Having already given birth before, I rather expected my second birth experience to be similar to my first. It wasn’t. At all; well, it was natural as well but very different! Here’s the story, most of it written a few days after Zoë’s birth and finished today, a week after she was born. Please feel free to read in entirety or skip to whatever part/parts interest you most 🙂 I want to remember it in detail so I wrote it more for myself and for Zoë more than any other reason.
We were making our trek south from Connecticut and moving to South Carolina with a stop along the way in DC for Matt’s ordination. Our good friend Sarah Condon joined us, leaving behind her husband and toddler, to help us in our travels and accompany Eden and myself in the car while Matt drove the truck should I go into labor (I was 36 & 37 weeks pregnant when we were traveling, after all)!
I lost my mucous plug on June 1st after we arrived at my parents’ house in Maryland. This can be a sign of labor, but in my case, it wasn’t. Still, we had about an hour or two there where we really thought Matt’s ordination might have to be delayed due to a birth! Fortunately, it wasn’t and it was an extraordinarily beautiful and moving ordination.
We continued traveling South and were extremely warmly welcomed to our new community and home. I really thought – and hoped! – that our baby might arrive any day. I also thought we were having a boy, and would tell people that if it were a girl, I’d be shocked. Well, I was also shocked that I made it all the way to 40 weeks without having gone into labor…
Before I got to 40 weeks, Mollie came to visit us and to be “at the ready” to take care of Eden once I did go into labor. When she arrived on Monday, June 18th, I nervously unloaded on her all kinds of information about Eden: her schedule, what she eats, elements of her routine, etc. And anything I felt would be helpful should I go into labor that night. I didn’t.
A week came and went, and I began to realize that I needed to appreciate this special time of only having one child and one of my best friends visiting rather than just waiting for something that wasn’t happening. It became fun to wait, somewhat – I was still eager to give birth and lose my massive belly… (as you can see in earlier posts!) but Mollie and I went and got our nails done, explored Pawley’s Island a bit, went on long walks, and took Eden to the pool. It was wonderful to have so much time with Mollie but I also knew that she was far away from her husband, dog and home – and that’s not easy! Time was ticking and I grew ever more uncomfortable in my massive body.
So the day after the baby’s due date, when my midwife brought up the idea of stripping my membranes (separating them from the wall of the cervix which often encourages labor but doesn’t ensure it) I called Matt to see what he thought. I didn’t want to get to a point where they mandated special tests and would be causing us to be fearful; I preferred the idea of extremely minimal action that is about as powerful in inducing labor as going on long walks or having sex. Matt agreed. Our midwife, Anne, did so and told me that my membranes were already partially stripped on their own, and that I was ” very favorable”, extremely soft, and about 3 cm dilated already. In other words, her guess was that I’d go into labor in the next day or two. She was right!
Only about half an hour afterwards, I noticed I had back pain. It was pretty deep and bothersome, so i tried to take it easy. Matt mostly took care of Eden and Mollie cleaned and cooked for us. I felt silly sitting on the couch as they were being productive and active, but I couldn’t really handle much else. By bedtime, my back was aching so badly that I asked Matt to massage it for me before we fell asleep around 10:30 pm.
I woke up at about 12:30 or 12:45 because my back pain had grown so intense and I needed to use the bathroom. On the toilet, I (ahem) had some results and just felt sort of nauseous. I always feel safe in the bathroom when I’m not feeling well, so I just stayed there for a while kind of rocking because it felt better that way.
I returned to bed and got on all fours to do pelvic rocks as Matt was waking up from my activity and probably sensing my nervousness. As I was doing pelvic rocking, I had two contractions. It felt surreal and I didn’t want to be wrong yet again, instinctually, about this birth… But I told Matt “you’d better pack your bags. I’m pretty sure I’m in labor and we’d better get to the hospital sooner rather than later.” We had already discussed heading to the hospital quickly and just walking around the building if need be, until the labor would be far along enough to warrant being cared for by professionals. Since the hospital where we were to deliver the baby, Waccamaw Community Hospital, was about 30 minutes away and we couldn’t be sure how long or short my labor might be, we wanted to have time.
