Emmett will be 11 months old in a few days. Yet I have not been able to write more than a sentence of his birth story.
With Evelyn, I had it completed and published on my blog 10 days after her birth.
While I want to blame my lack of transcription on “second kid problems” and lack of proper time, it’s more than that. His birth meant a lot of things to me; it felt very different than my first.
So I am here to give myself some grace and “write” his story to the best of my emotional capacity rather than to the extent of my writing expectations.
Very unlike with my first birth, I felt more anxious about leaving my daughter than I did about the actual giving birth part. I agonized about not knowing how long I would be away from her, and not knowing the extent to which her little 2.5-year-old brain could comprehend why we were gone. She had been our whole world for her whole life, and suddenly overnight everything was about to change. How this might affect her really scared me. I’m sure, in my mind, I was projecting a lot of my own fears onto her sweet little soul, but truly when I thought about leaving her to give birth, I was distraught. During the pandemic, children are not allowed in the hospital unless they are the patient, so I knew that once we left for the hospital, I would not be seeing my daughter until we brought her little brother home.
My due date was February 18, 2021, though in my head I never imagined I would make it to that date seeing as my first baby had come 10 days early.
I showed up to my 40-week midwife appointment on February 17 feeling completely defeated, and my sweet midwife, Michelle, assured me that “when first babies come early it “isn’t fair” because it sets up such unrealistic expectations for future births. She will forever be one of my favorite midwives simply for her acknowledgment that my feelings weren’t unreasonable or out of place. At 40 weeks pregnant, all I needed was some reassurance, and she truly gave it to me.
At that appointment, I mentioned that I thought I’d had a bit of a bloody show and that my mucus plug was falling away in pieces. I’d also been having mild contractions, but truly wasn’t clear whether they were Braxton hicks or not. As I opted not to be checked for dilation, I left that appointment with no more information than I’d come in with; no one could say for certain when the baby would come, he was perfectly content on the inside.
For the rest of that day, I counted contractions on and off and determined that I was probably in some stage of early labor, but that didn’t really do much to raise me from my defeat, as early labor can last days, even weeks. We went home and spent the evening as our sweet little family of 3, and had a perfectly normal night full of uncomfortable sleep and strange hormonal dreams. I do recall hooking up my breast pump a few times that evening to see if I could get labor going stronger, but it would only bump up for a few minutes and then calm down again.
On the morning of February 18, I remember awakening to an overwhelming sense of disappointment. While I’d tried to deny it, I went to bed the night before hoping beyond hope that I would be aroused by contractions or that gush of water breaking like in the movies. Alas, my due date was here, and no baby.
Andrew took the day off work, though neither of us can quite remember if that decision was made because of my melancholy, or because I was already feeling contractions again that morning and didn’t feel like I could properly care for Evelyn.
At some point I made the decision to shower and wash my hair as a means of distraction and probably an escape from Evelyn. Whilst I was dealing with increasingly uncomfortable contractions fairly well thanks to breathing and hypnobirthing tracks, Evelyn could not stand to see mama in pain, and was distraught every time I had to take a pause to breathe through a contraction. This alone would have been upsetting enough, but I appeared to be in active labor every time I was alone, and then the moment I was with Evelyn my body seemingly went into mama mode for her and labor stalled. It was incredibly frustrating as I had it in my head that I would just know when I was truly in labor since this wasn’t my first time. I touched base with the midwives a few times throughout the day but they assured me that if I were truly ready, nothing could stop labor like it was, not even my daughter.
Around 4pm I was feeling a little “screw the midwives, I’m in labor” and decided I was going to go with my gut. I just felt like I was going to have this baby, even if maybe I wasn’t currently meeting all of their criteria. So we called our friends to come stay with Evelyn and we headed to the hospital. I continued to labor fairly steadily and breathe through contractions in the car. Though I’d been dreading the hour plus drive to the hospital, it actually wasn’t too terrible. I felt really in control of my pain level and was handling things really well.
When we got to the hospital, we decided to walk some laps around the building before checking in, knowing we would be limited in our ability to move much once admitted due to Covid restrictions, and also to make sure labor hadn’t stalled from the car ride.
