*I wrote this story down 3 days after her birth. It’s raw and intense, but also beautiful. Also, CAN YOU EVEN WITH THAT SWEET FACE?! I miss fresh-out-of-the-womb Toni already.*
Antonia Marie Gonzalez was born Wednesday, July 8, 2020 at 1:34am. She weighed 6 lbs. 11.5 oz and was 21.5 inches long. Before I go into the details of her birth, I want to emphasize that every single person’s birth is unique and beautiful in its own way. There is no “right way” to give birth. It’s also extremely hard. Whether you’re having a scheduled c-section or are birthing under your own roof in a pool of warm water, birth is transformative yet challenging. The process of surrendering is unlike anything else. I just wanted to make note of that because I believe some birth stories can make other people feel like theirs was unsatisfactory. It wasn’t, and every single birth matters no matter how it happened.
With all that said, here is the story of how Antonia came into the world.
I was past my due date and getting anxious. Even though I know that statistically, most first time mothers give birth in their 41st week of gestation, I was becoming restless. I still felt pretty comfortable physically, but mentally and emotionally I was done waiting. I had some good cries out in my backyard simply because I was anxious to see this baby and was wondering if the day would ever come. I had also started having some cramping since about 37 weeks. So for the past 3+ weeks I had overanalyzed every cramp and twinge, wondering if it was the onset of labor.
The 4th of July was Saturday and we ate barbeque and I made my infamous potato salad and we just hung around the house. Then on Sunday July 5th we laid low again, just because we didn’t know when the big day would come and I didn’t want to overexert myself. That evening, while laying in bed, I felt my first contraction around 9:45 and thought, “hmmm, this feels different but I don’t want to get myself too excited so it’s probably nothing.” I had a couple more and cautiously told Michael that I thought something might be happening but that he shouldn’t get too excited either. Then my sister, who was acting as my doula, texted me asking if I was having contractions because she was feeling crampy. Side note: we have this weird sister thing where I always knew she was in labor because I got crampy and turns out, she does too. I told her I thought I MIGHT be having contractions. But again, not to make too much of a big deal about it and that I’d keep her posted.
Now, being a doula I know that it’s important to rest in early labor. You just don’t know how long you’ll be going through it so resting while you still can is extremely important. Especially if your labor starts at night, which most people’s do. So I told myself to go to bed and see where everything goes. But of course that’s easier said than done. It was probably from the adrenaline, but I couldn’t fall asleep until midnight (I’m usually asleep by 10pm most nights). Around 2am a contraction woke me up and I went to the bathroom to see if I had lost any of my mucus plug or was seeing any bloody show – another indication that labor is starting. I wasn’t, so I decided to get into our rocking chair set up in our room, put on reruns of The Office, and try to doze off. I tried really really really hard, but the contractions kept coming sporadically and I kept getting more and more excited. I texted my sister around 3am that she should probably call out of work that day and head down since she lives about 2.5 hours away.
By 6am I still hadn’t slept since waking up at 2am and now that the contractions were continuing to come I decided to let myself believe this was the real deal. I called my sister and she confirmed that she would head my way that morning and I went downstairs to make some breakfast and hydrate. Again, something I tell all my clients to do because we just don’t know when things will kick into gear and you have to have sustenance potentially for the long haul. When I was downstairs it was getting hard for me to stand up through contractions so I quickly ate then came back upstairs. I called my midwife to let her know what was happening and also let my birth photographer know so that they all could be on standby. At this point I was getting tired from only getting 2 hours of sleep so I decided to try and nap. I laid down and eventually fell asleep from about 8:30-9:30, waking up a few times from contractions but was able to ride them out and go back to sleep. When I woke up, I went to the bathroom and had lost my mucus plug with some bloody show. This was looking promising!
My sister arrived around 10am and by that point I was just excited that things seemed to be moving so we all just hung out in our room, watching TV, resting as much as possible, and my sister casually started timing contractions. Things weren’t that intense and they were still a little sporadic, happening maybe every 8-12 minutes. Throughout the day I tried eating and staying hydrated as best as I could. Time passed quickly and by evening, contractions were spacing out. They were definitely getting harder, but I could still talk in between them and I didn’t think we were close to active labor or letting the rest of our team know that we thought it was go-time. I took a shower and put on my GentleBirth labor companion track to try and get in the right headspace for labor potentially picking up soon, but didn’t have any contractions during the shower so we decided to just go to sleep that night.
