Avery's Birth Story
Avery Colin Douglas Chatburn was born on Tuesday, August 8th at 8:12 or 8:14 p.m., depending on whether you trust the iPhone photo timestamp or the doctor. He was just shy of 22” long and one ounce away from 10 lbs (“He would have made it if he hadn’t of pooped in the womb!” were my sister’s words).
Before he came, we planned for a natural, smooth birth. I regularly returned to passages in the hypnobirthing book my doula lent and practiced drifting away into my steady, safe birthing place. We knew our birthing preferences would likely be scoffed at by hospital staff, but we soldiered on because our insurance made it clear that a hospital birth was our only financial option. I wanted to birth my baby surrounded by soft light, sweet smells, worship music, and calm voices...still, Matty and I knew births rarely went as planned, so we remained open to whatever needed to happen to keep our baby and me safe.
Let me just pause and say that part of my preparation for birth was Googling “positive birth stories,” which turned out to do more harm than good. I didn’t want to read that classic, “Don’t think you can plan your birth because you CAN’T!” story — I needed to believe that I could have the birth I wanted. Plus, I was scared to read anything that might create anxiety heading into labor. My story definitely didn’t follow a path that we prepared for and I wrestled so long about how to share it in a way that would encourage others. I’m still wrestling with the thought...but here’s where I’ve semi-landed: while I do hope it encourages you, I don’t want to keep my story (and my son’s story) under wraps just because it isn’t wrapped up perfectly in a bow. I mean, let’s just agree to skip the small talk and meet in the messy bits of life, shall we?
So, here’s what happened.
Saturday, 1:45 A.M.
My water broke. I was sleeping as soundly as you can at 41 weeks and awoke to a gush. I immediately jumped out of bed and ran about 10 paces to the toilet, leaving a little trail behind me. (At the time, I thought that would be the grossest thing that would happen to me. Hmph.) I took a photo of the liquid because I’d heard that was something I should do, and looked up to see Matty, concerned and confused. Genuinely, I couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth next. It felt like a joke to speak them…
“My water broke…? My water broke!”
We smiled! We laughed! The day was finally here! And perfect timing, too. My family was due in town in a few days, meaning we’d be home to spend time with them, AND my dream of taking our little guy to the beach for the first time with his cousins would come true!
I climbed back in bed, satisfied that my water broke, and prepared for contractions to start. Oh, but one thing no one told me about your water breaking? That it keeps breaking. Until you give birth. That initial gush was a middle school water fountain compared to the Niagara Falls that kept me running to the bathroom all night. By morning, Matty had created a trail of towels from the bed to the toilet...not one remained dry.
Saturday, 3:00 A.M.
Contractions started! I knew that if they hadn’t begun within a few hours of my water breaking that I’d potentially need to be induced. I got the timer ready and mentally prepared for my son to come. Between the gushes and the mild contractions, I barely slept that night.
The contractions continued, but not too hard and not too fast. A few friends stopped by, including our doula who’s first words upon seeing me open the door were, “Oh, you’re FINE!”
I tried to do everything I’d read about: keep busy and distracted, go for a walk, sleep when you can. All great advice, but that’s generally advisable for the onset of labor, not post-water break. I knew I was on a ticking time bomb so, naturally, Google became my new best friend.
Does ______ mean I’m in labor? Will ______ really induce me? I just felt ______! What does that mean??
Ultimately, I decided it would be best to try and get some sleep that night, confident that relaxing my body and mind would kick things into gear. With our doula, Amanda, we decided that our cutoff time would be 48 hours, so off to bed, I went.
Sometime between Saturday and Sunday
Only–as soon as I laid down the contractions began to pick up. After some time, I was sure they were close enough together and that labor was really starting! We called an Uber (the driver, surprisingly, seemed not at all interested that the lady in the back was in labor) and met Amanda at the hospital. It seemed to me that contractions may have slowed down and that I definitely didn’t need that wheelchair they brought out, but attributed it to nerves and just tried to keep calm.
