It’s hard for me to believe that last Thursday I sat at this very desk, in this same chair – scooted way back to accommodate my massive belly – typing away about who knows what, having no idea the changes that would come in just a few short hours. And one week later, I’m sitting here still scooted back a bit – this time with a snuggly little newborn in rocket ship pajamas, peacefully breathing against my chest.
I spent last Thursday out with friends – eating doughnuts and watching our little ones run around at the playground. The kids swung, bounced, and fought over a rubber football, while the moms talked and all gave guesses on when and how my labor would eventually begin. For what would ultimately be my last day alone with Cullen, it was a good one.
We went out to eat almost every night that week – a combination of my laziness and not wanting to cook, and the knowledge that our life as three would be changing at any moment. Thursday night we decided to meet a friend out for sushi. I walked around Fremont in drizzly rain with a heavy toddler on my hip. I ate veggie rolls and chatted about cupcake ideas for Cullen’s second birthday party, and I felt no different than I have any other night of my pregnancy.
We laid on the couch that night like we always do – sipping tea and watching Breaking Bad. I assumed my regular position of legs across Casey’s lap, and hands on my belly – poking and pushing back against the kicks that came every night right around this time. Eventually, I hauled my giant body into bed to rest up for another day.
I woke up to go to the bathroom several times throughout the night – nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing ever felt or seemed strange, and I fell right back into bed each time as I have done for months and months. Around 4:30am on Friday, I woke up with the strange feeling of being halfway in and out of a dream. I remember laying there thinking about a new book that I had ordered for Cullen, and thinking – why am I peeing my pants?
I got up and went to the bathroom, still confused as to why I was suddenly not controlling my bladder, but in the early morning haze and sleepiness, I assumed this was just a weird pregnancy thing. It wasn’t very much though – not even enough to wet the sheets – so I continued to think it was (relatively) normal. I went to the bathroom and realized that my stomach hurt, and thought maybe I was getting sick. I had my phone in the bathroom with me (not sure why), and I remember sitting there when my daily phone alarm went off at 5am.
At this point I went back into the bedroom, knowing Casey’s alarm would have gone off as well. I told him that I wasn’t feeling well, and I thought maybe my stomach was just really upset. But I also knew it could be the start of something more. He sprung into action and immediately got up and put his things into our half-empty hospital bag, just in case this was something more. He suggested that I get into the shower in case it was, in fact, labor – I’d feel more relaxed and fresh going into a big day.
I texted my friend Katie, who would be taking Cullen during our hospital stay, and told her not to get out of bed yet, but to keep a phone nearby just in case. I also texted our family with the message, “Looks like we might have another Friday baby! We’ll keep you posted!” Little did I know at that point that it would be the first and last update they would get.
As soon as I got into the shower I realized that this was not an upset stomach – it was definitely labor – and it HURT. I turned the water up as hot as it would go and let it pound on my back. I immediately regretted getting in the shower, because now I never, ever wanted to get out. I could have stayed in there forever, and the only thing that got me out was knowing how much was still left to do before things really picked up.
And of course, as soon as I stepped out of the shower, things really picked up. Casey had brought his computer upstairs hoping to wrap up a bit of work while I finished packing and breathed my way through early labor. I grabbed my phone and opened a contraction timer app, thinking that these incredibly painful contractions seemed alarmingly close together. And they were – lasting about 45 seconds each, and only 90 seconds to 2 minutes apart at most. Casey took one look at me, turned his “out of office” message on, shut his laptop and said he thought we needed to call the midwives.
My focus was completely on Cullen, and the need to get him settled before I could even think about what was happening to me. Katie was planning to come over around 6:30am, and I ended up texting her around 5:50 and told her I needed her to get in the car sooner.
Having had an incredibly long and emotionally draining labor experience with Cullen, I think I was in a bit of denial about what was happening to me. With Cullen, I had regular and painful contractions for what was literally DAYS, and was still sent home from the hospital twice for lack of progress. It was demoralizing and I felt so defeated. I was absolutely determined that it would not happen again, and I had spent months trying to mentally prepare myself for handling labor “better” this time. I fought back and said there was no way I was going to the hospital after an hour of labor. Casey called anyway.
I attempted to talk briefly to Megan, the midwife on duty, but at this point I was having a hard time talking through the stabbing pain wrapping around my abdomen. Each contraction brought me to the ground, and the brief 45-60 seconds breaks in between were only enough for me to gather my thoughts, attempt to pack or grab one thing, and then drop when the next one hit me. Megan suggested we get in the car and come in.