Not going to lie, I started feeling really defeated at this point. As a doula, I know this is a very normal and typical early labor pattern, but as a soon-to-be-mom who was tired of waiting I was reaching my limit. Thankfully, both Michael and my sister were amazing support people and encouraged me that it was all ok, I was doing an amazing job, and that baby would be here soon…
So we go to bed Monday night but the contractions keep coming and like the night before, I only get a couple hours of sleep. Michael somehow slept through most of them (even though at this point I was moaning and vocalizing through them) and my sister even slept through the ones I had from about midnight-3am. By 3am on Tuesday, they were really starting to take my breath away and I had to get up out of bed and lean over something to manage them. I was also becoming very emotional at this time. I cried hard on Michael’s shoulder and told him I just wanted to meet our baby. My sister, sensing that I was losing it, told me I should sit on the toilet for a bit and see if we can bring them closer together to make some good progress. I agreed, knowing that the toilet was an amazing place to labor and make cervical change. From 3-5am I sat on that damn toilet and my sister sat right next to me as my contractions started coming more frequently and more intensely. I also started having lots of good bloody show so I knew my cervix was changing and it was allowing me that relief and hope that this was actually happening and that I would meet my baby that day.
At 5am I got off the toilet and started trying other positions. I did lots of bouncing on my exercise ball while leaning over the bed and trying to rest, or leaning over it on my hands and knees. I took showers, I sat on the toilet, I used my TENS unit on my lower back. I wanted to make sure I was being upright when possible, but that I wasn’t exerting too much energy. At this point things were starting to space back out again so I called my midwife and told her I’d like to come get checked out and see what we can do to encourage it to pick back up. I knew I was getting tired and I wanted to try everything possible to remain at the birth center and not have to transfer to the hospital for exhaustion, dehydration, etc. She told me to come in around 11am so we packed all our stuff up and made the drive over to San Mateo – about 30 minutes – to see what was going on. On the drive I only had a couple contractions and knew things were again stalling out. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to be far along just given my contraction pattern and so I was mentally preparing for that on the drive over.
When we arrived, we went into the exam room and they took a listen to baby to make sure they (we didn’t know she was a she yet) were tolerating being in labor this long. The heart rate was perfect so that was a relief. They also took my vital signs and besides slightly elevated blood pressure and pulse because of being in labor, I was doing well. Finally I did a cervical exam and my midwife told me I was 2cm dilated, 100% effaced, and baby had descended a bit from the last check on the Friday before labor began. This was all promising, but obviously not what I wanted to hear since I was only 2cm dilated and you have to get to 10cm in order to start pushing. My midwife assured me that even though I was only 2cm, the fact that my cervix was 100% effaced (which means it was completely thinned out and no longer long and thick) meant I was ready to dilate at a moment’s notice. She was most concerned about my lack of sleep and need for some electrolytes. She told me to go home, take 1 benadryl, and try to sleep.Then when I woke up, she wanted me to take a dropper full of the herbs black and blue cohosh every 30 minutes for 3 hours to hopefully bring on stronger contractions that were closer together (note: please don’t take these herbs without being under the care of your own personal care provider). So, we left with that plan and told her we’d be in touch should anything change.
We got home around 12:30/1pm and I took Benadryl. I then tried to sleep. I maybe got 1-1.5 hours of sleep that were interrupted by some pretty strong contractions every 15-20 minutes. My sister and Michael tried to sleep during this time too since they hadn’t gotten much sleep either. By 3pm I couldn’t stand lying down anymore so we started the black and blue cohosh regimen and I started going from the shower, to the exercise ball, finally to sitting on the toilet. From 3-6ishpm I took the herbs and things started to really pick up. At one point I was on my hands and knees leaning over my exercise ball and got nauseous. Then I started vomiting. It was awful, but I was also encouraged that perhaps things were really starting to get serious. I then moved back to the toilet and started going through contraction after contraction and noticed that they were coming on strong and about every 3.5 minutes. I knew I was hitting active labor and told my sister to call the midwife and let her know. She did and our midwife told us to check back in in an hour. After 20 minutes I told my sister that I thought we needed to head to the birth center now and so we called back and planned to meet there ASAP. I was starting to lose control a bit over the contractions so I really had to focus through them. We gathered the remaining stuff we needed and headed out for the birth center around 7:10pm.
