My first pregnancy was filled with drama: first trimester spotting, a positive AFP test and high risk for Down’s syndrome, a mad rush to the hospital at 34 weeks when Z’s heart rate dropped, and a breech position which ultimately led to a c-section. But through all this, I actually felt pretty good (surgery aside). This time, there was no drama. Everything went according to plan, all tests were normal, baby was healthy and in a good position, and I felt awful. My due date was May 17, but by the beginning of May I was done being pregnant. It was getting impossible to take care of Z, having to endlessly explain why I couldn’t run, or jump, or sit on the floor, or carry him around, and why I didn’t have the energy or patience to play with him the way I could before. He knew something big was about to happen. On April 24, he stopped sleeping (see previous post). And on Wednesday, May 4, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I drove Z to my parents house in Albany, threw him and his bags into the living room, turned around, and drove home again.
That Friday, Dave’s parents came to help with some pre-baby cleaning and other house projects. They intended to leave on Sunday when we would drive up to Albany, spend some time with my parents for Mother’s Day, and bring Zekey back home. Saturday night we went to Gigi’s for dinner. I was feeling pretty exhausted, hobbling around, crampy, uncomfortable, distracted… but I’d felt that way for so long I didn’t think anything of it. I’d been having braxton hicks contractions for weeks and figured it was more of the same. At 6am the next morning, May 8, I had a cramp that woke me up, but I went right back to sleep. (Blissful sleep without crazy Z around!) At 7am, I had another cramp, this one accompanied by a sharp pop, and when I moved to get out of bed – gush. Despite what you see in the movies, it’s actually pretty rare to have your water break before labor begins, but this was clearly what had happened. And then, nothing.
NOTE: I was a little surprised to be in labor nine days early (especially since Z was six days late) but I wasn’t disappointed. My only worry was that once your water breaks, doctors want the baby to come out relatively soon since it’s no longer protected by the amniotic sac. As a VBAC, I couldn’t be induced, which meant that if I didn’t go into labor on my own relatively soon, I would have to have another c-section. I was NOT going to allow that to happen.
I called the midwife who said I should call back with an update around 2pm. And I called our doula who gave me a bunch of suggestions for getting labor started – a pressure point above the ankle bone, a pressure point in the meaty part of the hand between the thumb and index finger, and a homeopathic drug called Caulophyllum, or blue cohosh, to be taken every 3-4 hours until labor begins. The health food store didn’t open until 11am, so we ate breakfast, folded baby clothes, and packed a hospital bag. We stopped at CVS to buy diapers and some other things we hadn’t gotten around to yet. Every 10 minutes or so I squeezed one of the pressure points. At times I was able to induce a mild cramp, but for the most part, I felt nothing at all. I took the first dose of Caulophyllum around 11:30am (the folks working at the health food store were a little surprised to hear that I was calmly buying this homeopathic drug while technically already IN labor.) We went for a long walk after that – waddling slowly as I had been for the past 3 months, but otherwise not feeling anything in particular. Then we went home, ate lunch, organized some more baby stuff, and called the midwife to tell her that nothing had changed. She said to call back with an update at 8pm.
Around 4pm, I took a second dose of Caulophyllum and we went for another walk. We called my parents around 4:30pm to update them that nothing had changed. Shortly after that, I had a cramp that stopped me in my tracks. Nothing too bad, but enough to make me stop walking for a few moments. It passed and we headed back home, stopping in our garden for awhile to take in the spring blossoms and see what else had sprouted. Dave reminds me that we saw a bluebird and a Baltimore Oriole – unusual for our yard. I took a few pictures on my phone. Around 4:45pm, I started having contractions fairly close together. One that lasted 45 seconds, then a 4 minute break. One that lasted 60 seconds then a 2 minute break. Another that lasted 20 seconds then a 3 minute break. According to the paperwork I had gotten from my OB, I should wait until my contractions were 60 seconds each, five minutes apart, for one hour, before calling the office. That’s what happened with my last pregnancy, but this time, my contractions were all over the place. We headed inside, I went to the bathroom. I had heard this can really kick labor into high gear, which is exactly what happened. With clenched teeth, doubled over, head on the bed, I called the midwife and said things had started and we were heading over to the birthing center. At 4:53pm (hurray for message logs!) I texted my doula and told her she should meet us there. She was about an hour away so I figured this would give her plenty of time since my labor was really just starting. (HA!) Within minutes, I couldn’t see straight.
I remember Dave putting my shoes in front of me and telling me to step into them when I could. I remember trying to sound upbeat as we said goodbye to Dave’s parents, who were watching a Yankee game in the living room, and we headed out the front door. I don’t remember getting in the car but Dave tells me it took at looong time. I remember trying desperately to load a relaxation mp3 onto my phone, and hearing parts of it on speaker; I couldn’t manage to untangle my headphones. I couldn’t open my eyes and really had no idea where we were. It’s a 15 minute drive to the birthing center from our house and all I know is that if I could have had drugs at that point, I would have. I moaned. I gripped the door handle with one hand and the seat cushion with the other. I slammed my head against the headrest. My feet pushed against the floor. It was one constant contraction – no breaks.
