Annika’s Birth Story

It has taken me a week and a half to write this, in fits and starts, a paragraph here and another there. Having a newborn in the house is no joke, people! So the prose herein probably isn’t going to win me any writing awards, but I wanted to share the story anyway.

Why? I’m not sure. On a rational level, I have no desire to discuss my cervix on the internet. But in the last months of my pregnancy, I devoured other peoples’ birth stories (almost as enthusiastically as I devoured Pop Tarts) so I guess you could say I’m paying it forward. Especially since Annika’s birth was just a little on the dramatic side.

Also, a preface: I’m totally one of those obnoxious people who hoped and planned for a natural, med-free birth. Not because I think drugs are evil or to give myself something  to sanctimoniously mention in future blog posts, but mostly because I HATED the idea of being hooked up to all sorts of tubes and IVs and catheters and unable to move around. HATED. (I still do.)

But obviously things don’t always go as planned, and I knew that, and indeed they didn’t.

Anyway. On to the tale. Settle in with a drink and a snack, because it’s a long one.

Wednesday, 8 PM: I was wiping down the kitchen counters after dinner when my water broke. No doubt about it: there was warm liquid running down my legs and I was certain I wasn’t peeing myself. I don’t know why I was surprised, as I’d been having contractions all day – real, slightly painful ones, not the Braxton-Hicks I’d been having for weeks – but they’d been 20-30 minutes apart, so I hadn’t thought much of them.

“Um, I am leaking,” I called into the living room. D and I looked at one another, dumbfounded. What do we do now? I texted our doula, who instructed me to take a relaxing bath and get some sleep, and to call her when contractions were consistently five minutes apart, which would likely be the next morning.

So we went about our evening.

Wednesday, 10 PM: Those contractions that had been twenty minutes apart were suddenly coming every seven minutes, then every six, lasting at least a minute each. They were painful, like a very bad period cramp, but entirely manageable for a minute at a time. Soon they were coming five minutes apart. The “rule” our doula had given us was to the 5-1-1 rule: call her when contractions were five minutes apart, lasting one minute each, for one hour.

Well shit, we thought. That happened faster than anticipated.

Thursday, 2 AM through Friday, 6 AM: Originally, I wrote a lot more about this 28-hour stretch. But on re-reading, I realized I could condense it down to bullet points:

  • Labored at home all night and through the morning.
  • Went to get checked Thursday afternoon; was fully effaced but only 3 cm dilated.
  • Walked in the park, hoping to speed things up. Ate popsicle from King of Pops. Contractions still 5-1-1.
  • Went home. Labored in tub. Labored on ball. Contractions still 5-1-1.
  • Checked in to hospital Thursday evening; now 5 cm dilated.
  • Started having horrible back pain along with each contraction.
  • Started making strange guttural sounds that I didn’t know I was capable of producing.
  • “Slept” between contractions at the hospital for a few hours on Thursday night. Somehow.
  • Awoke Friday morning ready to give it one more shot.

I still cannot believe I had this same damn contraction pattern for almost 30 hours. Every nurse and midwife I encountered said they thought things would pick up any minute now and we’d have a baby before we knew it. (Hah.)

Friday, 8 AM: The midwife came to have a chat. My water had been broken for 36 hours and it was time to talk about a game plan.

I was alone in the hospital room when she arrived. Our doula had gone home to get a couple hours of sleep and D had headed back to our house to feed the cats, shower, and get fresh clothes for both of us. This was the first time I’d been by myself since this whole ordeal started and I was feeling oddly serene, bouncing on the labor ball and watching Good Morning America, pausing every few minutes to heave and groan my way through a contraction.

But first, an exam. We’d been trying to limit the number of exams to avoid getting any unnecessary bacteria up there, on account of my water being broken. So it had been a while. I was certain there’d be progress.

Alas: Five centimeters. STILL five centimeters.

“If having a natural birth is very important to you, we can keep going. Or you could even go home and labor there for a while,” she ventured.

No. It wasn’t that important.

But I had garnered some energy from my overnight nap and wanted to give it one last shot.

We agreed that I’d give it the old “college try” for a couple more hours, and if things weren’t going full steam at that point (or at least headed that direction), I’d start Pitocin to get things moving.

