September 23, 2017, I gave birth to a perfect, precious, darling little girl in a birth center in Spanish Fork, Utah. We named her Iris Elena. This is my entire, completely unfiltered, unmedicated birth story starting from my first contraction to our first moments with her. If you’re at all sensitive to ANYTHING birth related, this isn’t for you and you should probably stop right here. There’s your warning. This gets pretty personal.
Thursday, September 21
Thursday evening, I started having regular Braxton Hicks contractions. I’d been having these contractions since about 34 weeks so at first, I wasn’t concerned. These contractions are completely painless. I was only able to feel them because my uterus would get ROCK hard during them. I noticed they were coming about once or twice every hour, which caught my attention because they were always very irregular. That evening, Alonso and I went to his work party where they had a casino night. I was so distracted the whole time because I kept waiting for the next contraction. I remember telling his coworkers when they asked when the baby was coming that she “should be here this weekend.” I had the strangest feeling that our little one would be making her debut very soon and that these mild contractions were the start of labor.
Friday, September 22
Friday morning at 9am, Alonso asked me before he left for work if he should stay and be there with me in case these contractions turned into the real thing. I said no because the contractions hadn’t progressed and I felt fine (and very tired). I fell back asleep until about 10:30am, when I was woken up with a crazy urge to pee (nothing new here). I did feel something kind of strange down there so I wondered if I had lost my mucus plug. (The barrier between my baby and the outside world. If you lose the plug, labor usually starts soon after). Sure enough, as soon as I sat down, I saw a huge clot of blood fall into the toilet followed by more blood. It was very similar to a period. Of course, within SECONDS of that happening, I was on the phone with Alonso. “You need to come home.” “Right now?” “Yup. I think I’m in labor.” As soon as I got off the phone with him, I called my birth center’s midwife hotline to tell them what happened and ask if it was concerning. The midwife said it was normal and that labor could start any time, but not to get my hopes up because it could be awhile….. Not really what I was looking for lol. I wanted real answers! AM I IN LABOR OR NOT?! At this point, I was still having Braxton Hicks contractions and wasn’t progressing in pain or time in between contractions. Sigh.
Alonso made it home soon after my call with him and we spent the day together, patiently waiting for things to progress. We went to Zaxby’s for lunch and then we ran an important errand because we knew I’d be in labor soon and we didn’t want to have to do this with a baby. More on that later. 😉 It was a rainy, cold day and I loved it. Alonso and I enjoyed our time together.
That night, my hormones must’ve peaked because I had a huge meltdown while looking at pictures of baby Dumbo…. Like, HUGE. It was so dumb. But these feelings were so real to me. I was about to have a tiny baby that loved me and would miss me and need me and for some reason, baby Dumbo connected these dots lol. I was sobbing. You would’ve thought someone died. Wel I wanted to distract myself so Alonso and I started watching the movie Lion on Netflix (highly highly recommend). All of a sudden, and I really mean that, I had a mildly painful contraction. On a scale from 1-10, a 2. More than uncomfortable but not quite painful. I knew right away it was the start of labor. I paused the movie right away and told Alonso what happened. “This could be it.” We IMMEDIATELY got up and packed our birth bags. I was 100% positive I was in the early stages of labor. After we packed our bags, we decided to go to sleep and try to get some rest to prepare for what was to come. I slept mayyyybe two hours that night. Each contraction was slowly getting more painful, about a 3 on the pain scale. Alonso applied counterpressure to my lower back during some of the contractions. I would say, “Help,” and he’d be right there applying pressure to my lower back to help relieve the pain. It helped sooooo much. It was a long, rough night for both of us. I was checking the time every hour, impatient for morning so I could get up and start moving around. I was trying to preserve my energy so I stayed in bed as long as I could.
