At last, I finally have time to sit down and write this momentous post. I will begin with a warning to my male readers: this really is a birth story; I won't be disgustingly explicit, but birth is not the sterile, cleanly event that is erroneously depicted in movies, and body parts and functions will be mentioned...so if that grosses you out, feel free to skip this one ;-)
For those of you who were following along with the saga of my second pregnancy here at The Apple Cider Mill leading up to the birth, you will know that I was having rather noticeable Braxton Hicks contractions for almost two months leading up to the birth. Eight days before James was born, I also had full-blown false labor. My 40 week mark passed (which wouldn't have been quite so devastating, except I'd already had false labor, been dilated to three inches for two weeks, lost my mucus plug four times, and all--I'm not kidding you: all of my friends have gone early with their babies), and I was beginning to get pretty antsy. Then, as is often the case, in the last few days I began to find peace with being hugely pregnant and got ready to wait as long as necessary for this little man to be born--just in time for me to actually go into labor.
My husband and I spent a relaxing Memorial Day together with our daughter and our neighbors. We went to bed feeling pretty good, not expecting anything to happen. At 1 AM, I half woke up and stumbled to the bathroom. I was having what I was pretty sure were contractions, but since I'd already been in false labor once and had been having Braxton Hicks contractions daily for the past month-and-a-half, I didn't think much of it. Then, I went to the bathroom and lo and behold, I lost my fifth mucus plug, but this time there was bloody show. (For those of you who do not know, bloody show is the only definite sign of imminent labor; often, as in this case, it appears once labor has already begun.)
Well, then I woke up the rest of the way and started counting these contractions which, now that I paid attention, did seem to be more rhythmic and a bit stronger than what I'd been feeling over the previous weeks. I timed for half an hour, at which point I was pretty certain I was in labor. So, I woke Brian up, and then called my midwife who said she'd meet us at the birth center at 2:30.
Once again, Brian dialed up our wonderful--and super amazingly patient and self-sacrificing--neighbors who came up to spend the night with Sophia for the second time in two weeks. Fortunately, we live right around the corner from the birth center. I pity women who have to sit in a car while in labor for more than five minutes! As it was, I spent the short ride kneeling backwards in my seat so that I could keep my hips mobile. We pulled up to the birth center just after 2:30 and went on in.
My midwife, Sunita, and her assistant were already there setting things up... assembling necessary equipment, dimming lights, starting some calming music on the CD player, running a warm bath, and lighting candles. I felt so welcomed and so thrilled to finally be getting ready to meet my son! The thing that was so beautiful was that Sunita seemed almost as happy about the event as Brian and I were. I love midwifery care! I definitely value obstetricians and the wonderful things they can do, but for a normal, straightforward birth, I would choose a midwife at a free standing birth center every time.
We decided not to check my dilation yet and instead chose to try to get me seated long enough to get a penicillin dose in my veins, since I'm Group B Strep positive (was with Sophia, too). With this condition, it's advisable to get at least one dose of penicillin intravenously and, preferably, at least one more four hours later to prevent the baby getting the infection; in adults, it's perfectly harmless but it can cause a plethora of dangerous complications in infants, including pneumonia and meningitis, which can be life-threatening. Well, wouldn't you know, I often pass out with blood draws and IV injections, so dealing with it in the middle of labor is not exactly my favorite thing to do. And, my veins are rather small... which led to three failed attempts to get a penicillin drip into my arms.
After these epic failures, Sunita called another midwife from her sister practice who did finally manage to get the medicine into me, but she didn't arrive until around 3:30, at which point I was already at 7 cm. I only got two hours of the penicillin before James was born, which means he was 80% protected but not completely. This is why, 24 hours later, when his respiratory rate was abnormally high, we ended up in a NICU: we didn't know if he had a serious infection of it was just TTNB (transient tachypnia of the newborn); in the end, he was diagnosed with the latter.