So for the next two hours, I did squats and lunges until my thighs burned. I power walked laps around the L&D ward. I aimed the shower head at my chest for nipple stimulation. I tried to visualize flowers opening and all of that crap.

I’m guessing you can guess where it got me.

5-1-1. And still five centimeters.

Well, I thought, I’m not going to look back on this and say I didn’t try.

Friday, noon: I crammed what was left of a Chick-Fil-A fruit cup into my mouth and scarfed down a Balance bar. If I was getting the pit, I was probably getting an epidural too, and that would trigger all of the traditional restrictions on (not) eating during labor. And I was starving.

I lasted about three seconds on the pit before I requested the epi. I mean…why not? I still wasn’t enthused about the needle going in my back, but it felt like I was hooked up to a million tubes and monitors at that point anyway, and honestly after being at this for two days I wasn’t sure I had the energy to labor through intense contractions for several more hours, or however long it was going to take for the Pitocin to force my stubborn cervix open.

As it turned out, the anesthesiologist did a great job with the epi. It was like an Epidural Lite. I could still feel each contraction, but without the pain and intensity they had before; I could still move my legs around and even flip over to hands and knees on the bed. I negotiated with the nurse to ditch the standard foley catheter (which was supremely uncomfortable when she put it in) and just had her “empty” me every so often. For having the dreaded epidural, this was about as decent of a setup as I could have hoped for.

Friday, 7 PM: Finally, ten centimeters. I’d been getting antsy to start pushing, but had tried to chill out and “labor down” as long as possible. Also, a new team of nurse + midwife had just come on shift and it seemed like a decent thing to do to give them a chance to get their bearings before I tried to expel a baby at them.

Around 8, the nurse turned the epidural off. It felt like it had been wearing off anyway, but I was doing okay with the pain. I was so ready to get this baby out and figured that after ALL OF THIS TIME, I deserved a quick and easy pushing phase. (Again: Hah.)

So I pushed. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For two and a half hours. On my back; on my hands and knees; half-squatting from a bar braced over the bed. Deep breath, three hard pushes, rest. I cursed and cried and must have declared that I couldn’t do it at least a dozen times. It HURT. It was HARD.

Between pushes, I asked the nurse how many rounds she thought I had left. I was starting to feel the infamous “ring of fire” – and, let me repeat, it HURT. When she answered that couldn’t tell me, I badgered her until she said “Okay fine, I would guess fifteen.”

FIFTEEN. I’d been imagining, I don’t know…three? I almost gave up. In my head (or maybe it was aloud), I wished for any path out of this mess other than the present one. I whined. I cried some more.

Over my protests, our doula dragged a mirror over to the foot of the bed so I could see what was happening down there. This was something I was sure I didn’t want, but dammit, it actually helped. I shut my whiny mouth and focused on moving this white, mucous-y bulb that everyone insisted was baby’s head a little further forward with each round of pushing. The image in the mirror looked nothing like my body, or even anything human. It was like I was playing a video game.

Finally, the midwife beckoned D down to the business end of the bed so he could help “catch” the baby, as he’d hoped to do. This was motivating; I was actually going to get this thing out. The last few pushes were unbelievably painful; I both watched and felt myself literally ripping apart. And then her head was through. In the reflection of the mirror, I watched in awe as the rest of her body slipped out effortlessly behind.

But…it was limp. And a ghostly purplish blue.


The midwife was cutting the cord and yelling TEAM and suddenly there were about thirty people in the room and the seemingly lifeless little body was whisked away to a table somewhere behind my head.

I don’t even know what happened next. D was squeezing my shoulder; our doula was telling us to send positive thoughts to our baby; our midwife was praying. I was just…numb. I remember staring at my feet, curled on the bloodstained sheets, the end of the cord sitting uselessly between my legs. I couldn’t see what was happening on the table. I didn’t even attempt to. In retrospect, I think I was trying not to get too attached.

A couple of minutes later, I heard a joke cracked, a chuckle in the midst of the cluster of scrubs. The mood had changed a little. This had to mean things were going to be okay.

“She’s pink,” our doula said, craning her neck to see. “She’s breathing.”

Saturday, 1 AM: Annika had been born at 10:33 PM after 2.5 hours of pushing. Her initial APGAR score was 2. After five minutes it was 7 and at ten minutes it was 8, obviously much better numbers, but the length of my labor and the dramatic circumstances of her delivery mandated a trip to the NICU per hospital policy.

