At my first prenatal appointment my midwife said to me “we’re going to have to talk about what normal contractions feel like because you might not know when you’re in labor”. I remember thinking that that would be amazing, but that the odds were certainly not in my favor for this sort of fortunate luck – not with my history. Marin was such an outlier on the pregnancy and labor charts – from 38 hours of labor, to posterior from beginning to end, and making her debut at 43 weeks – that I didn’t want to put too much stock in “normal” for round two. “Normal” was the last word I’d use to describe my first labor, and I didn’t think it made much sense to put my hopes in statistical odds again.
I planned instead on being pregnant forever, having a long labor, and half-hoping that I would have an anterior baby. At our 36 week home visit, I heard the letters “ROP” (right occiput posterior) describe our baby’s positioning, and after the midwives went home, I laid slumped on our living room couch in a lethargic mess that I was headed into another rough ride. I spoke to my midwives about my fears in the coming weeks, and one said something that stuck “at least you know you can deliver a posterior baby, not everyone can”. Something hit me – I could look at our experience with Marin as one that could pivot me into fear or that could pivot me into confidence for a second birth. How I shaped the hard, but possible, aspects of my first birth would be critical in framing my second one.
A lot of what resonated with me, and I continued to fight internally in the following weeks was the absolute hopelessness I felt staying at 8 cm for at least 12 hours with Marin and the stinging fear that I would never progress to 10 cm during my labor with her. That feeling, not the “I can do anything” one after I did give birth, was so much easier to remember for me. There was a very predominate powerless feeling that lingered and I didn’t know how to properly channel it outside of complete fear. Mike and I would pray about it before bed, but as much as I knew that my normal birth was possible regardless of positioning, its unpredictable nature terrified me. Certainly I, and no woman, has much say in how her labor naturally goes, but how would I combat that as a very plan-oriented woman who enjoys the illusion of control in most areas of my life? For my first labor, I was afraid of the unknown, and now, the known was staring me right in the face. Knowing that I could do very little to fight what happened is what I found so paralyzing and allowing labor to be labor was an uphill battle, but I was about to play by its rules and not mine.
Then, during a relaxation exercise in our Bradley class, our teacher read this aloud, “You do not take charge of your labor, you let your labor take charge of you. This labor has been designed perfectly for you and your baby.” I knew I’d found something to grasp on moving forward and added it to my collection of birth mantras to be hung around our living room as encouragement during labor. Birth signs that glorify bodies as perfect never resonated much with me since bodies aren’t perfect (even though I don’t believe they’re in need of the level of interventions used in hospitals today). I wanted to know that whatever happened, whether this baby came down transverse, posterior, or anterior, whether this baby could be delivered vaginally or required a C-section, or any level of intervention for that matter, that we did whatever we could to fully submit our labor and delivery to the hands of God. For both our kids, keeping the perspective that we could only do so much (in having a home birth to hiring a doula), to let labor be labor, and God be God, was especially key in foraging the labor road ahead.
On Monday, November 24th, 2014, Marin woke up with a runny nose that she insisted be wiped constantly. She didn’t have a fever, but her general attitude was tired and irritable, so we enjoyed a very atypical easy-going Monday together. Usually, I start our weeks with catching up around the apartment, but because she was down, we laid on the couch and watched Curious George Christmas and painted turkeys in the playroom to relax. I laid her down for a nap early afternoon, took a shower, and started to read the Hunger Games in bed before hopefully falling asleep myself. Then, 45 minutes into her nap, Marin was up, miserable and exhausted, so I tucked her into our bed to cuddle and nap together. We got a solid 45-minute power nap in before boogers became top priority once more, and FaceTimed with family and watched Mickey Mouse Christmas till Daddy got home because we both didn’t have the energy to do much else with a good attitude.
