This is the story of my fourth pregnancy, and second full term birth (you can read my first birth story here or in our book. It is long, not because the labor was long this time, but because how can you condense such an epic experience? That and I am apparently incapable of being succinct.
On Monday night, April 29th, contractions became regular and 13ish minutes apart at 7pm. I had been having more real contractions randomly the prior few days. Maryn was flying here the next day, the 30th, to be with me, and as I noticed the pattern continuing while I was in and out of sleep, I got worried that the birth was going to happen as she was was traveling to me, which would just be too ridiculous! After the contractions kept me from sleeping for awhile, I took an epsom salt bath and had Russell sit with me. We talked about what to do if the baby came happen before Maryn arrived. I felt really sad and asked my body and my baby to please wait.
I managed to sleep in between the contractions all night once I got to sleep around 11 (I made Russell rub my back to help me fall asleep), except for a stretch from like 3-5 where I watched some Queer Eye. After that I made myself go back to sleeping in between them til morning came. I messaged my friend April that I was so happy I was getting to experience early labor this time, and still get some good rest, whereas my contractions were too close together to really sleep or relax much with my first birth. The sensation was also different. They felt mild if we were you use a salsa scale :). Sort of in my butt, smooth, down low and burny. Contractions with my daughter felt harsher, more mechanical and full bodied from the get go.
I texted Maryn in the morning and we talked back and forth about what was happening during the day. The contractions spaced out a bit, at one point two were 40 minutes apart, but mostly hung out around 20ish minutes apart all day with a break in the afternoon. Me and my daughter Celosia snuggled and had a movie marathon and watched Moana, Frozen and Madagascar in my bed and I napped here and there while we watched. I liked patting her leg during contractions and having her pat me at the same time. I asked my friend Chandra, who is a midwife in town, to come by in the afternoon and check my cervix for fun, since I was curious how the feelings and patterns correlated or not from my last birth. I was 2-3 cm and 50% effaced. I lined my brother Tate up to pick up Maryn, Talula and Cove from the airport later that night in case I was in active labor, but at 6pm I told him we could, and I thought maybe I could even pick her up since they were still 15ish minutes apart (haha!). Then, just like that, contractions switched to closer together (5-6 min apart) and more intense at 7:30pm. Russell called Tate and said we actually DID need him to go get her since my contractions had picked up.
Russell made chicken tikka masala for dinner and I tried to eat at the dinner table, but a wave immediately made me get up to stand at the kitchen island. I still managed to eat it at some point though. It felt like I was in a movie, with how weird the timing was – that my friend and midwife was going to get off the plane and come straight to me in labor! Celosia (C) doula’d me upstairs, holding my hands while I leaned on the yoga ball in my Keep Birth Wild sweatshirt that I love. We sang the birth song Hollow Bamboo that my friend Stacy sings at the local yoga circle, and C jiggled my butt for me through some contractions. It was super sweet and she was really excited to be a part of the labor.
Maryn arrived at 9:15pm. She has never been to my house in Minnesota before, so it was really funny to have her walk into my bathroom for the first time while I was in my underwear to say hello! She said hi to my belly and I felt so relieved and excited and couldn’t believe this was really happening. Maryn’s daughter Talula (12) and Celosia played and watched shows which helped me focus more I think. During this part of labor, I was experimenting with some different comping mechanisms as it got more intense. For awhile I was staring at my own eyes during contractions which was cool and helped me stay more in my body. I was also dancing/swaying to Nahko songs, and saying positive affirmations out loud. Mostly, “Relax, I can do this.” Russell thought it was funny when he overheard my pep talk once. I was alternating between standing and dancing at the counter in the bathroom and at my dresser in my bedroom. I wanted to be on my tiptoes but tried to ground my feet into the floor instead. I was drinking lots of electrolyte drinks since I am the queen of staying rested, fed and hydrated in labor after my first marathon experience. Maryn and I laughed together a few times which was really nice (birth can and should be funny too!). I asked her how she found a way to experience labor as not so painful! She said “It’s just pressure!” which became another new mantra during the waves. I eventually took my sweater off because I was getting warm.