The nurse had apologized repeatedly as she brought over the blanket-wrapped bundle and handed her to me to see for the first time, to cuddle for about five minutes, before she had to be taken away. I’d been bombarded with questions about whether I’d prefer her to have formula or an IV (um, ideally neither?) and hammered with information on the antibiotics she was to receive, in spite of the fact that she hadn’t tested positive for any signs of infection. I thought fleetingly of how I’d debated over whether to have her get her HepB vaccine in the hospital or just wait until her pediatrician visit. Because, after all, I didn’t want my tiny newborn getting stuck with a needle straight away when it could just as easily be done a couple of weeks later.

I didn’t have any of that fight left in me. It seemed stupid and naive to begin with. I consented to whatever needed to be done and watched helplessly as they loaded my baby onto a cart and wheeled her away.

Physically, I’d been repaired: two sets of stitches and a bunch of “road rash” that the midwife cautioned me would hurt for a while. I’d been loaded up with ice packs in my giant disposable underwear and a layer of pads that looked suitable for potty training a Great Dane. I’d been dosed with a painkiller that made the stiff hospital bed feel like a squishy beanbag. I was ready to head to recovery.

Emotionally, however, the wheels were just starting to turn. I had a baby. The baby had been born “stunned” – another word for shock, so we were told. Now the baby was in the NICU. Why did this happen? If I’d just pushed a little faster and harder, would she have come out rosy and screaming rather than icy and limp? If I’d headed to the hospital as soon as my water had broken and started the induction immediately, would I be home with my baby now?

I know this is an unproductive way to think, but it’s hard to avoid it. Even though multiple doctors and nurses have assured me that her state at delivery had nothing to do with the labor itself. It just happens sometimes, they said. It was a shock to everyone. Her heart rate had looked great the entire time I labored and pushed. There had been no indication of distress whatsoever.

At 3AM, we visited Annika in the NICU for the first time. We tried to establish the all-important “skin to skin” time, although we were a few hours late and had to work around a tangled web of wires and monitors.


She was in the NICU for three days altogether. That was hard. For three days, we visited her every three hours and attempted to breastfeed her and snuggle her and do everything we’d be doing under “normal” circumstances. On Sunday night, we were discharged from the hospital and had to go home without her. That was doubly hard.

Thankfully, as I finish writing this (finally!) Annika has gained over a pound since her birth and we are all healthy and happy. It’s starting to feel like the wild tale of her entrance is behind us.


On our way to her two-week pediatrician check-up, where she got two thumbs up from the doctor!

Still, occasionally I feel haunted. Would I have done anything differently if I could do it over again? I really don’t know. Obviously, I did not plan or expect to have a 51-hour labor, but things really did seem to be on the verge of picking up for almost that entire time. Of course I could have taken the drugs much sooner and shaved over a day off of my experience…but at the time, it didn’t seem necessary. And these are the things you cannot know when Monday morning quarterbacking. The decisions I made during those 51 hours were logical and right at the time. Maybe this will affect how I approach L&D the next time around (if there is a next time around), but I’m trying not to play the “what if” game with this one.

The story ends with me typing this while a healthy baby snoozes on my chest, and that’s all that matters.

As our doula gathered her things to depart the L&D room in the wee hours of that Saturday morning, her fee more than earned after being with us practically nonstop since Wednesday night, I half-jokingly asked her a question:

“Hey, what’s your record?”

She looked at me blankly. We were all exhausted.

“You know, for time with a client in labor.”

After a pause, she answered: “I think you just set it.”

So I guess I can end Annika’s birth story in a way that’s fitting for a running blog.

For all of that drama, at least someone got a PR.

47 responses to “Annika’s Birth Story

  1. The important thing (only important thing really!) is she is absolutely beautiful and healthy. You are one strong amazing mom. Of note my water broke within 30 minutes of yours, same day same time! Also: my labor went soooooooo much faster this time so there is definitely hope for an easier process next time.

    • Wow, that’s crazy! Your due date was 2/20 right – so he came on schedule? Yay for a quick labor!

  2. Wow … thank goodness you had posted before that she was OK, otherwise I would have been even more nervous than I was when reading the story! So sorry you had to go through so much pain and stress, but really glad she’s OK (and SO cute!)

