I always knew I would love being pregnant. I have gloried in my “Great Wide Child-Bearing Hips” and looked forward to experiencing pregnancy with great anticipation for most of my life. And I was not disappointed.
Despite a joltingly sudden and unexpected discovery, I could not have been more pleased or proud of how well my body seemed to take to this new state of being. I checked expected symptoms off by the week, and delighted in the slowly growing bump in my midsection.
When my husband Chantz and I learned that the baby was a boy, our son, we were overjoyed. We knew immediately that he was Henry Lucas, after my little brother Lucas, who is one of the greatest people I know and wise beyond his years. It made it real to give him a name, and I loved imagining him being protective of his younger siblings, and thinking about his place in our family.
I decided early on that I was going to enjoy every stage of my pregnancy, on purpose. I was going to focus on the fun and exciting parts and not dwell on the discomfort. And I really did it! I almost didn't notice how swollen and slow I had become by the end. As the days past Christmas Eve, my “due date”, came and went, I still really felt that I was in no hurry to be done.
I was comfortable, and I think that Henry was too. I was adamant that he would come when he was ready and resented the pressure from others in a situation I felt I had absolutely no control over. I think that people theoretically understand that no woman can just will her body into labor, but somehow when you still haven't had your baby a week and a half after you were “supposed” to it's a little bit your fault. Each day you're a little more crazy and a little more selfish for keeping them in and not sharing that sweet baby with the world.
This was one of the few things that Chantz and I argued about at that time. He respected and agreed with my desire not to intervene and induce labor, but still felt that my complacent attitude was a road block in our journey to meeting our son. And in a small way, he was right. I was so focused on maintaining comfort and so sad that my time of being pregnant was coming to an end that I hadn't given my body permission to let him come. I realized finally that Henry and I were both waiting on the other one to say, “Okay, I'm done. I've had enough of this and I’m ready for the next part now.” I did need to give that permission, let go of the pregnancy, let go of the idea that any push from me (mental or otherwise) was taking the power and the decision of when to be born away from my baby and my body. I trusted the physiological process so much that I forgot to communicate emotionally and be a part of the team. I love that even before he came into this world Henry taught me that lesson. He is his own person, and I have to be able to trust him to be independent from me, but he is still listening and looking to me, and what I feel and have to say is important to him. We’re on the same team.
We had the great pleasure of having my sister Kira and her husband Gabriel (and baby Malcolm!) stay with us for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The hope was that Henry would be born while they were still in town and they could meet him before they went back to Phoenix. The night before New Year’s Eve (we were hoping for a New Year’s Eve baby, for party, and tax break reasons!) Chantz and Gabe went out to collect ingredients for Eggplant Parmesan, a recipe we had received from our awesome Hypnobirthing instructor that was said to have a very high success rate in inducing labor in full term women.
I didn't have much faith in that necessarily, I still felt like it wasn't quite time, but that night will remain one of my very favorite memories. The Eggplant Parm ended up being a very complex and time consuming dish to prepare! My sweet husband spent four hours in the kitchen along with help from Kira putting it all together until we could finally enjoy the fruits of their labor at about midnight! It was such a fun night, and we really got to enjoy each other's company, even in the face of our hunger. Boy was it worth the wait though, that Eggplant Parm was amazing! It is definitely one of my favorite dishes! Chantz did such a good job, and I was so happy to share such a great night with the people I love the most.
Needless to say, New Year’s also came and went, and still no baby. Kira and Gabe packed up and headed back to Arizona, and Chantz and I were left with a quiet empty house. The wait was becoming much more difficult for Chantz in particular, especially after having spent the last week holding Malcolm almost constantly. And now there was no baby Malcolm, and no baby Henry. My jokes about missing our tax break deadline and staying pregnant for another week or two probably didn't help either. He was so ready, but what else could we do but keep waiting?
The morning of Friday, January 3rd I woke up and I just felt different. It was as if something had clicked in my brain and suddenly I was done being pregnant. Suddenly I needed my baby in my arms more than I needed him in my body. We had been seeing and communicating with our awesome midwives a few times a week at this point and decided to come into the birthing center again to discuss our options for giving Henry a little nudge in the right direction and (hopefully) naturally induce the start of active labor.
I had been having very mild contractions on and off for a few weeks already, but never anything that kept me off of my feet. (I call them contractions because that’s what it really felt like. They weren’t pushing anything yet, but just exercising my muscles, preparing for the “surges” and “waves” that would bring my baby out of my body. It was important to me to note that difference at the time, even though I wanted to continue to use the more positive and accurate vocabulary of pregnancy and delivery terms we had learned in our Hypnobirthing class. Language is important!)
