Culhane’s Birth Story

It’s a little overwhelming to figure out how to tell the story of the most amazing moment of my life, so this will probably be a little long, but I don’t want to forget a single detail…

Friday, July 5: 36 weeks, 5 days
1:30 pm I have a routine check-up with my OB.
Michael and I are planning to take a little vacation that weekend (Saturday – Monday) to Intervales State Park in southern São Paulo state, which is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away. Although I am feeling great with no signs of labor in the near future, Michael makes me promise to ask my doctor if she thinks it is a good idea to be that far away. She recommends against it and says that it makes her a little nervous, but I’m not dilated at all so I feel totally comfortable going.

Saturday, July 6: 36 weeks, 6 days
1:30 pm Michael and I have a slow, lazy morning. Eventually we pack our stuff, get in the car, and drive 175 miles to the Paraíso Eco Lodge where we are planning to stay for the weekend. IMG_2258On the drive, we talk about our decision to go against my doctor’s orders and what the “worst-case-scenario” would be. We agree that worst-case would be if something happened and we tried to get back to São Paulo, and I ended up delivering in the car. That being said, I feel like almost no labor (especially for a first baby) is less than 3 hours, so I figure that is very unlikely.

5:00 pm Our destination is a little off the beaten path, and the last 30 km of the drive is on dirt roads with no cell phone reception, but when we arrive there is a beautiful property with a main lodge and little individual “cabins” scattered about – each themed around a different country.Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 10.53.12 AM We are staying in the “China Bungalow,” which is situated on a beautiful koi pond, accessible only by a pier. After we arrive and get settled, we enjoy a leisurely stroll around the beautiful grounds.

7:30 pm Michael and I head to the main lodge and enjoy a nice, long dinner together.

9:15 pm We finish dinner and go to the upstairs of the main lodge to play cards.  We start with “Scrabble Slam” and (obviously) I win the first match!

9:30 pm As Michael is shuffling the cards for round 2, I feel something funny and say, “Umm, I don’t think my water broke or anything, but I’m going to run to the bathroom right now.” Clearly my statement and the rushing off to the restroom are not comforting to Michael so he is waiting for me when I come out and I tell him that in fact I’m pretty sure that my water has broken. He jumps into action and gets a couple of property staff to drive us to our cabin to get our things to go. I am already a total mess at this point so I stay in the vehicle while Michael and the 2 property staff guys run to our room and grab everything. They then drive us to the parking area to our car and drop us off, wishing us the best.

9:50 pm We jump in our car and start the drive to the hospital. Michael had grabbed a towel for me to sit on and I lay my chair back, trying to relax as much as possible as we bounce up and down on the 30 km of dirt roads with no cell reception. Thankfully Michael remembers the route and soon we are on our way.

Of course, our car is almost out of gas so we stop as soon as we see an open station and Michael announces to the attendant that we need help immediately as we are heading to the hospital to have our son! The attendant is very excited and quickly fills us up whilst giving us lots of congratulations and good wishes.

While we are driving, Michael and I are trying to stay calm, but we also have to figure out a plan. There is so much that we haven’t done yet and don’t have ready, but we know that the water breaking means we are going to the hospital and not leaving until we have our little guy. We feel really confident about his being developed and ready for the world, so there is peace about that, but it is still just so unexpected!

So unexpected that I realize that while I have the phone number for my OB, her husband and her sister at home, I hadn’t stored any of them in my phone. I only have her office’s main number which is useless to us at this point. Then I remember that I had sent her an email recently so I find her address in my phone and send an email with “My water broke” as the subject. She later tells me that she rarely checks email on her phone but for some reason she looks at it and immediately calls. I tell her that I’m not feeling any contractions, so she says that we should just stay calm, continue straight to the hospital and she will have the people there ready and waiting for us.

Along the drive, we also call our families to tell them the news. I FaceTime my parents who are in Paris. It is the middle of the night there, but I know that if my mom sees a call from me at this hour, she will know that something is going on and will answer. She hears my call come in but is in bed and doesn’t get up, but apparently my dad gets up soon thereafter and when she asks what it was, he says, “Oh, nothing, just a call from Ashley.” Mom’s maternal instincts kick in so she immediately calls me back and her first words are, “Hi Sweetie. Are you going to have a baby?!” It had been her biggest fear that I would have the baby early while she and my dad were in Europe, making it more complicated for her to change her existing flight (which put her here 3 days before my due-date), but of course she is thrilled for us.

Although Michael is driving as carefully as possible, he is also aggressively speeding to get us to the hospital as fast as possible, and inevitably, we get pulled over. Michael doesn’t actually even stop but slows down on the shoulder, and as the cops come up beside us and shine maglites in our car, he yells out in Portuguese that we are racing to the hospital to have our son! They wave us on and on we go!

