2:25am Sunday August 22 (one day before her due date!).
20 inches long
Born into my hands during a beautiful, easy home waterbirth
I felt the first contraction around 10am Saturday morning. I was also constipated as all get-out so I didn't think much of it. We went about our day, grabbing lunch from our favorite Jewish deli, dropping by my old apartment to pick up mail then Lowes to get knobs and handles for our kitchen cabinets. I kept having contractions but they stayed irregular and didn't increase in intensity. By 6pm I had dilated to a whopping 3cm (I'd been 2.5 the whole previous week) and hadn't thinned out any more so figured the contractions would stop or I'd have several days of them. My due date was coming up on Monday, so it was about time for this kind of stuff to start happening.
After dinner, we convinced a very cranky and sleepy Xander that going to bed early was a good thing after refusing a nap that day. Matt and I weren't tired so we snuck downstairs, he watched the Ravens game and I worked on some sewing but we mostly just enjoyed the opportunity to be together. I finally had to go to the bathroom and had a few contractions in the process that really hurt. Poop cramps and labor contractions at the same time are no fun at all! I worked on my sewing for the next hour until the football game was over and timed the contractions: about 7 minutes apart. I let Matt know that I was in early labor but that we were both tired and should try to get some sleep, it could be a while before things really got going.
We crawled into bed with Xander at 11. I couldn't get comfortable and after 3 contractions that had me squirming, I got up and went to the bathroom hoping my bladder was just really full. It was empty so I checked my cervix one last time and found that I had dilated past 4cm. I shook Matt's shoulder and told him I was going to make some phone calls and that he should stay in bed. I called my mom first at a few minutes past midnight to let her know that it was time to come get Xander. Then I called Joey, told her my contractions were coming about 5 minutes apart and demanding most of my attention. She said she'd see me "in a couple hours" (she lives just over an hour away) but her new assistant should be there within the hour.
I started setting up the pool. We'd left it mostly inflated and already had the tarp spread out so there wasn't much to do except hook up the hose to the bathroom sink and start filling it. My mom showed up just before 1am, very excited that I was in labor. She asked how close my contractions were and I lied, saying they were still about 8 minutes apart. I'm glad I did because she offered to stick around until Joey got there. I know that she was excited for me but there was nothing she could offer me in labor and I needed her to take Xander so I would know he was happy and safe. I got Xander loaded up into the car and they left, my poor little boy looked so confused but didn't fuss. After all, what could be more fun than going over grandma's?
I went back inside and found Matt sitting on the couch looking tired and confused. He was totally unprepared for the real deal and needed direction. I had him add air to the pool and put the birth supplies in the hallway outside the spare bedroom we were using for the birth. I had a few powerful contractions during this time that I couldn't talk through. I tried squatting, rocking and even squatting while holding onto the bathroom vanity before just settling down on the floor cross-legged and leaning forward slightly on my knuckles. While the pool filled up, Matt sat behind me and rubbed my lower back between contractions. I was having back labor that was leaving a lot of achiness. The massage helped but I definitely didn't want to be touched during a contraction.
We ran out of hot water before the pool was filled but thanks to doing a dry run the week before, we knew to expect it. The pool was still about 2/3 full and we knew it would be 20 minutes until the water heater recovered but I just couldn't wait. I climbed in inbetween contractions and the relief from the back labor was instant. The pain literally melted away and I was able to talk through the next few contractions. I was still sitting cross-legged and leaning forward, it was the only position that didn't make me want to crawl out of my skin.
I feel like the rest of my labor took around 2 hours mentally but in retrospect, this all happened within 30 minutes because Matt tried adding more water while I was pushing and the water heater hadn't recovered yet.
I was expecting transition to hit at any moment and the feelings of "oh my god what was I thinking wanting another natural birth" to kick in but they pleasantly never did. Surprisingly, I felt the urge to push at the end of a contraction even though I knew I was no where near full dilation. After ignoring my body's cues during Xander's labor, I had decided I was going to trust myself with this baby and pushed only as hard as my body told me to. My water broke with a soft pop and I could feel amniotic fluid flooding out. The fluid was completely clear and as Matt pointed out, my belly was much smaller.
Sheryl, Joey's brand new assistant, arrived right then. It was her very first birth as a midwife's assistant and we'd never met before. She came over immediately and started rubbing my shoulder and telling me I was doing a good job. I would've appreciated it otherwise, but I swatted her hand away; I needed to be left alone. The next two contractions came and went and while they demanded my full attention and complete concentration, there was no urge to push.
