Hey! This is a birth story. Consider yourself warned, though as far as birth stories go, this one is entry-level: no trauma, and light on words like lochia and placenta.
I was due June 15, but all my pregnant friends were having babies at 37 weeks, so starting in mid-May I started prepping for impending baby-bearing.
I had my maternity transition plan for Fit Approach locked and loaded by 37 weeks, which of course meant I spent the next month that I was still pregnant continually updating that damned document instead of doing, you know, productive things.
40 weeks came, and 40 weeks went.
By his due date, I’d been having contractions every night for about a week. Five or six mild, but real, contractions would come for a visit right around 10pm every night, then ghost within the hour. This routine was just enough to work me up into a state of anxiety: maybe this is happening, now? And then, by 11pm, I’d realize I’d been had again, at the cost of an hour or more of much needed sleep.
My head played so many tricks on me that week. Was this a contraction? Had it started? Had it ended? I had to keep reminding myself that if there was any lesson I’d learned about birth, it was that contractions are not mysterious or shy. They let you know when they’re real. If there’s any doubt, well, that’s not a contraction.
I went into Labor and Delivery for monitoring at 40 weeks, 6 days, and everything was fine, though the midwife on duty had itchy induction fingers. She gave me some serious side eye for working with a home birth midwife but planning on a hospital birth, and she kept reminding me of the risks of going past 40 weeks, repeated a few times that they routinely offer inductions at 41 weeks, and suggested that we make an appointment for me to come back tomorrow and get induced. She kept looking at the clock (it was 8pm) and I swear she was trying to cook up a strategy for inadvertently holding me for the four hours until I turned into an elective induction candidate.
There was nothing I wanted more than for my body to go into labor naturally. I had induced labor before and what I most hoped for with this birth was to experience labor starting on its own.
Well, that’s a lie: what I actually wanted most was for baby to stay with me, and not require any NICU time. But a naturally-started labor was second on my wish list.
With those goals in mind, and since baby looked healthy and strong, I dodged that pitocin-happy provider, consented to a deadline of 41 weeks and 4 days, and went home to be teased again by dead-end contractions.
On Saturday night (41 weeks, 1 day), yet again, I had a brief run of contractions. I brushed it off and decided to go to sleep, knowing that if they continued or escalated, they’d absolutely wake me up.
And wake me up they did, at 3:30am. Right on schedule, really; the 3am hour had been baby boy’s most active throughout third trimester. I laid in bed a while, waiting to see if these, too, would fizzle.
Though the contractions were mild and completely manageable, I could feel the early rumblings of back labor. My midwife had recommended that at the first hint of back labor, I should get onto my hands and knees and stay there for an hour with no position changes—a recent study had shown it would correct baby’s position and reduce back labor—so I got into position and turned on Girls Trip to keep myself distracted. I only half paid attention, but the peeing scene seemed strangely prescient.
I waited until 5am to call Monika (my midwife) and at that point the contractions were 10 minutes apart and still manageable, but increasing in intensity.
(Side note: I worked with a home birth midwife for pre- and post-natal care, with the plan to deliver in the hospital. It was an unconventional choice, as several people let me know during my hospital stay, but it was the dream arrangement for me. If you haven’t looked into midwife care, I highly recommend it, and if you’re in Austin, look no further than Monika Stone.)
She told me to keep going, and that I should call back when I felt them shift. I figured I had some time, so I kept watching the movie, sipping on water, and even managed to eat a bowl of Cheerios. I woke up my parents, letting them know things were happening.
By 6:30, the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart and lasting 60 seconds. I called Monika again and she said to go into the hospital. I was skeptical; even though I was contracting at a fairly rapid clip, they were nowhere near as strong as what I’d experienced early on in my first birth. I imagined I’d go in, get checked, and get sent home at a paltry 1 or 2 centimeters. But I trusted Monika, and the last thing I wanted to was to miss my window for the epidural, so my mom, Nathan and I hopped in the car, leaving my dad to take care of the menagerie at home: a toddler and three dogs. (Thanks Dad!).
