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Cora's Birth Story

I was really looking forward to Sunday, July 25th. Our friends Frankie and Sandee were coming down to the boat with their two little ones, Maya and Tuti, to go out for a sail and have some lunch on the water. We had never had them down to the boat before and I was excited to show them and their kids where we lived. Eric and I were also eagerly anticipating taking the boat out sailing. This would be the first time we sailed her since we got the mast back last fall. I planned the menu and prepped everything the day before.

I knew it would be a bit dicey organizing something so close to my due date but we decided to go for it. I was 39 weeks, 3 days pregnant and Sandee was 36 weeks pregnant. Her husband Frankie would have to do most of the main crewing as our bellies would be too large to be moving around and we would be busy keeping an eye on her two little ones.

I had no idea that I would go into labor later that evening. I honestly thought that Cora would come past her due date and for some reason I had either August 1st or August 4th in my mind as when she would arrive. I should have checked the full moon (it happened the same night I went into labor). I should have listened to my girlfriends and sister who said that she would be coming soon when I mentioned that I had an incredible burst of energy two days earlier on Friday and had accomplished almost everything else I felt I needed to do before she came.


Sailing that afternoon was really wonderful. Frankie was a great crew member and I was surprised that I was still able to move about on deck and show him how to work things topsides. I felt too rusty at the helm and preferred having Eric in charge of navigating while I helped Frankie with the sails. It wasn’t too hot and the smell of the water and the feel of the breeze on my face reminded me why I love living and sailing a boat. I felt very tired but I assumed it was from being so far along in pregnancy, or from the work I put into making the large meal for everyone, and from just being out on the water (exhausting for most people even on a good day.)

Maya and Tuti were so animated and their excitement rubbed off on all of us. I observed how they moved about the boat and wondered how Cora would like her home and what we would need to worry about once she got to be the same age as Maya and Tuti. Maya kept saying that she wanted to see the “ocean,” though we tried to explain that she was on the ocean, it was just the bay and not open water. We headed for the Point to try to give her a more open view but by the time we had passed Ballast Point I felt like we should go back. What I thought was seasickness was really hitting me and I was thinking about the cleanup I would need to do when we got back and wanted to get started. All I really wanted to do was lie down and take a nap. On the return I used the head and noticed a bit of what I assumed was my mucus plug. That was exciting as it was my first real sign of impending labor. I didn’t take it for much though, as some women can lose their mucus plug and then go for weeks before labor really starts.

We docked and said goodbye to our friends and cleaned everything up by 5:00pm. I told Eric that I had lost a bit of my plug and he asked me what that meant as far as a baby coming anytime soon. I told him it could mean a couple of hours or a couple of weeks and that it wasn’t really much of a sign, but it was progress. I asked him to take my weekly belly picture. Here I am only hours before going into labor.

Once the boat was ship shape I sat in the salon and went through the day’s photos desperately trying to stay awake. I was afraid that if I napped I wouldn’t be able to sleep that evening so I willed myself to stay up. By 6:00pm I knew that if I didn’t get up and do something I would pass out from exhaustion. If only I had listened to my body and slept!!

I headed up to the marina and took a long shower. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was. In the shower Cora made a strange, strong movement. It was very forceful and very low. I put my hand on the spot and asked her if she was going to come out that day. I’m not sure why I asked that as I was still oblivious to any early labor signs. Eric was up in our storage playing a video game so I sat up there with him and used the marina’s fast wireless to upload the day’s photos.

I checked the time at 6:50pm because I was waiting for it to be 7:00pm when I send my weekend report for any calls I receive for the language school I work for on the weekends. As I checked the time I felt a POP between my legs and a warm gush of water flooded out of my body instantly wetting my pants and the stool I sat on. It was a wonderful and frightening moment. I knew right away that my water had broken and at the same time I knew the clock was ticking. Cora would now be here within 48 hours. With Eric only a foot away from me I sat quietly stunned for a moment and let the realization sink in. A wave of emotion hit me and I felt scared and overwhelmed. For a moment I thought, “I’m not ready for this,” and, “this can’t be happening now. I’m not even 40 weeks yet!” Those thoughts were then replaced with excitement. It was time.

“I think my water just broke,” I stated calmly, easing off the stool to check how much water had pooled underneath me. The water ran down my legs as I turned to look at Eric. He became very attentive and pushed away from his desk to ask me what that meant as far as a baby coming anytime soon. I think he was still thinking of what I had told him about the mucus plug earlier that day, that it could be hours, but it could also be weeks.

