Adrian Curtis’ Med-Free Birth Story

I actually dreamed of getting to give a blog post this title, and the day has come.

(This is a long post. You’ve been warned.)

Our son was born last week after a tiring cycle of ups and downs. I’ve hardly caught up on my sleep with having a newborn and a toddler under the same roof now, and my memories of his delivery have been swirling back up in chunks, but here’s the story:

The first question most people ask when you explain your labor is, “How long did it take?” It’s hard for me to answer that because my labor with Adrian was spread out over several weeks. At week 37, I was dilated to 4cm, 60% effaced. My OB didn’t expect to see me again after this appointment, but I still kept my schedule with him. At 39 weeks, he checked me again and found me to be dilated to 5cm with 70% effacement. He scraped my membranes at this appointment, and I left feeling a bit nauseous. On the way out, I stopped off at my acupuncturist’s office. We made an appointment for the following morning at 10:30am, assuming I didn’t have a new baby before then.

I went home feeling some irregular contractions, and decided to do some walking and bouncing on the exercise ball to see if that’d bring on anything significant. My contractions got stronger with physical activity, and came as close together one minute. However, they weren’t consistent, ever. I’d experience contractions every two minutes for about 10 minutes, but then I’d have one spaced out to three or four minutes apart from the one before it. It was frustrating, because I’d been trained to understand that true labor is exact; if your contractions don’t stay exactly the same interval apart for at least an hour, you’re not in labor. So, by popular definition, I wasn’t in labor.

I left a message for my OB’s nurse, and she called back and told my husband that though my contractions were not consistent, they were all indeed less than five minutes apart, and that my doctor would like to see me. I’d settled in to take a bath and do some meditation when my husband relayed the news, and I had fears about going back to the hospital. If this wasn’t actually labor, I’d be faced with another stalled situation like I faced when I went in for Kennedy’s birth. I didn’t want to place myself in a situation where doctors and nurses were pushing things on me. I didn’t stick to my birth plan before, but I was adamant about doing it right this time. If I never give birth to any other children, I don’t want regret to loom over me because I never had the wherewithal to stand up for myself in labor and delivery. I sat in the tub and prayed, I asked for a sign of something and got nothing, but ultimately figured I’d go back to the OB just to see if I was dilating anymore.

About 40 minutes later, I was back with the OB, and he confirmed I was dilated to 6cm. I’d dilated one more centimeter between seeing him late that morning, and at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I was clearly progressing through something, so my husband and I agreed to go down to labor and delivery.

Once in L&D, I began moving and staying in motion to bring back and keep my contractions coming. Maybe now they’d get consistent, my water would break, and I’d be pushing out a baby a couple hours later.

They didn’t.

Five hours after my admission, my contractions stopped. I’d dilated a little past 6cm, but overall, nothing was happening. I requested a discharge, and the attending physician advised me that going home wasn’t a good idea. For starters, this was my second child, and labor with second, third, fourth babies tends to go faster than the first. Given that I was so far dilated, if my water indeed broke en route to the house, we could be faced with an emergency situation where baby is born in the car on the side of the road, or possibly at home. I didn’t want a home birth (or a car birth…). She also had a feeling that something might happen during the course of the night, and perhaps my baby would be born in the morning. We went back and forth for a while, but ultimately, I decided to stay the night. I still refused Pitocin as well as an artificial breaking of my water. I also declined all medicines offered to help me sleep except for Benadryl, only because I’d taken it prior in the pregnancy for the same purpose.

Morning came, and still nothing. I looked over at my exhausted husband, told him we’d need to go home, and asked the nurse for discharge papers. Thankfully, they let me go without a fight. I was already defeated, so I’m glad they didn’t come at me with swords raised. I felt embarrassed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let my husband down, though he insists that I didn’t:

We grabbed some breakfast at IHOP, went to my parents’ house to check in on Kennedy, and killed a little time before my acupuncture appointment. Acupuncture helped release some tension, and I felt a few more contractions while lying on the table during treatment. I thanked my doctor for his help and left for home. I needed a nap and a shower. I wanted to relish in the environment of my own house. I wanted to give my body a chance to do what it needed to do without pressure, though I’d stayed relatively calm through everything thus far. And I needed to find a safe space to just pray and be still. I took a nap and woke to my husband walking in with a fresh Cobb salad he’d crafted me (Cobb salads were my main craving during those last few weeks of pregnancy). We ate together, snuggled up to watch some TV, and then he asked if I’d like to take a walk with him. We took the dogs and decided to walk around the block a few times. My contractions returned, and once again they were close together. We agreed that if they came closer than three minutes together, we’d go to the hospital and continue walking around the pond there. We knew we were close, and we didn’t want to chance having our baby at home. I also told my husband that if labor stalled again, I’d take the Pitocin. He asked if I was sure, and truthfully, I wasn’t. But after two days of back and forth, my body was tired. I was tired. I couldn’t keep putting him through this. I just wanted it to be over.

