by Teresa, USA
Our plan had been to give birth at the Bay Area Midwifery Center, a freestanding birth center in Annapolis. I had met and loved each of the midwives and felt like I was in a safe and smart place at each of my appointments.
Because my daughter had been born almost a week early in an unmedicated 12 hour labor at a hospital, I figured that baby #2 would be born even earlier, in half the labor time, in an all natural labor at the birth center. They say labor math doesn’t add up, and this certainly held true for us.
I had Braxton Hicks contractions for months before the end, but in week 38, some of the contractions were either really strong Braxton Hicks or mild regular contractions, and I had one or two of these a day. When I reached 39 weeks exactly, they became more frequent, with two, maybe three, contractions about 10-15 minutes apart, and then they would stop for a few hours. It was enough to make me take notice and even to look at a clock by the third contraction, but then it would stop for a few hours. Something was happening, just not much.
That night, I brought home some paperwork from the office but felt the urge to sleep instead. I had a few strong contractions before bed, but nothing regular. I told my husband that if I laid down, they would either go away or get stronger. We talked a bit more about baby names (we still had not decided) and then I went to sleep.
I woke up 2 or 3 hours later at 12:30AM with a contraction. Another followed ten minutes later and then another. This seemed more real. On the fourth contraction, I lost my mucous plug and thought that perhaps my water had broken as well. I did the modified Sun Salutation and a few other yoga stretches to ease into what I was sure would be a long night. I got Al up (who had gone in to check on our daughter and fell asleep on her floor) and told him I thought we should call the midwife.
Contractions continued at the ten minute pace as we talked with Shaina, who was the midwife on call that night, and as I described what happened, she said she thought it was not my water that broke just yet, and that unless I felt otherwise, I should call back when contractions were five minutes apart and she’d meet us at the birth center.
This sounded reasonable to me since I still felt really clear-headed and ten minutes between contractions still felt very early in the process. She recommended taking a walk or getting in the shower. I chose the shower and slowly stretched and swayed and danced through each contraction as they got stronger.
I would tap on the glass with each one so that Al could write it down, and they quickly started coming faster, two to three minutes apart. The pressure and the power of each contraction suddenly intensified, and I told Al that we needed to go now. He called Shaina, and I got dressed. We told my dad that we were leaving so that he could listen for our daughter, and we tried to get to the car.
The contractions were so strong and so fast that I could no longer walk through them and had to pause several times for a back rub or to sit before getting into the car. As we struggled to get to the car, Al was making phone calls, his parents to let them know it was time, and our dear friends who were to meet us at the Birth Center.
In the car, I think it all just became one big contraction. They were so fast and so intense, there did not seem to be a chance to relax between them. Through breath awareness, I hoped to slow my breathing down.
We had put down all the windows so I could get some air and it billowed in the windows, cool and refreshing even though it was August. I looked up into the sky and saw the small sliver of moon that hung directly in front of us, and I was able to focus my attention here. Narrowing my focus managed to calm me even through the most powerful experience of my life.
By this point we had been on the road for maybe 7 minutes, and now, with another contraction, my water really broke with a big pop and a gush of fluid. Even Al said, “Wow, I heard that.”
I started to feel like I needed to crawl out of my skin and tried to turn my body in some way that would take the pressure off my back. Through years of yoga practice, I was able to focus on where I was holding tension in my body (strangely my ankles and calves this time) and let it go. This decreased some of the pressure in my body, but this also made me realize that I was feeling “the urge to push.”
I remember thinking how can I have “the urge” now? In my head, I didn’t have the urge to do anything but get to the birth center. This continued as we got on the highway and we still had about 25 minutes to go. This bodily feeling continued and got stronger and stronger. Finally I reached down with one of the contractions and with my hand I felt the round head crowning.
I yelled to Al that he needed to call Shaina now as I could feel the baby’s head. He only said “Oh my God” three times before he managed to dial the phone.
The head retreated with the end of the contraction, but not far. Shaina told us to pull over and call 911. Al called 911 but we were on a stretch of highway without mile markers or even any signs that would be a good meeting place for the ambulance. I could feel the head coming with each contraction and finally we were able to pull over near the overpass for Church Rd.
The 911 operator stayed on the phone with Al as he came around to my side of the car. With the door wide open and Al with me, I knew it was time to give birth. During one of my prenatal appointments, I had discussed with the midwife my concern about tearing during labor as I had a terrible tear with my first birth. She had said that she would be happy to make suggestions during labor as to a position that would be most comfortable and productive, but that the hands and knees (on all fours) position is most often recommended to prevent tearing.
I went home and read a number of sources that agreed with her and tucked that bit of knowledge in the back of my brain. I am eternally grateful for that wisdom. I got up on the front seat on all fours and out came the baby’s head. I don’t even really remember pushing, just contracting. Al gently touched the baby’s little face and seconds later the next contraction happened, Al applied pressure, I gave a push and out came baby’s body. Al held him while I turned around on the seat and together we untangled the umbilical cord from around his body.
Instinctively I took a finger to sweep his mouth. Heeding the 911 operators words, Al actually used his shirt to wipe the baby’s mouth and his nose, and very little, if anything came off as the baby started to cry. I looked at the clock radio and it had just turned. Our baby was born at 3:15AM, less than three hours after that first real contraction, and still twenty minutes away from the birth center.
