Let me start with a disclaimer.
If you spend your entire pregnancy telling everyone that you love labor, that it’s your favorite part of having a baby, and that you can’t wait to do it again, well–you’re setting yourself up. And if it’s true that your first labor was that much fun, then you can hardly expect your second labor to live up to your expectations.
But strangely enough, I think Edmund Nicolas’s birth did live up to my expectations. Although, unlike my first baby Anastasia’s birth, it definitely was not painless. And parts of it were not at all fun. But the parts that were fun more than made up for it.
If births indicate anything about personalities, then Anastasia and Edmund will be complete opposites. Anastasia’s birth was peaceful, quiet, zen-like. Almost no one was there, and I was relaxed and quiet for most of it.Edmund’s birth was a party.
I’d been thinking throughout the pregnancy that I wanted more people at this birth than my last. But when I thought about it in advance, I didn’t really plan to have my brother-in-law there. In retrospect, though, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, except I think I would take a Hypnobabies class again instead of trying to remember the techniques because I couldn’t find my CDs. Because Hypnobabies is not like riding a bike–you do forget.
For me, of course, after all that prodromal labor, the biggest stress of early labor was deciding whether I was actually in labor this time. I was not going to be happy if we set up the birth tub for nothing. And after having continual contractions for weeks, it was hard to be certain that things were really starting this time.
On Thursday night, December 22, I started to feel stronger contractions, but that wasn’t the first time that had happened so I wasn’t willing to get excited about it yet. My sister and brother-in-law had arrived on Tuesday—originally they had planned to come for New Year’s, but Christmas was better for their schedules, and I figured I would kick them out if I didn’t want them there for the birth—so we were all watching a movie. When it was over, I went to bed, and once again I found that contractions were not strong enough to keep me awake. But when they woke me up at 4:30 am, I decided this was really labor. I stayed in bed until 7, although I didn’t sleep much, and when I got up I told everyone I thought it was real this time. Maybe.
After a couple of hours, I decided to call my mom to come get Anastasia. Of course, after being on call for weeks, she wasn’t answering her phone. She called back after about half an hour, and after I gave her a hard time about not being available (she’d been out on the porch and had left her cell phone inside), I told her to come down now. Because by now I was quite certain that the contractions were progressing. I had called Beth, my midwife, around 8, and I’d told her that I thought I might be in labor but it could be just another false start. She said to stay in touch and keep calling her throughout the day.
My husband Matt and my brother-in-law Phil started setting up the birth tub while I took a shower. This, naturally, involved quite a bit of creativity, several phone calls to friends who had used the same tub, and a trip to Home Depot. Good thing they started early. But when they finished it looked great–and extremely inviting:
Of course, I immediately had to get in.
But I was determined not to stay in for too long this time. Being in water can slow down labor—which is actually a good thing; I am convinced that fast labors are more painful, and I didn’t want too quick of a labor—but I didn’t want to be awake for 36 hours straight like I was last time, either. So my plan was to get out of the tub every half-hour or so to do some squats or bounce on the yoga ball or something for a contraction or two.
I think that lasted for about one contraction before I completely forgot about it. The water was just too darn wonderful. Seriously, though, look at the picture–wouldn’t you rather stay in that pool?
And besides, I had something else to worry about related to how labor was progressing: I had no idea when I should ask Beth to come. During Anastasia’s birth, Beth’s apprentice came very early in labor and stayed the entire time, so she watched my progression and decided when to call Beth and tell her to come. Which was awesome, but it’s not something that home birth midwives usually do (or anybody but a doula, actually). So I had no idea how to determine when the midwife should come, and I didn’t have a doula.
So I asked Rachel, my sister, if she would be my doula.
Now, my sister does not like babies. She doesn’t like bodily functions. And she really does not like blood.“I wouldn’t do this for anyone but you,” she told me.“I know,” I said, and I started giving her a quick course on the stages of labor.
“If I start moaning through all the contractions,” I told her, “then it probably really is labor. If I start stripping off my bathing suit in front of your husband, then I’m in active labor and the midwife should come if she’s not here yet. And if I start saying things like ‘I can’t do this’ and throwing up, then I’m in transition, which means I’m about to push, which means if the midwife isn’t here yet then we are in trouble.”
“I’m not catching the baby!” my sister exclaimed.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her; “I’ll do that part.”
And with the plan for determining progression taken care of, I suggested that we all watch a movie.Halfway through The Dark Knight, I started moaning through contractions. “I guess this really is labor,” I thought happily as I watched Batman fail to prevent the transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face. When the movie finished, Phil made lunch for all of us, and I discovered—to my surprise—that I was hungry. I couldn’t eat anything when I was in labor with Anastasia, but I gladly ate a serving of lasagna and salad.
We also timed contractions and called Beth to touch base, but they were still about five minutes apart, so she said to call her again in an hour.
