Willow Birth Stories: Brittany, Joel, and new baby Lola

My husband Joel and I discovered we were pregnant on June 9, 2018, and the news was a bit of a surprise because we had just started trying. Due to family history and some minor health concerns about PCOS, we were expecting the process to take some time; it surely did not. Needless to say, we were completely unprepared. 

The first thing I did when the test showed positive was to pull out my computer and research what was next. I have two older sisters who both have children and was even in the delivery room for two of my nieces. I thought I knew the ins and outs of what was next. Wrong again! I suddenly felt clueless. We had recently moved to Minnesota from Wisconsin and I didn’t even have a primary care doctor yet. All the questions swirled in my mind about where to go, who to call, when to make an appointment … I didn’t even know where the closest clinic was. But when I stumbled across an article about birth centers and midwifery care, I decided to set up a tour at Willow and at a local hospital in order to compare our options. 

For two new parents-to-be, the tours were both extremely eye opening and left us a bit divided. Joel was leaning towards the “traditional” hospital birth; we didn’t know anyone who’d had a non-hospital birth, and besides, this was our first child, and he reasoned that if all went well we could try the birth center for our second. But there was something in me that wasn’t so sure. I viewed birth as a natural process, not a medical procedure, and Willow was so warm and inviting with such beautiful birthing rooms. The thought of delivering at Willow made me excited, not scared. And after weighing out the pros and cons of both locations, Joel agreed that we should give Willow a try. 

Our first appointment at Willow was with Candace and she was absolutely amazing. She was so welcoming and created an extremely comfortable environment. We asked her what felt like a million and one questions about pregnancy and birth (mostly how the birth center works), and she was so patient and answered all of our questions honestly. After that appointment, we knew we were in the right place. 

Many months later, my due date arrived and we scheduled a date night to celebrate. Joel had planned a surprise dinner and I prayed our baby would not come too early, and as luck would have it, our little girl stayed put and a winter snow storm arrived instead. The days began to drag by, and not only did we fit in a couple more date nights, but we also endured a couple more major snow falls as well. With minimal labor signs in sight I had begun to lose all hope that she would ever arrive. 

Then, in the early morning of February 13th, at 40 weeks and 6 days, I woke up with cramping. Finally some signs of labor! I crept out of bed to use the bathroom and then forced myself to lie back down. The contractions felt fairly close together but from what everyone had said, I imagined they would slow down. After about 30 minutes however, the contractions did NOT slow down. I decided to wake up Joel. I vividly remember him pulling out his phone to start timing the contractions: they were about 30 seconds long about every 4 minutes. At that point, we decided to call the nurseline. Nicole said we could come in, but recommended we stay at home a bit longer and to give our doula a call. Landon (our doula) and Raven (our photographer) arrived after about an hour of laboring on our own, once we confirmed the contractions were definitely not slowing down. We also called my parents in Wisconsin. I had invited my mom to attend us in the birthing room if she was able to make it on time, and they immediately hopped in their car and started their 5-hour trip. 

Landon and Raven came to our house at about 3:00AM. They encouraged me to be up and moving, instructed Joel how to provide comfort measures, and made sure I was eating. It was exactly what I needed to help me through the early parts of labor. After a couple more hours of increasing contractions, we decided our goal would be to leave the house at 6:00 AM, to beat the morning rush hour. Since sitting intensified my contractions, I was dreading the 25 minute drive from Shakopee to Uptown but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I just closed my eyes and focused on keeping my breathing steady. 

It was still dark out when we arrived at Willow and the parking lot was empty. Judi came to meet us at the door with the wheelchair, but with the fear of more intense pain I opted to walk. When we arrived at the smaller birthing room, it was dark and the tub was filling. I remember feeling a sense of calm rush over me, and after I settled in the tub, they checked my cervix. I found out later that I was 6-7 cm, but at the time I didn’t want to know. 