Sunday, July 7: 37 weeks — full term!
12:01 am Michael waits until just after midnight to call his family who is ALL gathered together in Vail to celebrate his dad’s 70th birthday which is THAT day. He calls and tells his dad that my water had broken, we are racing to the hospital, and that for his 70th birthday we will be giving him his first grandchild. Pretty awesome, right?! Michael and I got super excited when we realized that Colt would be born on Ollie’s 70th birthday (and on 07/07 no less!). Another funny side note is that Michael and I had really seriously considered his going to the states to be with his family for this celebration. Since I wasn’t having any signs of labor, we felt confident that the baby wasn’t going to come early, and it was such a special event that he (and I) hated to miss. Ultimately though, Ollie said that it wasn’t the right thing to do and that even if nothing happened, Michael needed to be with me during this time. Thank the Lord for that advice!

Since Joe is in Vail with all of Michael’s family, we realize that we don’t have any family in Brazil, but thankfully we do have the most amazing friends. We call Trent and Paige Hudson (who had just given birth to their sweet girl at the same hospital 4 weeks prior) and ask them to meet us at the hospital so that we can give them the keys to our apartment so  they can pick up everything we need for our hospital stay.

We also reach out to our friend Jana, who we had planned to have photograph the delivery. She and her husband had gone to the beach with another couple, our friends the Joneses, for the weekend and we know that they are a good 3 hours away as well. I feel badly and don’t want to ruin their vacation, but I feel like I should at least tell her and let her decide if she wants to try to make it back for the birth or not. Well, Jana and all of our friends are amazing so they pack up their cars in the middle of the night and race back to São Paulo as well. (And after seeing the photos of the birth, I am SO thankful that they did!)

1:05 am We arrive at the hospital and go to triage to get all checked out. IMG_2264My doctor had alerted the nurses on call that I would be coming in, so as Michael fills out paperwork and hands off our keys to the Hudsons, I get hooked up to machines and start trying to figure out what is what. The issue is that once your water breaks, a clock starts and you essentially need to have the baby within 24 hours, as the baby is at risk of infection and other things.

1:30 am We learn I am 1 cm dilated and the baby is very low.DSC_0461

2:00 am I am started on pitocin with hopes that my body will respond and I can deliver the baby normally.

4:00 am I am 2 cm dilated and my body is showing small signs that it is preparing to deliver. I am having regular contractions but they are not very painful or strong and I am getting the feeling that I’m not progressing enough. But, my doctor and the nurses know that I really want to deliver normally so they increase the pitocin dosage. Michael and I are both pretty exhausted and try to rest, but the anticipation and uncertainty makes it impossible to sleep. DSC_0462

6:00 am The nurse checks me and tells me that I am still only 2 cm dilated. I begin to tear up and she asks if I am in pain and I say no, that I wish I was in more pain, having better, stronger contractions, and that I am sad that things are not progressing well. She can see how truly sad I am at this moment, and responds by asking me, “Você acredita em Deus?” (“Do you believe in God?“) to which I say “Sim!” (“Yes“). She then proceeds to give Michael and I one of the most beautiful ‘sermons’ on trusting in God. She speaks about trusting His plans, and how, although she is trying to help me deliver naturally, if I have a c-section, I can trust that it was always God’s plan for me to have a c-section, and I can let go of my expectations and simply trust the Lord. It is amazing and I am in tears, thankful that God would extend me such grace in a moment like that, and reassured that He is writing our story. Then the nurse calls my doctor and gets authorization to really increase the pitocin. She tells me that this will really let us know if my body is going to respond or not.

6:45 am The contractions have gotten much more painful but they are not registering as actually being any stronger. Then the baby’s heart rate starts dropping. Lots of nurses come in and we get his heart rate back up, but it becomes clear that my body is not responding to our efforts and it’s not good for the baby — he needs to come out. Those minutes, where his heart rate dropped have made me not care at all about the way I deliver. I just want him to be safe and healthy, and I don’t want to put him at risk by clinging to some expectation that I had for myself and my experience. They call my doctor and she says she’s coming in for the c-section. We call Jana and she says she’s on her way as well. Michael and I try to prepare ourselves for this totally unexpected situation that we’re in, but we know that everything is happening as it should.

7:10 am My doctor, Claudia, arrives to the hospital and I’m so happy to see her. She has brought her sister, also an OBGYN, as they do all of their deliveries together. They are both wearing stilettos and big jewelry and I love it – it’s so Brazilian. Claudia rubs my back and hugs me and explains what is about to happen, as Michael and I have no idea how c-sections go.

7:20 am Jana arrives and she and Michael go get “scrubbed in” as I get prepped for the surgery. My anesthesiologist is amazing and makes sure I am comfortable as they numb everything from the waist down. Michael and Jana wait outside until everything is ready.DSC_1562-2626547986-O

7:50 am Michael and Jana come in to the delivery room and the procedure starts. Michael and I are both feeling calm and very confident that this is the right thing for the baby and me. DSC_1571-2626555058-OWe are so thankful to be in the hands of such skilled doctors. DSC_1599-2626570063-OWe are praying and are happy, emotional and in love. We have never felt like such a strong team as we do in this moment, and we can’t believe that we are really about to meet our little guy.DSC_1612-bw-2626920039-O

