It was a month ago. Yet in my mind could have been just a week, or yesterday. The day a mother first sees her child is forever branded into the fibers of her brain.
Where do I start in telling this story? My labor began on Friday, March 2nd. According to our first ultrasound, that was our due date. The practice surges I’d been feeling all week started to come more frequently. (Note: Practice surges = Braxton Hicks contractions, which are painless tightenings of the uterus in preparation for labor. I felt them randomly from about halfway through both my pregnancies, and much more often near the end. Also, I call contractions “surges”- something I picked up from the birth class our midwife teaches. I find it helps me to think of them this way- surges of energy rather than contracting/tensing up. In labor and birth, the words you use and the way you think about things matters quite a lot.) By midday they were consistently 10-15 minutes apart and were getting pretty uncomfortable. This was how my first labor began, too- very gradually- and with Seth this early part lasted more than a day, so I wasn’t yet thinking “this is it”, I just knew that it would be soon. Your grandma Jackie had been saying all week that she thought you’d come on Saturday, and she tends to be right when she makes those kind of predictions. On Friday, though, I was really starting to wonder if you’d hold out that long.
Your dad worked his usual shift that day- 7am to 7pm. We talked in the afternoon and I told him what I was feeling, but gave no indication that I thought it was real labor (I wasn’t at all sure yet myself, and I didn’t want to get myself too excited since I knew it could still be days. I just wanted to be as normal as possible in every way until labor prevented me from doing so.) During our conversation, I mentioned a craving for Indian food from our favorite local restaurant, Indus, and he said “let’s do it!”. (He loves their chicken biriyani and will eat it any chance he gets.) So I brought Seth to play and have dinner at grandma and papa’s house, and then I came home to wait for your dad. In the car, I had to really put effort into focusing on the road during surges. This was when I knew for sure that they no longer qualified as practice surges- these were real. As I pulled back into our driveway, I briefly wondered if I even should have been driving, and resolved that if I was still pregnant tomorrow I wouldn’t drive myself anywhere.
By the time 7:05 came and your dad walked in the door, I’d decided to time the surges for a while. We were supposed to call Connie, our midwife, when they were 8 minutes apart or less, lasting 30-45 seconds or longer, for at least 30 minutes. They were currently ranging from 7.5 to 12 minutes apart, and lasting 20-30 seconds or so. Sometimes they were fairly uncomfortable, but having given birth before I was reluctant to yet apply the word “pain” to the situation. I knew I was in early labor, and your dad and I briefly questioned our dinner plans, but I wanted that Indian food. Besides, I figured, when would we next get a chance to go out for dinner- just the two of us?
During dinner, my surges continued to be about the same frequency, but gained some intensity. The food was amazing. I had my favorite, bagara baigan- eggplant in a coconut ginger sauce- with jasmine rice and garlic naan. I kept having to stop eating and breathe during surges. I’d love to know what the restaurant staff though of the very pregnant lady who was drinking so much water and kept this strange look on her face- maybe they thought I was nuts, or were nervous that I’d have a baby in their restaurant! We picked up your brother from grandma’s house and went to bed shortly after arriving home, unsure of what the night would bring.
The basic plan was to have the birth tub set up in our bedroom and have a water birth as I did with your brother. Over the recent weeks I’d carefully gathered and double-checked all the supplies listed by our midwife, and everything was ready. The tub would be brought while I was in labor. My mom would come down from Stuart (about a 40-minute drive) and be dropped off by my dad so she could spend the first night here with us, and grandma Jackie would be here for your birth as well. Papa was going to take Seth and then bring him back soon after you were born. My photographer friend April would come to document it all.
