I had just turned 39 weeks pregnant and we were getting under the wire to finish our baby prep. Admittedly, we were close on lots of things – the crib was partially constructed; we’d installed the infant insert and put the car seat in the car – just hadn’t latched it down; I’d packed our diaper bag, but hadn’t finished packing our birth bag. In other ways, I felt well prepared – I’d been listening to lots of birth stories and read so many books; we’d practiced comfort measures and rebozo techniques; and I’d been mentally preparing for the birth to not go to plan – a long, grueling labor, or worse, an emergency hospital transfer.
My mom’s babies were all one to two weeks late, and as a first-time mom, I thought I’d easily get to 40 weeks. Our plan was to get everything wrapped up that Saturday. Around nine that morning though, I was sitting on the couch waiting for my husband Chris to make his coffee when I felt a little pop and some fluid come out. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the normal end-of-pregnancy mucus or urinary incontinence (oh the joys of pregnancy!), but I also didn’t want to get too excited – an amniotic leak could still mean a while before labor. As we started working on our to-do list, I started to feel some period-like cramps. At that point, I told Chris what was going on and said, “We might need to prioritize, can you go install the car seat?” While he went to the car, I leaned on my yoga ball for a minute and soon went upstairs to the bathroom – another early labor sign.
By 9:30, I felt like the “cramping” was intensifying – and also like it was coming and going, like a contraction might. When I tried to time these contractions using an app on my phone, the times were sporadic – but close together, all less than 3 minutes apart. I thought I must not be doing it right. By 9:45, I realized this was not in my head and texted the midwife on call and let them know what was going on. They said they’d check-in an hour later and I worked on wrapping up the birth bag.
I hopped in the shower, hoping for a little relief, but when I got out, the rushes were stronger, more regular and closer together. When I tried timing them again, around 10:30, they were about a minute apart and a minute long. I remember being on my hands and knees, looking at my pregnancy book during the rest periods, confused about what was going on – could I already be in active labor? Where did the “4” come into play in the 4-1-1 rule again?
I was too distracted to call the midwife on call before then, but was relieved to hear Misty’s voice when she called me at 10:45. The contractions stopped for the first half of the call, but fortunately, they picked up again before we hung up. After hearing a few of them, Misty encouraged us to start heading to Brookhaven, despite my initial reluctance.
I threw a few more things into our bag, but soon just stayed in the bathroom, laboring on my hands and knees (was it supposed to be this intense already?), while Chris ran up and down our stairs grabbing things (though I’m still not exactly sure what!). The next time he came to check on me, I was sitting on the toilet and throwing up in a trash can. Our eyes locked in concern. We’d both taken the birth class – this seemed like it could be transition (advanced labor) – AND we still had an hour and a half drive ahead of us, with no closer place to go for delivery.
On the way out the door, around 11:15, I grabbed a few things he didn’t know to find – a soft cushy comforter, the breast pump (in case labor stalled – ha!). With a few snowflakes flying that cold May day, I barely managed to throw on shoes before climbing in the back of our older Chevy Trailblazer.
I knew I wanted to labor in the back of the SUV, with the seat pushed down flat. I also had great plans to continue laboring on my knees over the yoga ball, but as I slammed from side to side on our curvy mountain roads, I realized I needed to hold on to something more solid and started holding on to the driver’s side headrest. I had my eyes closed most of the way, silently breathing through contractions, when, about 40 minutes down the road, Chris said, “I’m so sorry baby – I don’t think we have enough gas to make it!” and pulled over at one of the last stops before ascending our final mountain. In this era of Coronavirus, he started putting on his mask and gloves while I said “Just get the gas! Don’t worry about the gloves! Don’t fill it up!” (Who knows what the other car, casually pumping their gas across from us thought was going on!)
In Brandywine, WV, about 45 minutes away from Brookhaven, I told Chris that I felt like I had to push. He nodded, but didn’t say anything. I gave one tiny push and was amazed at how good it felt.
I remembered reading Ina May’s recommendation to do “horse lips” and low moans. The moans felt terrible, but I could stay somewhat relaxed doing horse lips and repeating “open, open, open” to myself. Soon, I started getting amazing rest periods – where I could actually lay down – followed by contractions as strong as ever, with spurts of amniotic fluid coming out with each one. I didn’t try to push – but I didn’t try to stop my body either. I honestly don’t know if I could have anyways.
At one point, I reached down and felt something – could that be the head? As soon as I though we might be back in cell service, I asked Chris to call the midwife. He tried three times around 12:30 before the call went through, and I asked what it would feel like if the baby was close. As soon as she said, “it will feel like there’s burning,” I fully realized what was happening and how far along things were. “That’s what it feels like,” I said. Chris and Misty started making plans for her to meet us on the road, and I closed my eyes and continued laboring.
We’re not sure of the exact timing or location, but in the next minute or two, somewhere before the chicken plant on Route 33, there was a huge whoosh. I felt the baby shoot out of me, landing on the soft comforter I’d grabbed on my way out. Instinct totally taking over, I flipped around and pulled it up low to my stomach, before telling Chris “I just had the baby!” I remember it starting to cry right away and for some reason, felt confident everything would be ok. (From the front seat, Chris only heard the whoosh and said it took an eternity before he heard the cry.)
Chris called Misty hysterically (his words), and upon hearing it’s “lusty cry,” she encouraged us continue heading to Brookhaven, where everything was set up waiting for us. For the next 15 minutes, I cuddled with the baby as best I could, pulling a flannel shirt over both of us to keep it warm, while Chris cranked up the heat. When we arrived at Brookhaven, Chris hopped out and opened the trunk. Misty hopped in, saying “Don’t worry – I’ve done this before!” After a quick check, she helped me out of the car, umbilical cord dangling between my legs, still holding the baby as I hobbled inside.
As we turned the corner to enter the room, I remember looking at the warm bath, soft lights and (wonderfully stationary!) bed and said, “Oh, it’s so beautiful!” I laid down on the bed while Misty and the midwife apprentice Lauren did a few more checks, and we waited for the placenta to arrive. As we waited, Misty took a warm wash cloth and wiped my bloody feet – it felt so good! When they asked, “Is it a boy or girl?” we realized we hadn’t even checked in all the excitement! So, Chris and I got to find out together – we had a sweet baby girl.
In the baby’s rush to get out, I’d also torn, so after delivering the placenta, Misty carefully stitched me up and then Lauren helped me nurse for the first time. Then, they stepped out of the room – leaving us to wonder at this new baby and to process the 3.5-hour labor and all that had just happened. We eventually called our families (who hadn’t even known we’d left and were completely shocked), ate so much food (Misty shared some amazing rhubarb pie!), and rested. Misty even helped Chris clean the car and get most of the blood out.
Though at first, I didn’t feel like I’d ever want to leave Brookhaven, by the early evening we started feeling ready to go home, and Chris started packing up (again!). I rode in the back with the baby – but this time with her next to me – looking at her the whole time.
We didn’t have a name then – but after a few days we knew what we wanted to call her – Lyla Hope.