It was Friday, July 23rd, 2010. I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I had been feeling mild uncomfortable contractions all morning long, but I shrugged them off. I’d been having contractions for the past 2 weeks, and every night they’d just go away and I would find myself awake the next morning, still very pregnant. I wasn’t feeling particularly impatient, just very ready and tired. That morning Jeff went to work. My mom called to check in, but I didn’t feel like anyone needed to drop what they were doing to come help. I told her I’d call her later if I felt like things were progressing. I did my best to pick up the house and occupy my two year old, and I tried to remind myself to rest. At some point in the afternoon I felt like these contractions were likely the real deal, and called my mom to make her way over when she wanted to. I gave my midwife, Amanda, a call around 4pm telling her to anticipate a phone call that evening, but that it could be nothing… My mom arrived, Jeff returned home, and we called a friend to come take our daughter to the park. I labored peacefully for a few hours. We tried to time my contractions, but they were never very regular. This made me think I had a long road ahead. My first labor was close to two days long, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was going to last and last.
Early labor was very meditative. I trusted myself. I listened to the contractions and tried to let them work. Jeff and I decided to go for a walk. The day had been extraordinarily hot and humid- 95 degrees in impossibly thick, wet air. The weather services warned of severe thunderstorms (which I later learned had knocked down trees and many people lost their power for days). I thought it was funny though- this weather, in contrast to my daughter’s birth in the dead of winter on possibly the coldest day of the year- whipping winds and icy roads and all. But anyway, just as I started to labor, it rained a bit and the humidity and heat broke for a little while. I felt like it was a gift, and so we ventured out. A few steps here, then I’d stop and sway, a few more steps, then shut my eyes and breathe. It felt best to just shut my eyes, and let the wave of the contraction wash over me.
Soon my daughter was in bed. By around 9pm Amanda had come to stay and was chatting with my mom, and all felt so peaceful and simple. I remember being so grateful, again, that we were home to do this. At around 11pm we filled the birth pool that was blown up in the dining room, and Jeff and I both got in. It was so nice, being there together, awaiting this baby. The water was warm and made the contractions much more bearable. Jeff soon got cold and got out, but I loved the water. It was past midnight, and things felt very intense. Still, my contractions were irregular and gave us no real pattern, but they were strong. I moaned deeply with each one, and felt like they took me to my limit. I threw up a couple of times, and my mom and Amanda were there, helping to give me fluids and ice chips and encourage me.
Soon things felt pretty hard. I was trying to relax, but found myself tensing and feeling overcome. In retrospect I should have known that meant I was close to the end, but I couldn’t believe that. I was sure I was in it for another day or two. I whimpered a little and asked for help, and they leaned in close, letting me know I wasn’t alone. They told me to surrender to it, and so I ached and accepted that this was what I needed to do. For me, those moments near the end… they feel desperate and challenge you in ways you don’t experience in the day to day. It often felt like each contraction turned my whole body into a prayer- the earnest request for life to bring us both across that threshold… Amanda offered to check me, but I declined because I didn’t want to be disappointed by the number. I was so sure I had hours to go.
It was close to 3 am, and I was encouraged to leave the birth pool as it was getting cold. I hadn’t noticed a bit, but took the suggestion and made my way out. A powerful contraction, then another, I inched towards the bathroom, stopping every few seconds just to catch my breath from the intense contractions. I barely sat down on the toilet when I felt the force of the baby coming through my pelvis and I involuntarily pushed. Amanda had just picked up the phone to call for back up from her partner, but I called out that I was pushing. Jeff pulled me up off the toilet (much like the last moments of labor with my daughter!), and I felt between my legs. There was a head right there! I was amazed and felt a surge of energy- realizing that my baby was right there, and real, and we were going to meet so soon. The next couple of minutes were so powerful, I’ll never forget them. My body took over, bore down with such strength and surety. My water broke with a splash. I pushed maybe twice, feeling the force of his body pass between my bones and he slithered right out. It was incredible. I remember thinking I should slow it all down, but I don’t think it was possible. The next thing we knew I was bringing this wet little boy to my chest and he was letting out powerful little wails. We thought he might wake his sister, but she slept soundly all night. I looked down and saw that he was a boy, and it was just so amazing, knowing I had a whole new person in my arms. I was also amazed that it was over so quickly.
We wrapped him up in towels and I sat on my bed in awe. I examined his face, his little fingers, and I remember thinking "So it was you in there…" I looked at his feet and saw that he had Jeff’s big toe. We tried to nurse soon after and he latched right on! We waited a bit and soon I delivered the placenta. Amanda’s face looked serious and a little urgent, and she said I was bleeding more than she was comfortable with. She wanted to give me a shot of pitocin, and I consented. I’m glad I did, because over the next several days I was weak and pale from the blood loss. I think Asa came so fast that his cord may have tugged at the placenta a bit too much. Even so, I only needed one small stitch.
Soon enough there was a load of laundry going and everyone had gone home. Jeff and I were snuggled in bed with our new babe, and I felt like I had just fallen off to sleep when Vera wandered in the room, looking curious. We introduced her to her new brother, and a few minutes later our friend came back and took her out to breakfast so we could sleep a little more. I really couldn’t have hoped for a better birth.
It was a great experience, truly. I can’t say I would change a thing. However, I am humbled by birth and what a transformational power it has. I thought, if anything, after having had a long natural labor and birth with my first and also being a birth doula, I would have been surer of things, but I faced new challenges. I was surprised by the emotions and fears I had to work through in the weeks preceding his birth. His birth was faster and simpler than the last, but it was powerful and it took all my energy anyway. I remember being so happy that my body just did the work, that there was no checking or assessing of progress during my labor. I was so happy to have such a fabulous and discerning midwife, the gentle support and faithfulness of my mother, and the strong and peaceful presence in my Jeff. It was simple. I think perhaps one of the issues I had leading up to the birth was that, as a doula in a hospital setting, I had watched outside people continually attempt to take control over those births- rather than safeguarding them- and in the process were disempowering those women, and everyone involved. Despite my best efforts not to let those experiences disempower me, I think they had a little. This birth helped me to heal and to reclaim my faith in the process.
Asa James was born at 3:01am on July 24th, 2010. He was 7 lbs, 15oz, and 20 inches long. The first few days with him were hazy and love-filled. I’ll never forget how everyone who visited on Saturday afternoon noticed that the green beans in my garden were on the verge of being too ripe, and so they all went out and harvested them, then returned two days later to help me can them all. 16 quarts, I think. That’s love.
(picture from the day we canned the beans)