On July 4, 2011, I was 41 weeks, 3 days pregnant, which was eerily close to 42 weeks and an impending induction. Marcus and I had planned for a natural childbirth since the moment we found out I was pregnant and I was devastated at the thought of our birth plan being altered. With the support and direction of Dr. Sebestyen, Lisa, Cathy, Liane, Sioban and Dr. Schmitz, our birth plan not only stayed intact, but it was the most beautiful unraveling of events I could have imagined. The next 48 hours were full of the most incredible, compassionate and supportive moments of my life. I’ll be the first to admit, as much as I wanted to go through with the process of natural childbirth, I didn’t truly believe I could do it. Deep down I probably knew I could, but friends and family kept reminding me to ‘keep an open mind and be willing to accept medication”. What I really needed to hear was what one of the midwives, Cathy, told me at an appointment around 4 months. I told her I wanted to experience natural childbirth but everyone around me didn’t believe I could do it and thought I had too low of a pain tolerance to handle it. Her response was, “your body was made for this and if this is what you want, let’s prove them wrong.” From that moment on I stopped being afraid and started preparing. At the beginning of the sixth month we started a Bradley class in preparation and at the encouragement of our fabulous instructor, I read both of Ina May Gaskin’s books on natural childbirth. Ina May was a pioneer midwife in the United States at a time when interventions began to rise in the 1970s (or that’s how she’s been described to me). These books were inspirational and the stories rang through my head throughout my 40 hours of labor. Yes, 40. And, the Bradley class was not only instrumental for me to learn about my body and the process of birthing our son, but it was absolutely a way for Marcus to connect with me during the pregnancy as well as the labor and delivery of Levi. In the end, the course taught Marcus to tune into my needs during labor and his role was stronger than any other person’s during those hours. I truly believe, with the confirmation of everyone who witnessed our son’s birth, that Marcus was the pivotal reason I made it through without ever screaming, complaining or even saying “ouch”. The support we found from the midwives and Dr. Sebestyen at OBGYN North and the practices of the Bradley Method, made the entire experience surpass my wildest dreams. Even two weeks later, the gratitude I feel for the women at OBGYN North brings tears to my eyes. Every one of them played a role in the process and lucky for me I even saw every one of them during my labor! It all began on the fourth of July. In an attempt to avoid an induction, Dr. Sebestyen suggested they strip my membranes on Monday. If that didn’t work they’d insert a foley bulb on Thursday. Both of these interventions were free of medication and seemed like a great alternative to pitocin. Besides I was 10 days passed my due date and unless I began labor on my own they were going to have to do it for me 4 days later. So Marcus and I took our first venture to the Women’s Center of Texas at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center that day. We met Dr. Schmitz at 5p.m. and had her do a vaginal exam and strip my membranes after the non-stress test and triage visit. She indicated that I was still only 2.5cm dilated and that the stripping of my membranes would give me a 50% chance of starting labor in the next 24 hours. We left the hospital about 6:30p.m. and about 10:45p.m. I started feeling a bit different. My contractions were a bit more intense than before and I felt like I might be in the early stages of labor. Once we figured out that we might be meeting our son soon, Marcus encouraged me to get some rest. I had a hard time sleeping that night and woke up during many of my contractions. About 6a.m. it was too difficult to stay asleep so I woke up and got ready for the day. We went for a walk, had breakfast and I asked Marcus to stay home from work. We had the most perfect day together. We went for a walk, played Canasta, watched the food channel, set up a little putt putt hole in the house and ate little snacks together. Around 11a.m. the contractions were about 10 minutes apart and I realized we were truly in labor. At 2p.m. I had a bloody show and throughout the day I lost more and more of my mucous plug. Marcus timed every contraction, how long it lasted and how far apart it was from the last. We labored at home all day, packed the car, arranged for friends to pick up our dog and talked about last minute techniques for labor to prepare for the process. At 11p.m. my contractions were 4.5 minutes apart. This was already 24 hours into labor, so we knew we weren’t far from meeting Levi. We didn’t want to avoid the advice of others to “head to the hospital when contractions are 3-5 minutes apart and about 1 minute long,” but I didn’t think I was very far into the process. I’m glad we went when we did because the car ride wasn’t unbearable and I wasn’t scared about leaving home during transition. When we got to the hospital, Cathy met us in the hallway outside of the labor and delivery doors. I was so glad to see her. She was like a fairy godmother, the perfect personality to labor with. I couldn’t have asked for better support. She checked me in triage and I was 4cm dilated, so they admitted us. We arrived in labor and delivery room two. It was dimly lit and perfect. We set up our speakers to play a nice Pandora station on our iPhone and unpacked our stuff as labor continued. Once we got situated, we decided to walk the halls to keep things moving. We spent