For weeks, Julia Cooper had been nervous that her baby would arrive while her husband and mom were away, and sure enough contractions started merely hours after she dropped her husband off at the airport. What follows is a testament to how hard it can be to shut off your thinking brain while in labor and how in spite of that, you can still support your physiology and get things to flow (even if you have a prolonged labor and an epidural!).
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- Natural Breastfeeding website, from Nancy Mohrbacher and Theresa Nesbitt
- The Boob Group podcast, with Robin Kaplan
- Informed Pregnancy podcast, with Dr. Elliot Berlin
- Spinning Babies website
- Inducing Labor with Castor Oil and Dates, Evidence Based Birth
- The Truth About Red Raspberry Leaf Tea During Pregnancy, Mama Natural
- The Evidence on: Group B Strep, Evidence Based Birth
- Pregnancy-related symphysis pubis dysfunction management and postpartum rehabilitation: two case reports, The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Pelvic Health PT Locator
- TENS: The ‘Natural Labor’ Tool No One Talks About, Parents
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for pain relief during labor, Evidence Based Birth
- Babycare TENS Machine, a highly-recommend option among doulas!
Related Birthful episodes:
- All About Chiropractic Care
- Birth Principles, Better than a Birth Plan
- How to Tap Into the Nourishing Power of Herbs During Pregnancy and Postpartum
- The Holistic Stages of Birth (Part 1)
- The Holistic Stages of Birth (Part 2)
- A Dad’s Perspective (Part 1)
- A Dad’s Perspective (Part 2)
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[Birth Story] How She Navigated a Long Birth While Waiting for Her Support Team to Arrive
Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and as we continue with our Movement and Body Wellness series, you may remember from our episode with Deb Flashenberg, how we talked about the difficulties of dealing with pubic symphysis pain… and how knowing your exercise history and leaning into targeted movements and additional bodywork can help improve your discomforts. Well, today’s story with Julia Cooper gives you a good idea of what that could look like in practice, since Julia experienced relentless pubic symphysis pain during her pregnancy and a drawn-out labor.
And figuring out how to support her body to help baby move on down, that alone would have required a lot of dedicated focus and intentional movement, but Julia had the extra complication of not having a big part of her support team with her when labor started. Yeah— so many things, because it turns out that at 38 weeks both her husband and her mom were away on separate trips. In fact, she had been nervous about the possibility of labor starting while they were away for weeks. And you know that of course, that’s exactly what happened, making for a very interesting and unplanned early labor experience that required so much adaptation and flexibility, including three separate trips to the hospital.
This birth is such a testament to how much your mind and body are connected during birth, and how in spite of that, you can still support your physiology to make things flow. It just may require a lot more regrouping and take more time while you wait for all your people to arrive, or for your baby to move through your tissues, or whatever your version of that may be.
AND sometimes that connection can also be used in your favor, like Julia did when her baby was close to being born and she just waited for the right care provider to show up for the birth of her baby, even though she had been in labor for nearly 40 hours already. But enough intrigue…!
Oh, one more thing— heads up that through the episode, Julia’s baby pops in and out in the background. So hey, that makes sense, right? If you have a baby, they talk and share their experience too.
You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Julia, thank you for being on the show and wanting to share your story.
Julia Cooper: Thank you, Adriana. I’m so excited to be here and honored that you wanted to hear it. Thank you!
Adriana: And it was… I gotta say, you sent me, when you sent the e-mail, you also sent— you tempted me, ’cause you sent your birth notes that your fabulous doulas had taken for you. And I’ve got— y’know, that was even like, “Oh, kindred spirits,” ’cause I saw their notes and just felt transported to your birth, because their notes were so similar to the ones that I take. So that was lovely, yeah!
Julia: Wonderful, thank you.
Adriana: Yeah. And who else do you have with us?
Julia: Oh, I have here my baby, Van— so you might hear him in the background. And yeah, so he’s gonna be with us today on the podcast.
Adriana: It’s totally fun, ’cause that’s life for most of the listeners!
So before we jump into your story, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Julia: So I live in the San Francisco East Bay with my husband and my son. And I’m very fortunate to have my family very close by, only about 20 minutes away (so they’ll come in big time in my story). And, let’s see… I’m a second grade teacher, so I’m running around a lot after kids!
Adriana: When you first found out you were pregnant, what were your thoughts about birth then, and what expectations did you have? Did you have any wishes? What was your mindset?
Julia: Well, I’m actually the oldest of six kids, and I’ve seen my mother be pregnant several times, as well as go through pregnancy loss. So, y’know, I kind of had expectations around— just, y’know, in terms of what she went through— that my experience might be sort of similar. So I wasn’t necessarily afraid of birth or anything, seeing her go through it so many times. Although I did experience her going through four or five miscarriages, so I did have quite a big fear of pregnancy loss.
Adriana: Mhm. Yeah, that had to be tough, yeah. Then you were pregnant: What were your wishes? What did you do to start preparing for giving birth?
Julia: I did a lot of things. So, right away, I found a doctor that I really thought would be aligned to my values, ’cause she was trained with midwives. And I still, I guess, wanted the hospital birth at— y’know, my mom encouraged me to stick with the hospital birth, ’cause my husband and I had talked about some other options. And I asked my doctor who she, y”know, felt comfortable with in terms of doulas or if she had anybody that she recommended. And she recommended the Harmony Doula Group, which is a group of doulas that work in shifts. So I hired them pretty early on. And I found your podcast very early on, about ten weeks, because I’d always loved listening to podcasts, especially when I work out. I like feeling like I’m exercising body and my brain at the same time!!
