Sharing Luca’s birth story in its entirety – it was an unexpected experience I will never, ever forget!
Our story is the one they tell you in all the pregnancy books and childbirth education classes just doesn’t happen to first time moms. Our story is the one they tell you only happens in the movies and doesn’t happen in real life. Our story is the one I kept telling Steve throughout my pregnancy wouldn’t happen because it’s sooo rare. And part of our story had one of my worst irrational anxious thoughts come true. Our story still makes me cry. Our story still feels traumatic to me. But our story brought this beautiful new life into the world. Our story brought you to me, sweet Luca.
On June 1st, I decided I was going to take a break from all the nesting and freezer meal prep and reading and just do something for pure pleasure and fun. I was going to drive to the North shore of Boston and go to my favorite spot for lobster rolls right on the water for lunch and then venture to a beach to sit by the water for a little bit. The past few days in Boston (Memorial Day weekend) had been miserable weather. 60 degrees and rain. So. Much. Rain. And we were just stuck in the house all holiday weekend long reading pregnancy books and watching a sleep course for newborns. Tuesday (6/1) was supposed to be sunny and 70/80 degrees and I was craving a day in the sunshine.
When I woke up Tuesday morning, I went to the bathroom to pee and when I wiped I was like oh, that feels different. Wiped again and was like what is this discharge?! And then there it was in the toilet, my mucus plug. Just floating there and hard to deny. It looked like…well mucus. I felt kind of excited like oooo my body is doing something! And then proceeded to Google mucus plug and realized you could lose it like 3 weeks before you actually go into labor. Ugh. I was already three days past my due date at this point. I wondered if I should cancel my plans to drive to the North shore because it’s about 1.5 hours from our house. I texted my doula and told her the news and she replied “yay! any cramping?” I told her no and she said she would expect cramping to come about in the next day or so, but to keep living life for now :). That was the confirmation I needed to stick to my plans of lobster, sun, and ocean.
The rest of that day felt pretty normal. I got home from the North shore, we ate dinner, Steve went to hit some golf balls at the driving range, and I called my parents to chat. We watched an episode or two of Friends (we’ve been making our way through the series, start to finish) and before bed I remember having a couple sensations that made me make a sound and Steve was like what?! Are you okay? And I said yeah I think he’s just moving. I went to bed at 10pm and couldn’t fall asleep (and usually I fall asleep just fine). I felt like the baby wouldn’t stop moving and I couldn’t settle. I got up at 11:30pm and said to Steve on the couch, I can’t fall asleep – he keeps moving.
Back to bed. And eventually I fell asleep. At 1:30am, I woke up to pee. And then I think I fell back asleep? I’m not sure. But the next thing I know it’s 2:00AM and all the sudden I’m peeing my shorts. Except I’m not because I just went pee. My shorts are soaked. My bed sheet is soaked and the water keeps coming. And I realized oh my god, my water just broke. In bed! Holy shit. Isn’t this supposed to happen at the hospital?! And then I told myself, “okay, this is it. It’s happening, you’re going to meet your son soon.” I remember feeling a little nervous to tell Steve who fell asleep on the couch in the living room because I didn’t want him to freak out. So I ever so calmly called out “Steve, can you come here?” Instead of, HOLY SHIT MY WATER JUST BROKE!!! As he approached the bedroom, I was walking out toward the bathroom and said “so, my water just broke.” And then there was probably an “are you sure?” And then a “yes, the bed is soaked.” Then I think I shared a similar sentiment of “this is it!” to Steve who was already stripping the bed sheet off the bed while I went back to the toilet.
At 2:04AM I texted my doula “sooooo my water just broke!!!” My doula’s policy was text first. If doesn’t respond in 15-20 minutes, call her.
2:07AM I texted “and having cramping”. Within three minutes I was having some mild cramping. It kind of felt like I just had stomach pains like I had to poop. And poop I did. I had two or three bowel movements in a row. I knew this was common – a way of the body to “clean itself out” before birth.
2:12AM Texted “Some blood in discharge now”. When I lost my mucus plug that morning, I didn’t have any signs of blood, but now there were some signs of blood.
2:19AM Texted “Think I’m having contractions now. Also having multiple bowel movements.” At this point it had been 15 minutes so I told Steve to call her. He called. No answer. Left a voicemail. I started to panic a little. Where is she?!
