It’s boggling to realize that it’s been over nine weeks since the birth of my second child, Auden. I marvel at this stunning little person, so easily distracted by her hair, her cat-like stretches, the downy fuzz on her ears and the way she purses her lips in a way that instantly recalls memories of her brother at this age. In the span of her little life, parenting has become a strange experience of contradictions. Life is both easier and harder; clearer, yet more disorderly; more expansive, yet also very limiting. My days are measured in moments of undiluted joy and blinding exasperation. Now that I think of it, these are all ways in which I would also describe her birth.
The evening before Audie’s birth, my husband took our toddler son to our local children’s museum for the evening. I decided to use the time alone to indulge in some needed solitude. I poured some tea and a bath and read a little in the tub. I got lost in the quiet, watching my belly thump and stretch to the rhythm of the one-girl dance party inside. I took my time shaving my legs. A friend had given me lovely handmade lotion bar, and I used it generously afterwards. I blow-dried my hair and dabbed on a little perfume. It occurred to me that I was behaving as if I were getting ready for a date. Maybe I kind of knew on some level she was coming, I remarked to my husband later the following day as we lay next to each other for a nap in our bed, a freshly born daughter dozing serenely between us.
I had woken up around 3am on my due date with contractions. This was not a new experience; I’d been awoken numerous times by similar sensations over the course of the previous weeks. I laid in the bed watching my husband and son sleep for a few moments, realizing that these contractions were coming pretty regularly. I got up to use the bathroom, thinking, If I could just go to the bathroom I’d feel better. But I didn’t feel better. For about an hour, I used an app on my phone to time the contractions while I stayed in bed, unconvinced that these were the ticket to the big show.
With my son’s birth, I lost my mucous plug early one morning, had bloody show that evening, and about 5 minutes after that my water broke. Contractions started within the hour. That was my only frame of reference for how my body managed birth, so this is what I expected to unfold again. But I hadn’t lost my mucous plug; I’d had no bloody show; my water had not broken. The contractions were lasting anywhere from 50 seconds to a minute, coming every 4 – 5 minutes. When I was no longer comfortable laying in the bed, I crawled out of the covers and creeped over to my husband’s side of the bed. I told him in a whisper that I was having regular contractions and was going downstairs to take care of a few things. I encouraged him to stay in bed and told him I’d let him know if I needed anything.
Just after 4am, I went to the kitchen and brewed some coffee, but no sooner than the pot had filled, coffee suddenly seemed like a terrible idea. Feeling a little hungry, I pulled out a sauce pan and started gathering ingredients to make oatmeal, but no sooner were the ingredients all collected, oatmeal suddenly seemed similarly disgusting. The contractions still continued to come, and I braced myself on my cold granite countertop until each one receded. There was a fresh pineapple in our fruit bowl on the counter in front of me, and it was all I could smell. I took deep breaths of pineapple and swayed through a few more contractions. I swept the kitchen floor and wiped down my stove top in between contractions that made me feel increasingly unsteady. You know, because insignificant chores are what all ladies who are in slight denial that they are about to have a baby do. In hindsight, I think I was desperately trying to distract myself from from the intensity of it all.
I texted my midwife, Linsey: 4:16AM, Feb 9: Having regular contractions this a.m. since about 3am. About 50sec-1min long every 5min or so. Feeling ok, trying to rest. Will check in again soon.
A minute later, she responded: 4:17am, Feb 9: Ok. Thx.
I pulled some bagels out of the freezer and gathered some apples and bananas. I grabbed the pineapple, thinking I might slice it, too, but just the thought of that suddenly seemed like way too much effort. I plucked a sampling of tea bags from the cabinet and arranged them next to a jar of honey, some lemons and a few mugs. You know, just in case we’d be having guests–the kind who birth babies for a living–for breakfast.
I texted my in-laws, who were on-call for birthing day toddler duty: 4:40am, Feb 9: We might be having a baby today. Will keep you posted. Reg contractions since 3am. Everyone here still asleep. XO
My husband came downstairs briefly to check on me a few moments later. I told him that I was managing, that I might try to sit in the bath for a little bit. He asked if he should get the birthing pool ready. Fearful that a poorly rested toddler might present some challenges for us as the morning wore on, I told him that we should probably let our still-snoozing son sleep as long as possible. The plan had been to inflate the pool in our bedroom, but I worried the pump for the pool would likely wake him. If that didn’t, our scurrying in and out of the room surely would.
