Joan & Christian
First, a little backstory:
A few weeks before my due date, I read that the March of Dimes promotes waiting until at least 39 weeks gestation before an elective induction or c-section, since the suck/swallow reflex typically does not fully develop until that time. I also learned around the same time that neonatal doctors consider 39 weeks “full term” for the same reason, while most OBs consider 37 weeks “full term” since the lungs are typically developed by then. After being induced at 38 weeks with Leah and experiencing so much frustration and disappointment at our failure to have a breastfeeding relationship, I *really* wanted to make it to at least 39 weeks for this pregnancy. Even before learning about the research surrounding the 39-week mark, I had been convinced that the circumstances of Leah’s birth had at least played a part in our troubles, even though there were other factors involved, as well. Also because of my previous induction, and the extreme intensity of those contractions from start to finish, I had expressed concerns that I would not be able to recognize natural labor when it started.
We were planning a home birth with a midwife, and in advance asked Christian’s mom to pick up Leah and our dog, Oliver, whenever we felt it was time. Leah would stay at his mom’s house for just a couple days during the initial recovery and adjustment period, but would come visit us with Christian’s mom. Oliver would stay at her house for at least a couple weeks.
Since Leah’s 2nd birthday fell exactly one week before the due date, we had decided to have her party a week early. My dad flew into town to celebrate with us that weekend, and was scheduled to leave the morning of Tuesday the 26th.
On Monday the 25th, he came over to our house about 9 a.m. to go with Christian and Leah to the Science Center. Before they left, I told them I was experiencing “an interesting sensation” which I thought might be mild contractions. At almost 2 weeks before our due date, I also said I was pretty sure they must be Braxton-Hicks (aka “false labor”) contractions. After they left, I went back to work in my home office and tracked the contractions for a while. They were mild, irregular in both length and spacing, and stopped completely before noon, so I texted Christian that they were nothing to worry about.
We had scheduled the regular 38-week visit with our midwife, Jessica, for 4:30 that afternoon. Her assistant, Natalie, came with her so we could meet and become at least a little familiar with each other before the birth. At the previous week’s visit, my blood pressure had been high. On Monday, it was about the same as it had been the week before, but I had none of the other warning signs of pre-eclampsia. While pre-eclampsia would definitely require a doctor’s care, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure by itself would just need close monitoring, and Jessica was comfortable going forward with our planned home birth. She and Natalie left around 6 p.m., and we called my dad to coordinate going out to dinner one more time before he flew back home.
We left our house for my dad’s hotel about 6:30 p.m., and I began experiencing mild contractions again. Typically in the car, one of us rides in the back seat to keep Leah company, but since her car seat is rather large, I couldn’t fit back there as the pregnancy progressed. So, I drove while Christian sat with her. Since the contractions were still so mild, I told him they were nothing to worry about and I was fine to drive.
We picked up my dad and headed to the restaurant. All throughout dinner, I continued having contractions with increasing intensity. Christian noticed I was using a coping mechanism we learned in our Naturally Prepared class—”non-focused awareness”—which involved closing my eyes and paying attention to everything I could hear or feel without making any judgments about it (e.g., “I hear a door opening, I feel a breeze, warm hands, smell mint,” etc.). At one point he asked if I could be experiencing early labor, and I waved him off, again insisting that they were just Braxton-Hicks contractions.
But to placate my husband, I pulled out my iPod to track the contractions for a while. It was difficult to be completely accurate because the iPod would go to sleep and I’d have to “wake” it up again before tracking the start or stop time. And of course, I was still eating my dinner (ribs—with my fingers) and carrying on conversations. So when I looked at the history, the contractions still seemed irregular to me. I showed Christian, who observed that several of them seemed to be about the same length and approximately 8 minutes apart. I remained adamant that the contractions were irregular and therefore only Braxton-Hicks. He chose not to argue the point.
After dinner, we decided to make a quick run to the Babies-“R”-Us, since it was so close to the restaurant and we just needed one item. I knew exactly where the item was, while Christian would’ve had to search for it, so I volunteered to run into the store. Although the contractions were continuing, I was still driving, too.