It’s 5pm, we’re back in Labor & Delivery, and I’m even back in the same room as before. My mother showed up, much to our surprise, and decided to ride it out with us. I chat with the nurses about what had happened the night before, and I ask if I should just go onto Pitocin right away. The nurse admitting me advises that if I want to indeed stay natural for this process, perhaps breaking the water is a better way to go. Given how far dilated I was (which was 7cm at this point) that’d be sure to kick start things for real, and help me avoid the drugs. I refused at first – and this wasn’t because I had a logical reason for doing so – I was afraid. I used the excuse that having my water broken ruined my labor with Kennedy before, but that wasn’t an informed deduction of my process with her. When my water was broken with Kennedy, I had already been on Pitocin for about three hours. Pitocin is known to make contractions much more intense, so the pain I felt after having my water broken was indeed painful, but beyond what it probably would’ve been had I just had my water broken on its own. Another more glaring reality that I didn’t want to face: The water would have to break at some point, regardless. Delaying having my water broken was like delaying the inevitable end that I claimed to want so bad. Labor hurts, Antoinette, and you said you wanted to do this, so just do it. Thank you, internal voice. Once again, you knew exactly what to say.

I had to wait two hours to have the doctor come break my water. A host of other pregnant women came in around the same time as I did, but they were all progressing through their labors and required immediate care. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. I got frustrated with myself again, snapped at the nurse whose fault it wasn’t, and finally got the doctor to “crochet hook“ my amniotic sack. “This is when shit gets real,” I whispered to my husband. My mother nodded…

Hour One of Dry Labor:

The first few contractions weren’t so bad, but by the fourth one, I was feeling it. They were about five minutes apart, so I had some time to rest and crack jokes in between them, but they were rough when they hit. I coped by squeezing my husband’s hands and practicing slow breathing. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought, but I was nowhere near the peak of what was coming.

Hour Two of Dry Labor:

At this point, I’m sitting on my exercise ball exclusively. Somehow, the ball helped alleviate some of the pressure in my back. Not by much. Pain was at level 10 at this point during contractions, and I was feeling extremely nauseous. The contractions were also lasting longer, making them harder to endure. I squeezed my husband’s hands, and my mom did things like apply lip balm to my lips and pass me drinks when I asked.

About an hour and a half after my water was broken, the nausea became so bad that…I vomited. Everything hurt so bad, and I’d been pounding clear juices and water to stay hydrated. The breathing I had to do to cope with each contraction left me with dry mouth, and my once freezing hospital room suddenly felt like a sauna. I had to pee at one point, and the walk from the exercise ball to the bathroom felt like miles. Despite what others had said, laboring on the toilet wasn’t any more comfortable. Get me back to my ball I thought. Walking hurt; gravity turned my level 10 pain into 11, and I just couldn’t do it. I shuffled back to the ball as quickly as I could after peeing. The mesh panties and pad they’d given me to wear were soaked in amniotic fluid. I asked for a change, but ultimately decided that I’d just stay commando. They’d only be in the way later.

I remember speaking to the nurse between contractions and not finishing my sentence before the next one hit. Nothing had really been textbook up to this point, but I do remember reading very clearly that labor is progressing when the woman is unable to speak through contractions. I definitely couldn’t talk through these. It was all I could do to intentionally breathe. Around the end of this second hour was when I asked to be checked for progression. I felt more pressure in my pelvis, and was hopeful that perhaps I’d be there.

I was dilated to 8cm with 100% effacement. Only 8?! F—!!!!! The nurse told me not to be discouraged. I was progressing, these contractions weren’t for nothing, and my baby’s position had descended significantly since her last check. She told me to be calm and trust in this process. Fatigue was setting in at this point, but I nodded with her. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I looked at my mom, and my face must’ve explained it all, because without my speaking she just said to me, “You are almost there, and I’m so proud.” I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know how to feel. I just whispered ever so softly to myself, “I can do this…I can do this…” That’s when my husband whispered to me, “You ARE doing this, my queen…” My cracking heart healed over.