So I found your podcast very early on and listened to pretty much every single episode. And if I heard a suggestion that I liked, I would write it down and research it on my own later on and follow through with it. So, some of the best suggestions or things that I found that were really great, I just took a lot of tidbits from many of your different episodes, so thank you to you for that!
I started following other podcasts from you. I started following Dr. Elliot Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy podcast— and I really love his podcast. And pretty much I just took little things from all of your different birth stories or things like that that I thought would be useful to me and I started doing them. So if I can give you some examples, I learned about Spinning Babies through you and did Spinning Babies, y’know, pretty much every day, the inversion exercises! You interviewed Jeremy, who was a dad (he was like your dad birth story), and that was the first time and maybe the only time I heard about witch hazel pads for recovery. So I just kind of took things here and there from your podcast and that was a huge way to prepare.
Adriana: Oh, that’s awesome. And I love hearing what resonated with you because there’s some things, like, are expected— for example, the Spinning Babies— but Jeremy’s podcast with the witch hazel pads, I’d forgotten about those!
Julia: And even more things, if I can name drop, another huge one is Nancy Morbacher, and Teresa Nesbitt. I highly would— highly, highly— encourage your listeners to check out their videos for the natural breastfeeding. Because for me, I really wanted to practice and learn about breastfeeding before I was just kind of jumping into it myself, so I loved their videos.
Adriana: And I love that approach to breastfeeding ’cause newborns breastfeed differently. So that whole thing of triggering their instincts through their natural breastfeeding or laid-back breastfeeding, however you wanna call it, of letting them self-attach and do that breast crawl is so fascinating to see and see your little one do it, right!?
Julia: Yeah, definitely!
Adriana: What other things are on top of your head that worked?
Julia: Oh, lots of lots of things actually. So I stayed… I tried to stay really healthy with eating and exercise, and I stayed on top of my running regimen of four to five miles a day when I was first pregnant. And I also taught Zumba until I was 16 weeks pregnant. And eventually I stopped teaching Zumba; it became too much. And my walks— my runs turned into walks, but that was great, like I said, ’cause that’s a great time that I would catch up on all the podcasts. I took prenatal yoga. I was pregnant in the summer, so I swam a lot towards the end of my pregnancy.
And I kind of just did all the things that you hear about. I ate the six dates a day. I drank the raspberry leaf tea. I had the primrose oil ready to go, but I wasn’t able to take it actually— I went into labor before I started taking that!
And then some other great things were that my doula group offered the prenatal classes, and so I took not only the childbirth education series with them but also the breastfeeding classes with them, and they helped me write a birth plan and all of that great stuff.
But I also wanted to do the hospital education classes, and not so much… I felt that I, at that point, knew a lot of information. I wasn’t necessarily doing it to gain information, I was doing it to build relationships. And that was really invaluable to me because during our hospital tour, a lactation consultant led that. I’m somebody who’s gonna ask a lot of questions and I, y’know, wanna know about their protocols and procedures and things! So she remembered me and she was somebody who I ended up working with when I was in the hospital.
And during the hospital education classes, the charge nurse led those classes. And again, I asked a lot of questions. She definitely remembered me. And, it was really great because she was a familiar face in the hospital when I had my son. And she checked on us every day and spent a lot of time with us in the end. The first day I was in there, she spent an hour with us, helping me really work on getting him, y’know, latched, and really respected like the way that I wanted to do it with the baby-led breastfeeding, and so that was great. Just not so much for the… I felt like I kind of already knew it, was a little bit of the know-it-all in the class, but of course then they remembered me and then I had familiar faces in the hospital, which was great.
Adriana: Oh, that’s so good!
Julia: I wanted to say one more thing about, I think, about my time being pregnant, that was kind of important. I think as I haven’t heard that much about it on… for other people’s experiences. I actually— since I’m a teacher and I was on my feet so much while I was pregnant, my biggest— I had a very easy pregnancy. There wasn’t much, y’know, that I can say or complain about, but I had intense pubic symphysis pain—
Julia: —from about, like, 24 weeks on, and it was excruciating! So, to try to remedy that— I mean, the main thing is I needed to get off my feet— but I actually saw a pelvic floor therapist, and she really helped me out and gave me some great exercises. And I also worked with the chiropractor and did some prenatal massage as well. And I really was trying to figure out “How can I minimize this terrible pain?”
Adriana: And did those help?
Julia: Definitely the pelvic floor therapist; I think helped the most with that. Although, of course, the chiropractor and prenatal massage is really important for opening up space for the baby, yeah. But I… It’s just something I’d never heard of before and just intense pain all day long. If anybody has it, y’know, I feel so sorry for you!
Adriana: Yeah, no— and I have had a few clients that have, y’know? It’s been relentless, and it’s one of those things that you have no idea how it’s gonna hit you, and doing things like the pelvic PT and the chiropractor will improve it, but whether it goes away completely, it’s hard to say.
Julia: Yeah. “Relentless” is a good word for that!
Adriana: Yeah, y’know, and then you’re not pregnant anymore, then it goes away.
