You might recognize Abigail and Mathew from their recent Maternity Session previews on my Facebook page. They recently welcome a sweet little boy, Elam, and it was such an honor and joy to capture their birth story for them. Abigail texted me when she started to have labor signs, and we stayed in touch as things progressed. Attending midwife Katy (who’s birth I also had the privilege of photographing) texted me when it was time to head over to Kootenai Hospital, in Coeur d’Alene, ID, and I arrived as Abigail labored calmly, deliberately, with the support of her husband, Mathew, and doula, Jennifer. This was one of the shortest first-time births I attended; baby was born within 3 hours of my arrival, and Abigail was incredibly strong, and controlled throughout her labor. I could share more, but I will let the photos tell my perspective, and Abigail shares her amazing birth story in more detail below.
Let It Be Strong: Our Birth Story, by Abigail
On Sunday, February 19th, around 4 AM, I was woken by the urge to urinate. Immediately, I noticed some extra wetness between my legs. Since I didn’t feel any surges, I thought nothing of it. I was 39 weeks and 2 days pregnant with my first baby, and I had already thoroughly prepared myself to patiently await his arrival. I visited the bathroom then fell back to sleep. (Later, I realized that I had started to leak amniotic fluid.)
Around 8:15 AM, I started to leak more amniotic fluid. This time, it flowed through my panties and onto the floor as I was getting dressed. My husband, Mathew, called my midwife. She asked us to come in for an AmniSure Rupture of Membrane Test to confirm that my water had truly broken.
At 9:30 AM, I started having mild to moderate surges every 6-8 minutes. They hit hard, and I couldn’t talk through them. I was most comfortable bent forward over the kitchen counter or the back of the sofa. I concentrated on the deep breathing exercises I had learned through The Calm Birth School, a four-week online video Hypnobirthing course. Based on what we had learned through The Bradley Method® classes, my husband gathered the items we had decided to use during labor – a rebozo, essential oils, a variety of massagers, flameless candles, birth affirmation cards, MP3s, etc.
We finally left our house for Kootenai Health Family Birth Center around 10:15 AM. Fast-forward through the car ride, the check-in process, triage, and a positive AmniSure Rupture of Membrane Test. I was admitted!
As soon as I walked into the labor and delivery room, my surges began to come 3-4 minutes apart. At 11:45 AM, my midwife checked my cervix. It was 4 centimeters dilated and fully effaced! (Neither I nor anyone else could have predicted how rapidly my labor would advance from that moment. In less than 3 hours, we’d meet our baby!)
Our doula, Jennifer, arrived shortly after. I was barely getting time to relax before the next surge would begin. I even asked her, “When do I get to rest in between surges like we learned about in your classes?”. (Jennifer was also the instructor of The Bradley Method® classes we attended.)
While a rapid labor like mine might sound like a welcome alternative to an extended labor, I wouldn’t say that it was necessarily “easier.” With labor being sped up, there was less time to mentally and emotionally process what was happening. Also, physically, my body didn’t have time to adjust to a slower build-up of discomfort so I experienced all the sensations very intensely. Finally, my husband and I didn’t have the time to utilize all the coping skills we had practiced or all the comfort measures we had brought along.
Throughout my entire labor and delivery, I was positioned on my hands and knees, and I only wanted the double hip squeeze – a technique for counter-pressure on the pelvis and back. Mathew and Jennifer took turns providing this so they wouldn’t fatigue. As I felt a surge building up, I’d say, “Squeeze!” My pelvis was being stretched by the pressure of our baby’s head bearing down. The hip squeeze seemed to push my pelvis back into a relaxed position, which both relieved the pressure of the stretch and even caused my pelvis to flare out slightly, allowing our baby room to rotate around and move down.
I never felt fearful, panicked, overwhelmed by pain, or out of control. I kept breathing, sighing, and moaning during my surges. I consciously kept all my tones low to maintain my state of relaxation. Moving also helped. I swayed forward and backwards, as well as circled my hips.
I believe all husbands are special, but mine is in a league all of his own. Through The Bradley Method® classes and his own research, Mathew was empowered to be my ultimate support during pregnancy, labor, and birth (and beyond). His encouraging words, his gentle touch, and his calm demeanor created and protected the safe space I needed to go within myself to complete this challenging task. The bond that these shared experiences helped us forge is truly awe-inspiring.