Hour Three of Dry Labor:

At this point, the physical and mental fatigue was taking its toll. I told my husband and mother repeatedly that I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take. About 10 minutes after I’d been told I was at 8cm, I asked for another check. The nurse found me to be at 9cm, and I heard her call the doctor…”Doctor, she’s dilated from 8 to 9cm in 10 minutes. I think you should stay nearby.”

Is that a good sign? Will I breeze through this last centimeter quickly? Jesus, please, if there was EVER a time for you to step in and save me, it is now. Please…

They left me in the bed at this point (all these “checks” you’re reading about are happening in the hospital bed – not on the ball). It’s not the most comfortable place to be, but nothing really is anymore. From this vantage point, I can see my mom’s face clearly, and my husband is on the other side of the bed, still holding my hand. The nurse quietly encourages me, and I keep hoping that the immense pressure I feel with each contraction is helping me dilate that much faster to 10. The contractions seem to be lasting longer at this point, but it’s hard to tell if they’re just longer, or if they’re doubling up. The nurse is talking me through each one by saying things like, “That was the peak…” “You should start to feel some relief…” “That one’s over…” Yes, I could feel these things myself, but having someone to “coach” me through these painful periods gave me something else to concentrate on. However, as I’m barely holding on to get through the peaks of these contractions, I catch a glimpse of my mom’s face as she’s glancing at the monitor and back at me. I see a look of panic cross her face as she views the monitor, and she looks away from me quickly. I thought, “Oh no. This is gonna be a double…yep, this is a double.” The contraction strengthens to its peak, lessens in intensity a bit, but then strengthens to peak again. This all lasts for about 90 seconds. I’m still breathing slowly with longer exhalations, but that measure is really just for keeping me calm. The pain is what it is and will not go away until this is over.

I gasp and whisper the word “pressure” to the nurse, and she decides to check me again. “You’re about 9.5cm,” she says. I wince. She calls the doctor again and says, “Doctor, she’s at anterior lip. Are you close?” quick pause “All right, thank you.”

“My wife pushes fast,” my husband advised, “so make sure the doctor is ready, please.” (Refer to Kennedy Faye’s birth story to understand why he said this)

Then she turns to me and advises that only a small piece of my cervix is lying in the way. Baby is in perfect position, effacement is complete. She advises that with the next contraction, I give a gentle push – she will attempt to pull the cervix up so that it’s out of the way. I pull my knees to my chest as she instructs, and give the best push I can. It was weak. I was out of energy. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it, I was in the worst pain of my life.

But her strategy worked.

The next part is a little blurry, but a lot of folks started showing up. A doctor, another nurse, a respiratory therapist, a pediatric nurse, and at least two other people associated with baby’s care upon birth. The end of the bed detaches, and my waist is suddenly at the edge. The doctor instructs me to pull my knees back, wait for the next contraction, take in a deep breath, and push with everything I have. It’s go-time, finally. THIS is what I came here for. C’mon, Antoinette, let’s get this done.

In come my knees, here comes the tightening of the next contraction, I take a deep breath, and start pushing. Up until this point, my noise level hadn’t reached much above a whisper, but upon starting the push, I screamed. I let out a feral, raw, maternal scream. I was that voice you hear behind closed doors when a woman is in labor. My entire bottom half seemed to be coming apart. My mom’s face was sympathetic, as well as impressed. She did this twice, and now I was finally getting to see what it was all about.

Another deep breath in, and another push. I gave this one more of me because I wanted to this part to just be over. Suddenly, it was as if the Earth was opening up. I saw the moon and stars, heard a symphony playing, saw a dolphin swim past, felt an earthquake, and oh my gosh, ring of fire, ring of fire, RING OF FIRE. RING OF FIRE.

I couldn’t tell how far I’d gotten, but I kept taking in deep breaths and concentrating on the push. Everyone seemed to be cheering. My entire body was trembling. I was covered in a cold sweat. I’d ditched the gown and was completely nude. I didn’t care who saw or what anyone thought; I just wanted my baby.

Somewhere amidst the chaos, I found my doctor’s voice. She calmly advised that I look down at my baby, whose face was looking up at me with two arms free. “Reach down and pull up your baby, she said.” I paused and looked to my husband’s face. “Pull him out,” he said. I reached down and pulled a slippery, slightly grayish blue, extremely warm newborn out of my own birth canal and up to my chest, and the post-birth euphoria I’d met last time pounded me in the face, heart, and lungs with unbridled, unmedicated intensity. This was the greatest moment of my life.

