After a disappointing first birth at the hospital, I knew I wanted to have my second at home. I recruited two amazing midwives once I got the green light that I was low-risk. The pregnancy was great, and by the time I was 36 weeks, the baby was basically hanging out of my pelvis. However, he decided he wasn’t ready to show up until 39 weeks in.
After four days of being cooped up in the house, Thursday morning I booted myself up and out, heading to an early morning meeting and then taking 20-month-old Yonah to playgroup. I was having contractions pretty regularly, but they didn’t hurt and since I’d been contracting for the past two months, I figured it was nothing to write home about. So, we had our lovely morning out, came home, had lunch and Yonah went down for his nap. Around 1 p.m., the contractions started to get a little painful so I decided to take a nap myself to see if they would taper off. When I lay down and the contractions kept coming, I started to suspect that this was IT.
An hour later, around 2:45, I woke up and things were still rocking. My suspicions were confirmed…Baby was coming! As Yonah snoozed away, I went downstairs to tell my hubby Shuie it was time. HUGE smile. I called my midwife Becca, who said she’d be there in an hour. Not a big deal…labors take a while, right?) I climbed into the tub and chilled out, listening to Nick Drake as the contractions got stronger. As I sat relaxing in the warm water, I offered up a prayer for the strength to get through this.
The contractions were building in strength a lot faster than I had anticipated. I couldn’t help but think of what I’d heard about second births being faster, and of Becca’s knowing smile when she checked me the day before and said, “You’ll see; this baby is going to come right out”. I called Becca again and told her she should probably leave NOW.
I was still in the bath when Becca arrived — by this time it was around 4:15 — and she very quickly determined that the show was well on the road. She dunked her Doppler microphone in the water and put it up against my belly to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, then I got out of the tub so she could check me. I was already dilated 4 cm (I had been 2 the day before). I got back into the tub while Becca set up shop and Shuie got Yonah ready to go. Yonah wandered in and out of the bathroom sporadically, saying, “Hi, Mama!”, checking in with his bath toys and wandering out again. At first I was happy to see him but as things got more intense I could barely answer him. I was blown away by how intense the contractions got…and how fast! Becca encouraged me to breathe deep, relax my body and “let them be strong”. When I tried to relax, though, the pain was so intense I felt like my body was going to break. I fought them, despite knowing that relaxing would make it easier. At one point I even slapped the side of the tub with my hand, like it was the jacuzzi’s fault for making me feel this way.
After a bit the water started to feel confining and way too hot so I migrated out to the living room, where a twin-sized air mattress was waiting for me. I started to feel like I wanted to crawl out of my skin; my bathrobe started to weigh me down like chain mail and I threw it off. I didn’t want anyone touching me and as the contractions started coming faster I was suddenly exhausted, desperate for sleep. Amanda, my other midwife, had arrived by then and told me that that was from the endorphins. In the back of my mind I knew that everything I was feeling were signs of transition, the last stage before the pushing, but I couldn’t believe it was possible for me to be there so soon. By then it was around 5:30; I’d only been in labor for four and a half hours! But Becca checked me, and indeed, I was already about 9 cm, almost ready to push!
As I lay in a heap on the air mattress, Becca set up her birth stool. I felt myself going into a “zone” between contractions, closing my eyes and just kind of floating until the next one hit. When they were ready to move me onto the stool, the contractions were lingering so that there was no break, just one on top of the other. I’m not going to lie: It was brutal. “I need a break,” I kept insisting, “I can’t do this anymore!” And yet, all the while I knew it all meant I was really close.
Getting onto the birth stool was a HUGE relief. Shuie sat on the couch behind me, giving encouragement and looking over my shoulder at the baby. Almost immediately I felt the baby move down into my back and into my pelvis. Becca and Amanda told me to resist the urge to push until I couldn’t anymore. After only a few more contractions the amniotic sac was pushing out — my waters had never even broken! I asked Becca if I could break them, knowing it would speed things along. She agreed and I went for it, hooking my finger in and ripping it open. It felt like ripping open a mix between a plastic bag and a balloon. Even in the midst of it, I couldn’t help but think how cool it was. Not every woman can say she broke her own water!
After that, things moved lightning-quick. For the record, I am a rock-star pusher; just one, and the baby slipped right down and was crowning almost immediately. “Black hair…” Becca said. “He has hair! He has hair!” Shuie exclaimed. Becca and Amanda told me to hold off so he didn’t come out too fast and cause tearing. But even as I held off pushing, Shuie told me the baby was still moving out slowly, as if my body was doing the work without me. I had been afraid of “The Ring of Fire”, but I was so relieved to be able to push I barely noticed it in the moment. Finally, with a couple more pushes, I felt his shoulders and the rest of his little body slip out and THERE HE WAS!
“Reach down and get your baby,” Becca told me, and I did, pulling him up to me and taking in his beautiful face, his fuzzy body, his olive skin (definitely my side of the family), his ten fingers and toes, and his little “apparatus”, confirming that he was a boy, as we had expected. Becca reminded me that he was still attached to the placenta so I had to be careful not to pull him up to high or too hard. I was still contracting as I held him and the placenta came out in a matter of minutes. Shuie cut the umbilical cord, the first time he’d done it for any of his children. Shaking with relief, joy and awe, I just looked and looked at him, unable to believe that he was here so quickly, and right in our living room!
As the setting sun cast gold through the windows, baby and I settled back onto the air mattress, where the picture-taking and phone call marathon could begin. I was thrilled to see that Baby took to nursing right away and was peeing and pooping in less than an hour. Becca and Amanda went to work cleaning up and starting laundry, and making me a cheese omelette for dinner. When they examined the baby, they held him with such love you would have thought he was theirs. And can you believe it…they thanked ME for allowing them to be a part of it all! I don’t care if you go to the most exclusive hospital in the world; they could never match the loving attention and care these two women gave me. It was beyond awesome and made this experience so much fuller than I could ever have imagined.
Yonah gave the baby a cursory glance before climbing on the birth stool and chasing after Amanda to play with him. He’s slowly warming up to Baby, touching him once in a while, giving him a kiss or two and wandering over to say “Hi, Baby!” before heading off to play. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Shuie is over the moon, of course, completely in love with his new son.
As for me, I have never felt prouder of myself in my entire life. Before the birth, there was a part of me that was fearful I would cave and beg to be taken to the hospital in the middle of everything. I wasn’t sure if I really had the strength to do this. But I did. And, from what Becca and Amanda tell me, with aplomb. I guess God knew just how much I could handle; it was so intense, but just for a few short hours. Going through this process, learning everything I have, making the choices I did about this birth and then following them through has solidified something that is very personal and sacred and dear. Beyond just having evidence of my own strength and ability, I truly feel that this experience has locked in a sense of becoming the person I have always wanted to be. I am so proud and so, so grateful for that.
As for baby Akiva, he is just delish, completely alert, and a total Mama’s boy. All he wants is to be held, and he’s as cool as a cucumber. Now to negotiate sleep…
Editor Note: You can view the author’s website here.