  3. Even though I knew the outcome (healthy baby) I still held my breath when reading the part when she was born. So, the prose was good. But man, that birth story sounds like a motherfucker … the motherfucker gene lives on! I’ve never birthed a child, or been pregnant, but I probably would have made the same choices you did … why agree to an intervention if it’s not necessary? Women have been birthing babies for eons without them. Hindsight is 20/20. Etc. It doesn’t sound like any of your doctors or nurses were pushing you to do anything differently, so you just go with the information you have. Who knows, maybe things would have gone worse with an earlier intervention? Or maybe it still would have taken 51-hours? Or they would have had to do a c-section. You never know. But you have an adorable, healthy baby, so whatever choices you made lead to a successful outcome. Congrats, mama :)

    • They (the nurses/midwives) were definitely not pushy at all, which was wonderful. When I did decide to do the medical intervention, it was very much my own choice and I am grateful for that!

  4. I totally teared up reading this. I am so glad it ended happily. I think your soul searching and what ifs is totally natural and I’d probably do the same thing.

    Congratulations, she’s adorable!!!!

  5. Wow. I too am happy that I knew the outcome of your birth story before I read this! 51 hours? I hope you treated yourself to an icy cold beer after that…much like you might after setting a PR at a race. :) Congrats on your beautiful daughter.

  6. This made me tear!! Thank you for sharing your story. You are a strong ass woman! You must be a marathoner?!

  7. I don’t even want kids but I love reading birth stories for some reason. I got chills at “TEAM!” Also, that last line was perfect. <3

  8. So so so glad that you wrote this! Healing through all the ‘what if’s is, in fact, just as important long term, as a healthy baby short term! I know when I had my ‘scary’ home birth with transfer, in the end, after writing it all down, I knew that everything had gone as best as possibly could, everyone did their jobs well, and I would do it again if I got the chance. We learned a little more about ourselves as humans and parents, and fell in love with our new daughter.
    The next few weeks and months will be a crazy blur, so I wish you and your family all the best as you try to soak it all up! She’s beautiful… congratulations!

  9. I cried like a little bitch so you must have done something right. :) But sincerely, thank you for writing this.
    For what it’s worth, I was induced immediately and still labored all night and day to only get to 5 cm, then Kenzie’s heartrate wouldn’t stabilize so the c-section happened. You should feel confident that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time. I’m so glad Annika’s okay and I’m so happy for you and your family. <3

    • Yeah, I am thinking my cervix is just lazy and/or stubborn. If it took 8 hours of pit to go from 5 to 10 (which is supposed to be the faster half!) I can’t imagine how long I would’ve needed to get from zero to 5.

  10. Wow. No kids yet for us, but that story got me a little emotional, especially the part where you kind of went over in your mind what could have gone differently. I’m not a baby specialist, but you did what you were supposed to, and her state wasn’t a result of something you did, I’m sure. She is a doll, and I’m excited to see more pics!

  11. She’s adorable. Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

  12. I would wager that 90 percent of moms had a birth that they would consider less than ideal. My first one was, too. You seem to have your priorities in order, tho. Little Annika is healthy and happy. That’s what matters. You have a long, long (mostly delightful) road ahead. The first few days of it don’t really matter much.

    (And just fyi – if you should have a second one, birth will be completely different in wildly unpredictable ways. It’s just the way it goes.)

  13. I’m so happy that everything worked out after such a scary experience. I always knew you were a rockstar, but 51 hours of laboring proves how tough and committed you are as a person. Annika is lucky to have such a great mom to pass on such admirable qualities. She’s adorable, I hope you’re enjoying every minute with her.

  14. I’m very happy everything turned out okay and you were able to bring home a healthy baby.

    Also, I don’t know how you were able to sleep during contractions. I started nodding off on the exercise ball and thought I’d fall off but each new contraction made me want to hurl (and I did). I was probably barely at 4 when I got the epidural. Much admiration.

    • I think I must have been just THAT exhausted. I had already missed an entire night of sleep the night before, laboring at home, so I guess my body just shut down when it could, even for a few minutes between contractions. I definitely remember the contractions but the space between them is a blur!

  15. Wow, this one got me, I’m all teary. I had a similiar labor and tramatic birth experience and have been Monday morning quarterbacking my experience for 16 months – especially since I am now pregnant with #2. I hope writing this was theraputic for you. She is beautiful and amazing, and since we are strangers on the internet I can tell you that I totally might be stealing her baby name if #2 is a girl :) Huge, huge congrats!

