This birth story is the perfect example of a birth that doesn’t go exactly as planned. This is a story you don’t want to skip!
I am not Wonder Woman. I am every woman.
This pregnancy, as seems to so often be the case, was completely different from my first pregnancy. I was four years older (and I thought I was “old” the first time around at 39!), I was less active (as a part-time ballet fitness instructor I was teaching only one class a week in contrast to my 2-3 classes per day six days a week during pregnancy #1), and I was much sicker in the first trimester (thank you, morning sickness, for helping me shed the last 20 pounds from my first pregnancy!). So, I had some anxieties. And I had some challenges. Nursing my first-born was chief among them. She was not ready to quit, even when I was sure there was no milk for her to be had. And my heart was not ready to deny her that comfort, despite what my mind and my body were telling me. So there I was, feeling tired, out of shape, and a general hot mess for nearly 34 weeks of pregnancy (the nausea and vomiting didn’t hit until about 6 weeks). I constantly thought of the damage I was doing to my unborn baby by not eating well and not exercising, not to mention the damage that I was causing to the close relationship with my first daughter by feeling so angry and emotional (post-partum depression prenatally, anyone?). I still dreamed of having the home birth that I had planned with my first, but being in Lexington without a local hospital in case of emergency, was daunting, given my “advanced age” and all. With each prenatal appointment, Misty and Emily would ask me where I want to deliver. And I kept saying Brookhaven as I imagined myself immediately getting into the amazing jacuzzi tub in either of the birthing suites upon arrival in labor. But every visit to Brookhaven, I wondered how I was going to do that drive when the time finally came. I mean, how would I even know when to leave? How would we all fit in our Prius on the way home (me, a newborn, my husband, my first daughter, and my mom)? And how would an hour-long drive with an hours-old baby work?! And so on and so forth.
So I worried. About everything. Perhaps more than a typical pregnant woman. Or, perhaps not. Regardless, I was also excited to nurture the relationship between me and my first-born (a daughter) with our newest addition to the family. And my daughter was seemingly excited about it all. We took pictures on a regular basis where we asked her, “where’s baby?” and she would point to my growing belly. She said it was going to be a girl and for quite some time, she said the baby’s name was going to be Sophie (we know a lot of Sophies) before she decided the baby should be named Allie (which I found interesting because I don’t think we know any Allies!). We read books about pregnancy and the wonder that is the human body during childbirth. She loved to look at the photos from her own birth, including the photos of her emergence.
We made a birthing necklace for her to match the birthing necklace made for me at my mother blessing. And towards the end of the pregnancy, we watched birthing videos together. She was fascinated and asked me if she could get in the birthing pool with me. I told her that I would love for her to be in the pool with me. I was really looking forward to a water birth this time around since I knew it was supposed to help alleviate (some of) the pain. And, I was hopeful that I would be strong enough to push another baby out without tearing and further aggravating my rectocele (you know, one of the many lovely parting gifts women may receive after giving birth. Sort of like a “push present”. I guess.) But, again, there was anxiety: my firstborn was 9lbs 9oz; would this second baby be bigger as “everyone” kept saying would happen? Toward the end, I would ask the midwives, “so, how big do you think this baby is?” And they would consistently assure me that baby was not too big and not too small.
When I hit 38 weeks, my husband, Matthew, realized that I didn’t want to deliver at Brookhaven, even if I couldn’t admit it to myself. I had a heart-to-heart with Emily about my indecisiveness where we decided that my decision would be not to decide. And then I ordered the supplies for a home birth, just in case. I still thought that I might be able to make the drive, but my husband (and Misty and Emily) suggested that we prepare for every possibility. We rented the birthing pool. Matthew set it up in between some hanging straps and our new yoga hammock. I envisioned how great it would be to be able to hang on something in the water while going through contractions (similar to what women in more natural cultures would do by hanging onto a tree. Whether or not they were also immersed in water I have no idea, but I was going to be!). My next appointment was scheduled as a home visit at 39 weeks, 5 days. Emily and Shauntée (a former student) made the drive down to Lexington that morning. I felt good having them there and hearing that everything looked great, as always. My stats were good, baby’s heartbeat was good. Emily and Shauntée were pleased with our potential birthing playground, which made Matthew and me feel even more at ease should a home birth occur. As soon as they left, my mom (who was visiting us for the birth), daughter, and I all headed out to my physical therapy appointment (because having scoliosis coupled with lack of exercise, my body was not happy!). At my appointment, I felt my lower abdomen tightening more and more. This didn’t necessarily alarm me as I had felt this same tightening for weeks prior and knew it was just my uterus prepping for birth to occur at some point in the near future. And besides, it was always isolated to my lower abdomen, below the belly button. Never anywhere else. After physical therapy, my mom, daughter, and I walked to the local farmer’s market a few blocks away. We picked up a few things and I thought about how I wanted to go home, maybe eat something, and definitely not move anymore. The lower abdominal tightening was getting stronger and more consistent. But my daughter wanted to go to the “pet store” which is actually the toy store, but she refers to it as the pet store since they have a cat that roams the store, not to mention many stuffed animals. I suggested we go home and have her father take her. She didn’t like that option as she wanted to go now and not with him. Then she said she wanted to go to the library. Again, I suggested going home so her father could take her; again she didn’t like that option. Then I remembered my mom was with us (duh) so I suggested that I drop the two of them at the library and I would go home to rest. She liked that option. Everyone was happy. I called my husband at 12:45pm after dropping them off to let him know what was happening. From this point on, I defer to my text and phone call time stamps to create the run-down of what happened next. Because it is a little out of the ordinary…
I arrived home to find my husband making us lunch; after quick hellos, I went upstairs to lie down in bed. Upstairs, I lay down on the foot of the bed on my side (because obviously that’s the only way a nearly 40-weeks-pregnant woman can lie).