Julia: Amazing! It was amazing. It was immediate pain relief. But, yeah, so I did all of those things, and being a teacher, I had a baby in the summer, so I took those two months in the summer and really made it kind of my full-time job at that point to not only prepare for the birth, but get really, really prepared with for life with the newborn. That was my main mission at that point.
Adriana: We are gonna jump into that birth story, but we never got around to your birth intentions… What were your birth intentions?
Julia: So I really wanted as physiological of a birth as possible and I definitely planned intentions, not a birth plan. And I wanted to kind of lay out all options on the table just so that there was no scenario where I would “fail” with those birth intentions.
Adriana: Did you wanna share what those were?
Julia: Basically, I just… I really wanted low intervention. I did not want— I mean, I was so much so that I didn’t want an IV, y’know? I really didn’t want any interruptions or disruptions. But I think, looking back (and we can talk about this later), choosing the hospital as a birthplace is not the best place if you want seriously no interventions. And I knew that, but I was still hoping things would go in my favor in that way.
I think something that derailed my plan early on— it’s not for some people, this is not a big deal, I think nobody understood to why this was a big deal to me— but I was GBS positive and I was really upset getting that news because I knew immediately that would mean the penicillin, that would mean an IV, that would mean so many things right off the bat that I was trying to avoid. And even just going into the hospital early, I— in my head, I had this idea that I was gonna go, y’know, when I was, y’know, whatever, in transition and just push the baby out.
Adriana: Which is, like, the dream, right? Just walk right in and here’s baby, you can send me home.
Adriana: So with those intentions in mind, how did labor start?
Julia: So I was 38 weeks pregnant and I was really dreading this week my whole pregnancy, because my entire support team was going to be gone. My doctor was on vacation. And of course you can’t always get the doctor that you want, but I really resonated with her and she was on a family vacation during that time. My mom was at her friend’s 60th birthday party in North Carolina, so she was gone for a week. And my husband was going to be in a wedding; he was a groomsman in his friend’s wedding in Milwaukee. So I was really, really nervous for this week ’cause my entire, like, main support team was gone.
And not only that, but y’know, the doula group works as a group. So I knew that I would get… I wouldn’t necessarily get kind of the head doula, but she was also out of town in New York at a conference, So, I was hoping for her at my birth, but y’know, again, like the doctor, I knew that it wouldn’t likely be her.
So I was really, really nervous for that week, and on Wednesday night, my mom had a red eye flight, so she came over for dinner ’cause we live near the airport. And she said, “Don’t have that baby ’til I come back!” And I was like, “I won’t, I won’t,” like, y’know, “You’re being silly,” like I’m definitely not gonna go into labor.
The day before that, on Tuesday, I really didn’t want vaginal checks, but I wanted to know, “Can I send my husband to this wedding halfway across the country?” And so I asked her to check me and she said that I was zero centimeters dilated, 20% effaced. She said the labor is not gonna start anytime soon. And this was not my doctor; this was another doctor in the practice, my first time seeing her since my doctor was on vacation. And I didn’t really love the vibe that I got from her.
So anyways… But I trusted her advice, I guess, that she did not think labor was imminent. So I sent my mom on her way. And then that was Wednesday night that I saw my mom. And then in the wee hours of Thursday morning at 3:00 a.m., I brought my husband to the airport ’cause he had a 5:00 a.m. flight, and I went back home and was able to sleep a little bit more, which was good.
And this is Thursday now. And so I went, y’know, basically carried on with my day. I went for a long walk like I always did, and I felt great. I didn’t feel strange at all. I had planned to stay at my parents’ house, where my dad and, at that time, four of my siblings were home— four out of the five for summer vacation. I planned to stay with them over the weekend just because I didn’t want to be alone in my house, and just in case anything happened— but I didn’t bring my hospital bag, because I didn’t think anything was going to happen. So I’m at my parents’ house and I ended up driving my sister to cheerleading practice and she had her permit at the time, so I let her drive to and from practice. And while she was at practice, since it was only an hour, I decided to walk again (the trail behind her high school) and just wait for her ’cause it was a beautiful summer day, and I started feeling weird at that point. I went into Trader Joe’s right there and went to the bathroom and noticed that I was bleeding.
So I started worrying a little bit, but thinking maybe it was just from the vaginal check, like they were telling me it could happen, I wasn’t quite so sure. So I just tried to, y’know, at that point, I didn’t— I definitely didn’t think it was labor. I just thought I felt kind of weird and gassy. So I remember I let my sister drive home and she was the first person I told, like, “I feel kind of strange.”
So we get home and I had a terrible dinner cause my dad was in charge of feeding us that night. We had pizza and jalapeno poppers, like, not the last meal that I would want before labor at all! And I continued to feel, like, just gassy, I guess— like, just weird pains in my stomach, but did not feel like contractions to me.
But it kept going on and I tried to sleep and I couldn’t. So at that point, around 1:00 a.m., only my brother and my dad were still awake. So, y’know, I just wasn’t sure what was going on. I wanted to ignore early labor. That was like my plan, just ignore it. But if this was early labor, I had to know, because I had to know, “Do I need to get my husband back here?” and potentially my mom back here immediately, y’know?
So I texted my doula at 1:00 a.m. and she said, “Just maybe take something, to see if it’s gas pains,” and just see what’s going on, and then text her back later. So at this time we’re thinking, “Okay, maybe this is labor.” So my dad went to sleep, so my brother’s the only one up with me. My sweet brother, he was 19 years old at the time. So you can imagine I have my brother who’s never, y’know…
Adriana: He’s your “dude-la.”
