The Birth of Dorothy Rose
How do you begin to write down in words what was one of the most incredible, supernatural days of your life? I love writing and telling my birth stories, but it feels so daunting when you first start…there are so many details and moments and emotions that I never want to forget. But…here I go….
I fully expected this baby to come around 40 weeks - December 19th - our Christmas baby. My older girls had both gone to full term, and I still had so much I wanted/needed to do.
At my 38 week appointment, my midwife at the Denver Center for Birth asked me how I was feeling.
I feel amazing.
She laughed and said that was a good sign we probably still had another week or two to go. I happily agreed, hoping our baby would come a few days after my birthday on December 16th.
But don’t you know that babies always have their own plans.
On Monday, December 10th, I woke up feeling energized and excited to tackle the day. I had two births to edit, an appointment with my therapist, and a trip to Colorado Springs planned to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. On my morning walk, I noticed a slight increase in Braxton Hicks contractions, but didn’t think much of it besides reminding myself to drink more water.
I moved from one task to the next and didn’t notice anything else unusual until we got into the car to make the 60-minute drive to the Springs. “I’m having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions,” I told Ryan about 15 minutes into our drive. “And I think they’re coming every 4-5 minutes.”
“Should we turn around?” he asked me…well aware that my labors are often fast and furious once they start.
“No,” I shook my head. “These aren’t painful, they’re just…noticeable. I probably just need to drink more water.”
But despite downing a full water bottle, they kept on coming.
We ended up at a juice shop in downtown Colorado Springs where we met Ryan’s mom. She offered to watch our older girls so that Ryan and I could take a short walk around the block. Ryan and I walked…and of course, the contractions kept on coming. We made it back to the juice shop, I made yet another trip to the bathroom, and suddenly I began to nauseous and overwhelmed. The contractions still weren’t painful but something was definitely different. My mother-in-law could see it in my face and so could Ryan.
“We need to go home,” I said.
I texted Shari, my midwife/dear friend, as well as Rebecca Walsh (my partner and birth photographer) and Lindsey Bartell (my birth videographer).
I think I might be in labor? But we’re down in the Springs…
Shari suggested that I try to lie down, drink water, and rest. Rebecca and Lindsey both asked if they should meet me at the birth center.
This can’t actually be happening, I thought. I can’t be having my baby this early!
“Let’s just go to my sister’s house,” I told Ryan. “Traffic is bad, and I think I’ll be more comfortable if I can move around.”
“Are you sure?” He asked me.
“Yeah, “I assured him. “I don’t think I’m actually in labor” (this quickly became the phrase of the day).
We got to my sister’s house and there was a flurry of activity. She was finishing up dinner. My niece and nephews were excited to see us and the girls. My parents walked through the door and the house was soon bustling with presents, hugs, and lively conversation. I tried to rest. I tried to eat. I tried to distract myself, but that same nauseous and overwhelmed feeling came back…and it came back strong.
“This is all too much,” I told Ryan “I think we should go home.”
And so we sang Happy Birthday to my sweet nephew, got in the car, and began our drive back to Denver. I turned on my birth playlist and watched the most beautiful crescent moon hover over the mountains. The girls fell asleep. It was quiet. And the contractions began to feel different. Stronger. Purposeful. But still not like they’d felt during my other labors.
“We might want to stop at the birth center on the way home,” I told Ryan. “I just want to know if this is actually happening” (as if our bodies work like that!)
And so I wobbled into the birth center while Ryan stayed in the car with our two older girls. Shari greeted me with a big hug, and I immediately confessed that I had NO idea what was happening with my body.
This feels so different than anything I’ve experienced before.
Shari smiled and told me that I was healthy and normal. We listened to my baby’s heartbeat, we felt her position, and then she told me she’d check me if I wanted. (I know that cervical checks don’t mean much of anything, but at this point I was grasping.
3-4 cm, 70% effaced, and a very low baby. My cervix was still posterior though…and by this point, all of my contractions/tightening had completely stopped. Of course. Prodromal labor. I should have known better.
Shari encouraged me to go home, to eat, to take a long bath, and sleep. Advice that I’d heard (and given) dozens of times myself. On the way home, I texted my birth team somewhat sheepishly - I don’t actually think this is labor. I’m SO sorry for sounding a false alarm!
Lindsey and Rebecca both reassured me (just like I do for all of my own clients) but I still felt silly for getting everyone excited.
When we got home, I followed Shari’s advice: I made myself a steak taco, I took a long epsom salt bath, and Ryan and I snuggled on the couch while watching an episode of Mrs. Maisel. I noticed a few tightenings during the hour or two we were home, but nothing significant or more intense than before.
I also called Jennifer Mason, who had plans to fly out to Denver on December 17th, and we talked about the likelihood of whatever this was turning into actual labor. She immediately offered to fly out, but we couldn’t find a flight until the next morning. And what happens if this just completely fizzles out? I promised I’d call her if anything changed. We hung up the phone with plans to make a game plan first thing tomorrow.
