The usual warning precedes the story I'm about to tell. If blood and fluids and birthy things skeev you out, stop reading now. If those things don't bother you, read on!
This story begins weeks before my due date. I was feeling particularly sick of being pregnant. This is a feeling I was not unfamiliar with, but I had hit the proverbial wall much sooner than in previous pregnancies. A combination of fatigue, extreme heartburn, pelvic pain, and being the primary caregiver for two young children likely contributed. I'm not a huge fan of cervical checks before the due date because I know they're not an accurate predictor of when labor will start, not to mention they're extremely uncomfortable. But my curiosity got the best of me and I agreed to be checked after my GBS test at 36 weeks. I was already 1cm dilated and 75% effaced 4 weeks away from my due date!
This concerned me for several reasons. My last labor was only four hours long and my mom and sister, who were planning to be present at the birth, had an 8 hour drive to get to me. If I went into labor early they wouldn't make it in time. Also, my home birth midwife lives two hours away and as I have had a tendency in the past to bleed an excessive amount after birth, I was concerned about her making it in time as well.
This early dilation convinced me that surely this child wouldn't make it to his due date like his siblings did. I was already predicting he would be much bigger than my previous babies judging by the size of my belly and how much more weight I had gained.
A week passed. I discovered at my next prenatal that I had passed my GBS test for the first time! Praise God! I agreed to have my awesome backup midwife, Brende, check me again just to see if these contractions I was having were being productive or not. Sure enough I was 2cm dilated. The next week was the same story. I had dilated another centimeter and was continuing to efface. At this rate I'd be at 4cm a week before my due date. This was the same level of dilation I had reached the day before Margaret was born. I started checking things off my to do list like a madwoman in anticipation.
At my next appointment I was 4cm dilated and 80% effaced. My midwife assured me I would have my baby before the coming week was up. I informed my birth team and prepared myself for the possibility of an early baby. I washed the towels.
The next night, a Friday, my Braxton-Hicks seemed different. They were getting stronger and more painful, and coming about 10-15 minutes apart. This was by far the most promising sign yet. I was chatting with my mom and sister at the time, so I told them to be on standby. After about an hour the contractions were consistently 10 minutes apart and persistent. Certain that labor was imminent, I told them they might want to consider getting their affairs in order. They agreed to leave right then and drive through the night. I texted my midwife and went to bed.
Of course, the contractions stopped the moment I laid down. And thus began a nightly ritual that would persist so very much longer than I was prepared for.
My mom and sister arrived the next morning to a "still very pregnant and not in labor" me. We spent the next two weeks in what felt like a bad remake of Groundhog Day: contractions 10-30 minutes apart for hours, complete cessation once in bed, waking up still pregnant, only to have a repeat performance later that night. My home birth midwife made a home visit during that time and checked me at 5-6cm and VERY soft. The baby's head was in my pelvis and labor could happen at any time. She left me with some blue and black cohosh tinctures to take if I really wanted to get things going. We inflated the birth pool.
My due date came and went. This was unfamiliar territory for me because both of my previous babies came on their due dates or very shortly thereafter (I went into labor with Dom on his due date, but it stopped and he wasn't born until two days later). Two days after my due date my sister in law, who was due the week after me, was induced and gave birth to her baby boy. I cried. Why wouldn't my body cooperate? Why was this baby holding out so long?
I was starting to despair of ever going into labor on my own. I tried the cohosh tinctures three days after my due date but they did nothing. My sister forced me to take walks almost every night. I bounced on the exercise ball. I did pelvic tilts and danced the Cotton-Eyed Joe (of which there is video evidence). I even consented to a membrane sweep. Nothing would make this kid emerge before he was ready.
The evening of August 8th we settled in for another night of the same old thing. The contractions were getting too uncomfortable for me to sit on the couch so I moved to the exercise ball. We queued up an episode of Doctor Who on Netflix (season 8, whoo!). The contractions were getting more painful than any of my previous contractions so I texted my midwife and started timing them. Much to my disappointment they were still 15-20 minutes apart. I texted Michelle again and told her I was probably not in labor. That was at 9:23pm.
At 9:37pm my water broke.
I called Michelle to let her know to start heading my way. She instructed me to let her know the moment I had a contraction.
Five minutes later I had a contraction. I timed the next few and they were consistently 5 minutes apart and felt a WHOLE lot different than before. We started to fill up the birth pool (thank God it was already inflated!).
We couldn't pay attention to Doctor Who, so we decided to switch to Scrubs. Once the pool was filled, I settled in for the long haul. The show kept me relaxed and laughing and helped the time pass.
After about an hour I was having to vocalize during contractions. I was keeping pretty well hydrated with my coconut water so I kept having to get out of the pool to use the bathroom. Michelle texted me to let me know she was getting close and that her birth assistant, Hanna, would be ahead of her. I was anxious for them to arrive so I could stop worrying about having this baby without them.