Julia: Yes. He was my dude-la, and he’s my only brother— there’s five sisters and one boy. So he’s amazing and he’s so great at all of these things. But y’know, it was just so funny that he actually enlisted the help of two of his friends to drive over to my house and get my hospital bag and get the yoga ball/the birthing ball, and get my TENS machine. And then they came on back, and the friends didn’t stay, but it’s just so funny that this group of 19 year old boys is going to get all my supplies for the hospital. And then one of my favorite moments of being in labor was my brother tried the TENS machine on his wrist on full because we hadn’t even taken it out of the box yet. He tried it on full power!
Adriana: Oh no!
Julia: That was a hilarious moment of him shocking himself. So I’m with my brother and we decided that at 3:20 a.m. that we were gonna go be checked. So imagine my brother taking me to the hospital. And so the labor and delivery nurse said that I was having super mild contractions about eight minutes apart, and she said that I was two and a half centimeters and 90% effaced.
And then she said, y’know, that I should go labor at home. So at that point, I texted… I think I texted my mom and of course called my husband and said, “I need you to come back here right now.” So we made it back. I mean, it could have been days! We didn’t really know, but I wanted my husband there obviously.
So we made it back to my parents’ house and I decided to labor at my parents’ house. And I just got into the tub by myself. Everyone was asleep and at that point, around 6:30 a.m., I texted the doula to see if she could come over, the doula on-call. She came on over, and I was trying to slow labor down by being in the tub.I don’t think that was obviously the most helpful for getting things moving along. So she encouraged me to do some inversions and to do some other sort of exercises to help get things moving along. But I felt the most, I guess, comfortable in the tub at that point.
Adriana: Well, and you hadn’t slept all night.
Julia: Yeah, I hadn’t slept. Yeah, so that… Now we’re in Friday morning and you can imagine Thursday I didn’t get much sleep either bringing my husband to the airport at 3:00 a.m., and then up all night Friday.
Julia: So pretty much at that point, we were just in between the shower, the tub, and her trying to do the rebozo on me and exercises. And she felt that I sounded pushy. This was at… So pretty much we were just laboring in my parents’ room and bathroom of all places, until about 1:30 p.m. She thought I sounded pushy and was making low vocalizations, but I was telling her, “No, no,” like, this is not it, “I’m not ready to go to the hospital.”
And in fact, we have it on video of me saying that I felt fine. So I really knew that it wasn’t time, but she just kept insisting that it was time to go. So I trusted her, being the doula. And, I mean, there were some signs. I was vomiting a lot, bowels loose. There were definitely some signs that it could be a precipitous labor, but I just knew… I was… It was like, “If this is it,” if this is, like, the max pain, like, “This is no big deal.” There’s no way that this is it, y’know?
But I trusted her anyway. And we went to the hospital again, for my second time, and this was around 2:00 p.m., and the nurse said that I was only three centimeters, 80% effaced and -1 station. And that made me very upset to hear that check, because I had been laboring all night and then all morning, and now we’re into the afternoon. And when I went in with my brother at, y’know, 1:00 a.m. I was what, two/two and a half, I think they told me? So I just felt pretty, like, I guess, defeated at that point, that it was taking much longer than I had anticipated.
Although of course my husband was still not there. He was on an airplane. My mom wasn’t there. And I was in the tub all morning, so what could I expect? But it still is just like… It’s defeating to get those vaginal checks and hardly make any progress!
Adriana: Yeah, those can be hard, ’cause they’re, y’know, it’s a disappoint— I call them “disappointing vaginal checks.” And it’s hard to remember under these circumstances that, I keep thinking of that mantra of like, “Your cervix is not a crystal ball.” It can’t tell you anything, in terms of predicting how long it’s gonna take.
Julia: Mhm, yeah. And I knew that, but it’s hard. I think for me, my story is a very, like, “thinking brain” story. Like, all of it. I couldn’t get out of my thinking brain, and I literally couldn’t because, “Where’s my husband? Where’s my mom? Where’s my support team? Am I gonna have this baby without my husband being there?” So I really couldn’t get out of my thinking brain the whole time, and I think that was my biggest downfall.
Adriana: That was your labor— everybody has, like, a different crux, like, a different, y’know what it is, that’s the challenge, your wall, and that was yours.
Julia: Mhm, definitely. So meanwhile, when we went to the hospital for that second time, just my doula and I went to the hospital. My dad went to go pick up my husband from the airport. So he had made it back! He landed, I think, around 3:00 p.m., and the plan was— ’cause we thought it was gonna be a precipitous birth— the plan was my dad was going to pick my husband up from the airport and hopefully make it just in time to see the birth of our son. Like, my husband thought he had hit the lottery, of, like, missing the whole labor—
Adriana: You were waiting for him… little did he know!
Julia: Yeah, little did he know! So then when I got the check (the vaginal check), y’know, we called my dad and said, “Okay, actually this is gonna be a while. We’re going back home again. I’m not being admitted to the hospital.” And so at that time, my husband decided that he had enough time to even stop back at our house and get a change of clothes and all that sort of stuff. So, we ended up going back home. I had, at this point, at the hospital, I changed doulas. The doulas work in 12-hour shifts, so I had a new doula.
