what follows is the story of hazel's birth. birth stories tend to be long, but this one... it's long. i think i wanted to include every detail so that i would remember as much as possible. you can also see some more of the photos from the birth here.
On Thursday evening (May 22nd), we were starting a movie after Eva was in bed around 8:30, and I started to feel contractions. I'd had a couple of false starts, so although I felt sure this time, I kept it to myself until around 9:00, when I mentioned it to Larry and Mom. I watched the movie for a while, but by 11:00, I realized it would be in my best interest to sleep now if I could. The next day, May 23rd, was our 10th wedding anniversary, and it was clear to me it would also be the birthday of our second child.
I was able to sleep until 2:30 a.m., waking every 45 min or hour to pee and also because of contractions (hard to know what exactly was waking me up). I laid there, unable to get back to sleep, feeling excited but not at all panicked – this is interesting to me, because during the big false start I had the week before, I quickly became very anxious and full of doubt. Maybe I needed that chance to practice my reaction? I became more uncomfortable and headed downstairs at 3:30 to find Larry awake. I asked him if he had slept yet, and he lied and said “sort of” but we both knew he hadn't (he just didn't want me to worry). Contractions were every 5-7 minutes lasting 45-60 seconds for the whole hour I had been awake, so we decided to call Faith, our midwife. She had asked that we call with early signs, since my previous labor was only about five hours, so we thought this one could move quickly and she lives an hour away.
Larry went to get some sleep, and I watched TV and tried to rest on the couch. Faith arrived at 5:00, but of course by then contractions had slowed down to every 10-15 minutes. She napped on couch and I went upstairs but didn't manage to sleep. Faith examined me at 6 a.m. and found I was 3 cm and actually went to 4 cm during the exam. I went back upstairs and still couldn't sleep through the contractions. Larry and I got up at about 7:30 and Faith left soon after to head to her office.
I had been planning to go on a walk to get things moving, but it was pointed out to me that rest was more important than rushing things along. I went upstairs and took advantage of the slowing down and was very surprised to find I slept until around 9:00. Throughout all of this until closer to the end, contractions were variable depending on what I was doing: if I rested, they slowed, but if I moved around, they picked up.
When I woke, I ate some breakfast and puttered around the house for a bit while Mom took care of Eva. I found myself wandering off to whatever room was vacant downstairs during each contraction, then rejoining the activity of the house. I was basically squatting or walking through all these contractions, in part to cope and in part to make them more productive. Sometime around 10:00 a.m., Larry and I decided to go for a walk to see if things would pick up. We walked a loop around the neighborhood for about 20 minutes, and I had contractions every 3 minutes. We came back to the house so I could pee and drink water (it was really hot out), then did a second loop during which contractions were closer to every 2 minutes. Faith had called while we were out, and when we talked to her she said to rest and see if the pattern changed. I laid on the couch for maybe an hour and sure enough contractions slowed back down to every 7-10 minutes.
At 12:15 while sitting on the couch (just having eaten a sandwich), my water broke – not much came out at first, so I jumped up and managed not to make a big mess. Contractions quickly moved to about 5 minutes apart and got much stronger than they had been to that point. After about half an hour, Larry and I moved upstairs.
When we reached the top of the stairs and saw the stack of birth stuff sitting there (towels, sheets, birth kit, the pool, etc), it triggered a realization that, oh yeah, we should inflate the birth pool. Larry began to work on that and I laid down on the bed. Contractions were strong enough that I felt the need to hop up out of bed with each one. Since I was leaking fluid, I would jump out of bed and walk the four steps to the bathroom where there was tile rather than carpet. I tried leaning over the counter or squatting next to the tub, but really I wanted Larry there. I felt better hanging from his neck or just leaning into him, so I had him rushing over from where he was pumping up the pool as each contraction started.
