There are two kinds of women in the world of Birth Experiences: those who want to know the baby arrive healthy, happy, and what you named him/her, and those who want to know every adventurous detail from the first real contraction to the last perineal stitch. I’m of the later, most likely due in part to my medical background in nursing. I’m also completely fascinated by how just as every baby is a unique individual, each one makes his or her own triumphant entry into the world. Even between my three own children, the birth experiences varied so greatly that looking back the primary lesson I learned was to not expect similarities!
For the sake of the first type of women out there, here’s the short: My sweetest baby Plum arrived at 6:12 am on December 15th, eleven days past her due date of December 4th. She came quickly, and I held her in my arms just 3 short hours after leaving home for the Birth Center. She was sweet and swollen, weighing in at 9 pounds 6 ounces. My heart grew three sizes that morning, and I have scarcely put her down in the last five months as I’m utterly smitten with her.
For those second type of women, here’s the real story:
It begins with a quick reflection on the boys’ births. Both were late, both by two days. With Milo as my first, I was planning on his tardiness, so his arrival was a surprise. With Eliot I had somehow decided that he would be two weeks early, so I felt the last sixteen days of his pregnancy acutely, and emotionally. Because of the mental struggle involved with the end of pregnancy, and the way my attitude and expectation shaped the experiences so entirely (positively with Milo and negatively with Eliot) I was determined to remain positive through to the end of my pregnancy with Plum, and from the get-go I expected her to be late.
Because of this, when her due date passed without so much as a Braxton Hicks contraction, I wasn’t disappointed. I felt certain she’d make it on her own time, and I would be happier just letting the expectations go. I kept busy with Christmas preparations: making and delivering neighbor gifts, sewing presents, and taking the boys on adventures. My mom arrived to help on December 8th, four days past Plum’s due date, which I thought would be the perfect time (as I had her come ten days earlier than Eliot’s due date, and it was a lot of pressure to have grandma around with NO BABY!!) Even without trying to have expectations, I realized when my mom arrived that although I had actually expected Plum to arrive late, I didn’t really, truly believe she’d be super late…just a few days maybe, like her brothers. At an appointment one full week past due, I was surprised to hear the midwives begin talk of induction. First, natural induction methods, and if those didn’t work, real induction.
In all my months of preparing for having a late baby, it had never occurred to me that too-late babies are induced, and that was a possibility for me. The natural inductions recommended, that I tried, included walking miles, eating pineapple, eating In-N-Out burgers (I made that one up), having sex, nipple stimulation, and two reflexology sessions, each attempt without success. Without even the beginning of some contractions. No response at all from baby Plum to my efforts!
The midwives suggested castor oil, which I had always been taught was a dangerous induction method, but apparently not when you’re already nine days overdue. The decision to drink castor oil felt like a big one. Like this would, without fail, bring the baby and so was almost like a planned induction. Dave and I talked about it at length, then decided to go ahead and give it a go on Thursday, December 12th. I planned to be home (in the bathroom) for a few hours after taking it, and so he came home from work to be with me in case of impending delivery. We picked some up at the pharmacy and I took the first dose as prescribed: 2 ounces with 2 ounces of orange juice and some ice, blended into a smoothie. Then I settled in to wait. Nothing. Two hours later I took the second dose as prescribed. Nothing. Hours and hours of nothing. No gas, no diarrhea, no contractions. Nothing! I literally drank an entire bottle of castor oil at 41 weeks pregnant and experienced NO EFFECT. I either had a stomach of steel, or a stubborn baby baby.
Friday, December 13th At the midwives office, I learned they had scheduled my hospital induction for Monday, December 16th. Their idea was to count backwards the hours and attempt every possible natural induction technique before butting up against the 14-day post-due rule of delivery. That meant they could break my water on Sunday, and I’d still have a full 24 hours to let my body kick into gear before they’d have to start Pitocin. Backing up another 24-hours, and they could insert a cervical foley–something I’d never heard of–on Saturday night, hoping to help with dilation before breaking my water on Sunday. I felt like all of this talk of preparing for induction was a little odd, since Plum was going to come on her own time. I’d forgotten that that rule only applied until two weeks after her due date, a date that was rapidly approaching.
Dave and I both felt comfortable with the steps leading to our Monday induction, so on Saturday evening, December 14th at 7 pm we went to the office to have a cervical foley catheter inserted. I was already dilated to 3 cm, and had been for two weeks without budging. The bulb of a foley catheter is about 3-4 cm wide when filled with water (normally filled to keep the catheter in place in the bladder) and the midwives figured that although it might just come back out, the stimulation to the cervix may help, and certainly wouldn’t hurt at that point. Once the catheter was filled, other than having the tube annoyingly taped to my inner thigh, I couldn’t feel it at all. They recommended I go to sleep, and in the morning if it hadn’t slipped out, to cut the end, drain the water, and come in to have my water broken.
I went to sleep after eating yet another In-N-Out double double (animal style). At 3 am I awoke to a strong, painful contraction. It was the kind that I remembered from my previous deliveries, and I was thrilled. I groggily wandered into the bathroom and emptied my bladder, pulling gently on the foley, as I had been instructed. It slipped right out of my cervix, and I cut the end, drained the water, and went to wake up Dave. Ten minutes to the dot after the contraction that had woken me up, I had another. Dave started getting out of bed and changing while I called the midwife on-call and told her I was in labor. Ten minutes later, she had told me to meet her at 4:45 am at the birth center to have a baby! It was around 3:30 am when I hopped into the shower and warmed my huge belly while I tried to relax, take up some time, and get mentally prepared for the delivery. My contractions changed abruptly from every 10 minutes to every 5, and by the time I was dressed and into the car they were steadily coming every 3.
