A new little family: The birth of Katie

By Published On: October 12th, 2011Tags: ,

Labor began after a long day. Looking back, I must have had that legendary ‘burst of energy,’ because I woke up the morning of April 10th bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and several hours before my mom or husband even stirred.

I felt a little funny in the morning, although I still can’t pinpoint exactly what felt strange. The day was spent checking off possible labor-inducer boxes; lunch at Ming Hing’s Chinese Buffet, a super long walk, a cornhole tournament at my in-laws (which technically isn’t an old wives’ tale for inducing labor—yet, anyway), and a spicy enchilada for dinner. Perhaps it was their powers combined. Perhaps one in particular worked. Or, perhaps, baby just decided it was time.
I first noticed a weird sensation around 9:30 that night. I could describe those first few contractions asstrange aches that began in my lower back, then seemed to slowly spread around my stomach to the front. I didn’t say anything to my husand or mom—they’d gotten their hopes up before, and I especially didn’t want my mom to be disappointed again. She’d already been with us two weeks, with only one week to go. I waited until the feeling had returned several times before I said anything.

My mom and my husband—mostly my husband—were engaged in another death-defying episode of “Deadliest Catch.” Since I doubted there was any rush, I quietly asked my mom to set the timer on her phone to see if the contractions were regular or not. It was hard at first for me to tell exactly when they began and ended, so they were a little off at first. However, within half an hour, she informed me that they were pretty steady at seven minutes apart. My husband and I both reacted; me because I couldn’t believe that was accurate (I had planned on starting out around twenty minutes apart, and being in labor at least a day), my husband because he finally came off the crab-fishing fantasy between episodes, and just realized what we were timing. The midwife was called, the episode came to a close, and we all ended up pacing in the kitchen. My husband started out a little tense; in fact, he tore open a bag of corn chips and began eating them with the zeal of a man who couldn’t control anything other than the rate at which the chips are ingested. My mom and I exchanged looks and chuckles. “Are you a nervous eater, honey?” I asked. Munch, munch, munch—apparently.

The midwife had told my husband to call her back when my contractions got to be about 60 seconds in length, no matter how far apart they were. The were a little irregular, and the length only got close to a minute once—otherwise, they were fairly short. It seemed like we were in for a long haul. We started another episode of “Deadliest Catch”; I’ll admit, I have no clue what happened during that episode. I was focused on phones: my mom’s phone, timing the time between contractions, and my husband’s phone, which timed the length of each contraction. My husband’s anxiety disappeared somewhere during that time; he became my rock. I would cling to him through each contraction, and he would try whatever he could—breathing with me, counterpressure, or just holding me—to get me through them as they gradually increased in pain.

Still, even an hour later, my contractions weren’t up to a minute. The midwife let us know that a doula in the area was on her way to check on my progress. The doula, a very sweet girl, showed up around 2 a.m. With her she brought some very useful pain-management techniques—and bad news: I was only one centimeter dilated. Still.

“Now, you’ve got to promise me you won’t be discouraged about this,” she said. “You’re contracting, and you’re very effaced, so even though you’re not that dilated, your body has been doing a lot of the work, okay?” It was sweet of her to say this, and so I smiled and put on a brave face—but after five hours of contractions less than seven minutes apart, to STILL be dilated to one centimeter WAS discouraging. I’d been dilated that much since Friday.

After she left, my husband suggested that since we obviously had a long wait ahead of us, we should all try to get some sleep. My mom headed for her bedroom upstairs, I went to our room, and my husband, worried he’d keep me up, elected to stay on the couch.

I tried to sleep. I really did. It wasn’t the excitement that kept me awake—I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than a good night’s sleep. The thing was, as soon as I lay down, my contractions increased in intensity and sped up to five minutes apart. I tried to be tough and sleep between them, but I could barely relax before the next one started—and besides, my instincts were all telling me that lying down was making them worse. Around 3:50, I headed out to the living room, woke my husband, apologized for doing so, but told him I really didn’t want to face any more alone. Blinking away sleep as fast as he could, he assured me that it was all right, and he was glad I’d woken him up.
He asked if he could put on something for me to distract me a little. I knew I couldn’t focus on a movie or anything, but I did think music would be nice. He logged in to my Grooveshark account and put on the labor playlist I’d prepared. Fernando Ortega filled the room.

