I’m still a bit shocked that I’m putting “natural birth story” in the title of Dayton’s post. It was not in my ideal birth plan to do this without an epidural, but that’s what ended up happening. If you’re looking for the textbook perfect way to do an unmedicated birth, you won’t find that there. I was in no way calm, cool, or collected! You will, however, get a real and honest account of birthing without any pain meds.
This is my second and final birth. I love reading about and sharing birth stories. In the weeks leading up to both Milo and Dayton’s birth, I would binge-read any birth stories I could find on blogs that I follow. It was one of my favorite ways to prepare for my own sons’ births, because reading about all the endless and unique stories reminded me that my story will be unrepeatable and completely its own.
All of the birth stories I read helped me to keep an open mind about my own and be up for things to happen in a way that I couldn’t expect or imagine. (Which is what happened!)
I’m sharing my birth story so that women gearing up for birth will have one more perspective. The more the merrier! Who knows how yours will play out?
If you just want the gist of it, and you’d prefer to skip the less-than-beautiful parts, read the Short Version. If you’re up for all of the yucky parts and details and you want to read the entire thing, start-to-finish, go to the Long Version. And if you’re mostly just interested in hearing about my thoughts of getting an epidural versus experiencing an unmedicated birth, I’ll share that in another blog post in the future! I want to give my body a bit more time to recover (I’m writing this at 6 days postpartum.) But I’ll share more, if that would be helpful for you.
And since this is my final birth, I’m going to revel in sharing all of it. Be warned: this is a lengthy blog post! Grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine…) and settle in.
Dayton's Natural Birth Story
The short version:
I made it to 40 weeks + 3 days pregnant and started feeling contractions early in the morning. They seemed to be progressing at a normal speed and then all of a sudden took off of turbo power. Nate and I drove to the hospital and arrived 30 minutes before Dayton was born. I definitely wanted and requested an epidural, but there just wasn’t time to get it, so this ended up being a natural birth. Dayton was born about 30 minutes after we checked in to the hospital!
The long version:
If you haven’t ever read Milo’s birth story from 2019, start there. Two different boys and two drastically different birth experiences. Milo’s birth was calm and gentle, completely in line with how I had imagined the ideal birthing day to play out. The energy that brought him out in the world was love, a golden glow, and the most intense surge of emotions I’ve ever felt. Dayton’s birth was white hot fire, a frenzy mixed with fear, and the energy that birthed him was fury and searing pain and raw female power.
Around 5 day before Dayton’s due date, I felt something shift in my body. My hips felt looser, my back ached more, and I just really felt like he would be here before his due date. I must have gotten a big dose of relaxin released, because all of my ligaments felt loose and flexible (almost painful!) It felt like if I moved too quickly, my hips would just separate and fall apart. Did you play with American Girl Dolls? Every now and then the elastic that held my Molly doll’s leg to her body would stretch out and her plastic leg would wobble in the socket that connected it to the cotton torso. That’s how my hips felt.
40 weeks hit, and I went to my appointment in the afternoon. 3 cm dilated! All was well and baby boy was healthy, so I set up a 41 week appointment just in case.
When Nate was on his way home that evening to take over Milo requested “dada pool!” I thought the pool sounded nice, so I decided to join them. While I was getting changed, I found that I had lost my mucous plug and it was tinged with blood. Gahh!! I was so excited! I had experienced this with Milo, so there were no questions about it: this meant labor was getting close. I told Nate that I went into labor with Milo 12 hours after this happened, so I was going to stay home and finish packing our hospital bag while he took Milo to the pool. Then we both needed to try to go to bed early and get lots of rest that night.
I texted my family and a few support people, telling them that there’s a chance I might be heading into the hospital in the middle of the night if this played out the same way as it did with Milo. I felt so excited and nervous! There was sooo much anticipation in the air. I ate a good sized dinner and went to bed around 9 pm. I didn’t set an alarm because I figured contractions would wake me up at some point in the middle of the night.
And then…I woke up at 8:30 am on Wednesday to the sound of Nate and Milo in the kitchen.
“Ok,” I thought, “it’s going to happen sometime today or tonight!” I spent the day resting, walking, squatting, thinking positive thoughts, reading books, and mostly just waiting for those dang contractions to start. I didn’t want to do any big projects because I really felt like my body was about to go into labor. Nate worked from home so he could be ready to go at any minute. By evening I hadn’t experienced any contractions, and my mood was turning sour. It’s hard to feel that extreme amount of anticipation for such a long time without it having negative side effects. I felt bored, annoyed, anxious, angry. I went to bed once again thinking that I’d probably wake up from contractions in the middle of the night…but nothing happened.