And then that doula and I went back to my parents’ house. We decided that since I was already set up there and comfortable laboring there… I wasn’t really comfortable laboring there, but, y’know, it was what it was at that point. I wanted, I guess, to be there since we were set up, more so than coming back to my house and figuring out everything here… ’cause we had kind of a little, y’know… I guess at that point we just…
Adriana: Your birth ball was there, your brother had brought it over.
Julia: Mhm, and the TENS machine was. I mean, I used the TENS machine a lot throughout the whole labor!
Adriana: Was it… Did it make a difference? Because I’m not that— I hear that people love the TENS machines, I just haven’t worked with them enough.
Julia: Mhm. I mean, it obviously, in the end, didn’t make the world of the difference that I could get through it, I guess, on my own. But since I started using it in the beginning, like they say to do, I really relied on it at that point, y’know, if that makes sense?
Adriana: So you’ve made it back to your parents’ house. You’ve decided to cocoon there. Your husband is here, which, yay! So what happened next?
Julia: So pretty much just, I labored on the toilet a little bit. This doula was really, I guess… My first doula let me, I feel like, be in the tub more. But again, ’cause my husband wasn’t there, my mom wasn’t there, this doula was more into making me do the lift and tucks and all these other exercises that I knew that I should be doing, but I still really wanted to be in the tub the most. So, y’know, I was kind of in and out of the tub and, I guess when I look… I feel like it was a long chunk of time in my mind, because it was getting more and more intense, and more and more difficult for me to make it through the contractions.
I… In my mind, it feels like that chunk of time where I was back at my parents’ house again, to when we went to the hospital for the third time, it feels like a long time. But when I look back at the notes, it was only a few hours. But the tub really helped. At one point, I went into the shower and my husband came in with me and that was really helpful to, kind of, for us to regroup, just us two, and have some space. Because, y’know, we hadn’t really said “hello” even much since he got back from his very short/less than 24 hour trip to Milwaukee.
So that was a highlight of my labor, I guess, when I think back on it— of, like, just a nice time with us, realizing that the baby was coming.
Adriana: And let me just say how important those little moments are, right? Because it sounds like, “Oh, it’s just a little nothing,” but it’s so crucial to make those little, like, consider how you’re gonna bring some pleasure and joy into your labor, instead of anxiety.
Julia: The funny thing is we were in my parents’ shower!
Adriana: Well, yeah, that’s true.
Julia: Y’know, I wanted to say, my dad, beginning in early labor, y’know, when I was there by myself in the tub before the doula came and just throughout the whole process, he kept coming into his room, of course, and he would come in and he would be like, “I just don’t know how you can do this! I just don’t know. I can’t see you like this!” and he was so flustered. It was just… It was a lot for my dad to be, y’know, in labor, without my mom there, at his house.
Adriana: Do you think he was like… he just didn’t know how to help, or what?
Julia: Yeah. He was not helpful. He was not helpful. He would walk in every, like, I don’t know, 45 minutes or hour, and check on me and I would just be like, “Dad, I need you to leave. I need you to leave. You’re not…” It wasn’t helpful to me because he kept saying, “I don’t know how you can do this.”
Adriana: Right. He was not a cheerleader.
Julia: No, he… I don’t think he knew how he… It was just a lot for him to see his firstborn in, y’know, pain.
Julia: Yeah. So, interesting. And I guess we’ll kind of get into my siblings’ take on the whole thing later as well, ’cause you have to remember that I had four siblings, and one who was flying back from San Diego to be there as well, y’know, they were all witnessing this. And, y’know, they have their own stories to tell of hearing me, like, moaning and groaning. They could hear me down… y’know, when they were downstairs in the kitchen or whatever. They were trying to, like, y’know, mind their own business— or my sisters would bring me snacks or whatever— but they were not part of my plan, to have my whole family as part of my labor. So, yeah!
Adriana: You did it anyway!
Julia: Mhm. Yep, yep.
Adriana: So after you connected with your husband and you guys had, like, a nicer time and just gathering yourselves while in the shower, what happened next?
Julia: So, I mean, one main thing was— during this time of laboring at my parents’ house— I just got really, really fearful. I really did not want a cesarean. And I was starting to worry about, again, being so much in my thinking brain, about “If I go back to the hospital, what is that vaginal check going to look like?”
Because I made such little progress the last time I was there and I just started feeling discouraged and really, really upset that my mom wasn’t there. So I was crying and just very upset. So we got her on the phone and she helped to calm me down. And she had decided at that point that she was not gonna come back. So it was what it was, but it kind of helped me, y’know, release some of the fears. After we got off the phone with her, my doula had me do some guided meditation and some affirmations and just try to release my negative thoughts. So that really helped. And I guess I let go of the idea of my mom being there, and then, almost 9:00 p.m., we decided to go back to the hospital— because this time I wanted to go. I was just feeling like it was getting really intense and I just… I wanted to go back to the hospital.
And this time, we were really saying, y’know, “Third time’s a charm.” And my dad was crying and, y’know, wishing us luck on our way for this third time to the hospital. And when I got there in triage, I was only three centimeters, so the same as I was before, 80% effaced and baby was still high. So I was really discouraged— that from, let’s see, was it like around 2:00 p.m. was my last vaginal check, all the way ’til 9:00 p.m.?— that I guess, in the terms of medical stuff, I had made no progress.