I could see the nurses eyeing me as I rolled in. They knew in an instant I wasn’t in active labor...I think I knew it, too. I changed into a gown and let them examine me—every one of them was immediately concerned when they discovered I’d been “ruptured,” (as they so sweetly called it) for over 24 hours. This was the first time I heard those cursed words that haunted me weeks after:
“Because you’ve been ruptured for so long, we’re concerned that you might get an infection.”
The first time I heard it, I simply shrugged it off. I knew the only way I’d get an infection was if they performed numerous internal exams on me, and I’d already made it clear that I didn’t want those. So…what was the big deal? I knew by going to the hospital that they’d want me to stay but I wanted so badly to let my body go into active labor on its own. Plus, we hadn’t hit that 48-hour mark yet!
The decision was difficult to make, but I signed papers stating that I was leaving against doctor’s orders. In the end, Matty and I decided that contractions were happening far better at home than the hospital. If active labor was the goal, let’s go somewhere that makes it happen.
We arrived back at the apartment just as my parents were getting in town from Texas and I was so thrilled to see them.
“I’m going to have a baby today and you’re here for it!”
Everyone was hungry, so we decided to walk down the street for pancakes, that way I’d get a walk in and we’d all get to eat pancakes. Win, win.
Looking back at this moment, it is VERY clear to me that I was nowhere near active labor.
Okay. How sure of a thing is castor oil? If it works, it’s totally worth it. But if it doesn’t…
Just relax. Go to your safe place.
How about a movie? Distractions are good.
That was a pretty big contraction!!
I haven’t had a contraction in a long time…
Sometime between Sunday and Monday
The contractions were coming stronger and closer. We were nearing the 48-hour mark. It was time.
Matty let my parents know to come pick us up; we were ready. I had two painful contractions on the 15-minute drive to the hospital. The second was bad enough that I asked my dad to pull over while I tried to breathe through it. I noticed “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC was playing on the radio and nudged Matty, wide-eyed. It made me feel strong and certain.
Monday, 3 A.M.
The good news: I was admitted.
The bad news: I wasn’t in active labor.
“Because you’ve been ruptured for so long, we’re concerned that you might get an infection.”
I asked a lot of questions. A LOT. The only thing I knew about Pitocin and other means of induction was that I didn’t want them. Now here I was with no choice. Because I’d been “ruptured for so long,” Pitocin was my only option. They needed to get contractions started and they needed them to start NOW or else I “might get an infection.” It was the mantra of every new nurse, and as they spoke it over me, it began to weaken the strength of my own.
I labored for 4 hours on Pitocin in addition to all the natural labor over the weekend. The drug worked quickly and it soon became apparent that I hadn’t slept without interruption since the previous Thursday night. My body and my will were fading.
The nurses began doing internal exams to check my cervix. They had to, now that I was on Pitocin.
“...we’re concerned you might get an infection.”
And yet. Internal exam followed by an internal exam. The thing that I had difficulty accepting was that these people genuinely wanted the best for me and my baby. We may have disagreed with means to get there, but I quickly realized that if I was going to have this child vaginally then we all needed to be on the same team.
It was right about then, as I was laboring through the worst contraction of my life (coupled with no sleep and therefore no energy) on the bathroom floor with Matty, using what little strength he had left to lift me up, that the words came:
“I WANT AN EPIDURAL!”
It was freedom to say those words. To be honest, I don’t even remember having the thought before I said them. It’s as if the thought and the words happened at the exact same time and as soon as I said them once, I couldn’t stop repeating them. I knew it was the right decision and while the pressure...nope, the PAIN continued, I finally felt some relief.
There was no question in my mind that it was the right decision. For those wondering, I don’t really remember the pain of receiving the epidural so much as I remember the pain of trying to stay still and lean forward during contractions. They applied local anesthesia so the needle wasn’t so bad, but it was definitely more involved than I imagined. I remember wishing I’d at least done some research on epidurals (in addition to Pitocin) on the off chance I needed to get one. “Positive birth stories” my butt.
My lower half began to go numb and I felt comfortable for the first time in days. I slept and my body kept on laboring. It felt like the ultimate cheat and I didn’t even care. It felt incredible.