At two days past his due date, I decided it was time to switch my mental game. I was in such a bad mood, and I knew I couldn’t live like this in case the baby decided to wait to come much later. After all, I could still have 7-10 more days of pregnancy. So I took Milo on a two mile walk and we played at the playground. I made a to-do list for the day, worked on some projects, and enjoyed the structure that I thrive on. I made sure to rest my body when it felt tired (just in case!) but I told my family that I was mentally preparing for another few days of pregnancy, and I would update them with any changes.
That day was sooo much more enjoyable than Wednesday. I felt a lot happier going to bed on Thursday night.
I’m sharing all these details as a reminder: the final few days can be so mentally exhausting!
I felt like I was going insane and that’s because one of life’s biggest events was about to happen, but I didn’t know exactly when.
I struggled to fall asleep on Thursday night. I felt hot and uncomfortable. My heartburn was keeping me awake, and Dayton was wiggling and kicking me in the ribs for about two hours straight. I finished reading a fiction book I had started (haha so funny – I just realized that’s what I did in the few hours right before Milo’s labor started, too) and finally around 1 am, I started to get tired. I also felt a few tiny tinges of pain from contractions at 1 am, but I had felt a few similar sensations in the past few days and they always fizzled out, so I decided to ignore these and get some sleep. If contractions were real, they would wake me up.
And they did! At 3:30 they were painful enough that I couldn’t sleep through them. I timed them and found them to be about 7-8 minutes apart and about 30-40 seconds each. It was very difficult to try to rest in between them at this point, because I wanted to time them to see if they were getting close together. Time goes quickly when you’re counting contractions. Before I knew it, an hour of time had passed and I knew that labor was definitely starting.
I chuckled at the unfortunate wording of this push notification on my contraction timer app and had to screenshot it to share with you. That can’t be good for their ratings, right?
I got up and toasted a piece of Dave’s Killer Bread, smothered it with lots of peanut butter and honey, and made myself eat the entire thing. I waited too long to eat during Milo’s labor process and by the time I should have eaten some calories, food didn’t sound good. So I made sure to eat early on in labor this time in case I had another 12-18 hours of labor ahead of me.
At 5 am I woke Nate: “we’re having a baby today!” I asked him to go to HEB when it opened at 6 am to pick up a CLEAN Cause yerba mate drink (coffee never sounds good to me when I’m laboring, but sparkling yerba does, and I wanted some caffeine. Again, just in case I had a really long labor.) Nate called his mom to come over and then calmly started loading the car.
I snapped this picture between contractions and I’m so glad I did; last bump pic I’ll ever take!
I got back in bed to rest in between contractions, trying to conserve as much energy as I could. Every now and then Nate would come over to the bed to check on me or help me through a painful contraction, but overall I felt like I was doing pretty well! The contractions were about 5 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute. I wanted to wait until they were 4-1-1 before heading into the hospital. That’s what I did with Milo, and then I went to my OB’s office for a cervix check and THEN headed into the hospital. I was 5.5 cm with him.
So I was about at 5-1-1 when Nate left at 6:00 to go to HEB to pick up some things for me. A minute after he left, I felt some nausea, followed by a contraction. 3 minutes later I got another contraction. Then another. I texted him “Turn around. I think I want to head in now.” And then I ran to the bathroom and threw up my breakfast. (By the way: thank you intuition for telling me that Nate needed to turn around! If I had waited the 30 minutes for him to do that grocery store run, we might have had a Mopac baby. 😉 )
Nate and I got in the car and started driving to the hospital. I turned on some feel good music (Can You Handle My Love, a new-ish release from WALK THE MOON) and put it on repeat. Haha..I’m someone who can find a song she likes and listen to it on repeat ad nauseam and then I “retire” that song…but then whenever I listen to that song in the future, it brings me back in time. Nate HATES it when I listen to a song 60 times in a row, but it was my labor day so I got to do what I wanted. And that song puts me in a good mood! I was chatting with Nate (nervously! We were both so excited but it was a big day!) and enjoying the music in between contractions. I wasn’t timing them at this point, but I’d guess they were about 3 min apart. I remember saying “I just can’t stop shaking!” but still thinking it was a result of me throwing up earlier, not because my body was transitioning. (Clues, Kelsey! Ya gotta look for the clues!!)
Nate dropped me off at the entrance and went to park the car, then we both walked to the women’s center at St David’s.
As we sat down at the front desk to check in, I got the shakes really badly and felt an urge to throw up. A strong urge. I told the nurse, “I’m going to throw up – I need a bag.” She started looking around and I said “Like RIGHT NOW” and I stood up to look for a trash can. She said “ok, go into that room right there and use the sink!” and I went into the nearest delivery room (about 10 steps away) and was handed a barf bag and immediately threw up all of the liquid in my stomach. I then started shaking so badly. More like vibrating, actually. It was like at a barre class when your muscles are fatigued and you think you might jackhammer your way through the ground. My legs were uncontrollably shaking. The nurse was saying, “that’s ok sweetie, it’s normal to shake when you’re going through transition.” And I thought, “duh, I know that…but I don’t know why I’m shaking bcause I’m clearly not transitioning because I haven’t gotten my epidural yet!” Ha.
