On Friday morning, 10/23, Tristan was 4 days late -- he'd managed to beat his older sister by at least half-a-day of lateness. I was just feeling done, done, done, and I wasn't impressed. My husband had the morning off before an 11am meeting; I had a 10:30am appointment with my primary midwife, Mel. We'd promised out 3-year-old, Vivian, a trip to IHOP and I work up hungry, so we headed out for pancakes about 8:30. I'd been feeling sporadic cramps in my lower belly since I woke up but only began to realize they were hurting my back, too, as we sat down to eat. But they were pretty mild so I ignored them.
Vivian and I rushed off to the midwife's office as soon as were done, stopping only to drop Daddy off for his car. We had to cross Lake Washington to go to the midwife's office in Seattle, and as we sat in traffic, it occurred to me that I should pay attention to the contractions so I could tell her about them. I noticed they were showing up at regular 10-minute intervals.
The midwife's office was quiet, which was good because Vivian was in fine form. She latched onto a mama and baby statue she noticed in the waiting room and the midwife told her she could carry it with her, so she took it to the exam room and weighed it: 4.2 pounds. I weighed in at 149, and Vivian herself at 32, while Vivian's buddy, duck, didn't even show up.
When my midwife did her cervical exam, I was 3cm dilated and the baby was "really low", and at my request she stripped my membranes. We'd tried the membrane stripping the week before and it had done very little; this time it was quite painful and since I was already having contractions I had high hopes.
On the way back home, we stopped at a Safeway nearby that happened to have something of a delight for Vivian: an escalator just for shopping carts! As a bonus, a nearby building had caught on fire overnight so there were lots of firetrucks around, and one street was closed off with fire line tape and criss-crossed with yellow fire hoses.
As we headed back across Lake Washington about 11:45, my contractions suddenly jumped from every 10 minutes to every 5. I fed Vivian lunch and checked with my husband, who was wrapping up his meeting. He thought he might come home but I told him to go on to work: after all, he was only on his 3rd day at his brand new job! And the contractions still weren't feeling too serious.
Just as well, because after Vivian went down for her nap, my contractions started to peter out. What a cheat! They were still showing up every now and then, but at random times, and they didn't feel as strong. Mel had commented that second labors could start with teaser contractions.
My parents volunteered to take Vivian for the night anyway so that I could get some sleep. We all went to dinner together and off Vivian went. Dh and I talked about going to a movie but I wasn't sure I wanted to be out that late, and he wasn't feeling all that great. So we went home, and I watched Burn Notice on the Internet while he played a game. I went to bed about 10:30, still with random but weak contractions, and fell asleep immediately.
About 1:30, a mild contraction roused me from my sleep and then suddenly -- POP! I felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen, as if the baby had punched me, accompanied but an audible popping noise. Could that be my water? But nothing was gushing out. I waited a minute and headed for the master bathroom, but still, nothing seemed to be leaking.
I lay back down as the next contraction hit and caught my breath. This one was a tough one, and it left me feeling chilled and nauseated. DH wasn't feeling good--could we both be coming down with something?? After a few more contractions I got up and fetched my laptop, and cards for my doula and midwife, but I wasn't sure I should call yet. I googled the stages of labor, though, and was a little concerned that "shaky and sweaty" showed up under "transition". Surely I couldn't be in transition, I thought, even though I was now moaning through contractions.
About 2pm I called my birth doula, Carol. She was an older woman we'd hired for postpartum doula care, but she was working on her birth certification and had volunteered to be my birth doula as well. She listened to my description of my contractions and shakiness. She suggested I call my midwife and then call her back, so I paged the midwife. When Mel called back she told me she was dressing and would meet me at the birth center in 45 minutes. I looked at the clock: 2:15am already! I had been planning a waterbith and the warm water of the birthing tub was sounding really attractive. 45 minutes sounded like an eternity to wait.
I called Carol back and told her to meet us at the birth center at 3. Then I woke my husband and told him we were leaving in 10 minutes. He popped out of bed and started hustling around.
About 2:30 we were in the car but DH couldn't find his coat with the keys in the pocket. I yelled at him to just use mine. Contractions sitting in the car were not fun and I just wanted to go, go, go. My birth with Vivian had been much more tranquil, but now I was feeling frazzled and rushed. Finally we left, but every red light was an enemy. "There's nobody coming," I'd say. "Just run the light!" We got on the highway and then the interstate. "Drive faster!" I told him, and he gunned it to 80, saying that he didn't want to go faster and get pulled over and have to stop. Meanwhile contractions were getting really, really hard, and I was feeling a lot of pressure. Too much pressure. I started to panic a bit.
We got off the interstate, and at the end of the exit ramp we had two choices: go straight through the light to the hospital, or turn left for the birth center. It occurred to me that the hospital was right there, and the ER was always staffed, 24 hours a day. Still in a panic, I almost told my husband to go to the ER, because I knew we were going to have a big problem if Mel wasn't already at the birth center.
We sped down the street and almost passed the birth center. Turning and and swerving into the parking lot was excruciating, and I was sweating and howling through a really, really nasty contraction. But good news: I could see a silhouette in the doorway: that must be Mel. My husband parked the car across three spots and I hopped out and hobbled to the door only to encounter another problem: Mel's key was jammed and she was stuck inside, unable to open the door.
I howled through another contraction while she struggled with the lock. "Tell Mike to drive you around to the back door," Mel yelled, but I couldn't really move and getting back in the car sounded like the worst idea in the entire world. Fortunately she got the door open just as the contraction ended. I shot through the doorway and past her, toward the birthing suites.
She'd started filling the birthing tub when she arrived 10 minutes before us, but she'd been so busy trying to get the front door open that the water had gotten too hot. She started to adjust it. I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my socks, then demanded that someone take off my pants as I leaned against the wall through another contraction. I could tell I had two choices: climb into the tub, except it was still hot; or sit on the toilet, because I was pretty sure I needed to use it. So I sat on the toilet, and yes, I did need to use it… but suddenly I couldn't keep myself from pushing, too.
"Let's not have a baby on the toilet!" Mel shouted. "Let's get you to the bed."
Easier said than done to get up and cross 15 or 20 feet with a head bulging out. I had another contraction halfway across the room. "Oh no!" I wailed. "Mel, don't let him fall!" I hobbled as fast as I could with her on one side and DH on the other, and climbed up on the bed on my hands and knees almost before she could spread down the chux pads. And just in time, because there was the rest of baby's head, making its way out in the next contraction.
I pushed out the rest of him in the next contraction. Sweet relief! Mel urged me to pick him up. I paused to take off my shirt and then I did. She helped me down and lay down with slimy baby pressed to my chest.
The backup midwife and my birth doula showed up soon after. My poor doula! She'd taken me as a free client for certification purposes, but she couldn't count a birth she didn't attend. Eventually Tristan nursed a bit, his grip like a piranha, and after maybe half an hour my midwife cut the cord. It was short, but not as short as Vivian's -- she'd barely made it out. After an hour and few half-hearted attempts at pushing out the placenta, the midwives had me squat to push it out. I wasn't too keen on pushing out anything else but out it came anyhow.
I laid down to rest. Tristan pooped his first poop all over my husband, and then the midwives did their baby exam and weighing: 6lb, 6.5oz and 19" -- pretty much the same size as his older sister. I thought he would be bigger.
Finally, Mel ran more warm water into the tub, and she and my doula helped me cross the room again to get in. I hadn’t gotten my waterbirth, but at least I finally got to enjoy the tub for a few minutes.