ContractionMaster.com was opened up on the phone in front of me. (And yes, a Chipotle burrito was digesting inside of me. OF COURSE labor began after I consumed my signature gigantic black bean burrito…)
Ten minutes and fifty-five seconds apart, fifty-nine seconds long.
Ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds apart, fifty-two seconds long.
Ten minutes and twelve seconds apart, fifty-seven seconds long.
Was it the way I arched my hips, pressing down on the right one with my hand as each ache took hold of my back?
Was it the way I cursed like a sailor through each surge, unable to focus on the games of solitaire and Words with Friends that distracted me during my ten-to-eleven minute breaks?
Was it the way I knew to begin playing my carefully crafted collection of songs as soon as I lay down to time my contractions?
I had little doubt that I was in labor. Even with the contractions spread out over the span of ten minutes–a distance that often signals early labor, even very early labor–I had a feeling that I would be welcoming my baby soon.
In these first few quiet moments, I cried. Not because the contractions hurt so much (even though they did–how does anyone labor lying down in a hospital bed without begging for pain medication?!) but because I needed a moment to mourn the passing of my pregnancy–my last pregnancy, in all likelihood.
For the first time ever, I had enjoyed and even savored being pregnant. Weeks 35 to 39 were downright blissful. And so with the knowledge that I was probably mere hours away from never being pregnant again, I felt awash with a bittersweet sadness. I touched my belly. I closed my eyes. I breathed in those minutes. And I cried.
I just needed a moment.
And then a few minutes before midnight, I stood up.
Uncertain over whether I was truly in labor, I’d made a plan to call my mom and ask her to listen to me through a contraction. I figured that she could help me to discern if this was really it. (The third trimester had turned me into the queen of prodromal labor after all.) And I suppose that somewhere deep inside, I knew that my mom should be heading my way soon.
“I think that I might be in early labor. Just…listen…to me…through this…ugh…contraction.”
She packed up her car and left the house right after we said goodbye.
My phone call, as it turns out, came none too early, for as soon as I stood up my contractions started surging every four minutes.
So I woke up Tim. I called my sisters. I called my doula and one of my midwives. I leaned my hands against the wall and swayed my hips every few minutes. I crept into the boys’ rooms and kissed them on the cheeks.
The start to this labor–its mood and tone–was already so much different from my early labor with Alec. There was no frantic excitement. No nervous energy.
I was calm. Focused. Giddy, yes. Even silly, yes. But also peaceful. Ready.
After I finished my round of phone calls–after I changed into my wrap skirt and my swimsuit top and took a few deep breaths–I made my way downstairs to see what and how Tim was doing.
Oh, my sweet husband.
The birth pool was already inflated. He was filling it with warm water. And, just as I had always imagined for this birth, he had lit both of our Christmas trees and prepared the fire place for a warm and cozy fire. I didn’t care that we were already deep into January. Those trees provided a most lovely ambience for Eric’s birth.
(Have I ever mentioned how much I love this man? I mean, when I read the Homebirth Ryan Gosling tumblr I can’t help but think, “Oh yeah, Tim is actually like that.” I thank my lucky stars that with each of our children’s births, I’ve fallen more in love with him.)
Before anyone else arrived at the house, Tim and I took this picture of ourselves:
I like how tired/calm/happy we look. I love how normal we look. And truly, it all felt so normal. Even the inflated birth tub in the center of our living room, the Christmas trees in mid-January, the contractions coming in between my efforts to tidy up a bit before the house was full of people–everything felt normal and unstrange.
Catie, my doula and dear friend, arrived at the house first. I was thrilled to see her smiling face. Comforted to hear her talk me through my contractions, reminding me to breathe slowly and deliberately. Happy to know that I could still share the same laughter as always with her, even as I was bringing my baby into the world.
Miles even made a brief appearance, creeping downstairs a little after midnight “just to give Mommy a hug” before he scampered back upstairs. Oh, my sweet boy!
Not yet ready to get into the tub, I spent most of this time in our kitchen. I rocked and swayed and squatted. I held a heated rice sock against my back. (I felt best doing it myself. I think I liked how it gave my arms something to do besides just dangling in front of me.) I even joked and giggled with everyone there (which now included Amy, one of my midwives, and Ali, a friend offering support and taking pictures).
No, seriously, I joked and giggled.
When I wanted a heated rice sock on my back and an ice-cold washcloth on my neck? I joked that it was “A BIRTH MULLET! You know, like ‘party in the back, business in the front.’ I have heat on the bottom, cold on the top! WAIT, YOU MEAN YOU’VE NEVER HEARD ANYONE SAY THAT ABOUT A MULLET BEFORE?!”
When we boiled water in order to warm up the birth tub? I insisted on getting a picture with the water because “IT’S CLASSIC! We’re actually boiling water at a birth!”
