“I think it’s starting.”
I had just gently shaken V awake. It was Monday, June 13, 2016 at 2:30 AM. Thirty minutes earlier, contractions awakened me from sleep. After the third, it was time to let him know.
“I mean, I’m not sure,” I added. “Maybe these will just go away.”
He later told me that he had wished they would. My parents arrived two days earlier. He spent the weekend running around with my dad and completing some house projects. On Sunday, we walked to the elementary school so K, our almost 18 month old, could play on equipment while my dad took turns talking to us about the Trump campaign and the politics of university administration. That trip, in addition to an 8 pm run to the grocery store with my mom, was the most I walked in weeks. On the ride home, I reported to my mom that I might be having a contraction, but I wasn’t quite convinced; two weeks earlier, there was a similar sensation after being on my feet for a couple of hours. At 11 PM, Vijay and I kissed and joked about labor starting that night, crossing our fingers that it wouldn’t because we were both exhausted.
Now we were downloading contraction apps. The sensations were not stopping. I tried to rest between the waves of intensity as we were advised by midwives and our old birth education teacher. The anticipation of the impending chaos and pain that culminates with meeting a new human being is absolutely wild. As one might imagine, the “just chill-out” advice is a bit difficult to follow. After rolling around in bed and gripping my way through a series of contractions with V, I insisted he get some rest. I got up and prepared for possibility that labor would continue. The pile of clothes, snacks, newborn diapers, and various other items I had been collecting for my birth bag were thrown into a duffle. I brushed my hair and teeth. I dressed in a gray tank top, gray tee shirt, and some black yoga pants, the same colors I wore when I labored with K. I sent a couple text messages to family members and my closest girlfriends. When contractions would rise up, I leaned on the nearest wall with my upper arms or collapsed onto a window ledge, head coming down towards my hands. My hips pushed out a few feet and I could sway them back and forth and relieve some of the pain.
It was almost 4:30 when I discovered that the old red wingback chair in our bedroom was the one place where I could both remain sitting during contractions and relax to near sleep between them. Perfectly situated between our large bedroom window and V attempting to sleep, I could open my eyes and watch dawn breaking through the evergreens or have a hand to squeeze if the intensity was too much. Until 7:30 AM, I remained in that chair (a few very necessary trips to the bathroom aside), steadily having contractions 8 minutes apart and 45 – 60 seconds in duration.
I was scared to stand up. I knew that altering positions and moving would change the pattern. However, it’s unclear which prospect frightened me more: moving and encouraging the contractions to speed up or losing the progress I made and beginning a long labor process yet again. There’s no doubt that my daughter’s birth cast a long shadow over this one. Many women shared stories of how their second labor was much quicker than their first. And while I know this is the norm, I also know some anomalies. My method for coping was to give a canned response, “I’ll be happy so long as this time is no longer than the last time. I’d even be happy with half the time!” Internally, I imagined crossing all my fingers and toes that all these experienced women were right, but I had to keep my expectations low.
Taking a chance, I went downstairs to spend time with K and my parents. Earlier, I decided that we wouldn’t call my provider until my contractions were five minutes apart for one minute in duration or when the birth center opened at 9 AM.
The following conversation happened repeatedly:
Mom: “I think you might want to call.”
Me: “No, no. It’s not time yet. Not until 9 AM or five minutes apart.”
Mom: “Are you sure Elizabeth?”
Mom: “Okay, but I was there the last time. Your contractions were never ‘normal.’ I think you are getting close!”
Me: “Nooooooooo!” Then add some variation of me coping with another contraction, such as bouncing on my yoga ball and biting my lips or smacking my hands against my thighs.
V gathered our final items and loaded the car, and I called for him every few minutes to push on my lower back. “It’s happening!” I cried. Multiple times, I would pick K up and hug her, only to be overtaken by another wave of contraction. Tears flowed as I had to put her down again, she anxiously yelling her word of the morning, “Cow! Cow, cow, cow, COW!” She was frantic and wanted to be in my arms, joining in my cries.
“You. Have. To. Call. NOW!” I said, nearly spitting out each word. It was 8:55 AM.
During this period, my pattern did indeed change. Waves were coming every three to four minutes, but they were lasting only 20 – 30 seconds. I had no idea whether this meant I was moving in the right direction or not. What I did know is that I was starting to feel desperate; the pain intensity had increased notably.