As we walked around the hospital, I felt discouraged again. My contractions were not coming nearly as regularly as they had been in the car, and I was spending more time simply walking than stopping to breathe, which at this point was not a good sign. However, I was still determined that he was coming, and they would have to see that.
At 6:15pm, we made our way to triage. The midwife on call checked me and much to my resentment, I was only 3cm dilated, at -1 station and 0% effaced. Alas, I did not meet their criteria to be admitted (4cm). They gave us a few options: go back home, try to get some rest, and wait for labor to progress, or stick close to the hospital, go grab some dinner, and come back in a few hours for another check. As previously mentioned, I was determined that this baby was coming, so there was no way in hell we were driving home, thus we opted to go grab dinner.
I distinctly remember walking back out to the car and just sobbing. I could not get over the thought that we might have left our daughter at home without us not even to have a baby. In hindsight, she was asleep and didn’t even know we’d left, so I’m sure I was just a hormonal mess and my poor husband was probably trying to rationalize with me and getting absolutely nowhere. But this was the first time I was really and truly torn between the two kids and it was killing me.
In theory, sustenance before pushing a baby out is a great idea. In reality, it looked like me sitting backwards in the passenger seat of our car in the MOD Pizza parking lot, desperately trying to crawl out of my body during contractions while my husband tried to get me to eat bites of pizza. We do have one picture of this experience, though I am grateful I didn’t know it was being taken at the time. Looking back on it, it’s a funny memory that I am glad we have.
At 9:45pm, I couldn’t wait any longer and we went back to triage at the hospital to be checked. Much to my utter despair, I was “a generous 3.8cm dilated,” and somewhere between -1 to 0 station, though things did seem to be thinning out. Basically though, I hadn’t progressed much at all. At this point, my wonderful midwife, Jenny, (though at this moment I probably hated her) tried to convince me that maybe I was willing myself to be in labor because it was my due date and I was miserable. To be fair to her, it did seem a little suspicious that I had come in on my due date and during the only shift my very favorite midwife was working all week. However, they knew how far away we lived, and could tell how much pain I was in, so they let us “hang out in triage” for a while to just sort of see how things went.
At 11:15pm, they checked me again. This time they found me to be a true 4cm (still disappointing) and 80% effaced. Somewhere around this time I threw up, and I was feeling like contractions were truly becoming unbearable. At this point, by some genuine miracle, a labor and delivery nurse, Sam, came to see me and simply by my state of being (and the glorious vomiting incident) determined me to be further into labor than my dilation status was indicating, and started the process of getting me admitted right away. By 11:45pm I was admitted (into room B2170, for our own memory) and finally felt like my fight had been worth it. I was going to have this baby and they were going to rue the day they tried to send me home.
The next 2 hours are a bit of a blur, but there are a few memories that stand out. I recall allowing Andrew to go get our bags out of the car (something I didn’t let him do with Evelyn until I’d had an epidural), during which time my contractions started to feel so out of control that Jenny hopped up on the bed behind me and applied counter-pressure to my back for some relief.
For a moment I just want to flash back to my first birth, during which I labored for 52 hours total. Sitting in the hospital room this time, with only that first labor as my reference, knowing I was only 4cm dilated, I was convinced that I had hours, if not days, ahead of me in labor. I was sure I was going to end up needing an epidural at some point, unmedicated birth dreams out the window.
I know that at some point I asked Jenny if she would discourage me from getting an epidural. Of course she assured me she would never deny such a thing if it were something I wanted, but suggested that maybe I get in the bath for a bit to see if the hot water could help me handle my contractions better since I enjoyed that during my first labor. I hesitantly agreed, but had her run an IV full of fluids while the bath was filling so that if I decided I needed the epidural, I could get it quicker.
Once in the bath, things got increasingly more unbearable. I absolutely could not get control of my pain. The hypnobirthing tracks and breathing that had been so key an hour earlier were now completely useless to me. With every contraction I was writhing uncomfortably and trying to find a better position in a bathtub that felt way too small and hard and uncomfortable. Around what I can now assume to be 1:30am on February 19, I asked my nurse to please go find Jenny so I could get the epidural. I could not take another moment.
