On Monday, January 20th, I was 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant. I had really reached the end of my rope, and I was committed to doing whatever I could to help labor start. That morning Eleanor and I had a playdate with our friends. They came to our house and the kids played for a while, then we walked the few blocks to Whole Foods for lunch. Andrew came at met us there. He was home from work early because someone had stripped the phone lines for the copper near his office, and their phone and internet was both down. We walked home together and I joked that it would be a great day to have the baby since he was already home from work.
After we got home I spent a lot of time bouncing on my exercise ball, and at about 4pm I decided I really wanted to go on another walk, so we headed out, Andrew and I each holding one of Eleanor’s hands. We live in a hilly neighborhood, and in a few spots there are huge flights of stairs to give pedestrians quicker access up and down the hills. I walked those stairs a lot when I was pregnant with Eleanor and hoping to kick start labor. I hadn’t had the energy to attempt climbing them with this pregnancy, but like I said, I was at the end of my rope, so we made our way down the stairs, walked a few blocks to put some letters in the mail, and then back up the stairs. I had a few good contractions on the walk, but I didn’t think much of them. I had been having random contractions here and there—real ones, not Braxton Hicks—for days, including a false alarm the previous Friday. After being really disappointed by the false alarm I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to get excited about any contractions until they were strong enough to stop me in my tracks.
We headed home and started planning dinner. I was looking at Pinterest and saw a picture of waffles, which gave me a huge craving, so we decided to make Breakfast for Dinner (aka “Brinner”), with waffles, bacon and eggs. I ate an absolute ton. It was delicious, and a very appropriate meal to have as my last meal while pregnant. After dinner we put Eleanor to bed and settled in to watch the first episode of season 3 of Sherlock. It was a long one, and I was feeling pretty tired, so I told Andrew I would probably only want to watch half of it, but then I got too invested, so we watched the entire thing and went to bed at 11:00pm.
When I went to the bathroom right before getting into bed I noticed a tiny bit of spotting. I got really excited, but I didn’t think it meant that labor would be starting right away. I hoped it meant positive progress and that Win might come in the next few days. Andrew and I high fived and got into bed. I started having pretty strong contractions immediately, but they were very far apart, some as many as 15 minutes apart. I figured it was just more of the same random contractions I had been having before, so I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. I was starting to get excited. Something about the contractions felt different. They were sharper and definitely more painful than the ones I had been experiencing previously. I laid in bed half paying attention to the contractions and half trying to force myself to sleep until about 1am, when I decided to get up and time them with the app on my phone and figure out how serious I thought the situation was.
I went into the living room and bounced on my exercise ball while watching an episode of Downton Abbey and eating a bowl of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The contractions were getting a bit closer, about 6-7 minutes apart. I was starting to feel more confident that this was the beginning of labor, so after about a half an hour I decided to try to go back to bed. I figured if it really was labor I could use the rest, especially since I hadn't slept at all, and if it wasn’t really labor laying down and relaxing might make the contractions go away. Andrew woke up when I climbed back into bed and I told him that I was having contractions but that I wasn’t sure if it was labor or not yet. I only stayed in bed for a few minutes. The contractions hurt enough that I didn’t like the way it felt to have them laying down, and that is what finally convinced me it really was labor.
It looked like I was going to have a due date baby, and that alone seemed way too good to be true. I had a much easier time accepting the fact that I was in labor with Eleanor, but that process had been such a slow build in comparison with many escalating signs. This time everything seemed to have started so quickly, and all I had to go off of was the intensity of the contractions. It felt surreal, like I didn’t have time to process what was really going on.
I was laying in bed next to Andrew, breathing out slowly to get through a contraction, and I said to him, "Sorry, I have to get up again. I can't do this on the bed." So I got up and decided to get out the hospital bag. As I took the bag out of the closet I felt a surge of doubt. I thought to myself that this could very well be another false alarm, and that I might find myself putting the bag back in the closet the next morning, depressed, still pregnant, and really, really tired after staying up all night for nothing. This back and forth kept going on in my mind every step along the way, with one part of me being decisive and taking action, and the other part second guessing everything and worrying that I was jumping the gun. I was worried about calling all of the people I needed to notify and wake them up in the middle of the night for a false alarm. I was worried about getting myself all excited only to be let down again. But for whatever reason, the decisive voice won out each and every time, and the timing of the birth went perfectly.
