I’m laying in bed with my baby asleep on my chest. I feel her tiny breaths against my belly and her little hand grazing my side. She just laughed - the laugh we get every time she enters her REM cycle, which makes us both laugh.
I spent her two precious naps that lasted less than an hour googling “day in the life of a 4 week old” - desperate to hear other moms talk about how frequently their babies wake up, how little sleep they are getting, and their babies awaking upon setting them down. I couldn’t read one more “suggested” day without feeling complete defeat. Oddly I only found 2 blogs posts, but both sounded just like our days and left me feeling relieved and normal.
4 weeks ago at this time, I entered the pushing stage of labor as we prepared to meet our baby. Four whole weeks that seemed to pass more quickly than that last week of pregnancy. It seems like a good time to recount our birth story - fresh enough in my mind and with enough distance that I can begin to process it.
Week 39 brought all sorts of woes with our house. I was trying to finish up the last of the work that I had, but found I was so exhausted physically and unable to focus on anything mentally. We found a leak in our utility closet again, our garbage disposal broke and the guest toilet was getting clogged every time we used it, no matter what. I called the plumber who had come for this same issue in November and he told me that since the previous work didn’t fix it, we needed to have someone tear down the wall to find the leak. He had a guy come and remove the glass mosaics that were original to our 1960s house only to find that there was no leak coming from the shower pipes. Then he said we needed to tear into the other wall and would possibly need to take out the tub. While they did that, I went to buy a new toilet and disposal (please picture a 39 week pregnant lady waddling through Home Depot. We were also going to need to figure out how we wanted to remodel the shower (something I imagined we’d do in a few years after we saved some money) so went to a fixtures store only to discover shower heads are VERY expensive.
Upon returning, they told us they found the leak - water was passing through the little metal soap holder. That could have been fixed with a little bit of caulk and we could have had our shower wall intact. As the plumber went to replace the toilet, he discovered that he instructed us to buy THE WRONG KIND OF TOILET and we were going to need to return it. The one we needed could only be purchased online.
I was much too pregnant to deal with any of this - and 4 weeks later, we just have an unusable guest bathroom. (No biggie that we had 3 guests staying in our house once the baby came!)
On Friday (40 weeks) I woke up and went to the gym with Paul. I needed to get the baby out. Then I napped the rest of the day and lived through some guilt that I wasn’t checking my emails or doing any work.
On Saturday (40 weeks and 1 day) we woke up to a lot of ruckus in the backyard. 12 workers were in the alley to cover up the 12foot hole they dug two months earlier blocking our back gate. And then they replaced the old telephone pole with a new one. I went out there and told them they better work quickly because I could technically go into labor at any time. They told me they needed to cut our power for 5 hours.
We decided we’d go to the art museum to walk around and keep distracted and then met with my in-laws for lunch. We took a nap and planned to go to the movies that evening. Paul asked if he could stay home for some alone time so me, my mom and brother went to see Just Mercy. I felt the baby move from the position it had been in for 2.5 months (the perfect birthing position) to the other side of my belly. This theater had a serve yourself popcorn situation, which felt very exciting for me even though if I eat too much theater popcorn, I tend to get a belly ache.
We got home and I felt very emotional. When Paul and I climbed into bed I had a total meltdown. I was filled with anxiety over the idea that I could potentially be pregnant for two whole weeks still. I told him I didn’t feel like I could mentally do it - just wait around for this thing to start - this thing I knew was coming but had no idea what it would be like, how it would feel, when it would happen. I cried and he rubbed my back until I fell asleep at 11:30 (a much too late bedtime for my pregnant self).
At 2:15am, I jolted awake. Something had woken me, but it wasn’t my normal full bladder. Something HURT. “Was that a contraction?” I wondered. My eyes were fully open and my heart raced a bit - I didn’t want to get my hopes up and I was equally in shock that something was finally happening. Twelve minutes later another jolting pain came. It didn’t feel like a period cramp like I expected, but was its entirely own pain - like nothing I’d felt before. Every ten or twelve minutes, another came. I laid in bed googling birth stories (and finally just ended up reading all of Grace Patton’s again for the third time). I didn’t want to wake Paul for as long as possible so that at least one of us would be rested. I read in so many stories that women take one last shower so I made that plan.
At 4:15 the contractions were happening every 5 minutes and I could no longer quietly breathe through them so I woke Paul and sheepishly told him I “thought” labor was starting and that it had been going on for 2 hours and I needed him. We decided we’d both shower and finish packing our bags. I had made him a list of everything he needed to grab at the last minute.