I learned that the level of my Pitocin was only at about 50% of where they needed to get me at the time I received the epidural. I was dilating very slowly; I think I was a 4 or 5 and not budging. There was no way my body could have endured double what I’d experienced and I will never regret that epidural.
That said, I was happy to experience contractions and thankful to labor as long as I did. Matty knew exactly how to get me through them and we even had the low lighting (electric candles!) and worship music we’d wanted. I do want to share the one thing we did in preparation that helped me the most: I created about 10 cards with a mantra on one side and a coinciding Bible verse on the other. I painted them with watercolor and really poured my heart into them. A few weeks prior to labor, Matty would read a few of them over me at night and we’d pray and meditate on those words. It gave me a lot of strength and peace in those moments before I fell asleep. I felt connected to myself, my husband, and God. These were two of my favorites:
Faith and fear cannot coexist. My courage + faith in His perfect love is stronger than my fear.
Isaiah 41:9-10 "...I've picked you. I haven't dropped you. Don't panic. I'm with you. There's no need to fear for I'm your God. I'll give you strength. I'll help you. I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you."
Our son has a calling on his life.
Romans 8:18 “The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.”
I didn’t think my parents would be in town for the birth, so his late arrival had that glorious benefit. Matty was so busy lifting me, or pushing against me, or holding me, or whatever it was I needed in that moment, so I gave my dad the job of reading the cards. Hearing those words took me back to the place of strength and peace, but hearing them spoken by my own father made them even more powerful.
Tuesday, 6 P.M.
“I’m giving you two hours to get this baby out.”
I’d been at 9 centimeters (or 9.5, depending on the nurse) for a long time. His head was under the pelvic bone and I couldn’t push yet. Despite the sleep, all I felt was pure exhaustion mixed with a little fear and a little faith.
There were ups and downs on the way to this point. They'd actually turned off the Pitocin for a few hours because my body finally kicked into active labor on its own. Win! But then there was that time the epidural wore off and I felt ev-ry-thang. A few things I didn’t know about epidurals: they don’t work immediately, there are levels to which you feel the meds, and my doctor would turn it down to about 30% strength during the pushing phase.
By 6 p.m. on Tuesday it had been almost 4 days since my water broke. Nothing felt right anymore and it was all I could do to not give in to the doubt and fear that grew with every:
“Because you’ve been ruptured for so long, we’re concerned that you might get an infection.”
I wasn’t even angry anymore. I just felt weak, and words began to wash over me with little resistance. But I think an unknown part of me kept fighting: they kept checking my temperature, my blood pressure, his oxygen levels, etc., etc., etc. to find no sign infection in sight.
But here I was with two hours to get the baby out. I had no choice — it was time to push. And so I did.
It didn’t feel like I was making any progress, not that I knew what progress would feel like. Gone was my hope for a calm pushing experience without holding my breath or tensing my body...I don’t think that would have ever worked for me. I needed a coach yelling at me, telling me what to do, encouraging me to PUSH HARD and do it AGAIN and do it HARDER. I needed a CrossFit coach, not a yoga instructor. And—apologies for this terrible pun—my doctor delivered.
There was a moment that I yelled for a C-section, but then again, I couldn’t stop my body from pushing. Matty, my mom, and my sister, Lauren, were holding my legs and praying in my ear. I was scared. I felt faithless, but said the only word I knew that had the power I so desperately needed: Jesus.
Soon, there was a considerable shift in the room where smiles began to take over the concerned looks. I wasn’t sure why as I was experiencing delirium and exhaustion, but I’m told that’s when the baby pushed past the pubic bone and his head started to show.
“I can see his head!” people would say. But I still wasn’t convinced. I knew that probably meant they could see roughly 1 cm of his head. Surely, I still had a long way to go.
The doctor told me he was going to use a suction cup. I know this because I heard him say it in a video later...I definitely don’t remember hearing it in the moment. Which explains the look of utter shock on my face when, suddenly, the doctor was holding my son in his hands. Avery. He wasn’t there, and then he was...we had done it.
And then I heard the doctor say, “He’s still attached to you, so it’s okay.”
I vaguely understood that he was trying to get Avery to breathe. There was a silence in the room as I waited for that moment I’d heard about, the one where you immediately feel 10 times better once the baby is born. How come I was still contracting? How come the room was slipping away? How come I wasn’t holding my baby?