Ryan and I climbed into bed and I tried to fall asleep. But of course, the contractions returned. I tried my best to avoid timing them (what was the purpose after all?) but eventually they became too distracting for me to ignore. I told Ryan I was going to go downstairs for a little bit, all the while reassuring him that this was not labor.
Again, I found myself savoring the quietness, the darkness. I lit a candle in our dining room and began to pick up toys and clothes - a small attempt at nesting. The contractions kept coming, but they still weren’t painful. I went to the bathroom and noticed some blood when I wiped. But I’d just had a cervical check…so the spotting was certainly coming from that…
Eventually, I laid down on the couch and started listening to a podcast - the Birth Hour, of course - and I found that the contractions were now coming every 2-3 minutes. I wanted so badly to sleep. Why wouldn’t these stop? They weren’t painful. They were just…annoying. After finishing an episode, I made myself go back to bed, and somehow I did end up falling asleep.
But I woke at 2:30am and could immediately tell that the contractions hadn’t gone away. I tossed and turned in our bed, trying to find a position comfortable enough that would let me go back to sleep. After 30 minutes, I nudged Ryan. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m super uncomfortable, and I just need you to wake up and be with me.”
As we made our way downstairs I told him that maybe I had some sort of UTI.
This just doesn’t make any sense! My uterus just won’t calm down.
And so because we didn’t know what else to do…he drew another bath for me. I climbed in, and the hot water felt amazing. The contractions were still coming. They still weren’t very painful. But then when I got out and went to the bathroom again, we saw A LOT of blood in the toilet. Definitely not spotting. Much more like bloody show.
He asked me if it was time to call my parents (who were going to watch our girls)
I’m still not sure this is labor. Don’t call them yet.
But then suddenly, finally, the contractions shifted. They went from uncomfortable tightening to painful.
Ryan watched me sway through one or two. “I’m calling your parents,” he said. “And you should probably call Lindsey and Rebecca.”
Was this really happening?! I resisted for a few more contractions before I realized that yes, it was time.
And as soon as we made those calls, I felt my body relax and get to work. Ryan was gathering our bags and within a few minutes, I called him to be with me. I just need you to be close. I also somehow managed to climb up our stairs and give the girls a kiss goodbye as they slept in their bunk beds. The next time I saw them…I’d have our baby in my arms.
By the time that Lindsey and Rebecca arrived at my house, I was on hands and knees and vocalizing through my contractions, which were coming every 1-2 minutes. “Where are my parents?” I asked Ryan, knowing that we were getting close to transition. It’s so funny how quickly I shifted from denial to impatience.
My parents finally pulled up to our house 4am. I could barely talk to them, but I did tell my mom that I thought this was happening fast. Ryan had the car loaded and ready to go. I got in and we listened to my birth playlist as we drove down South Broadway. Surprisingly, the car ride wasn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be. I held Ryan’s hand and told him not to speed.
When we pulled up to the birth center, I made a bee-line for my birth room. But there had been two births earlier in the day, and they were still cleaning it. I would need to wait just a little longer. And so I found myself leaning up against the kitchen counter in the lobby. Nothing mattered except that Ryan was close and ready to apply pressure to my back when the contractions came.
By the time my room was ready, I started to feel like I couldn’t cope. The contractions were right on top of each other. I felt nauseous at the peak of each one. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. The bath tub was almost filled, but I didn’t want to get in too early.
I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. I need help.
Jacie, an incredible doula and birth assistant at the Denver Center for Birth, quickly helped center me. She reminded me to breathe in peace and breathe out fear/tension. Ryan applied pressure to my back as her words guided me through the hardest and most intense part of my labor. I climbed into bed and transitioned with the enveloping support of my partner and friends. Each contraction felt bigger than the last, and yet I was doing it. One by one.
I didn’t get a cervical check. I didn’t get an IV. At every juncture, I made decisions for my body and my baby. It was such an empowering way to labor. I felt supported. I felt safe. I felt understood.
Within 15 minutes of being on the bed, I knew I needed something to help me cope with the big feelings that transition brings.
I want to get in the water.
My team helped me move from the bed to the tub. I climbed in and got on all fours. The warm water felt amazing (it almost always does) and the contractions finally seemed somewhat manageable again. I turned on my side in between contractions, and Rebecca even caught a smile (even though I don’t remember smiling at all…)
“Do you feel any pressure?” My midwife Shari asked. I wanted so badly to say YES because I knew that pressure meant that this would almost be over, but I didn’t feel pressure…I didn’t feel any pressure at all. I felt like crying and throwing up and quitting. I even reached inside to try to find her head. Nothing.
Then suddenly the contractions ramped up in intensity again. I began clutching the bar above the tub, holding onto it as each wave rose and nearly overwhelmed me with their power.
Shari, can you please you please just pull her out!?
And then it happened. A HUGE contraction. It rose up over me. I felt like throwing up…and then I felt my body opening up. The pressure was finally here and it was SO intense. “Reach down,” Shari said, and when I did I felt my water bag and my baby’s head in my hands.
Was this seriously happening? Was she this close to meeting me?
I could hear Shari talking to Ryan in the background, explaining that our baby was still in her caul and that it was almost time for him to reach down and catch her. Another huge contraction came and I birthed the entirety of her head and then her body followed soon after.