12:56pm I text my friend, Elizabeth, from my bed: “Hey! Just got home from our morning outings. [Firstborn] wanted to go to the library so I dropped her and my mom there. 😛 I’m feeling some serious lower abdominal tightening…! Hmmmm… I’m not sure if I should lie down or start cooking the rest of the labor meals I wanted to 😛 what’s your afternoon looking like now?” (Side note: I use a lot of emoticons and exclamation points!)
1:02pm My mom calls my husband to ask him to bring a change of clothes for our daughter at the library. Husband brings me my food and tells me about the library situation. He runs out to bring
1:18pm I text another friend, Keely, who is an amazing photographer (keelymassiephoto.com) and who is on call for us to take birth pictures: “Hi Keely! How are things with you? 🙂 small update here – my plug has been coming out bit by bit over the past few days and today made a strong appearance 😛 I know that’s not a sign of imminence (is that the right word?!) necessarily but thought I should at least share with you 🙂 also feeling super tight today in the lower abdomen. Other than that same same!…”
1:20pm Elizabeth texts back noting that “[she feels] like baby is coming soon!!” And to “send [her] recipes or just tell [her] what [she] can prep!!” (Another side note: this friend, Elizabeth, is truly a Wonder Woman as she has a 3-year-old and 4-month old twins at home on this day!)
1:23pm Keely texts: “I have to ask… this “tightness” of the lower abdomen you mentioned- are you considering that as contractions?”
1:30pm I text Keely: “I’m not sure! Which is why I call it a tightness (I’ve been feeling it off and on the last few weeks; today is much more consistent) – it’s not the waves of a contraction that go from top down, it’s just a tightness in the lower half… is that still considered a contraction?! :-P”
1:34pm Keely responds: ‘I’m gonna guess yes…”
1:37pm I text Keely: “Ha ha ha. I’m definitely feeling baby push into my bladder making me want to pee but knowing there is no pee there. That’s what [firstborn] did to me – for a good 4 days before my water broke… :-P”
1:38pm I text Elizabeth: “I am quickly descending into super uncomfortableness (more than usual! Feeling pressure everywhere in my pelvis now…) I hope this doesn’t drag on for days like it did with [firstborn]…! :-P”
Keely and I exchange a few more texts where she helpfully talks about the different kinds of contractions one may have in early/warm-up labor and suggests that I rest. In between texting both of my friends, I begin to try breathing through the “tightening” and I go back and forth between sitting on the toilet trying to pee and resting on the bed. My husband returns from the library-clothes-run as I am crawling on my hands and knees back to the bed from the bathroom and we have a good laugh about this image. He brings his lunch upstairs to eat with me. In the 50 minutes that elapsed since he brought my food to me, I have managed to take just one bite. We laugh some more about my current state and he eats while I breathe through more tightening. I tell him that after he’s finished eating, I’d like him to go get my mom and daughter from the library and bring them back home, for no other reason than I just feel like I want them to be back home.
2:04pm I text the on-call midwives, Emily and Shauntee: “Quick update – having more bloody show. Consistent tightening in lower belly (possible early labor contractions?). Feeling same pressure
on bladder I had with [firstborn] leading up to birth.”
2:05pm Midwives text back: “Sounds promising! Be sure to eat,
drink and rest :)”
2:07pm My dad calls, but I don’t feel much like talking. Matthew answers and tells him I might be in very early labor.
2:13pm Matthew texts my mom: “Coming to get you guys now. Looks like early labor!”
After Matthew leaves for the library this second time, I honestly cannot decide if it’s more comfortable to lay on the bed or sit on the toilet. I opt for the toilet again. I’m feeling a lot of tightening at this point and I sit there moaning through the experiences and watching the clouds roll by out the window. I also have a picture of a happy, fat Buddha with a rainbow in his hands up on my mirror that a dear friend gave me, and I look to that image for more encouragement and happy thoughts with the Buddha’s big belly and joyous smile.
