Simon was two weeks early, so naturally, my due date with baby 2 came and went with little fanfare. I had remembered that with my first pregnancy everyone kept telling me I would KNOW I was in labor, but at the time, it took me well over an hour to figure it out. I was worried that I had forgotten what contractions felt like, that I wouldn’t know if I was in labor again. But when I woke up at 5am two days past my due date with that first dull crampy ache, I knew immediately that the baby was coming that day.
Simon and Andrew were still asleep and I knew there was no reason to wake them up so I went downstairs to make a snack. I rested on the couch for about an hour, but the contractions were very inconsistent: 9 minutes, 6 minutes, 8 minutes, and not painful. It went on like this for over an hour before I decided to text Christy and give her a heads up that I was in labor but that it was slow going. I remember feeling a little frustrated because I didn’t have an “early” labor the first time, I was in active labor almost immediately. Sometimes I think maybe I slept through early labor. Nothing about this second pregnancy was the same as my first; I don’t know why I expected labor to be the same either. Christy suggested that I go for a walk to try to speed things up. Simon and Andrew were up by this point, so we decided to go on a morning family walk. Simon ran ahead and we wandered through the woods, stopping to pick up sticks and rocks, and for the occasional contraction. I told Andrew that the baby was coming today, I just wasn’t sure when.
We got back to the house and I rested on the couch but the contractions slowed down again. I called my sister to tell her she should get on the road, and called our friends to come watch Simon. Then I went to try and get some rest. The contractions were getting stronger, but not any closer together. I wasn’t able to sleep through them, so I sat on my birth ball and texted all of my mom friends (I knew they’d be up) that I was in labor and that I was bored. They kept me entertained in between contractions (which were every 5-6 minutes or so at this point). I spoke to Christy, who said she was going to make her way over. “No rush,” I told her. That was at 10:45am. At 11:15am, something happened and my labor got VERY intense. The contractions picked up, and so did the pain. I was unable to talk through them, and I certainly wasn’t texting. My labor with Simon was easy. It was quick as far as first labors go, but the intensity ramped up gradually, giving me time to adjust and manage my breathing and pain. This labor happened fast. By the time Christy arrived at 12:30, I was swaying and breathing away. I can only guess that I was in transition at this point, because the contractions came so fast and furious that I couldn’t rest in between. Instead, I sang through them to help control my breath and calm me down.
The pain was far worse than my first pregnancy (and that is coming from someone with an exceptionally high tolerance for pain). It felt like someone was ripping a knife across my belly. If I had let myself, it would have been easy to panic. With each contraction, I reminded myself to surrender to the pain. I moved through them one contraction at a time. I sang when I could (and Christy joined in, which was nice) because I knew it would force me to relax my jaw and breathe deeply. By this point (about 30 minutes after Christy arrived) I decided I wanted to push. When I talk about my first labor, I always say how I think I just decided that I wanted to push, but that I don’t think I ever got the urge that I HAD to push. This time, pushing was the only thing that felt good, if that makes any sense. Maybe it was my body telling me that the baby was moving down and I needed to help it along. I sat on the birthing stool and deliberately pushed, while I rocked back and forth. Each push brought relief, which told me that it was the right thing to do. After a few contractions like this, Christy suggested I get up on the bed.
I assumed the same position I had when I delivered Simon (again, nothing about this was the same). I rolled on to my side and pushed through the next contraction. I thought it went okay but Christy told me the baby didn’t like that position and I needed to move. Being on my back was excruciating, so I rolled to my other side. I had a couple contractions there, but the baby didn’t like that, either. This time, Christy suggested that I get on my hands and knees (easier said than done at this point!). With lots of assistance, I got into position and pushed through another contraction. At this point, Christy said “Okay, Becky. The baby needs to come out now.” There was no panic or urgency in her voice, but I got that she wasn’t messing around. Andrew helped to lift one of my legs up, and on the next contraction, I dug deep and pushed baby’s head. It was as I remembered, but this baby wasn’t as eager to come earthside, so it required a great deal more effort, and a lot more vocalization. (Overall, this entire birth was more vocal than my first). With my first, I remember the body just slipping right out, but this baby wasn’t having that. His shoulders got stuck on the next push, so Christy needed to hook her fingers under his arm and help pull him out. It only took a few minutes for him to be born, but it felt like an eternity. It took almost a minute for him to take his first breath, but it was the most beautiful sound. Within minutes, Ollie was warm, wide-eyed, pink, and ready to nurse. He latched on right away and nursed for several hours that first day.
As I reflected on the birth in the hours, days, and weeks after, I recalled that it felt frantic. Fast, hurried, and I felt like I wasn’t in control. It was still an easy birth, as far as births go. I was only in active labor for about 2 hours, and I only pushed for 5 minutes or so. But the intensity was new to me. My first birth let me move through it in my own way. This one really required a guide. I was glad to have Christy and her expertise. I never felt panicked. I never felt scared. Only focused and determined. But when it was over, I felt confused, and in a way, unsatisfied. My first home birth was a magical, peaceful empowering situation. This one just felt so frantic and overwhelming. When I tell people about Oliver’s birth I always say, “faster isn’t necessarily better.” I know all women long for quick births: to get through the pain fast and hold their baby in their arms. But the truth is that labor takes awhile because our bodies have a whole slew of things that they need to do before the baby comes out. And part of that is opening up. When it happens so quickly, the intensity and pain can get overwhelming and have the potential to really derail the mindful, peaceful birth I expected. I do want to acknowledge that I did an excellent job of staying calm and focused through what was easily the most intense pain of my life. I surrendered to the pain, but not the intensity.
As I struggled in the weeks after to understand everything that had happened, Christy and I had a long talk. She explained to me how, had I had this same birth in a hospital, it certainly would have been traumatic. The heart rate dropping could have resulted in an emergency c section; had I been allowed a vaginal birth, his shoulder getting stuck probably would have meant an episiotomy; his delayed first breath would likely have resulted in him being taken to the NICU for observation. Had I been in a hospital, my baby and I would have been subjected to a series of precautionary measures that would definitely have traumatized me. Having Christy walk me through everything that happened, and how, brought me a great deal of comfort. Having the perspective of knowing how the birth would have looked in a different setting brought me a great deal of gratitude for the experience that I had, even though at the time it seemed less than ideal. I came to peace with it slowly, and talking about it and writing about it has helped immensely. When I reflect on it now, I feel gratitude and joy. I had two amazing, healthy, happy homebirths, and two amazing healthy, happy boys. What more could I possibly need?
All pics on this post courtesy of Jillian Schlacter Photography