At about 1:00 p.m., I called Meredith (a friend who was to take photos for us) to let her know things were moving along. At that point, I felt like it could happen either in two hours or not until evening – I didn't feel sure enough to tell her to get on the road, but she was smart enough to do that and call our friend Sarah anyway. From this point, I no longer jumped off the bed for contractions; rather, I just insisted that Larry rush over without delay to put his hand on my back. These contractions were starting to get more intense. I was vocalizing for real, and things started to feel a bit dreamy. Not long after we called Meredith, we decided to call Faith (meaning, I rather quickly went from “hmm, it could be a while” to “we better get a midwife here right now”).
I didn't want to be lying down for contractions anymore, but it felt too hard to stand up and lie back down (which I needed to do so I could rest in between). I moved to the edge of the bed, thinking that squatting would be good to move things along even though that would make it more intense. After a few contractions in that position (2:15 p.m.), I asked Larry for the big bowl we brought up earlier when I felt nauseous. (Specifically, I think I asked just by saying “vomit”, but he knew what I meant.) I did throw up, and so might have known I was in transition, but like with my first labor, I persisted in thinking it could still go for many hours. Faith arrived just prior to this, at 2:00, and contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. Right before she got there, I was so anxious for her to arrive, I guess somehow thinking that when she arrived it would “fix” something, that I'd feel better. Well, guess what, I still had to do it, no one can really change that. She busied herself setting things up, and I noticed Meredith had arrived and she was helping Faith get set up.
They had me move over to the ball next to where I was on the bed so they could change the sheets for the birth. Lying draped over the ball, this is when I started to feel like I might not be able to keep it under control. I was really having to concentrate to keep my vocalizations low rather than tightening up and making more of a screaming sound. I started lowering the tone in waves, so as it started to go up I'd take it back down, sort of passively noticing my own sounds and focusing on that. I was told later that it was like singing (though not in the usual sense I'm sure). At some point while I was on the ball, Larry was gone for one of my contractions – I think that was when he was sprinting through the garage, throwing boxes and things out of the way to get to the hot water heater to turn it up, only to find it was already up all the way – and I suddenly felt very untethered without him. I think I may have said “help” or “Larry”, and maybe it was this or a subsequent contraction where I saw Faith standing next to me as she worked on the sheets or something, and I stuck my hand out to touch her leg because I couldn't even form the words to ask for help.
People kept telling me I was doing great, and of course I didn't believe a word of it. I think I got a bit wrapped up in wanting to be like the strong, confident, joyful laboring women in Ina May's book, seemingly smiling their way through labor. Rather, I felt like I was really on the edge of losing it, and that somehow that was a failing rather than just being the fact of how it is during transition. (And of course, I still wasn't letting myself think about whether I might be in transition or close or not – sort of as though if I lower my expectations and assume I still have hours to go, I can be pleasantly surprised rather than crushingly disappointed.) Given that early labor was peaceful and happy and I was handling things just fine up until this time (until transition) made me think that labor was actually just starting at that point, so I thought I'd never make it. I thought the same thing with my first birth, but not as fiercely. I know at some point I did ask Faith “where am I?” meaning how far along, and she said it would be soon, and I suppose I didn't really believe that anyway. It's weird the tricks your mind plays on you in labor. (It's worth noting that it says in Faith's birth notes that active labor was “precipitous” since it was only 2 hrs 34 minutes (with a latent labor of 10 hours)... so that's probably another reason for why I thought I had much longer to go – in some sense, it really was just starting.)
I moved back to the bed while they worked on filling the tub with water. I think there was some concern that they wouldn't get enough water into the tub in time (we bought the larger version of the tub, so that Larry could fit in there with me if I needed, but that means it took a lot of water). Our hot water heater wasn't keeping up, so Meredith and Sarah and maybe others were hauling kettles of boiling water up the stairs – even at the time, I thought that was funny: quick, she's having a baby, somebody boil some water! I really wanted to get into the tub rather than be on the bed, and there was a lot of talk about getting the water hot enough. I wanted to say that it was fine if it was cool since I felt so hot already, but I couldn't really form the words. I figured maybe they knew better and wanted it hot at first so that it wouldn't get too cold over time (again, assuming I had hours to go). While I was on the bed, I needed Larry right there touching my lower back – I didn't need the kind of pressure I hear of other women asking for, I just needed his hand there to somehow provide a balance to the sensation I was feeling inside, a connection to the world outside my body, I think.
