Ryan is going to turn 5 years old this coming Sunday, on January 29. I figured it was a good time to do my yearly tradition of reading his birth story book and looking at the pictures. It's a hard birth to process. It was both empowering and hard. I felt in control and then not. The experience helped me later decide that I wanted to become a doula. I think it's important to talk about the multiple feelings about birth even if they conflict with each other. So let's celebrate his 5th birthday by sharing his birth story!
Content Warning: Hospital Transfer, NICU Stay

Pregnant women standing on the beach with her husband. She is looking at the camera smiling. He is looking at her.

Photo taken by Innerlight Photography on our Babymoon in Florida.

Ryan’s guess date was January 31, 2018. I told myself that he was going to be two weeks late. So that if he decided to show up earlier than that then I would not surprised. I took the childbirth education class and was planning to give birth at The Midwife Center of Pittsburgh, the freestanding birth center in Pittsburgh, PA. I have been listening to meditation tracks for weeks and looking at the birth affirmations that I hung up around the apartment. I felt prepared and unprepared at the same time. I had no idea what to expect but I trusted that my body could do it. 

So it begins

It was Sunday morning. Dave, my husband, got up and went to work. I stayed home with my sister, Carrie, who was in town just in case Sprout (the “womb” name we gave Ryan before his name was announced) decided to show up. I was experiencing Braxton Hicks so I was like, eh I’ll ignore it. Then hours later, it was becoming clear that it was early labor. 

I kept Dave updated via texting and he had a hard time focusing at work. But I didn’t want him to come home yet because the contractions didn’t hit 5-1-1 yet. They were sporadic. Dave’s boss sent him home in the afternoon. Dave and Carrie took turns massaging my back.

Then around 8pm, we called the midwife center. It’s the freestanding birth center in Pittsburgh that’s run by midwives. I wanted to come in because my family had a history of super fast birth and I was nervous about it. (Spoiler: I did not have the super fast birth - everyone is different).

We packed up, called the birth photographer, Jessie from Jessie Renee Photography, (who took all the professional birth photos on here!) and went to the birth center. When I arrived, I was 3 cm. But I don’t remember them telling me that. I only know because of the midwife’s notes which I read after the birth.

Carrie and David set up the candles, birth affirmations on the walls and snacks on the bedside table. I labored all night. The contractions picked up. Dave and Carrie were amazing at supporting me. They gave me birth affirmations like “you’re so strong." I remember getting in the shower and the water on my back felt amazing. I remember getting into the bathtub. It felt great. Then I got out.

A white woman is giving counter preassure to a pregnant white woman who is standing but leaning over with a birth ball. In front of the pregnant woman is her husband hold her arms.

Photo taken by Jessie Renee Photography

The back labor was pretty intense. I have no idea how I did it. But I stayed calm, told myself that I can do anything for 10 seconds and knew each contraction brought me closer to my baby.

Things were getting intense. I was vocalizing then at 4am, I said okay to breaking my water. Then by 8am, I was completely dilated to 10 cm. I was so surprised by this! The contractions were hard, but I was imagining the WORST pain in my life and it wasn't THAT bad. It really helped me to have amazing support people, having a positive mindset, doing all the comfort measures and breathing through the contractions. It was doable. It wasn't easy, but it was doable.

It's Pushing Time!

I pushed for hours. I tried so many different positions. 2 hours passed. My midwife said "We may have to send you to Mercy [Hospital]. Try a little longer. We can see the head, but if we’re not making progress… they have better tools." She was thinking about doing a hospital transfer due to concerns about maternal exhaustion. I was still determined so I pushed for another hour. Then was like okay, yeah. Let’s go to the hospital. 

Transferred to the Hospital

The ambulance came, they loaded me up, my midwife rode in it. I did not realize how many potholes Pittsburgh had until that ride! I was in like deep labor, trying to stay focus and breathing through them while strapped to a bed and the EMT asking me questions. The ambulance would run over a pot hole then the bed (with wheels) would bang on the sides and I would have to try to stay focused and calm. (By the way EMTs should be trained on how to talk to a woman in 2nd stage of labor. Sheesh.)

