My second child’s birth was so different from my first. I feel like I redeemed myself from what I didn’t like the first time around, and having a midwife instead of a typical OB-in-a-hospital was a game changer. I wrote this originally as a letter to my daughter about her big day! (Proper nouns have been changed to protect privacy). Warning, it’s a long post and just a teeny bit graphic. But just a teeny bit. Read on if you’d like to see what a real-life natural birth at a birth center can be like!
Around 2 PM I texted my mom, dad, and sister up to let them know that someone would probably have to come over soon and watch Gabriel. I was going to need your dad to help me get through contractions. We took Gabriel out to the backyard for a little while. I remember looking up at the pecan tree and the sky – it really was a beautiful day and me being out in the sun really helped my mood.
My sister got to our house sometime after 3 PM and then things started to get really crazy. My midwife suggested that I take a walk around the neighborhood to help me get through contractions, and then we would see if they continued at the same rate. Dad and I walked outside at 3:55 PM, leaving Gabriel to play with your aunt. I would stop and lean on your father to help me get through contractions, and we continued to track them on my phone. They were consistently coming between three and four minutes apart. Your dad pushing hard on my hips and lower back seemed to be the best thing that he could do to help me. I had brought a bottle of water with me and tried to take little sips as we walked back-and-forth up-and-down the street. We went back to the house at about 430.
The real question was going to be if the contractions continued at the same rate once I had stopped walking. I tried to let your dad finish getting ready for us to go to the birth center – our bags had been packed and loaded for weeks, but there were other things which could not sit in the car like snacks and phone chargers. I would lean over something like a sink or a chair and start moaning when a contraction would start, and he would run to help by standing behind me and pushing on my hips. This method really worked and helped me a lot – I thought of it as a clothespin, the more he closed the top part the more my pelvis would open down below. We found out later that you were posterior, meaning that you were head down like you’re supposed to but you were facing my front instead of my back, and so that caused a lot of back labor.
Well, the contractions definitely did not let up! Hope told us to come in and we could see where we were at – up until this point, I had not had a cervical check. We did not leave the house until about 5:15 PM – your poor dad was trying to finish packing and take instructions from me but also helping me through the contractions. We said our goodbyes to Gabriel (done quickly so I wouldn’t get emotional, I had never been away from him long) and then I somehow managed to get in the car.
Your poor dad was nervous during the drive – it was gonna take us about 30 minutes to get to the birth center due to distance and traffic. That meant that I had to go through all of the contractions on my own, and of course had to stay in my seat. We had a plastic bag and towels in my seat just in case my water broke. I took a dress with me but was only wearing a sports bra and underwear on the drive, being cold seemed to help me through the pain a little bit. I plugged in my phone and we listened to the Viva Piñata soundtrack. I would moan through the contractions but otherwise I felt very proud of myself for how well I got through each one. They stayed about four minutes apart.
We pulled up to the birth center just after 5:45 PM. Deanna, the nurse secretary, was leaving but she paused to see how I was doing. I was being very quiet and focused but it was really great to see her, she is such a kind person and I really like her a lot. I remember her talking to me and either asking me something or saying something like “looks like you’re going to have a baby tonight” but I did not really respond.
Hope was waiting for us right inside the door – right when we got to the doorway, I had another contraction so I leaned against the wall outside. Hope was talking but I did not really pay attention.
Going into the birth center, we all went into the first suite and everything was prepped on the bed. Hope had to check my cervix so I was instructed to lay down on the bed with my legs hanging off the side. She was quick and gentle but it still was very hard to go through contractions on my back, and plus dad couldn’t help. She said I was about 95% thinned out and 5-6 cm open, to which I said “shit.” I was hoping for more. She was encouraging and checked again, saying I was more like a 6-7. I don’t know if she just made that up, or if I was really able to dilate that much more through my mentality. But then I felt more excited and positive, like “Hell yeah let’s have a baby!” I also felt really relaxed with her.
I hadn’t broken my water yet and at some point early on (I think during that check) we found that you had not turned yet, and were still posterior.
Hope began to fill up the tub. Your dad went to go change into his swim trunks. I was told to get on the bed on all fours, and I got some pillows for my head and arms. During a contraction I was instructed to rock my hips and I had to stay that way for quite a few contractions, in the hopes that you would turn.
