Baking and Birthing
Before you read on, make sure to catch up on Part One here!
Monday morning I woke around 4:30, realizing excitedly that this was not just my body telling me to get up and pee AGAIN. I was having waves (the Hypnobabies word for contractions) different from all the “practice” ones I experienced throughout pregnancy. I was still totally comfortable, but I knew with near certainty–it was birthing day.
Knowing from Hypnobabies and from Evan’s birth that saving my energy now was crucial, I laid in bed listening to a track or two, trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep. Around 5:30, I got up and stumbled in to Steve, telling him I was up (duh) but not about the waves (my mind wasn’t functioning apparently). I came to my senses soon after and went back in to let him know today might be the day, but encouraging him to sleep a little more–an easy sell.
Comical in hindsight, my next move, in a quiet, dark apartment, was an internal debate over whether I’d be able to get through baking banana bread. Now, it’s not just any banana bread–Evan MUST have this stuff for breakfast every day of his little life, or in his mind the world is ending. If I’m honest, it’s totally flattering–he isn’t crazy for anything else I make except this bread. We were about to run out, softened butter and ripe bananas were ready, and in true symbolism of motherhood, I felt the need to start MY big day fumbling through a baking project for my child in between waves that would send us his sister. So could I do it?
Of course I could. My waves were getting noticeable enough to mess with my concentration, but I had made this bread dozens of times, and the Hypnobabies tracks coming through my AirPods were keeping me comfortable, even if I did have to pause for some of the waves now. Somehow the sacred bread made it into the oven. Evan was still asleep, but Steve had come out, also restless, and started to time my waves. They were around six minutes apart, varying in duration, but I want to say 30 to 45 seconds was common.
While pregnant with Evan, one thing I most looked forward to was beginning the birthing process at home, in a familiar, cozy environment, with my own food, my own bathroom, my pups nearby to keep watch (or freak out, depending on the pug). That was one of the biggest losses to me when our birth plans changed, and I hoped it would be different this time. The midwife on call reflected my sentiments exactly when we called later that morning, and, with my chart obviously in front of her, the first thing she exclaimed was, “Your water didn’t break!” She must have known how happy I was to still be at home.
I can’t say that it was the serene atmosphere I had pictured: there was a toddler to contend with, we were in a small space (our temporary apartment), and we really didn’t grasp how far along in the process I was–thank you Hypnobabies! If we knew how close we were to meeting our baby–just hours away–we probably would have prioritized getting me a little more peace and transferring all decision making to Steve, along with getting the doula and photographer there. In the end, though, it was the right morning for us.
After Evan woke, I had a minor crying meltdown when HE had a minor crying meltdown. I thought it was because he was overwhelmed seeing me like this, confused about what was happening, but Steve informed me he had simply stubbed his toe–ha! Typical Mom response. We knew enough, though, to get him situated with my parents, so my mom came over, gave me some encouragement, predicted that today was the day as I lay on the couch dealing with increasingly intense waves, and took a somewhat oblivious and totally delighted Evan away for a day with Nana and Papa (it had been months since they spent a whole day together). I choked out a goodbye from the top of the stairs, suppressing the urge to run after and squeeze my firstborn without letting go, and completely lost it when he was gone. I knew that was going to be one of the most difficult moments of our new baby’s birth day, and it didn’t disappoint.
Steve comforted me until I recovered, then proved that he had done this before (albeit a bit differently) by observing my state, letting me move and rest as needed, timing the waves that he could see (all of them, haha), making calls and texts to the midwives, doula, photographer, and family, and preparing our things and the house for our departure. My waves were all over the place. They varied in intensity, duration, and frequency. When I laid in bed late morning, getting deep into my tracks (and my pug snuggles), they spaced out to ten minutes apart, but a little more intense. That spacing had me doubting that today would be this baby’s birthday.
