Sofie’s Birth Story | a Denver Center for Birth & Wellness Water Birth

It’s been 7 weeks since our little Sofie exited my uterus and joined our family in this crazy, beautiful outside world. I’ve taken the past few weeks to process all the events that brought her earthside, and I am excited to finally share Sofie’s birth story with all of you! (Disclaimer: I’m awful at writing short birth stories. I learned SO much, and just want to share all the important details! So yes, this is long. But it’s a piece of my soul and heart, so enjoy!)

Planning

It didn’t take us long after Eleanor’s birth (her birth story is here) to decide for sure that we wanted another babe. I decided to give my body a year to recover – get my ab and pelvic floor muscles connected and strong again, restock the vitamins and nutrients pregnancy used up the first time, and fully enjoy my time breastfeeding and mothering Eleanor.

That year, I also took to dive deeply into the birth world that called to me so strongly. I quickly found that an out-of-hospital birth aligns much more with my birth preferences – so I started getting to know local midwives and doulas, researched which insurance plans pay for birth center and home births, and dreamed and wondered. What would it be like to feel my body start labor on its own? To actually get to eat when I wanted? To be centered and served and empowered to make the decisions in my birth? What would my placenta look like? What if I could catch my baby with my own hands? Would the bathtub be as helpful as it seemed? What do I look like in birth? Would my birth photographer make it before my babes?

Pregnancy

2020 came, and we once again ditched birth control. As the birth nerd that I am, I picked up Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and started taking note of my cervical fluid and, in March, taking my BBT. The engineer in me looved the data, but I was convinced about 3 weeks into that cycle that I wasn’t ovulating. Eleanor still breastfed a few times a day, so it made sense, but the very next week, those milky snuggles brought some suddenly sore breasts to my attention. “Wait. Am I pregnant?” I thought. Sure enough, no period that week, and a test a few days later confirmed that I was 100%, legitimately pregnant.

I started care with a hospital-based nurse midwife (CNM), and our dating ultrasound at 8 weeks put Sofie’s due date on December 3rd – exactly 3 days before Eleanor’s birthday (which, since the average 2nd+ time mom gives birth 3 days after their due date, statistically, Sofie could’ve totally shared her sister’s birthday). That ultrasound also showed that my placenta was partially covering my cervix, so my midwife recommended pelvic rest until we knew it was out of the way.

My first trimester was pretty similar to Eleanor’s – my bump showed up about the same time (I thought it would show up earlier), and I had more nausea, but less actual puking (thanks to daily ginger tea and Ben changing poopy Eleanor diapers for me). Eleanor kept me consistent on our morning workouts together (haha she made up for my lack of motivation with her cuteness, and we always watched birth videos after our Youtube-led workout, which was the BEST).

Though my midwife was really kind and amazing (already a much better fit than my OB from last time), those first few appointments (along with the visitor hospital restrictions changing daily) confirmed that my birth preferences aligned best with birthing outside the hospital. About that same time, we decided to move to Colorado so that Ben could get his graduate degree at the Colorado School of Mines. My in-laws offered for us to live with them while we did school, and we were excited about that (my family lives 5 minutes away from his family)! But, moving meant that none of my Utah birth friends could be at my birth, and TBH, I mourned that a little bit as I re-did all my research into the best midwives, doulas, and birth photographers for my birth team on the other side of the mountains.

Thanks to COVID, interviewing midwives via Zoom was the norm, so looking for a new birth team virtually wasn’t too hard. I was pretty set on the idea of a home birth (which my in-laws totally supported, bless their wonderful souls), but after some thought and an annoying legal logistic (apparently being Factor V Leiden positive means home birth CPM’s in Colorado technically can’t take me as a client), we decided that a birth center would fit our needs for this birth better. It boiled down to the fact that I needed to feel 100% comfortable being my moaning, pretty much naked, vulnerable self, and birthing at home with my in-laws wasn’t quite that. Bonus, the Denver Center for Birth & Wellness (DCBW) was only 5 minutes away home AND in-network with our insurance we’d picked so carefully the year before (United Healthcare)!

Our 20 week ultrasound showed that we had a healthy GIRL growing inside of me, but still that partial previa (so still that annoying pelvic rest). Eleanor stopped asking to breastfeed not long afterwards (tears, but my sore pregnant breasts appreciated the break). I felt great – no more nausea, though never ending hunger, and some heartburn – and supported my first doula clients that trimester at My Family Birth Center. That beautiful experience reassured me that our birth plans were just right, and I kept dreaming and hoping.

