Although I knew that the average first time mom gives birth around 41 weeks, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when my due date, December 22, came and went and I was still pregnant. My belly was growing larger each day, and it was increasingly difficult to sit or sleep comfortably. I knew she would come when SHE was ready, but I was feeling really impatient to meet her.
I had taught school all the way up to winter break, finished all of my Christmas shopping, and wasn’t sure what to do with all of my unexpected free time. I filled my days making crafts, taking walks, and reading birth stories.
In this time I was able to complete many projects that I had put on my “someday” list. I had crossed most things off this list when I became aware that my baby did not have any high contrast toys. I got out my sewing machine, black and white felt, and put together some hanging toys for her car seat. Feeling accomplished as I attached the toys to the handle, I announced to my husband, “I’m done. I finished my last project for the baby!”
I was 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant. It was a cold, windy night. My husband Charlie and I got all bundled up and walked 1 1/2 miles to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner. On the outside wall of the restaurant there is a giant mural that includes several birds, one of which is a Carolina Wren. Charlie took my picture in front of the mural. We didn’t know that would be the last picture he would take of me pregnant.
Charlie made a quick visit to the farmer’s market as we were trying to make sure we were stocked up on groceries. An hour or so later, we were sitting in the living room chatting, and I got up to go get ready for bed. I felt a very strange sensation and had to sit back down. Charlie asked, “Was that a contraction?” He had been asking me that every time I looked the slightest bit uncomfortable for the past month. I wasn’t sure. We decided a bath would help me relax.
By the end of my bath, I was sure I was having contractions. And as I got into bed, they were really starting to be intense. I tried to prepare myself for the labor ahead. I had learned in birth class that early labor is generally the longest phase and can last 12 hours, so I decided I would call my mom in the morning so she could get a good night’s rest. I did send two texts before I went to sleep though—one to my best friend because I was so excited, and one to my doula to give her a heads up.
I am not sure how long I slept or if I even slept at all. With every contraction, I had to get out of bed. I couldn’t bear to lie still. My favorite position was sitting on the toilet. In fact, I took a blanket with me so I could be warm and cozy while sitting. Our kitten thought that it looked inviting and sat on my lap for a bit. It was as comfortable as I could imagine being under the circumstances until a contraction began again, and I got hot and sweaty and had to throw the blanket off. Between contractIons, I would sometimes doze leaning my head against the bathroom wall or try to get in back in bed. Climbing into the bed was almost impossible, and it always ended with me waking Charlie saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.” If this was the early stages of labor, I did not know if I could handle much more. Feeling helpless, he would try to find ways to comfort me, but I didn’t want to be touched, or eat, or drink.
Charlie woke around 3 a.m. and asked me how far apart my contractions were. He started getting really worried when I couldn’t tell him. “I can’t tell when one is ending and the next is beginning.” He tried helping me time them, but the night seemed to be just one long contraction that just got more intense every couple of minutes. Desperate for help, he called our doula who said she would be right over.
When the doula arrived, I was sitting the bathroom, and she tried to time the contractions based on my moaning. With Ina May Gaskin’s advice in mind, I had been doing my best low pitched moaning all night to help keep everything opened and relaxed. The doula encouraged me to get back in bed so that I could get some rest. She stayed for a short time, and then went home to get some sleep until she was needed again.
I couldn’t stand being in bed so I went back to the bathroom while Charlie paced nervously around the house. Around 8:00 a.m. Charlie called our doula and told her that he was very worried because I seemed to be in a lot of pain. When she came back over, I could not articulate how I was doing. The whole night had been a blur, and I felt ready to have this baby. Charlie called the midwife office. He wasn’t able to get anyone on the phone and had forgotten how to connect with the on-call midwife. The doula was not concerned and thought I still had quite a ways to go. I was still moaning, oblivious to what was going on outside of the bathroom.
By 9:00 Charlie had gotten in touch with a midwife. My weekly appointment was scheduled for 11:00 that morning, so the midwife told me to come in then and they would check me out. Or if I wanted to go straight to the hospital I could do that too. I chose to go straight to the hospital. Charlie was quite relieved.
I took off my sweaty pajamas and put on a clean pair. The three of us got in our cars and headed over. Charlie only ran one stoplight. I sat as still as possible gripping the door handle the whole way. Longest. Car. Ride. Of. My. Life.
A nurse met us at the drop-off entrance with a wheelchair and took me straight up to Labor and Delivery. The nurse asked me to pee in a cup. This proved impossible, though I gave it my best. Next the nurse checked and was surprised to find that I was 10 centimeters dilated already.
After the 20 minute fetal monitoring, I was moved to my labor room with Margaret, the midwife, along with nurse Bettye and a midwife-in-training. They asked if I wanted them to fill up the water birthing tub but that it would take around 30 minutes. Margaret said, “You can push this baby out before we fill up that tub.” That sounded good to me. I remember thinking about how wasteful it would be to fill the tub and not use it.
I tried several different positions on the bed while Margaret coached me along. The air conditioning in that room was malfunctioning, and we were all so hot. Margaret brought in fan which helped some. Nurse Bettye fanned me with a hospital brochure, Charlie fed me ice chips, and my doula placed a cool washcloth on my forehead.
It took me two and a half hours, but I finally pushed baby Wren Caroline out. She weighted 8 pounds 6.5 ounces. The room was filled with sunlight, so her eyes were tightly shut, but she announced her presence by crying loudly. They handed her right to me, and I held her while we waited for the cord to stop pulsing. I was amazed that this baby had been growing in my belly. She was beautiful. I examined her perfect fingers and toes and held her tight.
When the cord was cut, Wren was swaddled and weighed. Nurse Bettye gave her a newborn hospital hat and then realized that she needed something cuter. She took the hat back and added a bow. “Perfect,” she said.
Next came the placenta. Margaret packed it in a Ziploc bag so we could take it home to plant with Wren’s birthday tree. I held my baby skin to skin as they stitched me up. Wren nursed for the first time though she still had not opened her eyes.
Charlie had been trying to keep my mom updated. She arrived an hour after Wren was born with my dad and brother. They helped me move to the recovery floor. My mom stayed with Wren and me while Charlie went to get some dinner with my dad and brother.
That night, Charlie was exhausted and fell right asleep, but I couldn’t imagine sleeping. We turned off the lights, and Wren peeked at me for the first time. I had done it. I had birthed a baby! It was intense, beautiful, and awesome.
We stayed that night and all the next day before we got to take our baby home and start a new chapter of our lives.