Birth story: Esmé Olivia by Sarah Olsen
It took me a while to write Esmé’s birth story. That time in my life was so raw and delicate as I had just lost my father and had a brand new life in my arms. This was a beautiful and meaningful birth and the way I chose to approach labor guided me through.
The weeks leading up to Esme’s birth, I could tell my body was getting ready. From 30 weeks on, it felt as though she were head down, resting on my pelvic floor and waiting for the moment to negotiate her way into the world. With every step, I felt a pressure down there that at times made me wonder if she would fall right out of my body. She felt big, bigger than Wyatt and I needed no ultrasound to tell me that. Her little nudges in my ribs were a reminder of the exact positioning her brother was in when I was pregnant with him. They were both head down back to the right side of my belly, booty up under my right boob with legs curled up and feet in the perfect position to kick and stretch on the left side of my body.
All these things made me think she would come early. When I saw my doctor at 35 weeks, I was told she was roughly around 8.11 pounds. Of course I did the math, which led me to “If that measurement is true, I could birth an 11 pound baby.” My doctor was weary of me knowing this measurement, He was afraid it would make me nervous, but it didn’t change how I felt about my birth plan. If anything, I felt even more confident in my choice to birth Esme at the hospital this time instead of my home where her brother was born. The months leading up to this moment had been challenging, heartbreaking, and a bucket of emotions that I am not sure how to begin to describe.
Simply, yet delicately put, my father died only 4 months before Esme was born. In my first month of my last trimester I read a eulogy at his memorial, sang songs in his honor, celebrated his life and said goodbye to a piece of my childhood, my heart, and a comfort I could never replace. The miracle of this baby inside of me was a light we were all so eager to see. My whole family was anticipating the news of the new baby and in those last few weeks I kept imagining their souls crossing paths, one on the way into this world and one on the way out.
After a summer of travel to Europe and a month in Idaho, we finally settled back in LA when I was 38 weeks. I was ready, but not because I was unhappy or didn’t enjoy pregnancy. I actually loved being pregnant, but the second time was much harder for me. My body was tired and hurt all the time and was constantly tricking me into thinking I was in labor. Every few nights some form of labor would start. I would think “this is it” and start to mentally prepare myself, “Do I have my hospital bag, should I text my doula, should I prep Wyatt?” We would go to bed and I would tell my baby “Mama’s gonna go to sleep but if you are ready, wake me up and we can do this.” My eyes would open at 7am to a little kick in my side and we were one day closer to her due date.
This went on every few days. Sometimes I would ignore it, other times I would pretend to ignore it but then secretly I would be counting the minutes in my head. Her due date came and went and the Braxton hicks or prodromal labor started and stopped all hours of the day.
Two days later while sitting in my living room, I couldn’t get comfortable. So much so that I had to rock on a yoga ball all evening until it was time to go to bed. The rushes were there as they had been every few days for the last two weeks. They felt stronger but at this point. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I whispered the same few words to my baby as I lay down to sleep just like all those nights before. To my surprise, I woke up a half hour later to a much stronger surge in my body. I tossed and turned in my bed until my body told me it was time to get on my feet. I nudged my husband awake and told him this time it was really happening.
Understandably so, he gave me a sweet smile, and encouraged me as my midwife had done the first time around to pour a glass of wine, take a bath, and then try to go back to sleep. I didn’t really want a glass of wine, but I thought if it could relax my body, I would give it a shot. I went into the kitchen, opened a fancy bottle of wine (cause why not, this was the birth of my daughter after all). After sipping some wine in the kitchen timing rushes that were now around 4 mins apart and lasting almost a full minute, I became very hungry.
My postpartum doula and friend Sonya had been staying at our home to help prepare for the baby and help me with Wyatt for the birth. Wanting some company, I knocked on her door and told her I was in labor drinking wine and about to make some grilled cheese if she wanted to join the party. For another hour we hung out while I ate and my rushes stayed consistent. I then became very sleepy and decided I would lay down in my bed. This lasted about 20 mins, and I may have fallen asleep, but pretty soon it was impossible to be in bed.
Trying to adhere to the “listen to your body technique,” I felt my body was telling me to take a warm bath and light some candles. This is the part of the evening where I lost track of time. I had made the choice at some point in my pregnancy to approach this birth with joy. That may sound a bit odd, but I had had a lot of months of sadness and I really wanted to feel all the good things that were happening inside of me. So I guess you could say I set an intention with the word joy. This word was something I thought about a lot. I wanted to accept each “rush” with love and joy and ask my body to make the rushes bigger and stronger. I wanted to feel elated through this process and I wanted my body to be filled with all kinds of happy feelings. This became a sort of mantra for my birth and it carried me all the way through.
