Sunday, September 23, was our due date according to our ultrasound estimate, and Tuesday was the due date we calculated with Jessica and Sarafina, our homebirth midwives. I’d been telling people the earlier date in the hopes that the baby would come early, but the later one was the most likely to be accurate.
I dreamed Monday morning of travelling through cavernous, earthy tunnels and drifting down wide, slow rivers. I woke up feeling crampy, cramps which became contractions 3-5 minutes apart by mid-morning. Nothing painful, no more than a distinct tightening, a pressure, but I had hardly had any Braxton-Hicks all pregnancy, and these were undeniable and regularly spaced with distinct starts and stops. So I emailed Mark, my husband, to tell him to keep his phone handy just in case - he's a high school teacher.
I worked to distract myself through the excitement, made bread and lentil soup, packed a just-in-case hospital bag, cleaned the bathroom, and swept the house. I took the dog on a long walk on the beach, keeping only a vague eye on the timing of things.
It all moved slowly and steadily, intensity increasing little by little. I waited for the contractions to peter out, to stop, because that’s not uncommon in the days before labor really begins, but they just kept on. I let Jessica know what was happening. She told me to let her know if anything drastic changed, but otherwise just to call every three hours or so to check in. I called Mark, who was just finishing up training his substitute and able to come home early (with ice cream to celebrate!). I called my mom in North Carolina (we live in Massachusetts), who immediately bought a plane ticket from work and headed for the airport without stopping at home for even a toothbrush.
By evening, I had started pausing through my contractions, needing to breathe through them. I felt better in the shower, and ran out the hot water once that evening and once that night. Some time after dark, the midwives showed up and assessed the situation. They could tell I wasn’t very far along, but they checked to be sure – effacing well, but only 1 cm dilated. They gave me a homeopathic tincture to try to ease the pain so I could rest – and I threw it back up. In fact, everything after a banana I ate around 7 pm had started to come up with the next intense contraction. They tried Benadryl – which stayed down – and all went home, and I kept on slow and steady, slow and steady. all night, A few hours on the couch before the Benadryl wore off. I took more which didn't seem to make a difference, so I moved to the shower. When the hot water was out, I found Mark sleeping in our bed and tried to rest for a few hours there. When it started to get light out we moved down to the living room, and Mark put on Iron & Wine on repeat. I was definitely moaning through my breaths. They were controlled and focused, and Mark said very easy to time. I was half dozing off, half passing out for the two minutes between them – I was tired from the slow 24 hours of progress, not to mention the lack of food.
Mid-morning, I hit a wall. None of the midwives had shown back up yet, so I didn’t know if I was really making any progress or just getting tired. I worried I would be in labor for hours and hours and hours still – which felt like forever. The contractions were wearing me out. Even though I could feel the baby shifting and wriggling, doing his own work, those movements made just increased my discomfort. Jessica had told me on the phone to make sure I was laying on my left side some, since the night before the baby had been in a weird position on my right, but laying on my left was even more painful than leaning back. I realized I was making a lot of noise during contractions just out of frustration, not out of pain.
But Mark says he saw me shift, saw me find my determination. There was no way out but through. There was no way to make this happen but to move into more uncomfortable positions, to open open open even as it felt like my pelvis would shatter, to force every muscle (except those in my fists - I had to put it someplace!) to relax through the pain, and so I hunkered down and did it.
My water broke, and mid-day things started to blur. My thighs were tremoring. Suddenly Jessica and Sarafina and their apprentice, Paige, were setting up the birthing tub, and my mother, who had spent the night down the street with my mother-in-law, was around helping out. I hadn’t planned on using the tub, but after hearing about my running out the hot water in the shower, the midwives thought it might be a good thing to try. Mark stopped timing my contractions as anyone within a block of the house could probably hear them start and stop (or so I thought. Later on, everyone said I was hardly loud at all). I started to feel the need to push but didn’t want to get my hopes up, and so I told myself I just had to relieve myself before the real work began. I thought the contractions were getting more intense, but I told myself it was just because I was standing and walking around more. I camped out in the bathroom through a few contractions, trying to find a position that was less uncomfortable, but nothing worked.
I wanted to know if maybe I was really hitting the pushing stage, and I asked Jessica about it. She told me that if I wanted to, I could reach in and feel, and, when I did, less than two knuckles deep, there was an unfamiliar bulge. I knew he was on the way.
Once I was in the tub, I did feel much better. I could feel the baby moving down with every contractions, could feel everything stretching and opening, could feel my pelvis wanting almost to shatter but knowing it wouldn’t. After 30 hours of work with no concept of my own progress, I finally KNEW that I was getting somewhere, and it made all the difference in the world in my morale.
Pushing took just over an hour, but I didn’t feel the time at all. Mark helped me sip gatorade and water between contractions, but I was deep in it. I felt my body start each push, then felt myself willingly push a little harder, upping the intensity, wanting so badly for him to be OUT, my moaning like an engine that gets louder as its gears shift.
And then there was a body slipping out of mine into the water, arm up at his face to lead the charge, caul blooming around him. Then there he was, my pink-skinned child with a head of fine brown hair and little wrinkled old man fingers. I held his slippery, squirming body for a few minutes before lifting him out of the water to see - a boy. We'd been waiting to be surprised, and I'd been thinking we had a girl, but no. Thomas had arrived at 3:11 pm on his due date.
We got out of the tub and into the guest room (our bedroom is upstairs). Mark laid down with us, and Thomas latched on almost immediately (he's still, at three weeks, an outstanding nurser, regardless of side or position). I birthed the placenta after about half an hour, and I passed Thomas over to Mark while they checked me out - two teeny tears and a scrape, nothing needing stitches. Thomas passed meconium onto Mark twice and then on me as well. He would spend a lot of the first two days pooping, actually!
I finally got to eat while we checked him out - 7lb, 12oz, 20in long, and beautiful.
at two weeks:
Mama to thomas, born september 2012, and expecting the next april 2015. Editor and farmer by trade, knitter and reader when I have the time!
What a great first birth story! Good work, Mama! Thank you so much for writing it and for the pictures of your adorable family.
Mama to a bilingual (Arabic/English) and cuddly 3 year old, and planning another peaceful homebirth in June.