At about 1:30am while I was putzing around the apartment trying to distract myself, Eleanor woke up and got out of bed. I took her back to her room and whispered to her that I thought her brother was coming that night. She perked up and said, “Really?” I told her yes, and that when she woke up in the morning my friend Morgan would be there to watch her, and that her Grandma would be on her way to help. “Will they take me to visit you and Tickley?” she asked. I told her yes, that has soon as Grandma’s flight got in Grandma would drive to our house, pick her up, and take her to the hospital. Eleanor went right back to sleep, and I went back to milling around the apartment and timing contractions.
At 2:00am I started making the calls, although I was still feeling very unsure of myself. My mom’s plan was to fly out from Phoenix as soon as I knew I was in labor and be with us as soon as possible, so I looked up the flight schedule for the day and saw that the earliest one she could get was at 7:10am. It’s an hour later there, and I knew that if she was going to book the flight and get to the airport easily I needed to call her right away, so I did despite the doubt lingering in the back of my mind. Andrew woke up right after that and got out of bed to be with me. I was ambling around the apartment, bouncing on my ball, and timing contractions here and there to see if I was making progress. They were about 5 minutes apart. They became strong enough that I had to stand up and sway or walk through them, which was a benchmark of active labor for me the first time.
I called my doula, Caitlin, at 2:40 and my midwife directly after. Caitlin said she would get ready and be over in about 45 minutes, and the midwife said to call her again when we were heading to the hospital. I called my friend Morgan, who lives nearby and had agreed to come stay with Eleanor if I ended up going into labor in the middle of thee night, and put her on standby.
While we waited for Caitlin to arrive I got a huge burst of energy and started running around doing all of the last minute things I could think of, ticking them off of the “Things To Do In Labor” list that I had written. I went downstairs and took Win’s car seat out of its box, put it in the car, and moved the car into the garage to free up our parking spot. I finished packing the hospital bag and got a towel to put down in Caitlin’s car in case my water broke enroute to the hospital. Andrew was fussing at me about doing all of that work, but I enjoyed feeling busy and told him just to let me be. When I ran out of things to do I started pacing the apartment like a caged animal. I had walked throughout my entire labor with Eleanor, and I hated that it was the middle of the night and I was stuck at home.
Caitlin came at 3:40. I hadn’t been timing my contractions very regularly, but I noticed right around the time she arrived that they had gotten a bit farther apart, and my burst of energy was totally depleted. I was really starting to feel the effects of having been up all night. I told Caitlin I was feeling tired and didn’t know what to do. She asked if I could rest, but I hated the way contractions felt when I was laying or sitting, so that seemed out of the question. I told her want I really wanted to do was go for a walk and see if that helped my contractions pick back up again. I was secretly afraid that if I did try to rest in any way that the contractions would go away. When I told Caitlin I wanted to walk, her response was, “Ok! Let’s do it.” I was hesitant about walking around our neighborhood in the middle of the night. I love it here, but it is Oakland after all, and you can't be too careful. We decided that since it was almost 4:00am that made it close enough to morning to probably be safe, and we headed out. Andrew stayed back at the apartment with Eleanor.
Caitlin and I walked up and down the hill our apartment is at the top of chatting about TV shows and the ways women act during labor. I was having really good, strong contractions, but I was able to walk through them. Neither of us were timing them at all, we were just living in the moment. The cold night air was so refreshing, and I felt my energy returning. As we walked my contractions got stronger and stronger, and I started having to slow down through them, but I never wanted to stop. It just felt so good to be up and moving. I told Caitlin that I couldn’t imagine laboring in any other way.
During this time I still felt like the experience was very surreal, and I kept thinking to myself, "Is this really happening?" But at the same time, it was progressing exactly the way I always imagined it would. Somehow I just always knew I would labor in the middle of the night, when everything was still and quiet and Eleanor was sleeping safe and sound in her bed, allowing me to focus all of my attention at the task at hand.
We walked for almost an hour, until I started feeling my energy waning again. I realized I felt a tiny bit hungry, and I thought that getting something to eat might raise my blood sugar and perk me up a bit, so we came home and Andrew fixed me a bagel with a bit of cream cheese. I was standing up, swaying through contractions and munching on it between them, trying to get as much of it down as I could. I started feeling like I wanted counter pressure on my hips during contractions, like I needed help getting through them, and I remembered feeling the same way right before I felt the need to head to the hospital when I was in labor with Eleanor. When I started needing help, that’s when things were really serious. Then I felt a contraction with a strong amount of pressure down low, and I realized we needed to leave as soon as possible.