Maryn and Russell were downstairs for awhile and so I eventually went down for a field trip to check in. I felt bad since Maryn had come straight from the airport, and wanted her to know she could get set up with an air mattress or could totally go to her place she was staying (a few blocks away) if she wanted to sleep and come back when it was closer to baby time. In retrospect this is silly since it was definitely happening! She said she wouldn’t be leaving unless I told her to, hah! Then I had another pretty intense contraction at the kitchen island and I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t, which I found promising since I was trying to play it cool. I wandered back upstairs. C fell asleep a little before 11 while Talula rubbed her back 🙂 At 11:30 I told Russell and Maryn they could try to sleep since I felt like I was in a good groove on my own for the time being, and I was set up with more electrolyte drink next to me.
Contractions got closer together and more consistent when we all laid down. Now they were 3-4 min apart but still only 45-50 seconds long. I was laying down on my right side and falling asleep between every contraction and it felt really good. Then I would pop up onto hands and knees, tap the contraction timer and rock back and forth sort of smooshing my head into the wall (it still feels bruised/tender in that spot as I write this a few days later!). What I found most helpful was to actually hold my breath for segments of time, and just focus in on the pressure and pain and keeping it steady. Breathing felt like it changed the sensation too much or something, so I would hold my breath, and then take another deep breath and hold it again, maybe 5ish times per contraction. Eventually Maryn came up to see how I was doing around 12:30am and I told her I was starting to have a hard time relaxing through them (I really wanted to squeeze my butt cheeks together!). She suggested getting in the bath, which sounded ok (and ended up being great), and I was up for a change of scenery.
When I got in the tub, it slowed things down a little at first but then picked right back up and I was much better at relaxing through them. I found this sort of surprising since with my last birth I really didn’t find the birth pool to be helpful, so much so that I didn’t even think about setting one up this time even though I have multiple around!!! I was resting my eyes between contractions, and then just breathing and staring at the black marble tile during them, trying to keep my face relaxed. I felt like this was all very manageable, and it was nice to have Maryn right nearby. I was listening to some of my favorite music and Maryn noted she liked the Trevor Hall song “You Can’t Rush Your Healing” and said it seemed appropriate. I agreed. The labor really sort all felt this sweet and simple.
At 1:27am I had a contraction that ended with a few seconds of involuntary pushing (!!!) which got us both super excited. I said -“maybe it’s a fluke?” and Maryn laughed at me. I just couldn’t believe that I was really at “the end” somehow since it had all felt so much more manageable or smooth or something than my first birth. The contractions had all felt very productive, and the pain had remained really low in my body, more like how I had imagined contractions would feel before ever having a baby. They changed and intensified every hour and so did my approach, which kept it interesting and helped it feel smoother. My first birth the contractions felt all so much the same, since so much of it was doing the work of early labor (probably 48 of the 68 hours), whereas this time I got a lot of that work done the night before with the pretty mild 13 minute apart contractions.
But I digress, by 1:32am, just 5 minutes after that first little urge, I had gotten out of the tub and was on the floor in my room. I thought if I got out of the tub and upright, that the urge to push would hopefully become overwhelming and I might just eject the baby! As I was getting excitedly settled in my planned birthing spot, I apparently exclaimed “Thank you Jesus!!!” according to Maryn’s notes. I said that it felt like I was going to just breathe the baby out, which was exciting to me after having had a more athletic pushing event with my first birth. But within the first handful of contractions in this new spot, the urge to push seemed to disappear, or only come for a few seconds every few contractions rather than intensify like I had hoped. I said it felt like they were “in between” contractions – not quite pushing, but not opening, and still painful, whereas I remember real pushing contractions as not really hurting per se. Instead, my back and hips gradually starting hurting more and more. Eventually, I did look down and see my mucous plug had plopped out, just as giant as my first birth – but this made me wonder if I was really at the end or not too since I had lost it earlier in labor with Celosia. I had also had no mucous or bloody show up until this point which was peculiar. We hadn’t called my apprentice Alisha yet (I guess I just didn’t realize it was even close to time until I felt the pushing urge!!!), but at 2am, after it seemed clear that the baby wasn’t just going to fly out, I asked Russell to call her in case she still had time to make it, but to leave it up to her. I REALLY thought I would have the baby before she would get there (she lives 45 minutes away) and felt bad if she was driving so far just to miss it. I tried sitting on the toilet since I sort of felt like I had to poop and thought maybe it would be a good position, but the lowness of the toilet hurt my hips and back really badly. I complained a bunch about why the toilet was so low and then went back into my room.