It was one call to our doula that finally convinced us we should make our way to the birth center. I said I was coping pretty well, but when she asked if I was feeling pressure, I immediately recounted THAT feeling from Evan’s birth. Yes, I was DEFINITELY feeling pressure! If she was alarmed, she hid it well, but from my response she knew she should head straight to the birth center (not our apartment), and that we should do the same.
Car Ride Contractions
I knew with total confidence as we left the house that I wanted a tuna sub with cheese and pickles. It had taken some adjusting to get comfortable in the car at first. The previous 24 hours, for no apparent reason, I had been telling myself that a theme of this birth would be “no panic”. It just felt like something I needed to affirm, as there were definitely some moments of alarm during Evan’s birth, and I really wanted this birth to be confident, without unnecessary stress. I can honestly say that was mostly the case, although I did freak out a little as waves set in, Steve had already begun driving, and I couldn’t find a good position. Why wasn’t he helping me? Did we leave too late?
Everything was intense for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute or two. I got my hypnosis tracks going and found that simply sitting on a pillow and leaning forward a bit was quite comfortable. I wasn’t having to go completely inward during waves, and as Steve ran in on our stops to grab coffee and subs, I checked my phone, took a selfie, and FaceTimed my baby boy and parents–I already missed him and wondered how he was handling the new baby’s likely birth day. He was pretty oblivious and was just excited to spend the day and night with Nana and Papa, since they had been busy lately with my dad’s medical and daily care and hadn’t gotten in nearly enough playtime.
I don’t really remember Steve’s demeanor as we made the easy half hour drive to the birth center, but we were both relaxed enough to joke about other drivers over the hypnosis that was coming through my headphones. It started to rain: my absolute favorite weather. And true to their perfect calm and preparedness throughout Eloise’s birth, midwife Kerry was waiting at the back step of the birth center with umbrellas for everyone when we pulled in around 1:30 PM.
Ready or Not, Here She Comes
I made a grand entrance. After a whole morning of handling waves beautifully with the help of my hypnosis, whether it was playing or I was simply repeating key favorite phrases to myself, I had my most intense wave by far as I got into bed. At that point all I wanted was to lay down and get back into a rhythm with the waves with as little external stimuli as possible. I did well on the car ride, but birth is not meant to take place on the road, and I needed to recuperate. That big birthing wave was all but settling. It honestly scared me a little. I’m not sure if I had broken my already lax hypnosis in the transition, or if getting in and out of the car changed things physically, but it came with shooting discomfort in my lower back. I tried my best to breathe deeply and not lose my focus, and Kerry rubbed in just the right spot with great pressure. She basically stood in as a doula for that wave, when I needed it most, and I won’t forget her stepping outside her job description for my comfort.
Thankfully that was THE most intense (non-pushing) wave of Eloise’s entire birth, and they quickly returned to manageable as I settled down and back into hypnosis. With my “lightswitch in center” (how Hypnobabies describes being in hypnosis but able to be alert and move and interact), we discussed the pros and cons of Kerry checking my cervix. We were actually hesitant, because except for that one intense wave, they weren’t really consistent or too uncomfortable to manage. We decided for the check, and it’s a good thing! “You’re about nine or nine and a half,” Kerry calmly stated (midwives–they’re so dang calm all the time!). We were shocked. I couldn’t believe I was in the car only minutes before eating a TUNA SUB and mocking other drivers with Steve between waves. And now here I was, at nine centimeters, 80% effaced, baby at zero station.
There was little time to waste on our surprise, though, and while I tried to calmly keep on with my tracks, Steve summoned our doula and birth photographer, who both arrived around 1:45. Although things were instensifying so quickly at this point that I questioned whether or not I was engaged enough in hypnosis, I continued to be very comfortable in between waves, easily conversing as our photographer and doula arrived. Emily wasted no time in beginning to snap away, and Aileen jumped in seamlessly with lots of Hypnobabies language and sacral pressure during waves. Eloise was nice and low just like Evan had been. Her position was good, but my body was opening up FAST and I could feel it.
