I was thirty nine weeks and four days pregnant when I woke up at 11pm with regular enough contractions to start timing them. A half hour later I woke up my husband, Ravi, and said, “Um…soooo…I think I’m in labor.” I felt bad waking him since I knew he had only gone to bed a half hour earlier. There had been many other moments in the previous month that I had questioned labor, but this definitely felt different! The contractions felt stronger than the Braxton Hicks I had been experiencing and were also about 3-4 minutes apart. It was almost like my body just said, “annnnd…. cue labor. Let’s do this.”
I did my best to wait another half hour before I called my midwife, Robin. She kept me on the phone to gauge where I was at in labor and to hear how I was handling the contractions. About the time she suggested I call her back in an hour or so she could tell I was having a more intense contraction. She offered to come then instead. “Yes, please!”
Next I called my mom to come pick up my two and a half year old son, Bode. I felt horrible waking my parents, too, to drive an hour here then an hour back home in the middle of the night, but they were happy to do it. Around 1:00am, about a half hour after Robin and her student midwife, Madeline, showed up, my parents arrived to pick up Bode.
I was already having contractions every 3-4 minutes at that point and needed some help and guidance throughout them. Poor Ravi was busy getting the tub set up, starting a fire in the woodstove, making some food for me, packing Bode’s bag and getting his car seat installed in my parents’ car, all while trying to support me through contractions. (These would have all been great “early labor” tasks, but we seemed to have skipped that part of the process!) While he was busy getting things prepared, my mom enjoyed rubbing my belly during contractions. I enjoyed her calm support and was thankful she was there.
When it was time to wake Bode I decided to “hide out” in the bathroom so he wouldn’t see me so uncomfortable. Ravi and my parents gently woke him and brought him downstairs and out to the car. Poor guy was pretty upset. He had known he’d be going with his grandparents when the baby came, but we never quite prepared him for a possible middle of the night departure! But was there part of him that knew this was going to happen? Earlier that same night as I was leaving his room after putting him down he said “Mommy, you’re going downstairs? The midwives are here?” I think he knew his brother was on his way…
Once Bode was out of the house labor kicked into the next gear. I grabbed my busy Ravi, smiled, and said, “Are you ready to join me now?” I was grateful he was doing everything that he was, but I needed his energy to shift to a more calming one. I needed him with me. He took some breaths himself and settled in. I told my team to turn down the lights, light some candles, and get some good yoga music on. I was ready to do this thing.
Labor was intense, but I took it one contraction at a time. I only vomited once and it actually felt good. It also confirmed this was really happening. The time had come to have my baby! Time for the next phase in our lives. I could do this. I was ready. Right?
Thankfully the nature of labor and birth allows for breaks in between contractions. I remember the relief I felt after reaching the peak of each contraction. It wasn’t over yet; I still needed to breathe, to cope, but I knew it was only for a short time before it was downhill from there. Until the next one…
I asked Robin when she was going to call the other midwife, Brenda, who lived an hour away. (The plan had always been that the other midwife would just come toward the end of labor. One midwife for me, one midwife for the baby.) She said, “I’ll call her when things start to get a little more intense.” I think she could tell by the look in my eyes that I thought I was already there! “Or I can call her now…” I nodded and breathed. She smiled and went into the kitchen.
Over the next hour or so (who am I kidding? I had no concept of time!) I kept hearing her on the phone in the background, like she was leaving messages. Part of me didn’t want to know what was going on, but I was glad to hear Ravi ask if she had reached Brenda. Robin said, “Actually, I haven’t been able to reach her but Lindsay is on her way.” This wasn’t necessarily the calming resolution I was hoping to hear. Not because it would be Lindsay instead of Brenda, but that Lindsay also lived an hour away. I wasn’t sure I’d make it that long!
I soon became ready for the next level of pain relief: the birth tub! I spent a lot of time in the tub when I was in labor with Bode and I was saving it for when I really needed it (and for when the water was warm enough!). Things were really picking up and my coping skills were waning. I needed my midwives and Ravi to keep me going. During a couple of intense contractions I yelled, “Talk to me!” Hearing their calm, confident voices helped tremendously. I remember telling them months before that I didn’t feel as strong this pregnancy and knew I would need a significant amount of encouragement during labor.
I asked them to read some affirmations to me. I had “The Pocket Midwife” to read from, as well as a big tapestry on the wall that friends had written affirmations on during my Blessing Way.
“I honor the sensations of birth and let my baby move down.”
“My baby and I are healthy and strong.”
“There is nothing you cannot do.”
“Relax and let birth happen.”
“You are not alone.”
Not long after this need for affirmations (transition, maybe?) I had a contraction with some pushing pressure. I told Robin what I felt, surprised at how soon that sensation occurred (I had only been in labor for 5 hours!). I had some longer breaks in between the next contractions and more and more pressure with each one.
During Bode’s birth, my body started pushing before I was fully dilated so they asked that I not “add” to the pushing until my cervix was cleared. Oh that was hard. This time I had no idea how dilated I was at this point or at any point that night so I asked Robin to check. Sure enough, same deal this time. I had so many mixed feelings; I was psyched that I was already entering this phase of labor and that it would be over soon but I was also scared. Ugh.