“That means we’re having a baby in the next 24-48 hours.” Eric practically jumped out of his chair! He powered off his computer without closing any of the programs and yelped, “We better get ready! Do we have time to go down to the boat?” I smiled.

“Yep. I’m going to call the midwives to let them know. They’ll probably have me come in to make sure it’s really my water, but if my labor doesn’t start soon they may send me back here to labor at home. Let me go to the restroom real quick just to check this water and make sure I haven’t peed myself. I’ll call the midwives while I go.” Eric walked out with me and waited by the gate. I knew I hadn’t peed myself but I just wanted a moment alone to kind of sit and think about what was happening.  The first contraction hit before I could even get to the restroom. “Oh, wow. Ouch. I’ve never had a Braxton-Hicks contraction as strong as that one. Wow.” Eric looked anxious.

“Let’s get down to the boat,” he urged.

The midwife on call told me to come in and listened to me as I had another contraction once we were down on the boat. She said I should head in soon. Eric hustled around on the deck and the top of the boat putting the covers on the canvas and storing things away from the day’s sail. I walked around in a daze below decks as my water continued to leak and I tried to think about what I should do before leaving our little home for a few days. My hospital bag was packed and in the car but I needed to grab our camera, my phone and their chargers. I continued to have contractions that were becoming painful. I must have still been nesting because I decided to clean out the Brita water filter while Eric was getting his bag packed. He looked at me like I was crazy as I had to pause for two contractions to get it clean.

I had always imagined laboring on the boat and then walking up the dock with Eric when it was time to head to the hospital. I saw myself holding on to his strong arm and having to pause from boat to boat to get through each contraction as it hit, and that is exactly what happened. They had become so strong that I couldn’t walk through them. I tucked myself into his chest and breathed when they hit and we walked like that, starting and stopping, until we got to the car. I still can’t believe we didn’t run into any of our marina neighbors on that walk. I wouldn’t have felt like chatting and it was nice to have that little moment to ourselves.

In the car I had to hold on tightly to the arm rest as each contraction hit and I focused on keeping my mouth open and relaxed. Eric reassured me that everything would be fine. The bumps on the road along Washington Street did NOT feel good during each contraction. I told Eric that labor was bizarre. I explained, “I’m in pain and yet it’s not a pain like I’m injured. It feels like a giant belt is getting squeezed around my entire lower abdomen and back. It’s so intense.”

Eric dropped me off at the ER entrance and went to park the car. I felt alone. Now I had to do the start/stop walking on my own. The people behind the counter at the ER pointed me to the elevator and told me to head up. I nodded and then looked at the distance to the elevator and wondered how I would make it. I leaned against the wall as another contraction hit. An old bird-like woman walked past me and stated the obvious,

“You’re in labor, huh?”

I looked at her through the contraction. “Yeah,” came my grunt.

“This your first?”

I had started shuffling toward the elevator again. “Yeah.”

“Good luck.”

The doors closed and another contraction hit. I thought about just riding the elevator, wherever it decided to take me until it was over, but figured I should get to the birthing center as soon as I could so I tried to walk off the elevator at my floor during the contraction. It hurt, but I got out. Stopping and starting, leaning against the wall, I inched my way to the check-in counter. A cleaning lady saw me about five feet from the counter and hollered for the midwife on call to come out and assist me. I panted against a door frame as Rita Wagner, the midwife who would deliver Cora later that night came around the corner.  Rita is a beacon of energy.

“Hey doll!” she beamed. “How’s it going?”

I stood up from the last contraction and re-stated everything I had told the midwife on call. Rita ushered me to a room to check my water and make sure it was the real thing and not pee. It was hard to sit up on the exam bed as she prepped. I remember glancing at a poster of the different diameters of each centimeter up to 10 and flinched when I saw how large 10 centimeters was.

“Oh man,” I groaned to myself. “I can’t believe I’m going to get that big. And soon.”

Rita’s test did not show that the water between my legs was amniotic fluid. This didn’t disturb me though because I knew it was and because the contractions were getting stronger and stronger. This baby would be coming soon, test or no test. She took another sample and looked at it under a microscope and she saw what she was looking for, ferning, or snowflake shapes that tell you that the fluid is indeed amniotic. Eric showed up and started helping me through contractions and Rita left to get things ready for my admission.