I'm not sure where else to put this, but I wanted to include how I coped with the contractions. I remembered from Ina May's Spiritual Midwifery the idiom "loose mouth, loose bottom" and while the big gaping "O" mouth didn't help, conciously relaxing the muscles of my mouth and face while mentally pushing the energy of labor down through a relaxed bottom was what did the trick for me. It worked so well that I never experienced that moment of doubt that so often plagues transition.
With the third contraction after my water broke, I intuitively grabbed onto the side of the pool and pushed from my shoulders down to my thighs. It was almost mentally overwhelming but just felt like the right thing to do. Matt's intuition was also on overdrive telling him to just leave me be, but to stay close. It was just what I needed, not a bit more and not a bit less.
Laura arrived next and Joey was righ on her heels and they were both so quiet I never heard them come in. I think this allowed Sheryl to relax and just watch because the atmosphere immediately lightened up. I was focused completely inward and it was blowing me away how present I had to be through each pushing contraction, it was like the world beyond my skin didn't even exist.
In just a few pushes, baby was down into the birth canal and I could feel her head approaching. She was coming so fast! I grunted out that she was going to crown soon and no one so much as twitched (Matt later admitted he had no idea what crowning meant!). With two more pushes, she was right there and I experienced a moment of pure panic. Something was coming out in front of her head! It was smooth and rubbery and my first and only thought was of a cord prolapse. Even though on an instintive level I knew it was too late to do anything but keep pushing, I squeaked out "I think I feel cord".
Joey slipped on a glove and reached behind me and the moment while she was feeling for what I thought was cord was one of the longest of my life. She said "it's your cervix, just push it over the head" and I did just that with the next push. This was the moment that I was so glad I'd hired the midwife that I did; she knew how important it was to me to do this on my own terms and gave me exactly the information and encouragement I needed to do just that.
In the next push, with my cervix out of the way, baby was on my perineum. I wanted to rest and give my skin time to stretch, especially with the extensive scarring left over from my previous birth but it hurt too much to resist the urge to push. I did somehow manage to get up onto my knees to make room to birth the baby. With two more pushes, my body opened up and her head popped out with a groan from me. I felt my perineum tear along the old scar but it was just a slight stinging sensation then numbness as the ecstasy of having birthed her head took over. I could feel her tiny ears and the hair on her head while I caught my breath. I told Matt that she did indeed have hair, he was in front of me and couldn't see that her head was out but I heard gasps from the ladies behind me and could feel the love and amazement at what was happening.
It again felt like an eternity waiting for the next contraction but could only have been a few more seconds. I felt the final contraction build slowly and her body rotate to make room for her shoulders. One, then the other slipped free and her body flowed into my hands. I brought her forward from between my thighs and up out of the water, sliding her up my belly. It was 2:25am and she was absolutely beautiful. Her eyes were wide open and I was shaking and mumbling incoherently in sheer joy, I had done it! I had birthed my baby easily into my own hands, the way that I was meant to give birth.
The immediate post partum period was a bit tough on me. The placenta came in the first 15 minutes even with a baby who hadn't latched on yet. Perfectly normal amount of blood loss but as I had experienced with Xander, it takes my body a little longer than average to find it's equilibrium again so I was a bit shaky and weak. I knew to expect it so took things very slowly and didn't have any problems. I did indeed tear twice along the scars of my tears from Xander's birth. They had been deep second degree tears, labial and perineal, that had healed poorly after being poorly stitched by an obstetric resident. It really wasn't surprising that I tore again given my history and Elizabeth's fast exit. Joey stitched me up which was maybe 5 stitches total but I whined and moaned like I was having a limb amputated. Of course she liberally numbed me but that didn't mean I had to enjoy the unpleasant sensations of having a needle and thread put through some very sensitive areas! Thankfully I've learned from experience to take it easy on the stitches and my two first degree tears are healing beautifully this time around.
Elizabeth's newborn exam was the last thing Joey did before leaving which gave us plenty of time to bond and initiate breastfeeding. We had cut the cord right after I got out of the pool because it was so short I couldn't nurse without the bowl containing the placenta getting in the way. And I mean that her cord was extremely short, barely 18 inches long! Joey remarked that it was likely the shortest cord she's ever seen. The placenta itself was totally normal and didn't show a single sign of being circumvallate like the 20 week anatomy ultrasound had suggested. Elizabeth weighed in at 6lbs 14ozs and stretched 20 inches long, quite a bit bigger than any of us had expected given that I was measuring 5 weeks behind at my last prenatal appointment.
In the interesting world of coincidences, both of my children were born on Sundays and their birth times were 1 minute apart (although Matt claims they were the same!). Xander came at 2:24am and Elizabeth at 2:25am.