Again, my focus turned to Cullen. We went into his room to wake him up, and he greeted me with a sleepy, sweet smile and outstretched arms. Despite wrenching pain throughout my body, I lifted him out of his crib and squeezed him tight, knowing our whole world was about to change.
The night before, he had begged me to read him his favorite Dr. Seuss book despite already being up far past his bedtime. I promised him I’d read it to him in the morning, and without missing a beat he trotted over to his bookshelf, grabbed the book, and held it up to me with his tiny little hands.
“Mommy read?” I started to cry. This was it. I was determined to be present and soak in this moment with him, and yet I felt trapped in a body that was totally out of my control. I wanted our last moments as three captured in some way and tossed Casey my cell phone for a picture. Here is the one picture from my labor that we ended up taking, and I think it sums up the experience pretty accurately.
I got through three pages of One Fish, Two Fish before admitting that our moment had passed and we needed to get moving. Casey got Cullen changed and dressed while I grabbed the last of his essentials from his room. At one point I had dropped to my knees in the hallway and was desperately trying to breathe through the pain, when Cullen walked over next to me and started mimicking my breathing. It was simultaneously precious and heartbreaking.
Katie arrived, and I knew that once I went down the stairs I wasn’t going to make it back up. I didn’t even glance back into my bag – whatever was in there was coming with us and anything else we’d have to do without. Cullen was excited to see his (very sleepy) buddy at his house so early in the morning, and despite mom “acting funny” he was in great spirits.
I think at this point I really still believed this was just what “normal” labor felt like – something I hadn’t really experienced the first time. With Cullen, I never naturally dilated past 5cm, and the process of getting to that point was more of a dull, slow, never-ending pain. This was something entirely different.
Katie looked worried and kept commenting that my contractions seemed incredibly close together. Casey was racing around the house, installing Cullen’s carseat in her car, and grabbing any last minute essentials he could remember. We all walked out the front door into the dark Friday morning, and I waited for another contraction to pass. The minute it ended, I grabbed Cullen and held him tight until I felt another one coming. For so long I had anticipated this moment , but honestly by the time it came, I needed him to go in order to focus on myself. It was emotional but it was quick, and I felt instant relief knowing he was settled, happy, and in great hands.
Katie’s car pulled away, and I stood outside in chilly darkness gasping for breath and doubling over with pain. I told Casey we needed to leave immediately, and I started to panic a bit that somehow – despite only having been in labor about two hours now – we’d waited too long.
I walked straight to our car while Casey grabbed what was left inside. He kept asking me if I needed certain things, and at this point I started to lose the ability to communicate. There were things that I wanted to say and do, but my body had taken over. The only thing I could get out was “don’t forget my camera.” I remember pausing at the back deck – the spot where I’d taken all my pregnancy photos – thinking I’d love to have just one more from the final day. But my body and brain seemed to know that there was no time for it, and I kept walking.
Casey started the car and I told him that I was going to wait for the next contraction – the minute it was over and I was in, I needed him to drive faster than ever before. Thankfully, our hospital is just about two miles from our house, so even though getting in the car felt impossible I knew it would at least be over quickly.
We sped down our street in drizzly darkness, and the first contraction hit me about thirty seconds later. I lifted up out of my seat, pushing up with my arms and writhing in pain. The seatbelt alarm dinged faster and faster, ringing in our ears as I moaned and gasped. The force and pressure of what was happening inside me, now trapped inside a car that was bouncing and turning made me feel like I was literally being ripped apart from the inside. The contraction ended and I begged Casey to get to the hospital before the next one hit. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard – it was 6:54am. How had this gotten so out of control so quickly?
We flew across the Ballard Bridge, and somewhere in the middle I got slammed with a contraction that I think will be burned into my brain forever. I ended up turned around in the seat, facing backward on all fours. I felt my whole abdomen surge and intense pressure pushing downward. I wanted to tell Casey that I was pushing. I wanted to tell him that I could not stop my body from doing it. And all I could get out was, “Casey, Casey” over and over again.
I had one more contraction in the car and I screamed for Casey to stop driving. I could not take the force of the car in motion against my laboring body. Once it ended he pulled up in front of the ER doors and ran inside to get me help. One unimpressed receptionist and another groggy wheelchair attendant greeted me with an overly calm demeanor. That changed pretty quickly when I dropped to the floor of the lobby.