Saturday, September 23
7am, I got up. I was so DONE with laying in bed while trying to get through my contractions. I was so ready and so excited!! I texted both of our family’s group chats and told them what was going on. My mother-in-law called me right away and said I should probably go in to the birth center to get my cervix checked for dilation. I decided to start timing my contractions to see if I was ready to go in. My midwives had told me previously that once my contractions were 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, I should go in. They were currently 6 minutes apart and 45 seconds long. I called the midwife hotline at 7:15am to tell my midwife I was just about ready to go in. Katia, the midwife who answered, said she’d meet me at the birth center in an hour. I put on some face makeup, braided my hair back, and left for the birth center immediately. Alonso and I were pretty quiet. We were both exhausted and a bit in shock. We just couldn’t believe it was finally happening.
Once we got to the birth center, my midwife, Katia, checked my cervix and said I was 2cm dilated, almost a 3. I needed to get to a 10 to have the baby. We had a lonnng way to go. She asked if I wanted to get my membranes swept and my cervix stretched to help get things moving along, or if I wanted to get some sleep and let things progress naturally. Uhhh, if you know me, you know I’m pretty impatient so I opted for the sweep. It was the most uncomfortable thing ever. Ugh. I hated it. But as soon as she stretched me, I was immediately 5cm dilated and the contractions instantly got WAY more uncomfortable. I was at the point where I had to focus on breathing through the contractions. I moaned very very deeply to help with the pain and tried to relax my body as much as possible to let the pain in so my body would progress. Katia said it would be awhile and that I should go eat breakfast and come back in an hour to be admitted. Alonso and I went to his brother’s home, a 5 minute drive (IF that), and ate some homemade bread and a protein shake for breakfast. We drove back to the birth center and I was “admitted” at 9:45am. This was it.
As soon as I got there, my midwife inserted an IV (after four pokes… ouchhh) to receive antibiotics because I tested positive for Group B Strep. During my labor, I ended up having three rounds of the antibiotics. Ten minutes after the first round was given to me, my midwife and her assistant, Dominique, left Alonso and I alone to rest and take a nap. It was a short nap, in between contractions, but it ended up being sooo helpful. We really needed that energy boost.
Around 12pm, I asked to have my cervix checked to see how far along I was. I knew I hadn’t progressed much because my contractions weren’t any more painful and hadn’t gotten closer together. I was only a 5.5-6ish. Greaaaat. They were painful enough for me to try to labor in the tub, though. A hot bath is the “midwife’s epidural” and at that point, I was eager to see if it was all it was talked up to be. It felt SO GOOD. The second I slid into the tub, the pain went down from about a 5 to a 2. Alonso said it was so nice to see me smile again. I stayed there for less than half an hour because even with a fan directly on my face, the heat of the steam was making me overheat.
As soon as I got out, I put on my robe and ate a late lunch with Alonso in the lobby of the birth center. We had the whooollle place to ourselves so we were free to roam wherever we wanted. We ate a more or less fancy chicken hot pocket as we stared outside at the falling rain, passing cars, and the vendor right outside the birth center selling corn and watermelon. We talked about how weird it was that everyone outside was experiencing a normal day and here I was, in labor and in so much pain yet the world just kept going. It was very calming.
After we ate, Katia came in and asked me what I wanted to do to help me progress. The relaxation of the tub had set me back a little so we needed to get things going. She asked if I wanted to get my membranes swept again and if she could break my water to speed things up. I was sooo scared to get my water broken. I had read and heard that once the water breaks, labor becomes intense and stays that way until the baby is born. At this point, I was doing SO well with my contractions. I was completely in control and completely aware. In between contractions, I was totally myself. Able to laugh, talk, and get comfortable again. Alonso had been giving me constant countepressure as well, and that was helping me get through them so much. I wasn’t sure what it would be like if they got any more intense. I finally mustered up the courage and let her sweep my membranes again. We then moved to the birthing stool and she broke my water. (Kind of). She said she didn’t really have to break it because the moment she touched the sack, it broke on it’s own. She popped it during a contraction while I was a little out of it, so as soon as I came out of the contraction I thought I’d peed myself. There was fluid EVERYWHERE. Alonso texted my photographer, Jordi @jordijerae, immediately and said to head on over as I was now 8cm dilated and would be progressing a lot quicker now. It was about 4pm.
