It was Easter weekend, 1998, and I was a week past my estimated due date. I had already talked with my doctor, and let him know that I was comfortable with waiting a while longer, as long as my baby was ok and my body remained healthy. I started having erratic contractions on Friday evening. Taking my doula Kathy’s advice to “just do life until labor gets too strong for that”, I played with 21-month-old Zack, and spent the evening at the park with take-out food for our dinner. We brought stale bread for feeding the ducks. The spring in Texas hadn’t gotten hot yet, and the bluebonnets were out in gorgeous full bloom. I pushed Zack in the stroller down the bike path by the lake, went home for a bath, and went to bed.
On Saturday afternoon, my then-husband (who denied being in his mid-thirties by playing basketball with college students) had yet again managed to injure himself enough to require medical attention. By this point, my contractions were a steady ten minutes apart, and still light enough that I could “do life” in between. So, I drove us all to the emergency room. When we walked through the doors, the person attending the desk was surprised to hear that we were there for him, not me. For the next four hours, I walked the hospital hallways with Zack in the stroller, chatting and singing to keep my bored and highly active toddler entertained, and pausing to breathe through contractions which were getting stronger.
It was a holiday weekend, which meant that the ER was incredibly busy. By the time the sprained (again) knee had been tended, it was after midnight. My contractions were a good 6-7 minutes apart, but still bearable. So, what did we do? Go to the hospital across the city where I would have a baby? No, we went home so I could dye Easter Eggs. The following morning was Easter, and by golly, my little guy was going to hunt Easter eggs if I had anything to do with it. Spending the afternoon in the ER was not going to stop me. So, I put both of them to bed, and got busy with the egg dye before turning in sometime in the wee hours.
Contractions, steady but still manageable, woke me up in the morning. I called Kathy to check-in, and reached out to my friend Julie to ask if she would be willing to take Zack to church with her before taking him to her house during my birth. I wasn’t in labor enough to head out the door yet, but I was past the point of sitting quietly in church. I continued to feel calm and unhurried, just “doing life”. We had Zack’s Easter Egg hunt, took pictures, got him out the door, and pseudo-napped (as close to napping as one can get between contractions). We walked around the park. I got a shower, baked banana bread, and and watched a movie while I rocked on the birth ball. Closer to evening, I was pretty tired and my body knew it. My surges had fizzled and spaced much farther apart. I called Kathy to check in – I was having a moment of fear, worrying a little that this was like the time before, when things had stopped and needed help getting going again.
Bless my doula, who talked me down from the ledge. She reminded me that my body was wise, had been doing a lot of work for two days now, and knew that I needed rest. Things were likely slowing down so I could catch a break before the next leg of the journey. So, I decided to go out to dinner, figuring that spicy cajun food couldn’t hurt. The waiter’s eyes grew as big as saucers when I told him I was in labor – our order sure was handled quickly. After dinner, I called Kathy again from home, told her I was having a glass of wine and going to sleep, which I did.
The following morning, steady five-minute-apart waves woke me again. This time, there was blood (just a little) and I could tell that the baby had changed positions. “Ok, here we go”, I thought. I called Kathy, who stayed on the phone with me long enough to have our conversation interrupted by my moaning. She decided then to head right over. In the next few hours, I got in and out of the shower, and paced around the living room. Kathy took beautiful pictures, reminded me to eat and drink, offered me encouraging words, helped me keep my hands relaxed and breathed deeply with me. Sooner than I had expected, she told me that my last several contractions had been only three minutes apart, and that we should leave for the hospital. I could hardly believe it – this was already farther along than I’d gotten without an epidural for Zack’s birth, and I was still feeling pretty good.
We drove the half-hour to the hospital uneventfully, with Kathy following behind. Walking into the hospital at 3pm, I was offered a wheelchair, and respectfully declined, though they reminded me that the birth suites were on the third floor, and a long walk. Up in the elevator we went, and down the long and winding hallway to the adjacent building, pausing and grabbing the handrail every few minutes to stop, sway, and breathe. When I finally arrived at the desk and smiled and told the nurse that I was in labor, she asked if I was sure, and commented that I looked “too happy”. I just laughed. I was happy! Kathy commented that laughter is good for labor, and that I could just laugh the baby right out.