Nathan dropped me off at the door to the hospital. My big plan this time was to walk through the revolving door—the same one I’d crawled through last time—but some friendly soul was holding open the regular door, so I settled for casting a triumphant eye back at the inconvenient place where I’d moaned through a particularly tough contraction two and a half years before.
Check in was a breeze. Monika had called to warn them of my arrival and I was shown immediately into a labor and delivery room (I guess the beauty of an early Sunday morning is that you get to skip the triage rooms?). The nurse took my vitals and then did the dreaded exam.
When she announced, you’re at a 5 or 6, and 100% effaced, I cried tears of joy. It was the best news I’ve ever gotten after having a stranger’s fist inside my body.
The contractions at this point were not even in the same category as those I experienced well before reaching even 3 centimeters with my first birth. They were still so manageable. And here I’d arrived at the perfect time to get an epidural. I wouldn’t have to visit that edge I’d met before. Best news ever.
As we waited for anaesthesia, the contractions really picked up in strength. I had to breathe through them, and took some perverse pleasure in squeezing the life force out of Nathan’s hand, but again: a shadow of what I remember from last time.
The anaesthesiologist was efficient: I felt nothing as he placed the epidural, and shortly thereafter, the contractions faded into memory. Sweet bliss.
The next couple hours were lovely. I snoozed, I spaced, and knowing what was likely at the other end of this reprieve, I really luxuriated in this chance to rest. It would probably be my best sleep for months, or maybe even years. I was so present with that nap and that rest time, even despite all the wires hanging off my body and an eager audience staring at me, anxious for a new human to emerge from my lady parts.
After a while the midwife on staff checked me again, and suggested breaking my water to help things move along.
I could feel the gush of liquid but nothing more, and a few moments later, it was time to push. I could feel pressure that hinged on pain, and wow, I had forgotten how intense it is having so many people shouting encouragement in your face when all sensation in your lower half has gone dark.
Mid-push, the midwife asked, “Did your first baby have a lot of hair?”
“Yes,” I said, grateful to think about anything other than pushing.
“Well this one doesn’t,” she responded, and in that red-faced, bearing-down moment, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
That roaring head and a triumphant hand finally appeared.
For a moment I was a two headed human and I felt a moment of peace: the head is out, people, isn’t my work here done?
But more pushing there was to do. And a few minutes of interminable straining later, he slipped out, to general surprise and a round of betting all related to his robust size.
The medical team’s estimates clustered around 9lbs; the scale reported back a proud 9lbs 12oz.
No wonder I was so tired those last few weeks.
The midwife stitched me up—just a couple of first degree tears to address, no big deal—and I held that baby close. Just like his sister, he blessed me with a meconium deposit on my chest.
As they wheeled me to a recovery room, I whispered a heartfelt thank you and farewell to the epidural. I’m almost a little sad that was likely my last epidural ever.
My gratitude for the epidural is overshadowed, though, by my gratitude for how straightforward this entire birth was. It felt like a redemption achieved in just nine hours.
The first time around, my expectations were so contorted by a cultural insistence that birthing is natural, and that your body knows what to do, that I felt like a failure for needing intervention after intervention. Wasn’t birthing supposed to be handled by some kind of blood memory passed down from my mom (3 unmedicated births) and my grandmothers (5 births apiece) and on and on, a ceaseless ancestral drumbeat of bodies that delivered?
I know that feeling of inadequacy is nonsense. That birth is a dangerous and unpredictable and above all loaded with infinite potential and unrepeatable iterations.
That leaves me with nothing but gratitude. For all my kvetching about still being pregnant as my time wound down, I’m grateful some internal mechanism triggered my labor, not a ticking clock of escalating risk. I’m grateful for how textbook this birth was, with zero detours or dalliances.
I’m grateful that labor progressed as though my body knew just what it was doing. The blood memory, I guess, had to come from my own experiences. What a tremendous gift my daughter gave me and her new brother: she paved the way for this birth—my last birth—to be an easy, healing one.
Speaking of Mac, here’s her birth story.