After experiencing nearly a week of fairly regular contractions that would continue to stall, I knew something felt different the Thursday evening before we welcomed Miss Aveline Muir into this world. Different enough, in fact, that as we put our 3-year-old daughter, Elsa, to bed that evening, I knew I could not say, “See you in the morning.” Instead, I assured her that I would see her tomorrow … at some point.
Contractions felt stronger, but were still around eight to 10 minutes apart when I went to bed Thursday night. I fell asleep quickly and soundly, as I usually do, but was then awoken around 1:00 a.m. by a rather intense contraction. I got up quietly (as I had done on several nights prior as well) and sat at the computer in the back room, timing my contractions for about an hour. I did not want to yet disturb my husband, Jarrett, so that he would at least have as much energy as possible if this were indeed the real deal. By the end of the hour, my contractions were more like five to seven minutes apart and were quite strong. I woke Jarrett and told him I thought it was actually time this time and that I was going to go ahead and take a shower. He gathered a few last-minute items and then jumped in the shower himself. After, we decided to go ahead and call my dear friend, Kate, (I think it was around 2:00 a.m. at this point) to give her a little warning, as she was on call to come over and stay with Elsa until my parents could make the drive from Charlotte. I also called my parents, and they jumped in the shower and then into the car as well.
Kate went ahead and came over, and we chatted with her for a bit while I timed a couple more contractions and decided they were definitely getting stronger. I then went ahead and called into the call center for the midwife. I gave them all of my information and was told that Margaret (who was the midwife for my first birth) would be giving me a call back shortly. A decent amount of time passed with no call, and eventually the person at the call center called me and asked if I had heard from Margaret. I said no, and they said they would try to track her down. Not too much later, one of the other midwives, Anjli, called me. I explained to her what was going on, had a contraction in the middle of our conversation, and we discussed the plan of action. She said it sounded like I could probably hang at home for a little while longer and just be sure to call her back by 5:00 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. so we could avoid rush-hour traffic on the drive to the hospital or, of course, if things seemed to progress. Kate decided to stay and just crash on the couch in the back room while Jarrett and I went out for a walk. During the walk, contractions continued to come, and I was having to pause while riding their wave. I had decided that when we got home, I would try to lie down for a little while and see if things continued. Sure enough, lying down did not feel like the best option, and contractions were staying strong. Jarrett called the call center and then Anjli called me back (at this point it was about 4:00 a.m., I think) and I told her it seemed like things were progressing and that I thought I was ready to get into the hospital. She agreed. We let Kate know we were headed out, and made our way out to the car.
The car ride was not very fun with all the bumps, but thankfully it was a shorter drive than we had when I was in labor with Elsa. We parked and made our way inside and up to the seventh floor to the Labor and Delivery area, checked in, and a nurse led us to a room with a bed, where I was triaged. I believe at this point it was 4:30, going on 5:00 a.m. The nurse checked my cervix, and I was only 4 centimeters dilated, which had me a little bummed, since I was 6 going in with my first pregnancy. We went over piles of paperwork. She hooked me up to a fetal monitor, as well as a monitor that was measuring the strength and length of my contractions. Jarrett and I were a little concerned at this point because the baby’s heartbeat seemed to drop and blip off the radar completely during most of my contractions, and the nurse was none too reassuring about it, basically saying it was not a great sign and that we were looking for at least two “responsive” readings from the baby, meaning that I guess we wanted to see the baby’s heartbeat actually go up and stay active after a contraction. At this point, I think both Jarrett and I were preparing ourselves for an emergency C-section. I was sure that this meant the baby was too stressed by the contractions (many of which were topping out on the strength meter at this point, though they seemed to spread themselves out a bit more) and that I was not going to be able to have the natural waterbirth I was so hoping for. We said a prayer together and knew that whatever the outcome, we just wanted to be sure to end up with a healthy baby girl in our arms at the end of it all.
Anjli arrived probably a little after 5:00 a.m. and took a look at the printed strip from the monitors and, much to our relief, she said we should not be too worried about the drops in the baby’s heart rate. She said it was possible the umbilical cord was getting pinched during contractions, but that there were some very responsive readings from the baby after some pretty strong contractions, so it did not seem of concern. We were going to go on with the birth as planned.
We gathered our things and were taken to one of the labor and delivery rooms, which had a gorgeous view of Downtown Atlanta in the dark, all of the buildings sparkling in lights. I did actually take the view in for a moment or two before who would be my labor and delivery nurse introduced herself to me, my blood pressure was taken for the millionth time, and they drew some of my blood. And once they were done messing with me, my contractions told me I was ready to get in the shower. They brought me a birthing ball, and I sat on it there, hot water running all over me, for quite some time, getting through each contraction as they came.