I texted Mollie to give her a heads up ( since our guest room is on the first floor) as Matt dashed around our room grabbing a few things and tossing them into our hospital bag… And also timing my contractions thanks to his handy iPhone’s lap feature. We came downstairs, and I gave Mollie a hug before getting into the car as Matt quickly removed Eden’s carseat and left it for Mollie to use in her car later.
We drove up highway 17 almost entirely alone in the dark. The weird thing I remember was seeing a sunburned man sitting by the edge of the road, eerily just staring out into the distance. I felt well enough between contractions to talk with Matt, so I mentioned that odd guy… And we chatted about other things, including the fact that this was sort of how I had imagined things happening or hoped they would transpire; waking up in the middle of the night in labor and driving to the hospital with no traffic…
AT THE HOSPITAL:
We arrived at the hospital and I wondered if we’d left too early since I still felt quite good between contractions – but as we walked the short distance from the near empty parking lot to the emergency entrance, I had four contractions. And they were intense! I realized that sitting down had slowed things for me and that we ought to get inside immediately.
The registration area was empty so Matt waited for someone to come and send us up to the labor and delivery area while I walked little laps in the waiting area and occasionally grabbed hold of chairs while having a contraction. I’m sure it was probably only five minutes or less, but I was NOT pleased about having to wait!
We walked to the elevators and I had some contractions that were so intense that I had tears in my eyes. Matt graciously supported me physically as I had more contractions, despite also carrying all of our bags and we went to the maternity ward.
The nurses smiled at us and I said nervously “Have you called our midwife? I think she should get here quickly!” I was afraid she might miss it. They called but had no answer. I got undressed and recalled my lack of memory of changing into the hospital gown with Eden – so I made note to myself this time that I was in fact aware this time around. 😉
They had me get strapped up for fetal monitoring and checked the heart beat. I think they also checked to see how dilated I was… I was 5 cm dilated (the same amount as I was when I got to the hospital for Eden’s birth!) and 80% effaced.
Matt spoke up to our nurse (whose name I won’t mention out of respect for her) – who seemed a bit anxious about it being a natural birth – saying that unless it was necessary, he wanted me to be able to walk around without all the cords and straps for fetal monitoring. She said they preferred to leave it on but that it only takes about a minute to put on again. Matt confidently said that he was more concerned about his wife’s convenience in laboring than in hers. I love when he gets protective of me. 😉 She seemed a little offended but obliged and I found myself grateful indeed to be free to move around without constraint or cumbersome equipment trailing around me.
They wanted me to have an IV access – a procedure I find annoying and unnecessary but not worth fighting, despite my dislike of needles. Our nurse, Ellen, began to stick me for it and it felt like forever because she stuck me numerous times and couldn’t get it right. I think my dislike of needles made her more nervous. She called another nurse, Cassandra, to do it instead. I think this was heavenly intervention because Cassandra got excited upon learning that we intended a natural birth and shared that she had just been talking with her colleagues about her own natural birth a few years ago. She had labored there and they were teasing her about all of the noises she made while in labor… Most deliveries there aren’t drug and intervention free (which is the case at most hospitals, for that matter!) and so she and I felt like kindred spirits. I asked if she could be our nurse. She basically said she couldn’t officially but that she’d try to stay in our room to assist Ellen as much as possible. Yet somehow, we didn’t really see Ellen after that.
We were allowed to walk around for about an hour and went to an empty little sitting area (most of the hospital seemed empty and quiet by that time – about 3:30 am) and sat down in rocking chairs. It felt wonderful to rock in, knowing that midwife suggested rocking as a great relaxing way to encourage the baby’s head to continually lower. I felt like I could really relax my muscles while still being in motion – and easily pausing during contractions.
Cassandra came to get us and asked if I was enjoying rocking in the rocking chair as I labored. Since I was, she dragged a chair back to our delivery room for me! In the room, they checked me again and Cassandra tried our midwife again. She managed to get her this time! It turns out (as we learned later) that our midwife had been watching her grandchild and stayed up until about 1:30 am… Falling asleep with her phone on vibrate next to her on her bed. Anne later said that she thinks it was a little miracle that she somehow woke up for the second call. I was so relieved once she arrived and so grateful that Cassandra was there.