We called Morgan and the midwife, and I put my birthing skirt on (another sign that I definitely mean business). We left right after Morgan arrived, at about 5:00am. I went through transition in the car when I was in labor the first time, and I was really afraid of that happening again. I knew I couldn’t sit down through contractions, so I got on my knees in the back of Caitlin’s car and locked my arms around the headrest. From that position Andrew was able to press on my hips when I needed him to. There was no traffic on the roads at all since it was still so early and we made all green lights, so I only had to suffer through a few contractions in the car. As we were arriving at the hospital Caitlin asked if we wanted her to drop us off at the entrance and go park, or if I felt like I could walk the distance from the parking lot. I wanted to walk some more, so we parked and started walking in. Andrew asked if I wanted to take the elevator or the stairs out of the garage, and I picked the stairs, so down three flights we went, contracting every few steps along the way.
During the walk from the car to the hospital I started shaking uncontrollably. I thought it was maybe because it was chilly outside, but it was a sign that I was entering transition. By the time we got through the main hospital doors, I was feeling like I really needed to get into a room, so we booked it as fast as we could to labor and delivery.
As soon as the nurse at the check in desk saw me, she asked if I was Lindy’s patient. Hiring Lindy, my midwife, was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I could sing her praises all day. She was incredible. She was at every single one of my prenatal appointments, was always running right on time, and always took as much time talking with me as I needed. She was always so sweet to Eleanor, who accompanied me to all of my appointments. And during labor, she was exactly what I needed. The only time she left my side was when she went to put on her scrubs right before I started pushing.
She had told me over and over again to call her as soon as I knew I was in labor, no matter what time of day it was, so that she would have time to make it for the delivery. She had beaten us to the hospital and had a room already prepared for us. She heard my voice while we were checking in and came down the hall to get us. It was 5:09am. Because I was her patient, I was able to skip going to triage. She held my hand and lead me to the room, number 11, where a nurse named Fe was waiting. At this point, there was still a part of my brain that couldn’t believe that this was really happening. I remember looking around that room, thinking that this was the place where my son would be born, and reflecting on how impossible that all seemed.
Lindy told the nurse right away that I didn’t need an IV started, didn’t want a hep lock, and that I prefered to labor upright (all things she knew about me from our prenatal visits). Right after we got to the room Lindy asked if I could get on the bed for a cervical check. I did, and she told me I was a good 8cm, and that it would be alright to start pushing even though I wasn’t fully dilated if I got the urge. After that I stood by the side of the bed so that I could keep laboring upright and swaying through contractions. Lindy raised the bed up as high as it could go so that I could lean over it. Caitlin got on the other side and held my hands, while Andrew stayed behind me and pressed on my hips. I was firmly in transition by this point, and starting to vocalize through contractions and focus all my attention on my breathing. Caitlin was needing to remind me to relax through my neck and shoulders. Every time she told me to relax I would let go of all of that tension, put my shoulders down and back, lift my face, and breathe out as slowly and as controlled as I could. Between the contractions I was shaking uncontrollably, and I hated it because it made me feel like I couldn't properly relax the way I needed to. I kept telling everyone that I hated the shaking, and they assured me it was normal was would be over soon.
The nurse got out the monitor and starting moving it around my belly, but was having trouble finding the baby’s heartbeat. She had been fishing around for a while and hadn’t located it. I was starting to get nervous about how long it was taking, so I told her that I had felt the baby kicking in the car, more as a way to reassure myself that he was ok than anything else. Lindy noticed my worry and gently said to the nurse, “Knowing this Mama, I would say that the baby is very, very low.” The nurse moved the monitor down but still couldn’t find the heartbeat, so Lindy took the monitor from her and held it way down low, right over my public bone. She found the heartbeat right away. The monitor had to be so low that they couldn’t secure it with the belts, so Lindy just crouched down on the floor holding it in place and assured me over and over again that he was doing great. “He doesn’t even notice a thing,” she told me.