In the bath, I floated my body from side to side staring out at the night sky riding the waves exactly the way I had wanted to. This was ideal for me. The water felt incredible, but soon it was too cold. I then got in the warmer shower for a while until it didn’t feel good anymore. I was just listening to what my body was telling me to do. When I got out, I labored for a while in front of my bathroom sink and thought this might be a good time to start timing my rushes again. They were about 3.5 minutes apart lasting a full minute. I remembered my doctor had said to head to the hospital between 3-5 mins apart, so I texted my doula for some advice. She quickly wrote me back and said we should all head to Cedars soon since it was nearing six am and the traffic would start to get bad.
I woke my husband and told him it was time. In a very sleepy voice he asked, “Are you sure?” He was reluctant to take me there too soon, because he knew how much I wanted to labor at home. He then asked me if I wanted to take a bath or a shower, and I said “I had wine, I ate, I had a bath, I labored in the shower and in front of my sink, I’m ready, it’s time to go.”
With this confirmation from my mouth to my body, the craziest thing happened. Labor kicked into the next gear and I'm pretty sure this is when transition was happening. We gathered our things, said goodbye to Sonya and asked her to bring Wyatt to the hospital the moment he woke up.
We jumped in the car and headed to the hospital. I couldn’t even sit in the chair, so I was on my knees facing the back seat holding onto the head rest. Eric, still not sure if I was more than four centimeters along based on how well I was communicating with him, proceeded to make videos of me in labor on the way to the hospital. He played my mix we had made and I sang songs as loud as I could because I was for sure in the middle of transition. At some point on this drive the biggest wave of emotion came over me. I thought of my dad, and all those months by his side. I thought of holding his hand as he left this world and I thought about my baby on her way into this world. Tears filled my eyes, and in some sort of an elated moan I said “Oh my God, we are meeting our baby today.”
It actually only felt like moments had passed and we were there. As we walked into the hospital, I labored and moaned and leaned on my husband- having to stop and drop to the ground a few times on the way.
When the nurse saw me, she didn't even ask my name. Her first question was, “is she a second time mom?” My husband said yes, and she quickly called in a nurse to usher us to a room right away. My doula Janet was not far behind, and I was so grateful to see her. Her presence comforts me, and I loved having her there. I was told my doctor was racing to the hospital but everyone was eager to find out how far along I was, especially my husband. A quick check from the nurse and I was 8.5 centimeters. I’m pretty sure the biggest smile crossed my face. I held my husband and road the waves singing and smiling, breathing through and welcoming the big contractions.
My friend and chiropractor Dr. Berlin came in around this time along with my OBGYN Dr. Goldberg. He checked me and told me we had a little way to go to get the baby down, so I was free to take a bath or do whatever I needed.
Truth be told, I didn’t want a bath. I wanted to birth this baby. I was ready and with this thought my body kicked into an even more intense mode. The rushes went from big to HUGE and this is when I left my body. It was bigger than I could handle so I had to let go. This is the out of body experience some people talk about. The baby felt so large coming down, I just wanted my body to get longer and stretch. I was searching the room for anything that resembled a pull up bar to hang on. Nothing was helping this urge but then Dr. Berlin started working on my pelvis to help open my hips and give more space for Esme to come down. This really felt amazing, and so productive. Every rush felt more intense than the one before. A knock at the door and my son Wyatt arrived. I know people have a lot of opinions about kids being at births. We had prepped him as much as we could, showing him videos of his birth and others. When he came in the door I went from primal animal woman in the corner of the room, to mama again. My body relaxed and everything felt right and in place.
I rode a few waves holding his little hand and I was ready to start pushing. I pushed in squats, I pushed on the end of the bed, I even reached under me for leverage to grab the bed, but grabbed my Doctors butt instead. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I squeezed that booty so hard thinking it was some part of the bed and kept pushing my baby down.
At this point, the nurse checked the baby’s heartbeat and because of how I was squatting off the end of the bed, her heart rate was dropping. The nurse wanted me to turn over and I could see she was a bit panicked. This was the first moment I came back to reality. I looked at her face and I thought, “oh no is she too big? Can I do this, is my body capable of getting her out?”
My Doctor was on my right and I looked at him and said “Goldberg?” He looked at me in the most reassuring way and said, “Everything is fine, you can do this, there is nothing to worry about.”
I trusted him completely and at those words, I fell back into my rhythm and within moments we had flipped over on my my back, and I could hear Wyatt yelling, “I can see Esme’s head, Esme is coming!” At this point, Eric was pouring coconut oil all over my vagina so I wouldn’t tear and cheering me on. A few more pushes and my doctor said, “Reach down mama and grab your baby!” Just like that, she was in my arms. She cried right away, and I cried filled with joy and bliss and every emotion possible washing over my body.
She was here, our 11-pound pink, fat, happy, healthy baby was here and she was beautiful.
I’m forever grateful to Dr. Golberg, Dr Berlin, Janet, Sonya, my sweet son Wyatt and my incredible partner Eric for the strength support and humor they brought to a day I will never forget.