Grandma arrived late Thursday night and when I woke up on Friday morning unable to sit down (hemorrhoids and swelling and pain oh my!), I knew something was happening. I called my doula who said it was perfectly normal and probably just a sign that the baby was getting into a nice low position for delivery. So I continued the day like normal, babysitting and spending time with Grandma and perching miserably on my side whenever I needed to sit down.
That night after the biggest dinner I had been able to eat in months (he had moved down!), Bill asked, "So, do you think you're going to have a baby tonight?" I answered just like I had every other night over the past couple of weeks, "I don't know. Maybe?" Then he rubbed my feet as we watched That 70s Show in bed and I fell asleep to one of the birth preparation meditations my doula had lent me.
Around midnight I started having contractions that woke me up. I'd been having them off and on for about a week but these were definitely much stronger. Every so often I would glance at the clock to see if they were getting closer together but since I was half asleep, I could never remember what time it was the last time I'd checked. I figured if it was really getting serious, I would know - with or without the clock.
At about 2 am, I had to get out of bed. I just couldn't lay there pretending nothing was happening anymore; something was definitely happening. As soon as I was up and moving around, the contractions got stronger and more frequent. I was pacing the bathroom like a caged animal, but still waiting for a real sign that I was in labor. I didn't want to depend on the 5-1-1 rule again; I just didn't trust it. I wanted my water to break or my mucus plug to come out or something obvious I could point to like, "See? I am really in labor!" As I was bent over the sink swaying back and forth, breathing through a contraction, I noticed a few drops of blood on the floor. Could it be? The bloody show?! I was ecstatic. I ran a bath and woke up Bill. No doubt about it - we were going to have a baby.
Bill quickly downloaded a contraction timer onto my phone (he's old school) and came into the bathroom to sit with me. "I don't know why people say water makes labor so much easier," I said. "Because this still really sucks." I knew it was early but I was already thinking about how nice an epidural would be. The conversation I had with my sister right after Liam's birth where I mocked myself and my birth plan came rushing back to me and I couldn't help but laugh: Dear doctor, nurses, hospital staff, etc: I would very much like to push a 9 pound baby out my vagina without so much as a Tylenol for pain relief. Yes, I am aware that I might have to tear myself wide open to do this. Without drugs. That is my plan. Thank you. It was hard to remember why I wanted so badly for this birth to be natural. All I could think was that this would most likely be my last time to give birth and if I didn't do it now, I would never know what all the fuss was about.
Bill timed the first contraction at 2:50 am. When it was over, he looked fairly pleased with himself as he read from the phone, "That was a little over a minute long. Now we'll just have to wait for the next one to see how far apart they are."
I was not impressed. "Aren't you supposed to do something while I'm having a contraction?"
"Oh," he looked at the phone like, But I thought I was doing this. "Like what?"
"I don't know. Like rub my hand or massage my back or something. Just try things to see what works." On my next contraction (they were coming pretty fast), he rubbed my hand while I writhed around in the tub. Suddenly I started to moan. It instantly took things to the next level. "Arms!" I yelled, and Bill grabbed my shoulders and started to rub. The pressure on my muscles helped me find my breath and I was able to ride out the rest of the contraction.
We kept this up for the next 30 minutes or so. In between contractions I would remember things we might need in the car or at the hospital (barf bag, cold drinks, hot pad, pillows...) and Bill would run around the house trying to grab as much as he could before I had another contraction. At around 3:20, he asked if he should call someone and I immediately said yes (I had been hesitant before, afraid to call someone in the middle of the night for something that might not be anything for several more hours).
He called our doula first to get her opinion. She answered fairly quickly and he could tell she had not been asleep. As it turns out, she was already at the hospital with another client. We knew she was working with a mother who was due around the same time as me when we hired her but we all knew the odds were super slim that we'd both go into labor on the same day. But there's no way to plan these things and it turned out to be one of those nights (the hospital was FULL of laboring moms). She told Bill to go ahead and call the midwife and keep her posted.
As Bill was talking to the midwife on call (the only one I hadn't met during my prenatal visits), doing his best to answer her questions, I had a contraction. Since Bill wasn't able to help, it really got a hold of me. This was perfect. Since the midwife could hear me in the background, she didn't need to ask any more questions. "It's time," she told Bill. "Go ahead and bring her in."
As soon as I got out of the tub (so hard, by the way), I realized labor was easier in the water. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination, just easier by comparison. Now that I was on land, things were really intense. It felt like every time I moved I had a contraction. Bill was doing his best to get our stuff into the car so we could go but it was really hard for me to get through a contraction without him. He would get half way out the door and I'd yell for him again. I still can't believe I didn't wake up Liam or Grandma.
Finally it was time for the ride to the hospital. I had been dreading it since I was about six months pregnant. I just couldn't imagine being confined to a car seat - sitting up no less! - and was sure I would vomit or my water would break or something messy would happen before we got to the hospital. I staggered out to the car like I was walking the plank and had one last raging contraction on the sidewalk before climbing in to the front seat (Bill was sure someone would call the cops hearing a scream like that at four in the morning).
