Birth stories usually begin when labor starts. With Zari’s birth, labor began fairly unmistakably (although I didn’t admit that to myself until halfway through) and 10 hours later I had a baby.
With Dio’s birth, I could say labor began at any number of points: on Saturday morning, when I began to have painful, though sporadic, contractions that felt better if I moved through them. On Saturday night at midnight, when I first saw bloody show and had labor diarrhea. On Sunday morning before church, when the contractions seemed more consistent and required that I sway my hips through them. Or on Sunday late morning while Eric and Zari were away at church, when the contractions became undeniably intense and I knew that labor was definitely happening.
I’ll start my story, though, at 7 am on Sunday morning, when I finally let myself get out of bed and stop ignoring the contractions. I rocked on the birth ball, checked my email, and wrote a blog post wondering if I was in labor or not. I called the midwife to let her know I’d been feeling something kind of like labor contractions for the past 24 hours and that I had bloody show and diarrhea at midnight. I told her not to be surprised either way; maybe things would pick up, but maybe not.
Then I got ready for church, since I was not at all convinced that I was really in labor. I was dressed from head to toe—earrings, necklace, nice shirt and skirt, and my oh-so-sexy thigh-high compression hose—and ready to head out the door. Eric looked at me circling my hips through every contraction and said, “Rixa, I really think you should stay home.” I admitted I probably would make a bit of a scene at church, because I had to move through the contractions at this point. So I sent him and Zari off at quarter to nine with the assurance that I’d call him if I needed anything. After all, he was only two minutes away.
Eric got asked a million questions when he and Zari showed up without me. I didn’t think it at all strange to send them off while I was (maybe?) in labor, but I guess some people at church did!
Since I was playing hooky from church, I figured I’d devote some time to meditating and reading about spiritual matters. So I sat at the computer, reading and rocking on my birth ball. Eric called periodically to check in with me while he was at church. After the first call around 10:15 am, I could still talk through contractions. When he called again an hour later, things were getting really intense.
For fun I timed contractions on Contraction Master—another first, since I never timed them during Zari’s labor–and they were always at least a minute long. That surprised me; they seemed much shorter than that. They became closer together during the hour or two when I was timing them. They started out at 5-6 minutes apart and were less than 4 minutes apart by 12:30 pm.
I loved having the time at home alone. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring morning. The house was quiet. I had time to slowly gather my supplies and put everything in order: eat snacks and drink juice, go to the bathroom multiple times, do laundry, and get things ready upstairs in the birth room.
Eric and Zari came home shortly after noon. He fed Zari lunch and put her down for a nap. At this point I was starting to lose my desire to eat, even though I was still a bit hungry. I tried eating a bite of the morel mushroom dish we had made the night before. Nope. Not interested. I’ve discovered a new way to tell if you’re in labor: when even morel mushrooms don’t taste good, you know it’s the real thing!
Like during Zari’s labor, I had to stand during contractions, leaning over a table or counter, and sway my hips. I would put much of my weight on my arms and dip my hips back and forth in a big U shape, or rock them from side to side. I breathed in and out deeply, exhaling a deep, silent haaaaaaaaa orwhooooooo or yeoooow. I circled my head back and forth. I felt contractions in the same place as my first labor: low down above my pubic bone from hip to hip. They were like sharp, knifelike menstrual cramps.
Labor was really picking up. I started filling the tub when Eric came home, knowing it would take at least an hour and a half until it was ready. I also noticed that familiar endorphin rush: a dizzy, spinney, floaty feeling.
I called the midwife around 1 pm and let her know I was definitely in labor. I wasn’t quite ready for her to come over yet, but I would call when I was. I called her back at 1:30 pm and said “come over—I don’t want to think any longer about when to call you!”
By this time, labor was crazy intense, more than Zari’s labor ever was. I started feeling flushed and dizzy and shaky. I also started feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. I wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to do this any more. I really understood, for the first time, why women take drugs in labor. To know that someone or something can just make it go away is almost irresistibly seductive. That’s one of the reasons I don’t put myself in an environment where I have that option, because I know that I reallydon’t want it to go away and I know that I can do it. I recognized that these were all classic signs of transition. I remember thinking, if this isn’t really transition, I am screwed.