I labored in that room for the next 9 hours. We moved from the tub to the bed to the shower and then back to the tub, switching positions frequently and resting when possible. Joel was with me the entire time and provided much needed support and comfort. He never once left my side. Landon was close by too, guiding us along. She made sure we were eating and drinking and that we never stayed in one position for too long. Raven our photographer was a quiet presence; she not only captured our story but provided soft words of encouragement as well. Nicole and Nina checked in every so often to monitor our progress and to ensure both myself and our baby were safe, and at about 10:00 AM, my mom arrived after her long car ride from Wisconsin. Another strong presence to help me through labor. 

After about 5 hours, Nicole checked my cervix and mentioned that my amniotic sac was still intact. She offered to break it to speed the process, but in return my contractions would be worse. I couldn’t bear the thought of more difficult contractions. She offered again an hour later. At this point, I still didn’t know how far along I was, and Landon suggested it might be helpful for me to hear. 9 ½ cm! I was relieved to know that I was so close and agreed to let Nicole break my water. After that, I don’t remember feeling anything but the rush of water and intensified contractions, and shortly thereafter, the urge to push. 

They prepared the tub for me again, where I had assumed I would deliver my baby. I climbed in and thought I would be holding my little girl in my arms after a few good pushes. Again I was wrong. After some time in the tub with minimal progress, I transitioned to the bed. Minimal progress there. After about 2 hours of pushing they suggested I use a rebozo to give me something to grasp on to, and I was willing to try anything. I slowly transitioned myself out of the bed but stopped at the edge to push through a contraction, and as I squatted at the edge of the bed, I finally began to make the progress I’d been hoping for. The pain was intense; I wondered silently why I had decided not to have an epidural. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be done, but I knew if I stayed focused I could accomplish the natural birth I had prepared for. After several more pushes our little girl flew into the world, and as suddenly as my labor had started, it stopped. I was holding our little Lola Elaine in my arms at 3:36 PM. The joy and relief I felt in that moment was, and remains, indescribable. 

After the delivery, Joel and I settled in on the bed with Lola as a family of three. We inspected every inch of her, familiarizing ourselves with our little girl while I worked to deliver the placenta. Nicole calmly informed me that I had some heavier than normal bleeding and that my placenta was slightly tearing away from the cord, so we needed to be gentle to ensure we did not cause more bleeding. I was nervous about the possibility of a transfer to the hospital, or worse. (The same thing had happened to my mom when I was born and she ended up needing a blood transfusion.) But Nicole was calm. She took her time talking me through each step, and in the end my placenta was safely delivered, my blood loss slowed, and I found myself watching my husband doing skin-to-skin with our daughter. All was right in that moment. 

After the concern about blood loss was gone, Nicole checked me and determined I needed a few stitches. But the procedure could wait. Our birth team gave the three of us some time to bond and to rest, and after an hour or so, Nicole came back in to do the stitches. They had set up nitrous oxide for me during labor (which I didn’t end up using because of the smell), and I took advantage of it to help calm me while getting the stitches. Just as before, Nicole talked me through each step of the process and made sure I was as comfortable as possible. 

After my stitches were put in we rested some more, and then Nina eventually helped me take a much needed shower. Afterwards, Grace came in and Lola was weighed and measured (8 lbs 5 oz and 21 ½ inches), and we were given the all clear to head home. 

With Grace’s help, we packed up our car and arrived home at 10:00 that night. I thought I would be nervous leaving the birth center just a few hours after delivering Lola, but it felt so good to be in our own home! My dad was waiting for us and had a moment to bond with his new granddaughter before we all headed to bed for a couple hours of rest. So much excitement in a 24 hour period! 

I will forever be grateful that I trusted my instincts and decided on Willow for my birth. The guidance and care I received allowed me to not only envision the possibility of having a natural birth, but also gave me the strength and support to succeed with it. After delivering Lola, I recall individually thanking each member of our birthing team for their help. “I could not have done it without you,” I said. And in their own way, they each reminded me what I had accomplished by bringing my baby into the world. “You made this happen,” was what I kept hearing in one form or another. It was finally sinking in. Yes, yes I did. 

Brittany is a first time Willow client who lives in Shakopee with her husband and daughter, Joel and Lola. She enjoys traveling, exploring the outdoors and relaxing with a good book, and has a new-found love for CrossFit.