And just like that, it was over. Placenta came out, breastfeeding went off without a hitch, I got moved to a recovery room, and my family and I got to celebrate our new blessing. I’m still piecing together my observations after this experience, but having done this with an epidural before, and without any drugs this time, I’d have to say that I will choose the med-free route again if we decide to welcome a third child.


8lbs, 5oz, 21 inches of perfect

I’ll be back to write more about second-time momhood later.

Kennedy Faye’s Birth Story (x-posted)

I decided to copy this over from my old blog. Having this posted here will make it easy to compare her birth story to our son’s after he’s born. 

August 16, 2013

Well, my unborn princess decided to be “borned” during the wee hours of the morning on August 14th, and I’ve just now settled down enough to pen her birth story for all who are curious. There are some details that I’d like to share first, though, to give her birth some perspective.

I am at a place now where I can admit publicly that conception of our first child was neither an easy nor quick journey. We stopped preventing pregnancy in April 2011, and we began actively trying to conceive in February 2012. With no reproductive health issues, we just figured it was a slam dunk for us to get there, but it took a little longer than expected. I have other friends who have sought fertility treatment/alternatives ranging from Clomid to Tamoxifen to in-vitro fertilization and for some, surrogacy. We were never under any sort of clinical care like that, but the amount of time it was taking did bring us to a place at the end of 2012 that we considered seeking medical help in the 2013 new year. It was almost at the same time that we were picking up the phone to discuss options with the doctor that two pink lines lit up on my home pregnancy test. God’s will and timing taught us to be patient and prepared us to receive the blessing that is our dear daughter.

I’m choosing to share this information because not everyone understands why parenthood and pregnancy can be such a big deal. People throw ill feelings and judgment around like a set of car keys or a pair of socks, (me included) but it’s important to remember that unless you’re in a person’s shoes, you have no clue what their struggle is like. I’ve had to become very sensitive to this fact over the last two years. I tuck it into the folder in my life’s file cabinet marked, “Valuable Lessons Learned.”

Now, on to the good stuff…

Here’s a rough timeline of what labor and delivery was like:

8/5 – My OBGYN does a cervical check and finds that I am dilated to 3cm with 50% effacement. Though I’m scheduled to see her again on 8/16, she seems confident that I won’t need that appointment.

8/7 – Mom arrives in town. Yipee! Operation: Get Baby Out can begin!

8/8 to 8/10 – Mild contractions happening 20 mins apart in the morning, but disappear as soon as I start walking around or become active.

8/11 – Contractions show up on and off, coming as close together as 5 minutes apart, but they aren’t strong in intensity and tend to space out when I’m active.

8/12 – I’m walking my ass off circling the block in my neighborhood in hopes that something will begin. I feel some contractions while walking, but ultimately they aren’t strong nor consistent.

8/13 – “LABOR” DAY

2:00am – I’m awakened by semi strong contractions that appear to be happening every two minutes. I wrestle out of bed, shove my glasses on my face, and start doing laps through the hall, dining room and living room to see if they disappear as the other ones have.

3:10am – Mom’s awake, we’ve timed contractions for about an hour and they’ve stayed consistent at two minutes apart. During this time I’ve also been walking laps through my house and using my exercise ball intermittently. The contractions have not stopped. In fact, they’ve gotten stronger.

3:13am or something – We throw all the shit in the cars and head to Palomar Medical Center

3:35am – The nurse hooks me up to the contraction monitor and fetal heart rate monitor to get a closer look at what’s happening. She also does a cervical check and finds me to be 3-4cm dilated with a stretchy cervix.

3:55am – I learn a new term, “ballottable” which means that though Kennedy’s head has descended into my pelvis, it is not engaged and secure. The nurse can still push her up into my cervix. In active labor, babies heads are fully engaged.

At this point, I’m told to walk the halls a bit in hopes that gravity with the contractions will help Kennedy fall into place.

5:00am – I return to the exam room and the nurse finds I’m at the same dilation and effacement, but Kennedy’s head is more secure than it was an hour ago. I’m admitted to the hospital.

