Theodore James Fulford was just by a hair fashionably late when he made his debut into the world.
It started at roughly 3:40am, not yet 4 hours into September 27th, 2022, when I woke up and thought it was time for my middle-of-the-night pee. In third trimester, that was typically a three-times-a-night ordeal. I did my usual shimmy and roll out of bed, unwrapping myself from my pregnancy pillow, stood up, and heard a definite splash on the floor as I felt liquid trickle down my legs.
My water just broke.
Before I could even process what just happened, I heard myself saying, “Johnny! My water just broke.” Johnny was sitting straight up within half a second, turning on the bedside light, very attentive. “Are you sure?” he asked. I was positive. I stood up and it was like water just fell out.
I still needed to pee, though. I walked to the bathroom and peed, little trickles of water still coming with every step. I didn’t feel any pain or contractions or anything like that. Johnny came and joined me in the bathroom, where I reminded him that my water breaking was a scenario I had really hoped wouldn’t happen.
You see, I was positive for something called GBS, which is a bacteria that up to 30% of women carry all the time. While it’s harmless to adult women and babies during pregnancy, it can be extremely dangerous to babies during labour and delivery if it’s passed to them. The way to prevent this passing is by going on an antibiotic during labour.
But something that increases the risk of babies contracting GBS is water breaking before labour begins, IF this happens 18 hours or more before the baby is born.
Now, I had been planning for a natural home birth. We had everything set up for it: we’d rented the birth tub, laid down mattress protectors all over our floors, purchased and had on hand all the supplies our midwives had asked us to. Since water breaking before labour begins only happens in roughly 8% of labours, I wasn’t expecting it to happen to me. My midwives had, however, told me that, if my water breaks before labour, it may be safest to do a hospital birth to induce my labour to ensure it doesn’t last too long.
So there I was, in the bathroom, reminding Johnny of this situation. He helped me to stay calm and reminded me that we needed to page the midwives, so we did just that. I let them know that my water had broken, and they said, “We want you to have your home birth. We don’t need to make any drastic decisions. We’ll be over soon.”
I was thrilled. I tried to breathe easy and just relax, praying that I was at least dilating and that maybe, just maybe, I would have a quick labour.
That next hour sort of felt like Christmas morning. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I still wasn’t having contractions and was able to enjoy that hour of anticipating our boy! Johnny and I sat on the bed and prayed.
Then, at 4:40am, I started to feel them. They were not too bad at all; I wasn’t even sure they were contractions to be honest, but I became increasingly confident that I was in early labour. The contractions were quite irregular, with lots of time between them, giving me ample breaks.
My midwives arrived at around 5:15am, while I was still navigating those early-labour contractions. At this point, I was able to simply take slow, deep breaths to cope with them. The midwives started setting up their equipment, which included administering IV fluids that had penicillin for the GBS. Then, they checked to see how dilated I was.
Let’s just say that that is not a fun process.
“Oh, you’re not even one centimetre,” the midwife said after checking. Crap. I felt a pit in my stomach. If genetics had anything to do with it, I might be in for the 36-hour labour my mom had with my older sister.
These anxious thoughts just wanted to rise, so I turned to Jesus. You told me to trust You with every aspect of this labour and delivery. I trust You, Lord.
Since I wasn’t even dilated yet, the midwives said they’d leave for a bit and let Johnny and I have some alone time. They told us to page if my contractions became stronger and/or more regular.
The next several hours were simply beautiful. Johnny started setting up the birth room, while also helping me through each contraction with affirmation and massage.
Then, at around 9am, I started to puke a lot. I was puking every couple of minutes, and this came right at the same time as my contractions became more intense. They still weren’t very regular, but they were quite painful. We paged the midwives and they arrived by 9:15am.
They decided to check my cervix again. “Let’s see if you surprise us,” my midwife said. I think all of us were expecting little to no change.
“5 centimetres,” she said, happily, “You’re 5 centimetres! Halfway there!”
I could hardly believe it. I know I let out a loud “Thank You, Jesus.” When I knew that I was halfway there, I felt so much more confident that I could continue to labour without medication.
