“There really was a baby!” –Me, in birth video
As was my pregnancy custom, on October 30th I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with definite contractions. They were spaced about 30 minutes apart, however, and I kept myself awake unnecessarily waiting for them to get bigger or closer together. I finally got up at 4:30 or 5:00 and Mark got up too. As I as I got up, contractions picked up to about three minutes apart. I couldn’t believe I’d “wasted time” by lying down, non-sleeping AND non-laboring! I felt very adrenaline filled and excited. The sense of urgency and “coming soon” was very familiar to Zander’s exceedingly fast labor, whereas my sense of need to call Mom during a contraction and then changing my mind afterward was similar to Lann’s. And, leaning on the kitchen half-wall as an ideal labor position was similar to Alaina’s. There was no slow lead-in here, these were sharp, strong, intense contractions that I already couldn’t talk through. Though they felt big and serious, they were also short in duration. I lit my birth altar candle and since I wanted to have clean, freshly washed hair, I decided to take a shower.
After showering and even blowdrying my hair for cuteness in future pictures, the intensity of the contractions increased again. Mark got to work on filling the pool and heating more water as soon as I got out of the shower and he kept messing with the pool even though I was starting to feel like I needed him (also needed pool, so he wasn’t doing the wrong thing!). I felt sure that this was picking up FAST. We texted Mom and she contacted Robin and Summer (midwife and doula). I felt a weird sensation of time pressure then, looking out window, waiting and not wanting to be observed, waited for, or watched. The pool continued to take a lot of time and attention and was annoying. Plus, the hose popped out when Mark was in the laundry room and flooded the floor. I was saying things like, “this had better be the best thing ever, because right now I hate it!” I couldn’t decide if I should keep standing up or try something else like sit on the birth ball or try the water. It seemed early for water (except during contractions!), so I sat on the ball at which point contractions became HUGE, but, also only 8-10 minutes apart. I was confused and kept trying to figure out what made more sense—smaller, more frequent contractions while standing up, or bigger but far apart on the ball. I was laughing about my indecisiveness and kept saying, “so, tell me what to doooooooo!” (which is actually my most despised thing in labor). I opted to stay on the ball because I felt open there and when standing I felt like I was closing my legs together and tensing up. On the ball, I started humming the Sacred Pregnancy Standing at the Edge song I listened to so often during my pregnancy: standing at the edge…clinging to my innocence…one more tiny step…time is here and now…diving into the unknown. I believe in me, I believe in meee-eeee. I believe in me, I do, I do…
Later, in the pool, I turned on the rest of my Sacred Pregnancy playlist from the CD, which I both liked and didn’t like because I could no longer anchor myself then with the “I believe in me, I do” hum. I talked and joked and laughed about stuff a lot. And, I would sing little things like: let’s find something else to say and not owie-zooooowie… I do not know how else to say that these were intense, big, powerful contractions. To my memory, they feel like they were the biggest, most painful contractions I’ve ever had—but slooooooowly far apart. The sensation of downward pressure was powerful already during each, but the distance between them very confusing. After back and forthing verbally for some time, I decided to get in the pool: this had BETTER be WORTH IT.
I loved the pool, but I also, intensely, felt like I was on “display” or being watched. I also felt a little isolated or separated and observed, even by my own mom (who, mindfully, went to sit on the couch to give me space). I kept feeling worried and pressured about my midwife and doula getting there any minute, even though we talked in advance about how I mainly needed them for immediate postpartum care and only wanted them to come in at the very end. I had never talked to my mom about specifically when to tell them to actually come though, so I kept thinking they were sitting in the driveway waiting for me (they weren’t, because they were being respectful of what they knew I wanted and needed). As with my other babies, I knew in my heart I wanted to birth alone, but then with immediate postpartum/follow-up care. This is hard to balance and gauge. And, I acknowledge that it isn’t really fair to the midwife either! My birth brain really needs to be alone and unwatched and I knew in the pool that I wanted to push my baby out before anyone else was there.
I took my favorite birth goddess sculpture into the pool with me where she kept me company and floated with me and reassured me until I was pushing and set her outside the tub (ever practical, I didn’t want her to get lost in what I knew would end up as bloody water!).
My mom kept me supplied with food and drinks and occasional encouragement and Mark stayed close, touching me and being present. There was lots of waiting in the pool (I feel like) for those slow but BIG contractions. I got out to pee and finally saw some BLOOD. I always wait and wait for this sign because for me it is the herald of nearly full dilation. I have no blood or any leaking or discharge until I’m only a short distance from pushing out a baby! I shook and shook in the bathroom at this point too, which I think was related to the temperature change from getting out of the warm pool and not transition per se, but it could have been both.