It was really nice to have the music on. The steady rhythm helped me to breathe through the contractions, and the beautiful words kept me calm and focused. Suddenly, around 4:14, I was wincing under another terrible contraction when suddenly—pop—I felt a gush, and a tremendous sense of relief. All the pain completely disappeared, and I thought, “Ahhh…that’s better!”

“I think my water just broke,” I said.

“Really?” He said.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure—wait, am I peeing?” I really couldn’t tell.

He started laughing. I waddled into thebathroom to figure it out; sure enough, my water had broken. My husband called the midwife tolet her know. She asked if she should head over; he said he didn’t think it was necessary quite yet. She said she’dprobably send the doula over to check on us again, since she only lived ten minutes away.
I was slowly migrating around the house, changing rooms and positions as the mood struck. I think it was helpful to have a little change of scenery and to try new things. As the contractions got steadily worse and worse, I discovered the kitchen clock—the only clock with a second hand.Every time a contraction started, I’d stare at that second hand ticking away. It helped to know they were limited in length, and to visually affirm that time was indeed moving, and the contraction was in fact almost over.

At one point, hunkered down on all fours and rocking back and forth with my husband crouching next to me, I said, “You know how my friend Abbyalways talks about how beautiful a natural labor is, and how it was such an awesome experience?”

“Yeah?” he replied.

“I’m really trying to see the beauty in this right now. Totally lost on me,” I said. I can see it NOW, looking back. But at thetime? No.It just hurt.

By 5:30, the contractions were so bad that I was starting to sweat, and they were so close together that it seemed like one barely ended before another began. We heard aknock on the door, and expected it to be the doula, now wellpast that ten minutes it was supposed to take her to getthere. Instead, it was the midwife.Something had told her not tosend the doula, but to just come herself. When we talked about it later, she said it was a God-thing; she fully expected me to be in labor for a day at least, and really didn’t thinkI needed her—but that nagging voice inside her said she needed to come, so she did.

She checked me—still one centimeter. But, she said, there was a tilt in my cervix. “Let me just straighten that out,” she said.

By the way, straightening out a tilted cervix REALLY hurts. I looked up when it was over to see my mom standing in the doorway, looking a little bewildered. All the noise I’d made had woken her up. I’m guessing hearing your daughter yelling her head off is a pretty unpleasant awakening.

Here again, my memories get pretty muddled. The contractions were barely ending before the next one began, yet they still weren’t long enough to really help my progress. It was soon after this that I decided to get in the bathtub. Or someone told me to. I have no clue.Somehow, I ended up in the tub. I do remember that rather than walk there, I crawled.

Oh, and the hot water was out at the time. It wasn’t funny then, but it’s pretty funny now. My poor mom at first thought that she must be getting underfoot or something when she was asked to boil water on the stove—but no, really, we just didn’t have any hot water. My husband was right by my side,with theincredibly awesome idea ofusing acupto slowly pour the warm water over my belly (our tub wasn’t deep enough for me to be totally submerged). It helped SO much. Every time a contraction ended and that warm water cascaded over me, I could feel the tired muscles loosen and relax for a few precious seconds. I was so exhausted by then that I was actually falling asleep in the time between them—and every now and then, when the tub water was tepid and the stove water was boiling, my mom would carefully inch through the door into our teensy-weensy, barely-big-enough-for-one bathroomwith a huge pot of boiling water, dance around behind my husband (who didn’t leave my side, partly because he cared, and partly because whenever he had to step out for one reason or another I’d be yelling, “DAVE??? DAVE!!!” as though it were giving me a panic attack. What can I say? I never knew how much I needed that man before then.) and I would have to pull my laboring self as far forward in the tub as possible so that the boiling water could be carefully poured in and mixed with the cool water before it could get to me and burn my backside. Again—not funny at the time, pretty funny to me now.

Around 6:00 a.m., the midwife checked my progress again, and said that I was dilated to a seven. Around 6:30-ish, I heard a new voice in the kitchen (I only heard a little of what was going on around me—usually my noises canceled the ambient sounds), and looked up to see my mother-in-law giving me a sympathetic smile and wave in the doorway. I wasn’t really up for returning the smile at the time. Instead, I writhed in pain by way of greeting.