On the way back to my dad’s hotel, the rabbi/mohel I’d been trying to reach called my cell phone. We wanted him to do the circumcision if we had a boy, and since we’d been playing phone tag for several days, I felt it was important I take the call. So now I was having contractions while driving and talking on my cell phone.
I wrapped up the call just as we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel. As we said goodnight to my dad, we made plans for him to return to our house at 7 the next morning, and Christian would then drive him to the airport.
We got back to our house around 9:30 p.m. and got Leah ready for bed by 10. Although it was my turn to put her to bed, I asked Christian to do it since my contractions were becoming quite a bit stronger, and I didn’t know how relaxed I’d be. I went down to my home office, sat on the birth/exercise ball, and tried to get the contractions to go away. While down there, I decided to work on adding songs to my “labor playlist,” so it would be ready whenever I eventually went into labor.
At 10:45, it occurred to me that perhaps I should call Jessica and let her know that I’d been having contractions, just in case they were real. I opened the conversation with, “I’m sorry to be calling so late, but I wanted to give you a heads up. I didn’t want to call you at 2 or 3 in the morning and be like ‘get over here now’ without giving you a warning first.”
I explained that I hadn’t really been able to track the contractions, but I thought they were just Braxton-Hicks. We talked for a few minutes and she suggested that I try lying down and maybe even see if I could go to sleep. If they went away, or if I could go to sleep, it was probably nothing to worry about. She added, though, that I should call her again if the contractions got to be a minute long or 5 minutes apart.
Since she had given me those specifics, I decided to go ahead and track them for a while. I tracked until I got to a stopping point with my labor playlist, then brought the computer up to the bedroom with me to see if lying down would make a difference, or maybe if I could even get some sleep.
It was then that I realized that—amazingly—the contractions were regularly lasting about a minute long and were approximately 7 minutes apart. But before calling Jessica again, I needed to use the bathroom. When I did, I lost the mucus plug. A little shocked, I called Jessica and filled her in. I asked if she thought there was any possibility these were still Braxton-Hicks. She asked some questions and said that since she lives an hour away, she would feel more comfortable heading in our direction and maybe napping on our couch for a couple hours, rather than possibly not being able to make it over in time if we really needed her.
She then asked, “What do YOU think is going on?”
“In my head,” I replied, “I want to say that it’s just Braxton-Hicks because I really don’t want to have this baby now. I really, really want to make it to 39 weeks.
“But in my gut?
“I think I’m in labor.”
Jessica said she would go ahead and get on the road, but to call her if everything stopped at some point. We hung up around 11:45 p.m.
Christian still hadn’t come out of Leah’s room, and he often falls asleep himself while putting her to bed. Although an interruption if Leah’s not fully asleep can be disastrous, I felt it was important enough to risk it. Leah was asleep and so was Christian. I was annoyed since he’d known I was having contractions and evidently hadn’t made a point of ensuring he could check in with me as soon as Leah was asleep. (The contractions ramping up likely had an effect on my mood, as well.) So I smacked his leg to wake him up.
“Jessica’s on her way,” I hissed.
“Really?” he groggily replied.
We stepped out of Leah’s room. As he closed the door, Christian, still not quite awake, asked, “So Leah will go to my mom’s house in the morning?”
“Probably sooner than that!” I snapped.
Christian started working right away on getting Leah’s and Oliver’s things together to send to his mom’s house. He also called and asked her to pick up Oliver first, then come back for Leah to minimize the disruption to her sleep.
In the meantime, I still needed to prepare the last of the supplies Jessica asked us to have readily available in a central location. Since there had been a question about whether I’d even still be able to do a home birth, I hadn’t finished that yet. By this time, the contractions were getting much stronger, so I’d have to stop and focus to ride it out before resuming my work. I started using another idea from our Naturally Prepared class to help myself get through them: singing—lullabies and other simple songs I’ve sung to Leah so many times that I know them by heart. Still, it was sometimes difficult to think of one just as a contraction hit, so I started planning what song I would sing with the next contraction as soon as the current one dissipated.