Once I got into the hospital, the OB and midwife saw me pushing. Ryan kept doing in and out under of the pubic bone and couldn’t quite go past it. So the OB recommended Pitocin to help the contractions to be stronger. I was nervous about how much more intense the back labor will be with Pitocin so I asked for an epidural first. Then I got Pitocin. I rested (aka labor down) for an hour. 

White pregnant woman is laying on the hospital bed. Her sister is at the foot of the bed. Her white husband is walking behind her sister. They are all in a hospital room.

Photo taken by Jessie Renee Photography

I told my midwife that when the baby was born, I wanted skin-to-skin time. She said if the baby is doing well then I would get that. I felt reassured.

Pushing Time Part Two

I remember when they said it was time to push, I cried. It was the realization that I’m going to meet my baby like REAL soon and everything was going to change. 

Then I pushed for another hour, with the help of a vacuum. Ryan was born on January 29 at 3:26pm. He was 7 pounds and 20 inches. I announced to the room that his name is “Ryan Alexander.”

They put Ryan on my chest. He cried. I was pretty tired so in my head it was like “Oh! He’s here! I have no idea who this baby is…” I had expected to fall in love with him RIGHT at that moment, but I didn't. It took time. I say that to normalize that not everyone gets love at first sight with their babies and that’s OKAY. It's in the range of normal.

Image of newborn on mom's chest just after he was born in the hospital.

This was taken just minutes after my first son was born in a hospital. Photo credit: Jessie Renee Photography.

The Curveball

So the nurses were doing the newborn assessment on Ryan on my chest when one them said "Huh" because they realized that something was off. So they took him to the warming table and did the rest of the assessment there. Carrie and Dave went over to the Ryan. Then the baby doctor explained what was going on. Then they both looked at me with concerned faces. I said “What?” 

Newborn is crying at the warming table in the hospital.

Photo taken by Jessie Renee Photography

Carrie told me “they’ll tell you.” Then the doctor explained that Ryan had a medical condition that required a transfer to a Children’s Hospital where their NICU would be better equipped to handle it. (I’m not explaining what the medical condition is to protect Ryan’s privacy on the Internet. I rather would wait until he is able to consent to that sharing of information). 

I was shocked and started crying. Dave asked if I could have some more skin to skin time with Ryan while we waited for the staff made arrangements for the transfer. They said yes. So Dave picked up Ryan and carried him over to me.

I got a little more skin to skin time. The birth photographer had to go. So I asked for a family picture before she went. I wiped my tears away and smiled for the picture.

Picture of a white woman holding a newborn on her chest doing skin to skin time. Her husband, a white male is next to her. They are both looking at the camera smiling.

Photo taken by Jesse Renee Photography

The birth photographer left. Then the hospital staff took Ryan to a different room to prep him. Dave and I were imagining him somewhere crying for his parents. Carrie left to get lunch. Dave and I were alone in the room and "just two of us" meant someone was missing. 

Ryan had to go to NICU

After what seemed like forever, the EMTs wheeled him in a closed box incubator (pictures taken below were taken on Dave's cellphone - thus the blurriness). He was swaddled up and wearing a hat. He was strapped in for an ambulance ride. He was not crying. He was okay. Phew! Dave and I were relieved. Then they wheeled him out. I told Dave to go with Ryan because I didn’t want him to be alone. 

Dave wanted to ride the ambulance with him but Carrie didn’t know how to drive stick shift in Dave’s car so. Dave dropped Carrie off to her car. Dave drove to the children’s hospital. Then she drove to the hospital back to me so that she could drive me to the Children’s hospital after I was discharged.

Alone. Suddenly and Unexpectedly.

I remember this moment after everyone had left. I was completely alone. I was thinking “What just happened? Did I have a baby? He was in me and then now he's gone.” 

It took me a while to come to terms that the separation at birth was traumatic for me. I felt empowered during the labor and birth. But after that it was hard. I always thought that a “traumatic birth” required something more intense. But birth trauma can be experienced by a birth person, trauma can be physical, emotional and or psychological. 

After some therapy, I realized that I was expecting for months for Ryan to be born and then put on my chest. Then we would spend the next 12 weeks working on bonding, breastfeeding and that he would never be far from me until maternity leave was over.