All of this silliness occurred within two to three hours of Eric’s birth. This is what I looked like, and how I acted, two to three hours before birthing a baby.
How was this possible? How is it that, while intense and not exactly comfortable, my contractions were not oppressively painful and were entirely manageable? How is it that I could still laugh and joke in between contractions?
For one, I felt comfortable in my own home, in my own clothes, surrounded by people that I knew and cared for and who cared about me. I wasn’t scared. I felt confident in the skills and abilities of my midwives. And I felt confident in my own ability to birth my baby.
What’s more, I felt so loved. Eric was born into a home just bursting with love and support and generosity. (And, at times, the house was literally bursting with people, for by the time he arrived earthside, there was a total of thirteen people in our house.)
All told, I was lucky. My labor was progressing smoothly, Eric had a healthy heart beat, and I felt comfortable and loved. And this all gave me the opportunity to remain myself–my silly, goofy self–throughout my labor. I look back now, and the gratitude that I feel for this opportunity just slays me. I’m so lucky. So lucky to have had access to skilled home birth care providers. So lucky to have been surrounded by so much love. So lucky to have been able to labor confidently and powerfully and even enthusiastically. So very lucky.
Sometime around 1 a.m., I thought that my water might be ready to break.
“You guys, I feel like a giant water balloon is about to come shooting out of me.” [squat, sway] “I think we need some towels.” [ugh, deep breath] “I’m totally not walking on the carpet until my water breaks.” [contraction, contraction]
Sure enough, around 1:20 a.m. my membranes ruptured. Or rather, they began trickling. (Can I get an AMEN for not having to deal with a Niagara Falls of amniotic fluid?!)
Clear fluid? Check.
Contractions starting to pick up? Check.
Excitement abounding? Check.
Soon afterward, Amy asked me if I was ready to get into the tub.
“No, not really.”
And soon after that, she again asked me if I was ready to get into the tub.
“But I’m worried that I will get in too early and make labor slow down,” I responded.
“Kristen, I don’t think it’s going to be too early.”
“Really, Kristen. And know that I can check your cervix if you want. We don’t have to, but it’s up to you.”
“No, no. I’ll get so discouraged if I’m only, like, one centimeter dilated.”
“Kristen. You are not. One centimeter. Dilated.”
“Yeah, but we don’t know that.”
“Kristen. Kristen. My guess is that you’re more like seven or eight centimeters dilated.”
Through the fog of my laborland memory, I vaguely remember Amy smirking at me. Maybe even rolling her eyes at me. But in those moments, I really, truly believed that I was still in early-ish labor, still many, many hours away from transition and from having that overwhelming urge to push.
Nonetheless, I decided to humor my beloved midwife. So I got in the tub. I sank into the warm water and let my body simply float.
And the jokes just kept coming.
For as soon as my youngest sister, Kinsey, walked through the door, I began splashing and swaying in the tub and singing, “Look, Kinsey! I swim like a little fishy in the sea!”
She smiled. She raised her eyebrow. She shook her head.
And she posted an update about it all on Facebook. (She and my sister Kellie were in charge of updating all the good folks in internet-land following Eric’s birth. And truly, there were many good folks following Eric’s birth, and I am still heartened and overwhelmed by how much love was sent my way as I brought my baby into the world. Love from people I’ve met, from people who I “know” on the internet, and love from people who are, for all intents and purposes, complete strangers. Just amazing.)
Very soon after, my mom and my sister Kellie arrived.
I smiled. I waved. I took my moment to close my eyes and breathe through my contractions. And then I smiled some more.
And soon after that, my midwife Nina and my apprentice midwife Rachel arrived. (I realize that referring to them as “my midwives” makes me seem very possessive of them. And in some ways, I am! Or rather, I feel very deeply connected to them. And I will feel forever connected to them. They supported and loved me–and my entire family–as we welcomed our baby boy into the world, after all!)
Their entrance marked the moment in which everyone on my birth team who could be there was actually there. And in a turn of events both uncanny and magical, as soon as that entire team was assembled, I relinquished the silliness and turned inward, became serious.
This was not a conscious move on my part. I did not decide to become serious. Instead, I think that some deep-seated part of me “knew” that everyone I wanted and needed was present. Some part of me knew that it was safe to go forward: to embrace the most difficult challenges of labor, to give myself over entirely to this birth.
And give myself over entirely, I did. For within minutes, I noticed that I was pushing at the end of my contractions. Small pushes. Miniscule pushes, even. But definite pushes.
I leaned into the side of the tub. I buried my face in a cold washcloth. I held people’s hands–Catie’s, my mom’s, Tim’s, so many hands that I never quite knew whose hands I was holding, just that someone I loved was anchoring me to the earth, keeping me grounded as I floated off into the depths and heights of labor.