a the next 12 hours progressing from 4cm to 10cm. We walked the halls as I leaned on Marcus during the contractions, kneeled next the bed with a pillow under my knees in a praying position, stood in the shower with hot water on my lower back, sat on the toilet and attempted to lay down for two contractions (those were the most uncomfortable ones of my entire labor so we got up quickly!). The most helpful part of all was having Marcus by my side. He was there to brace me when we walked, dance with me when I swayed, rub my back (continuously) with avocado oil, change the station when the music was annoying, grab me ice water when I was thirsty and a quick snack when I was hungry and cheer me on when I looked to him for reassurance. He was the stronghold of the entire operation and everyone acknowledged his ability to focus on my every need. I truly believe anyone can get through natural childbirth if they have the right support from their spouse and midwife. Throughout the night Cathy came in to check on me and offer silent support. She didn’t interfere with what Marcus and I were doing, but anytime we had a question she’d provide the most perfect amount of comfort. Her presence was known and appreciated, but never overwhelming. Cathy was totally in tune with the way we were laboring and was an amazing support to us. In the morning, at shift change, we said our goodbyes and thank you’s and welcome Siobhan into the room. She was the next perfect fit in the puzzle. She was more than accommodating, bringing Marcus breakfast, taking turns rubbing my lower back and cheering me on throughout transition before we began to push. At 8a.m. I was 8cm dilated and we were in the more intense part of labor. I don’t remember any of it being unbearable and Marcus said I never complained, never said ouch and never screamed. It was really just an exercise of incredible focus on what my body already knew what to do. It was a lot of work, a lot of breathing and a lot of adrenaline. I was surprised about how my body reacted, in all of the literature I read I don’t remember reading about the “shakes”. From about the time we arrived at the hospital until Levi arrived, I shook uncontrollably between many of my contractions. It was like I was freezing to death, but I wasn’t the slightest bit cold. I later learned it was my body’s “fight or flight” response and that it was a totally normal. At noon it was finally time. The contractions had dilated my cervix to 10cm and I felt an enormous urge to push. Although I must admit, the urge to push was more like the feeling of a bowel movement and less like we were about to hold a baby. Even after 37 hours of labor, my water still hadn’t broken. So, I sat on the toilet to push and finally heard the pop and gush of water. From there we tried nearly every position imaginable to get Levi out. It was the hardest work of my life and I couldn’t have made it without Siobhan and Marcus’ encouragement. We started pushing on the toilet, then tried marching around with high knees before doing lunges off the couch. I squatted a bit and then they moved me to the bed. First I pushed in a seated squat with my knees up, then on my side, then with my feet up, then in hands and knees. After about 2 hours and 45 minutes we all agreed squatting made the most sense. So, they brought over the squat bar and we pushed and pushed and pushed. I have to admit, pushing we the hardest part for me and the scariest. It was the only time I doubted my bodies ability to birth Levi, but every time I looked up, Siobhan and Marcus kept saying, “You’re doing it!”. They kept me posted on the progress and reassured me that even though it was taking a long time, he was doing just fine. He was not only strong, but he was doing fantastic. Lucky for us, Dr. Sebestyen was also present in the room, observing Siobhan in her new role of hospital births (she previously did home births) and her encouragement was greatly appreciated too. And, to my surprise Lisa and Liane stopped by while I was pushing too, which made the process extra special. It was so nice to see every one of my caregivers over the course of our 40 hour labor. At 3p.m. on Wednesday, July 6th Levi Cohen Whitaker was born. He was 6 pounds, 11 ounces and 21 inches long. The final few pushes were surreal. I didn’t believe he was “almost here”. And, I was truly exhausted. I was looking a little weak to everyone in the room, so they gave me a bit of oxygen between pushes at the very end and it was really helpful. Oh, and to my surprise, I was thirsty the entire time and accepted water between every pushing contraction. The very last push surprised me. I thought he’d crown and then we’d push out the head and then his shoulders would come out. I never thought he’d arrive in one big push, so when the jello-like feeling emerged and I laid back to take a breath, I was amazed that they were placing my son on my chest. In fact, my first words were, “that’s my baby, that’s my baby”. The next moments were indescribable and wonderful. I made it, Marcus made it and most importantly Levi made it. Our family was complete (until next time!) and I felt amazing. I learned what our body is capable of and how good the bond of a family feels when you work as a team. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier with the process, our birth plan, the respect of the nurses, midwives and doctors, and the way God allowed us to meet our first born son. Even now I’m excited about birthing Levi’s siblings, knowing that the process shouldn’t be terrifying (like I originally thought) and that childbirth is one of the most beautiful things a woman can experience with her spouse (and the midwives and doctor she loves).