Let me tell you, the 30 minute ride to the birth center was one of the most awful things I’ve ever been through. The roads were incredibly bumpy and even though I was sitting up on my knees in the backseat with my arms draped over the headrests, every bump made things 10x worse. I screamed on the way there. Poor Michael must have been so stressed because I was yelling at him to not hit every bump or to slow down and he was just trying to get us there as quickly as possible. I also started to get extremely hot so was demanding more air and then saying to turn the air off because I would then get cold. These are all signs of entering transition, by the way, which is where you’re approaching 8 cm dilated and things are starting to get the most intense…
We finally got to the birth center around 7:45/8pm and I couldn’t even make it in the door without having multiple contractions. Our midwife Judi was waiting for us and she took our temps at the door (COVID protocol) and told me to go pee so she could test my urine to make sure I was hydrated enough and that nothing else funky was going on with me physically. After that, I got up on the exam table to see where I was at and to know if we could stay this time. When she checked, the first thing she said was, “You are where I thought you’d be,” and I swear she was going to tell me I was still 2 cm or something. I got SUPER nervous. But she quickly said, “you’re 8 cm dilated and can you feel this, this is your baby’s head…they are super low.” I sat up and sobbed (for probably the third time in three days) because I was so incredibly relieved. She started getting our room ready and called in the other two midwives and we thought delivery was going to be soon-ish.
When we got settled into our room Judi came in and informed me that my urine test showed some concerning things. 1) I was extremely dehydrated 2) I was throwing out ketones and 3) I had trace amounts of protein in my urine. Having ketones in your urine means your body is in a state of ketosis, aka it’s burning fat, but it can be dangerous if left untreated and for very long. This just means I hadn’t really eaten much and because I was working so hard my body was burning fat. She was more concerned about the protein and dehydration. Even though I was drinking a ton of water and coconut water, my body needed more. And the protein in your urine can be a sign of preeclampsia. So she took my blood pressure and again, it was slightly elevated but not super concerning. She thought the protein might just be another sign of my body being tired so she said we’d check again if needed in a few hours. At this point contractions were super intense and I was hanging off a ladder that was bolted to the wall to manage them but wanted to get in the tub. However because I was so dehydrated Judi wanted me to try and hydrate naturally with bone broth, coconut, and regular water for 20 minutes to see if that would bring my hydration levels up. That didn’t work so she said in order for me to get in the tub I’d need an IV. I happily obliged, because all I could think about was the comfort that warm water would bring.
At this point the rest of the midwives and our wonderful photographer showed up. I got my IV placed (after they stuck me multiple times due to dehydration) and they ran fluids into me. I was starting to get really annoyed with the midwives giving me all these suggestions to ride out the contractions. I had felt that I was getting through them and so their suggestions felt like distractions to me. I didn’t want to be talked to and I didn’t want to be touched at this point. Again, all typical signs of transition.
Finally, after 20 minutes of IV hydration I was able to get in the tub and let me tell you. It was the best thing I had ever felt. I immediately relaxed and told the room I wanted to move into the tub and stay there forever. Once in the tub, my contractions didn’t feel as strong and they actually started to space out a bit. I would go into this trance-like state there too. I’m not sure how long I was in there (it was all very blurry). But eventually I started feeling like I needed to bear down with the contractions and push. I also was getting an intense pain in what felt like my bladder. I sensed I needed to pee, but physically wasn’t able to in the tub. Eventually, around midnight on Wednesday, Judi came in and told me she thought I needed to get out of the tub because it was slowing things down. She also wanted me to go sit on the toilet to try and pee because a full bladder can block baby from descending further into the pelvis. Reluctantly, I got out and when I stood up I felt immense pressure, meaning baby was close.
I went to the bathroom but still couldn’t pee. While on the toilet I had a few very strong contractions that I gently grunted through and each one brought so much pressure with it that I felt like my water was about to break. I finally came out of the bathroom, told Judi I wanted to be checked, and if I wasn’t at 10cm and ready to push I wanted her to break my water or do something to speed things along.
I laid down on the bed in our room and she checked me. She said I was nearly 10cm dilated and that I just had a bit of anterior cervix left. I asked her if there was anything she can do to get it out of the way so I could push and with the next contraction she held it back and told me to push. Oh my gosh, that feeling was so amazing. The pain in my bladder went away and we determined later that it was likely just the remaining part of my cervix that was hurting during contractions. When I pushed she told me I was moving the baby down and that she could continue to hold my cervix back if I wanted to keep pushing. I told her yes.