What transpired as those contractions continued still shocks me. Astounds me. For as I pushed through my contractions–as that urge to push grew stronger and bolder–I felt relief. Pushing felt good. It wasn’t horribly painful and overwhelming like it was when I gave birth to Alec. It was physical and primal and intense, yes. But it was…nice.
Yet did I speak a word of this to anyone? Did I correct Catie when she reminded me that even though this was my least favorite part of labor (this time, it was my favorite!), I was so close to welcoming my baby? Did I say anything about how good pushing felt?
No. For I was also struck by the irrational fear that if I announced how good pushing felt, the goodness would melt away into terrible pain.
And so I kept this as my little labor secret.
It turns out that I had to keep this secret for quite a long time. Much longer than any of us expected. And as I pushed…and pushed…and pushed, I had a sneaking suspicion as towhy pushing was exceeding the 35 minutes that it took for me to bring Alec into the world.
Eric was posterior. Sunny-side up. Turned with his face to my front and his back to my back.
And this is where I needed to cull up grace and flexibility: two tools that I had worked hard to hone and sharpen for this labor.
For I needed help. I needed some coaching. Me, the woman who was always adamantabout being left alone to push. Me, who adored being left alone during the second stage of labor.
I needed help. And I needed not to be left alone.
And so Amy ever-so-gently asked if she could check and see where Eric was. (He was at +2 station. I had done something.) She ever-so-kindly asked if I might try leaning back into Tim’s arms and to push. (I would be in a semi-sitting, “floating” position. Most likely to help get Eric under my pubic bone.) She ever-so-sweetly asked if I might try pushing while squatting. (To bring the baby down. To coax him into rotating as I changed positions.)
I flipped. I moved. I changed positions. Amy checked me and asked me to push into her fingers. She let me know which pushes were making progress, which ones I needed to replicate to birth my baby.
I. Needed. Some. Help.
And I welcomed it. I embraced it. Instead of clinging hopelessly to what I expected I would want for my labor, I opened myself up to what I needed for my labor. And what I needed was help.
Throughout all of this, the songs on my playlist continued to drift in and out of my consciousness.
Iggy and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” (which my team thought would surely annoy me, even though I loved it).
The first song from Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain (which I adored).
The Crash Kings’ “You Got Me” (which did annoy me with its fuzzy reverb start).
And Regina Spektor’s “Eet.” Which Amy said would be “a sweet song to be born to.” Which I thought was an awful thing to say, because I surely wasn’t even remotely close to birthing a baby, because it didn’t hurt yet.
And then Greg Laswell’s cover of “This Woman’s Work.” Which I loved. Which I relished.
And then Ani DiFranco’s “Everest.” Which I also loved. And relished.
And then Amy said something about the “ring of fire,” which I thought was a strange thing to say, because surely his head wasn’t there yet, because it didn’t hurt yet.
And then? Then Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler” began to play.
And then I was birthing my baby.
There were two main thoughts going through my head at this point:
1. Huh. So this is the song that he is going to be born to. Alrighty then.
2. Something serious is going on. I need to make room for my baby.
It turns out that Eric’s umbilical cord was wrapped very tightly once around his neck: so tightly, in fact, that it could not be slipped over his head as he was born.
(Here is where I must pause to give thanks to grace and flexibility once again. For Eric had remained in the Right Occiput Anterior [ROA] position for the vast majority of my pregnancy. Knowing that babies often rotate clockwise, I feared that I would need to do a lot of work during labor to keep him from remaining in a persistently posterior position. But during one of my prenatal appointments, Nina mentioned that he must have a reason–Eric must have had a reason for choosing and staying in this position. And now I wonder–if he would have rotated and stayed in the Left Occiupt Anterior position [thought by some to be the optimal position for birth] would this have compromised his cord even further? Would this have made for a very difficult delivery? For he was born ROA. Just as he had been for most of his time inside of me.)
My midwives, in their skill and wisdom, worked to “somersault” him out of me. I lifted up one of my legs into a lunge (or, as I like to call it, the “Captain Morgan stance”) to make more room for him. And no one panicked. Amy and Nina were serious, but they were also calm and confident.
Their calm and confidence grounded me as I brought Eric up from the water and into my arms.
Thursday, January 19, 4:45 a.m.: that 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. hour that had often marked my hour of insomnia throughout most of this pregnancy. My boys were still dreaming peacefully in their beds. Tim was beside me, alert and awake and amazingly supportive.
Just six hours after I wondered if this could be it, I was holding my baby boy in my arms, surrounded by and immersed in nothing but love and joy and wonder.
I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful and extraordinary birth.
Kristen is a member of ICAN. Thanks, Kristen, for inspiring us with your beautiful VBAC story!