Once the bath was done, your dad and I got in. As soon as I put my foot in the water I could tell that this would be really really helpful, the water was very warm and felt great. I LOVE super hot baths but couldn’t have one during pregnancy, so this was an awesome surprise! Hope had also put some type of bubble bath in there so the top was covered with a light layer of bubbles.
For a few contractions I was told I still needed to be on all fours, so I leaned up against the seat in the back corner of the Jacuzzi on my forearms. This was really uncomfortable, but at least I had the water and your dad to help me.
Around this time I was also asked by Hope and April what I wanted to do in regards to the antibiotic. I had tested positive for group B strep a few weeks prior, but only on the swab and not in the urine. Because of this, Hope was not really concerned; she said that I had the option of doing the antibiotic for six hours before you were born, or just something topical with a squirt bottle. At this point though, she asked me if I wanted to get a single dose of the antibiotic just in case. I was thinking of you and said yes for your sake.
Ironically, this ended up being a disaster and completely useless. The midwives had my right arm out over the bathtub while I was contracting, and April was trying to find a vein. Imagine the worst pain of your life, and you are trying to work through it but someone is grabbing your arm and holding it still. They stuck me first on the outside of my forearm, then a little while later on the top of my hand, and then eventually on the inside of my elbow. I was so dehydrated that my vein would collapse after they stuck me. This was just ridiculous and I regretted asking for it, but I did not really have the mental capability to unfocus from my pain and tell them to forget it. I know it really bothered your dad too, seeing me go through all this. But it was no one’s fault, just another thing to deal with on top of you being posterior and everything else.
I know that Hope and April were telling me to keep my arm straight at least once – that made me furious, but again I did not really have the energy to respond to them. I was just doing the best I could with the contractions, which were coming back to back. I would lean forward a little bit to breathe through the contractions so that your dad could reach my lower back, and then lean back against him in between. My dehydration was also giving me dry mouth, so Hope kept reminding me to breathe into my nose and out through my mouth. I did the best I could but sometimes it felt like I was having to concentrate on too many things, so something would be forgotten.
Then I started to feel like I had to push. I was really only talking in one word sentences if at all, but I started to say “push… push”. Hope put on gloves and checked me quickly in between contractions, and said that I was at about a 9-9.5 and fully effaced. I think at that point my mucous plug came out in the water too. Hope said I would know when it was time to really push, because the sensation would continue and not go away.
Of course this whole time, all of my hypnosis stuff had gone out the window. I was thinking about just listening to my body, and not trying to push too fast. I recalled a few of the notecards I’d made with very short, simple mantras on them. I really wanted to get my hand down there and feel you crowning, but when I first started to feel the sensation I checked and you were not there yet. Hope did feel the top of your head but that was still in the birth canal. She told me later that she also felt your hand at that point, but it was smart of her to not tell me at the time.
Throughout the contractions, I was also dry heaving. This happened when I was giving birth to Gabriel too, but I guess I always assumed that it was due to the IV I had gotten at the hospital. Since before dad and I went on the walk that afternoon, I would gag at the peak of a contraction. It was absolutely miserable and I hated it, and I still do not really know why my body did that to me. I would moan for the contraction saying “ohhhhhhh” but then I would dry heave, and then yell angrily. I was furious that I couldn’t control the gagging and it was the worst part of my pain, so I’d end each wave with a huge roar. It kept happening despite me trying to take sips of water or labor–aid while in the tub.
I had no concept of time throughout this whole process, how long anything took or what time it was. I do know that I went through the rest of dilation and transition really fast. I am also really proud of myself for never saying “I cannot do this anymore” which is apparently very common when women are going through transition. It does feel like right after I started saying push push, Hope asked me if the sensation went away and I nodded once. But right after that, it felt like my body was actively pushing and I did not really have control.
I remember thinking about my reading, everything that Ina May Gaskin had said, and just letting my body bring you out naturally instead of me trying to do anything. My sounds started to change a little bit and I leaned back against your dad so that I could push. I barely felt the ring of fire, and it went away really quickly. I think I was very consciously trying to pay attention because part of me was still scared about tearing like I did with your brother. Everything felt real and powerful and primitive and pure.
Your head was born after what seemed like no time at all. I really hate that I was not able to feel you with my hand – Hope announced that the head had been born and I felt a whole bunch of relief. I did not know this until later, but the bag of water did not break until your head was born, so technically the antibiotic was completely useless anyway. You came through the birth canal in the protection of the bag of water, so there was no way you were going to get GBS from me.