The atmosphere remained calm, but to me it felt like things were happening quickly. It wasn’t panicked, but it definitely wasn’t still. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I was ready to do anything to get this baby out, so the midwife and doula were recommending positions to see what sounded appealing to me (we have photographic proof of all those positions!). It was a pretty stark contrast to Evan’s birth. With his, I was on Pitocin and struggling to keep focus or control during the discomfort of each wave, as they came fast and hard. Now, with this baby, it was a dance between waves and blessed rest. It was natural, normal. There was really nothing eventful to report as the birth progressed, and I continued to communicate and move as needed in between waves.
After only an hour or so at the birth center, about 2:45, I felt another familiar sensation: beginning to bear down during waves, with my vocalizations changing obviously to pushing sounds. We put on the special hypnosis track just for pushing out loud in the room. The intensity gained rapidly, and I felt myself struggling with confidence as I realized that this baby is coming out of me SOON. That is the thing with your second birth: I knew the baby had to come out, and I knew how hard it was the first time, so there was a hint of doubt and dread. Those words came out again: “I don’t know if I can do this,” to which my doula replied, “You ARE doing it.” Really just stating a fact, reminding me that much of the work had already been done.
As I pushed on my side in bed, the mood lightened when my waters broke, also in grand fashion. I’m not sure I heard the pop that everyone else did, but I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so surprised. There was a bit of a splash, and I’m kind of shocked that no one got soaked! I had honestly forgotten that had to happen at some point. With Evan, my water broke “prematurely”, so I didn’t experience that sensation when I was in the thick of giving birth, with so many other things already going on within and around me.
There was a sense, after that, that we were very close to meeting baby. I had been pushing for maybe 45 minutes, gloriously letting my body dictate what to do, relaxed and focused enough to even consciously experiment with actively pushing IN BETWEEN the waves, something I learned about in Hypnobabies. It was pretty cool that I was with it enough to be making decisions and tuning into my body. We really got me moving after that, and Kerry brought in the birthing stool about 20 minutes after my water broke, when hands and knees and other positions were difficult to sustain because of the pressure on my joints.
Kerry to the rescue again, because that stool was exactly what my body needed. It’s basically a low stool with a hole in the seat, and it enabled me to get into a squat while Steve supported me from behind, taking the pressure off my feet, ankles, knees, and hips. It put some pressure on my elbows, however, as I DRILLED them hard into Steve’s thighs, which he obviously had no choice but to silently endure. Again, nothing dramatic was happening (oh, except the birth of a human), but I pushed with greater intensity and enthusiasm as I knew baby was so close to coming. I’m sure it didn’t sound like much, but I directed some of my words during pushes to her, letting her know we were so ready to meet her.
I also asked, maybe two minutes before crowning, if it was too late to get the nitrous oxide set up. Everyone else, observing how imminent the birth was, must have giggled as the midwife or nurse explained that we PROBABLY didn’t have enough time. I was really doing great, and it was more of a comical moment to remember in hindsight. I had planned to use the nitrous as needed (when I had Evan it wasn’t an option in the hospital), and now I feel even more confident and proud that I birthed Eloise without it. I only learned after the fact that Hypnobabies generally advises complete confidence in your hypnosis over having a backup plan for discomfort, so IF we do this again I’m not sure I’ll plan for it, as I KNOW I’d use Hypnobabies again.
With Evan’s birth, I remember that once he crowned, I still pushed for quite a while. It seemed like two steps forward, one step back at that point, possibly because I was ON my back. Eloise had more gravity on her side (and I had more energy left than I had with Evan), and my ten minutes on the birth stool SEEMED like an eternity. Finally, though, that elation of feeling my baby crown arrived, and I heard the midwife tell us she could see hair. HAIR!!?? We had totally banked on another bald baby. That was motivation enough to get a look at this child!
