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“I just keep feeling like he’s going to be born during a thunderstorm.”

Nile’s story begins 1,850 miles from Des Moines, in the warm waters of Negril, Jamaica on October 12, 2013. Bob and I were on our belated honeymoon to the amazing resort Couples Swept Away. No, Nile was not conceived in Jamaica, but something equally as awe inspiring did happen that day. As the afternoon turned to evening, a huge thunderstorm rolled through. Bob and I ran out into the ocean as the storm moved out to sea. Leftover raindrops were trickling into the clear water and the sand underfoot was buzzing from the energy of the storm. Lightning was moving through the stormclouds, and as you looked west there was an opening in the sky. Through the opening were vivid colors of red, orange, pink and purple as the sun was setting through the storm. It was in this moment that I felt entirely connected to the Earth and the Universe, it was like a beautiful dream that stays with you even when you wake up. If spiritual is a word you use to describe the indescribable, then it was the most spiritual moment of my life. In the ocean water miles away from home with no one else around us, another presence grew stronger with each passing moment. An excitement and knowledge that came with that presence was that our baby would be with coming soon. Some cultures believe a baby’s spirit chooses it’s parents well before it is conceived. This moment is when Nile’s spirit found me.

Approximately 6 weeks later at the beginning of December, we were overjoyed to learn we were pregnant. I had spent the last few years educating myself on pregnancy, birth and babies. I followed every birthing blog, website and read every book I could get my hands on. In fact when we discovered we were pregnant we were already enrolled in natural childbirth classes through Mama Strength Birth Services. I was already an established client with the Willowsong Midwives at Healing Passages. I was so thankful after all my research to find providers that would be on the same page with me during a pregnancy. Bob and I had put forth a lot of effort during the months before conception to clean up our diet, take quality supplements and vitamins, and be physically active. This continued into my pregnancy, though I will say the first trimester was hard to eat as healthy as we usually had been. My midwife gave me a great piece of advice about giving myself grace during the first trimester. As I had been eating so healthy beforehand, and would continue to once I felt better in the second trimester.

I started feeling baby move around 15 weeks, music seemed to really make baby move around. On our second wedding anniversary we found out the gender of baby at 18 weeks. It was a boy! I was scared because I felt like I didn’t know much about little boys. But as my pregnancy continued I grew more in love with the idea of baby being a boy. A few days after we learned the gender we hosted a gender reveal party with our families at our house. All week we were going through boy names to make sure our original name was the one we were set on. So as we announced our baby was a boy, we also announced that his name would be Nile Robert Dopf.

Nile turned head down sometime in the month of May and was very low throughout the summer. I struggled with pain on my pelvic bone, and soon taking walks became difficult. As the weather grew warmer I started going to a public pool to walk (and float) in the lazy river. Throughout my pregnancy I received regular chiropractic care and prenatal massage at Full Circle Wellness. I started attending Roots Prenatal yoga classes around 20 weeks. I loved getting to share space with other pregnant women each week, and to hear different opinions on the class topics. Yoga is one of my favorite forms of exercise, and attending class was an extra incentive to keep active and connect to baby Nile. I continued with Roots Prenatal Yoga through the summer as the yoga poses helped strengthen and stretch my pelvic muscles while relieving the aches and pains of pregnancy too.

As August ushered in I felt like I had so much to do to prepare for baby still. Our birth tub arrived on August 7th. We had met with our doulas, Des Moines Doula Collective, Jenn Riggs and Beth Jackson multiple times. By this time we were doing weekly appointments with our midwives. Each appointment was 30-45 minutes in a relaxed atmosphere of the Healing Passages Sherman Hill. Bob would comment afterwards on how he felt like the conversations between me and midwives were so fluid, almost like we finished each other’s sentences. It made him feel more at ease to have this dynamic with our providers too. Nile was always very active in the womb and on the second weekend of August there was a supermoon that really got him making big movements and extra kicking. I wondered if he would come early as he wasn’t expected until later in August.
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Wednesday August 13th:
That following Wednesday is when things started to roll, albeit very slowly. That evening Bob and I both went to haircut appointments. I remember while I was sitting and waiting for Bob to finish, I started to get that uncomfortable crampy feeling again. It was different than what I had been feeling in the previous weeks with tightness at the top of my belly, this was almost more purposeful. Later that evening I sat in our birth tub to relax. When I got out of the water, for the first time the uncomfortable cramping felt more like a wave. There was a beginning and an end to it. Almost able to time and slightly repetitive. This would continue into the night.