Kathy dropped off banana bread for the nurses, and I was soon settled in. My favorite music was playing, I had the birth ball set up to sit on while being monitored, and my aromatherapy oils were sprayed around. I stayed in the clothes I had chosen to wear – my favorite comfy long t-shirt. A heparin lock, not an IV, was put in place so that I could continue to move freely. My doc came in for a quick exam, and found that I was dilated to 6cm. He mentioned that my membranes were still intact, and offered to break them for me. I made quick eye contact with Kathy, and asked him if he had to. “No”, he said, “It can just help things move along, but I don’t have to. We can talk about it later if you want.” There was no argument, no conflict – I had asked a question, and gotten a reasonable answer. This was, in itself, a victory.
The first two and a half hours passed quickly. I wasn’t in the bed for even a minute. I was only monitored for ten minutes out of each hour – another compromise that the nurse made willingly. In between, I sat on the ball, rocked in the hospital rocking chair, and walked the hallway with Kathy offering encouraging words and putting pressure on my hips, which helped so much. Kathy looked into my eyes and breathed with me. The nurse noticed and commented, “You two are really good at that.” Occasionally, I would dance, slowly swaying through the surges. Suddenly, I was so very tired, and had to rest. I climbed into the bed, lying down on my side. Kathy covered me with a sheet and began stroking my back. The nurse popped in to ask if I was ok. Kathy answered, “She just had a huge oxytocin rush and is feeling a little sleepy, so she’s just going to rest a minute.” At that moment, my water broke, just as it had in my first birth, soaking the bed and everything I was wearing. The nurse helped change the sheets, put me in a dry gown, and then… meltdown.
“Kathy, this hurts.”
“I know”, she said softly.
“No, Kathy, this really hurts.”
“I know, and you can do it.”
“No, no, I don’t think I can”
“I know you can. Skip knows it, too.” She motioned for him to come stand in front of me, to give me his eyes, for comfort.
“No, no more. I want drugs. I want drugs RIGHT NOW.”
A few more minutes passed in this way, and at last I said, “You don’t understand. This really hurts, and I’m really tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t even want to have a baby today! We are getting back in the car, and going home! We can all come back later, and I WILL HAVE A BABY TOMORROW!”
My doula, bless her, wisely nodded her head, paused a moment, and just said, “OK”.
A silent minute passed.
“I think I need to push.”
She laughed. “Ok!”
The nurse was called in, and I was checked – complete with a just a tiny rim of cervix. Kathy’s smile beamed. The squat bar was brought in and attached to the bed. The nurse told me that my doctor had been called, but that he wasn’t on the floor yet, and I’d have to wait a minute.
I looked her square in the eye and growled, “You… have GOT… to let… me PUSH.” Then I looked at Kathy, and said, “I’m going up and over”, and I flipped onto my hands and knees. Kathy stayed by my ear. “If your body is pushing, I know you can’t stop it”, she whispered, “but don’t push hard. Just blow. Let your body do the work.” One surge passed. I blew. Another, and I blew. Then, I gave a warrior’s cry as I felt every muscle in my body get behind a mighty heave. Why this is called an urge to push, I cannot understand. This was an imperative. My body was pushing, and nothing in the world could have stopped it.
A second nurse came into the room and saw me on all fours.
“What is she doing?”, she whispered to my nurse.
“Having a baby”, answered my nurse.
“Well, shouldn’t we tell her to turn around?”
Another powerful heave, and out came the baby’s head! I could feel it, there touching my thighs. I reached down with my fingers. Oh, so soft! A moment later, and out the rest of him flew, right into the waiting hands of my nurse. The doctor hadn’t even made it down the hallway yet. I don’t remember the cutting of his cord, or turning over, or exactly who laid him on me, but I know that my son was immediately placed directly on my naked belly. No nursery, no NICU staff, just my baby skin-to-skin on his mama. Seconds passed… minutes, maybe. And then, my baby began to crawl. He pushed with his tiny feet up the length of my belly, found my breast, and latched on, all by himself. Watching human instinct in action was one of the most amazing moments I’ve ever known.
He was here. Nicolas Wesley was here. My baby was here. All was well.
My doc made it in, minutes later. My placenta came out easily on its own. I had a tiny tear, just a little bit, where my scar from Zack’s birth had been. My newborn never left my arms. There was no question that he was mine. This was exactly the birth I had wished for. I did it. With the birth of my son, I felt as if it was me who had been reborn.
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