No less than 5 minutes later, I felt the urge to push; called the “fetal ejection reflex,” a woman’s body (to varying degrees) has the ability to involuntarily push the baby down the birth canal with virtually no assistance from the woman herself. I remember calling out “I’m pushing!” and Sam, my nurse, and Jenny, my midwife, running into the bathroom. Per hospital policy, you are not allowed to birth in the tub, so Jenny very calmly asked me if I could try to get out in between pushes. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this but I just remember nodding and Jenny and Andrew, my husband, grabbing me under the arms and basically dragging me out of the bathroom and to the bed. I threw myself down on all fours diagonally across the bed, truly in the quickest possible (and not even remotely proper or ideal) way before the next push came. And in 2, maybe 3 pushes, out he came.
Whether it was 15 like I envisioned, or 4 like the nurse charted, those moments of pushing were absolutely insane, and I have but a few distinct memories. For one thing, I could feel every move of his body exiting mine; his head crowning followed by his body slipping out. For weeks following his birth, I could still feel this sensation when I thought about it. On a more comical note, Jenny kept telling me to “moo like a cow” whilst pushing because that deeper tone of voice is meant to help use the proper muscles for pushing, but all I could think was “I can’t envision what a cow sounds like”! And on the coolest note of all, our sweet babe was almost born “en caul,” which means still in his sack. My water never broke with him, so as he started to come out my membranes were still intact. Alas, due to pandemic restrictions there was no one present to catch this on camera, so only my midwife and nurse got to see it, but they got to witness his head come out still completely covered, the sack finally breaking when his shoulders emerged.
The moment he came out was an absolute whirlwind of confusion for me. I had been mentally prepared for so many more hours of labor, and so utterly unprepared for what actually happened. In no image of my birth did I ever paint myself pushing a baby so quickly, and on all fours none-the-less. It was surreal. I could not fully comprehend what had happened.
I remember having to lift my leg awkwardly over the cord so I could lay back on the bed and they could place him on my chest. I remember at some point someone noticed that my IV had been pulled out and there was blood everywhere (entirely unsurprising considering how violently I had flung myself onto the bed). I remember getting a shot of pitocin in my leg to prevent a possible hemorrhage (because the aforementioned IV was no longer useful).
And then shock, just pure shock. I couldn’t stop shaking. It didn’t feel real that this baby on my chest was really here, and that I had really done that. Many women discuss this natural high they’ve felt after an unmedicated birth, but I can unquestionably say that the thing I felt was dread. Because never in thinking about birth without drugs had I considered that not only would you feel the baby coming out, but you’d feel everything that came after in vivid detail. The placenta coming out? Ouch. Midwives and nurses pushing so hard against your abdomen to help release any retained tissue and encourage your uterus to shrink? Holy good lord, ouch. But also, this baby. This beautiful, perfect baby boy. I made him and I birthed him and he clung to me and nursed so easily and how could this even be real?
At some point after the initial shock wore off, I remember thanking Jenny for not sending me home, because if she had I would have given birth in the car.
Unsurprisingly, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself what was happening in certain moments throughout my labor. I know now that Sam recognized my body going into transition (the labor stage before pushing) when I threw up in triage, and that’s why she pushed to get me admitted. I know now that neither Jenny nor Sam actually thought I was going to get an epidural because they knew he was coming too quickly. I know now that my sudden urge to push in the bath came as a surprise to no one but me.
Looking back on it now, knowing I’ll be giving birth again in 5 short months, I hope I am able to keep my mind enough that I can recognize things in this next labor that I didn’t during this one. I felt traumatized by this birth for a long time, which I think is why I couldn’t bring myself to write about it. But if somehow I can translate that fear and trauma into empowerment and knowledge for my next birth, I know I can do it again.
1:44am on February 19, 2021
2 hours to the minute after we were admitted to the hospital
6lbs 10oz, 20in