Of course you were still under the water. I know that Hope was checking on you but, while I knew that I should probably wait, my body kept pushing. I think after your head was born I just took a deep breath and kept going. I was not trying to do this intentionally, I was just along for the ride! (It feels like you’ve been holding in a poop for days and your muscles just squeeze it down like toothpaste in a tube, even if you’re not actively pushing those muscles keep on workin’!).
I think you were completely born in two more pushes. I did not even notice because I was just catching my breath, but in the split second after you were born Hope caught you, spun you around in the air, and put you on my chest. She had skillfully noticed that your cord was wrapped around your neck.
The most incredible moment of my life was realizing that I was done, you were here, and you were OK. Like a flash, that was it. Pain, gone. Your dad gasped and started to cry, and I looked down at you and just could not believe that we had done it! You were there, in my arms! Holy shit! You were so tiny and incredibly perfect, and honestly a lot cleaner than I thought you were going to be. You had almost no blood nor vernix on you at all.You gave us one good cry – more like a tiny roar – and then just relaxed. I think your legs and feet were still in the water, but I cannot be sure. You opened your eyes almost immediately and just looked up at me.
Hope and April were working immediately, making sure that your nose and mouth were clear. Hope was down by my feet outside the tub, and was checking to see the status of the placenta. I was focusing on you so I did not really care what was going on down there. Hope tugged on the cord a little bit when she could tell I was going through a contraction, to help the placenta come out. She knew that we wanted to keep it for encapsulation, so she showed it to me and wrapped it up and then it was taken away to be packaged. It is the coolest gross thing I have ever seen!
What a surreal experience, leaning against your father in the tub and holding you in my arms for the first time. Hope said that the umbilical cord was 30 inches- no wonder it wrapped around your neck!
I was bleeding too much after I birthed the placenta, so we did two things – I got a shot of Pitocin in my thigh, and Hope put some liquid herbs under my tongue for me to swallow. The Pitocin would be longer-lasting but would take a while, so the herbs would work quickly in the meantime. I remember that I expected them to be disgusting but they actually tasted really good.
When I first looked down at you after you were put on my chest, my mind was flying with what I should say to you. I had all of these plans of things I wanted to say and songs I wanted to sing. In the moment I was so overwhelmed and you were so incredible, I think all I could manage was “hi baby, I’m your mama.” I think I introduced your dad too, and I tried to sing “you are my sunshine” but I was very emotional.
We cut your cord at 7:25 PM, after being sure that it had stopped pulsing and you got all of the blood you needed. It was clamped and your dad was given the scissors, and he got to cut it just like he did with your brother. I just now realized that he had to do it with his right hand, whoops. (He’s left handed).
Hope and April were preparing the bed for us to lay in, and the bathroom for us to change. Your dad got out first so that he could dry off and change (I held you), and we drained the water from the tub. At first I wanted the tub filled back up with hot water, but after we drained it I decided to go ahead and get out. Your dad was done so he came to hold you for the first time, and the midwives had me kneel in the tub so they could wash me. Then they helped me out and to the bathroom.
Considering I had just given birth, I felt pretty damn good! Hope let me know that I had pooped in the tub but of course we did not notice because she cleaned it so fast. I did not really feel that I had torn, and other than just feeling tired I felt fine. Walking to the bathroom was interesting – I was so used to carrying you in my belly that my balance was off. I was also very out of breath so Hope held my stomach. A mom’s abdominal muscles are very weak right after birth and it was causing me to have tightness in my chest.
I was able to pee without a problem, and the midwives helped me put on the fantastic and stylish disposable underwear along with a huge ice pack and pad. Then we walked to the bed so that I could nurse you for the first time. I was so looking forward to cuddling you and breastfeeding you!
It was so easy and natural, even though your mouth was extremely small. I was ecstatic. I think she also had me try the football hold with you since you were so small, which was something I’d never done before.
I think when I was still in the bathtub (and you were with your dad and the water was draining) Hope had me scoot to the back of the tub so she could examine me. I wasn’t feeling any particular pain down there but I was scared about what damage she would find. Turns out that I had three small tears – they were all just abrasions and not serious, but one would probably do better if it had some stitches. Nothing serious, and sure as hell nothing like when Gabriel was born! (With him I had 3 tears, all requiring stitches, and one went internally and caused me to lose so much blood the OB thought I’d need a transfusion). What a relief! Do your perineum massage ladies, trust me.
