They say birth is never exactly how you envision it will be. Boy, was this true for me!
When I visualized the birth I wanted to have, I pictured hours and hours and hours of enduring.
Challenging contractions. Moving through unresolved trauma. A build up that would slowly bring me to unknown depths. A long, dark, windy road from maiden to mother. All while I sat inside a water tub in my dark living room with candles, hanging lights, plants, birthing affirmations hung up on the wall, and tribal drums playing in the background. Near the end, I would be met with transition which would be the hardest thing I ever faced. And soon after, maybe my water would break and things would intensify even more, bringing me to my edge. And maybe as the sun began to rise, I would be required to tap into the maternal wisdom from my ancestors and muster up every last ounce of what I had inside of me in order to bring my daughter into this world.
Reality actually looked quite different.
(For animal-based pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and motherhood resources, check out my Pregnancy hub.)
In denial about my first signs of labor
It was around 10:30am on a Sunday morning in May and everything was status quo. I had just eaten steak tacos and had to pee.
Photo of the last thing I ate before my water broke. Steak tacos on cassava flour tortillas topped with raw cheese and homemade raw sour cream.
I got up and went to the bathroom. After peeing, I felt moisture in my crotch area. I thought it was discharge. I wiped and felt a little gush of fluid come out, maybe a tablespoon or two.
My vision narrowed. All I could do was stare at the toilet paper. Time froze. Something was different.
I tried to convince myself over and over that it was discharge, but it didn’t work. It was clear that the fluid was the consistency of water.
My next phase of denial was attempting to convince myself that it was pee.
Sure. I had peed myself. Why not?
I tried hard with that narrative. I had leaked pee before while pregnant, but something was different about this.
My breathing became shallow and my face became hot. My abdomen and entire lower half subconsciously tightened, probably as a last ditch attempt to stop whatever was going on down there. I love that I thought I had this much control.
I was only at 38 + 3! Being a first time mom, it was way too early for me to go into labor. I was supposed to make it to at least 40/41 weeks. And my water breaking was not supposed to be my first sign of labor. It was all happening wrong.
37 weeks (left) vs. 38 weeks (right). The right picture was just three days before I went into labor!
Entering the birth portal
I ran to my phone and called my midwife to tell her what happened. She said it could be a small leak from my bag of waters and to watch it. I agreed, hung up, then sat on my living room floor…frozen. Now what?
About 10 minutes went by. I didn’t want to stand up because I knew what would happen if I did. More time passed – I’m not sure how much – and I decided to face what was ahead.
I stood up, took a few steps, and within seconds, Niagra Falls down my legs. My water broke. I was going to have my baby that day.
I called my midwife back to give her the update. I asked her if this was really happening and she confirmed that I was entering my birth portal. Something about the way she said that put me at ease. Like everything was going to be okay.
I also called my husband (who was working). I told him what happened, that I was fine, that I’d let him know once things picked up, and that we’d have a baby in the next 12-24 hours.
Things had happened so quickly that morning and I felt like it led to an erratic head space. I needed grounding and a plan. The first three things I did was take a shower, put on a diaper, then top off my mason jar with salted water. It was important for me to go into labor hydrated and filled with electrolytes, so I pounded down salt water the rest of the morning.
Still in a daze here. I had just showered, put on a diaper, and was almost done with my first mason jar full of salted water.
I put on headphones and played HypnoBirthing meditation tracks/binaural beats thinking it would be soothing, but sound quickly became overwhelming.
I ended up in silence, breathing rhythmically, and pacing around my living room in circles. This may sound hectic, but it was oddly therapeutic. I think the repetitive nature helped ground me.
Things picked up
I started feeling what I thought may be contractions around 12pm, but they were mild and irregular so I wasn’t sure. I debated on calling my parents, but I stuck with my original plan of keeping my labor process private and chose not to.
Contractions remained mild, irregular, and very doable until about 3pm. My husband was still working so I labored alone at home.
At 3pm, contractions were consistently 3-4 minutes apart. I had to breathe, moan, and rock on all fours to get through them. While still doable, things started to feel different.