Adriana: Mhm. So how did you rally at that point? Like, what did you do? What kept you going forward, or what was your mindset?
Julia: Hm, well, I had a lot of tears at that point and that was when I started to doubt, like, “Could I do this?” I was already… It was already so intense and I was in so much, like, pain. I started to doubt if I could do it. I guess shortly after I finally had, I guess I lost my mucus plug— so everybody was encouraging me that there was some change happening and things were going well.
They also convinced the doctor on-call to admit me, which was great, because I didn’t wanna go home for a third time. And then I kind of started talking about what am I gonna do, like, for pain management, because I really started to feel like the TENS machine and all this wasn’t going as I had hoped, I guess.
I got my first dose of penicillin, and that burned a lot more than I thought, going down. I tried again to do kind of the comfort measures I had at home, with the shower and the tub, but that wasn’t that great in the hospital, not the best shower or tub. But eventually my doula got me in a good mantra of saying “Good and open,” and kind of just in these mantras to help me. And my doula kind of took control finally at one point and turned off the lights and tried to make it a more comfortable environment for me, and tried to kind of take back that control, because up until that point, our hospital visit that third time was really medicalized and they had a really hard time keeping my baby’s heart rates on the monitors. And I didn’t want the continuous monitoring, but the doctor on-call required it.
And so the nurses were, like… At one point there were, like, three nurses all in there trying to get his heart on the monitor. and they just kept losing it, like, he kept wiggling and kept losing it. So bless their hearts, those nurses worked really hard to make sure they could keep him on the monitor like the doctor had wanted.
That was just kind of exhausting— that, y’know, there were so many people on me and around me, so my doula kind of took control and that worked for a while. But then I just was feeling like, again, my thinking brain kind of kicked in. I guess I should mention, there was a lot more vomit and, like, I was clearing out, like, I was clearing out for the baby. And I was finding my mantras of “I am strong. I trust my body. I’m stronger than I think.” I tried, I really did get into a zone. But then at 2:11 a.m. I was in the shower— I felt miserable again. The nurses were holding the monitors onto me while I was in the shower, and I just…
I had this moment in my brain where I was like, “Y’know what? I’ve been at this for so long. It’s already Saturday morning. I’ve been in labor since…” y’know, early labor, but y’know, I couldn’t ignore that early labor. And, y’know, since Thursday, I kind of just had a thinking brain moment of “My water hasn’t broken yet,” y’know? “I’m exhausted. I’m miserable and exhausted. I think that it’s time to say that I can get the epidural.” So I decided to get that epidural and I was— at that point, they checked me, and I was six and a half centimeters and I decided to continue with epidural anyways.
And so the anesthesiologist came in and I said, y’know, “I really want this to be, like, a super low dose. I just want you to take the edge off.” And I was really lucky that I had an anesthesiologist that listened to those wishes, and y’know, he gave me a pretty low dose. And after the epidural, I felt great. I was kicking my legs in the air. I was butterflying my legs. I was showing the nurses, like, “Look at me! I still have movement, I still have control,” like, “I’m not numb!” I felt really great at that point, so I felt, y’know, happy at that point, that for the decision to get that epidural, I felt like I needed it.
Adriana: Mhm. And I think it’s really like getting to that point can be so tough because you had wishes— like, it feels almost like you’re in defeat. But it’s so important to pay attention and figure out what the circumstances are. And, I think, actually being able to set aside your wishes and go, like, y’know, “Those wishes I made without context? Here’s the context right now. What do I need at this moment?” And making that decision from your own need can be, at the same time, y’know, really empowering, because there are… I do try to pay attention, that during births and labors, that at the end you want it to be a good birth experience. And if you’re miserable, like, pain is pain, but being miserable? Not a good birth experience.
Julia: Mhm, yeah. And I really— not to scare anybody out there— but I really did hit the point of misery between being up several nights in a row and, y’know, just missing my mom and everything. I was at the point of, yeah, I needed some relief and I needed some rest. I kind of had this thinking brain moment of like, “I’m so tired. How am I gonna push this baby out if I’m this exhausted?” like, “I need some rest.”
Adriana: Yeah. And not sleeping for, like, a— because you didn’t sleep very well the night before taking them to the airport, so it’d been like three nights now that you haven’t slept!
Adriana: That’s exhausting, yeah.
Julia: Thursday and Friday night, no sleep or little sleep. So I felt really happy that, y’know, I had a lot of mobility with that epidural and I didn’t feel completely numb. I tried to sleep, but I was shaking a lot. I really wasn’t sleeping. And then at one point I felt the huge water balloon come down and burst open, and I was so excited and happy that I could feel that my water had broken, ’cause I heard stories that, y’know, with an epidural, sometimes people can’t feel anything at all, and they don’t feel that their water has broken. So I just felt great that, y’know, it was taking the edge off, but I still could feel so much. And at that point, the cramping and the contractions started getting worse.
Even with the epidural, I could feel a lot. So I really knew that, like, things were starting to really ramp up at that point. But something important to note was it was getting towards morning. My water broke at 4:30 a.m. and I knew, doing my research, that, y’know, there was going to be a shift change at some point. And I wanted to know when that was gonna take place.