I don’t remember when they started, but I felt pinchy sensations off-and-on in the afternoon. I had felt them from time-to-time over the last couple weeks, and was convinced that my body was dilating and effacing before labor, knowing that if that was the case, my labor could still not come for weeks out. By the time Mike got home, I was at least convinced that my body was doing enough to cancel the next day’s chiropractor appointment – but only on the premise that Marin was sick, this was still not necessarily the onset of labor. I insisted that we all eat dinner as a family, and enjoyed only a little bit of my favorite Leftover Chicken Soup. At 6:30 p.m., Marin and I went potty together, and I had my first bloody show. Marin asked me what it was, and I told her “the kiss of death”. “The kiss of death?” she looked at me confused asI immediately regretted my explanation for early labor signs. I had gotten bloody show 48 hours before my labor began with her, but without any other symptoms. This time, I knew the bloody show was more conformational that my body was starting to get into gear, but still, I maintained that labor wasn’t necessarily revving up. I contacted my doula and midwives just to give them a head’s up, and they both said they wouldn’t be surprised if my labor picked up after putting Marin to bed for the night.
Mike and I put Marin down around 8 p.m.. Internally feeling that this was my last night of having an only child, I was a tad hurt that Marin wanted Mike to sing her songs before bed instead of me, but I tried to not make an emotional fuss about it. I made sure that the last of our Monday-do list was complete before going to bed myself. I had Mike fold some laundry and put it up, help hang the Advent calendar over the living room couch, and so forth – you know, important stuff. I was off to bed by 9:30 p.m. because if these pinchy sensations were the onset of labor, then I knew better than to stay up and not get some sleep for my pending marathon ahead. I woke up at 11:30 p.m., noticed that Mike had never went to bed, and headed to the living room where I expected to find him asleep on the couch. Somehow he was still working on laundry, and so I laid on the couch beside him, and said I needed to talk – “I’m pretty sure this is labor, and I’m terrified of it”. I got up, and with menstrual cramp-like sensations, paced around the conjoined play and living room, breathing through what felt nothing like a contraction to me. Mike timed them at 8-10 minutes apart, lasting 45-60 seconds long, and we shortly thereafter, went to bed together.
That is, until Marin got up about hourly throughout the night from her cold virus symptoms. I laid in bed, and would hit Mike up to attend to her once I heard her over the monitor in our bed. I’d sleep through what I was now sure were mild contractions (though they felt completely different than what I endured with Marin) and had Mike hit the Hypnobirth CD on when he returned to our room from tending to Marin. He fell asleep on the couch with her in her room for a few hours the first time, so I would hit replay myself everytime I went to the bathroom – about every 1-2 hours. I kept peeing and pooping all throughout the night with continual bloody show – signs that my body was in early labor and progressing into active labor. During one trip, I took a moment to just look at my pregnant belly one more time – I knew it wouldn’t be long till it was gone and empty again. As the night went on, I continued to listen to my CD, and once it was off, would maintain breathing and relaxation exercises as my contractions started, peaked, and ended. My mind gravitated towards the quote “This contraction is not stronger than you because it IS you” and I visualized being a flower that was opening up (the grey one from the Brilliance CD to be exact). I’d breathe in at the onset of each one and breathe out during the peaks to not tense my body or more accurately, fight the discomfort back with tension which would cause pain. Then, I’d fall back to sleep between each one and repeat all throughout the night.
I didn’t mess with Mike too much, and to be honest, I didn’t need to. I just wanted to know he was there beside me and if I needed him, I would wake him up. I hadn’t timed my contractions, but I knew they were longer, more regular, and closer together than they’d been the last time we were up together. Still, I waited – I didn’t want my birth team to be tired in the morning when I needed them if they didn’t have to be. Apparently, I’m a very considerate laboring woman, but that’s exactly what I did with my first night of labor with Marin, and I was glad I did. Problem was, I had a lot more time for her arrival than with Isaac’s, I just didn’t know it yet.
At 6 a.m., Marin got up for the day – way earlier than normal and wanting me to hold her. Mike brought her into our bed and I held her through contractions till we all took a family potty trip and I hung on Mike in the bathroom between a contraction. He put his hand on me, and I thought I was going to kill him – the only way I could manage was to have absolutely no outside pressure on my body. If there was weight anywhere, I’d pick up on it, and suddenly, my contraction felt unbearable. As Mike got Marin’s breakfast ready, got me a mixed drink (of Recharge and ice water, ha!) and made me some peanut butter toast, I went to our bedroom and sat on the stability ball in the doorway. I’d hold onto the doorknob and the edge of our bed, bearing down on them both as my contractions double peaked. After each one, I was so sad that I couldn’t lay on something to rest my weight – I was feeling pretty physically tired already. By 6:30 a.m., I just didn’t have time to figure out how to better position myself, and Mike was now calling our doula, Catherine and texting our childcare, Brittney to come over. At this point, all I wanted was to have someone there to give me full on attention and support, but that wasn’t possible with a sick toddler at the kitchen table.
