Otto’s Birth Story

This birth story is an excerpt from book I am writing to document my surrogacy journey. It is raw and graphic as is it real and beautiful. You have been warned.

At our 40 week prenatal appointment I asked Traci what options we had to “help things along”. I was 40 weeks and 4 days, which wasn’t unusual for me, since my babies were usually later than that… but Otto was already measuring big and the following week was Spring break. I was so big and so ready to be done being pregnant, plus if he was born before or at the beginning of Spring break, Chris would have a whole extra week off with him before having to return to school in May. 

“Let’s check your cervix and see where you are at, so we can decide what might help the most.” She replied. I hoisted myself onto the exam table and she checked me. “Your cervix is much softer than I expected! He is still pretty high up… But that’s good, gives us something to work with.” 

“How big do you think he is now?” I asked.

“Let’s see.” She began palpating my belly, “About 10 lbs.”

I immediately started crying. To be fair, my husband had texted me that morning with some upsetting news that he may not be able to take the paternity leave or time off we had hoped. I had already spent most of the drive to the appointment crying as I imagined recovering alone with nobody to help with the kids after I gave birth. 10 lbs was just icing on the hormonally emotional cake. 

“Ok, so if you are ready to do this, here are the options. I can go pick up some herbs tomorrow for you to start taking that will begin to prep your cervix even more and you will take them for the next few days. Then I can come to your house on Sunday morning and bring some different herbs that will be more likely to stimulate contractions and really get labor going.” My heart dropped. It was Wednesday and Sunday still sounded like a lifetime away. She must have seen my face. “How does that sound?”

“Good, I guess. It’s just… That seems so far away still.” I was trying to hold back more tears.

“Ok.” She paused, “Well, the other option would be for me to come over on Friday evening. There’s a medicine that is very gentle and commonly used that I can bring and it will help both the cervix and to stimulate contractions. Would you prefer that?”

I sniffed back the tears and thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think I like that timing better.”

“Great. Let’s do that!” She smiled warmly and I took a deep breath. My heart lifted as I finally saw light at the end of the pregnancy tunnel. 


The rest of the day I felt waves of hope and excitement, mixed with a bit of guilt over giving in to my impatience. Although Traci assured me at the appointment that he was plenty big and would be completely fine if he were born. Chris seemed excited too now that we finally had a specific time to look forward to and plan for. She was going to meet me at my house at 4pm. She told us not to tell friends and family, because we would be bombarded with requests for updates and baby news. 

Thursday afternoon it randomly occured to me that I should remind Traci that I am a VBAC patient, even though I’d had 4 other successful deliveries since my c-section. I seemed to remember that some drugs were higher risk for VBAC patients. I texted her: “One thing I forgot to ask. Does this medication have any increased risk for VBAC patients?”

I could see she had read my text by later that evening, but she hadn’t responded yet. That made me a little nervous. Would we still be meeting up? I went with the assumption that we would and I continued preparations for the next day. 

Friday morning came and it felt so surreal. Taking care of last minute things I wouldn’t want to worry about after birth… Justin stayed home from work, got groceries, ran errands and helped with the kids. Finally a little after 2, I texted her to confirm she was coming. Within a few minutes, my doorbell actually rang and she had arrived. 

“Here I am! I thought I would just go ahead and come and we could chat about your question!”

She explained that yes, that particular medication did have slightly higher risk factors for VBAC patients, so even though the risk was small, she wanted to go a different direction. She have me a choice between a Foley balloon and stripping my membranes. After checking my cervix we decided a Foley balloon wasn’t the best option, because I was already dilated to almost a 4 and she thought it might actually end up coming out before doing any good. So we decided to strip my membranes, which I was familiar with from my last two pregnancies. Not a fun or comfortable procedure, but usually pretty effective. It was almost 3pm and she said if I was ready we could go ahead and get started. 

At 3pm, she stripped my membranes and for those unacquainted with this particular procedure, it basically involves the caregiver reaching their fingers into the cervix and then sweeping their fingers in a circular motion, separating the bag of waters from the area around the cervical opening. It ranges from unpleasant/uncomfortable to downright painful. When she finished, she gave me two bottles of herbs: black cohosh and cotton root bark. She instructed me to alternate between them taking a dropperful every hour. She was going to run errands and she would come back at 7pm to check me and increase the herbs to every half hour if necessary. Then she left.

I went about my afternoon with a sense of anticipation and about 20 minutes later I started having contractions. The first few were much like the prodromal contractions I had been experiencing for the last few weeks, so I breathed through them and continued doing laundry, cleaning house and moving around. 

