Warning: Frequent mention of poop.
When I was 35 weeks pregnant, I woke up one morning to a belly that was visibly three inches lower than it had been the day before. I thought I remembered that second babies don't usually drop until right before labor kicks in, so I called the midwives to see if I should be worried. They confirmed my suspicion, but told me there is really nothing we could do at that point, just take it easy. Just because second babies don't usually drop until later in a second pregnancy doesn't mean they can't, so it was still just a waiting game.
Valerie had been induced three weeks early, but she was a healthy size (7lbs 5oz) and her jaundice was caused by our differing blood types, not by her early birth. So it seemed logical to me that my second baby could easily come just as early, or even earlier, and be perfectly healthy.
So, I spent the next two weeks absolutely sure that I was going to go into labor any day. I didn't.
Then the magical "37 weeks" marker passed. The time when "normal" women start to get impatient for baby to arrive. But I had done my time, and suddenly, now that I had reached 37 weeks with no early labor and no complications, it seemed like I could go the full forty weeks, or even beyond.
On Friday, October 15, a few days shy of my due date, I woke up feeling awful. Valerie hadn't been sleeping, I hadn't been sleeping, and no one was in a good mood. All I could think was that there was no way I would make it through this day, feeling bleh and trying to keep up with a two-year-old who would inevitably refuse to nap. My friend Wendy graciously offered to take Valerie for the day. I may or may not have burst into tears of relief.
I threw out my to-do list for the day. I felt like I just needed some downtime. I closed all the blinds and settled in for a Buffy and Angel marathon.
For several weeks I had been having painless, irregular contractions, but I had thought nothing of them. Jeremy kept trying to get me to start timing them, but it never really seemed necessary to me, because I could tell they weren't regular yet. But as I sat watching an episode of Angel (the one, coincidentally, where Cordelia wakes up in the morning 8 ½ months pregnant with demon babies), I felt a contraction that, while not particularly painful, seemed to be saying, "It's time to start timing us!" That was 12:45 p.m. The next contraction didn't come until 1:00 p.m., but the next one came in five minutes, as did the next one, and the next one, and the next one. After about 2 hours of having steady contractions about five minutes apart, I thought I probably ought to call the midwives. Things weren't feeling urgent yet, but a 45-minute commute to the hospital, with rush hour fast approaching, meant that maybe I should respond before things got really urgent.
I spoke to Moon, the midwife on call, and she said it was basically up to me whether I came in now, or waited until things started progressing more. I decided to head in, since my labor with Valerie had progressed so quickly once things got started.
My father-in-law drove me to the hospital while my mother-in-law waited for Wendy to drop Valerie off. Jeremy and Erin (my friend and doula) met us there. We got to the hospital at about 5:00 p.m. I wasn't really dilated at all ("a fingertip"), but they hooked me up to the monitors to make sure everything was okay. The baby was responsive and healthy, and for a couple of hours, my contractions were up to every 3-4 minutes. I still wasn't really in much pain, but things seemed to be starting to progress, so I was listening to my Hypnobabies scripts and calmly breathing my way through the contractions. I felt like maybe something was happening.
My blood pressure was high a few times, so they ran the pre-eclampsia blood work, but it all came back clean. I finally figured out a position where I could relax enough to get the BP readings into a good range, and they gave me the choice to go home or stay (and most likely be induced). I was a little worried about going all the way home, but I really wanted to let things progress on their own. I talked it over with Jeremy and Erin, and I decided that I would have them measure me again. If I was more than four cm, I would stay, if I was two or three, I would leave but stay with Erin's grandparents who live close to the hospital, and if I was one or less, I would just go home. I was still only about 1 cm, which was somewhat disappointing, but it was a relief to just go home. I was super tired by that time (about 10 p.m.), and I knew I would sleep better in my own bed at home.
Nana and PopPop kept Valerie that night, and I slept better than I had in weeks, even though the contractions were still coming every five minutes. Nothing really changed on Saturday, and I didn't feel like just sitting around the house waiting for labor to start, so we headed over to Nana and PopPop's house. The cousins were visiting, so we had a fun day of playing at the park and in the backyard and of running around screaming and crashing in front of Disney movies. It was a wonderful day, and even though I was still contracting every five minutes or so, I was mostly able to ignore it and just enjoy my day. I took a long nap in the afternoon, because even if the contractions weren't really hurting much yet, they were obviously doing something because I was completely worn out. I was no longer timing my contractions because, obviously, "once they start coming every five minutes" wasn't a very useful gauge for me. I wasn't exactly sure what I was waiting for anymore, I guess I was just waiting for my body to do something more obvious. I figured I would know it when it happened.