It was almost 8:00pm. I had been in labor for an hour and each contraction got stronger and harder and more painful. Looking back, I remember fondly the contractions I had on the dock and in the first room with Rita. The ones that I thought were “painful.” Little did I know how painful they would get. As soon as one started I would duck my head into Eric’s chest and try to ride it out. I realized that as I was tucked into his chest, Eric was watching the clock. He soon had the length of my contractions figured out and was already anticipating when my next one would start before I knew it was coming on.

They moved me into the birth room and I asked Eric if he thought people could see me since I could clearly see the street through the coming nightfall. He closed the blinds. I undressed and the next contraction hit. I was not a screamer. I was a moaner. I started each contraction with a high, “Ohhhhhhhhh,” and continued it throughout the length of the rush. I’ve honestly tried to block out that noise from my head. I’m sure Eric has too. I vaguely remember Rita a few times trying to get me to lower the pitch of the moan. She said it would help if it came more from my gut. I tried. I really did. I had the sensation of my vagina starting to pry itself open. That was actually my cervix, but it became very hard to distinguish what was happening where “down there.”

I could not get comfortable. I kept asking for a birthing ball but all of the sudden we were alone in our room and Eric didn’t want to leave me to go ask for one. Somehow I was only in my sports bra. Bloody show started dripping down my legs and it made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get the bed messy so I tried standing. With each contraction I leaned over the bed trying to rest on pillows. Although Eric never left me throughout the labor, I went inward. I wasn’t alone, but I didn’t know how to handle what was happening to my body. The contractions were powerful and it felt like there was no break between them.

I was tired. I tried laying down to rest in between the rushes, but my dilating cervix made me feel like I couldn’t close my legs while lying on my side. This made me open my legs which would roll me onto my back. The “stranded turtle” position made me feel like I couldn’t breathe so I would try to get on my knees and lean forward over pillows. Someone made me drink some water through a straw. I remember standing up, clutching the bed post, my hair over my face when the doula came in. She leaned down to see me through a contraction and introduced herself as Nancy Holt. I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to say hello and how happy I was to have a doula. Instead I looked at her and moaned, “Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

I remember women’s voices saying,

“Good, good.” I remember Rita saying,

“Squeeze that baby down.”

Eric was there with a fan and tried to keep me cool and make me drink water. I can’t remember opening my eyes a lot. I remember writhing on the bed, naked, moaning, “Ohhhhhh.” Eventually my internal mantra went from, “Open, open, open,” to, “no escape, no escape, no escape.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this without pain killers unless she was coming very soon. I asked for pain medicine. Knowing I wanted to try for a natural birth, the voices around me asked me lovingly if I was sure. They told me I was doing great. They said hold on, we’ll get Rita. She’ll check your progress.

Rita came in at midnight and checked me. I was on my hands and knees on the bed and she said I could stay in that position to be checked. It was so painful that I pulled away from her. She felt what she needed to though and announced that I was at four centimeters. “Four?” I screamed in my head. I was not going to make it. I had been in labor for five hours and I was only at four centimeters? She also did an ultrasound to check the baby’s position. She was head down but sunny-side up. She said not to worry and there was plenty of time for her turn. I did worry about the possibility of a c-section until the next contraction hit and then I just moaned, “Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhh.” After that moan, I insisted on medication.

Rita explained my options and I asked for the IV medication that would let me keep laboring in the birth center and not send me down to labor and delivery. The medicine let me sleep in between the rushes but I still awoke and felt the pain of each one. This brought me relief for about an hour. During that hour I remember the bizarre sensation of falling asleep as people watched me. I knew Eric was staring intently at me in anticipation of each coming contraction. Nancy the doula was also fanning me and staying close. I would never have been able to sleep with people staring at me in any other circumstance, but this was a whole new ball game. The next hour was just as bad as it was without the medicine. By 2:00am I begged for an epidural. At some point during my asking for relief I know Eric gently reminded me about how I wanted to try for a natural birth. I had asked him to do that and I really appreciate that he tried to keep me on track. I also really appreciate that he got the midwife when I insisted on pain medication. He had always said he’d support my birth decisions and he did.

At 2:00am Rita checked me again. This time I was on my back and it didn’t hurt as bad. I was at six centimeters. She seemed to think this was good.

“You’re almost there!” she smiled.

“I’m only at six,” I thought.  “Please, I need relief.”