And here’s where my irrational thought/anxiety started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Throughout my pregnancy, I had this fear that my doula would be MIA for my labor. My doula is VERY well regarded in the birthing space in Boston. Whenever I would tell someone in the space who my doula was I would get comments like “Oooo you got in with Shari?!” “Oh, I love Shari!” “Oh, you’re so lucky you’re working with Shari, she’s wonderful.” But one day on a local FB group, someone was asking for doula recommendations and my doula was recommended a couple times but then someone commented that she wouldn’t recommend her because she was MIA when it was time for her to deliver her baby. Apparently she went to take a nap somewhere in the hospital and no one could find her when it was time for her to deliver. I read that and started freaking out to Steve. “I just have a bad feeling” I would say to him. I also knew how busy she was – 7 births a month, teaching childbirth education classes, etc. and I was afraid something would fall through the cracks. But Steve would remind me that she came highly recommended. That this was just one person’s experience out of the 400+ births she attended. And that there are two sides to every story. So I told myself it was an anxious thought. I told myself that statistically speaking your worst fears are likely not to come true (something a therapist reminded me of years ago that I still use today to ground me).
My contractions came on fast and furious. There was no building up to strong contractions. There was no early labor. There was no time to try different coping skills to work up to the intense contractions. Within minutes they became intense and close.
2:42AM my last text to Shari: “Feels like things are progressing v quickly. Having contractions only a few minutes apart.”
And they were about 3-4 minutes apart at this point. So within 45 minutes I went from sleeping to contractions a few minutes apart (and I think they lasted about 30 seconds). I was scared at this point. I forgot what the “contraction rule” was – when do we go to the hospital? I had drilled in my head to “labor at home as long as possible” and always figured Shari would tell us when it was time to go to the hospital based on her expertise and experience. But there was no Shari. The support person who I spent hours and hours deciding on. The support person who I ultimately decided to trust with this sacred experience. The support person who I developed a relationship with. I intentionally set myself up for support and when it came time, it wasn’t there.
2:45 AM Steve called my midwife group. Carol, the midwife on call that night (morning), called us back. She was not my primary midwife but I virtually “met” her on a meet the midwives webinar months earlier, and I remember she was in my top 3 choices of a primary. I felt a little relief that I knew her/would recognize her/and liked her from the virtual meet and greet.
She asked if I was right there and if she could be put on speaker phone. At this point I was already having to pause to talk when I was having a contraction. She asked if I felt I could cope at home or if I wanted to come into the hospital. She said “I’m looking at your birth preferences and I see that you want minimal interventions so the longer you labor at home the better your chances are for minimal interventions. Most first time moms have a long labor and labor at home before coming into the hospital.” “How would a shower sound?” “Maybe try getting in the shower and call me back in an hour.”
The walk from the living room to the bathroom (our condo is 1100 sq feet) felt like a mile. My legs were now shaking. Why am I shaking? Why is my body convulsing? Is this normal? “Steve, google is shaking during labor normal?” Google said yes.
We got to the bathroom and turned on the shower. I tried to undress but I couldn’t stand. All I felt I could do was sit on the toilet. Steve stared saying “Kara, I think we should go to the hospital.” But I kept thinking to myself “but I’m supposed to labor at home as long as possible.”
Finally, when getting into the shower felt like an impossible feat, Steve said let’s at least get you changed to go to the hospital. Clothes?! What clothes was I supposed to wear to the hospital? I bought a labor dress on Amazon for like $20 or something but did I wear that to the hospital? No, I probably change into that at the hospital, right? RIGHT? I threw on a tank and comfy light elephant gaucho pants I got in Cambodia several years ago.
We went back to the living room. I remember thinking but we were supposed to light candles and I was supposed to watch movies in the beginning to distract myself. What happened to all the coping skills we learned in our childbirth ed class? What were those positions again? All I could remember was being draped over the birthing (exercise) ball.
The contractions shifted. They were now unbearable. And they were longer – more like 50 seconds at this point, three minutes apart. With every surge, I roared. I didn’t even know this animalistic sound could be produced by my vocal cords. We live on the third floor of a three family home. I remember thinking, I wonder if I’m waking up our condo-mates one floor below us. Yes, I was that loud. On my knees, I draped my arms over the birthing ball in front of me and with every contraction I had Steve squeeze my hips (the one hands-on technique I could remember). The harder the pressure, the better it felt. At one point he came in front of the ball to rub my shoulders and I remember yelling to get back behind me. What was he doing changing positions?! I don’t need gentle massage, I need you to break my hips with your hands!
