Okay, where were we? Ah yes, Part 1 of the birth story leaves off with, “We arrive to the birth center, where I promptly feel both relief and then already very much over this birth.”
It feels SO VASTLY different than it did with Atlas. Her birth was slow, at times too slow, with intense backlabor but I got breaks in between of contractions. Towards the end of the 19 hours of labor with Atlas, I could actually breathe through the urge to push in order to regain strength.
There was NO downtime during his birth, never a time to catch my breath.
We get to the birth center and I head straight to the hallway bathroom. I pull the trashcan on my lap (I distinctly remember it being wet on the bottom. SO GROSS).
I come out and Sophie, my midwife is there. She says she wants to check my progress from being 1.5cm at 10am to see where I’m at now that it’s 6:30pm. I continue to have deep, powerful, close together and painful contractions. It was truly like ONE, long, extreme contraction.
She asks if I want to know how far along I am. I say yes, assuming she’s basically going to tell me the baby’s head is about to pop out due to the intensity of all this.
“Chelsea. You are at 3cm.”
I immediately burst into tears. But then of course a contraction gets in the way of me wallowing in my slowasscervix. I need to be at 10cm for this baby to come out. I’m at fucking 3cm. Then I start to panic. I cannot handle this level of pain for the next maaaaany hours it typically takes for the cervix to dilate more. She says she will check me again at 8:30pm to see my progression then.
On average, it takes roughly about an hour to progress 1cm.
Let’s pause for a moment for a quick review of how labor typically goes:
According to American Pregnancy Association:
- Early Labor Phase –The time of the onset of labor until the cervix is dilated to 3 cm. Lasts about 8-12 hours or even days for some women. It says ‘contractions will last about 30-45 seconds, giving you 5-30 minutes of rest between.’
- Active Labor Phase – Continues from 3 cm. until the cervix is dilated to 7 cm. Lasts about 3-5 hours and ‘contractions will last about 45-60 seconds with 3-5 minutes rest in between. Contractions will feel stronger and longer.’
- Transition Phase – Continues from 7 cm. until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm. Lasts about 30 min-2 hours and ‘contractions will last about 60-90 seconds with 30 seconds to 2 minute rest in between. Contractions will be strong, intense and can overlap.’
As Sophie continues to kneel on the floor and look up at me (I love midwives), she tells me I’m effacing, which means softening and that’s more important than how far I’m dilated. Then another contraction attacks me from inside and I’m begging for all hands on deck! And by deck, I mean my lower back.
I sob out, ‘This isn’t even fair! I don’t have any breaks in between contractions. What the hell!?”
Again, I had like a solid 3-5 minutes after a contraction with Atlas to recoup and muster up strength. This time, it was like a ferocious ocean of waves pulling back just enough to gather their strength to crash over me again.
Ryan suggests playing my upbeat birth playlist, filled with badass women singing strong words to fast tempos. For some reason, it makes everything worse. Not now Lizzo, my body is utterly possessed.
Then I throw up. Ugh. Remember, I despise vomit intensely. But I also know this is a sign of ‘transition,’ which must mean I’m getting closer, right? Then I remember I was only at 3cm a few minutes ago so I probably threw up from the castor oil and chugging a milkshake.
The student midwife runs a bath for me but I’m in immobilizing pain that I can’t really make it to the tub. Then all of a sudden I start to feel like I’m going to straight up pass out. Ryan said all the color drained from my face and it was terrifying. They start an IV to give me fluids and that helped some.
Sophie asks if I want to try some nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) to try to take the edge off my pain and calm me down a bit.
OKAY. POUR IT INTO MY LUNGS.
The rule there is that the woman giving birth has to hold the mask up to her own face, no one else can do this for her. This is to ensure she’s fully in control of how much she’s getting (nitrous leaves your body very quickly). I needed my hands to bear down on the bed so I don’t think I had much nitrous because I couldn’t hold it up.
I continue my cycle of insanely strong, long and intense contractions. It’s starting to feel like way too much for me to handle. In my head, I start thinking about how it would feel to transfer to the nearby hospital and get an epidural. It’s not what I wanted but this level of pain is NOT like the last time and I’m starting to feel like I can’t hang.