After I threw up, the contractions started coming in wave after wave without much time to breathe between them. I changed into the hospital gown rolled my body onto the bed, and I told the nurse, “I really need an epidural. Can you please get that started now?” Again, I didn’t realize we were SO close to birth. I knew contractions were close, but they honestly felt pretty manageable to me. I figured I was 6 or 7 cm and had another hour or two to go before transition. (Never mind the fact that my body was trying to drill a hole through the hospital bed with all the shaking…in my mind we were NOT transitioning because I hadn’t had that damn epidural.) The nurse checked me and I was 9 cm. 10 cm is when you start pushing.
She said, “yes, we’re going to do everything we can to get it for you” (which wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear..to me, that sounded like “there’s not enough time.”) She also said, “do you feel the urge to push?” and I couldn’t even believe she was asking me that! Again….because I hadn’t had the epidural, so how could it possibly be time to push? Not happening.
A second nurse came in to start the IV, while a third one shoved a swab up my nose for the COVID test. Nate was answering the check in questions at rapid fire, and another nurse was bringing in the bassinet for after his birth. And another nurse was getting all of the birthing buckets/tarps ready at the bottom of the bed. I just remember thinking “they can’t be getting all of this stuff ready for Dayton yet because I need that epidural to happen first. THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT ORDER.”
I heard one nurse say “where is Dr. Breedlove?” (the OB on call that day) and another nurse reply “she’s still looking for a parking spot, but she’ll get here very soon.” Another doctor came in and introduced herself to me and said that she was here until Dr. Breedlove arrived. She asked me to tell her when I felt like I needed to push. At this point my mind finally accepted that the epidural was definitely not going to happen. The contractions were back to back and I hardly had a moment to breathe between them. Nate was standing by my head and I remember looking up at him and telling him that I couldn’t do this.
The pain from the contractions was manageable, even at 9 cm. (It really didn’t feel different than the contractions at the beginning of labor – it’s just that they were longer and closer together. The pain was in the fear of what was about to be asked of me: I was going to have to push this baby out without an epidural, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it. I had no way out. I truly felt terrified, a deep and dark fear that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. It wasn’t fear of “what if” because I knew exactly what I had to do, and I really didn’t want to do it.
Some women say that birthing is an out of body experience, but there was nothing out of body for me. I was 100% in my body, feeling every single squeeze and burn and bolt of lightning. As Dayton started crowning, the urge to push became very real. I had a really good epidural with Milo, so I never even felt pressure or an urge to push – I just pushed when they told me to. But without an epidural, I knew exactly when my baby was ready to come out. There was no way to deny it, and as much as I wanted to will my body to wait until the epidural could arrive, there was literally no way to stop the urge to push. It would be like trying to stop a train arriving at full speed. I felt a contraction coming on, murumered “I need to push” and then just started pushing. Dr. Breedlove arrived then, introduced herself, and said “we’re going to get this baby out!” I think I had one foot up in a stirrup at this time and the other was in front of me. I pushed with all my might, heard a pop, felt an intense burning. A nurse said “oh, ok!!” and I heard a bunch of fluid…so I assume my water broke. However, secretly I was hoping that the baby’s head had come out, because I had just reached my pain threshold. That was it…I couldn’t possibly handle any more pain than I was in right then.
Dr. Breedlove said that was great, just 3-4 more pushes like that and I’d have him out. OH HELL NO. This was one of the moments that permanently changed who I am…I’m not sure how, but I know it changed me. This is why:
The pain at this moment was stronger than anything I had felt. I didn’t even know my body could experience pain like that. And as I realized that I had to push a baby out through that pain, I thought “I can’t” simply because my mind didn’t understand how there could be more pain than what I felt. That was it. It seemed as simple of a fact as gravity: this was the limit of pain, and there simply couldn’t be more.
I kept saying “I can’t do this.” And the doctor just said “you can, and you are doing it!” In hindsight, that was the smartest thing she could have said to me. I love that phrase “you are doing it!” Because she didn’t have to convince me or argue with me. She just pointed out that despite my belief, my body literally was birthing this baby right now.
A contraction was on deck, which meant it was about to be time to push. I looked at Nate again and said “I can’t do this” and he said “yes you can” and then the contraction was there, and I felt searing anger that I had to do this and I didn’t have any choice in the matter.
