Twice I have endured the slow, stretching, sleepless, process we call pregnancy. Twice I have planned, prepared, hoped, dared. Twice I have given birth. Twice I have been able to look back and say “I got everything I wanted.” I am grateful to be able to say that, because I know how lucky I am.
Below is my retelling of the birth of my daughter. I type it as she grunts and wiggles in my lap, the joyful result of the story I’m about to tell. During my pregnancies I longed to hear the birth stories of the women in my family. I don’t want to wait until my daughter is blooming with a little life of her own to tell this story, to trust my faulty memory to truly communicate how transcendent the experience was for me. Even now my written word can’t do it justice. My heart is full.
I listened to far too many women say their second, third, fourth, etc, babies came “sooner” and I thought that meant that I would deliver at an earlier gestational date than I did with T1. He came at 40 weeks 2 days, and I was convinced that I would be delivering before the 10 month mark. My mom came down, I had everything prepped and ready to go, and we waited. And waited. And waited.
On the night before my due date, February 1st, I was convinced that this would be my last night without a baby in my arms. I lost my mucous plug that day, my due date. The 1st was a Friday, the weekend of the Superbowl, and it felt like time had stopped. I was bored, anxious, tired, sick, swollen, and ready. What was baby waiting for? On the night of the 5th my mom told me “My nurse friend said that if you really want to get this baby out, try the same method that you used to get it inside of you. And lift up your hips at the end to help the sperm get to your cervix.” I would have tried anything recommended by a medical professional at that point, and so we did… it.
Two hours later, just after 12:00am on the 6th of February, I woke up to a pop. 40 weeks, 5 days. My water didn’t break with T1 (the midwife did it manually when I was around 8 cm), and I had really wanted to experience labor initiating with the breaking of the bag of waters. Even though I had read many, many birth stories where women described what it was like to have your water break spontaneously, and even though I had huge amounts of fluid gushing out of me every time I moved, I still called our midwife and said “I’m pretty sure that my water just broke. I don’t think I’m peeing my pants? The fluid is clear. I’m probably in labor.” She told me to go back to bed and get some sleep if I could. We cleaned up the bed (easy to do, I’d been sleeping on a shower curtain for weeks!) and I tried to go back to sleep. I had learned my lesson with my first birth, that even though I was uncomfortable and sore and excited, there is never enough sleep to be had right before a baby comes.
Contractions started shortly after I climbed into bed, 5 minute apart, and I could tell things were moving along fast enough that sleep wasn’t an option. That Husband rolled over and offered to help me, but I told him go to back to sleep. Before things got really hard I wanted some time to myself. I went down to the kitchen and tried to eat and drink, thinking I might have a 12+ hour labor like last time. I paced the floor, practiced breathing through the contractions, pushed my backside against the fridge to try to relieve some of the pain in my back, drank water, ate a banana, and played Candy Crush. I hated sitting with T1’s labor, but this time it felt so good to labor on the toilet. There’s something so wonderful about being able to completely relax your bottom half when you’re contracting.
At 3:30am I called my doula, Jen, and asked her advice. I told her contractions were 30 seconds long, about 2 minutes apart while walking around. I initially told her to go back to sleep and that I wouldn’t need her until the sun was up, but less than 2 hours later I called her and told her to come help me. I hadn’t been sure that a doula was really necessary for me, as I knew That Husband would be home, and it felt silly to have so many people present at my birth (husband, mother, doula, midwife, midwife’s assistant, photographer) but I’m so glad I decided to hire Jen. She was so flexible, willing to do whatever I asked, and told me she would come at any time, no matter how early it was in my labor, if that’s what I needed.
Jen and the birth photographer, Kelly, arrived around the same time, at 6:30am, as the darkness melted away and my contractions intensified. I would be giving birth in a corner of our bedroom with beautiful light, one of my favorite spots in the house, and I had told baby many times that I wanted to give birth when the light was nice for the photos. As the sunlight began to fill our bedroom I knew I was going to get my wish.
At 7:00am my contractions were 1 minute long, 2-3 minutes apart. Jen called our midwife, Kavita, and told her I was getting close. I continued to play Candy Crush until I ran out of lives, then I switched to browsing Pinterest.