I finished getting all the supplies together at about half past midnight. I went up to our bedroom to rock on my hands and knees on our bed as a pain coping technique, and continued singing to myself. Mixed in with the songs, I also started praying The Lord’s Prayer and spontaneous “Jesus, help me get through this”-type prayers. According to Christian, his mom arrived to pick up Oliver around that time, but I never saw her. Christian helped load all the gear into her car, and she was off.
Jessica arrived at exactly 1 a.m. and checked my blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate right where I was on the bed. I have no idea when Natalie arrived, although Jessica said it wasn’t too long after she did. The contractions were coming on very strong and very close together, though I hadn’t tracked anything since before the last time I called her. Minutes after her arrival, I entered the transition phase—the last and most intense stage of labor, right before pushing.
Jessica and Christian were working on setting things up, especially the birth pool. My water broke at 1:20. I had just climbed down from the bed in an attempt to go to the bathroom, but found I couldn’t do so under my own power. I sank to my knees on the floor between the bed and the wall, which was unfortunately the most awkward place for me to be. I was directly in Christian’s path as he tried to run a hose from the shower to the pool, and positioned in a way that Jessica would be completely unable to work with me. One of my legs was also jammed under the bed and getting scratched up as I rocked back and forth through the contractions. I started chanting a spontaneous mantra: “The baby knows what he’s doing. The body knows what it’s doing. Just relax. Just relax.”
Because we inflated the pool so late during labor, there was only a tiny amount of water in it. Although I demanded to have it filled because I wanted to be in the water, Jessica quietly motioned to Christian that there wasn’t time. He allowed it to fill an inch or two to humor me, then turned the water off.
Christian’s mom came back for Leah at about 1:30. He was loading her into the car when Natalie yelled out the house door, “Christian, we need you NOW.” Just moments before, I had pushed for the first time.
After a couple more contractions, and with my permission, Christian and Natalie half-helped, half-dragged me over to the birth pool. I kneeled in front of it with my arms draped over the side, allowing it to hold my weight. Jessica checked to make sure it was safe to push once I was in place. I had asked her to do this because with Leah, I had started pushing when I was only 8 cm dilated, and the nurse had to tell me to stop before I did damage. This time, I was already complete and the baby’s head was at +2.
After the next push, I could feel the “ring of fire.” I reached down to feel the baby’s head, and Jessica encouraged me by quietly asking if I could feel all the hair (though of course she didn’t expect an answer). Two more pushes and I recognized a change. I asked if the baby’s head was out. Jessica confirmed it was, then almost immediately passed the baby to me.
“It’s a boy!” I exclaimed. “Hello, Jonathan. I knew you were a boy.”
They helped me turn and lean back against the pool, and Christian sat next to me as we drank our son in. Natalie recorded the birth time as 1:44 a.m. Jessica and Natalie unobtrusively conducted Jonathan’s newborn assessments as I held him. He barely cried; we had to agitate him a little to get him to clear his lungs. After I delivered the placenta and the umbilical cord had completely drained, Christian cut it. We took a few more minutes to just relax and bask in the glow, then they helped me to the bed to rest and started cleaning up.
Jonathan and I had plenty of time to get acquainted, including a first chance at nursing. Quite a while later, they helped me to the bathroom; meanwhile, Jessica did all of Jonathan’s measurements, diapered and dressed him, and handed him back to me when I came back to the bed. He was 6 lbs, 12 oz., 18.5″ long, and had a 13.25″ head circumference, and he didn’t cry at all while Jessica worked with him.
Around 3 a.m., Christian and I each called our parents to deliver the news. After the pleasant surprise, my dad offered to postpone his flight.
I felt very calm and relaxed, and very, very happy with how Jessica and Natalie handled everything. I was able to do whatever felt right to me at the time, and felt supported and safe without also having to follow someone else’s rules or deal with a constant parade of strangers. The immediate post-partum period was also exactly what I’d hoped it would be, and once they left around 5 a.m., Christian and I quietly settled down in bed with our little boy. We both felt it had been a great experience.
Before they left, Christian pulled Jessica aside at one point and asked, “Is it just me, or was that really fast?” She replied, “That was BLAZING fast!” And it seemed so to me, too—denial and distraction are apparently powerful tools for me. 🙂