I believe that every pregnancy and birth teaches us something as women that transforms us into the mothers that our children need us to be. My entire experience of “Sunshine’s” pregnancy and birth was one of learning to trust in my body, my instincts, and my relationship with my husband.
My hubby (B) and I were really enjoying parenting our daughter (L) and I was anxious to begin that journey again. B asked that we wait one more month before we “officially” started trying to conceive. Not one for patience, my initial reaction was to try to convince him of what I wanted, but some wise words from friends helped me to step back and wait for one more month so we could move forward united into this incredible process. Because of B’s cancer treatments and the challenges we faced in L’s conception, we expected that conceiving our next baby may take some time and quite possibly medical intervention. As my cycle began, I remember crying and feeling overwhelmed at the challenges we might face. At that moment, I told myself that I needed to live by the mantra “control is an illusion” (because it is true!) and to release myself from the pressure I was placing upon us to “succeed”.
I distinctly remember at 1:38am the night after I ovulated feeling that *something* was happening in my body. It was a surreal feeling and I looked over at B while we were watching TV and said, “It feels like something just happened! I don’t know why, but I think an egg and a sperm just got together!” Of course, he laughed and looked at me like I was crazy. I mean, who actually gets lucky on the first cycle of trying? Certainly not testicular cancer survivors! Over the next week or so, mild symptoms of pregnancy started to show up – needing to pee in the middle of the night, vague nausea, a skin breakout, etc. At this point, I was still questioning my ability to trust my body and thought that I really must be crazy! 9 days later I could wait no more, so at 5am I decided to take a pregnancy test. I thought I must be hallucinating, but there was the faintest line visible on that little stick! Amazing the power that little pee stick gave me – it confirmed what my body already *knew*, so from that point on, I tried my best to trust my internal guide rather than any external experts, tests, gadgets, etc.
The first trimester was physically and emotionally exhausting and I needed to rely heavily on B to help with L and getting things done around the house. I spent most of my time sleeping, vomiting, trying to convince L to just lay and snuggle for a few more minutes, and trying my best to save my energy for the families whose births I was attending during this time. After the nausea faded, I was able to really enjoy this pregnancy. I attribute feeling so great this time around to doing prenatal yoga, trying to eat well (organic, whole foods as much as possible), and getting chiropractic adjustments often – man, am I lucky to be married to my chiropractor!
We did our own prenatal care, with long distance support from my dear friend and midwife T checking in often from Oregon. We chose to not have any blood tests or ultrasounds, based on our research about what information these could actually provide, the risks/benefits of the tests, and the fact that we accepted full responsibility for whatever outcome we received. We spent lots of time listening to Sunshine’s heartbeat with a fetoscope, palpating position and feeling our baby wiggling in my belly. L was so excited to become a big sister and often demanded that I “open my belly” (lift my shirt) so she could kiss or talk to the baby. We discussed birth plans and knew that we wanted to have this baby in our home, possibly in the water, with only family and (hopefully!) T in attendance. I also reviewed complications with B and how to handle them, as well as writing up an emergency transport plan. Though we knew that it was unlikely anything would go wrong, it felt good to prepare for anything so we could focus our energies on the birth we hoped to have.
In the weeks leading up to my “due date” I started having lots of toning contractions that felt buzzy in my pelvis and back. My oldest sister K (and her husband) and T (and her 2 daughters) both came to visit in the week or so around my “due date”. I birthed L 2 days after her due date and felt that Sunshine might follow suit or even be a couple days early, but instead I got another lesson in surrendering control. I had more of the usual toning contractions, lost bits of mucus plug, etc. but no significant changes indicating that baby would be making an appearance. K returned to New York, anxiously awaiting the Auntie updates. As T’s flight back to Oregon approached, I started to question if we should be “doing something” to try to have this baby before she left. I felt comfortable with things that might naturally help labor along if baby was really ready (walking, sex, acupressure, etc.) but didn’t want to do anything invasive. The day before T was set to leave, I asked B, “should I have T strip my membranes?” and he reminded me that there was no need to rush this baby. So, after a lovely 10 day visit, T and her girls flew back to Oregon. I cried. Then I spent some time thinking about why I was crying – I wasn’t afraid that I couldn’t do this without her. I was sad that my friend was back on the opposite side of the country. I was able to move forward knowing that my hubby and I would be able to handle this together. After all, T was only a video chat call away!
On the morning of October 27th, I woke up and thought, “Wow! I’m 41 weeks today. Didn’t think I’d be pregnant this long, but I feel great, so why not!”. L had a bit of a rough night and had woken up early with B to get something to eat and watch a movie. I slept in, noticing that I was having more buzzy contractions somewhat regularly. Around 11am, I decided to take a shower and then went straight back to bed when I noticed that my contractions were now 5 minutes apart and had a distinctly more crampy quality, though were still very mild. B decided to surprise me with blueberry pancakes in bed (have I mentioned that he totally rocks??), so I ate and attempted to nap a bit. I texted T to let her know that things might be warming up and we joked about how this baby better not be born while she was in class. Around 12:30pm, I decided to give my mom and my friend A (who would be photographing the birth) a heads up that it might be baby day. Contractions were about 2-4 minutes apart, but I could easily breathe through them and continued about my day as usual. B discovered that our chickens, who had been on strike for the past 2 weeks, had just resumed lying, so I decided to go for a quick walk out in the yard to take them a treat. We then went up to the bedroom to inflate the birth tub and clean up a bit. At about 2pm, we ate some gnocchi with pesto and chicken and I had a random craving for buffalo chicken dip, so I had a few bites of that and said a quick prayer that I wouldn’t be barfing it up later.