Thursday August 14th:
The next morning we had a prenatal appointment with midwife Kari. I talked to her about the change in cramping and she offered to check where my cervix for peace of mind. I decided to go ahead with the check so I knew if this was more of the same or if labor was really beginning to start up. I was 70-80 percent effaced and 1-2 inches dilated. She warned me this had no bearing on WHEN baby Nile would show up, could be the weekend, could be in another week. But that my body was working and getting things ready. I went ahead into the office for work that day, I had spent a good portion of the third trimester working from home which really allowed me to remain comfortable and rested. That evening Bob and I went to the Build a Bear store to build an animal for baby Nile. We had talked about doing this very activity when we knew he was close to coming Earthside. We deliberated for quite awhile over the stuffed animals, and decided on a bunny. We fondly nicknamed him Marley but decided he would be called Baby Bunny until Nile was old enough to name him himself.

Friday August 15th:
The next day I worked from home, and was experiencing more contractions on and off throughout the day. I decided that this would officially be my last day of work. I was almost sure baby Nile would be coming sometime during the weekend. That evening we went to a Mexican restaurant, thinking maybe some different food might get labor moving a bit more. I remember talking to my mom on and off during the day, as she kept wondering if she should make the drive, if things were starting to move along more. The past two days I had started to lose my mucus plug and today had noticed some blood to it. I also felt big body side to side movements with what felt more like menstrual cramps. I think Bob and I were both surprised that my contractions hadn’t been more consistent by that evening. By this point in my prodromal early labor I was waking up a lot throughout the night and anticipating any moment things were really going to take off.

Saturday August 16th:
More on and off contractions welcomed the next day. In Nile’s defense I had been telling him all week to wait till the weekend because I felt like I still had so many things to do. Planning a home birth can sometimes be overwhelming as you have more to do than just pack your bags. Making your home feel like it was ready for birth and all of your birth team. That afternoon we ran our last errands, went grocery shopping and grabbed a late lunch. I had 2-3 hours of consistent waves about every 10-15 minutes, but when I laid down for a nap things slowed down and stopped. Eventually returning in the evening, I was starting to feel crabby and emotional. When I imagined labor I had prepared for intensity, but not this teasing through so many days. That night I started to feel contractions in my back and more intensity than what I had experienced that afternoon, about every 10 minutes or so.

Sunday August 17th:
My sleep was segmented and I was back up around 6am with more contractions. My left hip was bothering me, so Bob and I decided a trip to our chiropractor was in order. We had an amazing breakfast at Waveland Cafe, thinking it may be the last time we could go out to eat before baby! I started doing a Miles Circuit with my doula Jenn that afternoon, as contractions continue their wonky pattern. By that afternoon my mom decided to make the drive up to see if she can be of help as we are waiting. I think being almost 3 hours away from me while things were so on and off was hard for her to just sit and wait. That evening we started preparing food to have around the house for the birth. I remember bringing some samples down to the basement where Bob was and I was stopped in my tracks by something down below. Any third trimester woman will tell you that laughing, sneezing, coughing, heck sometimes just moving seems to cause urine leakage. I was no stranger to that, especially with baby being so low for so long. But something felt a bit different about this. We weren’t entirely sure if it was my water or related to losing my mucus plug. The consensus from everyone was that I should call the midwife on call in the morning to get in and be seen.
That night I tried to run through my head anything mentally that might be stopping my labor from progressing. What if there was something deep in there that was preventing my labor from moving forward? I sat in my bed and had a good cry over the fear of not being a good mother, what if I didn’t connect and love my baby when I first saw him, anything I could think of that crossed my mind during my pregnancy. I thought a lot of all the women I was fortunate enough to share the space with during Roots Prenatal Yoga class, hearing their worries, fears, and anxieties helped me work through mine. I sat with my husband and my mom as they reassured me that I was going to be a good mother, that I already was, and that my love for my baby Nile that I felt now would only grow. Contractions grew longer that night and Nile felt like he had moved down further.

Monday August 18th:
I called and was able to see Cosette at 10:30 that morning. Bob went to work that day, and my mom and I went to La Mie for pastries and coffee before my appointment. It was the first time my mom had been to Healing Passages. She sat with me in the birth center as we talked with Cosette about my labor and what had been going on with me. We talked about my mom’s labor during her pregnancy with me and how long and drawn out it was, even in the hospital setting, and how we birth like our mothers. The fluid I felt the night before tested positive for amniotic fluid, my water was very slowly leaking. Cosette told me any other provider would have immediately sent me to the hospital to be induced. But she was fine with giving me until Tuesday morning (24 hours) to get into active labor before starting an induction. There was an end date in sight but still a lot of work to be done. She gave some suggestions but above all else, to try to rest. The plan was to meet at 7am at Broadlawns the next morning if nothing new had developed.

