[My first birth was posted here, and now I’ve completed my next birth story!]
Nana arrived on our doorstep when I was 38 weeks pregnant. She wasn’t missing this birth like she did the first! Her plan was to stay for 2 weeks after the baby was born to help with our toddler (18mo) and the transition into life with two under two.
With her in town to watch my daughter, I started spending more time focusing on getting my OP baby to turn into a better birthing position. The baby was ROP most of the time, and I didn’t want a harder labor than necessary. I saw a chiropractor (several, actually), had an abdominal massage and even tried hypnosis. On the day I received the hypnosis treatment, the woman told me to trust that my baby knew when to “turn away from the sun and toward the moon.” It was important for me to be reminded that my baby knew how to be born, and that beyond my modest efforts to turn baby, I had to relinquish the rest to the world.
The day of the hypnosis I took a nap, and was awoken by the most excruciating pain of my life. It was so violently painful that I threw myself from my bed, screaming for my mother downstairs. My baby was exploding from my stomach, punching and kicking every which way, and the paralysis of the nerve pain shooting from my pelvis down my legs left me army crawling for the bedroom door. My mom heard the screaming and came running for me. By the time she was by my side the pain was subsiding, but I was so scared. I didn’t know what happened or if it would happen again. My mom sat with me on the floor and held me while I cried, both from relief that the episode was over and fear another would strike. I palpated my belly and found that baby had turned into an LOA position. Yay!
But that evening the baby started squirming again, and with more scary nerve pain, settled back in it’s ROP position for good.
My prodromal labor started at 38+3. Beginning around dinner I had a few mild contractions that continued steadily through the night. I didn’t wake my husband or mother. I labored in bed until about 5:30am when my husband woke up, and I asked, “What do you think about having a baby today?” He was so happy! But getting up and out of bed stopped those contractions dead.
The next week was punctuated by start and stop contractions. I would contract throughout the day and then stop after dinner. Fortunately I was able to sleep at night. Each day the contractions were stronger and I would think, maybe this will light the fire. On Sunday morning we went out to brunch with our dear friends, Carol and Stephen. I was with them when their son was born 5 months earlier. Carol was also my doula. By the time we sat down for brunch, my contractions were picking up. I wondered if we’d be seeing Carol again later that day.
After brunch we went home and did some walking and checked out a new coffee shop in our neighborhood. The barista asked when I was due and I said, “I’m in labor right now!” Having said it out loud I now believed it. My contractions were 5 ½ minutes apart.
I went home to rest and the contractions started to space out. I called my midwife and told her that I give up and clearly this baby was never coming. I came back downstairs and when my mom and husband asked about my contractions, I told them I wasn’t having a baby so they should stop thinking about it. But during dinner they picked back up again, and nursing my toddler down to sleep took them to the next level. Once she was asleep, we called Carol and we got our party started! Carol arrived by about 9pm, and I swear that as soon as she walked in the door I had to start vocalizing during contractions. I told everyone to hold tight downstairs and that I wanted to labor upstairs by myself. I curled my body pillow up with a hole in the middle and laid, stomach down, on my bed. I visualized baby rotating to an anterior position and moaned through my contractions. At 11pm I texted my husband to call our midwife to let her know I was definitely in labor. He texted back that she was already here, since everyone knew “this was it” before I was really willing to say it out loud. My midwife came upstairs and listened to baby. It felt special to have her there and I asked her not to leave the room, and until baby arrived, she was always by my side.
Until transition I pretty much wanted to be alone and left untouched. I requested a bath but before the tub was full I started shaking and knew where we were headed. I forgot about the filling tub and headed for the bed, where I kneeled beside it and draped my body over a spot that smelled like my husband. And there I stayed, for 2+ hours of transition, with my arms out wide and my fingers soft and relaxed. One woman held my hand while another rubbed my lower back. “Harder!” I would say.