We pulled up to the birth center tower at 4:45 am and called the midwife, who met us at the door. She led us to one of the three brand new, well-equiped birthing rooms in the newly opened center (across the street from the hospital) and I asked her to turn on the bath. I labored in the water for most of my labor with Milo, a bit of my labor with Eliot, and I knew that I wanted to labor in the water with Plum, too. I also had considered a water birth, as it was allowed in this birthing center, and hadn’t been an option in the hospital settings where I delivered each of the boys. But I hadn’t done a whole lot of research, and figured I’d decide when it was time. The midwife checked my cervix, which was dilated to 8 cm, and we knew we were in business. Dave turned on our labor and delivery playlist, filled with songs that I know all the words to, love, and thought wouldn’t be super annoying while I was trying to focus. Basically a lot of James Taylor, with the odd additions of some of the Wicked Soundtrack (“Popular” was the only song I asked him to skip during the process), M.I.A.’s Paper Planes (which made us both smile when it came on), and Katy Perry’s ROAR (which actually was super empowering). I laid back in the tub, trying to zone into the music and out of the pain. I tried to hold Dave’s hand and have him help me time the contractions, but it was easier this time to just be still and almost try to ignore them.
About an hour had passed when I asked the midwife to check my cervix. I was beginning to feel exhausted, and needed some motivation, like knowing that I was progressing. Also, the birth center was equipped with nitrous oxide, which was already sounding really interesting to my aching body. When the midwife told me I was still at 8 cm, but a lot more effaced, I felt disappointed, but relieved to know I needed to gear up mentally for more labor and more pain. She suggested I take a quick trip to the bathroom, as I had been drinking lots of ice water, and she thought emptying my bladder would help keep the labor moving along. Reluctantly, I stood up, and stepped from the tub with help from Dave and the nurse. Immediately I had a breathtakingly intense contraction that was strengthened even further by the fact that I was no longer floating comfortably in the water. The midwife said encouragingly, “That was a good one. You probably lost a centimeter with that one.” I shuffled to the toilet and slowly sat down just in time to have another fiercely painful contraction, this time accompanied by an uncontrollable urge to push. And not just the urge, actual pushing. I was pushing and couldn’t stop. I started almost yelling,” I’M PUSHING! I’M PUSHING! I’M SORRY!” To which the midwife replied, “It’s alright, go ahead and push if you feel like pushing.” I was a little bit confused to be feeling ready to push just minutes after being checked at 8 cm, but we quickly shuffled me back to the tub, which sounded like the only place I’d get some relief.
The next two contractions were almost dream-like. They were cushioned by the warm water, and the slow, steady contractions of delivery, rather than the wildly intense contractions of labor. I took the chance to lay back and just breathe, relieved. Then the midwife told me I was ready to push, which I already knew, and I sunk down a little deeper in the tub, bent up my knees, and pushed. After one push Plum’s head crowned, and the midwife had me reach down to feel her fuzzy head. With the next push she was delivered, head, shoulders, knees, and toes all gently gliding into the warm water at 6:12 am. She was placed into my arms, wet and pink with her eyes wide open, but not crying. Not making any sound or movements at all, in fact. I tried rubbing her head, and nuzzling her neck, but she still didn’t respond. Then the midwife quickly clamped and cut the cord, and took her over to the bed to coax some breathing. I was deliriously happy, and only slightly concerned, snapping pictures on my phone of Dave, the midwife, and the nurse all huddled around little baby Plum, pumping up her lungs with an oxygen mask and bag. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to send one of those photos to family as an announcement that I realized that it would be alarming to see not a baby in arms, but a baby being recessitated. I told Dave to give her a blessing. Lay his hands on her head and ask God to help her breathe, which he did. And she breathed.
Her cry pierced the tense quiet of the room, and the sun began to rise on December 15th, her birthday.
After cleaning me up, and helping me from the tub, I got to snuggle my baby girl and nurse her for the first time. She was so beautiful. The midwife mentioned that sometimes with such fast deliveries, the baby can get the wind knocked out of her, making those first few breaths a feat. She was healthy and breathing and eating by then, so I was not concerned. Just happy. I had a superficial tear that was closed easily with a couple stitches. After a couple hours, the new midwife on call filled up the tub with herbs, and Plum and I took a bath. She told us about how this tea-like bath would be good healing for my couple stitches, and peaceful bonding for me and baby. By 10 am we were ready to go home, but Plum was having some trouble keeping warm, so we stripped her down to a diaper, and I snuggled her to my bare chest, rocking her gently until her temperature was steady, then we loaded up and took her home to meet her two older brothers and her grandma. And just like that we were a family of five.
I remember the whole experience with such elation. Choosing to let Plum come when she was ready was an empowering release. Rather than burdensome, the last two weeks of my pregnancy felt like a time of increased submission and increased patience, both virtues that I need to further develop. Plum is the cherry on top of our incredible brood of children, and I love seeing how all three love and need each other in important and different ways. I’ve never loved being anything the way I love being a mom. Not the herding cats, keeping house, attacking mountains of laundry and dishes pieces of motherhood–although those have their place in my heart. I love the begetting of a soul from my own, endowed with the same divinity I feel is my inheritance, and the discovery of how our relationship, mother and child, is quietly leading us both to the people we are meant to become.
Update: If you’d like to hear me tell my birth stories live, visit The Birth Hour Podcast page to listen into my interview!