Steve finally said okay Kara, it’s time. I think we need to go to the hospital. And I knew in my gut, he was right. It felt scary to be at home at this point. And I remember being terrified that something bad could happen to the baby. What if we didn’t make it to the hospital in time?! What if the baby isn’t okay?!
We called Carol, the midwife, back just before 4AM to tell her we were coming into the hospital. She could hear me roaring through contractions and said “yes, it sounds like things have escalated and are more intense – it sounds like the right call to come in.” Thanks, Carol.
One more contraction in my living room and then we would rush down the stairs and to the car. I made it out of the house and to the car before another wave came on. I screamed in the driveway leaning over our car. I could hear the dog on the first floor start barking. Turns out our first floor neighbor remembers waking up to the dog and thinking she heard some sort of animal outside…that animal was me.
Got into the back seat of the car and there was no getting into a comfortable position. Steve called our doula one more time from the car and of course, no answer. He left a VM saying we were on our way to the hospital. Thankfully it was the middle of the night so there was no traffic getting to the hospital. With every contraction, I gripped the handle above the car door. I remember feeling an urge to bear down and was scared I might have the baby in the car.
We got to the hospital and pulled up in front of the ER entrance. Because it was 4:30AM now there was no valet service. Steve asked do you want me to drop you off so I can go park? But I was too afraid to be left alone at that point, afraid this baby might slide right out. So we parked in the ER lot and I had to stop twice walking from the car to the entrance about 200 yards away to have contractions. Here I was at 4:30AM wailing outside the ER entrance. I think they heard me from inside because they got me into a wheelchair right away and wheeled me up to the 5th floor, L&D floor.
I felt like I was in a dream at this point. Bright lights. People in scrubs. What is happening right now?! The L&D nurses said “Oh Kara, we didn’t know if you were going to be coming in; we were told you were laboring at home.” Guess they didn’t get the update.
Straight into triage I went. Pants off. Here’s a hospital gown. “Oh, I brought my own from home.” And it never made it on. In fact, no gown was ever put on. Just my pants came off. “It feels like my back is breaking,” I cried. The nurse gave me a heat pack and pressed it against my low back as I laid on my left side. I think she applied some counter pressure to my hips as well with contractions while Steve stayed in front of me always in my sight, holding my hand, and telling me whatever I needed to hear.
Carol, the midwife came in, and introduced herself. She said I’m going to check your cervix. She stepped back, took off her gloves, and said very calmly, “so you’re fully dilated.” I couldn’t process what she said. Wait what does that mean? My brain was a cloudy fog. I was in labor land, not on planet Earth. And the cool manner in which she said it threw me off. I asked her “wait, what does that mean again?” “It means you’re ready to start pushing.” “Seriously?!”, I replied. I couldn’t believe it. I just got to the hospital and it’s already time for me to start pushing?! What happened to laboring in the hospital?! I said out loud “I’m just in such disbelief right now.” Steve cheering me on, said “that’s great; we’re so close to meeting our son!”. I smiled but was also scared. Could I do this without my doula? Could I push without pain medication?!
In my birth preferences, I asked to not be offered an epidural – that I wanted to ask for it if I wanted it. But I did write down to be offered nitrous oxide (laughing gas) for pain management as needed. They told me as I entered triage that they could only give me nitrous if they got a negative covid swab on me so they quickly swabbed me as soon as I got into triage but told me depending on how things progressed I may not be able to get the nitrous in time. Looking back, with the timing of how quickly things escalated, I’m not even sure I would’ve been able to get an epidural if I wanted one. But I remember thinking to myself, I made it this far already without one, I can do this. They did ask me if they could put an IV in, in case they needed to give me pitocin to help deliver the placenta/reduce risk of hemorrhaging after birth. I asked why and she explained and then said but if you’re not getting an epidural we can always give you a shot of pitocin in the leg if needed. Yes, let’s plan on that I said.
We left triage as quickly as we entered and they wheeled me in the bed to the L&D room. They dimmed the lights (but where are the twinkle lights my doula was going to bring?!). The nurse asked me if I wanted to change positions. But side lying was familiar to me. I spent (almost) 9 months sleeping on my side. I spent (close to) 9 months taking savasana on my side. The thought of hands and knees made me think of my shaking, not so sturdy legs, so I stayed on my side during the entire delivery.