Casey had to leave me in their hands so that he could go park the car, and I spent what felt like minutes trying to convince myself to bend in half and actually sit down in the wheelchair. My escort kept trying to get me to lift my legs into footrests, and I couldn’t find the words to tell him that I physically could not move them. I felt paralyzed with pain. I ended up yelling “just drag them” and we started our journey to the fifth floor.
At this point, a lot of what happened became a blur. Of course I didn’t realize it then, but I know now that the contractions I had in the car as well as the ride from the ER to the birthing center were all through the transition stage of labor. I had absolutely no control over anything, and just could not seem to communicate anything I needed or wanted.
The elevator doors opened onto the third floor and I spilled out of the front of the chair onto the floor. I needed to be on all fours and I could not stay in the seated position. My escort looked panicked and kept saying “ma’am you can’t do that. You need to get back in the chair!” I remember looking down the hallway and seeing a few other concerned faces asking if we needed help. I asked him to pick me up and dump me back into the chair. I looked up and saw Casey running down the hall in front of me, bags in hand. I yelled out to him that we still hadn’t made it there yet.
We got into another elevator and headed to the fifth floor. I remember the doors opening and seeing faces of babies and mothers on the walls in front of me. I remember thinking, “I made it.”
We sped past the check-in desk and straight into room 542 – directly next door to the room where I gave birth to Cullen. The wheelchair pulled up right next to a bed, and I got out and draped myself over it without ever looking up. I remember a sweet voice telling me her name was Shirley, and she squeezed my hand and rubbed my back, but I never even looked at her. Casey tells me that at his point they wheeled in the baby prep cart and delivery tool table, and that the midwife immediately put on her delivery gear upon seeing me.
I draped myself over the bed, shaking uncontrollably and saying “oh my god” over and over again, and my midwife calmly responded with, “Emily it seems like you are pushing – are you pushing?” All I could give back to her was a tearful, I don’t know what’s happening to me. She told me I needed to get onto the bed so I could be checked, and I told her I could not lay down. She asked me to get undressed, and I said that I couldn’t move. Someone behind me stripped off my clothes, and I climbed onto the bed on my hands and knees – pushing with forces I didn’t know I had inside of me.
Megan responded, “That’s great Emily, just keep pushing right like that. If that position is comfortable for you just go with it.” At this point I choked out – SHOULD I be pushing? To my knowledge I hadn’t even been checked yet, and I was still half-expecting to be told I was 6cm and finally in active labor. Megan seemed surprised and told me that I had in fact been checked, and that I was fully dilated to 10cm and my water had already broken. I was shocked.
At this point I realized that this was actually happening. I had hoped for a natural birth this time around, but never imagined this scenario. There were no photos of me gracefully posing in a hospital gown. There were no text updates to family members letting them know we’d been admitted, or that I was 6, 7, and then 8cm along. There was no iPad playlist or snacking or anything I had envisioned this experience would be. There was just Casey squeezing my hand, and me gasping for breath and shaking out of control – absolutely terrified out of my mind.
At some point I asked “is it too late for an epidural?” and everyone in the room kind of chuckled. It was one thing to go into labor hoping and wishing for an unmedicated delivery, but ultimately knowing that I had choices ( choices that I had exercised the first time !). It was another thing to have it sink in that my only choice was to now push out a baby without as much as a Tylenol.
I spent about 20 minutes pushing up on my knees. I had my arms draped around Casey’s neck, and with each contraction I used the full force of my body to pull down on him. I can only imagine how hard he had to fight to not fall over. I wanted each push to bring relief, but it felt like nothing was happening. I felt no movement downward, and it was difficult to bear all of that pain without any progress. I wanted to tell my team that I wanted something new, but didn’t know how to communicate any of that. I finally shouted, this isn’t working.
They sprung into action and suggested something new. After some coaxing, they convinced me to lay down on my side and push with one leg in the air. I did this for another 20-ish minutes, and felt the same way. Somewhere in the middle of this, there was actually a shift change at 8am, and a new midwife, Audrey, came into the room. At first it seemed strange that they would change gears mid-delivery, but it ended up being the exact breath of fresh air and energy that I needed.
Something about my mind’s inability to communicate was only allowing me to talk in short, blunt thoughts. I kept saying really strange things. In between contractions and pushes – which was only about 30 seconds – my entire body would go lifeless and I felt like I was on drugs. I kept saying things like – I’m really bad at this. I’m not good at pushing. Casey, are you okay? We’re having a boy. I’m so hungry. Is it weird that I wore tie-dye today? We didn’t eat breakfast. I can’t do this anymore. I was a crazy weirdo and I knew it, but I also didn’t know how to stop.