I blurt out “I’m done! Call the ambulance and take me to the hospital for an epidural!” An ambulance is how all women have to be transferred from the birth center to the hospital, regardless of medical status. Ryan asks if that’s what I really want to do, knowing how much I want another natural birth. I say through gritted teeth, “I’ve done the natural birth. I checked that box. I’m done now. I want the epidural. LET’S. GO. NOW.”
Sophie says she wants to see my progression again. It’s now 7:30pm, about an hour since I’ve been there and clocked in at 3cm. She looks up at me with a huge smile on her face and says calmly, ‘Chelsea. You are at 9cm!”
I have progressed 6 DAMN CENTIMETERS IN AN HOUR. Remember, this ‘typically’ should have taken six hours since the cervix usually dialates 1cm per 1 hour. I don’t really have time to process this because devil contractions are ramping up.
I continue to say I still want to be transferred and I still want an epidural.
Merrie (doula) and Sophie (midwife) start explaining that the soonest possible I’d be able to get an epidural is in 45 minutes, after getting to the hospital and being checked in. UGH. Merrie says, “You could have a baby in your arms in 45 minutes, Chelsea.”
Fine. I’ll try it a few more minutes.
Then at about 7:45pm, I start getting the urge to push. I’m standing beside the bed and Sophie says, ‘Chelsea, does it feel like you need to push?’ Yeah, Soph, it sure does.
She very calmly but swiftly leaves the room. I am doing my best to keep my moans low and breathe through them but honestly my body feels like it’s being ripped in two (again, it did NOT feel like with Atlas’ natural birth).
Sophie comes back and quietly sets all the ‘a baby is about to arrive’ things nearby. I’m feeling intense pressure and then his head starts to come down. Ryan said that with Atlas, it looked the same but she wasn’t born for like another hour. When Sophie proceeds to say, ‘His head is almost out!’ he didn’t really believe her.
It’s super strange but I can feel him turning inside my birth canal, finalllllly getting into the optimal birth position.
In a standing position, using the bed, these incredible women and my amazing husband as support…I mustered up every last ounce of motherfucking EVERYTHING I have to shove this child out of my body and into the world.
Welcome Zürich Dallas Turner Avery born 7:54pm on July 16, 2019.
I was so so SO relieved that the pain had finally subsided. That was the first thing I thought. I was also like, ‘Oh hey, THAT’S what it’s supposed to feel like when a baby comes out in the correct position and not asynclitic like Atlas!’
Then I asked how he was doing – but I wasn’t fully aware that he wasn’t breathing super well and needed the artificial manual breathing unit bag to help open up his lungs. They did this for a few minutes but everyone was calm so I remained calm (but also, YAY NO MORE PAIN).
Apparently in many hospital settings, the ‘resuscitation table’ is attached to the wall so the whisk the baby away. Midwives are so smart and a large cutting board does the same thing so this could all happen right next to me. Didn’t know to be grateful for it then but sure am now!
Then they put this suction thing down his throat to help get some of the amniotic fluid out. Judging by my face, my brain finally caught up that none of this occurred with Atlas and OmgIsHeOkay?IsHeAlive?WhatTheF?
By 8:01pm, he’s on my chest and meeting his daddy. My legs start shaking violently (totally normal and due to the adrenaline) but they were shaking way more than what I remember with Atlas. I deliver the placenta about 10 minutes later and it came out shaped like a heart! If you want to see a photo, you bet your booty I have one and will send it by request.
Oh and he was 7lbs 5oz and 20.5 inches long.
My uterus contracting for the following few days after he was born was also WAY more painful than with Atlas. Apparently it gets worse with each baby, which feels like a glitch in evolution?
I had what is called a Rapid or Precipitous Birth, which means you start and end birth in four hours or less. I got the ‘or less’ and it was like 2.5 hours total. When I tell this story, people are like ‘oh my gaaawd you’re so lucky it was so fast!’
To which I reply, “Give me 6 hours, give me 8 hours, hell, give me 14 hours of a slower, progressing labor because rapid labor was awful.” I actually had quite a bit of emotional trauma surrounding this birthing experience. Interesting fact: my sister had a rapid birth with her second too…but both of us had relatively normal length births with our first.
Everything happened so quickly that by the time Sophie called the on-call nurse to come in to assist in my birth, Zürich was already born! But once she got there, she was great! She made me their postpartum porridge, ran an Epsom salt bath for me and gave us the right amount of space to get to know our little man while still ensuring we were both on track and heaolthy!
