It took a lot longer to sit down and write this out than last time… and it’s sat in my drafts for two years now.
After Nicholas was born, we had a bit of a whirlwind – my Grandma Klemm passed away and we flew down to say goodbye, Hirav started having his own medical challenges, we decided to buy a house 400 miles away, and we moved into that house alongside my Grandma Monge who decided to leave her retirement home to join us.
The day before Nicholas was born, I was sure I was in labor already. It was actually his due date. I went to run some errands while the contractions started and texted the midwives. It felt exactly like the first part of Lucia’s labor (the part where I wasn’t so sure it was happening). Slow contractions, the muscles tightening, but no discernible pain or even real discomfort.
At nighttime they completely petered out.
The midwives attributed it to Braxton Hicks contractions, but I suspect it was something more like prodromal labor. The differences are subtle. But where Braxton Hicks is more like practice to get the uterus ready, prodromal labor is actual labor that simply doesn’t progress to a baby. It’s more like a precursor to labor. Prodromal labor often involves more consistent contractions than Braxton Hicks and also doesn’t dissipate as easily.
The timing makes me lean toward prodromal, because the next morning the contractions were back. They began as Lucia nursed in the morning. Everyone made me swear up and down that I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to go in (since we were in the hospital for just 40 or so minutes with Lucia). Everyone was nervous that this second baby would come faster.
I called the midwife. She agreed to come in to the birth center, but she wouldn’t rush it. Not to worry, I said, we would go there early and just walk around the neighborhood for a bit. Walking can sometimes help speed things along, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to be close by. Plus contractions in the car feel worse than ones on the ground where you can move or shake it out.
So Hirav and I started walking around the birth center, just touring the neighborhood in San Mateo. We talked to some of the neighbors. Some of them joked that I’d go into labor hiking up those hills! “I’m already in it!” we laughed as I explained there was a birth center nearby. None of them had heard of it. After about two hours, the contractions were coming closer together and the midwife arrived so we walked to the birth center. We got there around noon.
The birth center had this lovely little side patio, so I began walking over there instead. Side to side. This time I had Hirav push on my backside during the contractions. Sometimes he was doing such a great job, I felt no pain at all during the contraction. I could labor like this for days, I thought! It was heavenly. I’m sure Hirav didn’t think that though – it was getting tiring for him. During this time, it seemed like labor had slowed down a bit. It was still happening, but on its own time frame.
What I hadn’t realized was that the midwives didn’t want to be there all day if I wasn’t progressing. I understand that in retrospect, but I wish maybe I had known that sooner. It’s hard to be playing a guessing game – how much faster will this baby be vs the last one? How do we time our arrival as well as the midwife who was coming from farther away? I felt very safe in the hands of the midwives at the birth center. The main one overseeing my labor was a registered nurse as well, who had helped through thousands of births. Still, the experience made me appreciate why some women choose home births. It would have been nice to worry less about the timing of things and to just let it come as it did.
Eventually, the midwife made me lie on my side to try and speed up the labor. It felt much worse, but it was progressing more. We put on my labor music throughout this process – it was a playlist of songs from the Benedictine sisters of Ephesus, whose music is angelic. We overheard the midwives chatting (the RN Judi and the student in training), who were noting that the center had attracted a certain type of unusual clientele – the devoutly religious Christians. Hirav and I laughed and wondered if the music had given us away. The last midwife came, the one who owned the center.
Finally, the active labor began at some point past 3. I started wanting to push. This time, though, I was having a hard time finding the right angle. Hirav and I were lying in the bed together at first, and I went into a position on my hands and knees on the bed once I wanted to push. But it was easy to brace myself on the hospital bed with Lucia, and I couldn’t get the bracing right on this softer bed. Poor Hirav became my brace and my pillow. I clung to him as I pushed. The contractions were shorter together. I felt less focused than I had at this stage with Lucia. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted.
In retrospect, I probably should have found a different location in the room to labor. They had a variety of other things to help with labor including a ladder that would have been great to brace against. But the still calm between contractions was shorter than last time, and the clarity less as well.
Finally, I felt the telltale ring of fire. “The baby is crowning!” I declared. Judi raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” she asked. I consented to an examination, the first during the entire labor, which felt like even more fire. “You’re not crowning yet,” she insisted.
I was dejected. Nothing made sense anymore. The time from when I had felt the ring of fire to Lucia’s birth was under 40 minutes. This time it was supposed to be faster. But if I hadn’t felt that, then how long would this really be? A friend had recently confided to me that her second labor had been much less smooth than the first – she had ended up pushing for 2.5 hours. I began to feel afraid, that maybe I would be in similar shows.
