Isla’s birth story

Isla’s birth story

Name: Isla Elizabeth Sohner

Born: 6:37 p.m., June 25, 2020

Size: 6 lbs., 8 oz. and 19.5 in.

Isla on my chest, a few hours after birth.

The days before

During the final weeks of my pregnancy, my OBs and midwife casually remarked that the baby was still very “high” and had not started to “drop.” Between that and the fact that I hadn’t shown any other signs of labor, they expected me to go well past my due date — all the way up until 41 weeks and 5 days, before considering induction. At my appointment on June 22, my midwife made an appointment for the following Monday and confidently said, “I’ll see you here next week.”

With that in mind, I tried to relax as much as possible and embraced that the baby would come when he or she wanted to. Dan surprised me with takeout from one of our favorite restaurants, which we enjoyed while watching the sunset from Independence Pass. I also had really pleasant acupuncture and chiropractor appointments, which helped me feel more prepared for labor, both physically and mentally, and put me at ease.

A few days later, on June 24, I saw a bear cub in the wild for the first time. He and I locked eyes before he scurried off, and as Dan and I had been referring to the baby as “baby bear,” I felt like it was a sign that our “bear” would be here soon.

That night, seemingly out of the blue, I told Dan,  “I just have this feeling the baby will be here soon — like maybe tomorrow or the next day.”

Labor day

Sure enough, around 4 a.m. on June 25, I woke up with some intense pelvic pain. I did yet another Google search to remind myself that the act of baby “dropping” could be cause alone and assumed that might be the source. It also occurred to me that I could be experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, which had been increasing in intensity over the last few weeks.

For the next few hours, I carried on as though it were a normal day — working from home and joining work meetings. Around noon, though, I felt as though the contractions were starting to pick up a bit of rhythm, and I thought it would be best to sign off for the day. I asked Dan to go for a walk, and as we did, he started timing the contractions like a track coach (start! stop! start!). We didn’t walk far before we both concluded that this was “real,” and we called our doula, Hillery, shortly after.

Hillery planned to meet us at our house at 3:30 p.m. It had always been our “plan” to labor at home as long as possible before heading to the hospital; I mostly wanted to take advantage of comforts — the freedom to move around, to eat and to stretch. I read birth affirmations I had written on index cards and practiced a few hypnobirthing techniques, including visualizing the colors of the rainbow.

Her heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord; she will have no fear.

One of my birth affirmations.

When Hillery arrived, I had started active labor, and she helped me cope with any pain I was experiencing. Between Hillery and Dan, I felt so loved and supported, which put me more at ease.

Shortly thereafter, while I meandered between the shower and bed, I heard Dan packing the car and calling my OB and midwife to let them know we would be leaving for the hospital soon. Unexpectedly, though, when Hillery told me it was time to leave, I froze and said, “I don’t think I can go to the hospital. I can’t get in the car.”

I’m not sure what hit me at that moment. I knew I was wrong for saying those words soon as I heard them leave my mouth, but it’s truly how I felt. Maybe it was the fear of going to the hospital and being in a clinical environment; maybe it was the nearly hour long drive through winding canyons. I don’t know if I’ll ever know, but I am grateful for Hillery, who helped/forced me to walk to the car between contractions. 

On our way to the hospital, Dan called my midwife again, who said she would meet us there. While he was talking to her, though, she heard me working through an intense contraction and, based on my reaction, suggested that she follow us to the hospital in her car because … wait for it… she thought there was a good chance she might have to deliver the baby on the side of the highway if we didn’t make it to the hospital in time. To this day, I’m thankful that conversation stayed between her and Dan, and that Dan didn’t share that with me until after delivery.

About halfway through our drive, I suddenly recognized the urge to push. We still had about 20 more minutes before reaching the hospital, but I could feel baby descending. I grabbed Dan’s hand and said, “The baby is here!” Fortunately, Hillery stayed on speaker phone with us and coached me through breathing exercises to intentionally stall labor.

She’s here!