One of the first questions I asked Jen during our interview process was whether she knew how to do a french braid. With T1’s labor I waited until I was 8 cm until I tried to take care of my hair and it was a disaster and I didn’t want to make that mistake again. She’s a licensed massage therapist who has given birth as well, and she knew just where to push and how hard it needed to be to make me sigh in relief. Much better than pushing myself up against the fridge.
Once the tub was ready I could not get myself in there fast enough. As soon as I got in I pursed my lips and started doing my “horse breathing”. I got in right before 7:30, just before I think I started to transition and told Jen “I want to stay in here the rest of my life!” For me, there is nothing like getting in the water during labor. I plugged my phone into our portable speaker and kept the music on repeat throughout the morning, and I remember worrying during contractions that I was being a bother every time I asked to have the music louder or softer. I chose songs like “Devil Town” by Bright Eyes, “River” by Sarah McLachlan (a favorite during my first labor), and “Beasts” by David Karsten Daniels. I liked listening to dark songs full of melancholy while I labored the baby down.
T1 woke up around this time, and TH brought him in to see what was happening with mama. I had been talking about this moment for weeks, showing him YouTube videos of other women laboring in the water at home, but it was still tough for him to understand why I was going for a swim in the bedroom and making noises like a horse non-stop. Our midwife, Kavita, arrived and T1 went downstairs to eat breakfast after falling in love with the shark thermometer I bought for the birth tub. We promised him he could have it once it was all over and he went merrily on his way.
Transition feels like your body is attempting to turn itself inside-out. It’s a straight-jacket of pain, and relaxing into the torture is something I’ve never been able to muster. I pursed and sputtered and made my fingers rigid in an attempt to channel the pain to another part of my body. I thought about asking them to take the clock down because I couldn’t stop glancing up and thinking how little time had passed since my last time-check. At one point I asked “Can’t you just knock me out and take the baby out?” and felt like sobbing as I said “I need a break.” If I could just have 3 straight minutes without any contractions at all I knew I could make it. There would be no relief until I had labored through to the other side of this dark tunnel I was in.
That Husband took my hand at around 8:00am, and I wouldn’t let go of him until baby was in my arms. He was my anchor as I floated on wave after wave of pain. He is my dearest, the one I love most in the world, and I needed him right there.
Sometime between 8:00 and 9:00 T1 had a full on meltdown, dashing any hopes I had of a sweet family experience. I pointed toward the door to let my mom know that I wanted our firstborn elsewhere if he was going to act that way, and made it known that TH was not allowed to leave my side. We are so grateful that my mom could be here to help comfort T1 during what I’m sure was a confusing time for him. Throughout transition Jen kept me hydrated and replaced the towels on my forehead and chest whenever I needed it.
During the pushing stage with T1 I was on my back in the water, pushing in the way the midwife told me to. She told me to push during my contractions, but I wasn’t having any. Instead of speaking up and telling her I wasn’t having any more contractions I just pretended like I was and pushed at random. I don’t know why I did that, I guess I was just tired and overwhelmed. This time I was committed to really listening to my body and making sure I delivered in the way that was best for me. In the weeks leading up to the birth I spent a lot of time using the epi-no, trying to understand the best position and techniques for pushing. I found that I liked being up on my knees, kneeling on a chux pad so I could relax my lower half entirely. And so at 9:00am when I said “I’m feeling the urge to push” I slowly maneuvered myself on to my knees and soaked in the lack of contractions I was feeling. It’s my own personal version of the calm before the storm.
Kavita offered to check me, only the second time she checked me throughout our entire experience together. Up until this point, I had barely registered Kavita’s presence. And I mean that in the best way possible. She was so calm. I knew she was there, knew she was ready to step in if I needed her, knew that she had all of the training and tools necessary, but I didn’t need her and so she let me navigate the experience with That Husband in a very intimate way. He held me, held my shoulders and my hands, told me how beautiful I was, how much he loved me, that he knew I could do this. And I knew it too. I was beautiful and strong and I was going to have a baby.