We went to church on Sunday, and everything was still pretty much the same. We went out for lunch with some friends after church, and, other than the whole "contractions every five minutes" thing, it was pretty much a normal Sunday. Jeremy and Valerie went over to Nana and PopPop's in the afternoon, and I stayed home to nap and relax a bit. At around 7 p.m. Sunday night, the contractions changed. They suddenly became much more powerful. I don't want to say painful, because it didn't exactly hurt, but they took all my concentration. I focused my energy on channeling the contractions into my cervix, breathing the word "open" with each exhale. I could feel the contractions working. I was in a good place, and I thought, for sure, this was it. I was then overcome by a primal need to be alone. I didn't want anyone around me. I grabbed my cell phone and tried to call Jeremy, to tell him to stay at his parents' house for another hour at least, until I could figure out where things were going. As the phone was still ringing, I heard him and Valerie at the door, and I knew my alone time was over.
Valerie sat down beside me to watch TV, and she was very compassionate when the next contraction came. "Are you okay, Mommy?" I reassured her that I was okay, the baby was just talking to me, telling me she was almost ready to come out. After about another 20 minutes, however, the powerful contractions went away, and things slowed down for the first time since Friday.
Monday morning, I woke up tired. It was a dreary day, and I knew that Valerie and I were pretty much going to just sit on the couch watching TV all day. I called my friend Heather who lives around the corner to see if she was up for a low-key play date, and she said that they were pretty much planning on watching TV all day, too, so we combined our dreary days and made the best of it. It was a great, laid-back kind of day. I was still contracting pretty regularly, but it was down to every 10 minutes or so at this point, and the really strong ones had gone away the night before. Or wait, maybe that was Tuesday. This bit is apparently somewhat of a blur. Let's fast-forward to the part I remember more clearly.
Tuesday night was another rough night. Valerie was restless, and I was crampy and uncomfortable. I got up when Jeremy woke up on Wednesday morning, at about 5:00 a.m., mainly to escape the toddler fists that were being continually wedged and rewedged under my neck every time I tried to dislodge them. When I woke up, Valerie woke up, and she asked to use the potty. I decided to indulge her, even though she often asks and rarely goes, but she sat right down and did a big pee in the potty. I remember thinking how awesome it would be for her to spontaneously decide to potty train right before the baby came, but alas, it turns out that this was an isolated event.
My cramps started to get worse, and I kept trying to go to the bathroom, but nothing came. When Jeremy left for work at around 5:45, it suddenly dawned on me that these "cramps" were coming in rather regular waves. Valerie was still awake, and I knew that if I was going into labor, I needed to get her to sleep, because I didn't think I could deal with her and the contractions at the same time. So I snuggled up next to her, and breathed my way through the contractions as peacefully as possible, so as not to disturb her as she fell back to sleep. She asked to nurse, which she hadn't done in two days, and I let her, because I thought it might be the fastest way to get her back to sleep. As it turns out, it was also a pretty fast way to solidify and intensify the contractions. But, through some act of insane self-control, I managed to labor quietly enough to let her fall asleep. Then I jumped out of bed, because my body did NOT want to labor lying down. At this point, it was a little after 6:00.
I headed downstairs so that I could call Jeremy. I was hoping to catch him before he got on the train downtown, because then he would only be a short bus ride away. Unfortunately, his phone went straight to voicemail, which meant that he was already underground and had no cell phone signal. I left a quick message, then started trying to figure out my next course of action. I called the midwives, and I spoke to Amy. Apparently, I was pretty calm on the phone, because she deliberated for a bit, but told me to go ahead and come in since I lived so far away. She was going off duty at 7:00, so she said she would let Moon know that I was on my way in. I was happy to hear that Moon was on call, because she had been there when I came in on Friday, so she already had an idea of what was going on, and I was comfortable with her, even though she wasn't my "regular" midwife.
I sent a text to Jeremy and to Erin letting them know I was heading to the hospital, then I called Nana and PopPop to see if one of them could give me a ride. Unfortunately, PopPop had some very specific obligations at school that day, but Nana was able to come and sit with Valerie at least, so I didn't have to worry about her. I grabbed my list of church people who had offered rides, and I called Katie. She had told me that she was off on Wednesday, and I had actually called her first on Friday for a ride, but she was on her way out of town to a wedding. I don't think she was expecting a call quite so early, but she was more than willing to help out, and she started getting ready to come over.