I was SO HOT and asked for an ice pack to help cool me down. Maryn asked me what I could eat, and she got me apples and raw cheese, and eventually some some grape juice to help keep up my energy. My back started hurting even more while we were waiting for Alisha, and I was getting really frustrated and scared. Every now and then my body would bear down a little, but NOTHING was moving, and the pain in my back was growing. I hung from Russell through two contractions which helped center me more, but I couldn’t do the same thing for more than a few contractions in a row. I felt like a caged animal. I wondered to myself if perhaps I was actually only 5-6 centimeters with a posterior baby. Can’t turn that midwife brain off! Last time I was still a student, so I had a lot of knowledge but having more now was definitely different. I asked Maryn to check my cervix and she said she could, but that of course thought everything was totally fine, and said to just keep listening to my body. That put me off for a contraction or two, and then I not so diplomatically said that if nothing was different in a few contractions I was going to make her check me because I was freaking out. At 2:14am Maryn felt, and found that I was indeed open with just a tiny bit of stretchy cervix left on the front. Baby wasn’t super high but certainly wasn’t low. I was worried that the pain I was feeling was related to the cervix left so wanted to keep staying out of the way as opposed to pushing without the real urge. My hope was restored though. I said something about feeling so hot and smelling like urine, and that there was no way I was getting back in the tub because I was so hot. I quickly changed my mind. and I got back in bath at 2:45am in hopes that it would help me relax again and maybe restimulate the urge to push.
Eventually I started walking around frantically in the bathroom and hallway during contractions and saying “Oh my God” over and over, which somehow sort of helped me cope with the back pain, but still, no great urges to push. I finally started to REALLY freak out and cry because I thought I was going to need to go to the hospital for pain relief. It really felt like the pain might actually kill me or drive me insane or something. This was NOT how this part felt with Celosia, and because of that, it felt all the more “wrong” to me. I was even picturing how it was going to go if I went in, and how maybe a cesarean wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I yelled a lot about how everyone needed to make sure I didn’t ever get pregnant again because this was so horrible and I added “I’M NOT KIDDING” when they chuckled. I felt nauseous on and off in the last hours, but only dry heaved once thankfully.
Maryn asked if it felt better if I beared down, even without the urge. It didn’t really, and the back pain remained no matter what, which made it really hard to focus on the task of pushing especially without the urge. I tried bearing down in a bunch of positions to see if it could stimulate the urge better, though. I only gave like 20% since I wasn’t sure the lip was gone, and was worried the back pain meant that the baby just wasn’t in the right position yet or something. So, I tried bearing down while standing at the bathroom counter and yelling “GET THE FUCK OUT OF ME!!!!!!!”. I tried hands and knees, and I tried standing pulling on the rebozo that was hung over the door. Then I tried getting into McRoberts because it worked well for me with Celosia, but my back hurt too badly in that position and I just couldn’t. If you have ever tried to make yourself push with the urge to push, it really is the most peculiar thing, and with the back pain on top of that, it really felt all cattywompous. When that all didn’t work I asked Maryn to check me again, to see if the lip was gone, because if it was, I was just going to find a way to push the baby out on my own and give 100%. If the cervix was still there, I wanted her to shove it out of the way if need be. So she checked and the lip was smaller but still there and I told her to shove it back during contractions until it was gone, and to see if the baby was moving down with my efforts AND that I wanted her to do whatever else would help me get it out faster!!! Like the super duper friend she is, so obliged my crazy request. She could feel baby moving down when I pushed, and said my cervix was going to move out the way no problem. I was skeptical at best that the baby was actually coming down, but said “so should I just keep doing this until they come out then?”.