V dialed the birth center and was connected to the after-hours line where he left a message. Within five minutes, our midwife Melissa called us back. After assessing my ability to talk through the contractions, we decided to meet at the center at 10 AM.
Honestly, my memories of this experience are a little fuzzy. My father took some video, which was fine by me, except when he started playing one back. “Turn that off! I cannot listen to me having a contraction WHILE I AM ACTUALLY HAVING A CONTRACTION!” Reviewing the footage, I find it a little funny. I am so not who I hoped I would be during labor (stoic, controlled, focused, and connected to some kind of grounding earth mama goddess). My sample size is two now, so I know number one was not just a fluke that I can chalk up to exhaustion. No. I am definitely a crier and a screamer when things really ramp up. I feel the pain. I cannot simply breathe through it or meditate through it or whatever else. I feel it all crazily and beautifully and rawly and wonderfully and agonizingly and completely.
I gave one more deep and full hug to K before it led to another contraction. When I placed her down, she cried and outstretched her arms for a continued embrace. She would no longer be my only, this dear little girl who made me a mother. This moment was inevitable, but heartbreaking, and I prayed she would like her new companion.
The car ride invoked nervousness because it reduced my ability to move, but it turned out to be uneventful. The change of scenery slowed my contractions and I only had one during the fifteen minute drive. Entering the birth center was so different than my experience with K. There was sunlight. The amazing receptionist, Rachel, came out to greet us and carry our things in. On the reception desk, the candle symbolizing labor-in-progress burned for me. Yet, I couldn’t believe this was happening. I assumed I would be sent home soon to labor more, but I was ushered into Room One, the same room I greeted a child once before.
Time bends a little bit here again. I barely remember settling into the room, V putting on my birth playlist, or greeting the team. Melissa was the head midwife, but Catherine, a student on her very last day, who I had only met once before, would take the lead frequently. Another student, Amy, assisted and completed paperwork. They checked the baby’s vital signs and mine. Everything looked good except that my heart rate was in the 120s. They felt that I was likely dehydrated (not surprising as I only consumed a couple sips of water and a yogurt cup), so they encouraged me to drink a mix of coconut and regular water.
Soon after, I lay on the bed and Catherine checked my cervix for the first time. She said, “You’ve done some really good work. Are you numbers people or do you want to…”
“We are DEFINITELY numbers people,” I responded before she could even finish.
“You’re an 8.”
Writing this now, weeks separated from the experience, I’m bawling. For those who are unfamiliar with birth and labor processes, the goal is to reach 10 centimeters dilated. The stage of moving from 7 to 10 centimeters is when labor surges in speed and intensity for most women. I was almost suspicious of Catherine when she reported this number. Was she just trying to pump me up? After my first labor, I had great doubts in my body’s ability. V and I were amazed and elated that I was progressing so well and steadily.
The midwives reported that the baby was in a less than perfect position. It was possible that he could come out in this orientation, but they asked if I would be willing to try some positions to encourage rotation and downward movement. I was absolutely game for this. It would give me something to do rather than just wait.
The first positions were side lying with legs crossed over one another, top leg with a bent knee. These slowed my contractions back down to around eight minutes apart. It wasn’t a terrible thing as it gave me time to drink fluids and get a bit of rest while V was on duty to update family and friends via text. After maybe twenty or thirty minutes, I moved into a standing position that was reminiscent of warrior two pose, except with my front foot elevated on a stool. Here, they instructed me to rotate my hips as though I was using a hula hoop. The contractions became greater and quicker here. Through most of them, I would hug, lean on, and hang off V like I was drunk on the dancefloor, while a birth attendant, if in the room at that time, would push on my lower back. This is when the mantra we devised became essential to my coping. “JUST…. ONEEEEEE!!!!!” I would say through a twisted face, digging my fingers deeply into whatever was near, human or inanimate. This phrase, offered by V, truly helped to keep my mind more focused and not become panicky about where the labor would lead. All I needed to do was survive this single burst of pain and calm was waiting to meet me on the other side. With K’s birth, because I was so exhausted, the rest between contractions was not particularly restorative. Meanwhile, these lulls were such that I could almost laugh and act normally until in the deepest throes of transition. Throughout this standing dance, the contractions returned to 3 to 4 minutes apart. I literally felt my son moving down my pelvis.