And luckily I had kind of researched all of the doctors that were in my practice that could deliver my baby. And so I asked the nurses, I said, “Honestly, what’s your opinion of the doctor on-call right now?” And my nurse was fantastic. And she said, “Y’know, honestly? He doesn’t have great bedside manner.”
And I was… That obviously was not the great thing to hear. So I said, “Okay, well, when is shift change?” And she said, “It’s at 7:00.” And I’m like, “Who’s on?” And when she said the doctor’s name of who was on at shift change, I was elated! I was like, “I am making it to shift change. I know this doctor. I love this doctor. I want her to deliver my baby.”
So that was kind of my goal— at that point, was to make it to shift change. But after my water broke, I was feeling a lot of pressure, a lot of cramping. I tried to just relax, and that’s when I actually listened to Whapio’s… the podcast you did with Whapio about the Quietude, I think that one was called “Third Stage of Labor,” right?
Adriana: It is “The Holistic Stages of Labor,” and I think that’s part two— I’ll link it on the show notes.
Julia: Okay, great. So I listened to that, and that really relaxed me, because I had kind of gotten in this meditation with your podcast quite often during my walks. And I think I just want to say, if anybody is… y’know, they come to your show and they don’t really know where to start, I would start with Whapio’s episodes, because she puts you in a different mindset and a different mind frame, I guess, for labor and birth. And for me it was really transformative to listen to her episodes with you. And I listened to them numerous times when I was pregnant. It was kind of like my hypnobirthing, honestly.
Adriana: Ah, I love hearing that, ’cause I obviously love Whapio and it is, it’s a different approach to birth, and it’s a more holistic… it’s more, y’know, “you”-centered, and more trusting of the process and finding your own way, right? Internal, not external. Yes.
Julia: And her voice is so calming, and she just makes you feel like, “Yes, I can do this,” like, “This is an empowering thing.” So I really love that episode. So I enjoyed my own Quietude, and we had the lights off and finally some quiet and peace in the room. My husband was able to sleep, and then at 6:40 a.m. I was complete and there was so much pressure and I was trying not to push. And I was pretty much feeling pressure from 6:00 a.m.— like, I probably could have started pushing then, but I really, again, labored down, enjoyed that Quietude, and I was determined to make it for the next doctor on call.
So, of course, at 7:00 a.m., that shift change. I’m like, “Where is she? Is she here yet? Is she here yet?” They’re like, “She’s not here yet…” So she rolled in around, like, maybe 7:10? And, it takes a bit longer than I had anticipated for them to kind of set up their, I guess, sterile area, or whatever (when you’re having a vaginal delivery).
Adriana: Yeah, the table. I’m surprised they hadn’t set it up already !
Julia: They set it up when she got there. So they were letting me do pushes kind of out of the corner of their eye while they were setting up. And I was pushing on my side at that point, which was cool. But then I had asked for a mirror, and I had a lot of birth wishes with the perineal massage and all those sort of things— that I’m convinced that the doctor with poor bedside manner that they had mentioned, would not have followed those wishes— the delayed cord clamping and things like that. So, yeah. So finally they had everything set up and we were ready to go. And I thought the mirror was really helpful to, y’know, push on my back. That was kind of the most comfortable for me, even though she was letting me also push on my side if I like. And it was pretty easy with the pushing stage, with the epidural taking the edge off, and I could still feel everything. Y’know, he came out pretty easily, and I felt really empowered by that, of being able to touch his head and kind of helped pull him out! So that was a great experience!
And so he was born at 7:55 on Saturday, and we immediately did the skin-to-skin and the breast crawl and all of that great stuff.
Adriana: Yay! So you started pushing, in earnest, like, at 7:15-ish?
Julia: Well, I definitely did some pushes on my own without her being in there, because there was so much pressure.
Adriana: Awesome. And then, so he went skin-to-skin, delayed cord clamping. How were you feeling at that point?
Julia: I felt amazing at that point, although I was quite aware— again, “thinking brain” was still in mode— I was quite aware of how many people were in the room because my nurses had stayed, and all the nurses who were with me all night long had stayed, and then the new nurses on shift change came on in, and there were so many people in that room.
Adriana: You had two shifts in there!
Julia: Mhm, yeah.
Adriana: Did you tear at all?
Julia: Yeah, I guess I asked the doctor or the nurse afterwards, and she said they hadn’t even written it in my chart, it was such a small tear— but it was a small vaginal tear, and they did do a few stitches, which I actually felt those, so I wasn’t that… again, I was really happy with my epidural.
Adriana: Yeah, sounds like you had a lot of mobility for sure. And how was that first hour? Did he latch on?
Julia: Yeah. I had a lot of nurses trying to take control of the breastfeeding right away, and that’s where I kind of used my knowledge, of what I had seen from Nancy Mohrbacher and Theresa Nesbitt. And I really tried to, y’know, advocate for myself and say, like, “I want to do it this way,” and “Let’s just wait and see if he can do it by himself.” Yeah, that went well. I did it my way.
Adriana: You did the whole thing!
Julia: Mhm, yeah.
Adriana: And how was early postpartum, or is there any big surprises there?
Julia: Well, the one thing I should say is, I was still in the delivery room— there was no recovery room for me, they were so busy. And my family came to visit me around 11:00 a.m., and I was feeling great, but then I started feeling just like, y’know, I had so much fluid in me and three rounds of IV drugs that I did not want, and I started feeling just, like, terrible. I don’t even know how to describe it.
