I kept my clothes on during this labor. It began on a cool, early spring Saturday night, five days before my due date, around 10:38 p.m.–that’s what my computer read as I glanced down at the clock during an episode of the Borgias. Fae was asleep in her new twin bed, adjacent to our double bed. Jared was asleep too. We had just made some wild love, knowing that it could probably start my labor (as it did with Fae, and almost did for Hawk at 32 weeks), and I was now feeling waves of cramping while winding down with a romantic period piece.
Rushes had begun, which I expected, but I wasn’t yet sure if they’d lead anywhere. I went to the kitchen and took a big sip of wine out of Jared’s bottle, sticking with my original plan were labor to begin. In other words–I’d try to stop it. That way, if it was the real thing, I’d believe it, and the gulp of wine would at the very least help me get a bit of sleep before the rushes really kicked in. I debated having another sip, but instead chose a glass of warm cinnamon milk–my favorite nighttime drink.
I truly wanted to stay relaxed for this labor. I wanted to keep my mood calm, and to remain internal, which comes natural to me anyways. For my first labor, I had the impression that I would need a lot of help–need to make eye-contact, and generally just feel connected to the world around me. But even knowing then that ultimate relaxation would help me, by the end of the first stage of my labor with Fae I still just couldn’t seem to get into that peaceful place.
I didn’t finish my show. My labor was intensifying. I got my heating pad out of my labor crate and laid back in bed next to my husband, hoping to get some sleep before labor got heavy. At one point I got up and packed Fae’s brand new quilted cloth bag with the butterfly on it, smiling. I knew that this was real, or at least my heart knew. My mind needed further convincing.
Time passed rhythmically through the night. I visualized my body totally limp, floating peacefully over gigantic waves in the crystal-clear ocean. I would breath deeply through each contraction and then fall asleep as they ended. Each hour or so I’d walk across the apartment to use the bathroom (aware that this could help my baby to move down, and to keep the energy flowing), stay there for a contraction or two, and then get back into bed, lying down on my other side. I was using my husband’s body to either hold the heating pad in place with a pillow, or to lean on.
I came to a point where I needed to already be breathing deeply, before my rushes began, in order to make it through calmly. My breathing was getting loud and I was feeling more intent and serious. My labor was shifting. I was around four centimeters now (but still a part of me didn’t quite believe that I was).
This time I went from the bathroom to the couch, sitting and leaning against some pillows. It was around 5 a.m. and Jared was immediately in the room with me–it was such perfect timing. He said that he’d been dreaming of a woman being consumed by waves, and I told him how that was interesting. He hadn’t known that I was in labor.
Without saying much at all, I let Jared know what I needed: a banana, the jar of peanut butter, a big glass of milk, Fae’s crib mattress at my feet, and to text my mom so she’d be ready for a text to come get our daughter when she woke. After a rush, I also added to the list a jar wrapped in a towel. My back was bothering me through the rushes and I needed something hard to lean against in order to stay calm.
The jar helped but wasn’t perfect. I could no longer keep my hands and arms still (again, like in my labor with Fae) no matter how much I focused, so I tried holding my hands in fists against my lower back and leaning on them. That kept them still, and helped my back. I was again in a peaceful place.
I stuck to my rhythm of going to the bathroom every hour. Jared got me coconut water, and was right there with me, doing everything perfectly. We didn’t need to say much.
Fae woke up around 7 a.m. and Jared texted my mom. Fae was still nursing often at the end of my pregnancy and pretty attached to me, so we were unsure of how she’d react to the labor. To our delight she got very excited when Jared whispered to her that today her baby brother would be born and that “Mem” (my mom) was coming to get her. I had prepared for the instance of her witnessing the birth by showing her a beautiful, short video of a Mexican midwife giving birth with her husband and two sons there with her. I also read her a home birth children’s book, and she was naturally very interested in all of the photos of women giving birth in my Ina May Gaskin books and in my Bradley Method book. She understood what it meant that her brother was going to be born.
She wanted to say good morning to me as I was rushing on the toilet so Jared let her know that after the rush I’d be able to see her. She waited patiently (which isn’t so common for her). We said our sweet good-mornings and I got myself set up in the bed (happy to get back in, since the couch was no longer working for me), reclining against a bunch of pillows while sitting almost upright.
My mom showed up within minutes. I said my good-byes to Fae, and spoke quickly with my mom. Just as they closed the door I got emotional. While crying I said to Jared that I was just so proud of our little daughter and that I loved her so much. I said that I was so happy that we soon might get to meet our son. He assured me that yes, this was it (as he did with Fae’s birth when I got emotional at 7 centimeters) and that he was really proud of Fae too. As I calmed down, I had the thought that I may be at 7 centimeters, but it just seemed unbelievable. I was so calm and peaceful–not to mention, my contractions were somewhere around 10 minutes apart. I wasn’t quite sure, but they weren’t at all close together. I assumed I had hours upon hours to go.
I kept with my rhythm of pressing my fists into my lower back. I was also picturing my uterine muscles stretching during my inhales and my cervix relaxing and opening up during my exhales. I focused on the contractions being the sensation of my cervix opening up to allow my baby to pass through. Unlike the woman in my husband’s dream, I didn’t get consumed. I wasn’t scared. It was intense and extreme, but I was able to connect what was happening to nature–to my body’s nature.