For a while, they left Matt and me to labor alone. During that time, I remember feeling surprisingly calm and at ease. My husband was with me and knew how to help, my Christian midwife was present and Cassandra was a nurse who appreciated and had experienced natural birth herself. I knew I was in good hands… And found myself singing the song “By Thy Mercy” as performed by High Street Hymns. All I knew by heart was the brief chorus (“by thy mercy, Lord deliver us… Good lord, Good lord.”) so I sang it over and over again. Matt was able to access some hymns by High Street Hymns on his phone, so he began playing them for us. I felt like I was worshiping God while experiencing my body at work to bring a new life into the world. It was really wonderful and the lyrics to “By Thy Mercy” seemed so well-suited to it all.
Matt, Anne and Cassandra all worked wonderfully together to keep me relaxed and shifting positions every thirty to forty minutes to keep the momentum going. I rocked in the rocking chair, gently bounced and moved around on a birthing ball, walked a little bit, and went to the bathroom twice to pee. As things progressed, I moved to the bed.
I began to get cold – a sign of transition – and Matt put socks on me. My memories aren’t as vivid and detailed from then on but I do remember wanting to be more aware of my surroundings and what was happening beyond my body than I had been during my first birth experience… So, from time to time, I’d open my eyes and peek around quickly and then get back to focusing on my contractions and resting between them. Matt would give me ice cubes and I was so grateful for each one. Cassandra often reminded me to relax throughout my labor, which really helped me to do so. I was hyper aware of the experience, recalling that after giving birth to Eden, I wanted to do it again. I felt grateful for each person assisting me, and confident in my ability to bring this baby out.
Knowing full well that shifts change around 7 am for nurses, and that my midwife would probably need to be in the office once regular hours began, I was relieved that I felt like I was progressing well. I recall around 5 am feeling like I was no longer in the earlier stages of labor. By about 6 am or so, I told Matt that I bet we’d have a baby by 6:30. My water STILL hadn’t broken but I kept feeling the baby get lower and lower. I asked the nurse if it was possible to give birth without having your water break. She said it was, but it’s very rare.
Not long after I asked her that, I had been helped and turned onto my side, lying at an angle on the bed and having intense contractions. I was shivering. I don’t mean a slight chill kind of shivering. Shivering as in my leg was shaking, my teeth were chattering. I almost wondered if this was like having a seizure: I was shaking all over, uncontrollably. I was in awe of how different this felt from Eden’s birth and yet how both times I felt like I was surrendering myself to what my body needed to do. I don’t remember now, but then I was back on my back, and after a big contraction I felt my water break like a giant water balloon. I felt such a relief when that happened, and knew that I had to be really close to meeting our child. I pictured a big gush of water, like a big wave crashing over a sand barrier and breaking free. Everyone else seemed really thrilled. My midwife, Anne, told me to scoot up to the edge. Matt wanted me to lift my legs as I began pushing, but Anne said that it looked like I was doing quite well with my legs down and that some women just do better in that position in that stage of labor. Apparently, I’m one of them!
I pushed, and I felt so much pressure and could hardly stand it. I tried to keep thinking about easing my baby out, not pushing… So although I wanted the baby to be born, I was almost reluctant to push this time. Then I felt the head come through, and pushed again. It was easier than the first time. I pushed again, and felt my baby’s body slide out completely.
It was a girl! I was so shocked, as I’d been mentally coaching this baby out and thinking of it in terms of the boy’s name we had picked out. Even as I type it now, I’m tearing up, because I was – and am – so thrilled to have another girl. I would love a boy someday, but I did really want a girl this time and felt most sure about Zoë’s name. Matt and I were so excited. I got to hold Zoë right away, and nurse her almost instantly. Matt recorded around that time and I sound absolutely ridiculous in my elation and awe. 😉 I was able to look down and see the beautiful, amazing umbilical cord as it was clamped and Matt cut it. Anne told us that Zoë had had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice!
Quickly after that, I passed the placenta and Anne held it up for us and showed it to us. It was incredible to see where my water had burst (a few inches wide hole), and how thick the outer layers were. Inside, the placenta was such a thick, deep purpley red. I was amazed, and so grateful to be able to take it all in and have an even better appreciation for this miracle of birth. Anne and Cassandra both rejoiced Matt and me, and were thrilled to have been able to be there when Zoë made her debut. It was really lovely to feel like we had all worked together and I had given birth with a sense of community and support.