We arrived at the hospital around 5:30pm. I don’t remember getting out of the car – Dave says it was challenging. The next thing I remember is a woman standing at the top of the stairs in front of the birthing center. She asked if we needed help. Before we even said anything, she took me in her arms and said “Hold on.” She was very tall and I had to reach up to put my arms around her neck, but it was the most comforting embrace I’ve ever felt. I swear she had magical powers. I found out later she was Mary Riley, of this area’s most respected doulas. After this hug, which probably only lasted a moment but felt like forever, Mary helped us inside and told the staff the baby was coming. My midwife saw us hobbling in and, looking totally surprised, said “Oh, that’s mine!” and shuffled us into a room. I’m pretty sure she didn’t expect things to be so far along when we got there. At this point it was probably about 5:45pm.
They asked me to pee in a cup, which somehow I did. They asked if there was any bloody show. I said yes. (In retrospect, this was kind of ridiculous considering how far along I was. Bloody show is usually one of the earlier signs of labor.) At some point I stripped off my shirt but I was still wearing my skirt. They asked if I could climb into the bed so they could check me. I did. I was fully dilated; it was time to push. (I’ve heard many women say they get an urge to push, but this didn’t happen to me. I kind of wonder how long I’d been fully dilated before I got there. No way to know. I do know that once she told me to push, I knew exactly what to do.)
There were a lot of people in the room. I remember Dave holding me. I remember the midwife’s voice telling me to push, and to breathe, and to relax all at the same time. And I remember having a death grip on some woman to my left. I found out later she came in to draw blood and ended up holding my hand through the delivery. I thanked her the next day. Dave tells me the baby’s heart rate was low so they gave me oxygen. It was important that I keep breathing to get that extra oxygen to the baby. And then I pushed. Once. Twice. Three times and out he came. It was 5:59pm, about 11 minutes after we entered our birthing room. (Our doula arrived at 6:30pm.)
The next few minutes are a blur. A saw a bunch of people hovering over the baby. The midwife instructed me to push out the placenta (a very weird sensation after pushing out the baby). I heard Dave say it was a boy. Then I heard a cry. And I cried too. And then he was in my arms. What I didn’t find out until later was that it took the baby a minute to “get his bearings.” He let out a little yelp when he first came out and then he passed out (or, as I prefer to think of it, swooned) for a moment before being revived by one of the doctors. And then he was fine. And I had done it – a totally natural, unmedicated, minimal intervention birth. VBAC.
I needed two stitches and Niko had a big bruise on his head which went away after a few days. He latched on right away, passed all his tests. At some point, a nurse came in and wheeled away the heart monitor that basically sat unused for the short time we were at the hospital, and I remember marveling at the fact that we had done this with so few contraptions. For Zekey’s birth, I had monitors strapped to my chest, a blood pressure monitor on my arm, a pulse ox on my finger, these weird motorized pressure straps on my legs, and a catheter. This time, it was just me, Dave, and the baby. I was up out of bed within the hour. And all I needed for the pain was a few ibuprofen. I was so thankful. And so proud. And 24-hours later, we headed home.
NOTE: Monday morning, my parents brought Z to the birthing center to see us and meet his baby brother. We hadn’t seen him in almost a week and, all things considered, he handled the whole thing pretty well. More on that later.
My recovery at home was actually a little more difficult than I expected. Everything happened so fast up to that point and our first day home I think I might have been in a bit of shock. I made banana bread. And we brought the boys over to our neighbors’ house for dinner. The next day, the reality of what my body had been through kicked in and for the next couple weeks, I was pretty uncomfortable. Everyone had told me that recovery from natural childbirth was so quick compared to recovery from a c-section (which is was), but I was surprised to feel so much discomfort. Most notable were the cramps every time I breastfed. I had been warned about this, and was told that it was much worse with a second kid. But I still wasn’t prepared for the intensity of those pains after labor was all over. In some ways, I think it was a little worse than labor since my labor was so fast and these pains happened multiple times a day for many days. I had to close my eyes and breathe through each one in a way I didn’t have time to for my actual labor. On top of that, the early days of breastfeeding hurt way more than I remembered. It hurt so much that I thought I must be doing something wrong this time around and was about to go to a lactation consultant when I finally started to feel better.
It took about three weeks to start feeling like myself again, and another couple weeks for the bleeding to stop. But by my 6-week postpartum visit, I was feeling pretty good, and pretty darn proud of myself. And pretty thrilled to not be pregnant anymore! I was eager to talk to my midwife again and ask her what she thought about my labor. From my perspective, I had skipped early labor entirely and I couldn’t imagine how that could happen. She basically said it’s unusual for things to happen that fast, but because I stayed relaxed and just went with it that I was able to breeze though early labor without even really feeling it, and that I was able to push him out quickly because I didn’t tense up and didn’t resist. I realized then that despite the pain, I never felt afraid of what was happening. I trusted that my body knew what to do, and while it was strange to feel so out of control, I didn’t let my brain get in the way of what needed to happen. I didn’t do any of this consciously, but I realize now that I was, in fact, relaxed through the whole process.
Niko will be three months old tomorrow and the fact that it’s taken me this long to write his birth story is indicative of what things have been like since he showed up. But I couldn’t be happier to have him in our lives, and I couldn’t have asked for a better birth.
Mia! This is Sheila, Ben’s mom. I must get your FB posts & just read this account of your son’s birth & your labor. So great that you wrote this narrative as it all becomes such a blur with time. Fred & I moved to the Cape! We get to Albany often as Dan is still there. Give my best to your folks! Sheila