I was going through stages of being hot and cold. Upon my request, Jared had set up the fan for me when I got settled in our bed, but since I was getting cold and shaky after each contraction ended and kept asking for the heating blanket, he switched the fan for the sound of the ocean. I was again reminded of waves and water.
Around 8:30 a.m. Jared began timing my contractions. I still had long breaks between them–they were 7-8 minutes apart, although about 2 minutes long. But since I was still so calm and relaxed we decided to wait a little longer before calling our midwives.
I got up to pee just before 9a.m. and after the next rush asked Jared to call Cindy anyways–the strength of my labor I felt warranted the call. Besides, I wanted to get in the birth tub (which Cindy was going to bring). Jared got her on the phone and I was able to speak with her calmly. She said it would take her an hour to pick up the tub and get to us. We still needed to turn the water heater up in the basement (for the tub), so I told Jared to go ahead–I was fine. But in the next moment I changed my mind, told him to stay with me, and had a breath-catching contraction and felt that I was about to begin pushing. I felt the water bag bulging inside with my fingers. Jared quickly got Cindy back on the phone and I told her I thought I was about to push, then handed the phone off to Jared because of another rush.
My water bag broke with that rush, and I immediately had another where I began to make some wild, uncontrollable, pushing sounds and yelled to Jared that our baby was coming out. I couldn’t keep my body from pushing. While holding my baby’s head in with my hand, I told Jared he was coming too fast and that I needed to get to the bed quickly so that I could lie down. I couldn’t imagine giving birth on the hard, tile floor–I needed to feel supported and comfortable, and wanted to slow the birth down. I leaned on Jared with one arm and had the other in between my legs, my hand cupping the top of our baby’s head. I managed to kick my pants off as we crossed the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood and amniotic fluid. We shuffled through the living room. At one moment Jared began to change positions to support me better, and I think I yelled to him, “no, no, no!” I could only walk in that one specific way, with almost all of my weight on his shoulder, determined to get in our bed before the next contraction began.
We managed to get me into bed, and I reclined partly onto my side. I breathed deep. Jared was calm. He got Cindy on speaker phone. I demanded a pillow under my head, which was extremely important to me at the time. With the next rush I made more animalistic sounds and my body pushed fiercely as I kept a hand on my son’s head in order to ease him out slowly. He was just about crowning. Cindy reminded me that my breathing was also bringing oxygen to my baby, so I breathed slow and deep before the next rush. She gave Jared instructions on how to check for a cord around our baby’s neck, and what to do if it was there. Her voice was so calm and peaceful.
I felt my son’s head slide back a little, and then with the next rush he was full-on crowning. I remember realizing why vaginas opening for birth are always compared to flowers blooming, because that’s exactly how it felt. His head eased out even more after the contraction was over. I recall Jared telling Cindy that he could see our baby’s face.
Looking down at my husband, kneeling between my legs, with his hand covered in blood, about to deliver our baby, was the most primal feeling that I’ve ever experienced. He was solid and gorgeous–I trusted him with all of my heart, and I felt completely in love.
With the next rush our baby’s head was all the way out. Jared had to loop the cord over his head as I pushed his body out. I immediately lifted my shirt and bra and Jared had our slippery baby boy on my belly within a second. I quickly looped the cord over his body and brought him up to my chest as Cindy instructed us to wipe his face. He wasn’t breathing yet. I grabbed the corner of a pillowcase–the closest cloth in reach–and wiped the fluid from his face as I told him that I loved him, that he was born, and to take a breath.
He still wasn’t breathing, but he was trying. We tapped the bottom of his feet and rubbed his face some more as we listened to his gurgles. We urged him to come to. Cindy told Jared over the phone that he may need to give our baby a puff of breath over his mouth and nose. I had gotten him into the crook of my arm and Jared gave him a breath while I tapped on the soles of his feet. That got him started. He began to breathe and to cry. Our hearts filled. He was here.
Jared covered us with the blanket we had on the bed and then got receiving blankets from the birth basket to layer on top of our baby, who was on my chest staring into my eyes. I was soaking his presence in, falling deeper and deeper in love.
Cindy had Jared, who was awash, check the amount of blood and reminded us about the placenta, which soon followed. I pushed it out easily.
I lay there on our bed, in a puddle of fluid and blood, with my son’s warm body relaxed onto my chest and wrapped up in my arms. I felt slightly in shock that he was already born, and I was in complete ecstasy.
It was just us. My husband, our newborn, and me. It felt a little surreal.
Our two midwives arrived shortly thereafter, cleaned me and our apartment up, checked out Hawk, and got us settled in.
Hawk had been born at 9:11 a.m., just about 10 minutes from when we first called our midwife. We didn’t realize that I was so close to the pushing stage since I remained so calm and relaxed while reaching full dilation. I got my break this time (that I almost pleaded for last time) in the form of long stretches of time between my contractions.
Jared and I aren’t uneducated in birth, thankfully. We’re completely aware of the process–partly thanks to Ina May Gaskin’s books and largely due to the home birth of our daughter. It wasn’t a shock to us to have to encourage Hawk to breathe. Fae didn’t breathe right away when she was first born either. We’ve now had two beautiful–yet wild and intense–home births. And they mark the most amazing periods in our lives.