Each pounding wave crashes hard and is felt deep through my core. At first, the waves seep into my pelvis, then creep into each thigh. Breathe in and howl out again and again. Next, relax, let go, and sink into the pain. Each contraction was like a wave starting low, building strength, then peaking. I was determined to conquer the waves ahead.
Before I began to surf through 14 hours of natural labor, I felt like my little one was never going to arrive. Everyday I would go on long walks with my husband, friends, and mom. I tried everything I could to get labor started, the birth ball, raspberry tea, and spicy food!
Everything was unplanned and unknown. Even the due date was uncertain. The Doctors office had recorded November 30th but when I called to verify, a nurse said based on both ultrasounds the due date was November 17th. The reality was that my future, and my baby’s future, were in God’s hands.
Brightness flooded the morning as we waited for Elena, much like any other day. My mom and I walked our normal two-mile route. Nic had just finished an important part of his training but still had work to do so my mom stepped in to keep me from dwelling on worries. I was determined to walk as far as possible most days. She did the perfect job distracting me so I wouldn’t pee my pants by talking up a storm. Towards the end of the walk, I remember intensely craving spicy wings and wanting to forget my vegetarian lifestyle. As the day progressed, I slowly lost my mucus plug.
It was the perfect night for Elena to start her journey into the world! Excitement brewed in my heart and I jumped around with hope that more action would begin very soon. Around 5:30 pm I started to feel more consistent Braxton Hicks. They felt different with more aching pressure in my lower back. Because Braxton Hicks contractions had been constant the last few weeks, I contemplated whether these were the real deal.
As the night progressed, the contractions became more regular and I had to use a heating pad for the discomfort. We decided to watch “Storks” because even at 24 years old animated films make us laugh and it kept the mood light. Until finally, Nic and I decided to finish packing our hospital bags “just in case”. Then I called my doula and we both tried to sleep knowing it may be a long night.
I woke up to a contraction at 12:30 am. I had to go to the restroom. I remember sitting on the toilet with intense pain thinking “OH MY GOSH this is just the beginning”. Nic was still asleep so I let him continue to rest and texted my mom something along the lines “I just had a really painful one *insert wide-eyed emoji*”. I was in the middle of making toast when I had another contraction. The pain was distracting. I took a bite of my toast – a giant puddle of honey on a slice of bread. I was delusional without much sleep and I just laughed and laughed. My mom came out shortly and witnessed my craziness as I discovered just how much laughing hurts during a contraction. We sat together as I finished my honey soaked toast.
Nic eventually woke and seemed confused for a little bit and in shock. We were both surprised this was actually going to happen; we were going to have a baby and become parents in a matter of hours. With each contraction, he learned how to help me cope. In need of some girl power motivation and not yet ready to go to the hospital, we started watching “Mulan”!
As we watched, my contractions progressed to five to seven minutes apart and when I would walk around they got even closer. Eventually both Nic and my mom were concerned about the 50-minute drive to the hospital on a foggy night so we decided to head out. I was scared for the car ride as I recalled it was something women dread in other birth stories but in my experience, it went so fast. My body and mind began to cope with the pain by loosing track of time.
Friends have asked me what the contractions felt like. At the start of labor the contractions felt like someone had their large strong hands gripping my entire pelvic region and they were squeezing as hard as they could till they had to let go. After this point, I do not have words to describe the pain other than, it HURT. Labor felt like the complete opposite of movies; no one freaked out rushing me to the hospital; no one immediately put me into a wheel chair when we arrived; my water did not break; I did not scream uncontrollably; and, I definitely did not have a baby within an hour or two.
When we arrived, I had to sign so many papers and the lady at the front desk was extremely disconcerting. Once I got into an examination room to be checked, they admitted me at 4 cm. Then we waited for almost two hours to get into an actual delivery room. To everyone else it must have been a LONG day but, in my mind, everything felt like it was moving at warp speed.
My doula, Sadie, ended up having a delivery she was already at an hour away. Strangely this did not faze me at all. She sent another doula, Hannah, to help till she could arrive. Leading up to labor I was worried about being exposed in front of everyone, naked and bare. That is the last thing I was worried about in delivery. A trance had taken over my mind. Most of the time my eyes were closed, concentrating on riding the waves of each contraction, one by one hoping not to wipe-out. I could not crash. I could not loose my sanity. I had to be out of my body, almost not even present.
In the labor room, endless support and encouragement was constant and I am forever grateful. It did not matter that I had never met Hannah till that moment. I did not mind a doula in training, Dianna, had come to help and observe. Leading up to this day friends had said, if it was them they wouldn’t want their mom in the delivery room, but I could not imagine laboring without her, and my husband was a champion at every moment by my side the whole time.
The birth ball and heating pad helped me cope for a while. I would sit with my hands open. When a contraction would hit, someone would grab each hand, my doula would tell me to relax certain parts of my body, and another person would hold the heating pad on my back. At one point Nic had ate some Cheese Its. After, he grabbed my hands and got right next to me saying something sweet probably like “you can do this”. Instead of it being a nice intimate moment, all I said was “get your Cheese It breath away from me”. I will never live this down because it apparently gave everyone a good laugh.
