25 letters: my birth story

“Hello World!”

When Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 more letters in the alphabet

When we found out last January that we would finally be expanding our family, one of the first things we did was to tell MamaLee’s major professor, because in addition to studying home birth, she is a spectacular home birth midwife. Plan A was set in motion: deliver our little Bug at home to limit stress and unnecessary interventions.

Fast-forward to 40 weeks+1 day: Tuesday, September 9th. I was saving my maternity leave for after the Bug arrived, so had gone in to my office to continue working on a paper that I’d been preparing. At a few minutes before 11 am, I had a first crampy contraction. I had been having increasingly strong Braxton-Hicks for the past week and didn’t want to get my hopes up, but thought I’d start timing them just in case. I also told MamaLee, who had come into my office so she could get some job hunting done in town. Thank goodness for job hunting.

Hoping to get things moving we walked a loaf of homemade bread over to my dad’s office and back; by about 12 pm I realized I was not going to be attending my 2 pm meeting. I sent a slew of e-mails I’d been meaning to send and we hopped in the car, contractions about 4 to 5 minutes apart and intensifying. Still, not so painful that we couldn’t stop and drop off one of MamaLee’s job applications on the way.

I called midwife M on the way to let her know what was up. She asked that for early labor I be in contact with our other awesome midwife (B) who needs just a few more births for certification (or something, thinking back I was clearly already starting to enter laborland because this is where my memory starts to get fuzzy).

We made it home with plans for some good solid pre-labor — rest, eat some snacks, play some video games… ha. MamaLee downloaded the old school Final Fantasy 3 and I proceeded to drape myself over my birth ball and hum through contractions. There would be no video games. My thought was something along the lines of ‘great! Let’s get to this, I’m ready to meet my little one on the outside!’ Little did I realize that the achy back I was beginning to experience belied that expectation.

My parents came and my dad took our dog Scout, who had been quite attentive, while my mom settled in to help out. Our friend R, whom I wanted at the birth, also showed up. I bounced on the ball.

B showed up at some point mid-afternoon and prepared everything. I was aware that she was there and bustling around, boiling water, setting up things in the nursery/birth room. MamaLee was amazing and provided counter pressure and rubbed my back because, oh yes, yes I was having full-on back labor. Contractions were every 2 to 3 minutes and I was humming and singing my way through them, which was apparently not typical. I just did what I could to make the pain bearable (it was surpassing my worst migraine pains at this point), make sounds that were productive and feel like I was creating a welcome for our little one all at once.

At some point I ate a bowl of yogurt, which was the last thing I ate before the little Bug arrived. I think that was around 5 pm. I think I also ended throwing that up. Thank goodness I gained almost 40 lbs during my pregnancy, because the reserves  were needed.

M showed up around 7 according to MamaLee. I remember her arrival through a haze and had thought it was much earlier. We also had a student midwife, K, who I thought was the bees knees as well. She had showed up around the same time as B. My birth team was fricken awesome.

As the night wore on my memories become more and more vague. I recall taking a shower and singing Unitarian Universalist songs through contractions. The shower felt good but was not soothing enough for the strength of my contractions. I got out and continued to labor on the bed in the nursery for what was apparently a long time. It got dark.

At some point during this time the midwives did a check and I was at 5cm (I don’t actually remember being at 5 cm, but my mom filled me in). The Bug was also still on the right side and not rotating, so we started to try more calisthenics: squats off the side of the bed, belly lifts (oh my those hurt!), but this little Bug was just not able to turn into a position that would move her down and out.

I had been checked sometime after midnight, and was at 7 cm. At little before 4 am I took a long walk high-stepping down the driveway. When I got back inside the midwives talked to us about where we were. We had tried a lot and nothing was working. To top it off I was dehydrated from throwing up, and physically exhausted from almost 16 hours of back labor with contractions 3 minutes apart. I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours.

The good news was that the Bug was doing great with a steady heart rate. That meant if I wanted to try something else we could, but ‘something else’ meant more energy to try to turn her, and I was worried that I wouldn’t have any energy left to push her out. I had made it very clear throughout my pregnancy that my main goal was to have a vaginal birth, and that if it meant I needed to transfer to get rest and hydration at the hospital, I would do that. MamaLee and I talked, and she suggested we do a check to see if we had made any progress with all the energy that I had spent trying to turn the Bug. I agreed and a check was done. No progress in 4 hours: still at 7cm. I knew immediately it was time for Plan B: I was going to have to transfer now if I was going to have any chance of delivering this baby vaginally. I remember falling back against the bed and saying something like ‘Ok. I have to go.’ Everyone agreed and I think there was some significant relief that I had come to the decision myself.

The midwives contacted the hospital and MamaLee got a bag packed for us. We had put together a diaper bag in case this happened but hadn’t managed to put one together for me. Oops.

The walk to the car was hard; the drive to the hospital was bearable for me because I knew I was moving towards pain relief and the ability to sleep. It was more difficult for MamaLee because she had to drive while I vocalized through my contractions.

At the hospital we checked in at the ER (pro check-in person was super fast and didn’t insist I sit in a wheel chair – big win for our local hospital). I walked and squatted through contractions to get to labor and delivery. A contraction hit hard while we were waiting for the elevator and I remember crawling into the elevator mid-contraction, aware primarily that the elevator would take me closer to relief from the damn back contractions.

Once in the L&D room my first nurse, S, placed an IV very quickly to get saline started. Since epidurals can cause a drop in blood pressure they want to have a liter in before they place the epidural. I was also quite dehydrated. I remember S being fast and funny, but apparently I was not tracking well enough to hear the disparaging comments about home birth folks. I’m glad she went off duty before I was lucid enough to comprehend those comments because I would have been pissed.