However, this didn’t happen. Here I am, laying in bed with a empty womb and no baby in my arms. Trying to make sense of what just happened while he was being transferred via ambulance to another hospital. 

This moment is what made me want to become a doula. If I had a doula, she would have stayed with me and gave me emotional support and hold space for me until my sister returned to take over and then the doula could have gone home.

Dave texted me a few pictures of Ryan and a video of himself doing skin-to-skin with Ryan. I felt relieved that Ryan was cared for and was receiving love from one of his parents. 

Going to the NICU to Hold Ryan

Carrie returned. Six hours after the birth, I was discharged from the hospital. (The birth center practice to discharge 6 hours after the birth, I wanted to be with Ryan ASAP so the birth center midwife advocated for me and told them that my sister is a nurse and that the midwife center will send a nurse to check on me within 24 hours at NICU). 

Carrie drove me to the Children’s hospital. I got into Ryan’s NICU room. I sat down and then asked to hold Ryan. 

NICU Time Warp

The next ten days were a blur of nurses and doctors going in and out of the room, me trying to figure out breastfeeding and pumping, sleeping, visitors to help us with Ryan and bringing us food.  

Ryan needed surgery at 2 days old. He couldn’t nurse until 5 days old. I was pumping milk and then storing it until he was cleared to try my breast milk. Then we waited until he was able to put on some weight and recovered enough to bring him home. On Feburary 8, 2018, we brought him home!

4 year old white boy wearing a shirt, shorts and saddles.

Photo taken by Kristen Schell Birth Services

Fast forward 5 years. I look at Ryan and can’t believe how much he has overcome and he is such a cool little kid. He is smart, creative, thoughtful and kind. He loves to play with cars and will say “hooray” when you offer him strawberries or raspberries. He had five surgeries so far and we're able to manage his medical conditions. I love him so much. 

Happy 5th birthday, kiddo!

Your mom and dad love you so much.

My Thoughts

I think it’s important to write out birth stories like this. Sometime even with all the preparations there will be a curve ball that happened and you just need to process it. It’s okay to have multiple feelings about your birth experience especially if feelings are conflicting. I was happy that Ryan was born and had access to life saving medical care. But sad that he was separated from me. Happy that i had awesome labor support partners - my husband and sister, but sad that I had to be transferred to the hospital. But also glad that it worked out because being in the hospital was exactly what Ryan needed. 

I needed time to grieve and then now I can read the birth story knowing that I made the best decisions at the time with the information I knew and was given. I gave myself permission to grieve about the emotional trauma and now I'm in a good place. I'm grateful for the pictures because I had my eyes closed a lot to be in "labor land" that it was all a blur. The NICU stay was so long that birth felt like a distance memory. The photos were healing for me becasue they helped me remember how well supported I was and how beautiful the experience mostly was. It reminded me what a badass warrior I am. I labored 29 hours without an epidural. Then it gave me a much needed break (still felt the back labor) then gave birth to him 2 hours later. SERIOUSLY. I'm so impressed and proud of myself for doing a hard thing bringing him into this world.

Overall Birth Stats

I always like to read the birth notes from the midwife. Here’s what she wrote:

Latent (Early Labor):  15 hours 46 minutes
Active: 4 hours 20 minutes
2nd Stage: 7 hours 20 minutes (3 hours @ TMC-->epidural--> labor down-->1 hour pushing)
3rd Stage:  3 minutes (placenta)
Total Labor: 30 hours 49 mins 

So it looks like I was in labor for almost 31 hours. If you only count labor from active labor to birth, then it was 11 hours and 40 minutes. It’s so wild that the pushing stage (2nd stage) was longer than the birth itself ha - that does not typically happen!

About the Author Kristen Schell

Kristen is a birth doula, photographer and childbirth educator. She wants to help families feel inspired by what birth can be. It can be beautiful, empowering, supported, and evidence based.

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  1. I was so touched by what u wrote ! Brought tears to my eyes to be a part of your lives! You are so LUCKY to have each other!and thanks for sharing your boys with me on Sunday mornings! Love aunt Jody 💜💜💜💜🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂happy happy birthday Ryan 🥳🎉

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