Once Zari was sleeping, Eric helped me get some last things ready: filling the birth pool the second time, bringing any last supplies upstairs, pulling off my compression hose. I was still dressed from head to toe in my church clothes at this point! I took off my necklace and earrings and my Hypnobabies mp3s, which I had been listening to on and off. He gave me a blessing, which was specific and very reassuring that my body was healthy made to do this, that I would be able to give birth to this baby. When I was pushing and wondering if I wanted to check myself for dilation/progress, I recalled the blessing and thought, nope, not necessary, I know everything is working as it should be.
Shortly before 2 pm, I had a contraction while leaning over the entryway table. I heard that familiar catch in the back of my throat and felt some rectal pressure. I had an urge to drop down on my knees. Oh great. I knew what was coming next—pushing—and I wasn’t all that excited. I don’t like pushing. Sure, it means the baby will be here soon, but for me pushing doesn’t feel better. It feels worse!
Eric suggested we head upstairs, which was really a brilliant idea. I’m not sure I would have made it up because I was still in the “I hope I am really in active labor and not deluding myself” headspace. I got dressed in my bikini, top and bottom. Not sure what I was thinking when I put the bottoms on, since I had to pull them off a few contractions later. You can see them floating behind me in the pool in several of the pictures.
The tub was full but way too hot, so we pumped out some water and added more cold until it was pleasantly lukewarm. It was warm upstairs, about 80 degrees, and the water felt heavenly. It did take the edge off the first contraction (which mas the last real labor-only contraction). I knelt in the tub, facing outward and leaning my elbows on the edge.
The midwife arrived a bit after 2 pm. I started having pushy contractions, each one more and more pushy and less and less labor-y. She took heart tones, then left us alone for a little bit. As soon as the pushy contractions hit, I needed something to grab onto. I asked Eric to kneel down on the floor facing me. I grabbed both of his forearms, like we were double arm wrestling, and held on for dear life as my body began pushing.
I had an almost irresistible urge to bite on something during the contractions. Eric was very, very lucky that I didn’t chomp down on his arms. Twilight moment averted.
More pushing, more rectal pressure, more grunting and vocalizations. The midwife came back in the room. My water broke. Another first—I never noticed it breaking during Zari’s labor (it did at some point, of course, since she didn’t come out in the caul). I said, “my water just broke!” I looked down and saw specks of vernix floating gently downward in the water. The baby’s head descended rapidly. When I felt it hit my perineum, I slapped my right hand down to support my tissues while maintaining a death grip on Eric’s arm with my left hand. As I was doing this, this passage from Gloria Lemay’s article Midwife’s Guide to an Intact Perineum flashed through my mind:
The next distinct feeling is a burning, pins-and-needles feeling at the opening of the vagina. Many women describe this as a “ring of fire” all around the vaginal opening. It is instinctive to slap your hand down on the now-bulging vulva and try to control where the baby’s head is starting to emerge. This instinct should be followed. It seems to really help to have your own hands there.
I felt something really funky—a large blob or bubble of tissue sticking out in the front. Behind it was the familiar oval slit of the vagina with a bit of wrinkly baby head. I said, “something feels funny.” The midwife asked if it felt wrinkly, assuming I was referring to the sometimes surprisingly soft folds of the baby’s scalp as it first crowns. No, I felt that, too. This was something else. I poked and pinched it gently, hoping it wasn’t some part of my anatomy that was coming out with the baby! Then I figured it out—it was a little bubble of amniotic sac. I pressed it a little harder, and it deflated. (In a video right after the birth, you can see me telling Eric and the midwife what that “funny thing” was).
With each contraction, the head emerged more and more. I applied counterpressure to the head, varying the pressure between the front and back depending on where I felt more pressure and stinging. As much as crowning, and pushing in general, was wild and crazy and painful, it was amazingly cool to once again support my baby’s head as it emerged out of my body. There’s nothing like feeling your baby’s head come out, bit by bit, into the palm of your hand. Every woman deserves that experience.
The midwife listened to heart tones once more (they were always great with lots of variability), then began taking pictures, for which I was very grateful. I had wanted to also film the birth, but things went too quickly to get the camcorder set up. I was really vocalizing: grunting, growling, panting, and lots of other sounds that don’t really have a name. All totally instinctive and spontaneous.