I was greeting every contraction’s start with a pathetic, “No, no, no, no….” and, at least twice, assured my husband that I did NOT want to have any more kids.I’ve always wanted a big family, and so hashe, but at the time, knowing that I was dead serious aboutnot wanting to go through this again (and knowing from the little smiles all the women in the kitchen were exchanging that I wouldn’t mean it once the baby was born), he simply said, “Okay, honey.” I knew that no one was taking me seriously, and it frustrated me because I meant it more than I’ve ever meant anything. It wouldn’t be thelast time during that birth that everyoneignored my heartfelt sentiments—which, in retrospect, is exactly what I’ll do if I’m ever present at a birth.

Around 7:30-ish, I overheard the midwife say to my mother, “Okay, so around 9:30, we’ll be at twelve hours, which is typically the halfway-point for a first-time mom.”

Immediately following this statement, a contraction rocked my world, and all of a sudden I found myself pushing against it. What I couldn’t see was the look my mom and the midwife exchanged when they heard my yell turn into a sound of strain. What I couldn’t know was that both of them recognized that sound all to well. What I couldn’t hear was the midwife say to my mom, “…Or, we might just have a baby right now.”

I’d hit the magical time of “transition,” but in my head, I was stuck on the last thing I’d heard—the thing about this not even being halfway yet, and I was discouraged beyond belief. I really didn’t think that I had another fourteen hours in me. I didn’t think I had ANY hours left in me.

I happened to glance up at my husband after a particularly bad contraction (knowing I had made kind of a weird noise while it was happening), and saw what I thought was a suppressed smile because of the weird noise. The sole and only time I yelled at him happened right then: “Don’t SMILE!!!” I shouted. He apologized—but later, he told me, “You know, I wasn’t smiling, I was grimacing. It looked so painful.” Oops. Sorry, babe.

Soon after I had decided I couldn’t go any longer, and within minutes of that first pushing contraction, the midwife asked if I were ready to move back onto the bed. To my husband’s surprise, I said yes. He later asked why I’d decided to leave the tub when it helped so much. It was very simple—instinct told me that I just didn’t have enough room in that tub. I’d been ready to leave it whether or not she’d said anything. I needed ROOM. “Now, do you want to crawl to the bedroom?” Nicole asked. “No,” I replied. I wanted to just make a break for it. So when there was a gap, supported by my husband and the midwife, I waddled as fast as I could into the bedroom.

“Now, when you feel like you want to push, you just push,” Nicole said. I remember thinking, ‘But I don’t WANT to push. I WANT to take a break and SLEEP!’
At this point, my ‘mental game’ was all off. I’d pictured labor going very differently. I was supposed to have gone into labor around three in the morning, after I’d gotten a little sleep (most women I’d spoken to started labor in the morning, so that was what I’d adjusted my mind to). I was supposed to have the previously mentioned long, slow labor like my mom had experienced–the one that lasted all day, with the contractions starting out twenty minutes apart. And, it wasn’t supposed to hurt this much. Labor was much, much worse than I had imagined–mostly because I’d never felt anything like it before, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t passed out a long time ago. That being said, I tried to “quit.” I wanted to go to the hospital, get drugged up, and rest while the doctors took care of everything. I didn’t manage to say any of this—all that came out was more grunting, straining, and cries of pain.

My mother-in-law came to hold up my leg for awhile, and told me to push against her with my leg to lend force to my real pushes. This arrangement didn’t last long, probably because I nearly kicked her off her feet. She traded with my husband, much to my delight, and I didn’t have to worry about kicking too hard anymore. Or so I thought. I later found out that he had missed what his mom had said, and he thought I was upset at him—hence the kicks. Oh, the miscommunications of labor.

“Jaime, we can see the head!” I heard at one point.

“Well, pull it out!!!” I yelled back. That, according to Dave, was the moment when everyone in the room was biting their tongues and hiding their faces so that I wouldn’t see the suppressed laughter.