My mom said there were around 15 doctors and nurses in the room at one point. Later on Matty, my mom, and sister all agreed that it was the scariest moment of their lives. They weren't sure if either Avery or I would make it. A few nurses were tending to me as my temperature increased and blood pressure decreased, but most of them were there for Avery. He needed to breathe. He needed to cry.
I remember an odd sense of calm in this moment. Maybe it was my motherly instinct kicking in for the first time, maybe it was the peace I’d been praying for, but I knew he’d be okay. Me, on the other hand...I wasn’t so sure.
He did cry. There was meconium and some fluid in his lungs, but he cried. He was taken to the NICU and Matty made the quick decision to go with him. I’m told he came back into the room, flustered and heartbroken to leave me, but my mom reassured him–and she was right to do so. I wanted him with Avery.
He told me later that our son made strides even on the walk to the NICU. It would be the theme of his little life: his health would rapidly increase and soon steady. We gave birth to a strong boy.
Matty insisted that I go see Avery that night after I gave birth and, hard as it was, I’m so happy I went. In those moments, all I wanted to do was rest. But they wheeled me up to him and let me put my hand in the incubator to touch his little body. I cried. I threw up. A nurse tried to explain to me why all those tubes were attached to him but when I looked up at her, I saw two faces. I was utterly delirious and could not comprehend a thing–it was enough to try to understand that this little body and soul whom I was not allowed to hold was my son.
Avery and I would not be discharged for another three days. We were kept separate and with all the poking and prodding at all hours day and night, “recovery” is certainly not how I would explain my time in that hospital. Most of my on-call nurses were sweet. A few were crass and discouraging. I barely slept and simply standing was an Olympic request. You aren’t supposed to be discharged until you could walk and...let’s just say that I never got to that point. The days were long and arduous but they wheeled me up to see Avery as often as I could muster the strength. Each time I saw him, another tube had been removed as he grew strong quickly. We lived for those moments. Finally, I got to hold him.
We finally found a doctor that would discharge me, even though we all knew that I wasn’t okay. My family had been in town for a week while Avery and I stayed in the hospital. We had one day together before they had to leave and though it’s all a blur to me, I’m so happy we returned home to family.
A week after Avery was born, we had his first pediatrician appointment. I still wasn’t feeling great and I’d have a fever more than once. Avery scared me, honestly. I didn’t have the energy to lift him. I worried I couldn’t care for him.
As I was signing in with the receptionist, I began to shake uncontrollably and chills took over my body. I was transferred to my doctor’s office once the chills slowed and, after more tests, it was finally revealed that I’d become anemic in labor. After a week of living in a body that I didn’t recognize, one that couldn’t seem to work the way it was supposed to, that knowledge was my first true step to recovery.
Recovery. Something I hadn't considered in the midst of prepping for labor. I felt like no one told me that the part after the birth would be that hard. But, in all fairness, for some people it just isn't that hard. Some days I feel like I lived through more than I could handle, but most days I feel incredibly grateful and humbled because we did live.
I could write another ten pages about those first few weeks: Overcoming the fear that the doctors didn't catch something and I'd be a freak case. Learning to speak health over my body when my faith was small. Realizing that every new and odd feeling wasn't going to send me back to the hospital. Understanding that it's okay that it took a few days to feel that first unrelenting connection with Avery. Taking active steps to avoid postpartum depression.
Maybe another day. But today? Today, Avery and I are healthy and thriving. I'm genuinely in awe that we get to raise this beautiful boy and I'd do it all again, even if to hold our miracle of a son for just five minutes.
We love you, A.C.D.C.
My family is forever grateful to Jessi Casprowitz for photographing Avery's birth. Her presence in that room was calming and peaceful and we knew that God placed her there for a reason. It wasn't until I (very timidly) looked through the photos later that I realized she was there for another reason, as well: to help me heal. I see love and strength in these photos, when at those moments all I could feel was fear and pain. These photos proved to me that love truly is stronger than fear. I see a woman surrounded by love, and therefore, strong. Thank you, Jessi.