I bet there aren't many of us who said that during our labours! Leigh's gorgeous story of her home-birth is so inspirational. We love her imagining the contractions as ocean waves sweeping over her, and that her toddler son reminded her to do "horsey lips" to help stay relaxed! Too cute!
Sunday, August 30th was my estimated due date, and so perhaps it is fitting that the story should begin there. I had been experiencing growing fatigue for the last few weeks of my pregnancy, feeling incredibly heavy and tired all the time, so it came as a welcome surprise that on my due date I had a sudden burst of energy. It was totally out of character for me, but I took a long hike in the more rugged paths of the north part of Central Park, and then walked several long blocks to dinner (Mexican -- bring on the spicy food) and back home. I really had spring in my step too! Taro and I were both impressed by my sudden increase in vitality, and at the same time we were a little worried that if I went into labor that night I would be completely spent already. We got to bed a couple of hours later than usual, and I fell asleep soundly.
The next morning I was really hung over. I didn't feel like getting out of bed. I also had quite a profound urge to spend time cuddling J. It was the most wistful, sad, strong feeling of needing to be close to him and hold him and nurse him and have him know how much I love him. I think I subconsciously knew that it would be our last day, just the two of us.
When Taro left for work that morning at 9:30, he said goodbye to me and J in the bed, where we were reading Frog and Toad, and the next thing I knew I was waking up three hours later from the absolute deepest, sleepiest, late-morning/early afternoon nap ever in the history of the world. As I gazed at the still-snoozing J, I got all teary thinking about about how fast he's gotten so big, and how even so, he's still just a baby. I silently wished him a peaceful transition into big-brotherhood.
Later that afternoon, J, his Mamaw (my mom) and I went out to get him a new pair of sneakers. He has spent the summer living in his banged-up little Crocs, and now was asking for proper shoes -- the better to play basketball in! As we walked around the neighborhood on our errand, I noticed a new sensation of cramping in my lower abdomen, which was completely painless and reminded me of the braxton-hicks contractions I'd been having for the last month, except that they were happening in a really specific location very low down in front instead of feeling like a general tightening of my whole belly. I took note, but I really didn't think of labor as having started. I think I was in denial, and feeling so used to being huge that I had convinced myself I would be pregnant FOREVER.
Most of the rest of Monday was uneventful. My mother prepared a delicious dinner of home-style southern veggies and buttermilk cornbread, after which Taro and J commenced to get ready for bed by taking a bubble bath. Around 8:30, as I was preparing to brush my teeth and get myself ready for bed, I went to pee for the umpteenth time that day and discovered, for the first time, a bit of bloody show! That's when it really dawned on me that the end could be near. I told Taro of my discovery, and we agreed that the time had come to call our midwife, Miriam, just in case things were about to get cranking.
Talking to Miriam was exciting, because she was really glad to hear from me, and she was totally enthusiastic about the possible start of labor. She advised me to relax and focus my energy on winding down for bed, stressing the importance of rest in the early part of labor. She told me to take a warm bath and go to sleep, if possible. She would wait to hear from me again in case anything changed.
This is where I have to tell you how tricky it is to wind down for the night when you think you might be about to pop a baby out. There is such a feeling of anticipation and excitement, that it seems antithetical to do such a passive thing as FALL ASLEEP. I hung up the phone from talking to Miriam and immediately went into a frenzy of trying to get relaxed. I ran a bath and got in. J found it irresistible to hang over the edge of the tub and splash me with water and bubbles, which I did not take incredibly well to BECAUSE I WAS TRYING TO RELAX. Thankfully, Taro intervened, calmed me down and took J to bed. I emerged from the bath feeling considerably more chill, and snuggled into bed next to J to nurse him and finish reading his bedtime book.
After J was asleep, Taro and I followed, and there I remained, peacefully and deeply asleep until 2 am, when I awoke with the urgent need to use the bathroom. I returned to bed, and had just drifted off again when, at about 2:20 am I felt my first undeniably real contraction. It's not that it was painful, but it was sudden and kind of intense, and it made my eyes pop open. Also, I had to go to the bathroom again already. When I climbed back into bed at 2:30, I woke Taro and told him that this was it. He asked if we should call Miriam again. He got his answer when my water started to break right then! It didn't burst with a sudden "pop" as it had when J was born, but was instead a strong and steady flow of water that came out over the next few minutes. By this time Miriam was back on the phone again, I was telling her that my water was in the process of breaking, and when she asked me if I wanted her to come on over, I didn't hesitate to tell her to come.
At that point, we both got back in bed. The contractions were not very intense, and they were not occurring with any measurable regularity. I wanted to conserve my energy for really active labor. For the next two hours I dozed off between contractions, which I was now vocalizing through. I was focusing on keeping my mind and body relaxed. I went to a really inward, meditative place. I was conceptualizing the contractions as waves, and whenever one would come over me, I thought about my cervix opening up and I visualized the waves of energy as actual ocean waves sweeping over me. I concentrated on breathing calmly and deeply, and made long, deep moaning sounds on each exhale. I thought about the tone of my sounds, and focused on keeping them sounding like moans of pleasure -- not tightening my throat or face to make tense sounds or words. I kept my mouth and jaw loose, remembering Ina Mae's words of wisdom. J continued to sleep peacefully right beside me while Taro deftly coordinated the logistics of the arrival of our birth team.
When Miriam and our doula, Camille arrived around 3:45 am, Taro got up to let them in. Any worries that I may have summoned them too soon were put to rest when they both greeted me with encouragement and positive affirmations. Miriam immediately whipped out her doppler to check the baby's heart tones, and assured me that the baby was doing great. Without much more fuss, we all agreed that they should leave the bedroom so that we could continue to rest and labor in peace. I sipped on cupfuls of fresh young coconut water, warm miso soup, and "laboraide" (made by Taro, it was delicious -- I'll include the recipe in a later post). Listening to my sounds from the living room, Camille measured my contractions to be at a regular 6-7 minutes apart.
