Charlie’s Birth Story

It’s probably not the greatest mom move to say that Charlie’s birth was my favorite, but I’m going to anyway. Not my favorite kid (they’re all my favorite!), but my favorite birthing experience, I think.

I claim this partly because he is my last. Because I want to go out on this whole pregnancy and birthing season of my life on a high note. I want to think that I have learned from each birth before and that all my wisdom and bravery and strength culminated in this one. 

I’ll briefly begin Charlie’s birth story back towards conception. I have always charted my cycle well and thus had a pretty good grasp on when he came to be. That put my due date on February 15, 2021; last menstrual cycle put it at February 19th.

Mid-pregnancy, after my 20 week anatomy scan his growth landed his due date squarely on Valentine’s Day. It was fun to say “I’m due on Valentine’s!” so I went with that for the most part. But, on paper, with my midwife, I chose February 19th, so, in the event that I went “overdue” I wouldn’t risk out of a home birth.

This proved wise, because as Valentine’s Day passed and then all of February it became more and more apparent that Charlie would arrive on Charlie time. Although I desperately wanted him to be born in February – to share a birth month with my Dad who passed in January 2021 – the calendar turned to March and I accepted that not rushing his arrival would be best for us all. Granted, my midwife had agreed to break my water on the 28th to make my February wishes come true, but, when it came down to making those plans I just didn’t feel peace about it. Birth isn’t about my control; and I was very much trying to control things. Birth is a surrendering to self, to the breaking of one to become two, to my having faith that not only can I do this, but I can do this without intervention. 

On Monday, March 1st I was 3cm dilated. I would be 42 weeks, with my longest dates, on Friday, March 5th, and so, to avoid risking out we penciled in Thursday, March 4th at 8pm as our “kick off labor” appointment. 

All week I dreaded that evening. I was beyond anxious to hold my baby but I was more anxious to walk through the unknowns of labor. Having a deadline looming made everything so real and so much of me wanted to stop time and just keep Charlie safe inside forever. Dealing with the grief of losing my Dad amidst other life changes kept me guarded, and I think my mothering instinct was strong in evading labor knowing that once he was earth side he too would endure all the ups and downs of life. Lest you be fooled, yes, this birth was by far my most emotional. I knew I could physically birth, no matter how much I disliked the process, but I wasn’t so sure if I could channel my heart through the transition, it was already holding so much.

On Thursday, March 4th I spent all morning tidying our birth space. If my labor went quick, like with Max and Eli, he would be born that night. I prepped our bed, vacuumed, cleaned the bath tub, diffused calming oils, and opened the windows for fresh air. I laid out his first outfit and played my birth playlist knowing this was my chance to get in the mood since I never like my birth music during actual labor. I put on make up (this was the first baby I knew was coming at a certain time and figured I could aim to look fresh and fancy) and then made the kids and I lunch. We settled in for afternoon naps and I prayed peace and health over my belly. Today was the day. I had to accept that we were out of time and that not only would I not be getting my February birth but I also hadn’t avoided intervention. 

Dominic and Jemma left mid nap for an appointment and to pick up groceries so when the boys woke up from nap I shuffled them to the living room for a movie. I wanted to quietly lay alone and just be with Charlie. 

And then I felt some cramping. Nothing major or “real”. Just some discomfort. It was about 4pm. I closed my eyes and 10 minutes later felt another wave of cramps wrap around my belly. “Hmmmm, two in 10 minutes, this couldn’t be …” I texted Dominic to give him a head’s up, because when you’ve had a baby in 90 minutes (Eli) and another unassisted birth (Max) it’s best to rally your team sooner rather than later. 

It became apparent that contractions were starting. I was in labor! We wouldn’t have to break my water after all! Charlie was coming on his own time and I was so very relieved!

I asked Max to bring me some water and then oversee his brothers. I told Dominic to proceed with grocery pick up but to also call our midwife. My mom and sister were already en route thanks to our 8pm plan. I got in a warm bath to soak and as I did I read the day’s devotional from Ann Voskamp, “Peace isn’t a place – it’s a Person. Peace isn’t a place to arrive at – but a Person to abide in. ‘I myself am your peace,’ says Jesus.”

That was the peace I needed. Jesus. The only one who knew exactly what this year would bring. The one who knew Charlie’s birth date all along. The one who would breathe peace into my precious boy allowing him to be the balm our family needed.

Shortly before 6pm everyone arrived. By then I was pausing conversation to breathe through contractions. One at a time, one leading to the next, and eventually one leading to baby. It’s so hard to not get ahead of yourself during labor. To time everything. To ask how much longer. But I have learned, and I so desperately tried to practice, to stay in the moment. To weather just this one. To relax in between. 

When my bath water got cold I dried off, dressed, and went to the bathroom. I labored there awhile willing that open and release vibe of the toilet to draw baby down.