Around 1:00 PM, I inquired about using the tub. The thought of being surrounded by warm water in a dark space seemed safe and relaxing, but the act of moving from my current position on the bed seemed daunting. I broke the task up into small steps and tried to move as quickly as I could after each surge ended.
In the tub, I remained on my hands and knees. Mathew continued to provide counter-pressure on the outside of my hips. Jennifer rubbed my back and talked me through each surge. One of the most comforting things she kept saying to me was “Yes, that’s it. Let it be strong.” I think hearing that over and over again helped me not fight against my surges but instead, embrace their power and truly abandon myself to birth.
While in the tub, I went through transitional labor. I became very instinctual. It was almost as if I entered into a glassy-eyed, drowsy, dream-like state. I was much less aware of the external world and, at the same time, much more internally focused on the work of labor. During the peaks of my surges, I grasped the faucet head and forcefully pressed my forehead into it. For some reason, the coldness and hardness of the metal provided some relief from my surges. (The next day, I complained to my husband that my forehead felt bruised. He reminded me what I had done while in the tub and we both laughed about it!)
After spending about 30 minutes in the tub, I started to feel “pushy.” At first, I felt embarrassed to tell my midwife this, as such a short amount of time had passed from when my cervix was only 4 centimeters dilated. I was sure she’d think I was nuts! About 2-3 “pushy” surges came while I was still in the tub. I tried to keep quiet and breathe through them, but finally, I told my midwife that I was feeling the strong urge to push. She called out to the nurses who began to prepare the area on the bed for delivery.
I exited the tub around 1:30pm. I had a few surges just outside the tub on my hands and knees on the floor. With the help of the nurses, I made my way back on to the bed. The nurses also helped me take off my wet bra and change back into my nursing nightgown for the birth…
Around 2:00 PM, my midwife checked my cervix. It was dilated to 10 centimeters, and it was time to start pushing! I remained positioned on my hands and knees and pushed for about 45 minutes. The frequency of my surges decreased a bit, and I was able to relax between them. However, their intensity did not. I wanted even more counter-pressure on the outside of my hips to cope. Mathew was standing on one side of the bed and Jennifer was on the other. In this position, they were each able to use both of their hands and really “put their weight into it.”
I wanted the pushing part to go much slower than the rest of my labor had gone. I had practiced “birth breathing” through The Calm Birth School. It’s different from the typical pushing technique a woman is encouraged to do. Instead of holding my breath and bearing down, I tried to give deep pushing breaths down and out while remaining open and relaxed in my pelvic floor.
I only pushed during my surges. I quickly figured out that if I pushed beyond them, our baby wouldn’t budge and it would only fatigue me. The pauses between pushes allowed me to rest and allowed his head to stretch my tissues. A few times, I reached down between my legs and felt the top of our baby’s head. There was so much hair! The nurses kept applying hot compresses and oil to aid my body in stretching.
It was gratifying to feel our baby move down my birth canal with each push. It was incredible to feel the effects of my efforts on him coming into this world! I felt like I had so much control and influence.
My husband bravely and unabashedly watched our baby slowly emerge.
Elam Rivers Colling was born at 2:41 PM. He weighed 8 pounds and 11 ounces and measured 20.75 inches long.
Mathew even caught him!
Although my husband assures me that is was only seconds, it felt like forever before Elam was passed to me. My midwife rubbed him for stimulation while the nurses tried to figure out how to help Mathew pass him to me between my legs. However, before they could, I threw my leg over to turn to be able to reach him, reclined back, and brought him up onto my chest. (Looking back, I’m surprised I was able to manage such an acrobatic move right after giving birth!)
As soon as Elam was in my arms, I was completely engrossed. All at once, I felt energized, gratified, and serene. I was entirely astounded at the miracle I had produced. In an instant, I became a mother to my baby. And the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual journey of birth – just as nature intended – had perfectly prepared us both for that very moment.
Congratulations, Abigail and Mathew! Thank you so much for inviting me to document Elam’s birth story. I can’t wait to share our Newborn session together!