We moved to Denver in August, and officially transferred care to my midwives at DCBW. I felt SUCH relief knowing that my midwives shared my birth philosophy – my dream birth was their normal! For the first time, I truly felt that I had control over the decision-making in my birth. I was still a bit nervous about my placenta previa throwing all my birth center dreams out the window (placenta previa is a true medical indication for a c-section), but our 32 week ultrasound confirmed my placenta finally moved, and my worries melted away.

Birth Prep

We tried to do a few things differently this time around in preparing for this birth. We hired our marvelous doula, Alyse, as soon as I knew my placenta was out of the way and our care with the birth center could continue as normal. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t 100% confident that I was going to need her (I’m a doula! I know birth! I can handle birth!). BUT, I also felt and knew that when it came down to it, I needed to devote all my energy to embracing whatever birth brought my way, and Alyse was the one I trusted to take care of me (and Ben!) to help things move along smoothly. We also solidified things with our birth photographer & videographer, Monet, who also teaches the birth photography certification course I took that fall.

We took the refresher birth class from the birth center, and wrote backup birth plans (in case we transferred to the hospital, decided on an induction, or needed a c-section). I reread The Birth Partner (my favorite from doula training earlier that year), and took the time to write birth affirmations that spoke to my specific worries and fears. Rebozo became our nightly connecting moment, chatting over the day’s events and thoughts as Ben sifted my belly, encouraging Sofie into the much-preferred anterior position (vs posterior like Eleanor). I documented my pregnancy with the help of Rebekah right at 39 weeks, and tried to mentally embrace the potential of my girlie arriving whenever she was ready – whether that was before or after my due date.

Birth

I could feel my mental transition that last week and a half or so – from happily pregnant (despite some solid heartburn) to the in-between. Unsure what each day might bring, what it would feel like to have my uterus transition from Braxton-Hicks tightenings to legit, opening contractions, hoping that this babe wouldn’t choose Eleanor’s birthday for her own! And there was some sadness in there, too, as we enjoyed our last days as a family of three and let go of that beautiful phase in our family’s journey.

Early Labor

Her due date came, and I felt another little emotional shift from that in-between into “ok, I think this girl can come now.” That must’ve been all this girlie was waiting for, cause that night I felt the first beginnings of labor: two, distinctly different contractions. Not painful, per say, but different. So, I took a mini nap at 9 while Ben worked on one of his final projects for school, and we went to bed at around 10:30. At midnight, I was up again, restless and crampy. A quick bathroom break got me some blood-tinged mucus (hey heyyy!! Bloody show!!!), and I celebrated a bit before sending a quick text out to my birth team to give them a heads up. The next couple hours, contractions were intense enough to wake me up every 10 minutes or so, and I took a couple more bathroom trips (more bloody show). About 5-ish, Ben half woke up, realized I was having contractions, and started to put his hand on my back every time I rolled over in bed to ride another wave.

By 6 AM, my body told me that I was HUNGRY, and I decided I’d gotten as much sleep as I could. We sat there in bed for a bit, excited and tired all at the same time, before going downstairs and having breakfast (the eggs were FANTASTIC this time around). Contractions continued through breakfast, every 2 minutes apart and intense enough that I had to pause whatever I was doing to work through them, but still really short (30 seconds or so). I called my midwives, and they told me I could just come in for my normally scheduled 40 week appointment at 9 AM and we’d see where things were about then. Interestingly enough, as soon as Eleanor woke up, those contractions spaced out and eased up. (It’s like my body knew that I had another child that needed my loving and took a break!) We got Eleanor some breakfast of her own, and settled her in with our very excited family before heading over to the birth center for our appointment.

I’d tested positive for Group B Strep and decided to get antibiotics during labor, so we decided to check where my cervix was at to see if we should start those or wait. My cervix was still pretty closed and firm (1 cm dilated maybe), and with contractions spacing out and easing up, it was pretty clear that babe girl probably wasn’t coming for a good while. So we went home! I tried to keep myself distracted from being in early labor that wasn’t quite moving yet – we hung out with my family, went on a trip to the pet store to look at fish, and then left Eleanor with my parents while we went out for lunch at the new Korean BBQ place down the street. We took our food to a nearby park (I wasn’t super hungry, but I tried to eat), and then took a very, very slow walk around the park, taking pauses for contractions every few minutes or so.

After lunch, we came home and all three of us took naps. I took a long, hot shower, talking to myself and realizing that I was scared, reluctant, intimidated even of all the work and possible pain ahead of me. *Deep breath* Dig in and do the work, I told myself. It will be worth it. She is coming.

We ate dinner (again, not super hungry, but I tried to eat), and I retreated into a room to be by myself, turned off the lights, and turned on some music. Things shifted again – I wanted to be on all fours instead of standing, and my breathing started moving into soft groans. I was craving some extra hands and support, so we reached out to Alyse & Monet again, and they started getting their families settled to head my way. We moved up into our bedroom, contractions consistently longer and getting more intense.