By this time the contractions were hovering on the edge of painful, but I was still able to relax through them without too much trouble, and I still very much wanted something to distract me. “Let’s watch another movie,” I said, and we decided on Moulin Rouge.
And let me just say, Moulin Rouge is a great movie to watch while in active labor. I have no idea why this struck me as so appropriate at the time. Maybe because the spectacle of it—the dancing and music and costumes—are brilliant enough to distract even from pretty strong contractions. Or maybe it’s just because it’s one of those movies where you can ignore half of it and still enjoy the other half. In any case, I really enjoyed it. The parts I watched of it, anyway.
Because by this point I was definitely not able to pay attention to anything else during contractions.
I asked my sister to time the contractions, and they were three to four minutes apart and one minute long. Rachel called Beth, and she said she was on her way. Rachel also called my friend Brandi, who was going to come and photograph the birth. She also said she was on her way and bringing cake. “Chocolate cake!” I gasped between contractions. “Tell her to bring chocolate!”
But Beth’s partner midwife, Rachel, was the first to arrive. The apprentice, Nikki, arrived shortly after. I was still in an odd state halfway between the timeless bubble that labor puts you in and a keen awareness of what was going on, but I was really glad they were there. Everyone else was still watching the movie, and I discovered that it was really comforting that Rachel, the midwife, was watching me. I remembered the studies I’d read about women feeling comforted by an attendant who was present the entire time and just watching her during labor, and I understood that. It made me feel taken care of.
Beth arrived not long after and sat down next to the pool. By then I was very focused on the contractions, and I was having a much harder time relaxing. I kept trying to tell myself the Hypnobabies self-talk, but it wasn’t working very well anymore. Who am I kidding? I asked myself. This is painful, no matter what I try to tell myself.
Somewhere in the middle of Moulin Rouge, I discovered that my bathing suit was just too uncomfortable to keep on anymore. “Phil,” I said, “I have got to take my bathing suit off. Do you care?”
“No,” he said, and I stripped. As I did so, I thought, This really should mean I’m in active labor. I’m stripping naked in front of my brother-in-law. But I can’t possibly be in active labor yet—it’s too early. I need to relax. I probably have a long way to go still. I have got to relax.
When the movie ended, I asked Rachel to put on the playlist I’d made for the baby’s birth. But I wasn’t able to listen to it much. I was still trying to relax through each contraction, but it was hard—sometimes impossible. I can’t do this, I found myself thinking in the height of one contraction.
And the conscious part of my mind interrupted: I can’t do this? it repeated. You’re in transition! You must be if you’re thinking that!
No way, I answered myself; it’s too early. I have a long way to go still. I need to relax.
Then I had another contraction. I hope I’m in transition, I thought, because I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
I’ll be pushing soon, I told myself. Pushing had been such a relief with Anastasia; I was sure it would be this time, too. Everything will be fine once I get to push. Surely I’ll need to push soon. It has to be soon. It has to be.
Because I can’t do this much longer.
And then, just when I thought it was never going to come, I felt a slight urge to push. I could hardly believe it, because even though I’d felt that it had to be soon, I couldn’t really believe that I was that close to the end. “I think I need to push,” I told Beth; “I want you to check me.” I didn’t believe I was really done dilating.
She checked. “I don’t feel any cervix at all,” she told me.
“Holy sh–!” I said. I honestly didn’t believe her. “Really?” I asked her. “Really?”
She looked surprised. “Really,” she said, mild and calm as always. I was so excited, I would have jumped up and down if I could have gotten my belly out of the water. “That’s awesome!” I said. “I can’t believe it!”
“I felt your waters, too,” she said.
“Oh, they haven’t broken yet? Maybe he’ll be born in the caul!” Another exciting thought.
“No, I think they’ll probably break in the next contraction,” Beth said; “they were bulging over the head. Usually when they’re born in the caul it’s just the membrane over the head.”
I kind of like it that my midwife educates me about stuff like that while I’m in the middle of birthing.
With the next contraction, I happily prepared to breathe the baby down gently as I’d learned in Hypnobabies. Easy, relaxed, calm. Nothing to it.Instead I found myself pushing with all my strength and yelling at the top of my lungs.
I did not mean to do that.
And it hurt. I was pushing so hard that it strained my stomach muscles. It was involuntarily, but it wasn’t at all gentle like it had been with Anastasia. It did not feel good.
And then I felt a rush of something and a release of pressure. For a minute I thought I’d had the biggest fart of my life. But then I realized it had been the water breaking, and the rush I’d felt had been water, not air, through the water of the birthing tub.
“The water broke!” I exclaimed, and Beth shone a flashlight to see if there was any meconium.
“It’s mostly clear,” she reported to Rachel, who was taking notes; “just a few flecks.”
For the next few contractions, I struggled to push gently (how’s that for an oxymoron?). I started admonishing myself during each contraction: “Breathe! Relax!”—but it wasn’t working.
“Do you have any meditation music?” Beth asked suddenly.
What, like Enya? “I hate meditation music,” I growled.