The time between the end of the contractions, my move to my knees, and the final pushes is a bit hazy for me. I know it took 15 minutes from the time I flipped over to the time I had a baby in my arms, but I have no idea how long I actually pushed for. It felt like a long time, but it must have been minutes, 10 at the most. As I imagined the pushing process during pregnancy I thought I would take it slow to avoid tearing as much as possible, but in the moment I threw all that out and pushed whenever I felt like pushing. I knew I was so close and I was ready for that feeling of sweetest relief when it was all over. Kavita moved behind me and did a wonderful job supporting my perineum as I took one last second to wonder whether I was about to meet a boy or a girl. Only a few moments more and I would know. I grunted and moaned, but never screamed. There were no expletives uttered, not even in my mind. I was using all of my energy to focus on the stretching of my body; trying to listen, relax, prevent tearing, and get the baby out all at the same time. It was painful, the worst kind of pain you can imagine. There’s a reason they call it the “ring of fire”. But it was also magnificent. One of the most transcendent experiences of my life.
9:15am. As baby slid out I quickly leaned back, anxious. Not even daring to hope. I knew I would love this little baby that I had carried with me for the past 10 months no matter the gender, but I wanted a girl. I wanted a girl with everything I had. I looked down and exclaimed “It’s a girl! We have a girl!“. I hugged her to my chest and couldn’t believe it. “Did you guys see, was it really a girl? It’s a girl right?“. I just couldn’t believe that she, M, had been with me all this time. She was perfect, beautiful color, resting peacefully on my chest after arriving in the gentlest way I could provide for her. A boy and a girl. I can’t think of anything better, and I knew right then and there that our family was complete.
T1 came in with tears in his eyes after throwing a rather epic tantrum, instantly calmed by the sight of the squawking new little being in my arms. Finally he could see this baby we had been talking about for so long.
Once the adrenaline rush wore off, it hit me all at once. I was no longer pregnant! And I was exhausted. I couldn’t have asked for a better labor, long enough for me to feel prepared for the birth, short enough for me to not feel like I was zapped of all my strength by the time I reached the pushing stage, but labor is hard work no matter how long it takes.
I stood up and remembered that my lower half was a war zone, wondering how I would make it from the tub to the bed with a baby attached to me. Somehow I made my way over there and settled in for the introductions and pictures and evaluation. I was sad to hear that I had a second-degree tear, as I had personally set a goal to avoid tearing at all (I know many women speak of the labor experience with fear in their voices, but it’s the recovery that I hate most). The shot and the stitches weren’t as bad as I imagined, and I ended up healing twice as fast as I did the last time so I’ll accept my second-degree tear with pride.
Born at 9:15am
21.25 inches long
14 inch head
8lbs, 2 oz
My birth team. Kavita, the midwife, on the left. Jen, doula, on the right. So grateful that they were there to help make this a beautiful experience for us.
Less than 3 hours after I gave birth. This is real life, and it is why I love home birth so much. Eating strawberries in my own bed, surrounded by the things that bring me comfort and the people I love most. T1 bursting with so much excitement that he can hardly contain himself.
T1 saw everyone taking dSLR and iPhone photos of his new baby sister, and so he ran downstairs to find his own camera so that he could join in.
We ended the birth experience with a short round of family photos. I look like hell, and felt like it too, but who can possibly care about that when you see the joy on my son’s face. A new baby! A baby sister! I love my little family and am so grateful for them.
As things wound down I found my phone and posted T2’s first photo on Instagram. I read the messages of love and support and felt loved. I knew that she was loved too, by people who didn’t even know her. What a lucky girl.
The next day we gave T2 her first bath, with T1 excitedly joining in as well. I wasn’t ready to have someone climbing all over me when I could barely sit down but I laughed and told him to come on in. This was my life now and I was happy to see him taking an interest in sharing things with this baby sister already.
That night we gathered downstairs for our family tradition, celebrating baby’s birth day with avocado cake.
My mom took the time to make it look fancy, and we did our best to get a picture of the four of us together. We couldn’t get enough of her. We still can’t actually.
Slowly we settled into our new routine. I healed. T1 learned what it meant to be gentle. That Husband enjoyed his time home with all of us. I felt overwhelmed thinking about how lucky I am, to have so much, to be so blessed. To be a family of four.