For the first time in my whole pregnancy that day I asked Suzanne, one of our midwives, to give me an exam. She had previously suggested that we may want to place a Foley bulb to start my cervix stretching and I felt that would be a good start. However, when she did have a look down there she told me we wouldn't have had any success with it anyway because I was already dilated to a 3/4 and 60% effaced. A wave of peace and relief washed over me. This was the confirmation that I needed. I wasn't forcing my body to do something it wasn't ready to do, I was simply getting out of the way to let it finish the job. Suzanne suggested a sweep of my membranes. Chantz and I quickly conferred and agreed that we were ready to really get this going and that we were comfortable with that, so in she went. It was intense, but quick and not painful, and apparently looked a lot worse than it felt. Chantz told me after we left the center that it looked to him like she had put her whole arm inside of me and wondered in shock why I didn't protest more! We left and spent the rest of the day in excited anticipation, glad to finally be on the same page, and with a more realistic hope that Henry would be here that weekend.
I labored more intensely for the rest of the evening than I had before. Good, stretching, moving surges. I was still able to talk and move through most of them, however, and the pattern was sporadic. Later that night we walked up and down the aisles of Kohler's Grocery Store, stopping and laughing through the bigger waves and wondering what the store workers and patrons must think of our odd display. We came home with an assortment of random junk foods, just whatever looked good in the moment with no thought of nutrition, (which ended up being Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos, pull apart Twizzlers, and my favorite generic Mud Pie Boxed Ice Cream) and hung out together munching and talking and watching TV shows until about 2am, at which point we decided that if I was really going to be having this baby soon we should definitely get some rest.
I thought I would just sleep until the intensity of the surges woke me and we'd go from there, but when I woke up at about 7:30 the next morning and realized that labor had completely stopped, I was MAD! I really was, I was flat out irate that we had had such a productive day and then it all just went away, like nothing had happened. I was NOT having that. (In hindsight of course I am extremely grateful that my body decided to rest deeply through the night instead of continuing the show.) I went and got my birthing ball, came out by the big window in the living room and started bouncing. I was really putting in a lot of directed effort, and chanting over and over in my head (sometimes aloud, but I didn't want to wake Chantz quite yet) with great determination, “Open, stretch, suuurge… OPEN, STRETCH, SUUUURGE!”
After an hour of this exercise during which I had no contractions at all, I was suddenly hit with a great, deep surge. I relished in it, let it spread to my whole body, grinning. YES. I decided to make use of the “Contraction Timer” that came with one of my pregnancy tracking apps on my phone and timed the next several surges. They were all about a minute long, and never more than five minutes apart right from the get-go. I remembered the midwives’ 5-1-1 guideline, five minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour. I wouldn’t call until I had been in active labor for an hour, but I had no doubt at all that this was it.
I was filled with a vibrating energy and confidence. FINALLY he was coming! And, FINALLY I was going to be able to perform the great act of delivering this baby from my body, something I looked forward to all in of itself. Chantz woke up in this time as I was walking around our small apartment, stopping every 2-5 minutes to kneel and curl my body into another wave of deep pressure. There was never any pain, but the intensity increased steadily with each surge.
An hour passed and labor was still in full force. I had become more introspective and serious, and loved the feeling of quiet intimacy in our home as I knelt by my husband and swayed my hips, rocking the baby who would soon join our family. It was such a perfect peaceful morning. I called the student midwife we had been working with (right after a contraction, so I could speak) and calmly let her know that I had been in active labor for about an hour and that I thought the baby was coming soon. She asked me if I wanted to come in to the birthing center, to which I replied, “Yes please, I think that would be best.” and she told me that she and the other midwife on call would meet us there.
On our way out the door my sister Jessica, who lives downstairs with her husband, saw us leaving. She asked where we were going and we told her we were headed to the birthing center. “Oh, for another checkup?” she asked. “No, to have a baby.” Chantz replied. Her face lit up and she may have even started to get emotional. “Reeeally??” she cried. It was hilarious and so sweet.
We got to the birthing center and met with Suzanne again, who let us know that there was another client who had come in that morning as well. We would both be checked, and whoever was further along and more established in labor would move to the bigger separate Birthing Suite, while the other could use the smaller suite on the office side of the building.
I hadn’t thought about the possibility of not being able to deliver in the tub that I had visited so many times and envisioned my birth in during my pregnancy, with the big window right ahead, and the big plush bed next to the fireplace on the other side of the wall to cuddle and rest in once Henry was here. (Of course the smaller suite had an identical tub and bed in it, but this was my space!) It put me off a little and I became anxious for the first time, but when my favorite midwife Lea came in to check me and joked that she didn’t think the other woman was going to stay and that we were going to “win” I relaxed and got back into my zone.(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)
Lea checked me and we discovered that I was 7cm dilated and about 80% effaced. We were in business! (Not that this was ever in question.) I had read an article during my pregnancy discussing the lack of connection between measured progress in centimeters and the time remaining until the birth of the baby, and thought maybe I wouldn’t want to know, but in the moment I really loved hearing it. I had a renewed sense of energy knowing that my body had already done a lot of hard work to get Henry here.
