minutes apart, lasted for at least a minute, and had maintained that consistency for a whole hour. About this time, too, I would yell things like, "I just don't care!" "Get it out of me!" "Make it stop!" (hehe)

Still, we waited. I had an appointment with my midwife that morning, we would wait for that. Why go to the hospital only to be sent home? I dreaded that thought.

Daniel encouraged me to get in the shower, and he began packing a hospital bag - just in case. 

At 8am we called the office and told a nurse what was going on. She insisted on talking to me, and asked way too many questions. They bumped my appointment up a half hour, but said if anything changed, or if my water broke to go straight to the hospital.

Driving to the midwife's office was a blur. The only clear thing I remember was telling Daniel, "I feel like such a wimp. If this isn't the real thing I will never be able to handle real labor." So Daniel prayed that the Lord would stop the contractions and give me relief; or that the baby would come today and would be healthy and whole.

I think I scared the poor woman in the waiting room at the doctor's office as I leaned and squatted my way through each contraction. I tried to be patient with the nurse as she went through her routine, checking my weight and blood pressure. If the dirty details matter, I also lost my mucus plug at this point. :)

What a welcome relief my midwife was though! Telling her my story finally gave some validity to my pain. She didn't think I sounded crazy! 

She listened to the story, measured my belly (almost 36 centimeters, right on track), and listened to Baby's heartbeat (strong and healthy). Then, the unreal happened. She checked my cervix and looked back and forth from Daniel to me, "Well, you are having this baby today! You are 9 centimeters!"

Daniel and I laughed out loud. She laughed with us. SERIOUSLY? Are you SURE?

She was sure. She turned me to my side, reclined the table all the way back, and went to call the ambulance, just to be safe. When she came back we talked about the possibility of underdeveloped lungs, and perhaps a week in the NICU, but overall she felt confident that the baby was healthy and strong.

The paramedics arrived and I had to ride in the ambulance alone while Daniel went ahead of us to the hospital. The medic was great, but he wasn't my husband.

We got to the hospital and Daniel was no where to be seen. They whisked me through hallway after hallway, trying to find the right room. This was the only time during the whole event that I really was scared. I just wanted my husband, and I had no way to get to him. The possibility of delivering without Daniel by my side was terrifying. I fought back tears and tried to be brave as sweet nurses bustled about me, trying to make the transition from the stretcher to the bed comfortable. They got me pillows, a yoga ball, a birthing stool, ice water, cool towels for my head... anything I wanted was there for me, and I hardly had to say a word. They were wonderful.

Finally, (really, it was only about 10 minutes, but when you're having contractions every minute, and know your baby is about to enter the world, 10 minutes is a LONG time) in the midst of a contraction I heard a nurse say, "He's here, honey! Here he is!" and Daniel grabbed my hand and kissed my forehead.

Now, I could do this.

My midwife (a different one though... there are 4 in the practice and they're all "mine" :)) checked me once more, and said I was about 9 1/2 centimeters, but still had some cervix hanging around that needed to efface completely. She suggested the tub and all-fours. O, it felt lovely! (comparatively, people, ok?)

I was able to labor however I wanted, in whichever position felt best. Occasionally a nurse would check for Baby's heartbeat, and at one point I remember her asking if it bothered me. I told her I liked it, so she kept the monitor on my belly as much as she could so I could hear the steady bum-bum-bum of his heart. The nurses kept saying things like, "Listen to that heartbeat." "A perfect baby." "So happy."

The labor over the next two hours was intense. After getting out of the tub my water broke, and the contractions intensified even more. I began pushing sometimes.

Dear readers: I. Hate. Pushing.

At some point I remember hearing my midwife say, "I think it's about time I put my gown on!" She kept me moving to different positions to find what helped me push best. Daniel afterwards said he was so impressed with her knowledge and usefulness. She wasn't satisfied with "just so" and wanted everything to be the best it could be. We were so happy with our choice.

Daniel was wonderful all through labor and delivery. He said afterwards he hardly knew what to do, but I thought he was great! Just his presence was calming, and before my water broke he was busy making jokes and telling stories to distract my mind. He massaged my back and squeezed my hand, and just plain loved me. Handsome, you're the best.

Boy, though, was I tired. My arms ached, my legs ached, my back ached. I wished I could just take a break for ten minutes! Even five would be a heaven-send!

But down came Baby, and with every contraction Daniel would squeeze my hand, and the nurses and midwife would yell, "You can do it! Here comes your baby!"

It felt like an eternity. I don't actually know how long the "real pushing" lasted. No one clocked it. It was close to two hours, if not longer. One nurse said, "This has got to be a boy, he is just too stubborn!"

Eventually his head appeared. They got a mirror for me, so I could see the progress. I remember thinking, "That's it!! All this time and that's ALL there is to see!"

But with each push there was more and more - A head full of hair, too! Not red, but black.

With the final few pushes and the last few minutes the burning pain was almost unbearable. I made a nurse or two (and my husband) laugh when I shouted things like, "C'mon Baby! Let's do this!" Inwardly I wondered if an unmedicated, natural birth was really worth it. Maybe next time we'd just schedule the cesarean....

Then, with a scream and two more pushes he was here, and nearly instantly the pain was replaced by a flood of joy I have never felt before.

My midwife lifted him up high, unwrapped his cord, and placed him on my chest. At the same moment, Daniel whispered in my ear, "It's a boy!"

A boy! I couldn't believe it. A boy!

"What's his name?" a nurse asked. We looked at each other and smiled. Ralph Franklin. A perfect little Ralphie.

He nestled close to my chest, almond-shaped eyes wide with wonder. Daniel cut the cord, then came back to my side and leaned in closely. Together we stared in awe at this beautiful new life: a life we had together created. A life given to us by God.

- - - - - -

Before leaving the birthing room Daniel read aloud Psalm 127 softly, in the quiet peacefulness that comes after any storm, no matter it's nature.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain that you rise up early,
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for He gives His beloved rest.

Behold, Children are a heritage of the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior 
are the children of one's youth
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame 
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

And then we prayed for our little family and for our new little son.

Nearly two weeks later, I can happily say it was all more than worth it, and to have our little boy here with us I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.


  1. oh, this made me cry such joy-filled tears! Katharina is here with me and she liked it, too. We love you, Ralphie!!

  2. Thanks for sharing Ashlee, what a beautiful story. I can't wait to meet him.

  3. What a beautiful story. Congratulations on your bundle of joy, he is precious! Welcome to parenthood :)

  4. Ruby and I read it all and loved it. We're so happy for you. We smiled and smiled. :)

  5. I'm with Angela...this made me cry too! So beautiful <3

  6. What an awesome story!......brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing. BTW, love the shoes in the pix. ;o)

    N. Russell

  7. Ashlee, I've been reading your pregnancy updates since the very first one and have loved seeing your journey- can't wait to see how you conquer motherhood! This birth story made me cry (I don't see how it couldn't make anyone tear up!). Congratulations! Blessings on your little family!

  8. Beautiful story! What an amazing birth you had and in a hospital! That hospital sounds like a wonderful, nurturing place. I enjoyed your homebirth story, too! I had a homebirth with my first and we are planning another homebirth with our second in November; glad you had great experiences both times!

    I found your blog through Daniel's facebook page. He was part of a student volunteer group I worked with when I worked at Erksine.

    1. Hi Kimberly! Thanks for the comment. We were really thankful to have such a great hospital to work with. We were really surprised at how natural-birth friendly they were. At least the midwives that we worked with were.

      Congratulations on your second baby! There are lots of fall babies this year. Exciting!