Then that glorious feeling of the baby’s head emerging fully. No pause between the head and body this time, just a great spiraling sensation as the baby’s body emerged. I looked down as its body was halfway out and saw a face, eyes wide open, looking up at me through the water. I grabbed the baby, its body still slipping out of mine, and lifted it gently out of the water. It was about 2:33 pm—we all forgot to look at the clock, so the time of birth is our best guess—and I had only been pushing in earnest for 15 or 20 minutes.
The baby seemed impossibly tiny to me. I said something about it being so small. It began crying right away, and I caressed its smooth body.
By this time Eric was filming. I took a peek between its legs and found that we had a boy!
I sent Eric down to wake Zari up from her nap and meet her new brother. He came back alone, unable to wake her up.
The cord was a bit on the short side and the water wasn’t overly warm, so I got out probably 5 or 10 minutes after the birth. We snuggled in bed with a towel over me and Dio. He cried for a few minutes, then calmed down and began opening up his eyes. Eric helped me sit up a bit more so he could nurse.
The midwife left us alone, as we had discussed beforehand. I don’t remember seeing her again until we asked her to come up about an hour after the birth to help cut the cord. Eric was finally able to wake Zari up at 3:30 pm. She touched Dio, hesitantly at first. One of the first things she said was, “he has little tiny ears.”
We cut the cord and I asked if the placenta was detached. It was, so the midwife encouraged me to bear down a bit as she held onto the cord. It came out with a few pushes. The assistant took the placenta and collected some cord blood with a syringe, to check the baby’s Rh factor. I handed the baby over to Eric and Zari and took a quick shower. The midwife weighed and measured Dio and did a newborn exam. Everything was perfect. She checked me for tears. I had two periurethral tears, but they were perfectly straight and approximated, no stitches needed. No perineal tears and just a tiny skidmark inside my vagina. Yay! My bottom feels great, besides the normal after-birth tenderness and some minor stinging when I pee.
The next few hours were spent snuggling, admiring the baby, and ingesting large quantities of food and juice. I am always ravenous right after I have a baby. The midwife and her assistant were busy doing laundry, cleaning up, and heating up food for me to eat. They left around 5 pm with smiles and well-wishes. The midwife said to me laughingly, “this birth will really make you wonder why you didn’t go unassisted!” since she really didn’t do much midwifey stuff at all, except check heart tones and examine me and the baby a while after the birth. But that was exactly what I had wanted and what we had talked about beforehand, so I assured her that it was just perfect. And it was.
I have no regrets about anything, nothing I’d nit-pick over and wish I’d done differently. (Okay, except I wish I had filmed the birth, but that doesn’t really count!) The midwife’s presence didn’t disturb me or interrupt my labor at all, and I was very glad she was there to take pictures. I also loved having the postpartum help with cleaning and food. The timing of everything worked out perfectly—having the quiet time alone in the morning, Zari napping during the most intense part of labor when I really needed Eric around, the midwife arriving just as I began pushing.
Some final comments:
Faster does not mean easier. Although this birth went more quickly than Zari’s, if you count from when labor really kicked into gear, it was not necessarily any easier. In fact, I’d say that it was much more challenging and intense, both physically and mentally, than my first birth. I skipped the classic transition phase the first time around, but during this labor it really hit me.
Posterior? I don’t think Dio was posterior during labor. Heart tones indicated he was always ROT, as he had been during the last several weeks of pregnancy. I also felt no back labor at all. What the midwife and I think happened is that he stayed ROT during the whole labor and spun posterior at the very end, as he barreled down through the pelvis. It’s a lot faster to go from ROT to OP than to spin the other way around! I didn’t look down until after his head and half his body were out, so I can’t say for sure whether the head itself came out OP, or just rotated that way after it had emerged.
Denial is your best friend in labor. I could have easily exhausted myself, both physically and psychologically, if I had paid too much attention to my contractions. I almost didn’t go to bed on Saturday night because the contractions were quite strong and painful and because I was seeing bloody show, which had signaled the start of labor when I was pregnant with Zari. Making myself stay in bed and sleep, if only fitfully between contractions, was a lifesaver. Because I did this, labor only seemed to begin some time between 10 and 11 am on Sunday. I could technically claim to have been in labor for 28+ hours, or 14+ hours from the onset of bloody show. But instead, labor lasted between 3 ½ and 4 ½ hours long in my mind. Much easier to integrate and work through!