Once all three of us were in bed, the midwives cleaned up the room and then turned on the lights so that we could bond for a little while. They gave me fluid in my IV which was still in my right arm, but I still did not have an appetite yet. They said that they would come in a few hours to do your newborn exam and to stitch me up.
Your dad started taking pictures and letting our family know that you were officially here. We checked in on your grandparents who had Gabriel, and just relaxed in bed together as a family. What a completely different experience from when Gabriel was born. This felt like we were vacationing at a cozy bed-and-breakfast.
At around 9:45 PM, Hope came in to see how we were doing and said that she would be back shortly to stitch me up and to do your newborn exam. We had a snack bag we had brought from home, but I did not really pack anything with a lot of protein so I was just eating a little bit of dried fruit and some water.
It was more like 10:15 PM with the midwives came back in and started setting up. Hope was going to do your newborn exam on the bed while April had me on the other side of the bed. I had gotten a dose of for Advil to help with pain and swelling, and of course the contractions were still really powerful while breast-feeding.
Your dad was able to get pictures of you being measured and weighed, and we were put on opposite sides of the bed so when you and I were both laid down, we were head-to-head. You had your eyes open and were on your back looking at me, and so very calm. I reached out to you and you nuzzled my hand. Looking at you while I was being examined, numbed, and stitched up really helped me to focus on you instead of the pain. Seeing your peaceful face was a really powerful image that still makes me cry to. It was so hard to believe that you were only about 3 1/2 hours old.
Your skin was peeling a little bit, especially on your wrists, ankles, and torso. Hope said that this meant you were definitely full term and ready to be born. Other things like you not having any vernix, and the placenta starting to get gritty, pointed to the fact that you were well done – you were born at 40 weeks, three days.
Hope finished doing all of the tests on you while April numbed me and stitched me up. It was pretty uncomfortable but you were the best distraction, and I talked to you and looked at you as much as I could. I was just so ready to get you back in my arms and be done with things that hurt! We were in good spirits and all of us were talking together. Hope filled out your birth certificate and stamped your footprints on that and in our memory book. At that point, a few hours after your birth, you weighed 6 lbs. 4 oz. but you had pooped two times. You were 19.75 inches long.
The only time you really cried during the exam is when you got pissed off that Hope was holding you and manipulating you, having you try to walk and putting you on your stomach to do tummy time. Even just a few hours old, you were so strong and we were all impressed!
After we were all done, your dad got out the diaper bag that I had packed for you so that we could pick out your first outfit. The midwives gave us a newborn onesie which said “I was born at Hardy Oak Birth Center” but it was gigantic. Instead we chose one which had been gifted to us, white with gold glitter letters which said “though she may be little, she is fierce.” It was so cute and I thought the quote fit you perfectly. You already seemed to have such a strong personality, tiny but feisty!
A little after midnight, Hope came in to go over everything with us. I was trying to pay attention to everything she was saying, but I was so tired and had really low blood sugar. And of course contractions and other fun things were still irking me. We talked about care for you, which was mostly stuff I already knew – keeping you warm, meconium poops, warning signs to look for… And things for me to do including an amazing gigantic tea bag to make an herbal wash for my lady parts. There was also a worksheet for us to fill out between then and Thursday, when Hope would come to the house to do your newborn screening. The worksheet had a side for you and a side for me, with info that we were supposed to take every four hours – temperature, respirations and heart rate, that kind of thing.
You discovered your voice in that time while we were hanging in bed too. You made the cutest little sounds – squeaks, hiccups, little snorts and grunts. You continue to make them now that we are home and you do not hesitate to let us know when you’re not happy! Sometimes when you were asleep, you’d exhale for a really long time and make this funny little croak. It always makes me laugh.
You also loved playing with your tongue – you kept sticking it out and under your lip, just looking around. We were teasing you about being a lizard.
You were just so tiny, we could not get over it. You had the tiniest mouth and nose, perfect little tiny ears… Holding you just felt unreal, like you were a little doll. Everything about you was perfect.
We put you between us in bed, dimmed the lights, and spent the first night with you. I was laying on my side and you slept with your cheek on my breast. I think I slept for two hours before waking to see if you wanted to eat. At sometime around then I was also due for more pain pills, which was great because the contractions were waking me up.
Before we left we got to see one of the interns, and Deanna. They were so in awe of how tiny and perfect you were! I was one proud mama and your dad was just smitten. Then we loaded up the car and headed home to Gabriel and your grandparents. Everyone was so excited to meet you!