At this point my surges were becoming very intense, and all I could think about was getting to the tub. I just wanted to be in that water before the next one hit. I loved that it was Chantz and Lea keeping me company, since they both have such happy energy. They definitely kept my mood from becoming frustrated or overwhelmed, but I wasn’t confident I could stay happy for long if I didn’t get my body in that tub! Finally our apprentice midwife Liz had it filled and I was able to get in. It was instant relief. I felt so at home in the water, and even though my labor continued full force I was able to relax my body and close my eyes and just ride the waves as they came.
At that point all sense of time evaporated. I fell into the rhythm of things and hummed and moaned through each surge, then rested between. I liked the predictability of it, the pattern. Being vocal also helped to ease my discomfort quite a bit. I had a feeling I would be one of those very loud birthers, but you never really know things like that until they are happening. In our Hypnobirthing class we learned breathing techniques that were meant to help stay on top of the waves instead of drowning in them, but I found that just letting a steady indistinct sound escape me on each exhale really helped me feel in control.
I stayed mostly in the same position in the tub because I was so comfortable, but eventually lifted myself onto my knees in the water to better manage my surges as they became very very intense. All throughout this time Chantz and the midwives would ask me if I wanted to eat or drink anything, but I didn’t feel overwhelmingly fatigued, and stopping to do either of those things felt like an interruption of what I was focused on. One thing at a time; first, have a baby, then have lunch. I’m great at compartmentalizing.
They did convince me after some prodding to drink some Gatorade, which of course is a good idea, I just didn’t want to think about it at the time. Chantz knows me well enough to know that I don’t like the Lemon/Lime flavor, so he mentioned that to Lea before she went to the fridge to get it, but I also really dislike Fruit Punch, which is what she brought back. I drank it and didn’t say anything because I was too busy having a baby to complain about Fruit Punch, but later that evening I mentioned it to Chantz and we had a good laugh about the brief moment during active labor that I recalled how much I really really don’t like Fruit Punch. Ha!
As my labor progressed I began falling asleep between surges (how nice!), then I would wake with a roar as one got hold of me. Apparently I began to change the sounds I was making which alerted the midwives that transition was approaching, so they slowly and quietly came back into the bathroom from their post in the next room. I hardly noticed. I continued my dozing-roaring pattern, but I think that I must have slowed down enough that Lea wanted to check on things and see if there was still a cervical lip or any significant swelling that might hinder the delivery.
It is pretty normal for a woman’s body to slow, or even stop labor to rest for a time before transition and ultimately the birth of the baby, so this was all very textbook, but I am still so grateful for attentive midwives who wanted to make sure they were doing everything they could to facilitate a smooth delivery. Lea did a quick internal exam and I did still have a small remaining lip covering the opening, so she suggested we try a homeopathic remedy to get everything all cleared up and help me get ready to really push. (I had been involuntarily directing all the movement in my body downward, but didn’t feel quite yet that I needed to push through and out.) I took the homeopathic and changed my position so that more of me was submerged in the water and I could spread out more side to side. God bless that tub. I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to have a baby out of the water. It really made me feel like every part of my body had so much support and gave me such peace of mind. I highly recommend it.
Chantz was perfection through all of this. He would give me a look and squeeze my hand or press on my shoulder if I got too worked up to remind me to slow my breathing, but for the most part remained quiet. I imagine he must not have known what to say, but the silence was exactly what I needed. I could feel him right there next to me, even if I couldn’t see or hear him. Later he told me that he spent most of the time just watching and smiling because he was so pleased with how well things were going and so excited that our boy was almost here.
I remember at one point that I looked at him and simply stated “I’m done now, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be done.” I wasn’t feeling frantic or overwhelmed, though the surges had become extremely strong, racking my whole body, but I just didn’t want to keep going indefinitely. I was ready for my baby to come. My wise midwives must have chuckled, knowing that a statement like that meant we must be very close to meeting our baby.
Transition hit and the pressure waves just rolled over one another, stronger and stronger. I thought at the time that this lasted for quite a while, but I really only pushed for about twenty minutes before Henry came. I felt my bag of waters release with a little pop into the water during a push, but for some reason didn’t relay this to the midwives until a couple of minutes later. I casually said, “Oh yeah, I think my water broke a little bit ago. Do you think so? The water is still pretty clear though, so that’s good.” I think they were surprised and amused at this statement, and confirmed that yes, my water had indeed broken, and everything looked great.