So… we went to bed sometime around 10pm, and the surges kept coming about every 10 minutes. I couldn’t sleep through them- they were much too uncomfortable- but I tried to get as much rest as I could in between. Sometime after 2am, they just hurt too much if I continued lying down. I went downstairs and drank some water and timed them, and suddenly (I’m assuming spurred by my walking around) they were only 3-6 minutes apart and much more intense. I called Connie, and she told me to keep timing and call her again in 30 minutes. I’d planned on having fruit and cheese available for the midwives and everyone else to snack on, but I hadn’t cut them up yet. This suddenly seemed very important, as it was the final thing on my “preparation for labor” list, so I found myself (somewhat irrationally) in the kitchen cutting up apples at 2:30am, stopping to lean over the counter for each surge, which were getting more and more intense. After I’d finished that, I went upstairs and nudged your dad to wake up. I called Connie again, and she could tell from my voice that things had really picked up and said she would be on her way. I told your dad that we needed to change the sheets and put the waterproof mattress pad on, to which he replied “that means I have to get out of bed, right?”. I still kept thinking (based on my first birth experience) that I still had plenty of time. I called my mom and your dad called his, and Connie was bringing the tub I’d rented from the birth center, so there was nothing left to do but wait for everyone to arrive. Your dad supported me during surges. Soon my mom was here, and Connie showed up minutes later. While she asked questions, took my vitals, etc, your dad and grandma worked on setting up the tub. I texted April, the photographer, to tell her it was time. That was probably the last coherent thing I was able to do- after that I was in “labor land”. Soon grandma Jackie and Connie’s assistant midwife, Kristen, were the room too. Throughout all of this my labor was intensifying, but even I did not realize just how fast at that point. I used pain-coping techniques I’d learned to help me through each surge. One I found effective was “non-focused awareness” (it’s discussed in Pam England’s Birthing From Within). It is basically allowing the mind to be aware of and acknowledge each individual thing around you, with all your senses, but not hold focus on any one thing. I remember even now some of the things I named in my mind during surges in that intense stage of labor… “carpet under my knees, sheet against my cheek, air pump for the tub, Manny’s voice, Mom’s voice, a hand on my back, air conditioner running, Connie’s voice, Sigur Ros playing from my iPhone…etc. I also used aromatherapy to help me relax and ease the pain. I’d done a little research on this ahead of time and had made a blend of lavender, clary sage, and jasmine oils, which your dad used to massage my back and shoulders.
I was more than ready for the warm water of birth tub, but it didn’t have any water yet. Connie suggested I get into the shower while waiting for the tub, and I figured any warm water would be great. While Kristen was starting to run the water, I had another surge and leaned on the bathroom counter for support. During that one, I began to feel a little “pushy”. It seemed the shower- and the birth tub- were out, but I don’t think anyone knew that yet but me, and I wasn’t able to communicate it. They tried to get the tub-filling efforts sped up, and we went to the bed to check my progress. Connie had asked me if I wanted her to this, as she doesn’t check routinely as doctors do, and I decided that I’d like to have a better idea of how soon you would be here. As I laid down, anther surge started and I rolled onto my side, and then my water broke. Then, I really had to push. My body was pushing for me- at this point in labor, there is no choice in the matter. The mind is a silent(ish) observer as the body takes over and does what it was designed to do. I was leaning over a stack of pillows, on my knees in bed. My mom was near my head, and your daddy was next to me. I could feel their love and support, but in my immediate conscience it was just you and me. In my mind, I spoke to you in between surges and pushing, something like “we’re doing this together, baby. we can do it. we’re going to meet face-to-face so soon…” Suddenly I heard Connie say the word “crowning” (and I felt that she was very right), and with the next push or your head was born. Another push (or a few? I’m not sure), and you were out. Crying- a healthy, clear and strong voice. Your daddy caught you behind me and passed you to me, and they helped me turn and sit down. I looked at you- stared at you. Soon you were nursing vigorously, and I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You had long fingers, I noticed. You were perfect, and I somehow felt I knew you already, that you were familiar to me in a very deep way. During my pregnancy I had I dream in which I clearly saw your face, and I think you look exactly as you did in that dream.
Later I looked saw Connie’s notes, and learned that I’d pushed for only 5 minutes. My active labor was 3.5 hours long. You were born at 5:52am on March 3rd- Saturday, just as your grandma said you would be. You weighed exactly 8 and 1/2 pounds, and were 21.5 inches long.
Your brother slept through much of this, and when the commotion did wake him, he watched Thomas the Train downstairs. He wasn’t worried, as I’d feared he might be. Your Papa was coming to pick him up, but you were born before he could get here. It ended up being so perfect, that you and your brother could meet so soon after you arrived. You must have just been ready to join us in our world, my love- you came before my mind had much chance to process what was happening, before a single drop of water was put into the birth tub, and also before April could get here with her camera. So there are no photos or videos of your birth. She did arrive about an hour afterwards though, and captured some of that first morning of us as a family of four- all snuggled in our bed. I’ll treasure the memory and pictures of that morning forever- so full of love and joy.
Welcome, my sweet Isaac. Your name means “he who laughs”, and already the joy you’ve brought us is beyond words.
all photos above, © April Milner of Coconut Circle Photography