I truly can’t believe it has been a year since Will’s birth. I also can’t believe it has taken me a year to put his story on paper. Honestly, it has probably taken me a full year to process everything that transpired that day and how lucky we are to be here a year later. So instead of relaxing in the tub with Criminal Minds and a glass of wine after getting two toddlers to sleep I am sitting here writing “A 2020 Birth Story.”
Being pregnant during 2020 had both pros and cons. On one hand my husband was working from home for the last half of pregnancy which meant he was more readily available. We enjoyed daily walks as a family of 3 as soon as he finished up for the day and he could help me get our toddler down for a nap on his lunch break. However my support system was basically my husband, our babysitter and my coworkers. Some of my family and friends never even saw me pregnant so it was almost like this pregnancy was a secret. However, if you were to see me in person there was no denying I was pregnant. Around Mother’s Day (a few weeks before the guess date) we decided that we needed to expand our bubble and started relying on my parents more.
One huge difference between my first pregnancy and this one was the question of where to deliver. I started out seeing the hospital midwives but when care partners were no longer allowed to be present in hospital deliveries in some states I needed a back up plan. I met with a home birth midwife and fell in love. I was set to have my happy home birth. Before my first appointment with her around 32 weeks I felt something was off with baby’s position. I could feel two hard lumps under both sides of my ribcage. She confirmed my suspicion that the baby was transverse. Over the next couple weeks I did everything to get baby to flip- chiropractic care, inversions, meditations, heat/ice therapy. Finally a few weeks later I felt a lightening bolt of pain and knew baby had flipped.
At this point in time care partners and doulas were both being allowed in the hospital where I originally planned to deliver which also happens to be the hospital where I work as NICU nurse. As a NICU nurse we see many pregnancies and deliveries gone wrong and not many that follow a dream birth plan. Unfortunately, the last few months of pregnancy I saw several unexplained/undiagnosed neonatal complications despite moms having healthy pregnancies and deliveries. Because of this and a nagging feeling in the back of my mind I decided to go ahead and deliver with the midwives at the hospital. I’d be able to have my husband and Julie present and my NICU coworkers would literally be next door if something went wrong. I was at peace with my decision.
My first son was 6 days late. I never had a sign of labor until my water broke at work and my coworkers forced me home. I thought I’d be able to finish up my shift but he came before my shift was over. This current baby I just knew would come before his guess date. My body was over pregnancy. Maybe it was working 3-4 12 hour shifts a week while wrangling a not-quite two year old. Maybe it was the 60+ pounds I gained slowing me down. I was having Braxton Hicks contractions pretty regularly after 38 weeks so the baby had to be coming soon, right?
WRONG! At my 40+ week appt I agreed to having my membranes swept in hopes of jump starting labor. I went ahead and “scheduled” an induction for that Wednesday afternoon when I’d be 41 weeks. After talking to Julie, I decided to take the midwives’ cocktail Monday evening after having my membranes swept to see if it helped. That night my husband and I dropped our son off with my parents, got Cookout burgers and shakes (we rarely eat out much less indulge in fast food) which I washed down with the tasty (yuck) cocktail and then went out for a 2 mile walk. I had a glass of champagne in the bathtub just waiting for contractions to hit. Nothing happened so we decided to call it a night.
I set my alarm for 2:30 am so I could drink another portion of the potion. When my alarm went off I jumped out of bed hoping the concoction worked. I felt a dribble of warm liquid, went to the bathroom, laid down again and stood up to make sure it was my water leaking and not me peeing. Sure enough it was leaking! I got up and showered, shaved my legs, fixed my hair and waited for contractions to kick in. Nothing. I texted Julie to let her know what was going on then folded some laundry while bouncing on my ball and eventually went back to sleep slightly disappointed.
A little after 7am, I awoke to the sound/feeling of a thud. I felt like I got sucker punched in my belly. I stood up and a gush of water hit the floor. Immediately, I began contracting. Chris texted Julie to come on over. Meanwhile I try to relax in the tub while we wait on Julie. My contractions are strong and coming about every 2 minutes at this point. Chris calls Julie to see if we should wait on her or meet her at the hospital. She’s only 20 minutes away so we decide to get the car packed and wait on her. When Julie arrives I can barely get off my birth ball to walk down the stairs let alone put on underwear and get dressed. Someone puts a black dress over my head and we start down the stairs. I have a contraction halfway down and another before I step in the car.Julie asks if I want to stay at home but I say “let’s go.” Julie said she will call the midwife on call to start filling up the tub so we can bypass triage. The last thing I remember her saying is “If you feel like you need to push, pull over.”