Babies in Colorado often have a bluer hue (especially the white baby variety) due to our higher elevation. Zürich was especially blue since his lungs weren’t operating at full capacity right away.
How crazy is this? Because he spent so little time in my birth canal, he spit up amniotic fluid for a few days following his birth! Turns out that part of birthing for a while, especially with the baby in position, is to compress their body/lungs to expel the fluid. Since he shot out like a damn rocket…he got to spit his up later.
I am so dang grateful for my incredible doula, Merrie. Her hands are made of something magical and strong. Her calm confidence continuously enveloped me and I trusted her the entire time. Highly recommend her if you’re in the Denver area!
My mom brought Atlas to the birth center at 9pm, where she met her baby brother and ate all of my apples with almond butter.
One of the first things she said (as a soon-to-be-three-year-old then) ‘the baby is eating your boobies, Mama.’ She’s not wrong.
My mom eventually took Atlas back to our house and she kept saying, “it’s so dark out!” Probably because on all other summer nights, she’s tucked in to bed by 7pm with the blackout curtains tightly drawn. First time that child had seen 9:30pm HA.
This man right here. Wow. He’s the real deal. His love, thoughtfulness, patience, and support continue to amaze me. He had every imaginable snack ready in my birth bag (as per my last birth, PBJ sandwich for the win) and couldn’t have been any more excited to meet our son.
Ryan Avery – thank you for being THE father to our children and my true partner, in every sense of the word. There is no one else who even comes close to all you do for me and our babies. I love you (and like you) more than words can express.
I give thanks daily that me, Atlas and now Zürich get to be loved by you.
My whole birthing team (Merrie not pictured) was exactly who I needed. I will forever be grateful that this option of a natural birth in a birth center was available to me.
We left the birth center at about midnight and were greeted with one of the brightest moons we’ve ever seen (for sure the brightest Zürich’s ever seen).
Thankfully, we spent the following day in bed as a family until Ravery had to leave for the airport. He left at 3pm in order to do what was supposed to be his last keynote for three months, the following morning. Talk about stressful timing but so grateful it all came together.
My mom spent that night with me and Zürich while Atlas had the time of her life with my fabulous in-laws!
Zürich, you surprised us all by coming two weeks early and then rapidly making your appearance when you felt like it.
I can now say, you were worth it all. And I’d do it all again.
You complete our family.
Thank you for reading! I know my husband is going to be like “babe – this is so long!” because it really is…but birth deserves ALL the words. I write to share my experience and I also write to remember. Thank you for the love!
Oh and BTW, are you on my newsletter? I’m in the midst of a ‘bare-all’ video series about how intense and challenging this past year has been for me. You can sign up HERE.
This is definitely not too long. Birth deserves a complete narrative. Every birth. And what a wonderful story it is! Thank you for sharing it Chelsea.
You are so right, Paula! Thank you for the validation and reminder that every woman who wants to share her story about birth…SHOULD! You’re always the best xo
I think the length is perfect! I admire you for sharing all of this. I had a midwife for my pregnancy because of you! (I read Atlas’s birth story too) They are truly amazing. My body unfortunately didn’t take to pregnancy well and my daughter had to be cut out 6 weeks early. The midwife was there the whole time telling me everything that happened. The doctor said 2 words. I’m so happy your stories convinced me that midwifes are the way to go, life changing!!
Ahhh that’s SO amazing to hear, Amy!!! I love love loooove that you took the time to explore having a midwife as part of your birth! I also love that she was with you the whole time during your c-section, they really are magic. And at the same time, thank goodness for doctors who are totally necessary in certain circumstances which it sounds like for you and your daughter. Hope you are both doing well!
This story is nuts. Birth is nuts. It’s incredible what our bodies can do- but how they all do it differently. That’s SUCH a fast progression! I went from 4 cm to 10 cm in two hours but I had an epidural at the time and mostly slept through it! Lol!
What an intense and beautiful story! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and could totally relate with your back labor.. I went the unmedicated, hypnobirthing route with both babes and endured back labor with each as well.. woof. The second time, I went from water breaking at 5cm to 10cm and baby in my arms in 59 insane minutes! Thank you so much for sharing in such a raw and animated way. Cheers to birthing babies!!