It was just after 5AM when I was told I could start bearing down with contractions. Good, I can finally give in to what my body instinctually wanted to do. The nurse told me I could keep my legs closed in front of me. Weird, I thought. How is this baby going to come out with my legs closed LOL. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking straight at this point. I didn’t realize that would change as the babe made his way further down the birth canal.
At some point, someone (the nurse? the midwife?) asked do you have any music you want to play? Oh, right – my labor playlist! Steve brought our portable bluetooth speaker so he grabbed it out of the bag and connected to my Spotify. I honestly can say this playlist got me through the delivery. Every song was thoughtfully curated to make me feel a certain way – grounded, calm, empowered, embodied, strong, joyful, confident, connected. The music felt familiar. The music felt like a distraction. It became my coping tool.
With every contraction, I beared down and squeezed the shit out of Steve’s hand. I screamed, I roared. I let out some expletives.
They told me it was time to open my legs. The nurse lifted my upper leg and supported it for me. Another wave. Another push. Finally, Carol said oh I see some hair! And the next thing I knew she was taking my hand and I was touching the top of my baby’s head. Oh my god, he’s so close. And then the ring of fire. It was painful AF. It burned like a mother. And somehow I was supposed to keep pushing to intensify the burn. My body didn’t want to push anymore. It hurts too much, it burns, I yelled out. At this point, as if in a cheesy plot scene in a movie, Slow Burn by Kelsey Musgraves started playing. I literally laughed out loud and said well this song is fitting. The team kept cheering me on – you’re so close. You’re doing so well. You’re a rockstar, mama. You got this. Carol took my hand again, “look at how much more of his head is out – you’re so close.”
They asked me to hold my leg and bend my knee and bring it toward my chest, they had me roll over slightly toward my back. This was it. Just a few more pushes. I felt like I was losing steam. Carol said, “Ok Kara, your baby’s heart rate is slowing – he needs to come out now so I need you to give me a long push right now.” And from some reserve within me, I pushed one long strong push and oh my gosh something is slipping and sliding out of me. He’s here. Luca is here!
“He’s a big boy!”, Carol exclaimed. And with my baby in front of me, I stared crying tears of joy and relief. And then he let out a cry and I knew he was okay. He was laid on my bare chest and I’ve never felt so incredibly blissful and my heart so full in my life.
They delayed cord clamping and finally when it was time Steve cut the cord.
They gave me a shot of Pitocin because I was bleeding a good amount and they wanted to avoid hemorrhage. I was told I had three first degree tears and my midwife worked on stitching me up while I held my baby. Then they pressed down hard on my uterus a few times to pass some large clots. Gosh, that hurt almost as bad as the actual birth.
My doula finally showed up but unfortunately the damage had been done. I didn’t care to get into it in that moment because I didn’t want to ruin this blissful state I was in. But unfortunately the absence of expected support coupled with the intensity of the labor left me feeling anxious for a couple weeks postpartum. I would lay in bed at night ruminating over what happened, unable to fully process, and somehow feeling unsafe. What if we didn’t make it to the hospital in time? What if something happened to Luca?
I ultimately hoped to have an empowered birthing experience, no matter how it unfolded. But it felt like the labor was something that happened to me, not something I did. I hope that one day I’ll be able to connect to the strength and resilience I showed that night. That I will feel empowered that Steve and I navigated it as a team and came out stronger as a result. That I can trust my gut instincts and listen to the wisdom of my mind and body. That I will feel gratitude for what my body was able to do on its own, without much assistance. I’m not there yet, and maybe I never will be, and that’s okay. But I hope I can get there some day.
When I tell people I had a 4.5 hour labor and birth, they respond with some version of, “oh my god you’re SO lucky. That’s amazing.” I know in some ways I was lucky not to endure a 24 hour labor but I also don’t feel that a precipitous labor is amazing. It’s intense and scary, especially when you don’t have your expected supports in place. Especially when you haven’t prepared for that rare scenario.
It is incredible what our bodies are capable of. It’s still wild to me that I pushed my Luca outside of my body to enter this world. That my baby and my body did it all without me or anyone else intervening. I trusted that my baby and my body would know when it was time and they knew. On June 2nd at 6:33AM, our lives were turned upside down in the best way possible. It’s such an honor and blessing to be Luca’s mama. We are truly the luckiest.
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