“We can definitely proceed with home birth.” I was so excited and relieved. Jesus was making a way.
This is where the coping techniques Johnny and I had practiced became so needed.
I’m not sure what everyone went to work doing, but suddenly the midwives and Johnny were all working to set things up. I continued to labour on the bed, trying different positions. I found that every time I changed position, the pain worsened, so I often stayed in one spot and concentrated on a single spot on the wall. As a contraction came, I would grunt, moan, scream, and then the midwives would remind me to try to take deep, slow breaths instead. This helped tremendously as it took my focus off of the pain and onto my breathing. Still, with each contraction and in between, I was vomiting.
Counter pressure became my lifeline and is one of my number one recommendations to anyone giving birth! Johnny and I had practiced this before my labour, but I instinctively felt how badly I wanted it. I had him push really hard into my lower back, basically kneading it, a pain that hurt “in a good way” essentially taking my mind off the pain that hurt in such a bad way.
I prayed in between contractions, and when I did, Jesus brought to mind His own suffering on the cross. He knew what childbirth felt like. Heck, He invented it. And He’d been through a far more intense physical pain on the cross. I kept Him and the cross in my mind, gazing upon Him.
At around 10:30am, so an hour after I had been 5 centimetres dilated, I was desperate for some kind of relief, so I tried standing. As soon as I did, I started to feel an intense pressure, erm, down there. I told my midwives what I was feeling.
“Is the pressure in your bum?” one asked me.
“…Let us know when it is.”
Yikes. I was going to feel it in my butt? Making all kinds of noises I could never now reproduce, I leaned over my dresser for another intense contraction, asking Johnny to knead my lower back as hard as he could. After that single contraction, there it was: the intense, I-need-to-poop-out-a-head-sized-poop pressure in my butt (sorry for TMI).
“It’s in my butt!” I said frantically as I moaned through another more intense contraction. And then… “I need to push. Woah, I NEED to push!”
“Okay okay,” the midwives said, “We need to check you first.” As I was standing there, leaned over my dresser, one of the midwives did just that. “Yep, you’re 10 centimetres,” she said. “You can go for it.”
“I want the water,” I said, “I need to get into the tub.”
Unfortunately, the water wasn’t yet warm enough at that moment for me to safely deliver the baby. It needed to be around 99 degrees F, or it would be dangerous for the baby. Johnny had been working so hard in the background with our water to get it to be the right temperature.
“It’s okay,” the midwives told me, “You got this.”
Nervously, they started to help me back onto my bed to deliver there. I had never pictured delivering the baby on my back, in bed, so I was having a hard time processing the change.
Suddenly, I heard Johnny say to the midwives, “Can you check the temperature again? I think it might be good.” A midwife rushed over to check, and reported that, right in the nick of time, the temperature was just right.
I breathed the biggest sigh of relief and yelled “Thank You Jesus” as everyone helped me hobble over to the birth tub.
Getting in the tub was the most relieving, incredible feeling after such an intense labour in such a short time. I soaked it all in, experimenting with different positions in the tub to figure out what felt good and right. I ended up on my knees, kneeling over the edge of the birth tub, gravity on my side, the midwives and Johnny surrounding me.
I remember one of my midwives saying, “Now, the head is going to very slowly peak out, and then move back in, over and over until he’s out. Just listen to my voice; I will guide you through the pushing.”
I could barely pay attention, though, because my body was taking over and I was pushing: hard, fast, intensely. It was definitely an out-of-body experience, as I loudly moaned through each push. It truly did feel like pushing out a MASSIVE poop.
When my contraction ended, I couldn’t stop pushing. One of the midwives asked me if my contraction was over.
“Yes,” I got out. “Then stop pushing,” she said.
But I couldn’t. It seemed my body was way ahead. And as the next contraction started and I heaved a final push, I heard one of my midwives say, “The head is out,” clearly shocked, and then, with one more small push, “He’s out…Cassie, turn around, your baby is here.”
“What?!” I gasped, turning around. I can forever envision my midwife holding my baby boy out to me, plopping him into my arms. He was perfect. Simply, instantly beautiful. I was immediately in love with him.