I didn’t think I could make it that far. And I felt so confused because I wasn’t even crowning but the pain felt like I WAS crowning. Then I remembered – the gas! I asked for laughing gas. They said that they could offer it if we asked. Although I was opposed to other forms of pain relief, I wasn’t opposed to gas. The midwives seemed surprised, and the Judi started working on it. But she wasn’t able to finish, because then I started pushing more and there was no time.
I felt it – the baby started coming for real. And it felt different. There was a smoothness to the shoulders, the neck, the arms as they slid through the birth canal. But I had been right – it was just a few minutes after I asked for the gas.
And as the baby slipped out, Judi told me to not push. Not push?! My brain didn’t know how to not push. Every fiber of my being wanted to push. I managed a half-hearted softer push. It’s very hard when every TV show only shows women being told to push, push, PUSH! It’s hard to process in the moment what it means to slow down. My failure to slow down is likely why I ended up with a second degree tear, which they noted is unusual for second time mothers in the hands and knee position.
Despite my failure to follow directions, the midwives seemed delighted and surprised. It turns out that Nicholas was born en caul! My water had never broken. That’s why it felt so different. There was a gushing sound as they opened the amniotic sac. The cord was short and small.
I released Hirav from his being-a-pillow-duties but it was hard to turn over. The cord was so short that Nicholas couldn’t lay on my chest so he rested on my stomach for a few minutes before Hirav cut the cord. We were both bummed that we had missed Nicholas being in the sac; the midwives were rightfully more concerned with ensuring Nicholas was breathing than with snapping a photo even if we all regretted it a little bit later.
Within a few minutes, the midwives were getting nervous that I hadn’t delivered more of the placenta. “If you don’t deliver the rest, we’ll have to take you to the hospital” the head midwife threatened. Judi helped me get up and squat. I delivered the rest of the placenta and breathed a sigh of relief.
Then I lay down and nursed my lovely little baby boy. We finished up the paperwork and got the baby ready to go home. Nicholas was born around 4:30pm and we left around 8:30pm.
We made it home just in time for Lucia to meet her little brother Nick-las before she went to bed. She was so excited and sweet and kept repeating hi over and over. My heart was so overjoyed. It was lovely to get to recover at home so soon as well.
The midwives said no two births are alike. But it is very hard to avoid comparing, to think “I was this far along and it went this quickly and it felt like that.” I’ll have to see with my next labor – Lord willing – how similar things feel along the way. In retrospect, Judi and I agreed that I probably had felt the sac coming through, which is why I felt crowning that she couldn’t detect during her examination. It was interesting to me that I only felt like I needed medication when I was so very close to the end, and so afraid that I wasn’t close at all.
In one of our follow-ups, Judi said she felt my labor slowed because I was resisting the pain instead of embracing it. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I am going to meditate more on this before the next birth, and also on what it would mean to not push while the baby exits the birth canal. I tried hypnobirthing meditations beforehand and they were honestly no help to me; they made me feel less relaxed. Still, I’m not sure how to embrace the labor more. I am also going to try and figure out how to feel supported in labor without making Hirav my personal body pillow. He has now basically missed the baby coming out twice, so hopefully third time’s the charm! In exchange, I’ll ask him to work out more so he has the upper body stamina to give more massages during labor.
On the subject of en caul deliveries, the midwives also reported that they had seen several en caul deliveries between them. (Ours was the first for the student, and the first at this particular center.) I found this fascinating because studies suggest that it occurs 1 in 80,000 births. However, it is unlikely that they have seen more than a fraction of that between them (probably closer to 5,000 total). Judi said it was more likely to happen with midwives because they use less interventions to begin with (like the membrane sweep), which I believe.
We are very glad that we worked with a certified birth center this time around. It was a lot more relaxed than the hospital would have been, and my mind was much more at ease knowing that I didn’t have to resist potential interventions as I did with my first birth. In retrospect, some of the clarity I felt during Lucia’s birth was because I knew exactly what I wanted to reject. I see now as well why people choose at home births, too. There is a part of me that wonders what the labor would have felt like if we had let things go more slowly and I had more painless contractions with Hirav’s support. I’m not entirely sure what we’ll do next time around. In either case, I’m so grateful for the midwives and their support.
Other random odds and ends:
Nicholas’ eyes slowly changed from blue to violet to steel to brown in the first few months.
With Lucia, I tested positive for Group B strep at 36 weeks. This time I pre-emptively tried Rephresh probiotics that have been found to reduce incidence of Group B strep and it seems like they actually worked!
During one follow up, Judi informed me that I have an efficient uterus. I pushed the baby out quickly and the womb went back into place quickly. Sounds like me!
The dress I wore home was a wrap dress which is basically like a comfy robe. 10/10 would wear again postpartum.