After a less-then-ideal home birth with my first baby, I’m thrilled (& relieved) to share my second adventure in the birth rodeo
If you knew me a couple years ago, you may remember, I felt traumatized by the experience of my daughter’s birth and how I used this blog to process the experience by writing about it. Although we had always talked about having more then one child, I swore to my husband as I first handed our daughter to him that I would NEVER do THAT again. I was wrong.
When I discovered I was pregnant with our second, the line appeared on a Dollar Tree test that I was genuinely expecting another negative result from. I don’t even know why I took it that morning, but I do remember the complete and total shock glancing at the result window as I was about to casually toss it in the waste bin. Like most mornings, Amelie was in the bathroom with me. I know it’s common not to tell your kids too early, and while I certainly understand why, I was probably half attempting to process the news myself as I explained to her there was a new baby growing in mama’s belly!
Our morning routine is to have our breakfast together and play until 8am, when we go wake up papa for work with kisses, snuggles, and sometimes play camping by making our tents with the bed sheets. This morning, we were going to bring something else: The News. We sat at the kitchen table and I wrote “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Mama is having another baby, The father is YOU!” as Amelie colored it with crayons. Have I mentioned I’m not very good with secrets? To make the wake up to big news attack even more intense, I videoed his reaction on my cell phone as Amelie gave him his bleary-eyed surprise note. I’ve since framed this little relic in our bathroom as a fun reminder of that morning.
The pregnancy that followed was surprising in that it was so completely different from my first pregnancy with Amelie. I immediately began hoping the same for the birth. The morning sickness was awful and dragged on heavy for a solid month or so longer then with my first. Unfortunately, my previous attack plan of ginger cookies, stretchy pants, and Netflix was not toddler friendly. If you were to ask me now how I handled it, the truth is I don’t really know. I think I’ve blocked it out. If kids teach us anything, it’s that we can be pushed so far beyond what we think our limits are and still survive.
But, the discomfort of early pregnancy wasn’t just physical this time, it was emotional too. I really started to lose my mind around the holidays. It was a time of huge transition for us, leaving the city where we’d rented so happily for so many years and buying our first house outside of Portland-limits was a big change. I had so loved walking everywhere in NW and the streetcar chiming outside our door every 12 minutes. I left Florida because I loathe having to drive everywhere and yet I was signing the dotted line to live in a car-dependent home. Indefinitely. I had spent the past decade enjoying smaller efficient urban spaces and lots of travel, and here we were buying a house I felt was much too big and too far out. My husband and I were arguing more and before I knew it, I started having panic attacks for the first time in many years. My solution was what would become the theme of my pregnancy and birth: Self-care.
Instead of playing it like I’m tough, I admitted I was losing my grip because I didn’t have time for that. I am not an angsty teen anymore. I’m a wife and a mother. I have a responsibility to my family to keep myself strong, healthy, and more then capable. I know my behavior sets an example for my daughter. I want to be conscious of the way I live my life and treat those that I love, and that includes myself. After one argument left me with little appetite, I escaped to wander the abyss of cute baby clothes and end-cap clearance deals at Target alone one night. I knew something wasn’t right. I went up to the front counter to buy a juice and then woke up in a pool of blood and strangers, quite an impressive distance from the counter that held my last pre-fall memory. Mama’s first ambulance ride and 9 stitches in my forehead later, I had a couple appointments with a therapist that specializes in pregnancy-related woes. She turned out to be a total crap therapist, but she did let me borrow a book my first visit titled something like “Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy” in which I learned a lot about what I was dealing with, that it wasn’t so bad, and that it was totally something I could come out of. And I did, as quickly as it came, it passed. And thank goodness, because the lady couldn’t keep our appointments, or her desk, straight.
The next half of pregnancy just improved and improved as my belly grew and grew. I started taking prenatal yoga classes again as my daughter entered preschool and I went to see a chiropractor for the first time. This one specializes in “pelvic floor work”, which is a really elegant way of saying he puts his fingers in all your private bits to work with the muscles that connect to, well, everything else. I can’t recommend this highly enough. If I can be the urban legend of that pregnant woman who didn’t have back pain in pregnancy because she saw a chiropractor, I will gladly take that role.
