Sarah and her partner learned they were expecting a baby together just after moving to separate cities to work on their university degrees. From that moment until Samuel arrived, Sarah’s story is a wonder of unexpected happenings and fresh observations. I enjoyed her recounting of it all so much.
My name is Sarah and I’m currently 26 years old. I live in Germany with my wonderful partner and our beautiful son, Samuel who was born in April 2014. When I first wrote his birth story I did it only for myself, but I’ve since realized that I love to share it because we so often only hear about births that go terribly wrong. So, to take the fear out of giving birth, here comes the story of Samuels beautiful entry into this world.
Every birth starts with a pregnancy, and mine and Samuel’s particular pregnancy started and ended with a shock. We hadn’t planned on having children for many, many years. We didn’t even live in the same city at that point and we made sure nothing baby-related would happen to us — or so we thought! This little baby of ours, however, made it pretty clear he wanted to be in our lives, as clear as two purple lines and a little bean that had called my belly his home for four weeks already.
Quite a shock for two people in their mid-twenties who had both just moved to new, separate cities and had planned to start working on their university degrees! It’s safe to say that we both struggled to accept the implications for a while, which made the first three months emotionally challenging. I don’t want anybody to think that we didn’t become happy, thankful, and very, very excited as the pregnancy progressed, but the start was rocky to say the least.
Apart from some health scares that turned out to be nothing at all, the second trimester was pleasantly uneventful. Towards the third trimester I started to feel more uncomfortable — but really, who doesn’t? Back pains became a constant factor of my every day and I was more than just a bit stressed out when heartburn and, yes, incontinence joined the list of common pregnancy symptoms that apparently I wasn’t going to avoid. As annoyingly slow and dependent on my boyfriend I was, I still LOVED being pregnant. The excitement, the planning, the whole mystery around it — which was magnified even more when we decided not to learn the sex of the baby — made me adore (almost) every second of it.
By Easter 2014, at 36 weeks, I felt huge and immobile but still insisted on accompanying my mother to see a play at Thalia Theater in Hamburg. The weekend was slow and gorgeous and filled with sun-soaked walks, coffee dates, and an extended brunch with my godmother. Still, when I returned home I entered a new phase of exhaustion that I couldn’t shake off no matter how many baths and naps I took.
At this point I should mention that we always assumed this baby to come at least a week late. How we came to this bogus idea, I’ll never know.
On a Thursday, now 37+3 weeks along, we had our last birthing class which left us none the wiser but a whole lot calmer as we started to prepare for the — as we thought — long period of waiting. The next evening I remember being quite annoyed. Annoyed by the never-ending sense of mental and physical fatigue, the extreme heartburn that I had stupidly decided to ignore when I had pizza that evening, and annoyed by the fact that I was annoyed.
I took a long bath to help with my back pain, which didn’t make the slightest difference, and when I got out of the tub I felt a bit of pressure on my pelvis. I didn’t give it more than a second of attention, though. Just before we went to bed at around 11:00 pm, my heartburn got even worse than usual. Due to the level of exhaustion I’d been feeling, I went to sleep quite quickly despite the pain. After only an hour and a half I woke up, annoyed by the fact that it still felt like fire ants were going for a stroll in my upper torso. The situation got even more unpleasant when I realized that I was slowly, steadily, but surely peeing my pants without having any control over it.
Between complete amusement and overall exhaustion I told the father-to-be about what was happening, got up, which in my hippo-esque state must have looked very funny, and went to the bathroom to change. Only then did I notice that I was still getting more wet and the stream of pee was not coming to an end. I crawled back into bed to inform my boyfriend, hoping he would comfort me by saying that our estimated delivery date was more than two weeks away, which he did.
You have to understand that 1. We didn’t expect the birth to start for another 2-4 weeks; 2. We hadn’t packed a single thing, no meditations were memorized, no music was burnt on a forever-to-be-kept CD; and 3. We were as mentally prepared for what was to happen as Galileo Galilei would have been if he were invited to watch Formula One. I might exaggerate a bit on the last point but still, our baby’s birth seemed as far away as it had been the last couple of months — it just seemed so completely surreal.
After a few minutes we both grew more uncertain. I called our midwife, feeling immensely guilty for waking her up in the middle of the night for something that was possibly absolutely nothing. She went through a catalogue of questions, and in the end determined that indeed I was in labor. However, since I didn’t have any contractions up until then she told us to get some rest, sleep through the night, and meet her at the birthing center at 10:00 in the morning. This made complete sense to me as we had learned that it isn’t unusual for a first-time birth can take days!