My baby! I cried as I felt her body slide out and into the water. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. The fetal ejection reflex was STRONG and incredible.
Dorothy’s cord was wrapped around her neck and her body, which meant that there were a few acrobatic moves required, but before I could even catch my breath, she was suddenly here and in my arms.
She’s so tiny! And she has so much vernix!
And then I laughed and cried and embraced Ryan and our baby.
I had this incredible team surrounding me, but this moment became all about us and our baby. (And yes, I am SO thankful I had a midwife and birth center that so wholeheartedly supported my birthing desires).
We were able to stimulate her ourselves (no rubbing or suctioning or baby blankets enveloping her face). I was able to rub my lips over her head.
We basked in the beauty of our sweet daughter - Dorothy Rose - born at 5:19 am on December 11th.
She barely cried but was so alert and clearly so ready to be part of our family.
She was absolutely perfect…and I fell in love all over again.
Shortly after I birthed her placenta in the tub. (Yes, the water looks quite dark…but my bleeding was normal. A little bit of blood and meconium can look like quite a bit in a tub of water)
I was also able to look at the bag that had so perfectly encapsulated our daughter up until the moment she made her way earthside. So magical. (Lindsey Bartell filmed my birth…and I can’t wait to share the footage with you when she’s done!)
After 10 minutes or so, I was ready to get out. I easily stood up and carried Dorothy into our bed. She latched immediately. Her little lips and mouth were so strong and I felt my uterus clamping down with each suck. I couldn’t believe how quickly it all had happened, and I couldn’t stop laughing with joy.
There was just so much oxytocin flowing in our birth room.
Shari did the newborn exam after we’d had ample time to snuggle and recover with Dorothy. Being that she came at 38 and 6…I knew she was going to be smaller than our other girls. We weighed her and sure enough, she was our smallest baby yet - 8 lbs and .5 oz, 21 inches long, and a 14-inch head. During the newborn exam, I got up to go the bathroom and remarked on how amazing I felt. No tears, no soreness, and strong legs to support me as I made the short walk to the toilet. It’s incredible what the female body can do!
A couple hours later, my older girls came to the birth center. I photograph enough births to know that older kiddos all react differently to the arrival of a new baby…and so my expectations were realistic. It’s not always a “magical” first meeting. But oh my goodness…the moment Lucy and Eliza met Dorothy is a moment I will never forget.
They came into the room with wide eyes and eager arms. “Our baby!” they both exclaimed and climbed into bed. The girls whispered the sweetest words to me and to our baby as they both stretched out their arms, ready to hold her. I cried (and I think Lindsey and Rebecca cried too!) After those initial snuggles, they both did skin-to-skin with Dorothy (another moment that made me tear up and that I’m SO glad I have pictures of!)
After 30 precious moments as a family of 5, our parents took the girls to school. Ryan and I snuggled back in bed and the birth center ordered us Snooze for breakfast. We rested for another hour or two before deciding we were ready to go home. Despite it being December in Colorado, the weather was warm and beautiful. We gave our amazing birth team big hugs and drove home (we may have also stopped on our way to pick up two lattes from Corvus).
Jennifer Mason was waiting for us at the house. She had bought the first ticket to Denver as soon as she heard I was actually in labor…but of course, she didn’t arrive in time for Dorothy’s birth. I was so glad to hug her and then process my birth with one of my best friends. She took the most incredible series of postpartum images that I’ll be sharing in a separate blog post next week.
Dorothy’s birth taught me many things…but first and foremost, it taught me to let go and trust. In so many ways, I tried to control my pregnancy and birth story, and yet each and every time, Dorothy taught me that there was a bigger and brighter plan out there for us. As we move into parenting three daughters, I hope I can hold onto this truth - we will never be perfect parents, and our plans will be derailed time and time again… but our home will always be full of love and hope…and that will be more than enough.
Thank you to the Denver Center for Birth and Wellness for providing such a beautiful and supportive place to welcome a baby into the world. I’m so honored to work with you, to know you, and to have had you by my side during this journey. There’s nowhere else I would have wanted to meet my baby.
Thank you to Shari Romero, a midwife unlike any other. You walked with me every step of my pregnancy. You listened to my fears and reminded me of my strength. I have never seen a midwife with a heart like yours…and I’m so glad my baby waited for your return. She knew you were meant to be with me on my birth day. <3
Thank you to Rebecca Walsh, my partner photographer and dear friend. You are such a compassionate and talented woman, and I’m so lucky to have you on my team. You made me feel so loved and understood during pregnancy and birth. These images I’ve shared here are priceless to me, and I’m grateful for each and every one.
Thank you to Lindsey Bartell. I can’t believe that we first met when I was going to photograph your birth story…and now you have blossomed into one of the most talented birth photographers/videographers I know. You are a dear friend, a trusted confidante, and someone who I admire more with each passing day.
And thanks to Jennifer for being my dear friend…for walking with me during this pregnancy…for flying out at a moment’s notice…and for capturing those first precious hours of our new family’s life together. You mean the world to me, and I’m so glad you were here on the day Dorothy was born.