Things got super intense FAST but I was still aware and was able to talk to Jordi, Alonso, and my midwives with complete control. I still felt like myself. But, I was getting tired and a little impatient. I was getting through my contractions well, even though they were at about a 7 on the pain scale. I was ready for more. I didn’t care how much more painful it was going to be, I wanted to start pushing soon. I asked Katia what I should be doing to keep things moving along. She told me to walk up and down the hall for half an hour while my midwives prepared the tub again because I wanted to have a water birth.
Once I started walking, I entered labor land. This is the part of labor that I BARELY remember and only in bits and pieces. Labor land is the part right before the pushing starts. It’s agonizing. I walked for the full thirty minutes with Alonso and Katia applying HEAVY counterpressure on my hips. I was clawing at the walls so hard I thought I was scratching the paint off. I could tell my hips were opening up in preparation for the baby to pass through. I was still moaning low and loud, to direct the energy from my body dowwwwn down down to help the baby move towards my cervix. My contractions were so close together that I was no longer getting breaks. It was incredibly difficult. I can’t describe the feeling of the contractions because I’ve never felt anything like them before. I have nothing to compare them to. What I can say is that they were no longer focused on my uterus, they were everywhere. My whole body was contracting. I still had good control, but not for much longer.
After I finished walking, I went straight to the tub. I started to feel completely out of control. I was crying, cursing. I do not think I’m accountable for anything I said during this time haha. I was there in the tub for 20 minutes. I felt like I was thrashing during contractions, trying desperately to find a position that gave me some comfort. I don’t remember this part but both Alonso and Dominique were applying counterpressure to me. I had no idea whose hands were on me and where, I only know what helped and what didn’t. I was starting to get really impatient with Alonso. I needed more counterpressure. My poor Alonso. He told me that at this point, he was so exhausted from applying so much pressure that he thought he might pass out. He said I had him pressing so hard he thought he was going to break my back. (I can say now, postpartum, he was probably right. I had major back pain and bruising during the first couple of days after birth because of this). He said the one thing that helped him get through it was thinking of how much pain I was going through and seeing me in agony. Gah. I love him so much. I really could not have done this without him.
I soon realized that the tub wasn’t doing anything for me like it did before. The contractions were sooo intense and I needed to move around and change positions. I went to the side of the bed and stayed there for 10-15 minutes, draped over the bed with constant counterpressure from Alonso on my lower back. (By the way, I’m totally going off of Alonso’s memory now. This part is all so hazy to me). I was getting desperate, so I asked for nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to see if that would help me get through these contractions. I DO remember this part. It was so awful. Not only was I having terrible contractions, but with the gas, I felt like I was going to pass out during them. I used it during one contraction and that was that.
This next part, I’m not proud of. The day after I gave birth, I felt so ashamed about it. I hit a LOW. Which meant it was almost time to deliver the baby. I was literally begging for anything to get me through them. I begged my midwives to help me. I envisioned Katia reaching her hands into my uterus and pulling the baby out herself. I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to get transported to the hospital. I wanted an epidural. ANYTHING. Katia basically told me, “I don’t know where you think you’re gonna go but you’re having this baby here.” I love Katia and that’s what I needed to hear. I wasn’t getting transferred to a hospital. She wasn’t going to have the baby for me. I was going to have to do it. I knew there was no pain killer in the birth center I could use, so naturally, the next best thing (the obvious best thing), was to push the baby out myself. I told my midwives, “I want to push. Please help me push. I need this baby out NOW.” Katia told me to push, and she would stretch my cervix the rest of the way while doing so, so my body could be ready and wide enough to push her out. I sat on the birth stool and pushed so hard while she stretched me the rest of the way. Because my body wasn’t ready to push yet, I ended up going #1 and #2 EVERYWHERE. Alonso saw, my midwives saw, my photographer saw. And I didn’t freakin care. All I cared about was getting this baby out. I continued to push a few times on the birth stool, but my body wasn’t responding well to it so I tried squatting, hoping the change in position would help me feel that urge to push. Nothing felt right.