I went back upstairs and poured a bath. I couldn’t get comfortable in the bathtub. I weathered just a couple of contractions there, got out, dried off, and put my pajamas back on. Apparently the idea that a baby was on her way was beginning to sink in because I didn’t bother putting my underwear on under my yoga pants.
My head started to feel a little fuzzy. I’d been listening to Hypnobabies scripts for the last half of my pregnancy, but suddenly couldn’t remember which script I needed to listen to at this point. I went to our tv/playroom and rifled through my Hypnobabies home study book trying to find the answer, but I couldn’t focus on the words and quickly gave up and laid down on the couch. (I had a great Hypnobabies birth with my son, and I knew these scripts by heart–I think my gridlocked brain had everything to do with the tsunami of intensity of this fastly unfolding birthing.) I tried to breathe through a few more contractions, but my breaths involuntarily came out as groans. I was toppled by a wave of nausea. I grabbed a bowl from my my birth supply basket, convinced I was about to vomit. I felt like I was on fire and started profusely sweating. I opened the door from our tv room that leads out to our front balcony and stood in the doorway taking in the winter morning breeze. When another contraction came, I braced myself on a nearby rocking chair. The contractions were so powerful, almost paralyzingly so.
I started to feel my composure slip away; I started to vocalize a lot. It came reflexively, the loudness. The I-don’t-care-who-hears-me-ness. My husband came into the tv room and closed the balcony door. I thought he’d done it so that neighbors wouldn’t hear me. Later he told me that he’d actually closed the door because the room was freezing in the 30 degree breeze. The chill never registered to me. I was somewhere else.
I texted my midwife: 5:39AM, Feb 9: I think I forgot how intense this can be. Got in my bathtub for a bit but could not get comfortable. frequency is slowing some but each wave feels harder.
She messaged back: 5:41AM, Feb 9: It is intense but its manageable. Let us know when you’re ready for us. We can come any time. Sounds like you must be having some nice alone time right now.
With one of the following contractions, I sank to my knees. I was kneeling in front of my couch, prayer-like. My husband kneeled down beside me, and I started to openly sob. This hurts. I am struggling. I don’t remember it being this hard. It wasn’t like this with Arlo. Oh god, this is awful. He would whisper, You’re doing great. And I would breathlessly say, But you don’t understand.
Oh, transition, you wicked, wicked thing.
I could feel everything shifting between my legs. There was this uncontrollable force of downward motion in my body. My body was moving the baby. I tugged down my pants, but couldn’t get them all the way off. I was frozen in that kneeling position and could not pull the waist of my pants beyond my knees.
My husband scuttled between the bedroom, checking on a sleeping Arlo, and the tv room, checking on me. I was still kneeling on the floor in front of my couch, burying my head into the cushion and reflexively vocalizing with each contraction. I tried to be quieter, but my body was in control, not my mind. In my head I kept repeating, This is only temporary. Listen to your body. This is only temporary. Listen to your body.
At some point my husband had returned to my side, and I heard him say, Hey, buddy. Our two year old was standing in the doorway. He’d woken up, padded down the hall to the tv room and was surveying the scene. As my husband scooped our toddler up, I said, Call Linsey. Call her now. It was just a few minutes before 6am.
My back was to the door, so I didn’t realize that Linsey, my midwife, had arrived until she was suddenly kneeling next to me. She listened to the baby quickly with the doppler and then began gently placing big waterproof pads under me. She was quietly empathetic and encouraging.
I felt my body pushing again, and I joined with it, pushing a little too. I had one of my hands between my legs, and with that little push I felt a trickle of water on my hands. My bag of waters. Good, Linsey encouragingly said to me.
My husband was out of the room with Arlo, who was protesting his ban from the room. He began to cry. I was so worried about scaring my toddler. I don’t want him to see me like this, I said to my midwife. She said, He’s okay. He just wants to be with you. I needed my husband, and I was worried he’d miss something. I asked for him to come back into the room, and with him came my happy, unfazed toddler, who hopped up on the couch next to where I was resting my head between contractions. He gave me a bubbly greeting, Hi, Mommy!