The hardest part for me was the silence. I craved constant feedback and communication, and kept asking – What is going on? Someone talk to me. I didn’t care what they said, or if it was even true, but I needed some sort of communication directed toward me since I was having trouble with my own. Audrey was perfect for this, and with each push she coached “that’s it, keep going, just like that!” It was exactly what I needed.
I remember looking down at her between contractions at some point, and feeling a need to fill the silence saying – His name is Graham. Everyone smiled, and Casey squeezed my hand.
I finally ended up flipping into my back, desperate for anything that would bring me closer to the end. Audrey told me I was pushing against a cervical lip and that she was going to try to manually move it out of the way. I don’t actually remember this now, but she told me later that I “was not very happy about it” and that it was really painful.
Finally, finally, I pushed downward with everything inside of me and felt something shift. Audrey cheered for me to keep going, and when the contraction ended I said – That one felt good – something happened! She assured me that I was right and that the baby was moving down quickly.
The next few minutes probably passed quickly, but felt like slow motion in my brain. With each push, I felt my body opening and the force of my belly moving down. Eyes closed, I heard Audrey say quietly to nurse Shirley, “Oh my gosh I think he’s face-up.” I asked if that was bad and if he was okay. She said everything was fine. I kept pushing.
I flashed back to a conversation I’d had with my good friend Nicki, months prior. We sat on the edge of the sandbox watching our boys scoop and dig, talking about her natural labor and experience with hypnobirthing. I remembered her telling me that the key factor for her was having a “happy place” to mentally withdraw to, and to focus on being in that place instead of focusing on the pain.
I decided then and there that my happy place was being on the beach this past summer. I pictured Cullen laughing and splashing, running toward me with sandy hands and the smile that has melted my heart over and over again. I saw him spinning with Casey, and felt sand between my toes, and I truly disappeared into this place.
I withdrew into this memory, and my body continued to push and work in a room that I no longer felt like I was within. Audrey cheered and coached and told me he was coming, but I already knew. I felt his head come out, and then there was a pause. I kept pushing but he wasn’t moving forward. Apparently he was face-up, and then his shoulder got stuck, so Audrey had to manually rotate him out of me.
I thought that I felt this process when I delivered Cullen, but this experience was like nothing I knew before. It burned and it stung and I ripped and I knew it, and yet the painful part of it was over for me. I felt my son arrive and I looked down to see his gorgeous hot pink body being placed straight onto my chest.
He immediately let out a perfect cry, and I marveled at how clean and soft he looked straight out of the womb.
We both laid there and gasped, in awe of what had just happened. I asked what time he was born. 8:17am – someone responded. Just under four hours from the time I woke up halfway in and out of a dream. It was over. I had done it.
Casey and I stared at him and at each other. Another baby, another boy. Another beautiful combination of the two of us. Another life to cherish, hold, and love so deeply.
The next 45-ish minutes were spent completing the delivery and prepping me for recovery. Just as I had with Cullen, I had a concerning amount of bleeding that required shots of pitocin into my thighs, and an eventual hookup to an IV to get things to slow down. I was pushed and poked and stitched and I tried really, really hard to focus on this gorgeous boy in front of me and not on the pain at the other end of the bed.
Eventually, the room cleared out and Casey and I were left to enjoy our beautiful son. We texted family members that Graham Edward was here – messages poured in from around the country, all in shock that he had arrived so quickly.
He spent a full two hours on my chest – eating, sucking, sleeping, smiling. It was such a surreal feeling to be going through all of this a second time, as up until that point all of my labor memories and experiences pointed toward Cullen. But here was this new little person, showing me a new way, and showing me how different the second time can be.
Eventually, I had to get out of bed and he needed to be weighed. We all smiled and laughed when we saw the big NINE flash up on the scale. I have been saying for many months that this baby was much bigger than his brother!
We spent a few hours together as just us three – mom, dad, and Graham. Getting to knew our youngest son and soaking up all his sweet newness.
Casey held his new son in his arms, and my heart exploded for a second time. Even though he is a dad already, there is something about watching a husband become a new father that is impossible to capture with words. I have never, ever felt more in love with him.
After a few hours of bonding with Graham, we were both eager for Cullen to come meet his new brother. We waited until after his nap time, and asked Katie to bring him over. She texted me a picture of him smiling in the carseat on his way to the hospital, and for the first time all day I started to cry.