Pushing was by far the hardest part of labor with Bode. I was not looking forward to experiencing that again! And to heighten my anxiety the other midwife wasn’t there yet. It was challenging to deny my body’s urge to push, but I also didn’t WANT to push yet. Arrgh! Soon I heard the door open. Lindsay, the back-up second midwife, made it. Robin had assured me at that point that if I wanted to push I could go for it… my cervix was likely ready. So there I went. I pushed, I grunted, I swore, I screamed. I was so thankful we didn’t wait til morning for my parents to pick up Bode as we had considered before. So glad he wasn’t there! How traumatizing it would have been to wake up to hearing these sounds come from mommy!
After a few minutes of really pushing I felt something pop out. (“Pop out” seems like a funny way to describe this since people often joke about “popping babies out.” Birth is NOT that simple! But this particular sensation WAS like a pop!) My water hadn’t broken until this
point when the “bulging bag” emerged. The amniotic sac was still mostly intact and his head was pushing it out. At first they thought this was his head they saw (that’s what they expected!) and my husband wondered why there wasn’t any hair and why it looked so squishy! Then they realized it was the fluid-filled amniotic sac still encasing him. After that came his head, more of the sac, and more fluid as the sac finally broke. (This is uncommon, but not quite as rare as being born “in the caul” which is when the baby is born wrapped in a fully intact, fluid-filled amniotic sac.) Robin asked if I wanted to touch his head. I responded with a gutteral scream, “No! I don’t want to let go!” I was clinging onto the side of the tub, eyes closed, and pushing with all my might hoping it would be over soon. A few more pushes using all my strength and all my birthing power and he. was. out.
Robin brought him up to the water’s surface and I sobbed, “My baby! My baby!” over and over again. I was so happy he was out and in my arms. Oh, so happy. With a little back-rubbing Eli started crying. The midwives worked as a smooth team around us to check him, and get us out of the tub and onto the well-covered couch to birth the placenta. There was a fair amount of bleeding and I was still quite uncomfortable. Lindsay asked Robin if she should get something ready as she filled a syringe.
They were preparing to administer Pitocin, but didn’t end up needing to. Robin did lots of abdominal massage and compressions which ended up being sufficient. I was definitely sore, but had only one small tear that didn’t need repair. Robin said, “You did it. It’s over!” Wincing, I didn’t agree. I was still laboring in afterbirth pain.
A bare Eli was on my bare chest, skin to skin, and within 15 minutes or so he was nursing. Ahhh…. 🙂 I felt a strong wave of oxytocin flowing through my body at one point and knew it was exactly that. Having nursed Bode for two years and only weaned 6 months earlier, I could clearly identify that vivid hormone rush. The. Best. I basked in it, looking forward to our hopefully smooth, long lasting nursing relationship.
Ravi made breakfast for everyone. It hit the spot. I had started labor hungry, but didn’t manage to get more than a few bites of oatmeal in. Robin did the newborn exam (a healthy, normal, 7lbs 15oz, 20.5in, baby boy!), and before we knew it I was cleaned up, the tub was taken care of, the placenta was cut up and frozen for future smoothies (mmm!), and Eli and I were escorted upstairs to bed where we were tucked in and told to rest rest rest. We were given written instructions that included taking my temperature and Eli’s temperature 3x/day for the next few days and to call Robin with any questions or concerns. She would be back the next day.
We learned we were having a boy at the 20 week ultrasound, so we had several months to decide on a name. We struggled with this. We had a list of 10 girl names that I loved, but our list of boy names was meager. Ravi would like a name and I would rule it out. I’d share a name and he’d shake his head. We frequently revisited our list but neither of us was ever ready to make a decision. Our baby was born, and still… not ready for a decision. We knew we had time and were glad we wouldn’t have hospital medical records hounding us. Still, we wanted a name for the little guy, as did the family and friends we announced his arrival to!
We vacillated between two names for the next 2 days and decided to have Bode decide for us. We called my mom, gave her the two names, and requested she democratically present them to Bode and ask which one he liked best. A few hours later my mom sent us an adorable video of Bode saying “Eli!”
Big brother changed his mind a few times over the next 24 hours, but Eli seemed to be sticking. Bode came home the next day and was overjoyed to meet his little brother. (For weeks he would introduce him as “This is my brother Eli. He came out of mommy’s belly!”) We had been very nervous about Bode’s adjustment to the new member of our family, but he didn’t live up to any of our concerns. He was so excited to meet his baby brother and shower him with hugs and kisses. He happily accepted Daddy’s full-time involvement while mommy was full-time occupied with “Baby Brother.” Phew.
Very fortunate we are. Fortunate to have had a healthy pregnancy, labor, and birth. Fortunate to have had a knowledgeable, skilled team to support me as I grew and birthed my son. Fortunate to have a loving and extremely helpful partner in life to help raise my two wonderful, healthy boys. Fortunate I am. Grateful I am.
Photo by Britt Fohrman