I called my husband to ask him when he would be home. I tried to remain calm and told him not to rush, but he could hear it in my voice that I was starting to embody a sense of urgency.
He arrived home at 3:30pm.
I had been communicating with my midwife and doula throughout the day. I procrastinated in telling them to come for as long as possible as I didn’t want them to arrive and find me in early labor. Also, if I told them to come, that would have been me accepting that things were happening and that I needed help…something I resisted greatly for some reason.
I remember thinking, “at what point am I going to accept help?”
But as things picked up around 3-4pm, they both suggested they should start to get on their way. I agreed.
Things got real
At 4pm, contractions were down to about 3 minutes apart and started getting very intense. Something – not sure what – propelled me to get up from my living room floor and go to our bedroom. My conscious mind was turning off at this point.
I laid on our bed with my eyes closed and continued to time my contractions. They were down to 2-3 minutes apart and started to get very challenging.
They felt like period cramps on steroids, like someone was grinding my insides with a meat grinder.
My doula arrived around 4:30pm and began supporting me through contractions. They were down to about 2 minutes apart or under and started getting longer, some 2-3 minutes in length.
I moaned and whimpered through them, proclaiming out loud, “open open open allow allow allow.” I envisioned my body opening with each one. I did my best to keep my body limp, my muscles relaxed, and to not resist the sensations. When I felt my body wanting to curl up in a ball, I used that as a cue to relax even more.
I had no idea how dilated I was at this point. Because things felt so intense, I started to become worried that I wouldn’t be able to endure these sensations for hours like I initially envisioned. I thought, “if this is early labor, I’m fucked.”
I think I was in transition here, but I’m not sure because everything was so fast and intense and sort of just blurred together.
Meanwhile, my midwife was hauling ass to get to us. She was at a postpartum appointment that afternoon (1.5 hours away) when we agreed that things were picking up and she should come.
I was still timing my contractions. My doula asked if I felt okay doing that. I said yes.
I don’t think I necessarily liked timing them or wanted to time them, but I didn’t want to stop. Timing my contractions was a conscious activity, and if I stopped, it would be another point of surrender.
The contraction that changed it all
Contractions were hard at this point. I pressed “start” on the contraction timer for my next one and felt the wave build.
I’m not sure what happened…I think I got a little lost in it. I looked down at the timer and over 5 minutes had elapsed, so I figured I was in new territory. I could no longer time contractions and no longer wanted to.
Suddenly, I felt a powerful, new sensation. It felt like I needed to take a huge poop.
I had been wearing a diaper since my water broke that morning. When I felt this new sensation, without thought I yelled out to my doula, “help me take this off, I need to push NOW!”
As soon as the diaper came off, I got on all fours and started to push. This was at about 5pm.
My midwife arrived a bit after 5:30pm. I was trying to push. I say “trying” because it felt like something was off. I was making sounds from my upper throat, not my gut, and it felt like I was resisting something. I even pushed when not contracting as I thought it would move things along faster. It didn’t feel productive, and instead, felt harsh, dry, and misaligned. I told my midwife I felt like I wasn’t doing something right.
She asked, “do you feel like you’re holding back?”
I immediately said yes, then something clicked. A voice in my head said, “to push this baby out, you need to lean into this sensation and accept that your butthole may rip in half.” (Ha)
I was scared that my body would literally rip in two if I leaned into the pushing sensation. This fear is what was halting my progress.
So I started to push like I was pushing my daughter out of my ass, making guttural grunts that felt aligned with each contraction. My doula caught on to these sounds and she affirmed me by repeating, “that’s the way, that’s the way.”
At some point during pushing, my midwife said, “look at you, Ashley, you manifested the birth you wanted. You’re doing it.” This made me feel powerful.
This new way of pushing felt like it was working.
My midwife and doula encouraged me to try new positions.
I tried the birth stool. Nope. I tried laying down. Huge nope. I felt tremendous discomfort in my lower back in any position other than all fours, so all fours it was.