Shortly after lunch, I was hanging out with L but needing to focus and get on my hands and knees on the couch during each contraction. L was a fantastic little doula and provided perfect counter pressure by sitting on my low back (like riding a pony lol). I let some of my close friends who had attended my Mother Blessing ceremony know that it might be time to light their candles, but I was still wondering if things might slow down. I had been texting with K throughout the day, but when I received a message from her around 3:30pm I responded, “Love you too… now no more texting unless I text you”, because I was starting to feel like I really needed to turn inward and focus… cue laborland! B started filling the tub with hot water and I let A and my mom know that they should probably head over.
My contractions were getting stronger and it felt good to kneel and lean forward while vocalizing. Sunshine was active and moving throughout labor, but we decided to listen with the fetoscope and were reassured to hear a nice strong rate in the 130s and 140s. I joked with T that “I was not having an orgasmic birth. Again. Boo.” Around 5pm, I got into the tub. While it didn’t seem to decrease the discomfort of the contractions, it sure made it easier to move into whatever position I needed in the moment to handle the intensity. I made a couple trips between the bathroom and the tub, feeling restless, hot, and nauseous and wanting privacy from everyone. At some point we decided to call T on video chat so she could “be there”. Her daughter was being her usual chatty self, so after joking around a bit, we decided to put them on mute. I alternated between giving myself mini pep talks during contractions, moaning, “Oooooo, strong is good, strong is good” and then whining during others, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this.” The contractions were strong, but as soon as they subsided I would think to myself, “OK that wasn’t really that bad, maybe I’m just being dramatic.” But it felt good to be a little dramatic, so I continued.
After a few good contractions in the tub, I told everyone I felt like barfing and disappeared into the bathroom again. After a little while, B came in and said that T suggested I get back in the tub unless I wanted to have my baby on the toilet, because it looked like I was in transition. I was irritated at the suggestion and told B that they were both crazy and that I didn’t want to be doing this for 30 hours (Hello, midwife-self, sign of transition!!).
I stood at the sink for the next contraction and noticed that when I grunted a bit at the peak the pain in my lower abdomen seemed to really fade away. I wandered back to the tub, grunting a bit and enjoying the fact that something finally made it a bit less owwy. I clambered back into the tub and this next part happened so quickly that it’s a bit of a blur. I felt a little popping sensation and then the most overwhelming feeling of pressure in my pelvis. I managed to blurt out, “I think my water broke!” and then started chanting to myself “gentle, gentle, gentle” as I lay on my side in the tub feeling like a caged animal looking for an escape. But there was no escape from this pressure, it just kept building.
I told B that he better get ready to catch. I rested my hand over myself and the wrinkly head just within, and on the next contraction my baby’s head was born and I naturally moved to a semi reclined position with my bottom floating a bit. B didn’t realize how quickly everything was happening and said, surprised, “I think I see the head!” to which I responded, “the head is *out* (fool)!”. At this point, he asked A to get my mom and L (woops – not a lot of birth action shots!). There were a few moments where my baby’s head was out and we were waiting for the rest of the body to be born. I felt totally calm and focused in those moments and told baby, “Do whatever you need to do, baby” trusting that he/she would have the wisdom to know exactly how to rotate and be born safely. On the next contraction I felt my baby’s body move through and out of my pelvis and into me and my husband’s hands. It was incredible. As B handed the baby to me under the water, I noticed a loop of cord which I easily unwrapped from the neck. I then lifted my slippery new baby up out of the water, exclaiming “Oh my God, our baby is here!” (at 6:38pm).
I was snuggling the baby to my chest with my hand curled around his bum -yes, his! – I could feel a little scrotum, so I turned to B and asked him to look. He announced to the room that we had a boy. He looked absolutely perfect, slightly purple but breathing well and had great tone. L and my mom entered the room seconds later. L was absolutely glowing with love and excitement to meet our baby. She mentioned the bit of blood becoming visible in the water, so I reminded her about the placenta that would be born next and decided that I might as well get out of the tub and comfy in bed now.
After a bit of shuffling around with towels and setting up the bed with pads, I got out of the tub and noticed a small gush/clot indicating that the placenta had probably already separated. I was feeling great, not lightheaded at all, so I snuggled my baby and waited for a contraction. When I started to feel the familiar crampiness and pressure low in my pelvis I told B to grab the placenta bowl as I pushed while gently guiding the placenta out by the cord. I was feeling a bit anxious to not be able to assess my own blood loss well, but everyone did a great job of bringing me water and tea to drink while I massaged my uterus and B checked my vitals and consulted with T. A little more than an hour after the birth, we cut the cord and I asked my mom to make a smoothie for me with a small piece of the placenta to help slow the bleeding and replenish my body – I swear you can’t taste it at all when it’s all blended up with delicious berries, juice, and yogurt!
B finally got a chance to snuggle baby and L seized the opportunity to sing “You are my Sunshine” to him. I’m pretty sure my heart actually melted. B weighed and measured him – 7lbs 14oz and 21in long. I continued being cautious about my bleeding and decided to stay in bed until morning – which meant my lovely husband got to help me use a bedpan when I needed to pee (isn’t birth romantic??). After a few phone calls and online updates, we finally decided to all get tucked in for the night. What an amazing feeling to be snuggled together as a family, in our own family bed, after our own family birth!
Birth photography by Amber Collins of Beautiful Moments Photography.