But once inside the car, all my worries quickly faded away. The night air was cool like I hadn't felt in months and with the windows down and the fresh air whipping around me, I felt surprisingly relaxed. I found a comfortable position and rested with my eyes closed, grabbing for Bill's hand when I felt the next contraction coming on.
By the time we got to the hospital, things had definitely shifted. It felt like I was no longer on the same plane as everyone around me. I was somewhere else; somewhere far, far away. I could still see and hear what was going on around me - my doula waiting for us at the entrance to the ER and rushing out to the car to help me inside; the police car behind us with lights flashing and the police man telling Bill, "I heard the screaming and figured that's what was going on - good luck!"; the guard at the entrance to the ER staring at me as I grabbed onto the metal detector and bent and swayed and moaned with a contraction; the lady at the front desk showing me different forms and asking me to sign things; the nurses looking everywhere for an empty wheelchair and saying they might have to start sending people to another hospital because so many woman had gone into labor - but noting felt like it had any affect on me. I was there, but I was absolutely not there.
As soon as they found a wheelchair and I sat down, I closed my eyes again. Aside from a brief moment in the hall when I met my midwife (we were waiting in the hall for a while - there were literally no clean rooms available when we arrived), I didn't open my eyes again until my son was born. Sounds were growing more distant too, and soon it felt as if I had gone completely inside myself.
When we got into our room, I had to lay in bed with the external fetal monitor around my waist (my 44" waist!) for 20 minutes. While I was laying there, my midwife checked me to see how far dilated I was. I knew this was a make or break moment for me. As far out of my head as I had gotten, I knew something like this could trick me back in. After all, being told I was only 6 cm and things were going to get a lot worse before they got better was my breaking point with my first delivery. Lately I had started to wonder, if I hadn't known that, would I have been so quick to surrender to the epidural? And if I hadn't gotten the epidural, would my labor still have stalled out or would I have kept progressing like I had been before I got it? My body was telling me I was progressing quickly but what if someone told my head something different? Would I be able to push that aside and keep doing what my body needed to do? I really didn't want to find out. But then I heard it: 5-6 cm. And this is where having a great team makes all the difference. Because even though I was just barely aware of what was going on around me, I know that I was not only 5-6 cm. I was 5-6 cm. And doing great. And before my brain could begin doing math or making comparisons, the next contraction came and Bill and my doula helped me breathe through it. When it passed, all knowledge of centimeters and dilation passed with it and I was back to taking things one step at a time.
After 20 minutes they removed the fetal monitor and I was free to move around (I wasn't strapped down with an IV or anything!). My doula raised the bed to a comfortable height for me to lean on and I stood next to it, collapsing over onto pillows in between contractions and doing whatever I needed to do when one would hit. Sometimes I was completely on top of it, doing deep belly breathing, visualizing the contraction bringing my baby down, and making low moaning sounds on the exhale. But other times I would totally lose it and scream, "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, I can't do it!" until someone would help me find my breath and remind me I was doing it. Having two people completely focused on helping me made a world of difference. I recall cool washcloths on my forehead and neck, a portable fan blowing on my face (genius - I highly recommend this to anyone in labor), massage, pressure on my back, someone's hand to squeeze, and lots of encouraging words.
At some point, my doula suggested I try going to the bathroom. Sometimes a full bladder can make it harder for the baby to move down and it had been a while since I peed. This was, without a doubt, the hardest part of my labor. Because my water was still intact, there was a tremendous amount of pressure right above my pelvic bone. This made sitting down next to impossible. Plus, there was so much going on down there, it was really hard to figure out how to pee (weird, I know). I sat on the toilet through two contractions, clinging to my doula's waist for dear life the entire time.
When I was finished, I switched to the other side of the bed but continued to labor as I had been all night. But after a little while, the pressure became so great that bending over no longer felt good. So I stood up straight and did modified squats and rocked back and forth to open my hips. I was getting impatient. I started yelling, "I want him OUT!" My doula redirected me, "Talk to your baby, Maggie." So I started shouting, "FINN GET OUT!!!"
When the next contraction hit, I turned to Bill who was standing next to me, threw my arms around his neck and hung there. I think we were doing what they call "the labor dance" but I'm sure it looked more like "the high school dance with the girl who tried peach schnapps for the first time and really, really liked it". Still, it was pretty romantic. (That could be nostalgia talking - Bill and I totally had that peach schnapps dance in high school.) I remember feeling a contraction coming on and grabbing for my husband. "I need you," I gasped desperately. He held me close and whispered, "Just dance with me."
If I'd start to tense up, he'd remind me to breathe. "Relax your shoulders," he'd say, and I'd feel my entire body go limp. When I bit him during the height of one contraction, he didn't even get mad. He was crying a lot and telling me that this was the most incredible thing he'd ever seen me do. He even threw out one of our favorite lines from Step Brothers, "My god, you're impressive!" but all I could do was nod and moan.