I texted her at 4:29: “How long, strong and close together do you want them to be? To be considered real? 5 minutes apart and a minute long? Closer?”

“Ha! Hard to say. You have been dealing with whoppers lately, so when it feels like they are the real deal is when I want to be notified. How frequent are they?”

“I had 3 really intense ones over the course of the first hour. Then in the last 10 minutes I’ve had 3 very intense ones.”

“Intense enough to move him down, or just squeeze?”

“I have no idea. I do have a lot of back pressure and it’s not going away between contractions anymore”

“I’m going to head to Chris’s just to be on the “I’m ready” side of things”

“Ok. These are real contractions now. It’s not braxton hicks or that weird mixture of the two. But obviously they haven’t been going on very long, so I don’t know what to think.”

“Great! Let’s have a baby this evening! And don’t rush it. Keep with the herbs if necessary. And just go with your gut. I’m in no rush”.

Within the next half hour, they intensified and I was crying through them, unable to move as I had been before. I could also tell they were getting stronger, because I needed Justin by me in order to stay calm through them. Something about his presence and his touch or holding my arm allowed me to stay calm through them in a way I couldn’t seem to do on my own. By 5pm I texted her again and let her know how they were intensifying. I was feeling panicky and she decided to come to my house and check on me. After observing me through a few contractions, she decided it was time for us to head over to Chris’s house and she asked us to give her a 10 minute head start to get things set up. Chris was still on his way home from school and was probably surprised to hear from us so soon. Justin helped me breathe through contractions and pack a bag (why hadn’t I done that sooner? Great question!) and we then headed out. 

The 5 minute drive felt painfully long and the soundtrack from the Greatest Showman was on and I turned it up to blast through the speakers as contractions peaked. We arrived at Chris’s house and Justin helped me inside. Traci and Chris were still preparing and setting up the birthing pool in the center of his living room. I continued laboring and the pressure in my lower back grew, requiring increasing amounts of counter pressure. As each contraction swelled, I found a wall or counter to lean against, bracing my fists between the wall and my sacrum, to provide the necessary pressure to relieve the pain. I also used a deep hum or “ooooooooooooh” to exhale through each one, increasing the volume and lowering the pitch when the pain was more intense. This coping technique has been a Godsend through each of my labors. Being in my birthing space really calmed me and between contractions I felt I could breathe and actually look around and take in my surroundings. They got the birthing tub set up and filled with water using a hose from the kitchen sink. At some point my sister and the birth photographer arrived, although I’m blurry on when. I began requiring more intense pressure on my back, so each time a contraction started I dropped to my knees and Justin would apply pressure to my back as a knelt. My sister’s hand was on my arm and I felt wrapped in their love. 

I could tell things were moving slower than my previous labors. I drank so much ice water and after a couple hours, Karin offered me food, which I felt ravenous for… I commented that I never had time to eat during labor. At some point the pressure moved down from my back and more into my bottom and I got into the tub. I remember keeping track of the contractions by if I had one during each song that came on. That was the only way for me to tell if they were regular. The hours somehow passed and I became increasingly anxious that it was taking too long, even though Traci assured me that they were in no rush. The baby’s heart rate was holding steady and we were both doing great. But I felt guilty that I had promised everyone a fast labor and quick birth and here we were, 9 hours later and no baby.

Sometime before midnight contractions became strong enough that I felt a slight urge to push, but since it wasn’t overwhelming, I held off the first time and then tried on the next contraction. Traci, who is always observing everything intently, noticed that I had held my breath to push and when I was done inquired calmly, “Hey, what was going on there?”

“I just wanted to see how pushing felt… it was good, but I don’t think I need to yet.”

“Ok, “ She said. “Trust your body, there’s no rush. You are doing great.”

After that, the contractions slowed down over the next hour. Four minutes. Six minutes. Eight minutes. Seven minutes. I decided to get out of the water and try walking around to get things moving again. The contractions continued, but were still declining in frequency. I felt so tired and frustrated at the slowing pace. Finally around 1 am, Traci suggested I try taking a nap, saying some women napped and that things kicked into gear again once they rested. I reluctantly laid down in the guest room and managed to fall asleep, waking to moan through each contraction, Justin comforting me through them. Chris was sent to sleep in his room and everyone else curled up in the living room arm chairs for a nap. The house was quiet for the next two hours.