Despite his Cheese It breath, Nic was really sweet. He combed my hair, got me water constantly, and of course stood right there as I puked multiple times through transition. He even sat next to me outside the bathtub while spraying my back using the showerhead. The hot water and the pressure on my back was exactly what I needed. I remember him asking me if I wanted to get out soon. I replied, “Hasn’t it only been 20 minutes?” Apparently, it had been almost an hour and a half. I was checked shortly after and had progressed to seven to eight cm. That news was music to my ears.
My water still had not broken so my doula suggested I sit on the toilet for a while to see if the position would help. Nothing happened and that is the last time I remember being somewhat present. From that point forward, everything was a complete out of body experience. They say labor becomes animalistic and I completely agree. When riding each contraction out, I moved when I needed to move, made whatever noises necessary, and even fell asleep for brief moments in between.
We all thought it was getting close to baby time so Dr. Phillips came in to check me. That was not a fun experience. Contractions were practically on top of each other so having someone stick their hand up into my cervix, while I was having a contraction, was honestly one of the worst memories. She told me I was at eight to nine cm and that she could break my water to make labor progress faster but that would make contractions more painful. My mind could not comprehend more pain. I was scared and said no, definitely not.
I toughed it out for an hour or two more, only with pure will. Sitting on the edge of the bed I breathed in, howled out, did my best to relax my body, and sink into the pain. My doula would let me know when I was getting towards the climax of a contraction by encouraging me “only a few more breaths”. Everyone would effleurage my arms and legs, which helped a lot, but at a certain point I could not do it anymore. I wanted my little one out as soon as possible. Dr. Phillips came back in and broke my water. Soon after, labor progressed. The energy in the room changed and I knew our girl was going to come.
Looking up I could not see straight. My eyes were spinning around the room as nurses quickly walked around preparing for a new life. When a contraction started the wave would take over and as it would break onto shore an enormous amount of pressure would press downwards. Dr. Phillips made me flip onto my right lying down for 5 minutes, due to my cervix being dilated unevenly, and then onto my left. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on breathing, knowing labor was almost over.
Tears started streaming as I cried uncontrollably. Most thought I was crying because of the pain but I said loudly “I’m not crying because it hurts, I’m crying because I’m having a baby”. Laughter filled the room and then I began to focus only on the present moment. Before I realized it, I was pushing.
While squeezing my eyes shut, with each contraction I pushed. I pushed harder than I ever thought possible. This moment I saw with blurred eyes looking in, like I was watching myself on a 1930s TV. Everything was hazy and everyone seemed to move in scattered surges of motion. Sweat dripped down my whole body.
When I first really pushed with all my might I groaned, even partially yelled, but then realized that energy needed to be focused into my core. My mom stood by me pressing an oxygen mask against my face. As Dr. Phillips made eye contact, she repeated “breath for baby”. These words made all the difference and when I struggled to hold my breath while pushing, she used the softest voice to count. This helped me direct all my might downwards.
Nic was steady at my side. When someone yelled she has hair he went to watch our girl be born. It felt like everyone was at my feet gazing with wonder but I could not have cared less. They all kept saying with joy “there’s the head, she’s almost here, keep going, she’s coming”. After 20 minutes of hearing this repeatedly, I started to doubt but frustration fueled my need to push harder and longer. A few seconds later, our little girl slid right out greeting the world with wide eyes.
Elena Leslie Ortiz was born on December 2nd at 1:57pm. She was 7 pounds and 7 ounces, measuring at 20 and half inches long. They placed her immediately on my chest. She did not cry but just quietly stared at me. I embraced all her beautiful features. There was absolutely no vernix, which makes us think her due date was closer to the 17th, and even though there was blood all over her head from my 2nd degree tear, she smelled like vanilla and flowers.
Nic and I locked eyes turning together to gaze fervently at our daughter. In that moment I am sure we were both thinking the same thing… this will forever be our adorable little girl… half of you, and half of me.
Natural labor and recovery was brutal but it was also beautiful. I thought I knew this family was strong, but I never could have realized how much strength we have together, if we did not conquer through unknown territory. Planning is a constant in my life. As much as anyone can plan for what labor or postpartum will be like, nothing will provide perfect preparation. I was not prepared for the pain, but I was prepared for the unknown. My support network made me feel safe and provided me with the motivation to not turn away from the birth I envisioned.
During labor I could barely think through the pain. My thoughts revolved only in each breath until Elena arrived. After the birth high faded, the struggle of postpartum slammed into every part of my body. Everything hurt below, I could barely walk or sit, and my breasts felt like they may explode. I just wanted to cry alone so one evening I went into the bathroom letting tears stream down, grabbed the towel bar for support and looked up. On the wall were my birth affirmation cards. Not once did I need or use them in labor but somehow Nic knew I would need them in that moment.
Following delivery, I felt brave and amazed that I had labored naturally. After I broke down at home, I realized I am a warrior. I was a warrior through labor and even through those tears in the bathroom. It has taken me awhile to feel like my body is mine again and still it is an endeavor. Whether women choose to go with or without an epidural, formula or breastfeeding, Nanny or homemaker, never before have I realized the all-encompassing endurance women have to fight with courage through life, to give life.
While pushing, and after when holding Elena, I kept thinking the words “A woman’s birth is her chance to hold hands with God.” In all the important moments I have felt God’s presence, there is nothing that naturally makes me fall deeper into Faith than giving myself up to God’s will in labor and taking on the responsibility to care for Elena Leslie forever and always.