Transition is a very emotional time for me. When I was in transition with Eleanor I kept tearing up and telling everyone that I loved them and hugging them. This time, my thoughts kept returning to Eleanor. I was missing her so much, and wanted her there with me. I was missing my mom and wanting her there with me too. My mom had just texted me to let me know that she was on her plane and about to take off, and Caitlin reminded me she was there with me in spirit. At this point during my contractions Lindy and Caitlin each held my hands, while Andrew kept pushing on my hips, and although I was missing my mom so much, I felt so surrounded by the love of strong, supportive women, and that gave me courage. And of course Andrew was there with me every step of the way, present and attentive and affectionate. Lindy actually had to tell him to stop hugging me so that I could focus on pushing at one point, but it was me who was clinging to him.
I started to bear down every so slightly at the end of my contractions, and Lindy asked me to get on my hands and knees in the bed. She put the back of the bed up so that I could lean over it. I couldn’t stop thinking of Eleanor, and I wanted to see her sweet face so much, so I asked Andrew to give me my phone. I held it in my hands and stared at the picture of her that is set as my wallpaper through the worst of the transition contractions, focusing on her smile and rosy cheeks, and reminding myself that I had done this once before and could do it again. I started to feel the urge to push harder and harder, and started bearing down more purposefully.
My thighs were getting really tired from supporting my weight in the hands and knees position, so I said I wanted to try something else. I did one contraction while side lying and absolutely hated it, so I settled in on my back, which is the position I was in when I delivered Eleanor. Once I was firmly on my back I felt like I could really start pushing. But I hate pushing. I really hate it. I can handle labor, the worst contractions, transition, it’s all fine until I have to start pushing. That’s when I just want it to be over more than anything. That’s when I start to feel like I can’t do it. The urge to push is so intense and powerful that I struggle to breathe. It’s like my body can only focus on that one task, and finding it difficult to breathe scares me. But it also encourages me to get it done as soon as possible. Andrew and Caitlin held my legs and every time I felt a contraction rising I felt a sense of dread, followed by the resolve to push as hard as I could so that I wouldn’t have to feel the start of another awful pushing contraction.
Even when I was pushing, in the midst of all of this, I was still thinking to myself, “Can this really be it? Is it really happening now?” My water hadn’t even broken yet (it never really did), and so I half expected the pushes not to work. I was surprised when I heard Lindy telling me that my pushes were very productive, and to keep going. I was waiting eagerly to feel the ring of fire, that undeniable sign that the baby is about to be born. It came soon. And it hurt worse than I remembered.
Lindy told me that the baby was coming posterior, and that we would need to try to get him to turn. She had me do a few small, very controlled pushes between contractions, and then he gave me a swift, hard kick that made my belly jump, and twisted around. He did that maneuver right in the birth canal while he was crowing, and I felt every bit of it. It hurt like nothing else. Lindy told me later that she watched the little swirl of his hair making the twist. After he turned she told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head. I did, and that was all I needed to get the job done. I pushed with everything I had, my eyes wide open, focusing on the odd little peak of my belly button, bulged out from pregnancy, sitting on top of the round mound of my belly that I knew would soon be empty. I listened intently to my midwife, telling me “Push down. Push through the pain.” And then I heard her say, “Reach down and grab him,” and then the most amazing, beautiful, miraculous, incredible moment of my life occurred. Andrew and I both reached down, and together we pulled our son out of my body. Our love had created him, and together we brought him into the world.
It was 6:35am, the morning of January 21st, his due date. He was born an hour and a half after we arrived at the hospital, and after only 12 minutes of pushing, although those 12 minutes felt like an absolute eternity to me.
We placed him on my stomach to wait for his cord to stop pulsing, and I wrapped my hands around his tiny body, just as I had done with his sister, and I cried. I sobbed and the tears streamed down my face. I was crying because I was so happy that he was born, because I was overwhelmed with that incredible love that comes with seeing and holding your baby for the first time, but I was also crying from sheer relief. I was so glad it was over. The pain was gone. I had done it. Again. Two beautiful babies, two perfect natural births.
I'll be honest, in the moments after Win's birth I was so glad that he is very likely to be our last child. I was so happy to know I would never have to push a baby out of my body again, but after just a few days I was ready to get back in saddle. It's funny how our brains work that way.
It is such an incredible feeling to birth a baby. It is more earth-shattering than anything else I have ever experienced. In one instant my body is locked in the throes of the worst pain it has ever felt, and in the next, my baby is born. My baby is finally here, and my heart soars to its highest limit. I think of births of my children as my greatest accomplishments. The knowledge that I have done it and felt it all, from the first contraction to the final push, brings me more pride than I could ever begin describe.