At some point the nurse said that when I was ready, they needed to run one more strip on the baby, so I said I would go ahead and get out. I dried off, put on a gown, and got into the bed, where she hooked me up once again to the monitor and the blood pressure cuff. Contractions were getting really strong at this point, and pretty darn close together. By the time I was back off the monitor, I was asking about the birthing tub, which was not yet in the room or set up. I guess I was supposed to be at least 7 centimeters dilated or something before they wanted me to get in it, and since Anjli was not around at the moment, we continued to wait. Contractions were nearly right on top of each other, and I was trying to ride them out on the ball, but eventually was standing beside the bed, one leg hoisted up on top of it (not sure why—it just felt right for some reason). At some point the hospital gown was irritating me to no end, falling off my shoulders as I leaned over the bed, so I just said the heck with it and ripped it off and threw it. Then I ended up climbing into the bed and switching from lying on my side to getting up on all fours, pleading for the tub and explaining that I was already feeling an intense urge to push during the contractions. At this point, the nurse asked me if I wanted her to check my cervix. I gave a hearty “yes.” I was sure I was in transition. When she checked me, she said I was a “soft eight.” In my mind, I thought, “Seriously? This isn’t transition yet? Am I going to be able to do this?” But then I shook off the thoughts of incapability, and labored on.
Finally, people started coming in with supplies to set up the tub, and within about 15 minutes, it was ready to go. I was so relieved. Except that when I dipped my foot in the water, it was super hot, so then I had to stand there waiting, Jarrett helping me balance, while the nurse went to get a bunch of ice to throw into the water. That did the trick, and I immediately submerged myself. Jarrett was at work blowing up the inflatable swim rings to give me, as with Elsa I used them as pillows and floats to relax in the water. However, at this point I felt that there was no relaxing to be had. Everything seemed so intense. I just got up on my knees and held onto the side of the pool, lying my head down between contractions. Jarrett continued to bring me ice water as I asked for it — the extreme thirst I seemed to have when I was laboring with Elsa was certainly present for this birth as well.
Not long after I got into the pool, Anjli arrived. I asked her why I was feeling the urge to push and whether it was okay to do so. She said I definitely could. That with a push or two, my bag of waters would likely break. So I pushed with the next contraction, and nothing. I asked if she could just break the waters already. Anjli reassured me that I was so close. She said I was now fully dilated and fully effaced, and that the bag of waters was bulging. So I took the next push with great force, and Anjli ended up helping the breaking of the waters with her fingernail. A number of pushes later (and much squeezing of poor Jarrett’s hands and forearms while hanging over the edge of the tub), I felt the head come out halfway. I immediately flashed back to Elsa’s birth and how her head would come out a little and then go back in, which became extremely frustrating. I decided this was not going to happen this time around. So once the head was part of the way out, I tried to continue to hold some pressure and not move much until the next contraction hit, and then I pushed as hard as I could. Out came the head and a little relief. Then Anjli urged me to give her a couple of more good pushes while she worked to get one of the shoulders out. In labor time, this seemed to go on a little long and began to worry me a bit, but in reality I do not think much time passed at all. One shoulder came out, and then the rest of her came out really quickly. Everyone was shouting, “Turn around! Turn around!”And when I did, there was our baby, waiting for my arms. The extreme relief and major rush of endorphins was of the same intensity that I remember with Elsa. It is an incredible feeling, for sure, to go through all of that effort and then have it all end in an instant with such a wonderful, beautiful prize awaiting her first cuddle in your arms and kiss on the cheek.
Overall, I am labeling this labor and delivery as “intense.” It differed in a lot of ways from my first birth experience. Little obvious things like the fact that the labor and delivery room I had the first time around was very dimly lit, spacious, and seemingly more relaxing, with the big permanently fixed birthing tub. This time around, the room was brightly lit with the natural daylight from the windows (which was nice, don’t get me wrong—but just different), the room was fairly small, and the birthing tub was inflatable and smelled as such. And I was in the tub for probably a total of 30 or 45 minutes with this labor and delivery, but soaked for hours with Elsa. The fabulous labor and delivery playlists were back from the last delivery, though slightly updated, and Jarrett again did a fabulous job playing DJ, but I never seemed to really get in the zone like I did during labor with Elsa, and therefore cannot really connect any of the music with portions of the labor like I was able to do back then. Whereas I almost seemed in a completely other world during Elsa’s birth (until pushing began), I felt really present and in the moment with this one. Things seemed very vivid and choppy rather than fuzzy and smooth. And obviously things just moved a little more quickly, especially in pushing, so that was a big difference. Overall, though, I would not trade either birthing experience. The midwives were great. The nurses were really good, too (though the nurse I had during Elsa’s birth was truly heaven sent). And I have two healthy, gorgeous daughters, one resulting from each momentous birth.
Christina Helms is the founder of philanthropic baby clothing site Cradle & Thread.