Active Labor

By 7:45, I was ready to get out of the house and to the birth center and the comforts and privacy there – we called them, and Rachel (the midwife on call – my favorite of the three!) told us to give her until 8:30 to get there. Alyse got to us about then, and walked in JUST in time to help me work through a more intense set of contractions that started getting ahead of me. She reminded me that I needed to keep eating and giving my body energy, and I managed to get a bit of yogurt and warm, ginger tea in my stomach before we packed ourselves up and slowly made our way to the car.

It’s a good thing that the birth center was 5 minutes down the street, because that ONE contraction in the car was NOT fun. Bumps, stops, dips – they all felt BIG and annoying. We got inside and settled around 9, and I got my first and only dose of antibiotics. The needle in my arm wasn’t too bad – better than an IV of pitocin for sure! – but it was kinda annoying. Monet arrived not much longer after that, and I remember feeling this sense of right-ness and relief. My team was all there, my body knew what it was doing, and it was time to get to WORK.

And MY was that work. The next couple hours were a blur of labor-land. Movement and squatting felt 200% better than sitting or laying down – I spent a lot of time hanging on to Ben’s belt loops with Alyse giving me hip squeezes from behind, deep moaning like I was an Alto 2. We walked up and down the stairs. I took a shower that couldn’t get me warm enough – the shivers were my constant in-between contraction friend again (though the blankets at the birth center were WAYYY softer than hospital ones).

My biggest, most painful, and probably most productive contractions always came on the toilet (usually accompanied by puking). Hip squeezes were helpful – not that they really made it less painful for me, but more in feeling that there was outside pressure to match the inside pressure, a reminder that I wasn’t alone.

The most surprising thing to me was probably just how much those HURT. I really expected non-Pitocin contractions to hurt less! Despite all those intense feelings, I felt surrounded and supported. Centered and in charge. Alyse had the knack for reminding me to relax, embrace, and let go of each contraction right when it was feeling like too much – MAN I needed her so much more than I thought I would! Ben was my rock, and really helped me make the time between contractions a break and release.

By 11 PM, I was exhausted, and we all noticed my contractions slowing down again. Our team talked through some options, and at Rachel & Alyse’s recommendation, I decided to try and get some rest. I was doubtful, but when everyone left Ben & I in the comfy bed, lights all turned down, I ACTUALLY slept for a whole 30 minutes with minimal (like 2) contraction interruptions. I NEEDED THAT, and looking back – LOOK, MY BODY DID THAT! It knew I needed rest, so it slowed down the hormonal cascade and gave me rest.

At the time, though, I felt defeated. Emotionally spent. Intimidated by the work still ahead and the thought of going into yet another day of labor. The thought crossed my mind that maybe an epidural would actually be useful so that I could sleep, but my inner voice jumped on that thought – could this be transition? If I’m feeling like giving up, maybe? I didn’t dare to really hope, just in case I still had hours of work to get there, but my intuition told me that I was 100% approaching transition, and that I could trust that my girl was coming soon.

Transition and She Comes!

At 11:45, Rachel came back in and we checked my cervix – sure enough, it was a solid 7 cm dilated and totally effaced. That was exactly what we all needed to hear, and I could feel motivation and determination fill the room. I sat up, and contractions picked right back up with a new edge to them. I rode a few on the bed there, leaning on Ben. Big, long, moan, breathe. I moved to the toilet for the biggest feeling contractions all night. Alyse reminded me to let them be big, and my groans started morphing into growls. Birth Kaitlyn brain piped up again: “Growls? That probably means you’re about to get pushy – she’s CLOSE!”

I opened my eyes after that last growly contraction, saw the tub in front of me, and knew that it was time to get in that gloriously warm water. And it felt SO GOOD. My shivery self absorbed the warmth (aren’t you supposed to get hot and sweaty in transition?). The next contractions definitely felt pushy (like I needed to poop), and suddenly I felt scared of the pain and intensity again. I reached back and inside – from hands and knees – to see if I could feel her head with my fingers, hoping that feeling her would help me feel more motivated. Her head was RIGHT THERE, firm yet soft, water bags intact, about a finger up from my perineum and crowning. She felt so close, and yet so far!