At the peak of every surge I would press each limb as hard as I possibly could against the sides of the tub, bracing myself against the quaking of my body and pushing down with all of my might. This felt amazing. I bellowed so loudly with each rush that I effectively made myself hoarse, and pushed my hands and feet against the tub so forcefully that my muscles felt like Jell-O when I relaxed them. What a workout!
Finally I could feel my sweet baby’s head when I reached down, and overwhelmingly, completely, ALL that I could think about was getting that head out. He emerged partially a few times, then went back in, which was exceptionally frustrating, and I felt the infamous Ring of Fire for a few moments each time. I exclaimed, “No! Don’t go back in! Come out! Get out!!” It really felt exactly as I thought it should though. Not like I was being ripped apart, not like I was dying, but just precisely like a very large, solid object was being pushed through my tightly stretched pelvis, soft skin pressed between hard bones. It was the type of sensation that you know will leave bruises, but certainly won’t kill you.
Then with one last great prodigious push, out he came. “Is he out? Is the head out??” I asked. It was confirmed and my whole body relaxed. I felt like I was done! No more hard work to do! I puffed for a few moments, then another small surge came and his body glided out, smoothly and perfectly. In the brief moment after his head was born the midwives checked for a nuchal cord, and let Chantz know that if he wanted to help catch and lift him up he should get into position. He wasn’t expecting it to be all at once though, and I think he must have missed that part. Once Henry’s body emerged I reached down to take him and pull him out of the water. The cord was on the shorter side and he only barely reached to my chest, but I held him there and exclaimed over and over “Oh I’m so proud of you! You did such a good job Baby! That was so hard, and you did it! I love you so much, you did such a good job!”
He felt heavy and solid in my arms with a big square head like a little boulder resting on his shoulders, and was covered head to toe in buttery vernix, which made all his dark hair look like tight little finger waves. Lea replied to my praise of Henry by telling me that I had done a great job as well, and they were so impressed that I had pushed out such a big baby the way I did, so quickly and deliberately. They even started joking and making bets that he was over ten pounds.
Suddenly it became very important for me to know what time it was so I could calculate how long it had been. It was 3:10 pm, a little over six hours from the beginning of active labor. I felt so empowered and accomplished. I had done it. I delivered my baby from my body, and here he was in my arms. There wasn’t really a way (or a reason) to differentiate, but I rationalized that the actual birth wasn’t what wiped me out, it was just me pressing my arms and legs against the side of the tub so hard that had made me all wobbly and weak. (Like it even mattered!)
We wrapped him in a new dry towel and slowly, carefully, I stepped out of the tub and made my way to the bed in the next room. We sat and cuddled and just stared at each other for about fifteen minutes before his cord stopped pulsing, and Chantz cut it. I loved seeing my placenta, and we put it in a bag to take home and encapsulate.
After I enjoyed some quiet skin to skin with my sweet babe I passed him off to Chantz who held him on his bare chest while I was being stitched up. I just had one small tear, but that was by far the worst part of the day! I hadn’t used any kind of pain relief during my labor or Henry’s birth, but the birthing center had just been approved and set up with a Nitrous Oxide tank (one of only eight in the US) and were so excited to use it with a client that we laughed and shrugged and said why not! I had researched N2O previously and while I knew I’d rather not worry about it during labor, it was a very welcome aid during the repairing process.
After I was all fixed up we got comfortable and finally called my mom. I felt badly for not even communicating that I was in labor that morning, but relished in the intimate secrecy just being between me and my husband. I’m sure Jessica had shared what was going on, but we got to keep to ourselves. When my family arrived at the suite we decided it was a good time for Henry’s newborn exam. He was finally weighed, 9 pounds, 14 ounces! And everything else was perfect, head to toe. I absolutely love all the recurring numbers Henry acquired that day, ones, nines, and fours. He was born on 1/4/14, weighed 9 lbs. 14 oz. and was 19 ½ inches long. It’s fun because I have several recurring numbers from my birth day as well, which happens to be exactly one week after his, on 1/11/1990. It may have been hard to wait, but he definitely picked the perfect day to be born.
After all the excitement was concluded and we were both given a clean bill of health, my family and the midwives left us to rest. The three of us sunk in and dozed on the bed for a good while, and then at about 8:30 I felt like I’d like to be at home. We had some good friends who were married that night and we joked about making a drive by the reception to give them their “gift” (a peek at what we had been working on all day), but decided to be rational and take our infant son home instead. So we packed up all our stuff, strapped our tiny baby into his car seat for the first time, and left. It’s crazy to think that one morning we left our house just the two of us, and that evening we came home with a baby, like it was just a regular day. He is exceptional, and such a delight. We are so, deeply in love.
(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)