As I sat on their couch, sharing stories of childhood, it was time to set another appointment. I suggested meeting on the same day, two weeks from now, July 27th. Heather said, "Sure, but we won't have the appointment. I'm going to have this baby that day." Brandon confirmed, that Heather had been saying this date all along.
At 6:50pm on July 26th, Heather texted me that she thought her water broke. I called her and we discussed letting her provider know and to wait until she started feeling contractions. We checked in few times and then at 9:15pm Heather texted me that Brandon was starting to feel a bit stressed about being alone, as she was beginning to have some cramping.
I got in the car and headed their way. Around 20 minutes into the drive Heather called me and said they were going to head to the hospital and I turned my car around.
This was Heather's second baby and Brandon's first. During Heather's first labor, twelve years ago, she only had some mild cramping and contractions and then shortly after had a baby. Brandon had some fear that they wouldn't make it to the hospital in time.
I arrived to the hospital before them and waited for them at the entrance. As Heather got of the car she was giggling and said, "Someone is a little excited!" Brandon walked around from the other side of the car and with a look I can only compare to as Will Ferrell's character in Elf on Christmas morning.
Brandon pushed the button at the entrance, since it was after hours, and when the nurse asked how she could help them, he waved at the camera. Then exclaimed, "We are here to have a baby!".
We settled in, were greeted by the lovely staff at Manchester Memorial Hospital and Heather's midwife, Suzanne. Heather and Brandon have a very playful (and hysterical) relationship. As Brandon continued to stay excited, testing out all that the hospital had to offer personally, he also wanted to make sure the rest of us were comfortable. He setup a full charging station for devices and has he did it, Heather and I both stared at each other with our eyebrows raised and she said, "Ya know, he was an eagle scout." I almost peed my pants laughing so hard.
Every thing was very hands off and relaxed. I wondered if maybe a bit too relaxed. While I could see that Heather was having contractions here and there, they didn't seem as intense as we would normally want to see when arriving to the hospital.
I suggested that Heather try to get a bit of sleep before things intensified. It was around midnight, and if she was going to be laboring through the evening a good rest could be helpful.
I stood outside the room after tucking them in, and then saw a few guests enter the space. Heather and Brandon's sisters had arrived. I went in a few minutes later and it looked as though they had setup for the super bowl of births! Salsa was in the air!
Everyone chatted for an hour or two and then Heather asked for the space to quiet down a bit. Brandon, Heather's sister Tammie, and I would be the people present for the birth.
At 3:30am, Heather suggested getting in the tub. While she certainly could, not knowing how dilated she was, we didn't want to get in too soon. Heather decided for a check and with that came some disappointment. Heather was 1cm dilated. I watched a look of defeat come across her face. I reassured her that things would eventually take off and that since we were already here, it would be good to stay and get some rest. I once again tucked Heather in and went to take a nap myself.
At 5:45am Heather texted me that contractions were getting stronger, that she was still managing them fine, Brandon was sleeping, but she was dealing with some bowel distress. I was excited by that! Sometimes that can signal some more changes.
I was eating breakfast, showering, and to preparing to head head back, when Heather texted me again, that the baby's heart rate was dipping with each contraction and the nursing staff was getting concerned. I rushed back to the hospital (my home is a 5 minute drive).
When I arrived at 6:50am Heather told me that they had checked her cervix again between the text and my arrival and she was 1.5cm dilated. She was upset and stressed about baby and the lack of dilation. I could see on Tammies's face that she was stressed too, but I wasn't as stressed after a few minutes of watching the monitors. The other signal that it wasn't a major concern yet, was that the midwife hadn't been in to talk about it. Suzanne is a very attentive midwife. If there was a concern, she would have already been in.
I did see Heather though text a friend and ask for a prayer chain to be started. I heard her begin to pray. I wanted to tell her that she was fine, but my gut is not a crystal ball, and I wouldn't want to share my thoughts, without them being medically confirmed, in case I was wrong. Brandon woke up and Heather told him the baby was having some heart rate dips. He handled it better than she had expected, and Tammie reassured them, that everything would be ok. Tammie happens to be a cardiac nurse.
Heather's look and breathing had changed. Tammie and I began to rub her back with each contraction and helped her to change positions to see what was best for encouraging baby's heart rate to bounce right back. Baby was showing signs that we see at the end of labor. Not the type of dangerous dips we see in early/active labor.
I encouraged Heather to get on her hands and knees and I used the rebozo to "shake the apple tree" as it's known. Based on some of her back pain, I wondered if baby was lodged in a weird space and needed to realign himself. I did this twice in between contractions and then Heather felt as though she needed to move and she hoped to her feet.
Two contractions later she looked at me and said, "I can't do this." This is something I hear a lot as a doula and it's almost always a sign that we are close to the end. I encouraged Heather to keep breathing and talked her through the next two contractions. She once again looked up at me, face focused and intense and said, "I need to push!" and reached out for her sisters hand.
We were across from the nurses station so I opened the door and told our nurse I thought it was time for a check. Kim had just come on shift at 7am and had heard 40 minutes earlier that Heather was one centimeter dilated. She looked at me with a questioning face and I nodded. Kim had a student with her and she said, "Sometimes second time moms are sneaky!" and she quickly came into the room.
She grabbed a glove and before Kim could check her, Heather said firm and loudly at 7:56am, "He's coming!". Kim skipped the check and leaned back into the hall and told the other nurses to get Suzanne.
Kim then confirmed that Heather was dilated and Heather climbed into the bed, Suzanne walked in and Heather instinctively began pushing on all fours at 7:59am. After 3 pushes Heather whispered to me, "I didn't push this long with Cyndalee". I knew that she had, but I understood how rapid things were happening and how intense all of this must have felt. I told her she was strong and she was going to meet her baby soon. Suzanne then said, "You're doing great! I see his head already." One more push and Heather needed to change positions. She laid down on her side, pulled her leg back, and baby crowned.
I looked up at Tammie and her eyes were welled up. Brandon had switched positions and was holding Heather's other hand. The nurse and Suzanne were waiting on Heather. She took some slow breaths, mentioned the burning, and then pushed on through.
At 8:09am, on the day his mama knew he would come, she brought Westley earth side. He was a bit stunned from the speed of his exit, which is very normal, and took a bit of time to cry. Here's something that is unique about Manchester hospital, as far as hospitals go; rather than pulling baby from mom, they encouraged Heather to talk to her baby, keep him skin to skin, they rubbed his back, and when Westley let out a big and beautiful cry, the whole room erupted.
There was chaos all around them, but it was just Heather and Westley meeting for the very first time in that moment. I looked at them and the room fell silent for just a few seconds, before returning to voices and noises. She had done so amazingly well. I was in awe of the way she managed such an intense birth.
Tammie and Brandon both had tears running down their face and Heather kissed her baby sweetly on his forehead.
Heather then apologized for acting out of control and screaming. I'm only mentioning this, because Heather wasn't either out of control or screaming. She let out one yell the entire time. This is a woman who in 60 minutes went from 1.5cm dilated, to 10cm dilated, and then 10 minutes later had a baby, who still thought that she disturbed the rest of us in doing so. That yell was one of power, not of weakness. That was the cry of a warrior.
Heather thank you for trusting me in such an important and intense time. And to Brandon thank you for sharing your contagious joy with me watching you become a father for the first time. I can't wait to continue to see your family grow over the years.
This is a birth I will truly never forget!