Johnny leaning over my shoulders, hugging us both, we gazed at our baby boy, our SON, in absolute awe. We have a son?! This is my son? This is the baby that has been growing in my tummy for 9 months? There are no words for that feeling but euphoric. Miraculous.
We delayed cord clamping, so we just remained there, cuddling, bonding, getting to know one another for about 20 minutes with the midwives surrounding us. I’m pretty sure my pain was completely gone; if any remained, it was totally washed away by basking in that moment.
When it was time to cut the cord, Johnny did the honours, and we have it on video! I have decided not to share any of those special videos and photos publicly, but it definitely is really wonderful to have those memories saved.
It was time for Johnny to hold Theo while the midwives helped me over to the mattress we’d laid out to deliver the placenta. It’s true what everyone says: I had totally forgotten about that. I lay back on the mattress and I remember suddenly, now that I was out of the water, realizing that I was in a lot of pain…erm, down there. Two midwives guided me to push out the placenta and I did, quickly and pretty painlessly (I don’t remember any pain). Then, they checked to prepare to stitch me up, and I sensed some concern. Each of the three midwives took turns looking before all finally agreed: “This is beyond our capacity to stitch up. We need to transfer you to the hospital for a really good repair. I’m going to call an ambulance.”
An ambulance? Hospital? What? But I’d done it: I’d had my home birth, no need for a hospital. I just wanted to get cleaned up and climb into bed with my husband and baby boy. This wasn’t part of the plan.
I don’t remember between then and the moment the paramedics and, for some reason, multiple firefighters arrived in my house as the midwives guided my shaking body to a chair. The paramedics asked me a bunch of questions and started hooking me up to a machine to check my vitals. “Blood pressure is low,” they reported. The firefighters were making small talk. Johnny, I was told, was upstairs with Theo and one of the midwives, cleaning him up and dressing him to come to the hospital with us.
Before I knew it, I was being loaded onto a stretcher and out of my house, into an ambulance. Weak, shaky, and disoriented, I vaguely remember thinking…the first time in my life I’m in an ambulance…is one of the best days of my life? Is when I just gave birth? I felt complete euphoria only moments ago…how did things shift so quickly?
The paramedic riding with me tried to make small talk. I felt like the walls were closing in on me and I couldn’t use any of my senses properly.
At the hospital, I was wheeled through hallway after hallway until finally I arrived in a room with familiar faces: my midwives, Johnny, and my sweet baby boy in Johnny’s arms. What a relief!
My midwives assured me that a very experienced obstetrician would be coming to assess my tears and do the stitches. While we waited, I watched from my hospital bed as the midwives weighed Theo (9lbs 15oz!), vaguely aware that walking would be extremely painful if I tried. Theo was big and tall: the severity of my tears was starting to make more sense.
The obstetrician that came to assess me was both kind and very serious. After a quick look, he reported that the tears were much too intense for him to sow up under local anesthesia. He would need to perform surgery: I would need to be put under, something else I’d never experienced before.
Before I was wheeled into the operating room, I gave Johnny and my precious new son in Johnny’s arms kisses. I said, “I love you so much, Theodore.” I remember thinking how I didn’t even really know him yet, but that I couldn’t wait to get to know him.
I remember waiting in a hallway before getting wheeled into a room. Extremely kind nurses and doctors kept me company. The woman who had been helping get Theo’s vitals, Briar, came and told me that Theo’s blood sugar was abnormally high, so we could wait until I was out of the surgery to breastfeed him without needing to give him formula first. I knew this was a Godsend.
I was wheeled into the operating room where lots of masked, robed, gloved people were waiting. The anesthesiologist said, “Just breathe in and out as I count back from 10” as he put a mask over my face. I remember the number 8, and the next thing I remember is waking up in a recovery room, curtained off from other people. I had an IV and a catheter in. Nurses were asking me questions about my pain levels, how I was feeling, etc., again, extremely kind, caring people. They offered me a popsicle, and I thankfully accepted, realizing that it was 5pm and that was the first thing I’d eaten since dinner the night before. AND I’d just given birth and had surgery.