Katia eventually recommended I move to the bed and get on my hands and knees. This position felt so right and I started feeling the urge to push her out. At first, I used each contraction to push about 3 times, 4 if I was really up for it. I felt like nothing was happening though. I finally asked after a few contractions, “Am I progressing??” She said, “Yes!! I can see her hair!” HER HAIR. My baby had hair. She was real, and she was right there. I kept pushing and pushing, asking her if I was progressing between every contraction. I was desperate to hear that she was moving. It had been about 10 minutes since I had moved to the bed and the baby was moving down very slowly. Finally, I took a contraction and gave it my all. I was ready to be done. My body was so exhausted. I gave myself the biggest boost of confidence I could muster up and I pushed. I must’ve pushed about 10 times during that contraction. I was screaming. I felt all the blood rush to my face. (I ended up popping what seemed like a hundred blood vessels during this part. It looked like tiny little freckles everywhere). And then I felt it. The ring of fire. I’d read about this in articles so I knew exactly what it was. It was the head moving through the vagina, and it supposedly felt like a ring of fire. UHHH YUP. It does. It was painful, but not compared to my contractions. As soon as I felt that sensation, I heard my midwife and husband telling me “GREAT JOB! SHE’S RIGHT THERE!” During the next contraction, I didn’t stop pushing until I felt a long, warm, slippery body leave mine.
This next part, I really can’t remember. I was in total and complete shock. My midwife told me to lay down on my back so I could hold her. I probably would’ve been on my hands and knees still if she hadn’t told me to move. Alonso said he’d never see my face like that. Just totally shocked. I saw my whole journey and pregnancy. I saw my two miscarriages and how the pain had led me to this moment. This is the moment I’d been waiting for, and it was finally here. This was it. I looked down and saw a slippery little baby with lots of hair, and she was quickly moved to my chest. Holding her warm body against mine was magic. Alonso told me I was saying, “My baby.. My baby” over and over again. Iris didn’t cry, so I got very concerned and asked the midwife repeatedly if she was okay. I found out later that she had come out with her cord around her neck and was not breathing. Katia rubbed her back vigorously until she let out a small cry, which finally soothed my worry. I held her for about ten minutes before saying, “I don’t even know what she looks like! Is she a girl??” I flipped her over and looked at her beautiful face for the first time, in a state of bliss and completely in love. She looked so perfect and I couldn’t believe she was all mine. She latched on quickly and I nursed her right away. Everything felt so right. I felt SO complete. She’s the most beautiful thing to me and I would do this all over again just for her.
I was a little traumatized after my delivery. I couldn’t come to terms with what I’d just gone through. I kept asking Alonso, “Are you sure I did alright? Was I okay?” I’d heard from so many women that had unmedicated childbirth that they felt like superwomen after, and felt little pain after delivery. HOW. I was so miserable from the pain, and I felt like anything but Superwoman. I was almost embarrassed. I didn’t want to see my midwife again because I felt ashamed about my labor and delivery. I wished I had been stronger emotionally and physically. I wished I hadn’t wished for mercy. I became so hard on myself and for a few days, I didn’t talk about the details of my experience with anyone.
After a few days had passed, I started drilling Alonso, asking him what happened during those last parts of my labor that I couldn’t remember. I started to write my birth story and I was able to evaluate and reflect on my labor. During this, I became proud of myself. I did it. It no longer matters to me if I did it with complete confidence and strength, I did what seemed like the impossible and I have such a beautiful baby girl to show for it. I feel differently now about my labor and delivery than I did initially. Now, I see it as a beautiful experience that shaped me and mine and Alonso’s relationship. I see it as a very defining moment for me. I also think it prepared me to be a mother. It’s going to be hard, beautiful, and sometimes extremely trying but it’s what I was made to do and I know I’ll get through every hard time and appreciate all the good. This was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but God gave me strength and Alonso gave me strength to get through it. I am so strong. Stronger than I ever knew I was and I have so much more respect for myself having gone through this. Our bodies are truly so amazing and are capable of doing the hardest of things. I love my body so much for what it is capable of doing. I am grateful to my body for giving me my little girl.
If you got this far, thank you for reading. This story is near and dear to my heart just as the little girl I gave birth to is.
Iris Elena Valenzuela
8:57pm on September 23, 2017
20 3/4 inches long
Photographer: Jordi Sharp Scott @jordijerae