After the tearing in my birth with Amelie, my franken-gina had left me with little confidence that another baby could even come out of there again without taking down the whole building. With horror stories of incontinence floating around mom’s groups and a bit of a bulge that left me afraid something may have prolapsed down below, I made an appointment. I found out I did have a lot of imbalance in my pelvic floor, some muscles puffy and over compensating for others that were doing diddly, but nothing that couldn’t be helped and corrected. The chiropractor made a world of difference immediately. I could feel down my legs and up my back the way our bodies are all connected to this, often ignored, complex set of layered muscles and the omnipresent lower back pain of pregnancy vanished on my first visit never to return until active labor was in full swing. I plan to go back after I’m healed from the second birth to ensure my muscles are evenly distributing the work load from now on and to keep myself strong.
When I chose my same midwife, Kori, at the same birth center, Alma, some of my friends were surprised. They’d assumed since Amelie’s birth had been such a mess for me that I would be trying something different. I did my research and visited a hospital. But, the reality was I wanted Kori and Alma again. It’s what I felt offered the safest scenario for a supported, natural birth. I re-“interviewed” Kori again, where we sat together and had a beautiful conversation about my last birth, what I had felt went wrong, what we could do to mitigate the risks of hemorrhaging again, and other ways to improve my next birth experience. I hired the Alma team with confidence and I am, again, so glad I did.
I chose the birth center this time over home. Our new home isn’t close to a hospital with an L&D unit. Also, Amelie is quite the empathetic little gal, and I knew she would be worried about me if she was to see me labor. And I, in turn, would worry for her. I sensed I would want to go, put my energy where it needed to be: towards welcoming our new baby, and then come back home to her. I was correct, once labor started, I did not want to see her. I couldn’t handle it emotionally.
As the months evaporated, I unpacked Amelie’s old baby things and scored a really rad bassinet and swing off craigslist. I painted an ombré mural of the mountains a la Pinterest on the basement room wall to prepare it as a guest room for helpful, visiting grandparents. We all nest in our own ways. Nesting in the new home brought me closer to it, and I’m finally adjusting to (& maybe even appreciating) life “outside of the city”.
Around 37 or 38 weeks, my braxton hicks started becoming really frequent, and twice they were intense enough to understand why second-time moms actually have more false starts for labor then firsts. I told found myself telling my belly “You are not allowed out until grandma’s plane touchs down on July 8th. Anytime after that is fair game.” When the day came, I had a visit with the midwives and my acupuncturist on the way to the airport and found I was already 3cm dilated, 50% effaced, and station zero. Score. My body WAS doing something.
The super slow motion of my body gently prepping continued, and on Monday morning the 13th I went in to visit Kori for a membrane sweep. She said there wasn’t much to sweep as I was already 5cm. I was half way done and the party hadn’t even started yet! If this wasn’t a great way to kick things off, I don’t know what could have been.
We swung by Matt’s Wired iRepair shop (*ahem*, now The Fix Hut) on Alberta to surprise his business partner/best friend with a happy-one-year-open-anniversary gift. We danced in through the door with an Anova box topped with a giant red bow, Matt scratched records in the back and I danced around a bit with my belly bulging. While in NE, Bollywood Theater was an obvious choice for lunch (did you know they’ll do the pork vindaloo as a thali meal?!) and we just sort of just let the day pass in this sort of parallel-universe dream-like whimsy, ignoring my “braxton hicks”. My lovely in-laws took Amelie out “on a date” for their dinner and Matt and I prepped our bags for the birth center. My fabulous yoga instructor came over after dinner and helped me get my birthing pose on point with the sunset behind us as Matt installed the baby carseat. After about an hour of hip-opening yoga, interrupted by Pandora commercials that would set me off giggling, I started pacing the house and Matt finally called our midwife. She told us to call back in 30 minutes, because I was still able to breathe through. Then, it became call back in 20 minutes. Matt says it was squarely 3 minutes later I demanded we call her back and tell her we were getting into the car. My contractions had ramped up fast and were coming every 2-3 minutes with intensity I couldn’t just “breathe through”.
When we arrived at the birth center, I had a contraction up against the car, made it up into the Fern room for another couple against the couch as the tub finished filling. As soon as I was asked “Would you like to get in the water?” there was a pile of my clothes slipped on the floor and I was gone into Laborland. Matt later commented how humorous he’d found it to be that I was straight stripped and in the birth mode within minutes of walking in. I wasn’t screwing around. I was there to run the marathon.