I asked my midwife to check me and she encouraged me to check myself.
At first check, my daughter’s head was two knuckles away. A few more pushes, one knuckle away. A few more, half a knuckle. Then I started to approach crowning.
My midwife, doula, and husband were all encouraging me and telling me how close I was, all while I was roaring like a wild woman and making sounds I didn’t even know I was capable of.
It took me a few pushes to push her head out. The ring of fire is exactly what it sounds like.
After her head was out, I felt a tremendous amount of relief. In 1-2 more pushes, her body just flew out.
I caught her. She was born at 6:39pm.
The total time from my water breaking to birth was about 8 hours, but really, labor for me felt like it was from 3pm (when contractions got intense) to 6:39pm, for a total of about 3.5 hours. Either way, her entrance into this world was fast and furious!!
…and totally the opposite of what I expected.
We didn’t use the birthing tub. There were no lights, candles, birth affirmations on the wall, or palo santo. I didn’t use combs or my labor playlist. I didn’t prepare a charcuterie board as my early labor activity. I didn’t make my labor popsicles. I labored and birthed in broad daylight. The first sign of labor was my water breaking. There was no time to put the mattress protector and old sheets on our bed. And I didn’t have time to prepare or think about anything really. But as I reflect on the experience, this probably ended up being the best thing for me.
The first thing I did when she came out (after a few “omg, I did its!”) was check to make sure that she was a girl, then tell my husband over and over how cute she was.
I had heard horror stories about placentas not coming out “fast enough,” leading to postpartum hemorrhaging, women feeling rushed, their stress hormones shooting up, then needing interventions. For some reason, I went into birth fearing this part of the process. Strangely enough, I was more nervous about getting my placenta out than my baby. And by fearing it, I think I oddly manifested some chaos around it.
After Farrah came out, I sat on our bed for a few moments in awe, but didn’t really know what to do next.
We didn’t have much time to prepare the area pre-birth, so all that existed between me and our clean bed sheets/rug were a few towels and chucks pads. I didn’t feel like I could freely move without making a huge mess.
My midwife asked if I wanted to sit on the birth stool to birth my placenta. I didn’t really know what else to do and being guided at that time felt right, so I agreed.
She helped me over to the birth stool.
As soon as I sat on the birth stool, a huge stream of blood poured out of me. I assumed this was fine as I had no context of what was normal. I felt okay too.
My midwife, as much as she tried to remain calm, looked concerned. She took out a syringe, filled it, and without eye contact and in a hurried tone said, “can I give you a shot of Pitocin?”
My gut sank. I didn’t want any interventions.
What’s funny is that the two things I went into birth fearing were PPROM/PROM and postpartum hemorrhage. A variation of both (my water breaking as my first sign of labor and lots of postpartum bleeding) ended up happening.
I really didn’t want Pitocin, so I asked her if we could do herbs instead. She said no problem.
My placenta was still inside. I felt my body tensing and was starting to become worried that I would have problems getting it out.
My midwife gave me the first dose of herbs and encouraged me to push my placenta out the next time I felt a contraction.
In hindsight, I didn’t realize how mild the contractions would feel, so I was looking for a sensation much greater than my body was producing. This tripped me up a bit. Since I didn’t feel much, I wondered if something was wrong.
I remember thinking, “fuck, I can’t believe this is really happening…just as I feared.”
I told my midwife that I wasn’t feeling much. She said the contractions may be super mild and that I would probably barely feel them.
I began talking to my placenta, letting it know that I really needed it to come out and thanked it for all of the work it did. And as soon as I felt the slightest sensation in my abdomen, I pushed.
I heard both my midwife and doula say, “ah, there it is.” Ker-plop. My placenta was out. It took about 35 minutes for my placenta to come out after birthing my baby.
I wouldn’t even call the sensation a contraction. It felt so so so mild compared to what I had just experienced.
I felt a huge relief, but was still concerned about my bleeding.
I laid back down and my midwife intermittently checked my bleeding. When she pushed on my abdomen, a little blood would spurt out. I asked her if it was normal.