They both arrived within ten minutes of each other, and both of them came in while I was in the middle of a contraction so I had to get through it before I could greet them. I was still in good spirits even though the contractions were getting harder. We turned off Netflix and chatted for a bit between contractions. Michelle checked the baby's heart rate and got a strong 130 bpm. Everyone settled in and got comfortable. It was about midnight.
I quit paying attention to the time at this point, focusing instead on getting through each contraction and resting in between. I had to get out of the pool to use the bathroom several times and as my labor progressed it got more and more painful to do so. Only in the water was the pain mitigated between contractions. We had stopped timing them so I could only guess at how close together they were. Hanna, my mom, and my sister all snoozed on the couch during this phase. Nick sat bedside me on the exercise ball and held my hand through each contraction. Michelle read a book and checked the baby's heart rate a couple times. She went outside at one point to eat a Kind bar because she was afraid of disturbing me too much.
After a little while I could feel the intensity of the contractions increase. They were getting harder and harder to manage calmly and I found myself tensing up. I asked Hanna to fetch Michelle from the front porch because I was starting to feel like things were picking up. I couldn't recline in the tub anymore so I moved to my knees and leaned against the edge of the pool. In my past labors this was always a sign that pushing was imminent or had already begun, and this time was no different. The contractions had changed drastically and I felt a strong desire to run away from the pain.
Nick remained on the exercise ball next to the pool and I found it comforting to lean on his leg as I worked through each contraction. He leaned over me and made me feel anchored and secure as each contraction pushed me to the edge of my endurance. After each one I could hear myself saying, "I can't do this anymore. I can't do it. It hurts too much."
I could feel the contractions bearing downward but found myself holding back because of how badly I had torn in the past. After a couple of these contractions Michelle had to tell me to stop fighting against my body and that the baby could sense my hesitation. I bore down and immediately felt the baby descend. I pushed for about three contractions before I could feel his head beginning to emerge. I remember saying, "I want him out! I just want him out!" But Michelle coached me to slow down and pant. "You've got a big old head that needs to come out," she said. At this point I was standing in the pool because his nose was in the water when I was on my knees. I felt the head come out and the ring of fire ceased. One more push and he was born at 2:45am. Michelle handed him to me between my legs, but he was so tangled in his cord that we had to unwrap it before I could even bring him to my chest.
I was elated. I sat back down in the pool and felt Nick climb in beside me and hold me up so we both could look at him. We awaited that first lusty cry with tense anticipation. I rubbed his back vigorously and encouraged him to take a breath. The air was thick with tension, as if everyone in the room was holding their own breath, waiting.
Michelle leapt into action. She instructed me to tickle his feet while she suctioned his throat to hopefully clear his airway. She did this a few times before she used the bag mask on him. I could hear Nick's voice breaking in my ear, "Is he ok? Is he going to be ok?" Michelle was reassuring and calm, "He'll be fine, he just needs to be shown how to do it." As she was bagging him, I held his little hand and prayed. I'm not sure how much time passed, but I think about a minute went by before Michelle told Hanna that they would have to cut the cord soon and resuscitate. The moment she said this, he started gurgling and let out a very wet cry. The atmosphere immediately changed. As he continued to cry we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and watched him slowly pink up. Michelle listened to his lungs periodically to make sure they were clearing. He didn't seem as big to me as I was anticipating and he had a full head of hair like his sister.
To hopefully stave off some of my bleeding, I was given an herbal tincture that tasted awful. Thomas was still attached to his cord when I delivered the placenta, which was placed in a bowl floating beside us in the water. Michelle checked the cord and deemed it ready for cutting and Nick was given the honor of doing so. I handed the baby off so I could get out of the pool and prayed that my bleeding wouldn't be bad like my previous births. Unfortunately, the moment I stood up it was clear that I wasn't going to get off easy.
It took what seemed like forever to get my bleeding under control. In the end the only thing that stopped it was a shot of Pitocin. Thomas latched on and nursed like a champ. I was anxious to know if I was going to need stitches again so I had Michelle check me and to my amazement I had only a tiny tear that didn't need stitches! I was too weak to get off the couch so I stayed there while Michelle checked Thomas over. He weighed in at 9lbs 6oz, almost a full pound bigger than Margaret, and was 22" long!
It was almost sunrise when Hanna left. Michelle stuck around to make sure my bleeding was under control. Everyone found a place to sleep and we tried to get some rest. We were awoken by my early riser, Dom, at about 6:30. He was only slightly perplexed by Thomas's presence and warmed to him quickly. Margaret required breakfast before she would acknowledge the baby, but once she did she fell in love. They're both obsessed with their baby brother.
Once Michelle was satisfied that my bleeding was under control and Thomas was doing well she went home. We arranged for the kids to spend the day at their grandparents' while we all rested and recuperated from our all-nighter.
I'm so grateful for our capable midwife, who kept us safe and taken care of during this birth. I'm acutely aware of how blessed we are. Thomas is a thriving and easy going little guy, which is the least he could do after the scare he gave us!