Woah. Lots to process.
2 hours went by in that recovery area as the nurses continued to ensure I was healing and recovering well. “When can I see my baby?” I asked a few times. “Soon,” they all replied.
It was after 7pm when I finally got to see Johnny and Theo again. I had never been so excited and grateful in my life as when a very nice man said he would be wheeling me up to the postpartum wing where Johnny and Theo had a room. It was the best thing ever to get into that room and see them. Johnny gave me a kiss and placed Theo on my chest, and I was finally able to get a really good look at my son.
He was beautiful.
He donned a full head of brown hair, no eyebrows, a tiny little nose, and the sweetest gaze. He seemed content and at peace. I was just so happy to have him skin to skin.
Theo hadn’t had any milk or colostrum yet, and we definitely needed to get going on that. We worked for a long time to get him to latch, getting the help of every nurse and lactation consultant available, all through lots of tears (from both me and Theo) and ample encouragement from Johnny. I remember the first time he latched, I was so thankful. I had thought he had latched a few times prior, but no: this was a different feeling. Now I knew what we were looking for.
I remember welling up with dread as a feeding would approach, not because I didn’t want to feed Theo or enjoy his nearness, but because it was the most horrible feeling in the world that it seemed my body just couldn’t, wouldn’t, feed him.
But we were both learning, figuring it out together. And I was determined to figure it out.
That first night, we stayed in the hospital because I had a catheter in from the surgery. The nurses informed us that the big event of the next day would be seeing if I could pee on my own.
I remember I didn’t sleep a wink. Literally not even for a few minutes. When Theo was sleeping, I was anxiously checking him every few minutes to make sure he was still breathing. When I tried to close my eyes, the events of the day were burned in my mind, making it impossible to sleep. I was also in so much pain, despite the plethora of pain meds I was on.
Feeding continued to be a challenge through the night and the next day. And that first pee proved to be a challenge, too. When the nurse took the catheter out, she and Johnny helped me try to stand up, which took an enormous effort and a lot of pain. I hobbled to the bathroom, sat down, and tried to pee, but the pain of just sitting was unbearable. “I can’t do it,” I called to the nurse, and she helped me back to bed, saying we’d try again later.
I drank lots of fluids and tried a few more feedings with Theo. Also not having eaten much of anything the day before, Johnny grabbed us lunch, which definitely helped my mood and energy. Finally, in the late afternoon, I was able to pee.
“Whenever you’re ready, you guys are good to go home,” the nurse said. What? I thought. I could barely walk, let alone stand. And I was on morphine, Tylenol, ibuprofen, and ketorolac. I voiced my thoughts. “Really? How am I going to do this at home?”
“Well,” the nurse said, “You’re either going to get bedrest here or bedrest at home. It’d be better to be at home, right?”
She was right. I just didn’t know how I was going to get home.
But we managed. I was wheeled back to the lobby and hobbled with great effort into the car. It felt like a marathon, and once home, I immediately collapsed onto the couch.
We decided that night to move our mattress into the living room, so I could remain on one floor of the house without needing to use the stairs. And for the next three weeks, that’s how we lived: cuddling, feeding, napping, chatting, changing diapers, eating lots of good food from family and friends, and, for me, glorious hot baths twice a day. Taking that bath and then putting on a padsicle was always the biggest relief for the pain.
Feeding continued to be a challenge, but we did it: we got there. I am so thrilled that, three months postpartum, we are still breastfeeding, and it’s going really well now. I plan to write a whole blog about my breastfeeding journey: what I wish I knew and what I’ve learned.
All in all, my first time giving birth was an unbelievably wonderful experience. I look back on it and I feel proud, amazed, melancholy, happy, and excited to do it again, God willing. If there’s anything I hope you take from this story, it’s that the horror stories of giving birth lying on your back pushing for hours don’t have to turn into your story if you don’t want that. That also doesn’t mean that planning for a home birth means you’ll get the home birth of your dreams. I had to hold my home birth desires very loosely, that’s for sure. But I wouldn’t change anything about Theo’s birth story, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was so empowering: birth can be incredible, beautiful, and even fun!