Then more pushing, more pain. Lots of voices, but words not clear. I remember someone rushing in with olive oil, and seeing it being poured on me. Birth seemed less and less possible, as the harder I pushed, the more that little head seemed to stay stuck. Someone said, “You’re almost there! Push, push, push!” or something along those lines every time the urge came on. As I lost strength and the push subsided, I protested, “I can’t—the head is too big!” I continued to insist this after every push, and everyone continued to ignore me, much to my frustration. My protests kept up until the midwife calmly assured me, “Honey, if the head were too big, it wouldn’t have made it out of your pelvis. You’re almost there.” Well, okay then. I stand corrected.

There was some kind of chatter, then my husband said, “Honey, did you hear that? The baby has hair.”

I felt my first spark of curiosity. It had hair? I wanted to see. Come to think of it, I wanted to know if it was a boy or girl.

More pushing, more pain. I heard someone say that I was so close—I just had to get past the ears, and the rest of the head would come more easily. More and more tired, and more and more convinced that this was never, ever going to end—until…

I looked down, and saw the top of a little head. It really did look as though I just needed to push a teensy bit harder. One second, I was convinced I was giving it my all. The next, seeing that head almost out, I thought—I can push a little harder. So I did, and suddenly, relief.

“It’s out! The head is out!”

Oh, hurray!!! I’m done!!!

“Now just one more push to get the shoulders out.”

Oh, crud. I’m NOT done.

But by then, I was so fed up with this pushing business that I pushed without the urge even needing to come, just to get it over with.

Then all of a suddenly, there was even greater relief, and a baby slid out—a real, warm, living little person. It was 8:14 in the morning—a full hour and fifteen minutes before that ‘halfway point.’

I know there was a lot of noise in the room—some kind of joyous chorus of voices that erupted as my little one was briefly held up, and then laid on my chest. I stared down at my baby in disbelief, repeating over and over, “It’s a real baby.” There was too much miracle happening for me to comprehend it.

I felt the otherworldly disconnect a friend had once described to me. I didn’t ‘recognize’ this warm, wiggly baby I was holding as my own. I wouldn’t have been able to look at a nursery of newborns and say, “That one is mine” if I had never seen the baby before. It was very, very strange.

I looked up at my husband, eager to see his reaction, hoping he was proud of me and of his baby. He was leaning down over me, his face close to mine. His eyes sparkled with delight, his smile was bright—and there was one tear on his cheek. He never cries, so I saw all I needed to know.

The noise gradually began to turn into words, and I heard my mother-in-law say, “So, do we know the gender yet?”

“I let the daddy check that,” the midwife replied.

Both grandmas clamored as Dave checked under the towel. “It’s a girl!” he shouted.

I looked down at her and told her, “I knew you were a girl.” And I did. Somehow, I’d known all along.

I felt pretty fantastic after giving birth—so fantastic that the midwife and my mother and mother-in-law had to reign me in a little. I bounced out of bed for a shower at the first mention of it, and while walking to the bathroom was told to slow down—then, when I got in the shower, I had to keep assuring them that I wasn’t lightheaded, but I would tell them if I became so. As Mom once described her feelings after her favorite labor, I felt ‘ready to go plow the back forty.’

The midwife sat down with me after it was all over with, while the new grandmas were taking the first pictures, and went over my labor. All told, it was about ten and a half hours, with less than an hour of pushing. I didn’t tear, and there were no complications (although I had needed a quick shot afterward to slow my bleeding). I’d delivered a healthy, 7 pound, 10 ounce baby girl, and although my mind had said it couldn’t be done, my body had taken it in stride. My husband later told me that this is confirmation that we should have that big family after all, since I’m clearly a “baby-birthing machine.”

My husband came back into the room with our daughter, and the midwife and the grandmas left the room to let ushave a moment together as a new little family.

We stared down at her together, exhausted but exhilarated and very much in shock. My mind was slowly wrapping around the fact that she was ours—that this little stranger belonged to us, was made of us.

“What are we going to name her?” I asked.

“How about Katherine?” he said.

“Katherine.” I repeated the name, trying out the sound. “Katherine Weis.” I looked down at her. She didn’t LOOK like a Katherine to me. But then, as I went through every girl’s name I could think of, she didn’t look like any of those, either. It’s a daunting task, trying to assign a name to an unnamed soul.

“We could call her Katie,” he added.

“Katie.” I repeated it a few times.

She yawned. As much as she looked like a doll, she was a really real little girl.

“I like it,” I said.

Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to birthstory@pnmag.com. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!

By Jaime