I was in sort of a weird position with my bum hanging off the edge of the bed and feet on the floor (I have my mattress on the floor). This felt sort of like a good position but not quite since my back was arched weird. I tried to push here some more though, and this is when Celosia woke up and came in. She came and laid right next to me with her blanky as if the whole scene was totally normal, which is hilarious. It felt super special and cozy and sweet and I said “Maybe this is what I needed!”, since it was such a good dose of oxytocin and helped remind me what this whole thing was for (a cute baby!). I also told her I would not be making her any more brothers or sisters, and that this was IT. After a while, she scurried out of the room for a few minutes, and I was worried she was scared, but she was just changing into a more fabulous leotard. Alisha and Russell held my hands while I pushed here a little longer, until my back started spasming again, worse than ever, and I got up on hands and knees part way through a contraction. I showed them where to rub to try and help – it was half way up my midback, on either side of my spine, but the rubbing didn’t really relieve the pain at all. My back/hips/pelvis was hurting between the waves now sometimes and I was really over it to say the least. The next contraction I let out a very angry and desperate push and felt the baby move down a tiny bit. I said ““Maybe I should get back in the bath just for a hot minute because oh my God this is insane”.
I hopped in the tub at 4:10am and felt very determined but still unsure if I could really make it happen by sheer will. I pushed as hard as a could for three contractions, remembering the tips that helped me get Celosia out last time – puff your belly out when you push, curl around the baby, hold baby as low as you can (or maintain the progress) while you catch your breath, and I also remembered the direction and path they needed to go to get the eff out. The feeling was familiar since I got Celosia down and around the pubic bone while laying on my back, too – I am apparently not well suited for upright birth, or at least not for this part. I was crapping up a storm in the tub which seemed to perturb Russell, and no one could find the fishy net (I happened to have been given one even, but Celosia had co-opted it as a toy since I never ever thought I’d have a water birth :)). By the 4th contraction there was major movement down into the back of my body and I could feel the head filling the whole space, and then I felt the bag of waters pop with a tiny underwater gush and I whispered that my waters had broken. I knew baby was coming then for sure and the urge took over at this point thankfully. The next contraction I got the baby down and around the pubic bone and could feel them a tiny ways inside my body with my fingers. My tub is pretty deep but still not wide enough really, so this part felt more uncomfortable I think because my mobility was limited. I had felt baby grind past my sit bones and the space felt restricted. I was trying to decide if I should get out or not (I said I was going to and then insisted I wasn’t going to), and then the next contraction brought the baby’s head part way out, nearly crowning. I gave one last little bonus push to assess whether or not I would be able to get the head out in that position and when I felt sort of trapped, since my knees couldn’t get any farther apart, I decided to get out of the tub fast.
Maryn held my hands and helped me get out and squat down right next to the tub. I put my left knee down, and right foot on the ground. I expected the head to come easily, which it did, maybe even during the leaping, and I also thought the shoulders would come quickly like they did last time, but alas, they did not. I had a smallish contraction and felt no movement with my push I gave. I asked Maryn if the baby looked ok. I could feel the baby’s shoulders moving around inside me which was really bizarre! I yelled “Pearl, help!” (Pearl is Celosia’s middle name) because she had wanted to help catch the baby and I wanted her to know she was welcome to be close. I got to take a moment to reach down and feel the entire head in the palm of my hand, which I think was one of the coolest moments of my life. I think I needed those moments between the head and shoulders this time to integrate what was happening more, since once it was happening it really did happen fast. It felt like an eternity though, and there was a “stuckness” sensation that was new to me with this part, and so I screamed “GET IT OUT!” with the start of the next contraction (totally not my favorite thing to hear at a birth as a midwife!), but just as quickly as I said that, the baby came out right in front of me at 4:23am, a minute and a half after I got out of the tub. I very quickly picked the baby up and noted that he was A BOY!!! I sat back on my butt to cuddle the baby, and exclaimed “THAT WAS SO HARD!!!” and cried. I didn’t really feel super focused on the baby for some reason, I felt like I needed to come back from outer space, and that scared desperate place, and it took awhile. I invited Celosia to come touch her brother and give me a kiss and be nearby in whatever way she wanted to be. Russell took photos of us and Maryn and Alisha started doing all the post-birth things we midwives do.
I really couldn’t believe I had done it, and I couldn’t believe there was a baby in my arms. I hadn’t gotten a sense one way or the other about the baby’s sex this pregnancy, so it felt really different for me. I had dreamed clearly of my daughter and knew her name ahead of time. The pregnancy itself felt faster and easier too, so having it be “over” was sort of a shock. We had no boy name and I felt like I had no idea who this person was who just came rip roaring out of me in the last 15 minutes! I didn’t realize how important a name was for me to feel connected. It felt like I was dreaming or hallucinating.