The next 30ish minutes can only be described as extremely overwhelming. By about the second push her head was so low and the pain was so unreal that I was physically fighting my body, screaming uncontrollably, breathing incredibly fast, and basically losing all control. There were multiple times where I screamed that I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how else to describe what I was going through except that it was like my body was trying to simultaneously get my baby out while also fighting itself. The pain I was feeling was unlike anything else and I can’t even put it into words. It was so intense. But with every push I felt her getting lower and lower.
At about the second or third push my water also broke. And with it came a whole bunch of meconium-stained amniotic fluid. At first I was so relieved by the feeling of my water bag not being there anymore, but then I heard Judi say, “thick mec,” and the whole birth team’s energy shifted to that of cautiousness and I could sense it. Because I’m in the birth field, I know that meconium (baby passing its first poop inside of you) can either be totally fine, or a potential emergency. A lot of babies who are past their due date can have meconium in their water. But it can also be a sign that baby is in distress. And the worst thing that could happen is that babies can aspirate meconium as they take their first breath and it can be a real emergency and potentially a NICU stay. So once my water broke and they saw that it had thick meconium in it, they started getting necessary supplies ready in case any of that happened. Obviously this shifted the energy in the room for me, but I tried not to let it get me too anxious. It also meant that they’d be checking the baby’s heart tones more regularly during the pushing. Thankfully, her heart tones were fantastic the entire labor and even during all of the pushing up until this point so that made me feel much better about everything.
My sister ended up videoing the entire pushing phase and I’m so glad she did because in my head I was a raging lunatic screaming at everyone and everything with every contraction. But re-watching the video I wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I thought I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was out of my mind and there was certainly screaming and yelling, but it’s something I’ve seen from so many women as a doula that I know it’s normal.
About 20 minutes into pushing Judi asked Michael if he wanted to catch the baby. We had talked about this during my pregnancy and he always said he wanted to. So when she asked he immediately said, “yes!” and went to wash his hands and get ready. This point in the pushing process was also super intense. Her head was nearing crowning and the sensation was so wild. I thought I was dying. It took everything in me to push through the pain and get her out. Somewhere near this time Judi asked me if I wanted to feel her head and I reached down and felt it. Not going to lie, I thought she was out further so honestly I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t feel as much of her head as I wanted to. One of the other midwives also told me the baby had a lot of hair and for some reason that motivated me to push even harder to get her out so I could finally see her. Toward the end, while taking her heart tones, they were lower than Judi would have liked so she told me to push even without contractions. So I did.
With a few more pushes, her head was crowning and then, finally after 50+ hours of labor, her whole body slipped out into Michael’s and Judi’s hands. Judi also told me to reach down and catch my baby, so I did! I reached down and pulled her right up to my belly, unwrapped her umbilical cord from her body/neck, and started patting her and wiping her to get her to cry. Now, a quick note here, the whole pregnancy Michael and I talked about how he would announce the sex to the room. However, in the heat of the moment and with all the relief I felt I blurted out, “IT’S A GIRL! IT’S A GIRL!” As soon as I saw she was indeed a girl and totally stole his thunder. I felt really badly about this after, but Michael said he didn’t mind.
I kept looking up at everyone and saying, “I did it! I did it!” And the most prominent memory I have at this moment was seeing Michael’s eyes so clearly (because he was wearing a mask I couldn’t see the rest of his face) and they were twinkling with what I can imagine were tears, pride, and a whole lot of love for his girls. My baby girl kept looking up at me and then let out the most blood curdling scream – similar to the one I let out while pushing – and everyone laughed that she had a pair of lungs on her, just like her mama. I delivered my placenta via an old fashioned squat 30ish minutes after she was born and then we stayed at the birth center about 5 more hours while they monitored me, did a thorough exam on Antonia, and made sure we were both well. We got home around 6:30am on Wednesday.
Now for some real talk: immediately after her birth I felt like I hated my labor. I hated that I didn’t have pain medication, I hated that it took so long, I hated that it hurt so much. I was telling everyone in the room that I’m never doing it unmedicated again and that people who do are absolutely crazy. It was such raw emotion coming out of me and I truly thought that the whole experience was awful. But now that I’m a few days postpartum I look back on my labor with such pride and admiration of my body, my baby, my family, and women in general. I can honestly say that it was such a transformative experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My labor was definitely a challenging journey, but it brought me my precious girl and made me a mother. I can’t wait to tell Antonia her birth story over and over again and I hope that someday she’ll get to experience her own journey into motherhood and that I’ll get to share with her in that.
Thanks for sticking around if you’ve made it this far!