I had the honor of supporting Erin and Paul at the birth of their second baby. Erin was my first ever client, only a few weeks after I had taken my doula training, so it was a special honor to be asked back to support her again, at the birth of her son, Adrian Leo. Erin shares her birth story below, in her own words.
This story starts much like the first of mine (read her first birth story here; my due date had come and gone. Only this time, I was expecting as much and I wasn’t quite ready for a baby just yet. The day before my due date I had given myself a nasty case of poison ivy while on a walk with Claire and Sumo. It was everywhere – on my face, neck, chest, pubic area, arms, legs…so I spent the week aggressively treating it with whatever People’s Pharmacy recommended. On top of that, I had a job interview on my due date and a second interview scheduled for the Thursday after! I spent most of my days preparing for a new job in a new industry and wanted to get through just one more interview before heading off into my mom cave. This baby had other plans.
I had forgone having my membranes swept the day after my due date at the birthing center, but now that we were a week over and the worst of the poison ivy was kicked, I had to bump having a baby from number 3 on the priority list to an even 1 with the job interview. My favorite midwife saw me that day, Wednesday August 16, and boy did she sweep! I distinctly remembering wanting to clock her in the face as a reflex, but held back, hoping this brutal act had better work!! 3 hours later I was having regular contractions, though they were weak and far apart enough for me to wonder if they would just die down. I was trying not to get too excited, but tried to go to sleep early anyway, after emailing my job that I would be out for the count. That night I slept fitfully. The contractions kept waking me up!
The next morning was Thursday, August 17th. I sent Claire off to school with Paul, and he to work while I stayed back and felt what my body had to say. Though the contractions were still coming, they were still slight enough that I wondered if they would continue in that manner for hours or days or simply peter out as a false alarm from the sweeping the day before. I stayed calm and Netflixed on the couch. At about noon I realized that I was having to work a bit harder at relaxing through the contractions, closing my eyes and rubbing on or tapping the furniture around me to distract my mind a bit more. I called Paul home and got up to do some laundry. I had to stop to sway and breathe at the dresser while folding clothes, so I decided it was time to call the birthing center. My favorite midwife, Vickie, called me back as the one on duty. Could it be true that I would get her this time?!?! She asked me how I was doing and I described my current state to her, telling her I wasn’t sure what would happen and that I was still just hanging out and waiting. I also called Jamie, my doula, to update her. Paul arrived not too long after and we Netflixed again on the couch, only this time I was jumping up to bounce on the ball or lean on the coffee table every time a contraction would come. I was also thoroughly annoyed at his every move at this point. While going through one, he was not to make any noise, laugh, talk, or scroll his phone. This time was about me. I would announce when one was coming on and when it faded as fair warning. Still, over all I didn’t feel sure things would move very fast, and wavered as I requested Jamie come to the house. Even when she arrived at about 4pm I still felt the slow ramp up could continue to draw itself out.
Shortly after Jamie arrived, however, it was as if my body knew it. Now that everyone is present, let’s get this show on the road, it seemed to say! My contractions shot up into the red zone in no time, and I took to my spot (like the last birth) on one end of the couch, resting during the breaks to save energy (and because going through contractions make me feel so tired and heavy!) and shooting up onto my knees to brace through a wave, leaning over the arm of the couch and trying hard NOT to clutch my hands and push my feet into something. Jamie massaged my hands and feet to remind me to relax as much as I could. She helped get Paul in line as gopher and set the stage for seriousness, all while whispering sweet confidences in my ear. The shades were closed and lights dimmed. I had on my favorite piano playlist once the TV went off, and Paul kept the rice sock warm and ready for me. After a time, I remembered to yell, as it had helped me so much during the last birth. That low, primal, guttural yell; long and slow. It felt forced and awkward at first, but I quickly found my voice and the power it gave me to hear myself call out in response to the sensations rocking my body. Even still, I wondered if the contractions were opening my cervix; if they were actually “working”, so I visualized myself opening up. Over and over again. Opening like a flower; opening like a round, gaping doorway; the baby facing the right way and moving down, sliding through and out; easily and beautifully. I relaxed my butt as much as I could, fighting the urge to tighten into a burning coil instead and writhe in a corner. My prepared mantra – “You are strong, you are powerful. Open up and let the baby out.” Did I say that exactly at the time as I had planned? I cannot remember now. At 6pm, someone called the birthing center again and announced we would be coming in, and to please run the bath. Vickie was still on and I was getting her after all! As the contractions ripped through me, I could feel the sensations sputter and rev as they ramped up, rather than seamlessly smooth. I pictured my cervix jerking open millimeter by impossible millimeter as I felt this, as that must have been what was happening. It was a fascinating experience to feel it work in such a precise manner.