“It’s just–you’re kind of high energy, and I think something more mellow might help.”
I thought about my play list. “Put on the Leigh Nash song,” I said, and my sister started “Along the Wall.”
Not meditation music, but close enough, right?
I don’t think it helped, though, because then I had another contraction, and I was still pushing much harder than I wanted to be. I couldn’t control it. And then I felt the head crowning, and it burned. I hadn’t even felt it when Anastasia crowned. For a minute I thought I couldn’t stand it, but then my body slowed down, and I realized I could stand it just fine. In fact, I thought I’d be perfectly happy to not push anymore at all.
But then I remembered that the only way the baby was ever getting out was if I pushed.Dang it.
Another contraction, and I had no choice—which was just as well, because I think if I had I may not have chosen to push. But then I heard Beth say, “Oh—his face is out of the water.”
For a second I panicked. Because this is the one thing that scares me about a water birth. When I tell people about water birth, they always ask how the baby doesn’t drown. And the answer is that the baby doesn’t drown because it doesn’t start breathing until its face hits the air. But if its face comes out and then it goes back under the water–well, that’s bad. Because its face being in the air is what triggers it to breathe, and if it goes back underwater after it starts breathing, then it could drown.
I jumped to my feet so fast I didn’t even know I had done it. I may have been in the middle of a contraction, but it didn’t matter—I had to get my baby away from the water, now. Fortunately the birthing stool was in the pool, so I could lean forward with my hands on that.
But there was no way I could reach back from that position to catch the baby, much as I had wanted to.At that point, I didn’t really care who caught the baby anyway.
And I could feel that the baby’s head was out, or mostly out anyway, but the rest of him seemed to be taking too long. I felt like he needed to get out now. But I wasn’t having a contraction.
“You can go ahead and push even if you’re not having a contraction,” Beth said, as if she’d read my mind, so I did. I tried to reach back to catch him, but I couldn’t reach far enough past my belly in that position. It didn’t matter–the midwives were both there, and they caught him and passed him to me.
And he wasn’t breathing. He was blue and limp and not breathing.
“Oh, God,” I said.I honestly thought he was dead.
But Beth suctioned him and gave him oxygen, and then she and Rachel both rubbed their hands on him, gently stimulating him while I held him. “Talk to your baby,” Beth said; “talk to him calmly and tell him it’s okay.”
“You’re okay, you’re okay, come on baby, you’re okay,” I sobbed, desperately wanting it to be true but not believing it. Somehow in those terrible moments I saw that he was a boy, and that made it worse–I had wanted a boy, and knowing that I had him but thinking I had already lost him was too awful to contemplate.
But then he opened his eyes and took a breath, and I knew he really was okay.
Poor Edmund cried for over an hour after that. He needed to protest his entrance into the world. In retrospect, Beth thought that his cord had gotten compressed as he was coming out, and the blood being cut off for a minute or two had caused him to faint. It couldn’t have been long, because his heartbeat was fine the entire time, and he doesn’t seem to have suffered any damage from it.
I, of course, am still recovering from the scare.
He was born at 8:32 on December 23, and he was 7 lbs 10 oz. And he was beautiful.
He didn’t calm down till we got in the flower bath, and he refused to nurse at first. He was too upset. But when he finally did decide to nurse, his latch was perfect. Edmund and I got in bed together, and everyone else gathered into the room, and we all ate champagne and chocolate cake and talked about how lovely he was. I felt great–I had a lot more energy than I had at the end of my labor with Anastasia. The fact that this one was 12 hours instead of 36 probably had something to do with that. I was still deliriously happy that he was okay, and I was surprised when the midwives and the photographer started talking about leaving. It felt like the party was just starting.
But of course, once everybody left, I discovered that I had no problem going straight to sleep.
And despite his traumatic entrance, Edmund has been an incredibly happy, easy baby. So far, anyway. He only cries when something is wrong—usually because he needs to poop, which makes elimination communication easy—and he sleeps all the time. Which I know is normal for a newborn, but Anastasia never slept like a newborn. Edmund will even stay asleep by himself if I set him down, which is so weird to me that it’s scary—I have to check on him every fifteen minutes to make sure he’s still breathing. But it’s amazing and wonderful to not have to hold him every second of every day and night in order to keep him happy. It’s amazing to have a baby that doesn’t demand my attention every second of every day. And it’s really amazing to still be able to spend time one-on-one with Anastasia. I would miss her if I never was able to focus solely on her.
And although Anastasia’s birth was a lot less painful, there were aspects of Edmund’s birth that I wouldn’t trade for anything. If I ever have any more kids, I think I’ll try to combine aspects of each birth. Champagne and cake, for instance, were really great ideas. Every birth should have champagne. Having a friend take pictures was a great idea too. I will not be posting the graphic pictures here—or anywhere—but I’m really glad I have them. They’re pretty amazing. Moulin Rouge was a pretty great idea too.
But skipping the Hypnobabies class was a mistake.