Things were getting really difficult, I know Faith was there at one point telling me to just sink into the bed. In addition to concentrating on keeping my vocalizations low and not screaming, I was really doing all I could to just go with what my body was doing, to release, not to fight. I felt like despite working at this, maybe I was actually fighting it. I mentioned this to Faith later, and she said at this point when she was helping me, my whole body was loose and totally relaxed, so I guess I was doing better than I thought. I remember dozing off once or twice between contractions, and feeling slightly disoriented when I woke up when the next one started. Time felt unreal and the room seemed to be glowing, and it was so quiet despite my vague awareness that there were people surrounding me.
Finally, they said I could get into the tub (around 2:50 p.m.). After I found a comfortable position, it was immediately so much better. That said, things still got worse, but stayed right under that threshold of what I felt I could handle (I suppose that threshold moves up when you're not looking as labor progresses, though, so you don't necessarily cross it when you expect you might.) Periodically, I felt the rush of warmth when another kettle of hot water was poured in behind me. I rested my head on the vinyl of the pool edge between contractions, and as each one started, I'd lift my head up to look right into Larry's face. I knew as long as I could look into his eyes, I'd always be okay. The panic that I felt rising would melt away when I saw his face, exuding such love and calm. I knew from our experience with Eva's birth that he was all I would need to get through. Near the end, as one particularly strong contraction began, my head snapped up from its resting place, and even with the state I was in, I was aware that my eyes must have looked wild with panic. Then I saw his face, I brought it back under control, and made it through. I think I'll remember that particular moment for a long time.
Faith asked me if I wanted her to check me, and I don't know if I answered, but then she was downstairs doing something for a minute. I did want to be checked to know how far along I was, but I also was apprehensive, too, in case she'd tell me I was only at 6 cm or something. I had another contraction of two (I think, it's all pretty fuzzy really) and June, the second midwife, asked me if I felt like pushing. I said I didn't know, and she said it can be hard to tell. I had one more really strong contraction (I think that one that put the panic behind my eyes) after she asked me. Then on the next one, at the end of the contraction, my body just pushed. After the fact, as I sipped some water that appeared in front of my face, I reported “that one felt pushy”.
Faith rematerialized (apparently laboring women lose their sense of object permanence?) and checked me to find that I was complete with just a tiny lip of cervix left in front of the baby's head. Ah, such wonderful news. I heard June say that she figured I probably had been complete for a while, but I'm glad I didn't know, so I wasn't tempted to try to push before my body was ready to do it on its own. During the next contraction or two, Faith slipped the lip of cervix back around the baby's head, and I heard her apologizing that it was uncomfortable, but really I didn't even notice it on top of what else was happening (I guess I was supposed to not push or just push a little while she did this? I can't remember.) Then it was time to push (this was just after 3:15). As each contraction began, I took a deep breath, blew it out, then held the next deep breath and used it to push. I was so happy to be pushing, to have something active to do, and I could sense the progress of the baby moving down. It's funny, I heard Faith say “wow, you're a great pusher” and comment how well I was doing – I brushed off the very same comments during other stages of labor, but for some reason I believed it during pushing.
After I pushed a few times, Faith rechecked to make sure that lip of cervix was out of the way, and found that the baby's head was right there within reach. She asked if I wanted to feel it – it was amazing, there was the head! I threw my head back on the edge of the pool and smiled and exclaimed, and everything else melted away. It felt so squishy, which I thought was because of membranes and such in front of the head, but Faith told me later that there weren't any, that it was actually just her scalp all bunched up at the top of her head. (Imagine the force it takes to push together enough of a baby's scalp to make it feel that squishy...) I could also feel the baby's pulse in the scalp. The whole thing left me feeling totally re-energized.