It was a weird thing to know that the pain I was in, which felt like the most pain my body could possibly handle, was not going to end until I went through even more pain. The only way out of the pain was through a hotter fire, and until I went through it I would be sitting in that pain. That was the motivation for getting Dayton out of me.
The physical sensation was my body ripping open while being set on fire. It was the most powerful, localized pain I’ve ever felt. Moments before, I had been aware of other sensations, like the fierce contractions and the heat coming off my head. But as soon as I felt the ring of fire, I couldn’t focus on anything else. It felt like a knife slicing through me while a lighter was held up to it.
I kept my eyes shut and tried to breathe. Again…my story is not necessarily a “natural birthing 101” guide for you. I know that there are so many mental tools that can help moms manage the pain at this point, and I was literally doing the opposite: clenching and holding my breathe and saying “I can’t do it.” Both Nate and the nurses were trying to remind me to breathe, and I really was trying.
With another contraction coming up, the nurse by my side told me to try to take deep breaths. Dr. Breedlove told me to work with my body, not against it. The nurse also said to try to hold off on pushing as long as I could, and then use all of that built-up energy to get the baby out. This worked, because on the next contraction I saved up my energy and waited on pushing until I couldn’t stand it, and then pushed really really hard. Nothing happened, but I was able to get another push with that contraction and got his head out!
I was crying, cussing, and screaming high-pitched, ear splitting screams. I was shocked at the sounds coming out of my body! I didn’t think to myself “I’m going to scream to help” but my body just decided to scream. I was surprised at how my body moved (head hunched down, and then I propped myself up on my elbows for the final push to get his shoulders out.) It was all involuntary, natural, and my body knew how to do something that I didn’t know how to do.
I was also surprised at how I could feel every little bit of Dayton’s body sliding out of me: his head (FIRE), and then a rest where I sat there trying to catch a breath but also screaming in pain, just wanting this baby out out out of me. And then I felt his shoulders come out (bless) which didn’t hurt quite as badly as the head, followed by his body – his little bum and then his legs. The doctor held him up and I saw him and just breathed. Nate had a cold washrag on my head and I wanted to cry from the shock of what had just happened, but I couldn’t.
Emotionally, this time was very different than my previous birth. When Milo was handed to me, I had instant tears and felt an overwhelming surge of love. With Dayton, his birth was fueled by fury. I was panting and my brow was furrowed and I couldn’t believe what had just happened to my body, and then this tiny little babe was held up in front of me.
However…just a few moments after he was put on my chest, something released. Anger subsided, love started gushing in, Nate was there, all was well. Dayton didn’t scream the way that Milo did. He just sat there quietly, and the nurse really had to rub him to get him to cry a bit to clear his lungs. And then he would stop crying, and she had to rub him again.
Dr. Breedlove said, “ok, placenta being birthed now. You’ll feel it but it’s no baby!” and she was right. I noticed it happening and felt some pain, but it was nothing compared to the baby. She started numbing me with lidocaine to do some stitches “you tore in the exact same spot as last time, which is good. You’ll also have a lot less swelling this time because you didn’t have an epidural, so recovery should be faster.” Nate was right there next to me. Such a rock. He did a great job being with me, cheering me on, calming me down, trying to take a few pictures, saying hello to Dayton, answering questions from the nurses. After Dayton was born, my body still had the shakes so Nate was rubbing my arms and legs trying to get my body to calm down.
I later told Nate “I felt so afraid when I was transitioning and started to feel that pain. Did you feel that fear too?” And he said, “No, I wasn’t afraid. I knew you could do it.” That might be the best thing he’s ever said to me.
And in the few minutes after he was born, the nurses finished the check in process. Ha! We didn’t even make it through. We started checking in at 7:30 and Dayton was born at 8:04, weighing 7 lbs 15 oz, and 20 inches long.
Another surprising thing to me about an unmedicated birth was how my body and Dayton’s body could both go through so much trauma (I was torn and bleeding, he broke his clavicle coming out of the birth canal – fairly common in birth and it heals in a few weeks, but poor babe!) and then 5 minutes after birth I was able to talk to Nate and joke with the nurses and smile for a photo.
Phew! That’s the natural birth story of baby Dayton. I’m happy to share more about the differences between an unmedicated birth versus an epidural in the future. I just want a bit more time to think about it. I can tell you, though, that at just 2 days postpartum from my natural birth my body felt better than it did at 2 weeks postpartum with an epidural. And now at 6 days postpartum I’m already able to distance myself from that pain and recognize that it was a little bit of a gift to be able to experience both types of labor and delivery. And while I don’t think I would want to do a natural birth again, I can now see why some women don’t want to numb themselves to any of the sensations, and they decide to have a natural birth voluntarily.
Ok, I’m off to snuggle this sweet, sweet little babe of mine!