In my first pregnancy, I took a birth class and read books. I filled out worksheets: made lists of things like favorite snack foods and mantras. As it turns out, my birth mantras this round were “OK” and “F*ck”. I kept it simple, but it was effective. The thing is, this time, I knew enough about birth to know I didn’t need a plan, I needed an attitude. Birth is dynamic and dangerous. It’s really goddamn hard and unpredictable things happen consistently. I went into labor knowing full well that I could end up hurt, or with a baby who was hurt. I went into labor knowing it was stronger then me and not to fight it, but rather flow through it as gracefully as I possibly could. I went into labor knowing it really does hurt badly to birth naturally, but I was mentally prepared for that. My birth plan was simple: survive. Be open to whatever it is. Just effing do it. And I did.
As I cursed and moaned through contractions, I worked hard to keep my voice low and to breathe. I kept telling myself it was OK, that I was doing just fine. I told my baby “We’ve got this! We’re doing this!” out loud between contractions. I made jokes. I made light conversation with the rubber duck thermometer in the tub. My favorite classical music played. The midwives checked vitals and lit candles. My best friend Laura picked up my mother in law after Amelie was to bed, and soon their warm presence had joined us in the room.
The bath got annoying, it was too hot and my back was killing me during the contractions. I’d hired a doula in hopes of lots of counter pressure, but her touch wasn’t aggressive enough in the moment. I didn’t really feel her presence, but I still strongly advocate that doulas create much better birth outcomes and anyone that can hire one should.
I labored standing and leaning on Matthew a while and felt things really progress. I felt my body push a little, but I didn’t say anything and I didn’t know why it was doing that so early. As per suggestion, I was then on the toilet, and conveniently that was where my water broke. I felt like pushing again, but it seemed too soon. How could I need to push already? I hadn’t hit transition, right? I hadn’t lost my spirit or ability to cope. Despite asking for the bowl a few times, I hadn’t thrown up. But soon Kori had a flashlight and gloves on, she said she could see hair. Was this really happening?
They offered to get back in the tub, but instead I opted for the birth stool. My body apparently likes to birth in just one position, and soon I found myself right back to how I had Amelie. Except, this time I was there. I wasn’t defeated, pummeled, afraid. I was present, alive, awake. I pushed and the baby moved down. It was excruciatingly painful and the moans I’d worked so hard to keep low raised into yells and screams. The soft music had been purely background until pushing, when I heard playing was the most intense song I’d chosen for the playlist, Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca: a song I’ve struggled to play on the piano since I was 14. As the most complex stage of the song ramped up, I felt my baby’s head crown and the “ring of fire”. Luckily, we were all alone in the beautiful birth center house as I yelled the F-word at the top of my lungs and my baby was born pink and sunny side up. He sprayed amniotic fluid at Kori and his morrow reflex kicked as he entered the world, creating the most stunning and graphic photo (caught by my friend Laura) of my face scrunched into a warrior’s, my midwife catching him with his arms stretched wide, and my husband framing the corner with his GoPro camera recording (no, I’m not posting that one here). I may never be able to play that part of Rondo Alla Turca correctly on a piano, but for that one time in my life of listening to it, I nailed it. I felt so accomplished.
We got to the birth center around 9:30, and it was 11:36pm that Theo was in my arms. Suddenly, we were snuggling in bed. I couldn’t believe it. We did it. Just like that I was a mother of TWO, I had a daughter and a son. No hospital transfer, no tearing, I didn’t even get to use the laughing gas I’d signed up for so excitedly! The show was over and I couldn’t have been happier. This birth was everything I needed it to be, but could never expect from it. It was my healing birth and it had been intensely beautiful and satisfying. I held him in my arms, so proud to have made this journey again as the stronger mother I am today. I kissed my husband with gratitude. He was my rock, and supported me through not just the birth, but the hard part this time, the pregnancy.
I guess that’s the thing about this birth story, it is mostly about pregnancy. I knew taking on the accountability and really being prepared for my birth could help ensure the most desirable of outcomes. I showed up for yoga, I went to see the pelvic floor doc, I had acupuncture and a prenatal massage. I took care of myself so I could take care of my family. It’s the same approach I’m taking for parenthood: take care of me so I can take care of them better. And pork vindaloo and f-bombs don’t hurt either. Welcome to our family, Thelonious Robert Moore. You’re 8 lbs 5oz of straight up handsome! I am so proud you are mine.