Somewhere in the next contraction or two, I jumped from hands and knees to my back – from one side of the tub to the other, with Ben behind me – and finally let go and let myself push. That one push brought her to crowning, and OH, this time I felt it! (So that’s what the ring of fire feels like?) It was this strange, strong dual urge to both run from that pain and also just get her out NOW. I remember feeling SO grateful that my team was right there with me in those intense, overwhelming seconds – Ben’s supporting hands holding me up, Alyse’s guiding words in my ear, and Rachel’s gloved hand over mine, helping me ease Sofie over my perineum. The intensity released as her head slipped out, and, with a bit of encouragement (it still HURT!), I pushed and roared the rest of my skinny little purple babe out, pulling her up with Rachel to my chest (12:53 AM!). All the emotions – joy, relief, release, disbelief, happiness – they all came pouring out of me. Sofie let out a cry, and we cried together (ok, I BAWLED) as she reached her skinny fingers up for me.

Immediate Postpartum

We tearfully admired our little blue-purple skinny babe for a few precious minutes there in the warm water before transferring over to the bed to birth the placenta – all prepared for my intensely shivery self with thick, soft blankets and towels. AND MANN, those post-birth cramps! Those were definitely more painful/intense than Eleanor’s (that’s normal – with each birth, the afterbirth cramps tend to get worse). But they did their job, got my placenta out, and, with a bit of Pitocin help, the wound in my uterus was clamped off and on its way to recovering and shrinking back down to not-pregnant size. Sofie let me know – very persistently – that she was hungry, but it took me a solid 20 minutes or so of managing those cramps for me to feel ready to sit up more and guide my new little girlie in latching for the first time. She knew just what to do once we were all situated – just like her sister! 

Once she was fed, our little Sofie loaf was quiet, alert, and observant. She had wrinkly feet, and almost no vernix at all. I propped her up on my legs, her placenta off to the side, and ate some snacks while we admired her. Ben cut the cord, then, and Rachel examined her right there on the bed next to me. She measured almost exactly the same size as Eleanor – a few ounces heavier, but that same skinny waist, same dark hair, same long fingers and toes, but blue eyes this time instead of dark brown!

Every single one of my birth team took the time to say goodbye and thank me before they left – as someone who loves to feel helpful, that really meant a lot. As they slowly trickled out, we got settled in at the birth center. We got some food, Ben got his skin-to-skin time, and I took a glorious bath that they prepared for me. After some more milk for my Sofie girl, we all slept for a couple hours before officially being discharged at about 6:30 AM. Home we went to introduce our cute little bundle to a very excited big sister!

Postpartum

Once again, recovering from birthing my cute girlie went super smoothly. I didn’t tear at all this time, which felt SO good, but made it hard for me to slow down and not jump back in to chores and to-do’s. Seriously, I felt pretty normal by day 2 (once my moaned-out voice recovered haha). Except for those annoying postpartum cramps. Those were awful.

Mentally, I’ve felt pretty good, too. There was some disappointment initially after birth – it felt like SO much work to get our sweet Sofie into our arms, and I think I’d thought that knowing birth should’ve made it feel easier or less painful. Writing this birth down, talking through it with Ben, and seeing our birth film and images all helped me reframe that IMMENSELY. (OH. It was only an hour from that transition/doubt point to Sofie’s birth, wasn’t it? WOW. My body DID THAT. I did that.) Turns out, I don’t look overwhelmed or crazy on the outside during birth (most of that intensity is all inside), and with some extra perspective, I feel a whole lot better about it all. The overall feeling of support, peace, empowerment, and just rightness was exactly what I’d hoped for in ditching the hospital environment – I felt completely able to do what I felt I should (no “permission” needed) and guided (not told) when I didn’t know what to do.

Eleanor is obsessed with her baby sister – she’ll come into our room every morning singing a little happy “Sofie, Sofie, Sofiee.. Sofie ‘wake, Sofie, hiii Sofie,” song, and likes to excitedly point out the fact that Sofie’s poops are yellow, not brown (ohh toddlers). It’s adorable, and my girls FILL my heart. It honestly feels like Sofie has been with us forever – she just fits right in, and my fears & sadness about leaving behind our family-of-three phase have faded quickly into the joys of being our family of four. OH, it just feels so good for everything to feel so, so right.

Sofie breastfeeds like a champ, handling my spray and abundance of milk with graceful coughs (though sometimes she’ll return the spray with a spit-spray of her own – we call her Mount VeSofius in those moments, cause she’ll drench ya).

We are happy, and LOVE our girls. I am SO SO thankful for an incredible birth team that made bringing another sweet soul into our family beautiful – they have made this time all the sweeter.

SO many of my wonderful photographer friends have helped me document this important journey: Brenna Hoffman (announcing our pregnancy, edited by me), Sarah Roberts (my 20 week bump), Danielle Wilstead (our family film, right before Eleanor stopped breastfeeding), Rebekah Romero (maternities and newborns), and Monet Nicole (birth). Each of them are treasured friends, and I’m so grateful for each of them!

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