Around 3am, I could no longer sleep and decide it was time to kick things back into gear. I got up and got a huge glass of ice water and began pacing around the house. The contractions were about 10 minutes apart and milder than before, but still painful. Justin stayed with me and we even took a walk outside. The 43 degree temps felt good after being stuffed inside. I tried curb walking and we went up and down the street. Traci continued to check the baby’s heartbeat every hour and he was still fine. When the sun rose Saturday morning, I was still mildly contracting, but things were definitely getting slower, not faster. Traci gently sat me down and gave me two options. We could break my water, forcing things along, but if we did that, the only step from there if things DIDN’T start moving, would be an eventual visit to the hospital. Or we could all take a break and go home and wait for things to pick up on their own. If they didn’t, she could come strip my membranes and give me more herbs Sunday morning. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I was so freaking tired and frustrated. All of that time felt wasted, despite her assurances that it wasn’t. The next contraction hit and I sunk to the floor sobbing. When it passed, we gathered our things and Justin helped me to the car, home and into bed. I fell asleep and woke occasionally throughout the morning to a contraction, but they became less and less frequent and intense, until they subsided altogether. 

The rest of the weekend felt so surreal. How does labor just stop altogether, I kept asking myself. How was I walking around 7 cm dilated, like it was no big deal? By Saturday night, I was feeling more rested and texted Traci again, “Do you think it would be better to just wait on my body, rather than trying to force it again in the morning? It feels like maybe it won’t work and I’m very nervous to waste everyone’s time. Maybe we should just wait?”

“Let’s wait another couple of days then. I am at your service. So, whenever you are ready, I will be there.”

“I very much want it to work and to be done, I just feel very discouraged.”

“I know. You just let me know when you are ready and I will help you. Take your time.”

I stayed home from church on Sunday, not wanting to answer questions about how things were going and feeling too emotional not to cry if someone made a comment. Strong braxton hicks contractions continued, but no labor. My friend Chessie drove out Sunday afternoon to visit and bring treats and we went for a foot massage. Just having someone pass the time with me meant the world. Sunday passed and Monday came. I had brunch with some friends, which was a pleasant distraction. It felt weird to be out in public, knowing I was 7cm dilated and that if and when I went into labor it could go very fast. I wondered what my friends would think if they knew. Monday afternoon I went for a foot massage again (you really can’t do this too often, lol). It was the first day of spring break and my kids were already bored and crazy, so when Monday evening rolled around I decided to go to choir, even though I didn’t feel like it, just to get out of the house and away from my crazy offspring. 

I enjoyed singing more than I thought I would, despite the cheesy comments and suggestions about how to induce labor. “Go drive south on Davis and hit every pothole!” and “Eat spicy tacos!” Singing soothed my soul and I even got a compliment on my breath support (maybe he was lying to be nice, but I’ll take it). I did feel a certain heaviness low in my pelvis that wasn’t there before. It felt heavier and heavier throughout the evening, but no contractions, so I tried to ignore it. Everyone wished me well as I left that night. I remember thinking that despite the fact that the likelihood of going into labor was increasing, it FELT less likely with every passing day that it didn’t happen.

I was in bed by 10:30 and fell into a deep sleep. At five minutes after midnight I was awoken very suddenly by a popping. I’m not sure if I heard it or just felt it at the bottom of my uterus, but it was like a small balloon popping. I had never felt something like that before and it startled me. Was that my water breaking? I reached to feel for anything wet between my legs and didn’t feel anything. Had he just kicked or head butted me? I wasn’t sure, but decided to get up and go to the bathroom. As soon as I stood up, I felt water trickling down my legs. 

“Justin! I think my water just broke!” I stood paralyzed in place, not sure what to do, but quickly realized I was getting the carpet wet next to my bed, so I waddled to the bathroom as the trickle turned into a gush. Justin lept out of bed and commended me for getting onto the tile. I stood on a bath towel and began crying as the water continued to pour and the puddle grew around my feet. “What do I do??? Can you hand me my phone so I can text the midwife?”

I texted Traci to let her know my water broke and she said she was getting dressed and heading our way. “No contractions yet. What do I do?” I asked. She told me to hang out there. I looked down at the puddle surrounding my feet and my wet pajamas. Cool, I thought, I’ll just hang out here. I texted Chris, so he could start getting things ready. I took off my wet pajamas and paced in my bathroom for a bit, as the pressure and pain in my pelvis increased,  wondering if contractions would start. Traci texted that contractions should start within 4 hours. I certainly didn’t want to wait in the bathroom that long, so since I no longer seemed to be leaking water, I decided to wrap a towel around me and go back to bed. 