At 5, he called our midwife to tell her - I of course felt so bad to wake her so early. She told us that since I didn’t get much sleep, our first goal was to get me to rest. She instructed me to take a benedryl to slow the contractions and try to sleep - I thought this sounded like a terrible idea. What if it stopped labor all together? I was so ready to get the show on the road. But as he hung up the phone, I realized that I was actually really tired. She said I was going to need as much energy as possible. I made my last pregnant turkey sandwich (ciabatta bread, turkey, and stuffing with cranberries). And laid down. I got one hour of sleep before being jolted awake. I had Paul start the bath for me so I could relax in there and I started my Hypnobabies tracks.
I moaned through each contraction and Paul sat nearby timing each one. Finally we called her back (I have no concept of time at this point) and she told us that that was as much time my body would allow me to rest so now it was time to get moving. She told us to “go about our day as normal” and I remember thinking she was absolutely crazy. She instructed us to walk and just pause when a contraction came. She said she couldn’t explain how it would be, but we would eventually get to a place where there was a definitive change in the pain and we needed to wait for that to happen.
It was a cold day so we bundled up and went to the backyard to walk because I was too afraid to venture far from the house. We would pause one or two times per lap and Paul would talk to me in between. I’d lean on him when the contraction came and then moan through them.
My in laws came with food (especially for Paul) and my mom and brother were here. I remembered that Paul had planned on watching Liverpool’s soccer game at 11 and told him we could stay in the den and watch in between contractions. I laid down on the couch and the contractions were painful so I asked for the headphones to get back into my hypnobabies meditation. I think I may have even fallen asleep for a little bit, but then all of a sudden I was like “I need to go back to the bath” for some pain relief.
I got really deep into the meditations in there and the contractions were coming every 2 minutes and lasting a minute. Paul called again and our midwife said she didn’t want to discourage us from coming in, but that Mother’s progress more at home. And she would meet to check us any time. Paul hung up and I remember thinking “okay we need to go in” even though I was so scared from all the birth stories of first time moms that we would only be dilated a few centimeters.
I got dressed in between contractions and our parents helped get everything in the car. I was frantically looking for a certain sweatshirt that was nowhere to be found and I changed 3 times. In hindsight this is very funny considering I took my clothes off immediately when we got there. We hugged everyone goodbye and I told them we’d probably be back shortly with a long way to go still.
The ride to the birth center was brutal because I didn’t have Paul to lean on during the contractions. I tried to just get into the meditation in my headphones. I took them off at one point and asked Paul if we had decided on the boy’s middle name. We hadn’t.
We got to the birth center and I had two contractions in the parking lot before even getting inside. They told me to pee and then they’d check me in the room. I undressed and got on the table and Paul asked me if they told me to take my clothes off. I realized that they had not so when she came back in I told her I was sorry that I got naked. She said that it probably meant I was supposed to be there because women who aren’t far enough in labor don’t just strip down.
She checked me and much to everyone’s surprise I was 8 centimeters dilated. I felt so proud of us! For doing so much on our own and felt so excited that meant we’d be meeting our baby soon. She said she’d get the birthing room ready and asked if I wanted to get in the tub - yes, yes I did.
We got into the room and I set out pictures of my two grandmothers, great grandmother and my mom. It was the only thing I brought to make the room our own. I wanted the reminder that they went through this same process and that I could do it, too.
Poor Paul was having an allergy attack due to the high cedar. This never happens to him, but he was sneezing uncontrollably and finally stuck two Kleenex up his nose as he sat next to me in the tub. The contractions were so painful and I’d kind of swing my hips side to side after each one.
But then something changed and all the pain went into my back. It felt unbearable and I told the midwife that I needed to get out of the water because the back pressure was too much. The baby had FLIPPED and we were now back laboring.
I had heard of this and was certain it wouldn’t happen with us since the baby had been dropped for months into my pelvis and had been in such a perfect position. But somehow it decided to flip so that our spines were rubbing against each other and the pain was so bad I wasn’t sure I could handle it without meds.
I remember thinking that I’d made a really terrible mistake by choosing a natural labor. They had me get on the bed and did some midwives moves that I don’t remember to get the baby to flip back around. It was so so painful and I didn’t have my headphones on to stay in my hypnosis. With each contraction I wanted to scream in a really high pitched fashion and they would remind me to bring it down and moan. It seemed impossible.
They got the baby back to a better position and when they checked if I had dilated further, I had not. The babe was not tucking their head correctly so there wasn’t enough pressure to open further. More midwife moves...
She asked if I could lunge and I said “well when I’m not in labor I can, but I don’t know about now.” I imagined doing walking lunges across the room and when I started to show her, she laughed and said not that kind. She had me put one leg on the bed frame and when the contraction came, I had to lean into it. I hated it. I really hated it. We did it 4 times on each leg, coming down into at a different angle each time.
Then they did a move where with each contraction Paul would jiggle my butt so hard. It felt so very strange, but the pain was so intense that I couldn’t object.