On the route to the hospital I feel like the contractions are not letting up. All of a sudden I feel as if I am going to the bathroom and feel a ring of fire. I put my hands down and feel a head and yell to Chris to pull over because the head is out. He makes a right hand turn from the left lane of Church St. onto a little side street called Haynie at 8:35am.
I’ve leaned the seat back as far as it will go but the carseat is blocking it from reclining completely. I look down and see a head and what I think is the cord around the neck. Julie comes racing to the passenger side knowing exactly what has happened. I yell at Chris to rip the carseat out of the back so i can lean back-hoping that will help with the delivery. My contractions have stopped and all I can see is a blue head. At one point Julie is asking me to push but I can’t, nothing is happening. Julie has me flip to my hands and knees to push again. I look back and I remember thinking he’s stuck, he’s a shoulder dystocia.
At this point I’m screaming “my baby is dead” because of course I’ve seen some horrible shoulder dystocia cases at work. [Doula note: when SJ said this, I channeled the voices of all the midwives I’ve ever worked with and said (yelled?), “If you can talk you can push!”]
My world is in slow motion- Chris is on the phone with EMS, an older lady is walking by with a little dog and avoiding eye contact, and oh God there is a street sweeper coming this way blowing dust everywhere, if my baby breathes then it will inhale dust. I think Julie covers the baby’s face to protect it. Finally I feel another contraction coming and Julie has me lift a leg and helps guide the baby’s shoulder out. The baby is blue, floppy, not breathing- a NICU nurse’s worst nightmare. Someone is yelling “she’s not breathing, she’s not breathing. But my instincts kick in. I start drying and stimulating the baby with scarves (we have no blankets or towels but Julie had a bag of scarves). I ask for suction but we’re in the car not at work so I go to suck out the baby’s mouth and nose out with my mouth and “she” cries. The baby is crying, I’m crying, I’m sure Chris and Julie are crying. And guess what- she isn’t a she, she is a he and a very, very large he.
Chris tells the ambulance not to come and we will drive the rest of the way to the hospital. Julie calls Miranda to let her know we no longer need the tub and to meet us out front. I just hold my new baby boy and pray that he is ok. NPR Morning Edition is playing on WNCW and they are discussing Trump’s holding a bible upside down for a photo op. What a true 2020 birth. Baby Willis Callahan fully entered this world around 8:41 at 40+6 on Tuesday, May 2.
He may have been stuck for about 3-5 minutes. It took a good 60-90 seconds to get him to breathe. His APGAR score at birth was maybe a 2 and he only gets that because I didn’t check his pulse.
When we got to the hospital Miranda and our nurse met us at the front and I got out of the front seat holding a baby with the placenta still inside me and they wheeled me into the hospital.
The only “plans” I had for our birth were to have a surprise gender and cut my own cord. Well, Will sure was a surprise and I was able to cut my own cord. Julie left us to process what happened and even went down to clean our car which was very, very, very messy. So messy in fact that we had to file a claim with our insurance to get new carpeting and seats.
Will weighed in at 10 lb 9 oz and 21.25 inches long. He had typical “big boy” problems with low glucoses and some respiratory distress but he transitioned out of that at 12 hours. One of our neonatologists and NNPs came over to check him out and make sure his shoulder wasn’t hurt.
I was told to keep him warm and feed him often so he wouldn’t have to go meet my NICU coworkers. Luckily we were able to go home the next day.
I guess there was a reason I had a nagging feeling that I should deliver at the hospital. Even though I technically didn’t make it in time I am thankful we were there in case Will had needed some extra glucose or had a broken clavicle. More importantly I am thankful for Julie and Chris for remaining calm. I thank God for letting us wait on Julie before leaving for the hospital because if she weren’t behind us Will would have been stuck for much longer. She saved his life and I am forever grateful.
If you learn anything from this birth story let it be that birth waits on no one and to always carry towels in your car!
[Doula Note: This was absolutely beyond my scope. But in a world as unpredictable as birth, we have to be ready for anything. I am grateful that I had theoretical knowledge of shoulder dystocia manuevers. And I’m beyond grateful that they worked as we waited for EMS. I also have no memory of anyone yelling “She’s not breathing!” but SJ was in FULL NICU nurse mode when her baby was born so I wonder if that’s what was screaming in her own mind.]