On the other hand I was confident about the 3rd stage and felt really businesslike about it. I wanted to get the placenta out and get in bed so I could learn more about this mysterious baby. I walked from the bathroom to my bed. I felt super crampy and had already passed some clots so felt like the placenta was probably just sitting there ready to be birthed. I tried pushing it out, and giving a little traction but the sac was around the cord and made it too slippery. I eventually used a hemostat and got it out super easily with the better grip, about 15 minutes after birth. My cramps were really hurting, and felt like a continuation of the back and ligament pain that I had been having. It was really bad and I was unable to get comfortable any time I contracted. The worst pain was on my lower left, and my uterus was shifted way over to the left as well. Hot packs helped a little, and we wondered if my bladder was maybe full. I was also bleeding quite a bit, which happened last time too, and is probably just my normal since I felt fine. It was too painful for me to get up and try to pee, even right next to my bed, so I asked Maryn to please catheterize me in hopes that it would make the ligament pain go away so I could enjoy my baby. That didn’t really help unfortunately, but I’m glad we tried it.
The afterbirth pains slowly decreased in intensity over the first 5 or 6 hours, and I figured out how to deal with them with the hot pack and squeezing my butt when one came. My friend Maria came to do some abdominal massage later that same day which felt awesome (apparently my iliacus was messed up, non-technically speaking, and perhaps was a the source or a casualty of the back and ligament pain). Alisha did an Eldon card to get his blood type to see if I would need to consider Rhogam again. I looked at the placenta which appeared healthy and pretty much exactly how my daughter’s looked. We weighed him, and he was 7 lb 4 oz, just 3 oz less than his sister was. He eventually latched and nursed a little, we called the grandparents, and then we snuggled in for some rest. I didn’t sleep long, since those post birth hormones are sort of crazy and somehow override how tired you were just moments before in labor. It took us until Friday morning to finally name him since the names we were playing around with really didn’t feel right. It was stressing me out, so on Friday morning I told Russell we couldn’t do anything else on the list until we picked his name. We settled on Aero Vale, for many reasons, but mostly because it reflects the gentle, breezy but earthy spirit I felt from him since before he was conceived – something solid but soft, and slightly mysterious like he had remained to me. Aero for air, Vale for earth/valley, which nicely balances out my daughter’s fiery and watery name (Celosia Pearl).
I still don’t know who this little fellow is, but I can feel our relationship building every day. Part of it is that he isn’t “my baby” this time, he is much more “our baby” with both Russell and Celosia being more involved, and me feeling less selfish with him. He feels like a friend, and like we will have a more mellow relationship than the intensity I’ve always felt with my daughter. I’m trying to remain open to whatever it will be though, and see how it all unfolds.
Whatever the case, I am grateful the he chose us, and I’m grateful for the continuing lessons I am gleaning from him starting from before I invited him to join us. I was unsure if I’d ever feel ready for a second baby, which was hard and sad, but sure enough the time did come. He has taught me trust, surrender, and patience. On the flip side, he has also once again shown me that sometimes we have to decide to do something even when we aren’t necessarily ready (like when I needed him to be OUT). Birth doesn’t always look like a smooth fetal ejection reflex, even though that is something I believe in and see with almost all if my own clients, and it is what I had fully expected to experience with both my births, even more so the second time. My birth also has resolidified for me that midwives are incredible and important, and that when women decide they want or need interventions/assistance I am so grateful that we have the skills to make that happen. Midwives that follow the woman’s lead and use their superpowers for good are so badass, and we need more of them. I also have a renewed desire to share hard birth stories because I feel like the world is being taken over by the narrative that birth works easily every time, and I can see it leading to a lot of unpreparedness, disappointment, trauma, shame and transports for totally normal situations. I want to make sure we are presenting a more diverse range of experiences within the container of autonomous birth, including the hard stuff. I have so much more to say, but I’m cutting myself off for now!
– If you made it this far, thank you for reading, and check out the podcast of the birth story here - https://indiebirth.org/margos-second-birth-maryn-and-margo-share-aeros-birth-story/
– There is also a video of the birth here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML3spvjBZ4I
– You can buy our awesome new book here – indiebirth.org/book
– You can become a badass midwife here – indiebirthmidwiferyschool.org
– And you can reach Margo at firstname.lastname@example.org