They came in with a wheelchair and wheeled me to labor & delivery. I didn’t care that I was half dressed and leaking blood down my legs. I didn’t care that I was hollering, “Ooohhhhhhhhhhhh,” down the hallway past everyone and their mother at 2:00am on a Monday. All I could think about was getting relief. They had kept the lights low in the birth center but labor & delivery was brightly lit. I remember looking around at the new faces and thinking, “Relief, relief.” When the anesthesiologist came in I had a hard time staying awake through the contractions, but I remember her being very stern and insisting that I open my eyes and listen to the potential complications of getting an epidural. I wanted to tell her that I understood and that by that point I didn’t care, but instead I worked on keeping my eyes open, nodding my head, eeking out a, “Yes, I understand,” and then punching out an, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh” as the next one started. I felt no pain when they put in the needle. I just felt the next contraction. The only thing I remember from the whole procedure was that I had to be sitting up and hunched over, which was very hard to deal with when laboring. Once it was in I laid down and then Rita said,

“You just had two contractions. Did you feel them?”

Joy and light. Wondrous mother of all that is good. My eyes popped out of my head. Two?

“No!” I exclaimed. “I did NOT feel them!”

Rita grinned. “You should try to get some sleep. Your body will keep contracting but you can rest now. I’ll be back to check you in an hour and forty five minutes.” Rest? Why hadn’t I done this sooner?

Happy day. All things that are beautiful and good. I was in heaven. No more pain! I told Eric and Nancy that I was going to sleep. They were on either side of me. The last thing I remember was Eric pulling his chair around to Nancy’s side of the room and saying something like,

 “Well, if we’re both going to be up we might as well talk for awhile.” I slept to the sound of murmuring voices.

Rita came in around 3:30am and woke me up so she could check me. She said that I was a 9 on one side and a 9 ½ on the other. I didn’t know you could dilate lopsided! She said she’d be back to check on me soon and to let her know if I felt an urge to push. She glanced at the clock as she left and said I’d be having the baby by 5:00am. Her prediction didn’t sink in as I was quickly falling back to sleep.

Just before four in the morning I woke up feeling the best I had felt the whole labor. I smiled over at Eric and Nancy who were sitting huddled together trying to keep their voices down so I could sleep. “Hi!” I smiled brightly. “I’m feeling some pressure; I think I may need to push.” Nancy jumped up and called for the nurses. Eric came over and asked how I was doing. I couldn’t believe how wonderful I felt. Thank god for that epidural. Rita sauntered back in with her headlamp on. She looked so hilarious with it pulling her hair back in all sorts of directions. I’ll never go camping and look at headlamps the same again

She checked me and when she looked up from between my legs she snapped her blue gloves on tighter and said, “Okay, it’s time to have a baby.”

I panicked.

“What, now? We’re having the baby now?” Everyone looked at me in surprise. “I just, er, well, hold on.” I quickly pulled my hair out of the messy bun on top of my head and tried to arrange it around my shoulders. I asked Eric to get the camera out of my purse and asked Nancy if she would mind taking pictures.

“What kind of photos do you want?”

“I don’t need any between the legs shots, but if you could take one now of us before she gets here, and then if you can capture those first parent moments, it would be awesome.” I could tell she knew what I meant.

This photo was taken at 4:00am right before I started pushing. It’s the last photo of Eric and me without children.

Pushing a baby out of your vagina is hard work and it’s not intuitive. I had to “learn” how to effectively push. I pushed for 50 minutes and I repeatedly told everyone how happy I was for that epidural. It allowed me to be truly present for the birth of my daughter.  Eventually Eric and Nancy each had one of my legs and they pushed up as I pushed down. I soon figured that the epidural hadn’t numbed my abs and I could feel them bearing down when I pushed. That helped me to concentrate. Slowly, inch by inch, Cora’s head started to emerge. Rita encouraged me to reach down and feel her head and I remember how soft it felt. That inspired me to push even harder and longer but Rita made me wait in between contractions because she didn’t want Cora’s heart rate to go down. Those 50 minutes of pushing were the fastest part of the whole labor for me. It felt like 10 minutes. With each push I would focus on Eric’s face. He met my gaze as strongly and as lovingly as when we exchanged vows on our wedding day. In between contractions we chatted but as her head got closer to emerging Eric would look down to see her progress and the look on his face told me she was very close.

All of a sudden Rita calmly said, “Charlotte reach down and catch your baby.”