So back to sleep we went. After only five minutes or less, I felt a cramping in my lower abdomen, which kept getting stronger and more painful with every second. Even though I knew that these probably were contractions, we also remembered that people who run to the hospital or the birthing center in a panic at the first sign of the birth, are often asked to go back home. I was determined not to have this happen to me! Instead, I tried to tell myself that what I was experiencing was only the beginning and that things would only get worse.
However, I soon realized that there were absolutely no breaks in between contractions, not one tiny second. And I started to feel sick. And after only 20 minutes I wasn’t able to stand or sit or lie down. Absolutely nothing gave me comfort anymore.
In our birth preparation class we had learned that in order to determine whether the contractions you are feeling are Braxton-Hicks or actual you-will-have-a-baby-soon-contractions, you should take a warm bath. Getting into the bathtub however made things a hundred times worse; this was a clear sign that we were in labor.
By this time I had finally accepted that maybe, probably, I was going to meet our baby a tiny bit earlier than I had anticipated. It might be that only women who have already experienced labor know what I’m talking about when I tell you it takes a moment or two to mentally embrace that you are going to push a little human being out of your body. Yes, there is that huge junk of time called pregnancy which should be more than enough — 40 weeks, give or take, to be exact — to prepare for this moment, but really I don’t think many women realize what labor physically means and what it feels like before they actively go through it.
While I threw up two more times, tried to find relief in different positions, and did a whole lot of swearing, my poor boyfriend ran about the apartment and tried to collect everything from a what-you-really-need-in-your-hospital-bag list we had been given at the end of our birthing class.
At 3:00 am, two hours after the contractions had started without a break in between, I threw in the towel. I was in full-blown labour and I sure wasn’t going to risk having this baby at home completely unplanned! So again, we called our midwife Stephanie. When she heard how close together the contractions already were, she agreed that we should meet rather sooner than later. And so, one hellish taxi ride later, we found ourselves in front of the birthing center at a quarter to four in the morning.
After our midwife arrived, we went to the birthing suite and she checked my cervix and the strength of the contractions. To our surprise, I was already four centimeters dilated! At hearing the good news I was able to let go.
The pain was overwhelming but, and I know this might sound strange, only in the most positive way. I could feel my body work and felt like I could trust the process. My body knew what to do, and my baby did exactly what he was supposed to do to finally arrive safely in my arms. All I had to do was focus and breathe, and that was all I really did for the next hour.
We tried different positions to make me feel more comfortable. Some included holding onto my boyfriend, some required the assistance of a birthing stool, and all of them had the same result: the pain couldn’t be helped. It was all part of the process.
In the end, both Stephanie and my boyfriend would tell me that throughout the entire birth I made almost no sound of discomfort. I think in the moment it would have disturbed my concentration, so I never felt the urge to scream or moan.
Later on, Stephanie filled the birthing tub with warm water. This time being surrounded by water was exactly what I needed! While I could still feel the contractions and they still hurt, the pain became so bearable that for the first time during the last few hours I was able to talk and even laugh. After this point,what had been an okay experience turned into a wonderful, exciting process.
At around 5:15 in the morning, I took a deep breath and told Stephanie and the boyfriend that I was pretty sure the baby was very close. Sure enough, two or three contractions later, Samuel’s head, after slipping out and back in a few times, came out.
What followed was the weirdest feeling I’ll never forget! His body still inside me, Samuel turned his head from the left to the right a few times, always looking down. All we could see was a teeny tiny thing, almost furry, that was moving and very much alive! Only 20 seconds and another contraction later, our son came into this world and was immediately placed in my arms.
The first thing I saw was his incredible hair.
The first thing I said was “We have a son!”
The first thing I did was kiss his sweet face.
There he was after only five hours of labor, all 2780 grams and 48 cm of him.
My boyfriend cut the cord and took him to the other room in a pile of blankets. I delivered the placenta and finally left the water after that. Samuel was then weighed, measured, dressed, and breastfed for the first time just 30 minutes after his arrival on this planet.
We left the birthing center at 9:00 am as a small family of three.
The next day we gave him the name Samuel Bruno. We love him very much.
Thank you, Sarah! Your final five words say it all. And how funny to think that you had around 37 weeks to wrap your head around the fact you’d be delivering a tiny human at some point, but it only fully kicked in a few minutes before Samuel arrived!