Al took his shirt off to wrap the baby, and he grabbed a few towels from the back as well so that the baby would be warm snuggled against my chest. I will never forget how Al yelled, “He looked at me, he’s looking at me!” as the baby opened his eyes for the first time. We were both so happy that we had this beautiful, breathing, strong baby in our hands, and we did it! All by ourselves!
There are no words for the awe that we felt in that moment as we kissed his little head and hands for the first time. The operator then told Al to find something to tie off the umbilical cord with. We were on the side of the highway in the middle of the night, where would we find string?
I had borrowed Al’s pajama pants to wear to the birth center, and Al, having watched a lot of MacGyver in his day, took the string from the pants to tie off the cord. I don’t know that tying it off was necessary, but at this point, I wasn’t going to argue.
The ambulance and fire trucks arrived soon after. The paramedics were two women who took the lead. On the fire truck were all men, most of whom appeared to be about 18 and very nervous.
The women helped me onto a stretcher and I remember being all smiles as they lifted me into the ambulance, and one of these teen boys just stared at us with mouth agape.
Inside the ambulance, the younger woman wanted to go on to the hospital, but the older woman said I should be given time to deliver the placenta if I wanted.
They checked the baby’s vitals and mine and held the baby as I kneeled forward and delivered the placenta with one tiny push on a contraction. With that, all of the strong contractions were over.
They clamped the cord then and cut it. Unfortunately Al was outside the ambulance at this point because he was trying not to be sick after all the stress of the last hour (as well as calling our parents to let them know what happened).
I guess cutting the cord is not a required rite of passage for a father who has just caught his own child, completely unassisted, in the front seat of his Honda Fit, on the side of the road, in the middle of the night.
Al got into the car, and we agreed to meet Shaina at the hospital affiliated with the Birth Center. I rode in the ambulance with the baby in my arms and talked with the older paramedic. This was actually her first shift back after being on maternity leave for six months, so she was very sympathetic to the situation. We laughed together that the young men on the fire truck were in shock at the scene, and how grateful I was that she was there as a woman and recent mother.
Once at the hospital, baby and I were checked out, and as the nurses and midwives worked, Al said that of all the names we had chosen, we might have to go with the least conventional because of baby’s entrance to the world. Since we will never forget the way the air blew in the windows of the car that night, and since he came like the wind, we simply had to name him Zephyr.
At 7 lbs, 11oz, and 19 inches long, every nurse and midwife declared Zephyr to be perfect. I only had a small tear and was stitched up very quickly. Zephyr latched on easily and started to nurse right away. Shaina the midwife, let me know that “precipitous labor” would have to be added to my medical chart. Our friends, Gina and Cara-Michele (who had been waiting at the Birth Center) were brought into the room, and we celebrated together this perfect little life that just couldn’t wait to be born.
Shaina said that as far as she was concerned we could go home once the pediatrician had examined Zephyr in the morning. I was able to walk to the bathroom with little pain and then laid down for a while. Al fell asleep while Cara-Michele went to get breakfast (it was not yet 6, but I was starving for some chocolate chip pancakes and eggs).
When the pediatrician came, Zephyr was again examined and determined to be in good shape, but because we had been admitted to the hospital, it would be against hospital policy and “Medical Advice” to leave before 24 hours. I was very disappointed to hear this and almost cried, remembering our traumatic stay with our daughter’s birth (she was mistakenly given a dose of morphine meant for another infant in the nursery), but Al convinced me that this was a safer hospital and that if Zephyr were taken for any exams (and there was only one out of the room) that he would accompany him. I agreed to stay.
This also gave our dear friend Cara-Michele time to take our car to be detailed. We were extremely impressed with the results, since we were sure we would have to have the stained front seat replaced, and now we have a car that feels like new.
My parents brought our daughter Lilly to the hospital as well so that she could meet her new little brother. We gave her a boy baby doll who had a receiving blanket that matched Zephyr’s (I made them both), and she was just so tickled. She couldn’t stop laughing and cooing over her brother, and her doll did not leave her side for the next few days.
Lilly also managed to print out vitals charts and call the nurses station at least once while she visited us, but she was soon taken out to lunch by her grandparents so that we could rest for the remainder of the day.
The rest of our hospital stay is sort of a blur of sleeping and nursing and a few exams, but we were finally able to leave at lunch time the next day.
Zephyr has been a sweet baby, sleeping a lot, crying very little, and smiling more than a normal newborn. He did develop an eye infection when he was about a week old, but he takes the eyes drops with mild protests and is easily soothed.
My recovery time has been so much faster than with my last labor. At one week post-partum, I feel like I did at 6 weeks post-partum with my first birth. Despite the frantic drive, “precipitous labor” was actually a lot easier on me than the 12 hour hospital labor.
I developed mastitis at five days and even that was a shorter recovery than last time. So why did labor go so fast? Was it the yoga? Or the hot shower? Or the left side nose piercing (Ayurvedic medicine claims that it helps with childbirth)? Or was this little man just really ready to embrace the world?
We’re not quite sure what it was, but his entrance was magical and miraculous in ways we never could have expected.
Contrary to popular opinion however, Al will not be quitting his day job for medical school any time soon. A planned home birth may be in our future though.