With the exception of my vocal chords I made sure I stayed fully relaxed. It was an out-of-body experience. The part of me connected to my body fought to stay in control and feared that if I tensed even a single muscle I would lose it and I would have to work twice as hard to pull myself back together. The part of me that was disconnected was thinking, “Dude. This is so crazy. I’m having a baby! I’ve got this. I rock this shit.” My contractions were long, double peaking and gave me barely enough time to draw a breath in between. The back pain was constant and unrelenting. There was no doubt in my mind that baby was descending face up. With my first, I described the sensation of a contraction as a tremendous amount of pressure over the small of my back. With this baby, it felt like that, plus a blowtorch searing my flesh. The burning sensation was so real that I visualized my contractions as long bars of fire moving across my view field like musical notes, with short blips of blackness. The only real words I spoke during transition were toward the end when I allowed myself the smallest amount of humility. “I can’t do this forever,” I said.
My midwife asked if I would like to sit on the toilet for a few contractions and then head into the tub. I was happy to get up off my knees and try something different. I did a few contractions on the toilet, some while lifting my belly, and then did a few holding onto the doorframe. I then stepped into the tub and, as many women have pondered before me, thought, Damn, why am I just now getting in here? It felt amazing! I did a few more contractions while floating on my back. I said, “It sucks being on my back right now.” My midwife said, “move to wherever feels right.” But despite the discomfort, somehow being on my back did feel right for me and I chose to stay there. My husband was in the room now, rubbing my head.
And then, like magic, my moans took on that grunting quality, and we knew we were coming into the home stretch. All the women who had been hiding in the darkness of our bedroom perked up and came in to the bathroom to witness our little miracle.
I was so thankful that transition was over. A new energy was breathed into me. The next contraction came and the pushing was undeniable. The force of my body was so raw and I was so ready. I could feel my baby shooting down my pelvis and pushing my skin out of the way. I asked my mom to hold my hand while a friend took over the videotaping. The photographer was ready at my feet. Carol was ready to catch with our midwife’s guidance. My husband was at my head, doing his best to make sure he was by my side but not likely to see any distended body parts. I can only describe the feeling of the baby moving down as being like a deep, powerful sound wave. The harder I vocalized the more the sound moved my tissues, making way for our baby. It was a bulging, larger than life feeling. I reached down and felt my baby’s head starting to exit my body. The contraction would come and it would be like I had the strength of a thousand horses, stampeding through me, carrying my baby with them. Between pushes, baby would retreat and give me relief, until the entire head emerged into my right hand.
I asked if baby was sunnyside up. Yes, our midwife said. Just as I had suspected.
I was completely relaxed. With each breath I softly moaned with the knowledge that victory lay within my reach. We all chatted about the gender. About being so happy this baby would be born at home. The women gazed at my baby’s face, looking straight up at them, caught between to worlds but still peacefully enshrined in the caul. As the next contraction began to rise I said, “are we gonna push out the shoulders this time?” My midwife said Yes. “Here we go”, I said, and I bore down with all my might – with the courage of every woman who occupied this space before me and the greed of a mother who desperately wanted to meet her child.
Then into this world our baby was born, and into the loving hands of a woman who has nursed my babes. The sounds of joy that cannot be contained filled the room. Tearful releases of a long breath held, the awkward first greetings of a being who has been with us all along. Baby was born sunnyside up, looking up at the full moon and born in the caul. So, I guess in the end, baby did turn away from the sun and toward the moon, as I had been asked to trust.
When I pulled our baby to my chest I curled my hands under it’s bottom and I knew right away. After the ooo’s and ahhh’s subsided I smiled and said, “I think it’s a girl.” The room gathered to look as I rolled our newborn over. Sure enough, we had a sister for our daughter to love.
Big sister woke up about fifteen minutes after the birth and came to meet her new best friend. It’s one of my most cherished memories. At only 18 months old, little Aria’s world was changing forever. She crawled into my arms and nursed while she gazed at this new wonder. And on October 29th, just as the sun began to rise, Aria learned a new word. Sister.
Ellery Kane Tofel, Born October 29th, 2012. 7lbs 14oz, 20 ¼ inches.
Photography by Sarah Boccolucci Photography