7:58 am Culhane McGeever Harper enters the world.DSC_1642-2626588754-O Claudia calls Michael’s name as they pull him out, and they lower the divider for me. Michael and I squeeze hands and see our baby boy for the first time.DSC_1630-2626584238-O DSC_1636-2626584198-ODSC_1637-2626586342-OMichael cuts the umbilical cord and they put baby Colt on my chest. DSC_1675-bw-2626920086-OI am overwhelmed with love and how perfect he is and just kiss him. Michael and I call him by his name for the first time and are both in love and in tears.DSC_1710-2626616990-O

8:00 am The doctors take Colt and start cleaning him and weighing him etc.DSC_1746-2626634415-ODad follows him around as I get sewn up.DSC_1756-2626639983-O Colt weighs in at 3.08 kg which is 6 lbs, 12 oz (we originally did the conversion wrong and mis-reported his weight!) and is 47 cm (18.5 inches) long. I briefly get to see Colt again and am even more in love with him than before.DSC_1844-2626682068-ODSC_1853-bw-2626918662-O Then he is taken away for more tests and Michael goes with him.DSC_1877-2626687744-ODSC_1924-2626708118-ODSC_1959-2626720587-ODSC_1953-bw-2626923264-OMichael goes back and forth between Colt and me.DSC_2033-bw-2626923225-ODSC_2041-2626748856-O He eventually tells me that Colt is having a little bit of trouble breathing and they have taken him to the NICU. He said it’s nothing to worry about, but that I may have to wait a little while to see him again.

9:00 am All of the recovery “apartments” are full so I am taken to a waiting room. Michael has to leave to get us on the list for a room, and once he leaves the area, he won’t be allowed back in since he will “scrub-out,” so we say goodbye and hope that we get into our room quickly and that Colt can join us.DSC_2062-2626755600-O There are 3 other moms in the waiting room with me, and all of them have their babies with them and are feeding them. I am emotional and get a little sad that I don’t have Colt with me and I pray that he’s doing OK. I am comforted knowing that Michael is taking care of everything, and he sends me updates about how Colt is doing and the status of our room.DSC_2070-2626758439-O

2:00 pm I finally get taken up to our room where Michael meets me and tells me that Colt is doing well and will probably be released soon. He was having some trouble learning how to breathe but he is getting it figured out. He tells me that in order to test whether Colt is able to eat and breathe at the same time they gave him 2 oz of formula from a bottle and monitored his breathing.  Colt did great and I am happy to hear that, but am a little sad that his first meal wasn’t from me. Then Michael lifted my spirits by showing me pictures of his first dirty diaper. 🙂

4:00 pm Colt is brought into our room and we are so happy to have him!DSC_2405-bw-2625099872-O He is just perfect and within the hour I am able to give him his first feeding, with which he does great. We hang out with him all evening and marvel at the miracle of our precious little boy.DSC_2252-2623511614-O

7:00 pm The Hudsons come visit and make us feel like we have family in Brazil. They bring us TONS of sushi (finally!!), beautiful cupcakes, a bottle of champagne, gorgeous flowers from my parents, and lots of other fun snacks. They also bring an unbelievable door-sign for Colt that Trent made from scratch that day after finding out his name. (I mentioned this before but it’s a thing in Brazil to hang elaborate signs on the door with the baby’s name which clearly we had not prepared.)DSC_2220-2623493778-O It’s fun to celebrate with friends and begin to share our joy with others.

Evening Michael and I fall asleep, happier than we have ever been, so in love with each other and this new blessing that God has given us.DSC_0564

**To see the full gallery of birth photos by Jana, please see below.**
Link: Birth Photo Gallery
Password: 1234

14 thoughts on “Culhane’s Birth Story

  1. I am crying! What an incredible story! Everything from racing to the hospital to being pulled over to having the nurse reinforce God’s sovereignty over everything. Wow. I am so so so over the moon happy for all three of you. I just wish I could be there in person to kiss on Colt.

    Sending my love, hugs and kisses!

  2. Just read aloud to Joe and I am in tears too! Thank you for sharing out this joyous event! Mayo the days ahead be even happier.
    Diane and Joe

  3. Ugh, I’m crying, too! What a beautiful story, Ashley! Pat and I just thrilled for you two. We hope you guys will be in Phoenix soon, we’re dying to meet Colt!


    • Ashley and Michael,
      Thank you for sharing your story. Since the impending birth of Colt, I have kept in touch with Matthew regarding the pregnancy and eventually the birth. Throughout it all, Matthew shared with me many of the pictures of the Harper bag, Ashley in the hospital and finally Colt’s arrival. Nonno also was in on this since he had pictures of Colt sent to him. As I read and glanced at the many beautiful pictures that were posted, I was overcome with emotions and at times in tears as the story unfolded. Thank you. Fran Meringolo (Matthew’smother)

  4. Such a beautiful well written story Ashley! It will be nice to have in years to come! Congratulations to you and Michael as well as families!

  5. Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!! Sooooo happy. Thanks so much for facetime with you and Colt! We are so thrilled and thankful.

  6. Wow, what a story! I am glad everyone is ok….you look like you were going to a party, you lucky girl with great genes. Colt is a beautiful baby!

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