Once the phone was hung up, we all rushed to gather our things and I went to the car as fast as I could manage so as to not be caught in so many contractions on the way. By this time, the contractions were coming on so fast and violent that I only had a few breaths in between and they never truly went away. My break was at 20% or 30% of their full force. I felt this wasn’t fair and even whined out loud about it a time or two, but took what I could get and learned to appreciate the new and diminished definition of a break that I was given. Paul and I took our car, and Jamie followed in hers. It was just after 6pm, RUSH HOUR, AT LEAST 195 degrees out, and we had to get from the east side to the far south side of town. HOLY HELL. I held a rice sock over my eyes, since we were surely on the surface of the sun now, and held on for dear life with the other arm, quite literally trying to pull the headrest out of the car with shear strength and will. As I writhed around, screaming at the top of my lungs, Paul cut corners through parking lots, raced, and bumped his way to the birthing center…every jolt surely the culprit of yet another contraction come to challenge the best of me.
By the time we were just a few minutes and a few turns of the steering wheel to salvation, I felt the urge to push. I didn’t think much of it at the time since that can happen when close but not actually ready for such. Also, I was still of the mind all day to keep my expectations low, in case this whole experience ended up being longer than I would want. I had to keep my hopes and my attitude up! At the birthing center at last, I walked into our room as fast as humanly possible, passed a family in the waiting room for another mother in the building, and reached the bed just in time to rock out yet another wild contraction – yelling at the top of my lungs with all my fury. “Alright, well here we are!” I could hear my midwife say, exuberantly, as her and others bustled around the room to prepare for us. I was instructed to lay on the bed, and for the first time all day I was checked to see how my progress was going. It was the moment of truth. ”Well, you are ready to go – 10 centimeters dilated! Not even a lip in the way.” It was the most glorious, wonderful, amazing thing I was sure anyone had ever said to me. In fact, I thanked her with tears in my eyes and professed my love for her that very moment.
The tub not yet filled, I rocked it out on the bed on my knees, gripping the headboard for support for what felt like 20 minutes but was surely only 3 or 4. I tried pushing once or twice, but only gave half an effort as a bit of a warmup. I felt the baby’s head move down into my pelvis and felt the impossible pressure of bones squeezing into bones (that usually are left well enough alone and don’t much like to move) and my reflex was to retreat as far from that sensation as possible. ‘Oh, hell no, I am not doing that’, I thought to myself. It felt wrong and like a very, very awful thing to do. A flood of memories came to me from Claire’s birth like preparation for the work I still had coming.
At last, the bath was ready, and I waddled, with assistance and great effort, to the edge. Stepping in, the warm enveloped my weary body and instantly calmed every muscle, nerve, and emotion inside me. I sighed, closed my eyes, and went limp in welcoming surrender for a magnificent moment. But, this was no Friday night bubble bath. I had so much work to do, still. I got on hands and knees and gave a push or two, adjusting my energy from escaping out of my mouth, to down through my center. Ferocious yells turned to grunts and growls. Vickie then suggested that I flip onto my back and hike up my feet on the hand-holds like stirrups. She was right, it was much more comfortable this way and it was easier to curl my body into a C-shape to help push. I felt more in control of the contractions, now that I was pushing. I could push as long as I could stand it, and then break to gulp long and replenishing breaths and melt down into the side of the tub. During my last birth I had pushed for over an hour; I wanted to make sure and make much progress with each try and gather as much energy in between. The first big push in the tub I could already feel the immense pressure of him moving down, and the splitting of my body under the strain. Someone had already called out seeing the head; full head of the dark hair that I knew he would have. With the 2nd push I was sure that I would get him out; he felt so close and I bared down with even more than I thought I had to give, taking in a quick desperate breath in between extra-long and hard pushes. My heartbeat was checked after the push – it was in the 60’s. Whoa. The baby’s heartrate was also checked – he was beautifully calm as well. It was two more pushes or so that did the trick, long and arduous, and I finally felt the final burning sting of his head pop out.
The very worst of the day was truly over. I knew everything else would slip out of me like on a waterslide. Vicki instructed me to push very gently, as she guided the rest of his body out of mine. She held him under the water for a few precious seconds before lifting him out and placing him on my chest. He called out like a kitten in the cold and I wrapped him in my arms. Looking over at Paul, he was flooded with joy and tears at the first sight of his son. I kept repeating, “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness”, letting the ecstasy and the exhaustion wash over me as I looked on at my perfect, amazing child for the first time. Finally holding him, finally meeting him, and finally getting to share him with Paul and Claire.
Later that evening, Claire came to visit with Paul’s parents. It was really the moment I was anticipating all evening. It was past her bedtime, but I couldn’t wait for her to share in this new baby as soon as possible. I wanted her to be included; to feel ownership as we did as parents. I held my arm out to her as she jumped on the bed with us and we all cuddled up together – my complete family. She was beautiful with him; gazing at him in wonder and kissing his sleeping head. Her hands cupping him with tender delicacy. I probably cried with joy yet again, all of us filled to the brim.