  16. Wow, I can’t imagine! Glad everything ended well. Annika is beautiful, congratulations!

  17. Shelby….your Aunt Becky shouldn’t have read this on her lunch break….not because of the details of Annika’s birth, but because I started crying thinking that you and Drew were there alone, when she was born and then to have her “stunned”. I guess this is more emotional as I was there when Braydon was born, and as a grandmother, watching the birth was amazing. I’m so glad that you and Miss Annika are doing well. She is a beautiful gift. Sending you all lots of love and hugs.

    • Thankfully we had the support of a wonderful team of midwives and our fantastic doula – I never felt alone! Sorry for the tears :)

  18. Hi Shelby — so glad everything turned out O.K. Annika is going to be a looker. She’s beautiful! I wanted to share with you that we had a similar experience when Dane was born. Water broke 8 weeks early, waited around for a few days in the hospital, baby in distress (the whole 30 people in the room all at once was a flashback), and born with an apgar of 1 (emergency c-section), 2 weeks in the NICU, and so on. But, the upside is that 18 years later, he is extremely smart, healthy, and normal. You did everything right. Annika will be awesome. I think that babies like Annika and Dane are especially strong. They are here for a reason. As a parent you get to watch it all unfold and marvel at the journey. Hugs to you all. Can’t wait to meet her!

  19. birthing stories aren’t usually my cup of tea but boy oh boy, i had my snack and i plowed through this one! what a trooper annika is! and you! so glad you are all happy and healthy :) looking forward to reading more about your family of three :)

  20. Shelby, you are just as eloquent, poignant, and funny as ever. Great prose. Congratulations on a wonderful little daughter. I’m so relieved you are both doing well. Bravo to you!

  21. What a story! I need this blog post to come with a medical dictionary because I am birthing-terms ignorant. You and Annika are troopers. No doubt there is not a thing you did wrong, every birth is unpredictable (I imagine). Cheers to your family!

  22. I’m not really into/knowledgeable about babies at this point in my life, but damn, what a story! Wow, you are such a trooper. (Which is harder, 51 hour labor or a 3.5 hour marathon…?) Congrats to your family and so glad she is healthy and you guys are happy!
    And a resounding HA at the ending of your story. Congrats on the PR 😉

  23. Shelby, up until the horrifying experience once your little angel was delivered (which was obviously the most important and terrifying part), this birth story was nearly identical to my first birth. My baby was delivered pink and crying. You did exactly what you needed to do in the moment and delivered your girl. I’m so glad that she is fine and everyone is well. Thanks for sharing. Your story might make another expectant, recovering, or long recovered mom feel a lot better. Happy mommying! Congratulations!

    • I’m sorry you had a long labor too! Good thing for endurance training, I guess, huh? I hope the second was easier!

  24. I am so, so glad you shared this. I have read your blog for a while (initially for all things running related) but now just because, hey, I really like you! I blame my own pregnancy hormones but a good bit your engaging writing for my current crying at work. Congratulations on your beautiful baby and I can’t wait to read your thoughts on motherhood!

  25. I’m so happy for all of you! This is a gripping story with, thank goodness(!), a happy ending — and now you will forever be able to regale Annika with tales of the way she started her life by UTTERLY SCARING THE CRAP OUT OF HER PARENTS, SO THANKS FOR THAT, KID.

  26. Despite not having/planning to have kids myself, I LOVE birth stories. This is one of the best I’ve ever read – I laughed, I cried, and that baby of yours is so beautiful. Congratulations on a healthy child, despite a harrowing birth. It sounds like she’ll grow up to be just as tough as her mom. <3

  27. I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem.

    You’re amazing! Thanks!

  28. I had my first born in the nicu too, after similar dramatic circumstances. I remember the nurse saying to me once we went home, “this is just the beginning” and she was right. My son is now 8 and we have had head staples in the er and other such fun! A friend of mine told me “motherhood is not for the faint of heart!” They are strong …. enjoy this special time!

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  30. Wow what an incredible birth story. I’m so glad you both made through okay. I couldn’t even imagine how scary that must of been for them to risk your baby away immediately after such a long labor. I hope you recovery swiftly from your delivery. Thank you for sharing.

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