Zoë stayed with us for hours with only brief in-room interruptions so that she could be rubbed down, foot-printed and then to get a diaper put on (after she had a meconium explosion on the blanket around my waist while I was holding/nursing her!). I was able to stand up and walk around immediately and felt fantastic. The birth had been remarkable and I felt better than I had in months, and now we had a baby! And a baby GIRL at that!
AFTER THE LABOR (or “Postpartum”):
I continued to be amazed at how wonderful I felt, considering the circumstances. I still needed to rest a lot, but I was on cloud nine with our little girl and my husband, and delighted at how peaceful and powerful the whole experience had been. I think I was still energized by adrenaline, because despite having only slept about 2 hours on Monday night, I couldn’t really nap and didn’t sleep well or much at all on Tuesday night, either. In total, I probably slept about 5 hours between Monday and Wednesday. Even less time than I had spent in labor! (just under 6 hours total) I had a headache but that was really the only pain I felt.
Mollie came that morning with Eden to visit and meet her baby sister, around 10:30 am I believe. So she met her sister when she was only 4 hours old. Eden was SO excited, giggling and using both hands to cover her mouth. She was squealing and clearly elated. She kept wanting to hold her and grab her, kiss her, and talk about her. It was so sweet! Mollie got to hold Zoë as well, and the whole time, Zoë was a calm as could be, completely asleep.
I eschewed some of the things that I had so desperately needed to do in terms of recovery for my first birth experience. I never ended up taking a sitz bath or using epsom salts. I did use the spritzer they recommend for after you use the loo until we left the hospital, but I mostly stopped once we got home and just went back to wiping. Pardon my frankness, but I also had no… (ahem) problems with my plumbing. I didn’t take any stool softener but for the one they had me take in the hospital when I also took an iron pill. In sum, I felt – and feel – outstanding, considering what my body just accomplished and how painful and long my recovery was with Eden due to vaginal tearing.
We had Zoë rooming in with us, meaning that she didn’t leave our room but maybe twice – for some shots/measurements and a bath. I was afraid we wouldn’t get any sleep, being worried about the noises Zoë made or something – but Matt and Zoë slept easily as I lay there with her, enamored, elated, and amazed. I couldn’t sleep – but it wasn’t her fault! 🙂
We wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible, so we were able to leave less than 36 hours after we’d left our house!
Before we did, the head of the hospital ward came by to see us to hear about the birth from me personally. She said she’d been hearing so many “compliments” about my birth that she had to come meet me before we left. I asked her what that meant, to be complimented about our daughter’s birth… She explained that the staff was just raving about it and how beautifully it went. In short, she’s asked me to be an advisor in their efforts to have a “baby friendly” certified hospital. I’m delighted to be a part of encouraging more women to experience an amazing natural birth when possible, and to support the hospital in making that more likely and available.
Now, it’s a week later and I continue to fall more in love with Zoë as time goes on. I’m amazed at her pale skin (when I commented about that right after she was born, Matt said “well, she has NEVER seen the sun before, so yeah, of course she’s pale!”) – which is just so different in tone than my own. I’m amazed at her light hair – her white eyebrows, mixed colors of her hair (blonde, reddish, light brown?). I love her soft skin and easy demeanor. She literally sleeps all day AND night, waking to nurse or because she has to poo. She seems to spend less than 30 minutes awake each day and I can completely understand now, why she came late – beyond just asserting herself as a unique individual and not just an Eden clone. She seems to have loved the womb, and it is the “fourth trimester” after all. Already, she’s had to endure more than Eden did in that Eden is obsessed with her sister and absolutely adores her. Eden constantly wants to hold her, sit with her, put in things, push her in the swing, help me burp her, hug her, kiss her, point out her features (“little chin!” is a common favorite of Eden’s), giggle over her, etc. When she can’t do these things, we often have a little tantrum but I’m still glad to see the girls like each other. Well, okay, Zoë could care less. But someday she’ll be glad 😉