Still, no one was really timing my contractions, but I soon realized they were close together and long – closer and longer than they were my entire labor with Marin. I requested that Mike time my contractions – as he ran around the house setting up the tub, supporting my weight after a contraction to rest, and trying to parent Marin – by cueing him with moaning from the beginning till they end of each one – 2-3 minutes apart, lasting 60 to 90 seconds long. I knew that relaxing my jaw muscles was extremely helpful in not tensing up as my labor grew in intensity and that moaning helped me to tolerate the pain right before the second stage of pushing with Marin. As Catherine got here around 7:10 a.m. and held Marin in the kitchen, Mike worked to fill up the tub with water, run in to check on me, help me put on my swimsuit, and call the Globe photographer and midwives at 7 a.m. I was so incredibly tired, and I started to strategize how I’d be able to take on an entirely different labor pattern that although quicker, was more intense and had few breaks to enjoy than my labor with Marin. I told Mike that I was so mad at him for not filling up the tub sooner or setting it up the night before – I kept thinking “these contractions would feel so much better in warm water”. I was convinced that sitting on the stability ball was probably not the best position for me, but I didn’t have the confidence to try new ones on my own.
As Brittney arrived a few minutes later and my doula was able to hand Marin to her, Catherine came into our bedroom to be with me. I asked about the tub, and learned that it was only 6 inches full – not nearly full enough for me to get into it still. I was devastated and asked if she thought that I’d have the baby today. She said she felt confident that the baby would be here today, and I set my mind on how I could adjust my labor strategy to handle stronger, closer contractions for 12 more hours. My water hadn’t broken and I knew that once it did, things would certainly intensify and I’d get into what I called the ‘labor fog’ with Marin. I continued moaning through each contraction and Catherine firmly massaged my upper shoulders between them. All I could think was epidural. Epidural, epidural, epidural. I didn’t mind fantasizing about an epidural at all because I knew 1) I didn’t have access to one at home and 2) I knew there was no way I was going to get in a car to get one. (I had this moment for both of my labors, and both times, the idea of getting in a car sounded terribly worse than whatever pain I was feeling). I assume Catherine went to get Mike because I remember being alone through a contraction and wishing that someone was there to squeeze my hips – the pressure on my pelvis was growing. Catherine and Mike came into the room, and she asked him if he’d made the bed yet – put the shower curtain on it, a fitted sheet over that and then lay down some towels.
Nothing had been done in our bedroom because we both assumed that my labor would continue into the morning and I’d be in the tub for delivery. Catherine helped Mike quickly throw down a few layers and they encouraged me to get on the bed and lean on the ball in a hands and knees position. I put all my upper body weight onto the ball and did a sort of half squat on my knees to open up my pelvis effectively. Catherine asked if I felt pressure or an urge to push, and I told her that I felt both. “But don’t I need a vaginal exam first?”, I asked. She said a lot of second time Moms can recognize the feeling pretty well without one, and I’d say, my baby and body weren’t really giving me many options to not push at that point. I had another contraction and started to get really upset that I wasn’t going to have a tub birth by my Christmas tree like I’d planned, and cried “I’m not going to get in the tub, am I?”. Then, with another contraction, I lost my composure as my water broke and Isaac’s head came out. And another, with no break, he was out. Within 3 contractions, at 7:54 a.m. on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014, my dreams of a second water (birth) baby ended, my membranes ruptured, and my baby was here. To anyone who thinks that there are only two types of pushing – mother-led and coached, I want to say – when babies want to come out, they lead the way too.
Fifteen minutes later, the afterbirth was delivered. And five minutes after that, my midwives and best friend, Kelsey got here to learn that Isaac had been born while they were in traffic. The immediate postpartum aftermath felt like a 4-hour fire drill…
(To Be Continued)