2:22pm Matthew texts me: “Heading back! Xoxoxo”
I missed his text, though, because…
2:22pm I call Emily and Shauntée at the on-call number because I had started to feel like I needed to push but was uncertain that I should. My call goes to voicemail and I hear myself saying, “Hi, it’s Janice. I feel the need to push but am not sure what to do… [I feel an intense pressure coming on at this point and all I can say then is:] Ok, bye.”
As soon as I hang up, I let out another moaning scream at which point I am pushing and feeling the water bag come out; I am truly hitting dazed and confused state at this point. What I think happened next is that I felt baby’s head coming out of my vagina while still in the water bag, so I push again as I crouch to the floor of my bathroom and feel baby’s shoulders come out (tick, tick). I guide baby to the floor and remove whatever is covering her face (I think the water bag, which I believe was partially broken…).
2:24pm I hear my phone ringing, up on the ledge above the toilet. I wonder how I’m going to answer the phone while kneeling in a pool of blood and amniotic fluid in my bathroom holding my newborn baby. It was, of course, the midwives returning my call. I somehow managed to get the phone (no idea how I did!) and answer. I’m not sure which midwife is on the line, but I tell her that the baby is out! I can’t actually hear much of anything she says because my new baby is crying.
2:29ish? My husband, daughter, and mom all return home. Matthew enters the house hearing a baby crying and wonders why I’m watching birthing videos; he then comes running upstairs. My mom then hears the baby crying as well and tells my daughter to “go go go!” (It’s really adorable to hear my daughter relay this part of the story!). They come upstairs right after. We all look at each other in shock and amazement as I am still sitting in the pool of amniotic fluid and blood on the bathroom floor holding our newborn crying baby with the midwife on the phone. I tell them to get some towels to stop the pool of blood and fluid from seeping under the baseboards in the bathroom. (Always thinking about the important stuff!) Matthew takes over the phone call with the midwife at this point. I remember thinking that the baby is surely OK since she is crying, but wondering how badly I have torn again. Matthew starts a video chat with Shauntée, who, like Emily, is now on her way back to our house from 35 minutes away. Shauntée is able to tell him that everything looks normal via video. (Yes, we really video chatted the midwife while I was completely naked with baby on my bathroom floor. Ha ha ha.)
3:00ish? Emily arrives back to the house first. She comes in to find me trying to recline on some pillows on the floor of my bathroom with the baby at my chest and the umbilical cord trailing behind and into my vagina where the placenta remains, while Matthew, my daughter, and mother all look on. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief having her there. I don’t remember anything she said or did aside from her helping me deliver the placenta at 3:12. Once the placenta is out, Emily helps me and the baby (along with the placenta) move to our bed. Shauntée is there and begins checking my and my newest daughter’s vitals. 3:22 I finally think to text Keely back (who still thinks I am in early labor): “Baby is out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Keely got to our house at 4:21 and took the most beautiful pictures of how our family of 3 began our new journey as a family of 4. And therein lies the rub. I had been imagining how wonderful this birth was going to be with my husband, my daughter, and my mom all with me while Keely took her amazing photos of this new precious one’s entrance into the world. It was going to be perfect because my daughter was so excited to see the birth, to get in the birthing pool with me, and to meet her new sister. My mom was excited because, having had 2 cesarean sections (my older brother and me), and not being at my firstborn’s birth (nor my sister-in-law’s births via cesarean), she never got to experience and witness natural childbirth. And of course my husband was excited to be my support and strength while helping to welcome the newest arrival.
But writing this story makes me again realize that we all wish for the perfect birth. We imagine how everything is going to go (while perhaps knowing in the back of our heads that reality is a far cry from imagination and planning) and we anticipate having that perfect birth story. But from my perch of privilege, I can say that in my world, and with few exceptions, all birth stories are perfect. With my first birth, although I didn’t get the home birth we planned for, she decided to arrive on my birthday, which is wonderfully perfect. I realize now that this second birth, despite not being what I had envisioned again, is also wonderfully perfect: she and I experienced the birth all by ourselves and embraced our feminine strength as ours alone.
Born on 8/8/18 at 2:24pm (2+2+4 = 8, by the way) and weighing 8lbs even, 20.25in (OK, no eights there…!), my second daughter proves to me that I had another healthy pregnancy, and that she is–and will continue to be–just fine. She is my Wonder Woman. But then, so is my firstborn daughter.
And maybe I am Wonder Woman, after all.
Since, quite frankly, all of us mothers–no matter how our children came to us–not to mention our birth assistants (here I’m talking specifically about Misty, Emily, and Shauntée as my midwives) are Wonder Women. And that’s the perfect way it should be.