And I stood up to go to the bathroom— and my whole family’s in there, y’know, my dad, my five siblings, my husband (not my mom, of course, she didn’t make it back). I stood up and all this fluid and blood just flushed out of me. It was awful! And my sister, my 16 year old sister, is just like, “I’m traumatized. I’m traumatized!” She’s like, “I’m not doing this.” So her takeaway from the whole thing is, like, “traumatizing.” So that was kind of an embarrassing moment of just like, “Oh my God, everybody’s in here. They’ve seen me labor. They’ve seen so much of me. And this happens.”
Adriana: Birth can be so humbling at times! So looking back on an experience, how are you feeling about it? Is there anything you would do differently? What were those things that you haven’t mentioned that really helped?
Julia: Well, I think next time I definitely would like to remember that hospital as place of birth, y’know, is the main indicator for interventions, and try to do it, y’know, even more physiologically next time— maybe not in a hospital, to avoid those interventions.
And I think one thing I want to mention is that I did the placenta encapsulation, and I would highly recommend that, because that really boosted my mood. I had those capsules, which was great. But, interestingly, I had three rounds of antibiotics in me, and so I asked the doctor— but of course they don’t really, like, know that much about placenta encapsulation— but there really is no research out there in terms of “Do the antibiotics…” “Are they in my placenta?” And is it enough to keep, y’know, giving my baby a small dose every day? So I had some apprehension with encapsulating my placenta after having so much antibiotics, but I did it anyway and everything seemed fine.
Adriana: Yeah. There’s not that much research in general about placenta, and the research— ’cause if you think about it, so it’s such an individual organ— what the research has shown is that it seems to have different effects for different people. So I’m so happy that your placenta worked for you and made you feel better.
For some people, like you read, it’ll be like placenta encapsulation boosts your milk production, and then some people, it doesn’t (it lessens their milk production), and for some people it doesn’t help their mood. So it’s more of, like, if you’re gonna do it, be mindful of that and then pay attention If things aren’t great, stop the pills and see if that changes anything.
Julia: Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.
Adriana: There’s so many variables that it’s hard to get good data now, but, I mean, I’m thrilled that it worked for you, for sure.
Julia: Yeah, it worked great for me. I was feeling awesome immediately postpartum. And finally when we went, the day we got to come home from the hospital was the day that my mom was able to come over and she went… came straight from the airport to our house to see our baby. And I think I had set up a lot of support for that immediate postpartum, and I had doula, postpartum doula visits, which was wonderful. And really everything was, y’know, the way that I wanted it to be immediately postpartum.
What surprised me— and I think this is just probably parenting in general, because you go through stage after stage after stage, you can’t prepare for everything— but, now is, for me, it has been the hardest part. These last two months— kind of going back to work full-time and going through sleep regressions and y’know— you can only plan out so far of your support and what your life is gonna look like. So I think for me, just kind of being somebody who likes to be in control, I planned so much for the immediate, but I didn’t super duper think about long-term postpartum.
Adriana: And it’s hard, ’cause it is a long-term marathon!
Megan Othling, she’s a fabulous doula-childbirth educator in Albuquerque, in New Mexico. She has several kids. And finally her littlest one is getting to an age where, y’know, she feels like she’s finally come up for air. She was equating it to like, “There was an earthquake in my house, and I can finally sort through the rubble,” like “I can now look around and see what happened, and what I want to do,” like how I want to put this back together, or not what to throw away.
But it’s only now that she feels like, “Oh, okay, let’s assess the situation.” And I feel we need to know that more… that it takes, y’know, your baby’s… your newborn is gonna need you more than your baby, and your baby’s gonna need you more than your toddler, but they’re still gonna need you for years and years. It’s not until that, like, three to five, even seven years that you’re like, “Oh, what just happened?”
Julia: Mhm. And once you figure out one stage and you feel like you have it mastered, then the next stage comes and you’re a newbie again! So yeah, I think that’s just… I have to get used to that, that is parenting. Mhm.
Adriana: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Things will never be the same. You are transformed forever.
Julia: Yeah, definitely.
Adriana: Well, Julia, thank you so very much for coming on the show and wanting to share your story and all your insights of this “thinking brain” birth.
Julia: Yep. Next time, I’m really hoping that I can have a more internal experience, but this was what it was.
Adriana: That was your birth experience, and that’s what… That’s the only thing we can do, right?
Julia: Mhm, mhm.
Adriana: Make it yours! Thank you so very much.
Julia: Thank you, Adriana!
That was teacher and mom, Julia Cooper. Julia shared with us the most adorable newborn pictures, and you can see them on her episode page at birthful.com. Since we talked, she’s also had two more births, with one being a homebirth that went great, and the other being a planned homebirth turned hospital birth because her baby decided to show up at 34 weeks. Julia says that turned out to be her most empowering birth experience!
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Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Story] How She Navigated a Long Birth While Waiting for Her Support Team to Arrive.” Birthful, Birthful. December 21, 2022. Birthful.com.
About Julia Cooper
Julia Cooper is a teacher and former Zumba instructor, who shared her first birth experience with us on the Birthful podcast a few years ago. Since then, she has welcomed two more children to her family: one during a homebirth, and the other in a planned homebirth-turned-hospital birth when her baby arrived at 34 weeks, which she describes as “honestly my most empowering birth experience!”
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