A few minutes later, I heard a tiny voice out in the hallway. I saw his little face cautiously enter the room, and it took every bit of self control I had to not completely lose it right then. I could tell he seemed nervous and anxious – in a strange place with mom and dad, and not used to being at his buddy’s house for such a long stretch of time.
He climbed up onto the bed next to me, and handed me a little rainbow worm that was his “gift” for his new little brother. Thankfully, Graham had a gift for Cullen too – a new Cookie Monster stuffed animal that was a BIG hit.
Despite having given birth just a few hours earlier, I got out of bed and – riding high on adrenaline – picked up my first baby. He wasn’t jealous or upset, but he also wasn’t all that interested. He was far more excited by the spinning stool, the cups and straws littered around on tables, and of course his new stuffed friend.
But he had a sweet look in his eye when we showed him his baby brother, and my fears and worries started to melt away.
Casey and I doted on Cullen and asked him all about his adventures that day, while Katie snuggled up sweet Graham. It is worth saying that she and her family were a huge part of our day, and we are forever grateful for all that they did to make Graham’s arrival and Cullen’s adjustment such a wonderful experience. We are so blessed to have such amazing people in our lives.
Before Cullen left, I found a last surge of energy to hold both of my boys together for the first time. There is no way to write about the emotions of that moment. But I hope that Cullen and Graham felt half of what I did, and I will cherish that feeling going forward forever.
We said goodbye to Cullen, who headed back to Katie’s for the night so that we could all be together in the hospital for the first time as three. Casey and I spent the rest of the day taking pictures, calling family, and staring into the beautiful eyes of a little boy we’d waited 40 weeks and two days to meet.
It was a totally different hospital experience than the one we’d had with Cullen. Back then I remember it felt like people were in and out of the room constantly, and we were so drained from days of labor that all we wanted to do was sleep. This time, it seemed funny that both of us felt like the birth of our son was such a relaxing day – we laid around all day talking, eating, kissing sweet newborn cheeks, and generally being left alone by all hospital staff other than our amazing nurse. It was the perfect “birth” day.
We celebrated that evening with friends who came to visit and meet our newest addition. It was so fun to finally be able to share him with people that have watched him “grow” from the beginning.
We stayed up late, talking and staring at Graham together. I have a vivid memory of one particular late night feeding session – Graham hungrily learning at my chest, and Casey standing over me spooning bite after bite of macaroni and cheese into my mouth. He was the ultimate partner through it all, and just as it did the first time, this brought us closer than I knew was possible.
We survived our first night together in the hospital, most of which Graham spent sleeping on me. I didn’t sleep much, but I also didn’t care. We woke up Saturday morning feeling excited about starting the next step of our journey, and eager to get our family of four home together.
Around 8am, nurses and techs bounced in and out of the room doing Graham’s 24-hour vitals and tests. He was not happy about giving up his prints.
And his first bath wasn’t a hit either.
My midwife came in and did a final check-in with me. We rehashed the details of the day before so that I had a full understanding of what had happened, and what I should expect from recovery. She told me that Graham was born face-up and asynclitic, meaning that his head came out turned sideways instead of straight on. These factors, coupled with the fact that he was over nine pounds made it particularly difficult to push him through the birth canal. This also explained why my tailbone felt like it was going to explode.
Finally around 10am, we were all packed up and ready to head home. We let Katie know we were ready for Cullen, and then we got Graham dressed and ready for his big venture out into the world.
I asked Casey to snap a picture of our view from the hospital room – not because it was particularly relevant. But because I wanted to remember the beautiful orange, red, and gold trees that I looked out at all day long, on the drizzly day that my precious second son was born.
Cullen arrived and was excited to see us, and just like that the first part of our new adventure was over.
Two years ago , a new mom and dad walked out of a set of big blue hospital doors. The dad clumsily carried a squeaky clean infant carseat, while the mom stumbled along behind him – terrified of the unknowns and responsibilities of taking a new life out into the world.
And two years later – almost to the day – that same infant carseat, now worn from love and adventure, exited those same blue doors. But this time, a brave big brother led the way, and a strong, confident dad carried the family on his shoulders.
And the mom who stumbled along behind found herself blinking away tears yet again – but this time it wasn’t for fear of the unknown. This time it was the known that made her cry. The knowledge and experience of what it means to bring new life into the world. The awe of how big a heart can grow overnight. And the joy of knowing how much good there was waiting just on the other side of the doors.