That day I posted the on the private Willowsong Facebook group, asking for tips and tricks to get labor going. I saw another chiropractor Dr. Angie Monthei at Complete Wellness Chiropractic, also my friend and fellow pregnant mama, we did an adjustment and acupuncture which seemed to drum up more intense contractions. I ate well, and napped that afternoon. I woke up to contractions bringing me to my knees. Angie came over for another round of acupuncture. My mom and I went for a very long and fast walk. I felt like Nile was going to fall out the whole way back and contractions began to pick up again. By 930pm we started pack our bags resigning to the fact that we would be going to the hospital tomorrow morning. As I finished packing our last bag around 10pm I was hit with an intense contraction that I had to vocalize through. The contractions were 4-5 minutes apart and almost 60 seconds long. By 1130pm my doula Beth had come back over.

The night was a blur of intense contractions, back labor, nauseous, and hot/cold flashes. I labored in the birth tub, on the toilet, and in my bed. I thought I would want to eat during labor but instead I was throwing up and feeling so sick. I was wrapped in blankets one minute and had ice packs on me the next. Around 4am I asked if one of the midwives could come over, I had been up all night and needed to know If I could continue to labor at home or if we needed to start thinking about heading to the hospital in a few hours. I remember Cosette coming over and agreeing it was ok to stay at home. I tried to sleep in my bed but was awakened by every contraction and the back labor with it. My mom and Beth took turns holding ice packs on my back and pushing to counteract the pain. Everyone slept in shifts. Lying down was so painful, but I was so tired. I remember seeing the dawn light peeking through the shades in our bedroom.
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Tuesday August 19th:
Every new day that came, I would think to myself ‘Is today going to be his birthday?’ And I would try the date out in my mind. I remember Kari coming to the house later in the morning. I continued to labor in the shower, on the toilet, in the birth tub, on the birth ball, in my bed, hanging from a rebozo in my kitchen, wherever I could find a semi comfortable position for that contraction. I felt so lost in my labor, nothing soothed me, I didn’t want to listen to music, I didn’t want to eat, none of my prepared comforts seemed able to crack into the bubble I was in. At some point Bob had talked to Cosette on the phone and she told him I had been dealt a bad hand of cards and it was going to be a hard long road. I remember hearing murmurs of ‘baby being here by dinner time’. In the early afternoon things seemed to be progressing and picking up. Kari started to unpack all the birth supplies that the midwives bring with them to each home birth. Morale was picking up. I remember Kari bringing in one of the Willowsong onesies that say ‘Born at Home’. Beth and I talked about how I was going to get my home birth after all. I was excited, I was mentally ready to push, I talked to baby, I had a new found spurt of energy. But then things began to slow down again.

Bob, my mom, and Beth all took shifts with me. My mother in law was sitting outside our house reading a book in the warm sun. Kari decided we would try the breast pump to see if that got the contractions going again. I hadn’t even opened my breast pump or read the manual, let alone know how to use it to get contractions going again! I sat on the birth ball and we started the pump, the contractions became the most intense and explosive ever. I would hang on to the rebozo while my screams filled the house. I was starting to get hungry and Bob was spoon feeding me my favorite protein shake in between contractions. It seemed like this was working, and we went on with this for quite awhile.

I remember my mom and Bob switching places at one point. I could tell she had been crying and was upset. She told me she never wanted me to go through a labor like she did, and how hard it was for her to watch. All through my pregnancy I wasn’t sure if I wanted my mom present at my birth, she would be ‘on standby’ we told her. Maybe I would want her there, maybe I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t really know until I was labor started, but I didn’t really think I would. Well I was glad we came up with the standby plan. I was so thankful for my husband and his support during my labor, most of which I didn’t really get to take in until I viewed the birth pictures afterwards. But there has to be something said for the comfort of being around women who have birthed before you, especially your family.
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When it seemed that the breast pump contractions were not progressing the way they should. I went back to my bed. Kari checked me again and I was still at 8cm dilated. It was now late afternoon. The discussion of transferring began. She said we could keep going on like this but it was time to think about my energy level to breastfeed and take care of baby after the birth. This conversation was very calm. We had planned for this, we had created a birth plan with all of our options, not just the things we wanted for a home birth. I would need to have pitocin to help get the contractions active enough to get baby out. After going through days of on and off labor and a very long active labor, I felt that I had hit my pain threshold. Each contraction now felt like a raw nerve was being exposed and my concentration to get through them was weakened. I asked if I could get an epidural before the pitocin started, and we decided that would be the plan. I knew my body well enough to know when pain killers were introduced I tended to feel worse, which is a big reason I planned a natural childbirth. The fact that I was ready to try that intervention was a testament to what I had already been through.