3:00pm – After hanging out in the delivery room for hours, my contractions have slowed and lessened in intensity. The doctor gives me four options:

  1. Go home
  2. Stay and wait
  3. Have my water broken in hopes contractions will return
  4. Receive Pitocin to kick start contractions

After much prayer and consideration, I settle on option 4. Already, my birth plan has been compromised with the acceptance of drugs, however, leaving and waiting were unattractive options for all I had been through up to that point, and should having my water broken fail, it would lead to further medical interventions which would have most likely included a C-section. Those who know me well know that a C-section was the one option I went into labor dead set against.

7:00pm – I’ve been on the Pit for four hours, contractions are back but they are still pretty spacey at 6-7mins apart.

7:01pm – Shift change. I meet my new nurse, Leeann, who says that with my permission we can take a more aggressive approach and increase Pitocin at 30minute intervals to bring the contractions closer together. She asks twice if I want an epidural, but I refuse, holding tightly to the last shred of my birth plan that I can in order to ease my control freak mind.

9:30pm – Contractions are strong and frequent. The doctor on call checks me and finds me to be dilated to 5cm with an even stretchier cervix and per my request, breaks my water.

10:00pm – Contractions are excruciating. My pain level has reached level 10. I fight tears and heavy breathing and admit to my mother that I will need the epidural. I apologize. She brushes it off and begs me to just have a healthy baby and take care of myself. She says there’s nothing I need forgiveness for. I grab her arms and shoulders and breathe through what is accurately summed up as the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Leeann calls the anesthesiologist.

11:00pm – Doctor “Make the Pain Disappear” FINALLY shows up and has me sign what seems like an endless stack of papers and explains some shit I wasn’t listening to. I was barely hanging on. Just stick the shit in my back so I can breathe, dude.

11:30pm – Epidural is administered, but I need a double dose as it doesn’t take hold right away.

8/14 – “BIRTH” DAY

12:15am – I’m finally feeling the effects of the epi, and I’m dilated to 8cm. Leeann advises me to rest and relax and tells me she’ll return in approximately an hour and a half to see where I’m at.

1:45am – I ask for another check as I can feel lots of pressure with each contraction. Kennedy has descended into the canal at this point and I’m feeling like I need to push.

2:00am – Leeann confirms that Kennedy is low, I’m dilated to 10, I’m 100% effaced, I’m there. She asks if I want to wait a bit for my perineum to soften some more or if I’m comfortable pushing now. Anxious to meet my daughter, I opt to start the push.

2:10am – My husband grabs my left leg and my mom my right, we wait for the next contraction wave and I start to push. Immediately, I hear my mom shout that she can see Kennedy’s head. Victory is in sight. Two more contractions and rounds of pushing and Leeann asks me to stop so that she can call the doctor.

2:25(ish)am – The doctor comes back in and is pleased to see that we’re basically at the finish line. She begins changing into surgical attire and setting up stirrups and I continue to push as before.

2:28(ish)am – The doc yells for me to stop pushing because Kennedy is coming out too fast. Too fast?! Lady, I’ve been waiting three years for this. If YOU aren’t ready, I suggest you GET ready, NOW.

2:33am – Kennedy Faye is out, alive, vibrant, loud, and in my possession. A flood of emotions runs over me as I begin to bawl at the sight of her tiny eyes squinting as she wails.


1:45pm we are discharged from the hospital into my comfy house where my mother and father have made a delicious dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Blessed be!

So, was labor everything I thought it would be? Sure! And then some! I was prepping for it like a prize fight, and I went in giving it my all.

Do I regret having my daughter the way I did? No. Labor was my experience to have and I needed to just…well, labor. I needed to feel what everyone was so fearful of and decide for myself it was something I could cope with. Ultimately, with my mom and Leeann’s wisdom, I came to see that though I could struggle through the contractions of dilating from 8 to 10, it would’ve made for an unpleasant, unhappy ride when I had been looking forward to a joyful ride the entire time I carried Kennedy.

I’ve forgiven myself for choosing comfort and reprieve over suffering it out like a battle axe. And, at the end of the day, I still came away with the prize – a healthy, beautiful baby girl who breastfeeds perfectly, has no digestive or gastrointestinal issues, who scored high on the APGAR, who is alert and focused at only five days old, whose body has maintained its weight since leaving the hospital four days ago, much to the astonishment of her pediatrician. I have also learned not to fault any woman for the choices she makes when giving birth. It’s serious business. All that really matters is that the choice is hers when it is made.  Every decision made during my labor with Kennedy was mine, and I’m proud of myself for that.