Though we did not have a “highway baby,” my midwife did call the hospital to ask that we be allowed to park at the emergency entrance and for attendants to have a wheelchair ready. Sure enough, they met us at our car and whisked me off — running — to the labor and delivery room. 

As soon as we arrived in the room, a team of nurses worked quickly to administer antibiotics. In the meantime, my midwife confirmed what I had suspected — that I was fully dilated and as soon as I had the antibiotics in my system, it would be time to push.

At the time, I didn’t realize that we were mere minutes away from meeting our baby. Based on ultrasound measurements and what I had been hearing during weekly prenatal appointments, I had assumed I would be pushing for hours. So, I didn’t hesitate to ask whether it was too late to receive some pain relief. Administering an epidural was out of the question and because of COVID-19, the hospital was not offering nitrous oxide as an option. My midwife simply told me, “You can have a break after you deliver this baby.”

The ensuing minutes were a blur, but they went by quickly. Within just over 10 minutes and four “pushes,” Dan placed our baby on my chest. He confirmed that our little girl was, in fact, a girl, and through happy tears told me, “It’s Isla! Isla is here.”

The next few moments truly felt magical. Riding a wave of adrenaline, we admired our daughter and gave thanks for a fast and safe labor (and grateful it took place at the hospital). 

Over the course of the next hours, we eagerly called our parents and siblings and sent texts to close friends and family. We laughed at all of the thought and preparation that went into packing our hospital bags (pillows from home, essential oils and homeopathic remedies, snacks, etc.) — which didn’t even make it into the room with us. We didn’t take a picture of our leaving the house as planned, nor did we take a single picture of laboring at the hospital.

That all seemed so small, though, as we held our new world in our arms.

Overall thoughts and final reflections

While our plan all along was to labor at home as much as possible, if I were to do it all over again, I probably would have gone to the hospital sooner. I’m glad everything went smoothly as soon as we did arrive; it just felt chaotic and rushed. 

When Hillery had asked Dan and I what kind of environment we wanted to welcome our daughter into, I had envisioned a calm, peaceful and quiet room. Maybe we would play some favorite songs off a playlist Dan had put together, and have lavender essential oils wafting in the room, which would be softly lit by fairy lights. 

None of that happened, but of course, in the grand scheme of thing, none of it really matters either. I am grateful that Dan did managed to grab copies of our birth plan to share with my midwife and the team of nurses, who honored our values for the remainder of labor and delivery that was left.

I’ve also thought a lot about the supportive and loving women who were with us that day — from Hillery coming to our house, to meeting our midwife en route to the hospital, as well as my OB and the team of labor and delivery nurses. They were all so loving and caring, and I’m thankful those were the first people (all women!) whom Isla met.

My recovery has been going well, and I think a large part of that is because of the lack of interventions I experienced. I’m grateful that I had an unmedicated birth, but upon further reflection, I do think it was silly for me to feel guilty when I apologized to Dan, in the car, for telling him that I “needed” an epidural or something to manage the pain. I should not have apologized — he reminded me that I was capable of making that decision — after all, we don’t have to have remorse for doing what we think is best/necessary in the moment. Labor is hard, and we shouldn’t judge women for making such personal choices for their babies and bodies. The goal is a safe delivery for mom and for baby — period.

Lastly, I am most thankful and proud of Dan. In the final weeks of pregnancy, he waited on me hand and foot and put a lot of work and studying into our pregnancy course. There’s no doubt that it wouldn’t have been such a relatively smooth experience without him, and he was so incredibly in tune with everything that was going on.

We named our daughter Isla, from the Scottish Island of Islay, where her dad spent some meaningful time several summers ago. About a week after she was born, through genealogy research done by our neighbor, we also discovered that some of my dad’s maternal ancestors from the 12th and 13th centuries resided on the same island and two served as Lords of the Isles. Her middle name is my mother’s given name, and also one that is common in several family members of both of our families.

After being told to expect a baby boy for all nine months of my pregnancy, we couldn’t help but be surprised and so smitten with our little Isla.

My world.