You may notice that up to this point, I haven't said much about the pain. Well, to be honest, I wasn't having anything that I would describe as "pain." Now, to be fair, my last labor was a pitocin induction which is much more difficult to cope with. I went through that labor without pain medication, so I knew what that felt like, and I was expecting something somewhat similar. This was in no way similar. Labor without pitocin was so blessedly more manageable that I never registered the concept of "pain." The contractions were much more rhythmic, and I never had "piggy-backing" contractions like I'd had with my last pregnancy. The extra time and knowing what to expect made it much easier for me to breathe, to warn my husband when a contractions was coming on so he could massage my lower back, and to prepare myself mentally for the strength of my contracting uterus.
I utilized my vocal training and did lots of deep-belly breathing, vocalization in a low register (the resonance really feels great when you're in the middle of a contraction; I especially like doing it with my body draped over a birth ball; you get extra resonance that way), and walking while swaying my hips (I looked a bit like a hula dancer). My midwife and her assistant said it was one of the easiest births they'd ever attended; they mostly just left me and my husband to ourselves, since I was coping perfectly well with the methods we were using together.
When my contractions were getting very strong (I truly think of it as "strong" rather than "painful"), and I was really bellowing with my vocalization, Sunita and her assistants came back in and set up to deliver, since it was pretty clear I was in transition. I had delivered Sophia side-lying, since it was easy to relax between pushes in that position but gives you a little more mobility and aid in pushing than back-lying, so I got up on the bed to do the same this time.
Even though Sophia was my first child, I delivered her in twenty minutes (I think I went through about 5 contractions total). Of course, I had a fourth degree tear with Sophia's birth. This time around, it took 49 minutes for me to push James out. I think a large part of that stems from the fact that my bag of waters didn't break until about forty minutes into delivery (just ten minutes or so before he was born). With Sophia, my waters had been artificially broken to help labor progress. Having the bag of waters in tact definitely lessens that sensation of needing to push. With Sophia, I couldn't stop from pushing. This time around, I was saying things like, "I think I'm going to need to push again." I've never gotten such an ab workout! Note to self: do more abdominal exercises before next pregnancy. But, I wouldn't have had it any other way; it may be entirely due to the late rupture of waters that I had no tearing with this delivery--a tremendous blessing, considering all the craziness that followed.
Well, I began to realize that things were taking a while. I was careful to relax completely and drink plenty of water between attempts to push, but I was starting to get pretty tired. After all, I'd only gotten two hours of sleep. For the first time in the labor, I began to feel panicky--that sick, nauseous, anxious feeling that I'd gotten from the sheer pain during my labor with Sophia--that sense that maybe I can't do this; maybe I'll need a cesarean after all. I kept praying silently in my head, "God, please, bring my son to me!" But, finally, my waters ruptured, and pushing became much easier. James was crowning before I knew it (yes, that part is always painful, but it's very brief!). I reached down to feel his wet hair, and was able to hold his head as he was born! Unlike with Sophia, his shoulders came out easily, and he started breathing right away. In moments, he was on my chest, crying to be fed. I just clutched him to me and cried.
"He's here," Brian said, as he leaned over to kiss me.
"He came to us," I cried. "Hello. Hello, James," I kept murmuring over and over again.
And, the rest is history. The rest I could not share even if I wanted to, because there are no words for the joy you feel holding your newborn child. I will have to be content to ponder these things in my heart.
A couple of interesting anecdotes before I close: my son shares his birthday with my father-in-law. They were born exactly 60 years apart and share a middle name (it's also my husband's middle name and my grandfather-in-law's first name): Kingsley. And another interesting thing: Even though I'd had a little trouble pushing out my 8 lb, 10.5 oz. baby boy, we discovered that I actually could have birthed a much larger baby. When he was delivered, we found that his fontanelles were completely separated, meaning his head had never been compressed in my pelvis! Still, I think I'll pass on the 10 lb. wonderchild in future!