She responded that it was a little more than she would like to see at that point, but she was also paying attention to how I looked and felt. I had great color, was alert/oriented, and felt perfectly fine. She mentioned at one point that I didn’t even look like I just had a baby based on the way I was moving around.
She was doing her best to keep calm, but I could feel nervous energy coming from her.
She poured another concoction of herbs and suggested we do another for good measure. I agreed.
She checked me again and it seemed that my bleeding was improving, but according to her, there was still more blood coming out than she would have liked to see at that point.
Because of my nutrient-rich diet, I think I built a lot of blood which may have been why I lost a lot of blood, but I wasn’t thinking about this (or thinking rationally at all, really) then. I was starting to really worry.
She poured a third concoction of herbs and that’s when I really felt myself dive into a fear response. I asked her if I should be concerned, and she repeatedly told me no. She was just trying to be proactive and stay ahead of it. But the third shot of herbs really fucked with my head. It didn’t feel like everything was okay.
I asked her if we should do something stronger. I didn’t want Pitocin and asked if there were any other options. She suggested Cytotec, which is similar to Pitocin in that it also induces uterine contractions, but it has a shorter half life. For some reason, even though it’s also a pharmaceutical, it sounded like a better idea than Pitocin.
I decided to do the Cytotec. My midwife gave it to me as a suppository.
When I reflect on the bleeding situation, I felt fine the entire time. This makes me think I didn’t actually need the Cytotec. I thought that if I got it, it would put my mind at ease and my mental state would drastically turn around, but it didn’t.
I don’t regret the Cytotec, but I wish I would have had the mental strength to let my body do its thing instead. Fear won and it robbed me of the golden hour. I experienced just a few moments of post-birth bliss until I rapidly descended into fear about my bleeding. I don’t even really remember holding my daughter for the first hour after birth. I think my husband was holding her most of the time.
I also considered that if I had birthed in the water as I initially planned, the volume of blood would have been impossible to determine or red flag. In this case, I may have avoided the intervention altogether. But who knows. Something to consider for next time.
Aside from the bleeding fiasco, everything else was perfect.
My midwife helped me into the shower shortly after my bleeding was under control. I cleaned up, laid back down, and ate some leftover steak, raw cheese, and strawberries we had in the fridge. Each bite felt like so much life. I also pounded down some more salted water. I finally began to relax.
We did Eldon card testing and Farrah ended up being A- (yay!). I planned to decline the RhoGAM shot either way, but it was a relief knowing she was Rh- like me.
My midwife cut up my placenta and placed it in the freezer for me to consume later.
Her and our doula helped clean up, and around 11pm or so, they left.
My husband lit a bunch of candles and it was just us three and our pup chillin’ in our bedroom, wondering what the heck just happened.
Even though it ended up differently than I initially visualized, my first experience with birth was exactly what it needed to be. I caught my daughter myself after an insanely quick and powerful unmedicated labor in the sacred space of our own home. How we got there is how we got there. My husband and I are still in awe of how everything played out.
He didn’t realize how serious things were until the very end. When I started to push, he came into our room and said, “I’m going to take Bear (our dog) out for a walk right now,” to which I replied, “NO YOU ARE NOT!” And when my midwife arrived, he asked her if he should start setting up the birth pool, to which she replied, “no, it takes about 30 minutes or so and we don’t have time.” He had no idea that we were that close to having a baby then.
Our daughter – Farrah Jade Rothstein – is chunky with plump cheeks, huge gorgeous lips, and a full head of hair. She clocked in at 7 lbs 10 oz. If I got to my due date, she probably would have been a little under 9 lbs. We always thought she’d pull heavily from my features, but when she came out, she looked like my husband’s mini-me.
I have heard it is common for a baby to initially look like their father. Primally, this encourages the father to help care for their babies during the postpartum period.
As Farrah gets older (she’s 3 months old as I’m writing this), she looks more and more like me, which evens things out. Pretty much across the board, we get feedback that she is an even 50-50 split.