I had only been in bed about 10 minutes when a huge wave of a contraction took my breath away and another flood of water gushed out, this time soaking my side of the bed. I burst into tears, frustrated that I had gotten my bed wet after all. I stood up to go to the bathroom and another contraction hit almost immediately. I texted Traci and she simply responded, “Go to Chris’s house.” I slipped on some clothes, woke up Molly, texted Karin and Justin helped me to the car. The contractions were intense and on top of each other. I took one look at the front seat and decided there was no way I was sitting my butt on a seat through a contraction and instead climbed into the back seat and knelt on all fours. I was focused on moaning through each contraction, but not too focused to criticize the route Justin chose to drive. 

We arrived a few minutes later at around 1:10am. The contractions kept hitting me like waves and I remember being walked to the bedroom, but not why. Maybe to have her check me? I took one look at the bed and NOPE. I just wanted in the water, which was almost ready, so they helped me in. Finally, a bit of relief. She checked his heart rate and it was good. After a few contractions, I felt the urge to push. I asked if that was ok and she said to listen to my body, but take it slow, because there was still a little bit of cervix in the way. Pushing was such a relief and instead of my low deep moans throughout the contraction I held my breath as I leaned into the push. I don’t know how long or how many contractions I pushed through, but I do remember thinking it was taking forever. Comparing it to my previous births wasn’t helpful, so I just focused on moving him down. I kept looking at Traci’s face and tried to gauge her reactions, to see if I was making progress. The pushing got more intense and finally I felt his head forcing my hips apart. I knew he was right there and the intensity was almost unbearable. I turned and acknowledged Chris for the first time since arriving and shot out, “You better fucking love this baby!” 

I didn’t have time to take in his response before another contraction hit. I pushed and pushed and I remember thinking, “Ok, it’s time. If I get his head out it will be over.” With all my other babies, once the head emerged, the rest of their bodies slipped out with ease. I felt him crown and I pushed with all my might, and felt his head come out, but there was no body slipping out after. The contraction ended and he was only partially birthed. I saw Traci tense up for the first time as she reached to help. She told me she needed to get the chord from around his neck and then she suddenly told me I needed to be on my hands and knees. I somehow managed to maneuver my body from reclining in the water to leaning forward. He was still only partially out and I knew I needed to push the rest of him out, but no contraction came to help. Traci reached in to see if she could guide his arm out, but it was stuck behind him and I could sense her worry mounting. She told me to flip back over to my previous position and I knew something was wrong. I realized I had to push this baby out, contraction or not. So I took a breath, gathered all my strength and began to push with every fiber of my being. Within moments, my body joined me with one last powerful contraction that felt like it was turning me inside out with that final push, Otto was here.

She whisked him out and spent a moment rubbing him down and made sure he was breathing after his dramatic entrance. For a minute I was so scared that he wasn’t breathing and seemed limp. Was something wrong? But a moment later he took a deep breath and let out a cry and she placed him on my chest. Relief washed over me and I began to cry. She put a towel over him and they scooped bath water to wet it and keep him warm. Chris knelt down beside the pool and put his finger in Otto’s tiny hand. My body felt ripped apart, but it didn’t matter, because he was safe and I did it. I just held him there and felt his tiny body pressed against mine. When the cord ceased to pulse, Traci guided Chris through cutting it and then he was able to hold his baby for the first time. I wish I could say I was able to be fully present and witness that moment but the pain wasn’t quite over for me and I still had a placenta to birth and stitches to repair a small tear. I was helped out of the tub and to the bed, while Chris spent his first moments with his son and Traci took care of me. I am so grateful for the photos Jenna took to capture these moments that are such a blur for me. 

They came in a few minutes later to tell me this tiny human was actually 10 lbs and 11oz. The biggest baby I had ever delivered. His head circumference was 15.5 inches. The biggest Traci had ever delivered. His chest was also 15.5 inches. I found out afterwards that his head was born 4 full minutes before the rest of him. My body felt broken. I was exhausted. Relieved to be finished. But grateful. My heart was full to bursting. What felt like an eternity was less than 2 hours. He was born at 2:39 am. In his own home. 

In reflecting afterwards, it was definitely my hardest and most challenging birth. But rather than feeling traumatized, I feel triumphant. I felt like a warrior queen who conquered and won. Superhuman. The pain was intense and the experience was scary, but the reward so sweet. It was the pinnacle of a journey two years in the making. So much more than a birth. I not only created life, but I created a family. Such an honor to play a part in this story. 

Otto Christopher Michael Wagner with his father Christopher Wagner. A new family.

Photo credit: Jenna Vanloon Down to Birth Photography or you can find her on facebook or instagram.

Traci Santangelo was our amazing midwife and I can’t recommend her highly enough. You can contact her here or find her on facebook or instagram.

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