I spent the next 45 minutes on my feet, because the contractions were now coming hard and fast, and I couldn't sit down. I wasn't timing them, though, because it just didn't seem necessary. I knew this was it. I found myself starting to sing, which surprised me a little, because I hadn't really thought about the idea of birth song since a year or more earlier when I had watched The Business of Being Born. It worked, though. I started high, and I dropped note by note until I found the one that resonated. I sang my way (okay, maybe singing is the wrong word, maybe a musical groan?) through most of my contractions from here on out.
Katie and Nana both arrived at about 7:00 a.m. I quickly gathered my stuff and moved it to Katie's car, gave Nana a hug, and we started for the hospital. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to sit in the car for 45 minutes (or more, since we were officially into rush hour), but it didn't end up being so bad. I was able to chat with Katie during the rest times, and to quietly breathe and hum my way through the contractions without too much trouble. Katie, who is a physician's assistant, was more worried at this point than I was. She was timing my contractions, and she knew they were coming closer and closer together. She kept asking if she should throw on her flashers and speed past on the shoulder, but I just stayed as calm as possible, and told her to just drive normally.
I was a little concerned at this point that I hadn't heard back from Jeremy or Erin. I tried calling Jeremy again, and finally got him on the phone. He had already arrived at work, and had just finished his briefing with his boss about what he was going to do that day. He quickly got off the phone to tell his boss about the change in plans and hop on the trolley to the hospital. Then I called Erin, and she said she would head right over, too.
We got to the hospital at about 8:00 a.m. Katie tried to drop me off at the main entrance, but I insisted on going along with her to the parking garage. She looked at me like I was crazy, but I told her that, after being in the car for an hour, I really wanted to walk, and once I was admitted, I wouldn't have much opportunity to walk. So we went to the parking garage, and I walked the long hallway back to the main building, and I was so glad I did. Proper walking, not pacing back and forth in a tiny hospital room, was exactly what my body wanted right then.
When I arrived at the Labor and Delivery floor, I was feeling pretty good. The contractions were strong, but I was dealing with them, and in between, I pretty much felt normal. The nurse who brought me to my room was surprised when she saw me, and said that she had expected me to look a lot worse. I laughed and told her she caught me between contractions, and I would look worse in a minute. We got to the room, and she gave me a gown to put on, and said she would be right back to hook me up to the monitors. I changed into my gown, and the contractions were pretty powerful by this time, and I needed to lean on the little tray table for support. I think Katie was mentally scanning the room to see where all the various equipment was, just in case I delivered the baby before the nurse came back.
Jeremy arrived at about 8:10, and Erin arrived a few minutes after him. I said goodbye to Katie, and thanked her profusely for the ride. The nurse came back at about 8:20 to hook me up to the monitors. I really didn't want to be lying down at this point, but I hoped that she could just get a nice, quick reactive strip, and then unhook me and leave me alone. She started to hook me up, and she said, "I understand you want to do things pretty much natural, right?" I told her yes, and offered to get her a copy of my birth preferences from my bag. She said she already had one, and I could tell she had read it, because she really seemed to go out of her way to accommodate me, at least to the extent she was able to. I really need to send her some cookies or something.
I lasted less than five minutes on the bed, because the contractions were yelling at me to stand up. I convinced the nurse (her name was Ginny) to let me stand up, and she said she would try and get a reading with me standing up. I stood up, and things intensified. I remember saying, "I'm going to poop on the floor!" which was the exact same thing I said when I hit transition with Valerie, and as soon as the words left my mouth, I was filled with a confidence that I knew where things were going and I was in control. While Jeremy and Ginny were trying to find the baby's heartbeat with the stupid monitor, I started to squat just a little. Then there was a gush, and I was standing in a puddle of amniotic fluid. I heard Ginny say, "Spontaneous rupture of membranes, 8:25 a.m."
There was no more singing through these contractions. Unless the deep, primal scream from deep in my belly counts as a song. (I'm actually inclined to think it does.) Ginny asked me if I was feeling the urge to bear down. I answered, "I am." By which I meant, "I am bearing down already, leave me alone so I can have this baby." But she must have thought I meant, "I am feeling the need to bear down, why yes, thank you for asking, what should I do now?" Suddenly, everyone in the room seemed to be dead-set on getting me into bed (except for Erin, who I seem to recall was running interference for me). I didn't want to get into bed. I couldn't get into bed. I was in the middle of an extremely powerful contraction, and I just wanted everyone to shut up and let me focus. I kept repeating over and over, "I need it to stop, first." There was no way I could even think of moving to the bed until this contraction stopped. And it just seemed to keep going and going. Erin told me afterward that it showed up on the monitor as two contractions, but from where I was standing, the pressure never let up in between.