Back to the pool and out one more time to pee (more blood! Yay! Blood is so fun! Really. It is super encouraging for me to see during labor at this point.) I started to weirdly fret about my bladder at this point getting in the way of baby’s head (potentially): this can happen, you know, I told my mom and Mark (even though I was totally peeing and had no signs of bladder being in the way). I could tell baby was moving down and getting close to pushing, but I felt impeded with the amniotic sac intact. I moved to hands and knees in the tub and talked to myself: it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. I can do it. We can do it. You can come out baby. We want you. We want you. (I cried I tiny bit saying this.)
I turned back over then and kept on smiling…
Some time after this, I started feeling inside after each contraction and could feel a hard lump getting closer and closer every time I had a (now close together) contraction. I didn’t feel sure it was a head though, but that maybe I was somehow feeling my own pubic bone or some other mysterious part of my anatomy never before felt. It felt squishy kind of, though hard underneath. (Duh, because it was an amniotic sac around a baby head, Molly!), so then I imagined I wasn’t fully dilated and was somehow prolapsing my cervix instead of feeling a baby’s head. I think these types of thoughts are one of the hazards of being a birth professional. They are also proof, to me, that no matter what odd or frightening things you think, babies’ heads still move down and come out anyway! At this point, the baby began to have hiccups. He was so low that it basically felt like my anus was hiccupping. I had Mark feel them very low on my belly—just above my pubic bone—and then I laughed and said, this counts as a fetal heart tones check!
Finally, my water broke at last and I knew he was almost out. Pushing was intense and big and felt huge and hard and long. I became convinced baby weighed ten pounds and was probably not going to come out. I felt like it was taking a long time and a lot of work, but according to Mom and Mark it was about four pushes and date stamps on pictures reveal about 5-6 minutes total of this hard work. I also kept thinking someone else was going to come in. I felt the familiar burning on my front right side and knew I would tear again (labial/clitoral). It felt scary and I looked at my mom and said I was scared (she said, “I know”). I almost pushed through the burn, but then I stopped myself and waited for the next push and then his head was out, along with a bloom of blood in the water which does indicate tearing, but I didn’t get checked for tears (by my specific decision and request) so I don’t know for sure. A minimal follow-up push and his body came out into my hands. He bobbed to the top of the pool and I lifted him out of the water. He cried a little and was already reasonably pink. He was looking around and was a little bit gurgly. I talked to him and kissed his head and told him I loved him: oh my little one, oh my little one. Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! There really was a baby! Oh, he’s CUTE! I noticed his cord was around his neck and arm and somewhat awkwardly moved it off. It was 10:20, a little over five hours after I got up.
We called my dad to bring the kids back over to see the baby and cut the cord and they arrived a few minutes before Summer and Robin got there.
After Robin and Summer arrived, they helped me out the pool which I was eager to get out of, but had a lot of trouble actually doing, and onto my futon nest on the floor between the pool and bathroom. This is the part I didn’t like. So familiar and so not fun. The weak and wounded transition. But, Summer (doula) reminded me that the warrior moments are in feeling the vulnerability too. Sometimes the warrior is found in showing the vulnerability and needing the help.
After some lying on the futon and waiting for the placenta, I went to the bathroom (still holding baby attached with cord) and the placenta finally came out there (after it was washed, I swallowed a small piece of it). Zander and Alaina cut the cord as they had been waiting to do and then left for playgroup with my friend who was waiting patiently outside to take them. When the placenta was examined, they saw he had a velamentous cord, which is fairly rare and can actually be dangerous and possibly explains my widely spaced contractions (giving baby time he needed).
The baby’s temperature was low and it took us some time and effort to get him warmed up and that was probably because I was in the water a little long after birth and that is my only regret about this birth. When his temperature was normal, we weighed him and he only came up as 6lbs4oz. He then weighed 7lbs4oz at two days, which means he was really bigger than that at birth. He weighs eight pounds now at a week. So, he weighed something at birth, but the exact amount is unknown! He was 20 inches and had a 14 inch head.
As I laid on my futon and latched baby on for the first time, I realized that in all my planning and fretting and preparing and deadlining, I’d forgotten how very, very much love was possible.
Edited one year later to add that Tanner’s birth video is now available online: Welcoming Tanner Matthias (Home Water Birth Video) – Brigid’s Grove