With both babies, we “loosely” planned for Steve to help catch the baby, if the stars aligned. I wasn’t adamant about it, but I thought it would be cool. Our doula knew this, so at this point she reminded us and everyone else and kind of hurriedly suggested that Steve come around front and she could take his place behind me. My response: “Absolutely not!” I just felt like I NEEDED Steve physically supporting me, and although I probably could have, it FELT like there was no way I could quickly make that shift. Every ounce of my energy was pouring into pushing and I couldn’t handle the change. We weren’t upset about it later, and in hindsight my reaction was comically unreasonable, but I was thankful to have a team who knew when to respect my wishes, even if they were different than the original plan.
We were so close that everything is a blur at this point. I was working my absolute hardest, trying to maintain my hypnosis despite the adrenaline rush. It had been an entirely different birth experience, but those same emotions come at the end–just wanting to HOLD this perfect baby, to know that everything is alright and everyone is healthy. With a few more pushes, baby’s head was out. Before I knew it, her shoulders followed, and as I continued to work, I felt the strangest sensation of the midwife kind of rocking baby hard back and forth. It wasn’t uncomfortable, the midwife wasn’t pulling, and baby wasn’t stuck, but as we would soon find out, Eloise tried to trump her brother by nearly a pound at birth, and I welcomed the assistance from Kerry, as I was having a little difficulty (and mostly starting to run out of energy).
After that bit of help, Kerry let me continue to do my thing for the mere seconds before baby was fully born. I don’t remember exactly, but it was probably just another push and I felt her whole body emerge. Baby was born! Another change in plans as I blurted out the gender before Steve could even get a look. I was so excited to know, and, this time, I was in the position to actually be the first to see. Hello, Eloise!
So many emotions hit as I lifted her to me (and then lowered her back a little to the tune of various warnings of “short cord!”). Mostly I was struck by how this birth had gone exactly according to plan–it was surreal and amazing. Remarkable, yet remarkably normal, as I wish every birth could be. We sat there loving her loud cries, admiring her hair, and the placenta came without issue. As we waited for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it (I still hadn’t released Steve from his post behind me, so he didn’t cut it), I realized almost subconsciously that not all my tears were of total joy. I felt a really unexpected sense of loss and sadness almost immediately for Evan–that I didn’t get to give him a seamless, beautiful birth, that he barely got to meet his Mama before being whisked away to an entirely different floor of the hospital, that I was so exhausted I wasn’t even there for him in those key first hours. I think it will always bring tears to my eyes. A year out, I understand that we’ve more than made up for that initial bond–he was the firstborn, and he got two years of my undivided attention–something Eloise won’t experience, because she’ll always have that crazy older brother running around.
Free of her cord, I carried my new baby girl a few feet away to the bed. CARRIED HER! It was still shocking that there were no monitors or needles to remove, and that I was strong enough to waltz (okay, it was NOT a waltz) over to the bed with my baby. We had lots of helping hands to get us situated, and then the first order of business was to feed the baby and definitely feed the Mama. While eating and drinking during labor is encouraged at the birth center, the birth was so quick I hadn’t eaten since the car ride. I snacked on the warm loaf of bread provided by the midwives, the rest of my iced coffee (always), apples–basically anything that was put in front of me. Eloise nursed like a dream, and I was giddy “getting” to nurse her immediately, a brand new experience for me. Just like the Hypnobabies affirmations reminded me nearly every day of pregnancy, my second birth would be a new experience in its entirety. I’m so thankful for both of my unique births, and the healing that came with the birth of Eloise.
As I sit here on the night of Eloise’s first birthday, finally circling back to conclude her birth story, reflecting on the excitement, novelty, and exhaustion of the immediate post partum time, I try to determine when the birth story ends and life as a new family begins. I thought it before Steve and I coincidentally agreed on it tonight. We pondered what we were doing at this time last year, freshly home from the birth center with a newborn baby girl. And neither of us remembers! So THAT is the answer, the birth story ends where our memories start to blur and fade, entering the haze of newborn life.
The two family photos above are by Tay Ericson photography–thanks for making us look fab on 1.5 hours of sleep!