I finally got a break between the contractions, and I moved onto my hands and knees on the bed. I was hoping it would stop everyone from freaking out about my baby falling on the ground (and by "everyone" I mostly mean Ginny). Moon checked my dilation (a little unnecessary at this point, but I was ignoring everyone anyhow), and she said, "No cervix left, maybe a tiny lip." I also have a memory of poor Ginny wandering around very flustered, complaining to everyone who will listen that she should never have let me stand up, but that memory is probably somewhat exaggerated (and Moon reassured her at least once that standing up had obviously done its job, and my body was doing what it needed to do.)
I started pushing, but it felt like I was pushing at the wrong angle. I was feeling all of the pressure in my bum, and I was pushing out poop instead of baby. At one point, I felt the head, and something clicked for me. I was able to close off the poop, and move the pressure over to my birth canal. I pushed the head partway out, and then I felt myself begin to tear. I was then able to do what I never thought I would be able to do when I had Valerie: I stopped pushing briefly to give my cervix the chance to rest a little. Then I pushed again, and felt the head come out. I asked Moon why the baby wasn't crying, and she reminded that the baby won't cry until she comes out all the way. Oh yeah. Back to pushing.
My back started to really hurt at that point. I wanted to press a hand on my back, but I couldn't tear either one away from its death-grip on my pillow. I dropped by belly down and stretched my back like a cat, and this took the pressure off my back. I think it also lined the baby's shoulders up to come the rest of the way out, and in few more pushes, the baby was safely on the outside. I heard someone announce the time of birth as 8:36 a.m. Moon asked Jeremy to tell me the sex, and he told me it was a girl. I could hear everyone debating how to hand the baby to me (since, if you recall, I was on my hands and knees facing the wall), and I interrupted and told them that I was going to flip over, starting with my right leg, and they could pass me the baby under my leg and up to my chest. But first, could we take these stupid monitors off?
They handed the baby to me, and we sat snuggling for a few minutes. Moon asked me the name, and I turned to Jeremy and said I wasn't sure. We had two girl names picked out, and I was torn between the two of them. He asked me which one I was leaning towards, and I said, "Dorothy." He agreed. I was shivering uncontrollably at this point, but I was still sweating, and wanted nothing to do with any blankets. Erin got me some damp cloths for my forehead. Moon told me that the cord had stopped pulsing completely, and asked if it was okay to cut it. I said okay.
Dorothy headed to the other end of the room to get measured and weighed, then she came right back to Mama. I offered her my breast, and she latched right on and started nursing. I pushed out the placenta with little fanfare, and Moon started to check me over to assess the damage. She said I had a mild second degree tear, and she offered to start the topical anesthetic now, to give it a chance to work before she started the stitching.
Dorothy was nursing like a pro, and I could feel my uterus contracting already. It hurt a lot. I think it hurt more than 90% of my labor did. I guess that's the breastfeeding doing its job. The breastfeeding was also doing its job of pushing out the meconium, and when Dorothy finished nursing and they picked her up to check her again, she left behind a nice puddle of poop on Mama's belly.
I'm afraid I'm mixing up the order of events here, because once my baby was born healthy, I didn't really care about much else. Moon stitched me up, and I know I was holding and/or nursing Dorothy for most of the stitching. The topical started to wear off when she had about three stitches to go, and she asked if I wanted more, but I said don't bother if it's only three more stitches. The first one hurt a bit, the second one hurt a bit more, and by the third stitch, the topical had completely worn off, and I felt everything. It hurt a lot, but through some weird combination of adrenaline and hormones, I started laughing uncontrollably. Ginny came back into the room, asking what the joke was, because she hates to miss out on a good joke. I kept laughing, and told her it was the pain. If she didn't already think I was crazy, she definitely did then.
This is the part where Ginny deserves cookies. I could tell, from her various reactions to the way I labored and delivered, that I didn't exactly follow her paradigm for birthing. But she tried her best, and when it came right down to it, she did everything I had wanted. She brought all paperwork to me to fill out at the bedside, and had prepared all the documents ahead of time for the procedures we were refusing, which she had me sign without questioning my decisions. She had arranged for the nursery staff to come to my room and do all of the measurements and tests there so Dorothy wouldn't have to leave my side. And then, she had to fill out all of the admitting paperwork for both me and Dorothy because I had delivered her before I officially had been admitted to the hospital. Which amused me greatly, because it meant that Dorothy wasn't "technically" born in a hospital. She came when she wanted, how I wanted, into the hands of a trusted midwife, in the presence of my beloved and a good friend. If I couldn't have a home birth, I am incredibly blessed to have had the next best thing.
Dorothy Ruth Wakeman
10.20.2010 8:36 a.m.
8lbs 4oz 20" long