Things continued fairly uneventfully for a while -- although I was beginning to find it more comfortable to labor on the toilet instead of in bed. It was while I was there, moaning through a wave, that I heard J stirring (and asking for Mama) and I heard Taro gently explaining to him that I was in the bathroom, and the baby was coming soon. Right about then I moaned again, and heard Taro explaining that I had to make those funny sounds to help get the baby out. He said that we could all make funny sounds together to help get the baby out, and he demonstrated with an expert moan of his own. I heard J giggle and then he blew air through his lips, making a loud "horsey" sound, which (awesomely!) reminded me that Ina Mae actually recommends making "horsey lips" while in labor to keep things loosened up. I tried it to very helpful effect with the next wave that came over me.
Moments later J popped into the bathroom and although it was still dark outside, greeted me with his usual perky "good morning, mama!" Seeing his face, and knowing that he was already taking this incredible event in such stride filled me with comfort and happiness. I thanked him for reminding me about the horsey lips and he beamed at me. Then he was off, running through the apartment to greet our early morning visitors, who now included our cousin Laurel, who was here solely to tend to J, should need arise. J was thrilled to see three of his favorite ladies, and judging by how he greeted them, he was ready to par-tay.
Of course, partying is hard to do on an empty stomach, so J asked for some mammo (breastmilk) and I happily obliged, knowing that nipple stimulation could help to accelerate labor. We nursed in the bed for a few minutes, and then -- sure enough -- the breastfeeding triggered a whole new level of waves. In fact, the intensity was so much more that I had to jump out of bed and race back to the bathroom as I became overcome with nausea. Feeling certain that I would throw up (I didn't) I worked through the most intense of waves with all of my focus on moaning through it. Once that wave was over, I was certain that I could no longer labor in bed or on the toilet. My body needed to be in water. I needed weightlessness, buoyancy, floatation! I called for Camille to set up the birth pool, and I perched on the edge of the bed while she scurried to inflate the tub and fill it with water via a garden hose hooked up to the bathroom faucet.
The water had barely covered the bottom of the pool when the next wave came. And this was no ordinary wave! I couldn't have moaned through this wave if someone had paid me a billion dollars! I ROARED. And I found myself, rather breathtakingly, to be experiencing the uncontrollable urge to push. Indeed I WAS PUSHING!!! Not two seconds later, Miriam appeared in the room with a huge smile on her face. "I heard my name!" she quipped. I was borderline panicked at this point, the pushing had come so suddenly and strongly after what seemed like such a short time of mild, manageable labor. "Is it OK to push already?!?" I gasped, (not sure how on earth I could NOT push if it wasn't OK). Of course, Miriam responded soothingly that it was absolutely wonderful to push and that I should just go with it. Suddenly, I had to push again. Given the assurance that it was right to do so, I roared even deeper this time. It felt like the baby's head was touching the bed already! Now that I was not afraid, I have to say that this push was one of the most satisfying sensations I have ever felt. I don't remember pain -- I just remember the most incredible feeling of strength and energy surging through me. I know this sounds very "woowoo", but I can think of no better way to describe it than to say it was like being possessed by the essence of the universe. Pure, undiluted life force was radiating out of my body.
After that second push, someone helped me step into the pool, which was now just full enough to give me room to float a little. Miriam was walking around the pool to kneel near to me on the opposite side just as I pushed again, and as she walked she said, "I see the head!" I felt exhilharated after that first watery push, and as I floated there, waiting for the next push, I became aware of all the people surrounding me. Taro and J were right beside me, outside of the pool, taking everything in incredulously, and Laurel, Camille and even Miriam looked on with wide faces of amazement. I remember saying out loud, "well, this is easy!"
Three more pushes and at 6:53 am Miriam was catching the baby. As she lifted him out of the water she instructed me to take him, which I did, bringing him to my chest while I gasped at the surrealness of it all. He was so big (8 pounds 13 ounces!), and purple, and he let out the tiniest little lamb-like sounds. I held him to me and it seemed like there was no one else there but Taro and J and me, and we were all whispering giddily about our baby. After a few moments I looked to see the gender and announced that it was a boy. J, you have a brother! In the joy of the moment, J rushed to have Laurel help him put his bathing suit on so he could join me and his new sibling in the birth pool for a closer look. The baby was already sucking on my breast. It was so beautiful and exciting and I was completely ecstatic in that moment. The world was complete and perfect.
Once the placenta emerged, Taro cut the umbilical cord, and then he took our new son while I was assisted out of the birthing pool and into the shower. Afterwards, I lay in bed with all of my boys and Miriam and Camille brought us a feast of a breakfast in bed: toast and honey and fruit and cheese, and at my request, peanut butter on banana. Then we all sat around with high high spirits, reliving the incredible events of that morning, while the babies nursed together for the first time. My friend Liz arrived around then and began taking photographs. She had hoped to make it to the actual birth but (alas!) was on a bus from Toronto to NYC when W was born. By 9 am we had summoned my mom, who had stayed nearby the previous night, and when the doorbell rang I went to answer it myself! I really felt like a million bucks.
Every day since, I have continued to feel great physically. Absolutely better than I have for the last four months, that's for sure! What little soreness I experienced after the birth was quick to wane, and by September 3, two days after W's birth, I was outside walking in the park again, this time with my newest bambino tucked into a wrap. We all feel so incredibly blessed, and as J has said at least once every day since his new brother came into the world, "I'm SO happy."
From Leigh of Marvelous Kiddo
Top photo by Liz Rubincam . Birth photos by Camille Abbe