Everyone packed up, Bob and I drove to the hospital in our own car. We even had to stop for gas on the way (much to my dismay). Our moms stayed behind to finish picking up the house and grabbing anything we forgot. As we checked into Broadlawns, I was still reeling from intense contractions. The nurse that checked me in told me she was Willowsong client and saw my Facebook post about trying to get into active labor! She was hoping she wouldn’t have to see me there. It gave me comfort knowing I had more Willowsong moms there with me. The midwives had just received privileges at Broadlawns a few weeks before this. So Kari would be completely in charge of me still. Also another huge comfort. Everyone that we encountered was extremely respectful of our intention of having a home birth and even told us so. I remember everyone was eating dinner and Kari was getting her access to their systems as I was getting hooked up to everything. Getting the epidural was very rough, the catheter kept missing and had to be redone quite a few times. Once the epidural was in I didn’t feel another contraction. By time we got settled, I was dilated to about 9 cm. Sometime around 9pm I was able to drift off to sleep and would wake up slightly as they would check the pitocin levels and my contractions which were now being monitored on a screen to my right.

Wednesday August 20th:
I remember waking up around 330am to being told that the contractions were building up enough and I was finally fully dilated. Soon it would be time to start pushing. My birth team was waking from their napping places around the hospital floor and starting to reassemble in my room. Kari had the epidural turned down and my legs went from feeling asleep to able to move on my own again. I couldn’t quite feel the pressure from the contractions but started to push around 4am. I pushed while laying on my side while my mom and Beth took turns holding my leg as I would push my foot into their shoulder. Then they would help me flip every few contractions/pushes. Soon I could start to feel the pressure of baby coming down the birth canal, and kept wishing I could be more upright instead of lying on my side. My head hurt, I was exhausted, but I gave everything I could with each push to get baby out. I remember people talking to me through each contraction and soon I could feel everything to know when to push on my own.
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At one point I remember lying on my left side and seeing a flash in the window of my hospital room. I assumed it was our birth photographer Andrea’s camera flash I had seen. But then I saw two more flashes and asked out loud if it was storming?? Yes it was! Nile was getting his thunderstorm!! The room was filled with so many people. Bob, my mom, Beth, Andrea, Kari, at least two nurses for me and another three waiting in the corner for baby. As Nile started to crown the storm intensified and the lights in the hospital dimmed twice and the sound of the back-up generators kicked on. Finally as his head had crowned and was birthed just to his eyebrows, I could feel the warm amniotic fluid and it felt good to push. Kari said this next push and he’s coming out. I pushed with everything I had and was surprised by how long the seconds passed. It felt like a million limbs, elbows, and knees were coming out of me. Nile shot his arms out like Superman as he emerged Earthside with a big cry and a mad face with the sweetest puffed out bottom lip you have ever seen. I had done it! I reached for him, for my baby.

At 525am Nile Robert Dopf was born into my arms, and for the first time in my life I was l completely in shock and disbelief. I had birthed my baby, after hours and hours and days of labor, he was finally here. We laid there skin to skin, and waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsing. I couldn’t stop looking at his beautiful deep blue eyes. I had nine months to get to know my baby in the womb and at this moment I felt like I was starting all over again. The entire labor he was never in any stress and his heart rate was always fine. The pediatricians checked him out while he was lying on my chest. He was strong and perfect. He was 21 inches long and 8 lbs and 15.7 oz. There was a resounding ‘WHOA!’ from everyone in the room when they put him on the scale!
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As the hours passed and things started to calm down in our room. And we started to send messages to our friends and family. We received a text from Andrea our birth photographer, it was a picture of the sky outside as she was leaving the hospital. The sky was filled with amazing colors of red, orange, pink and purple as the sun rose up through the storm clouds, a near perfect replication of the sky that day so many months ago, in the ocean in Jamaica.
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View Nile’s Birth Video by Andrea Oleson at: https://vimeo.com/105256528