The last position was bringing the yoga ball up onto the bed and over to one side. My face, neck, and upper chest slung over the pink rubber and I was on my knees. V and Melissa stayed near my face. Catherine was set behind me with a long cloth. She draped the fabric below my swollen belly and held each end. When a contraction would hit, it was extremely intense. Catherine pulled the fabric up and moved it back and forth, attempting to shimmy baby and alter his position. My face was pushed into the ball.
Because this experience moved more quickly than labor with K and had those frequent, restful moments, the vibe was less grave. Additionally, I must have appeared stronger or more in control than I felt. V’s attitude remained lighthearted and relaxed. He continued to send updates to my family and relay their messages to me. Occasionally, he joked with me or the team.
When he reported that my mom said to give me a kiss, I finally said, deadpan, “No.”
“What do you mean, ‘No’?”
“Nooooooooo!!!!!!!” I cried.
This memory highlights the shift that occurred.
I broke. I started to scream, losing my mantra. Losing control. Losing touch with reality. Melissa helped me to channel these cries into great big OMs which helped immensely when I could follow her lead. My jaw, a source of chronic pain for me, was acting up from me bearing down on the ball and I couldn’t survive this position long. With this rising intensity, it was clear that we needed to prepare for the finale. We moved to the stool.
When I saw the birth stool earlier, I said, “Hi there, friend!” That stool was my happy place with my last labor because it was the LAST place and it was a hell of a lot better to push there than on the bed. While I was initially in good spirits about moving onto it again, that positivity was eliminated once I seated this time and a contraction hit. Catherine, positioned below in her beautiful midwife association teeshirt that read “SURRENDER,” instructed me to keep my legs and knees open extremely wide. V was behind me, Melissa behind Catherine. When the wave came, the force was so great and I broke my bag of water open. This again multiplied the power of the pulses. I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I was cursing. I was internally freaking out. I officially reached the, “I CAN’T!” stage here. It truly felt like my body would split in two. The only other alternative I could imagine was that I would have to be cut open. It felt impossible that I could move this baby out on my own.
Melissa kept encouraging me to take the energy I was blowing out my mouth with my screams and move it downwards to my pushes. V echoed those instructions while holding me, a steady anchor in the chaos. I really tried. At this point in the labor though, everything felt so bizarre down below and my control on pushing was limited. My teeth would clamp down on V’s arm as an alternative to the screaming. The lulls between were strange because there was a release, but, holy hell, there was also the most extreme pressure I have ever felt. They told me to use OM again, but I couldn’t. They told me to slow down, but I didn’t know whether I was or not. Finally, I was able to tap into the background. Tool’s Parabola. How perfect. Maynard called out, “Pain is an illusion.” I held onto that lyric, using it as a touchstone to get me out of this labor maze. It helped me to sustain the wide open stance when all I wanted to do was close tight and turn this whole process off.
“His head is here. Give me one more push.”
And suddenly, following a final howl, my ten minutes of pushing culminated, and there was a boy placed on my chest. Little dark eyes. Few cries. Just love in a tiny, soft, wet package. A gorgeous spiral of white and blue connecting him to me. My partner embracing both of us. Our son. Our sun. There was instrument moving and paper pushing and cleaning up happening around us, but it’s a blur as we snuggled in some kind of cocoon against the outside world. I balanced him on my thighs for a while, admiring him, rubbing my finger along his cheek. His arms outstretched. His mouth opened and closed. He’s here. My D.
Just like that, we were all here.
The team assisted me into bed. I felt wonderful: healthy, happy, awake. Our vitals were excellent. Amy reported the time of birth as 12:40 PM. From start to finish, my labor was just over ten and half hours.
We shared food. Chocolate chip cookies. Microwaved burritos. I nursed D. A friend was coincidentally at the center for an appointment and visited us. My placenta was birthed without any issue, and we put it in a bag after examining it with the midwives. “Healthy,” Melissa said. “I can see you didn’t smoke.” We will bury this in our yard with a special plant to honor this time and this sweet soul who will call us his parents.
Time passed slowly and we were desperate to get home to introduce K to her new brother. Around 4 pm, we were released, and soon we were in the car with this tiny, fresh being. My father recorded our arrival. Under D’s blanket were toys for his sister a plane and a car. “Baby, baby!” K would repeat, looking at him between looking at her gifts.
And, just like that, we are finally all here. Together. Our family of four.