I buried my face into my folded forearms with the next contraction, and Arlo said, I hide too! and he buried his face similarly. He handed me a book, Mommy, read? We all laughed.
The baby will be here very soon, Linsey said. My in-laws still hadn’t received our texts and calls. Arlo, it appeared, would be there to see his sister born.
She checked the baby with the doppler again. I pushed when my body pushed, and a gush of water came with it. With the next push, the baby was crowning. I could feel that she had hair on her squishy head. Keep your hand down there, Linsey encouraged. I think it’s helpful.
I pushed carefully with the next couple of contractions, fearful of repeating the third degree tear I’d had with Arlo. It was so hard to be patient–it burned to hold her there like that. Her head was nearly out.
And with the next push, her head was out. From behind me, I heard Arlo chirp, Hi, Baby! I later learned that Arlo had been very interested in one of Linsey’s flashlights, so she had given it to him to play with. The kid I was so worried about scaring was actually standing behind me with a midwife’s flashlight taking the scene in like it was zero amounts of a big deal. So incredible.
We were so blitzed by this labor that we’d completely forgotten to call our birth photographer. Our midwife snapped a few pictures with her phone for us, and there is one particular shot that absolutely steals my breath. It’s grainy and dim, which adds to its magic. Audie’s head had just emerged, and there is her face, so perfect, peaceful, and recognizable. Beneath her head is my hand, cradling her head, and under my hands are my husband’s two hands, open and ready to catch her. Oh, how I love it: that perfect face, those three eager hands.
I held her there again, waiting for my body to guide me through the next push. And then she was out, into my husband’s hands, with a big gurgly cry. My husband was positioned behind me and passed her to me back through my legs, and there she was, the baby I never expected, but wanted so much: slick, pink, whole and perfect. Lots of hair. Long fingers. I sat back on my heels, admired my daughter, and clutched her to my chest in relief. And joy. But lots of relief.
And there was our birth photographer, quietly on the scene after finally being summoned by our mindful midwife, snapping pictures of these first few minutes of our daughter’s life.
I nursed Audie briefly and marveled again at her features. She reminded me so much of Arlo. I handed her to my husband, and with my midwife’s assistance I stood and delivered my placenta with ease.
I walked back to my bedroom so that I could get cleaned up and changed, and there at the foot of our bed was the half-inflated birthing pool. The limp sight conjured up a little sad trombone for a moment, but I could really only smirk at it–yet another thing that I’d ardently planned out, but went in a completely different direction. We’d planned a water birth, but instead my baby was born about two feet from a pile-up of Arlo’s matchbox cars. Hah! I never mourned the whole not-in-water thing; once I was down in that kneeling position, I knew that’s where my baby would be born. There really was no moving at that point, and it was a very easy thing to accept. I had no choice, really. I did what my body told me to do.
I changed, nursed and cuddled my gooey baby some more, and then turned her over to my midwife for her exam. Audie checked out beautifully. She measured two inches longer than Arlo and was nearly a pound heavier. My midwife checked me out. I had a tiny labial split (not significant enough for a stitch), and no tearing of my perineum this time. Huzzah.
My midwife and her assistant cleaned up where we’d birthed, took down the birthing pool, and completed paperwork. Linsey spent some time peeking at Audie’s latch, and she went over all my postpartum aftercare information.
It was a blessing that my son was present for the birth. I’d thought I was pretty certain I didn’t want Arlo there, and I am now so thankful and excited that he is a part of his sister’s birth story. I love that he was the very first person to greet this little girl and that he took the whole birth in with curiosity and ease. He may not remember being present for her birth when he grows up, but he’s a charming part of the story of the beginning of their siblingship, a story that we will tell them both over and again. May it be just the beginning of the all the times they are there for each other.
Rhianna, a former social worker and current stay-home parent/human napkin, blogs from her adopted hometown of St. Louis. She has a masters degree in social work and credits this education and experience for priming her to be a gentle, attached parent. You can read previous posts about her home birth experience here, here and here.