I told them I needed to get back into the tub so in I climbed. At this point I was so exhausted. I think it was probably around 6pm and I was really getting worried I was not going to be able to do it. I kept asking “what am I going to do? I need this baby out.” I asked if they could break my water - I knew that my water needed to break for the baby to come out. But they didn’t want to because if they broke it, the baby would be stuck in that position and we were still hoping they would tuck their head.
So then the other midwife asked if I felt like pushing. The other thing I knew was that I needed to get to 10cm to push! Everyone knew that. But she said, let’s just see what happens if you push. “Ok,” I thought. I trusted her with my life and figured she knew what she was doing.
So there in the tub, on my knees, I tried out pushing. Holy moly, it felt so good. My voice was tired from all the yelling and moaning and I was so relieved to put the energy elsewhere. The contractions came quickly and I pushed.
Paul asked if I’d like him to get in. I hadn’t totally imagined him getting in that tub with me, but I said it was up to him. He got on his bathing suit and got in. His presence was so comforting and I loved that in between contractions, I could lean back into him.
I again told the other midwife that I wasn’t sure I could keep going. I kept saying “y’all, I don’t think I can do this anymore” and at the time I KNEW it was so weird that I was saying “y’all” because I ever ever ever say that.
She suggested to check me and with that check she got excited and said they’d call the rest of the birth team. When she asked if I wanted to change positions I said no until further reconsideration when I realized she knew what she was doing. It turns out, you don’t have to get to 10cm before pushing and I’m still unsure how it all worked.
The apprentice midwife came in and sat on the left of the tub and the other midwife sat on my right (she is the one we had been calling and we really loved her so her presence was very reassuring for me). And the other midwife stood at the end of the tub. She had me grab onto both sides of a long piece of fabric, put my feet at the end of the tub and when a contraction came, I pulled the fabric to bring myself up and push. Paul would help me tuck my head. As I type this, I am remembering the complete exhaustion I felt.
They told Paul to put his hand under me and put some pressure so I would know where to push into. The first time I remember his hand was actually on my butt and I was thinking “Paul that’s the wrong hole” but I couldn’t talk to tell him that. He discovered that himself by the poop that fell into his hand.
(As an aside if you don’t know, poop happens in labor. Mine were little poops in the tub and in they came with a little tiny fish net like you’d see at the pet store and they’d scoop it up. Very good for humility)
Since my water never broke, the baby was still in the water sack. This is called “en caul” or a “veil,” which is very rare and very exciting. They had a mirror in front of me so that we could see the baby’s head. They told me to feel the baby’s head to which I replied “I really don’t like medical things so I think I’ll pass on that.” I remember looking down in between contractions to just see a deflated looking balloon and thinking to myself “that is so small, how in the world am I ever going to get a baby through that hole.”
And since I had my eyes closed during the contractions, I didn’t realize that when I pushed, it was like the balloon inflated with lots more space (ie her head was coming out). Once again I asked “y’all how much longer do I have to do this?”
And there the midwife said “you could push one more time and the baby could come or you could push for another hour. It’s up to you. You need to push past the point that you don’t think you can push anymore.”
There a contraction came and I pushed as hard as I could. And then I pushed even more. This was the first time I opened my eyes and in the mirror I could see the baby’s head in the sack.
One of the other apprentice midwives was ready to photograph since it is so rare to have the baby in the sack. I pushed and out came the baby’s head.
What else I had read in all the stories is that after the baby’s head comes out, the rest of the body “slips out.” So when that didn’t happen I was quite surprised. I could not believe I had to push again at another contraction.
I could feel Paul crying behind me. Unfortunately with the second push, her elbow broke the sack. I pulled her up to me and I was surprised by the pain of the tug of the umbilical cord. She was so slippery! I couldn’t believe it was over!
Then I realized we didn’t know if it was a boy or girl and the midwives said we had to look for ourselves. But Paul was behind me and I couldn’t get the cord out of the way. I birthed the placenta and was able to get her up higher. I fumbled to look and said “uh, I think it’s a girl?” because everything was swollen and I wasn’t totally sure what I was seeing.
There she was! Frances James! Our baby girl. 8:15pm - January 19, 2020 - 7lbs 14oz - 20.25 inches long - 13 inch head
We got out of the tub and climbed into bed and spent two hours doing skin to skin while Frances nursed. We ate food and stared at our baby.
I had a couple of bad tears and to my great surprise the pain wasn’t over. Paul did skin to skin with the baby while I got stitched.
By 2am we were ready to go home where everyone was waiting to meet our Fran girl.
In the photos the midwife sent us a few days later, you can see my eyes rolled in the back of my head while pushing to which I inquired if I looked like that the whole time!!? They said yes and I just couldn’t believe you could physically see me in the hypnosis state.
Giving birth was the most physically difficult thing I’ve endured for that long of a time. I still can’t believe this beautiful baby was knit together in my womb and that the three of us - me Paul and Frances - labored together to bring her into the light of the world.