The epidural was placed by a fabulous anesthesiologist (Dr. G), in about 7 minutes. I remember that it was completed at 6:06 am. Relief was almost immediate. Apparently I told MamaLee to tell Dr. G that he was a good dude. I stand by that assessment fully.

Once the pain was manageable there was sleep, Tums for my terrible heartburn, more throwing up, and a new nurse – the favored nurse B. MamaLee did a birth with her (MamaLee is a doula – not sure we ever said that) a few years back and loved her. When M heard that B was our nurse she was also very, very pleased. She came into the room and said something along the lines of “You guys!! Do you realize how lucky we are!? We got B!!

Over the next few hours (about 7 – 10:45 am) B proceeded to help maneuver me into a variety of positions supported by the bed in order to turn the baby. She also had me try a few practice pushes and used some other techniques to help shift the Bug. At quarter to eleven I started pushing. My epidural began to wear off enough at one point during pushing that I started to feel the contractions in my right side, and when one went into the right side of my back I panicked a bit. Everyone reminded me that I could press the button on the epidural to get an extra shot to cover break through pain, and that was the last contraction I felt in my back.

I pushed for three-and-a-half hours. Once she descended into the birth canal I was able to reach down and feel her hair-covered head. That was surreal. The team brought over a mirror so I could watch her crowning, and apparently that made my pushes much more effective. She crowned for 26 minutes. At one point she had some late decels (low heart rate after a contraction, rather than during) and the OB suggested that we might need a vacuum extraction. Bug’s heart rate came back up; I kept pushing. When I could see almost her whole crown the OB said that she could do an episiotomy and the baby would come right out. I don’t remember if that was before or after I said (for the first time during this 27.5 hour process) that I couldn’t do it. If it was after, that suggestion lit a fire under me. I said “no!” and reached down, and tried to help the Bug out myself. This was my rock star moment. It was either that contraction or the next and she was out. MamaLee caught her and I helped pull her up to my chest. Darwin Hazel was here.


  • weight: 7 lbs 12 oz
  • length: 20 inches long
  • head circumference: 14 inches
  • chest circumference: 13 1/2 inches
  • Apgar scores: 8 and 9
  • first nursing latch:16 minutes after birth
  • alertness-level: high
  • cuteness-level: uncharted

A few photos


First morning, watching early light from our hospital window

Elf Sweater

Elf Sweater


Rockin’ the orange Thirsties

Darwin looking serious

Look at those milk-cheeks! (Day 6)


27 thoughts on “25 letters: my birth story

  1. Jan Wetherell says:

    Rachel, Dar is just beautiful!!! And you are a rock star at bringing her safely into our world. What a fantastic start for both of you.


  2. Oh my god, she is adorable! Congrats on creating such a fantastic little human. You may be small, but you are feisty. I remember that from college. Sounds like you used all of that in bringing Darwin into the world. So proud of you guys!


  3. Johanna says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad that thru all of this you were able to make the decisions about what *you wanted* and were in control. That matters so much! Glad Dar is here safe and sound!


  4. Anna says:

    What a beautiful story of glorious Dar’s entry into this world! Thrilled that you had such a fabulous and supportive team to help you rise to the great challenge of ushering in this new life!


  5. Sophia says:

    Neat to read. Thanks for sharing. For some reason after reading it, I thought of a t-shirt I saw on another baby a while ago. It said, “made with love and science.” I thought you might find it funny and fitting. Both equally great ways to create and birth a beautiful baby.


  6. Emily G. says:

    What a precious little bundle! Once again I wish someone would get around to inventing teleportation so I could just bean myself over for a visit. You are amazing working so hard to bring her into this world, when I read your story it makes me very lucky for how easy my two experiences were. But I did get the joy of back labor with Kevin, that was intense! The best part about your story I think was all the awesome people you had that were helping out, I love a good support team!! Congratulations again to the new Mamas!!


    • Yes, I so wish it were easier to visit! Indeed I found all of the support invaluable. I was apparently very polite and thankful all through the process. It’s a really nice thing to remember about my labor – hour grateful I was to everyone who was trying to help me.


  7. She’s stunning and this birth story is an amazing display of strength, knowledge, sheer will power, and love. An beautiful start for your little family. Congratulations and the best of luck to you and yours on this new adventure.


  8. Carolyn says:

    Thanks, Rachel, for letting us into such a precious experience. Who you have been since you were a little girl prepared you well for the resolve and decisiveness you demonstrated in order to bring Darwin into this world, I think. She’s a fortunate little girl, already. You were, indeed, lucky to have such a strong and competent team. Darwin is just beautiful. I’ll be anxious to see pictures of her with your mom and dad. Our best wishes to you.


    • Thanks Carolyn. I still feel a bit dreamy about this little bug (currently she’s dreaming herself while laying on my belly – this is how we’ve been spending much of our days). I’ll be sure to get some good family photos with the grandparents soon.


  9. Rachel, I’ve finally read this. What a wonderful, powerful, exhausting journey. And you did it! You all did it! I will write more to you later but congratulations again. And what a little alert beauty you have there. I cannot wait to meet her. I trust that she is thriving in your and Leah’s arms. Much love!


  10. This was really helpful to read. It’s good to have a reminder that even when birth is quite difficult and doesn’t go according to plan, it usually all works out in the end. It sounds like you had an amazing birth team – I have so much respect for midwives, and it’s great that they supported you and helped you to have as natural of a delivery as possible. Thanks again for sharing your birth story!

    Liked by 1 person

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