By 7pm I moved to the bathroom counter, leaning on it during the intensifying contractions. I closed my eyes and moaned. Not being new to birth I was aware of what was coming next – harder contractions, more pain, the ring of fire. I cried and Dominic did what Dominic does best – he poured out the affirmations and offered a gentle hand. I swear, this man of mine is king when it comes to his role of birth partner. He knows what I need before I need it and pushes me just enough to get me through.

After a particularly rough contraction I told Dominic that I wanted to change positions and try leaning on the birth ball. Our midwives, Siri and Ineke, rolled it into the bathroom and I sensed them moving in closer. Siri had gloves on and Ineke was regularly checking baby’s heart rate. As I leaned on the birth ball I said something along the lines of, “You are all acting like he’s coming soon but I do not feel like pushing and he still seems high …” I wanted to yell, “Back off! It’s not time!” But it was, they saw telltale signs of transitions … I just hadn’t accepted it yet.

I asked Siri if she thought I was close. Could she could check my progress? Should we break my water? She said she would check and then we would assess what to do next. 

I was about 9 cm and very stretchy, she said. If we broke my water it would certainly speed things up. My contractions were unbearable, they always are at this point, and I felt like I had it in me to sprint to the end. I told her yes, break my water, and with just a little pressure on a bulging pocket, a giant gush flooded out. 

All along Max had planned to be present at his brother’s birth. He claimed to be my “midhusband”, but at that point my sweet boy got overwhelmed and left the bathroom. I’m honestly impressed he stuck around for so much! I am not a calm laboring person – he was so brave to stand watch.

Charlie dropped as soon as my water broke, dilating my cervix to a 10, and engaging all those pushy feelings. Draped over the birth ball which was wedged between Dominic’s legs, I anchored my hands around his calf and ankle and started to bear down (note Dominic’s watch, 7:38pm, and the killer contraction that happened right about then). Ineke calmly reminded me to rest between contractions and Siri supported my perineum to reduce the chance of tearing. Two, long, hard pushes and his head was out, two more and his body followed. My water had broken around 7:40pm and Charlie was officially born at 7:47pm. 

Siri held Charlie momentarily while Dominic helped me move to a seated position. I embraced my sweet baby, my fifth, my fourth boy, the perfect bookend to our family. He was here!

When my water broke Siri saw some meconium, common in very full term babies, so she quickly suctioned him to aid his breathing. He perked right up and cried that beautiful newborn cry. I adore the picture of Max hearing his little brother’s first cry outside our door. Pure joy!

Ineke brought me an awful, but effective tincture to continue contractions that help release the placenta. I birthed that in the bathroom about ten minutes after Charlie. Dominic held our son while my midwives settled me into bed and by 8:15pm we were introducing the kids to their new baby brother!

We had the sweetest night visiting and meeting Charlie. I held him and cut his cord. He nursed. We shared our happy news with family and friends and around 10pm we started his newborn assessment. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (one of my third trimester cravings) and a quart of coconut water during it all. Birth is hard work … gotta refuel!

We all placed our bets on his weight and we’re all surprised when he came in at a whopping 10 pounds, 15 ounces! Not my biggest baby, but way more than we thought he would be based on how he looked. Come to find out, he was 23.5 inches long so we think he got some extra weight thanks to his length.

Without a doubt, Eli was the most enamored with his new brother. He was there for every moment post birth, smiling ear to ear and jumping in to care for “my baby Charlie”. Reid observed from a distance while Max diligently checked on me. After witnessing so much of labor I think he was mostly relieved that I had survived. Early in labor Jem went to a friend’s house – my being in labor was not her cup of tea and I encouraged her to go and just come back to meet Charlie when she was ready. All evening she sent me the sweetest texts and the next morning she held and rocked him with a maternal love that has grown exponentially over time.

Shortly before midnight Dominic saw our midwives out. He made me a placenta smoothie and then we all went to bed; our first night as a family of seven. First nights with new babies are some of the very best. There is nothing like seeing and holding a person you have known for so long and yet have just officially met.

While everyone fell asleep I rode the adrenaline high. I listened to my birth playlist again and cried happy tears (Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years is the best/worst!). I had a sweet, healthy newborn sleeping on my chest and all the worries of a pending birth evaporated.

I am so grateful for Charlie’s birth story – the big and little details were exactly what I needed. God knew. Funny how that always seems to be the case. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn beforehand!

The next day we finalized Charlie’s middle name – Koehler, after my mom – and every day since we’ve been amazed at how perfect Charlie is for us. Truly, he is such a joy, the perfect blessing in this chaotic season.

Charlie Koehler, we love you so!

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, Gretchen, what a beautiful birth story. And I’m so sorry to hear you lost your dad just in January. Thinking of you!

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