They were monitoring the baby this whole time, and somewhere in here (before or after I felt the head?), Faith told me that the baby was in a tight spot so that I needed to move the baby down with the next contraction. I (of course) responded by asking “but it's okay?” because I wanted to know if I should worry. I also asked later to confirm that we wouldn't cut the cord until it stopped pulsing. (This was a regret of mine from Eva's birth; they were accommodating at the hospital, but I never thought to ask, since we'd only even met the doctor the day before. So at some point late in labor, I realized I'd never specifically addressed this with Faith and felt compelled to double-check even though I know that pretty much any midwife is going to wait to cut the cord.) Apparently this is what I do, ask a lot of questions at the very, very end of labor (like right before or during pushing; I did this with both births). I can't remember what else I asked, but I think what I'm really doing is asking in different ways, “it's all okay, right?” so I feel freed up to continue doing what I'm doing. The irony is that no one would tell me if things weren't going okay, I'm sure, but I guess I'm assessing their tone of voice (also kind of pointless, as no one is going to sound all panicked when talking to a laboring woman of course).
Right around this time, someone yelled down so that mom would bring Eva up. I saw her face between pushes, and she was just beaming as she watched quietly, and that smile never left her face. Another push or so and the baby was crowning, then a big push and the head was out. Amazing. I couldn't believe it when they said the head was out – until I looked and saw it for myself – because I had expected it to be really difficult and hurt a lot more during that part (not having had a vertex baby before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect – and since it was one aspect of birth I had never experienced, it had me a bit worried). But there was the head, purple and full of vernix. We waited for the next contraction for what felt like a long time, but I didn't worry, I'm pretty good at staying calm when it's important to do so -- as is Faith and so was the doctor who attended my breech birth, so I never felt rushed or stressed either time. (In fact, as a sign of my lack of worry: June suggested that Larry could do a bit of nipple stimulation to hasten that next contraction, and I immediately brushed his hand away. I was thinking, I did more than enough of that at Eva's birth since we were under a time limit that time, so we're not doing that unless this becomes an actual emergency! For now, we wait.) And then, with one last push, at 3:31 p.m., there she was. I heard them say, reach down and grab your baby. I did, and there was a baby on my chest. It's hard to describe that moment, but I could feel the energy from the people around me as we all took it in.
(We later tried to remember how many times I pushed, and settled on four or five, and apparently it was 11 minutes – it was just over 15 minutes and around the same number of pushes with Eva, so in that respect my breech and vertex births were similar. I can't really answer if it felt different – in some sense, it was the same, but then each birth is so different and you remember things differently, so it's hard to say...)
Here was my baby. I just held her and stared. She was a bit purple, but not for long, and covered in lots of vernix. Her dark eyes scanned around, taking it all in as everyone watched her. I remember her hand resting against my shirt, and the weight of the towels draped over us to keep her warm. She was very alert and calm. I don't know how long it was before I thought to check if she was a boy or a girl. I announced “it's a girl”, then had everyone laughing because I insisted someone double-check. Under all those towels, I couldn't get a good view... so later I said again, “no seriously, did someone else check?” I'd hate to be wrong about something like that. Eva came around to stand near my head where she could get a closer view of the baby, and said in her sweet voice, “oh, Panowah...” That reminded me that we hadn't yet shared the name. I checked with Larry one last time that we were sure of the name – because sometimes a person changes their mind once they see the baby – then announced that her name was Hazel (I think it wasn't until a bit later that I shared her middle name). Eva reached into the tub to touch her baby, and I was startled at how large her hands suddenly looked by comparison. Eva was all smiles, offering soothing words to Hazel and asking everyone around if they saw her new baby sister.
We stayed in the tub for a while (I suppose so I could deliver the placenta) and Faith helped me lower Hazel a bit so that she was mostly immersed in the water to stay warm. It seemed a nice way to transition from her watery world to her new loud bright dry one. After a while, I was helped to the bed while Larry held her – there's nothing like seeing a dad with a tiny brand new baby – and then the four of us snuggled in together. Hazel nursed, and about an hour after she was born, we cut her cord and weighed and measured her. Phone calls were made, and one by one, the people who had attended the birth faded out of the room... and there we were, a family with our two sweet girls.