At some point I remember Bill saying, "I think your water is going to break with this next contraction," and sure enough, it did. I was clinging to his neck in sort of a limp squat when all of a sudden I felt a pop and water gushed down my legs. But that wasn't all I felt. As soon as my water broke, the baby crowned. I yelled, "Uh oh!" and then, "My baby's coming out!" I couldn't help but think about I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant (babies drop out onto the floor all the time on that show) and hoped someone was there to catch Finn if he fell.
My eyes were still closed but I could sense a lot of activity around me, like the room was buzzing with people who weren't there until right that second. I was helped onto the bed and positioned sort of half on my back, half on my side. I started yelling, "Why am I on my back? Isn't it harder this way?" Bill piped up, "I think she would prefer to push on her hands and knees or in a squat or something," but whoever he was talking to said, "There's no time - she's having this baby right now!"
I could feel my baby, right there, about to come out. This was something I had never experienced before - the urge to push - and I was amazed at how powerful it was. I didn't care that everyone was saying, "Stop pushing! Slow down! Breathe, breathe!" I was still pushing (and screaming) with all my might. For some reason, I was imagining Finn to be like one of those baby dolls that are all the rage with three year old girls. You know the ones - they look "real" but are super tiny? That was what Finn felt like to me. Like his head was only about the size of my fist so if I just pushed really hard, he would pop right out. So I pushed. Hard. And screamed, "I want him OUT!" until I felt myself tear a little. That was enough to make me stop pushing and listen.
Still, it didn't take long for him to come out (six minutes to be exact). As soon as his head broke free I sighed, "That feels SO MUCH BETTER!" His hand was up by his face and the cord was wrapped once around his neck - someone said he looked like he was born ready to party. On the next push, he was here and I was instantly transported back into my body. Euphoria washed over me as I opened my eyes for the first time in an hour and a half and saw my big, healthy, BEAUTIFUL boy laying on top of me.
I always thought having the baby put on my chest right away was a nice idea but would probably be kind of gross in reality but I couldn't have been more wrong. His body was so soft and warm - like nothing I had ever felt before - and it was absolutely amazing to feel him outside of me.
I cannot describe how incredible I felt immediately following his birth. It really was like the highest high I have ever experienced in my life. I was beaming from ear to ear and talking up a storm. "You must be the midwife! Awesome! Thanks for being here!" When she told me she almost missed my baby's birth and had to deliver him without gloves because he came out so fast I was like, "You totally could have lied to me - I would have had NO IDEA if you were here or not!" I couldn't have counted the number of times I blurted out, "I did it! It's over! I can't believe it. I DID IT!!!"
Amidst all this post birth euphoria was my sweet baby boy. Finn! I couldn't believe he was finally here. After all these months of waiting and wondering he was just here, on my chest, looking up at me with his curious little eyes and taking it all in for the very first time. He was absolutely perfect. (Which is amazing no matter how often it happens.) He reminded me so much of Liam as a newborn which was very sweet (So this is what our babies look like!) and made me feel completely relaxed and confident (I've been down this road before...I LOVE this road!).
What an experience. Yes, it was hard and painful and at times felt impossible but I did it. I DID IT! And that's kind of awesome. Not to mention, I'm pretty sure it's hard no matter how you do it (it certainly was for me). But the craziest thing is not how I felt during the birth but how I felt afterward. And I'm not just talking about being high as a kite on oxytocin and being able to get up and walk to the bathroom ALL BY MYSELF less than an hour after delivery. I'm talking about now. It's been three weeks since Finn was born and I feel more healed now than I did three years after my first delivery. It wasn't something that happened to me, it was something that I did. And that is a powerful distinction. My memories are all warm and fuzzy (probably because I was in my happy place most of the time) and I can hardly remember feeling any pain at all (even though I know I did). It's bizarre and amazing and absolutely one of the most powerful things I have ever done in my life.
Of course, right? I mean, it's kind of like having a really great hair day after you book an appointment with your stylist. If I had had a perfect pregnancy and awesome birth the first time around that would have made having the second baby we knew we wanted way too easy. Now that we're 99% sure our family is complete is a much more interesting time for me to realize how much I love being pregnant and birthing babies.
Not that I'm lining up to give birth again. I mean, it's really hard. But with preparation and support and the right team on your side, it's a pretty magical experience. And absolutely worth it.
(Although, at the end of the day, welcoming a new baby into your life is amazing no matter how you slice it. I mean, come on! That is just a swaddled miracle in a tiny knit cap!)
Big thanks to my husband, our amazing doula Beulah Kyle (and her other client who needed some rest and let us steal her for an hour and a half!), the Vanderbilt Midwives and all my awesome nurses, Grandma for being here and having perfect timing, and Liam for transitioning so gracefully into his new role as big brother. (Can you tell I'm still a little high on birth? Whee!!)