“Oh my gosh!” I thought and I threw my hands down to catch her. All I could feel were flailing limbs and I didn’t know where to grab. Luckily Rita’s strong, sure hands lifted her up and placed her on my chest and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I had felt like crying for about 20 minutes prior to her arrival. I could feel her approaching and I couldn’t wait to meet her. Finally she was on my chest and alternating between crying and gazing around with wide, frightened eyes. One long arm reached out toward us.

I couldn’t believe how happy I was to see her. She looked beautiful to me, covered in white vernix and smatters of blood. Her brand-new spirit humbled me. I repeated over and over that it was nice to meet her and that we were her parents and we loved her.

Her presence filled up the room and I was in awe. I looked up at Eric and he seemed entranced and perhaps a bit taken aback by all the birth goo covering her. He smiled at me so warmly it made me cry some more.

“Do you want to hold her?” I urged him. He didn’t need any urging. Nodding his head he whipped off his shirt and even in the thrill of birth I took a moment to admire his chest and biceps. I think all the nurses did too.

Eric lifted her up and held her against his chest for the first time. Our little family was complete.

Cora was born at 4:50am on Monday, July 26, 2010. She was 7lb 9oz and 21 inches long. I was 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant. She was and is beautiful.



Reader Comments (18)

Our little girl :-)

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Reading this on the train and trying not to cry myself. Such a beautiful story, thank you for sharing it.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTucker

OMG!!!! Tears galore!!!
Charlotte, that is such a gorgeous story. Thank you so very much for sharing.
You have such a wondeful way with words.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Gray

Oh I am all teary now! Thank you for sharing this Charlotte. I am in awe and envy, as even though this is our second child, it will be my first birth. Eeek! She is truly beautiful and I can't wait to hear and see more all about her. Welcome Cora!

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterboatbaby

Omg I loved that, understanding, laughter, and tears throughout, I could hear you in my head telling me the story as I read! Thanks for sharing, you are amazing in everyway! I love and adore you my friend! Congratulations to you and Eric! Cora is a lucky little baby girl!

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I LOVE this, Charlotte. What an amazingly beautiful story. :) I am so happy that it happened the way it happened and that you were able to be present and embrace every moment. In a few weeks, it will be my turn...and I have a lot of the same wishes and fears. Your story gives me LOTS of hope and encouragement. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina

Love love love her story!!! So amazing! Hope u all are doing well. Love, Ash

August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley Price

What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSailboat Ed

Happy Birthday Cora!! She's absolutely, perfectly delicious. Thanks for sharing your birth story and I look forward to hearing more of your adventures!

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCidnie

Wow...I haven't checked in on your blog in a while......

BIG congrats!!!! Cora is beautiful!!!!

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMystery Dieter

I've been out of the loop for a while but am so glad to hear all is great in your world! I remember all that and agree...yeah for the epidural!!! :) I hope to meet her some day while we're all out there cruising!

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMonica McKaskle

A grandma and a live aboard women with the love of my life of 34 years, Captain Claes.
Came across your site as I was following a thread in Cruisers forum.
Love your story;thank you for it - will be pleased to follow your travels.

We are home visiting our grandkids (8 of them) - back to our boat in early November to sail towards Costa RIca.............care to follow our adventure ?

see our blog www.whiteshellii.blogspot.com


September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLue from Canada

Thanks for all the wonderful comments! Lue, I just added your blog to my reading list. It's wonderful to meet you!

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Only at UCSD! Congratulations.

September 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Levy

Yep...a beautiful birth of a beautiful babe to a beautiful couple making a beautiful family. You were amazing! Unforgettable. Love and a big hug to Cora!

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRita The Midwife

Finally had time to read this wonderful piece...write on, writer Charlotte! You're awfully good! xoxox

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDinah

This is one of the most wonderful birth stories I have ever read, I'm not sure why I didn't read this sooner, however, I have now and it's awesome. You have the gift of storytelling and Coralita has the gift of awesome parents !!! Thanx for sharing this moving story, it made my day. xoxoxoxoxoox

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren K Morrisette

Charlotte, I've been one of your blog lurkers for a few years now and I just wanted to give you a heads up that I've shared your beautiful birthing stories. I recently trained as a doula and a question was raised in the class about any stories of mothers that had epidurals and continued without c-sections. Your stories are very personal and I thank you for not only sharing them with us but hopefully empowering other women to make the choices that are right for them in their births. You are amazing, keep going strong!!

January 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJessica H. S.

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