I spent half on this pregnancy thinking Valentine was going to come early. From 20 something weeks to 38 weeks, if I walked too fast I would get nauseating Braxton Hicks contractions and pelvic pressure. I had to take it easy a lot, resulting in a little extra weight gain than I had hoped and a lot more fluid and swelling than could fit in my most forgiving of maternity jeans. By the time 38 weeks rolled around, I was ready to welcome this impatient baby at any time. I finally let myself start back up with drinking red raspberry leaf tea, birth prep tincture, and evening primrose oil. And as luck would have it, things got quiet. He slowed down and was still most of the days and nights. The Braxton Hicks continued, but less frequently and not in relation to my movement. I had been certain that when the time came, I would be able to power walk myself into labor. I had several dates in late June that would be great for a birthday. The 19th was my uncle’s and niece’s birthday, the 20th was a neighbor’s birthday. What I really wanted was a solstice baby on the 21st. But just like my due date, June 26th, they all came and went. I was swollen and tired, but not impatient myself. Mostly surprised. And humbled.
With my first pregnancy, labor started with my water breaking. Statistics show that this happens in roughly 10% of pregnancies and leaves you less likely that it would happen the same way again. I am a ‘works well under pressure’ procrastinator and my first labor allotted me 15 hours to sleep, nest, and prepare for the birth, a short and sweet, uncomplicated 5-hour labor. I was mentally preparing myself for contractions to start out of the blue one day, as they do for most women and having had a precipitous birth the first time around, I was being told a second birth would likely be even quicker although I refused to get my hopes up. Having predicted an early birth and not having that happen, I was psyching myself up for a ‘long’ 12 -hour labor. Or even 20. Who knew what this baby was going to throw at me at this point.
I still had my sights set on one date, a birth on the 28th, the full moon. This one in particular was known as the Strawberry Moon and the Birth Moon and was the smallest in the sky of the year. On the 28th, at 40 weeks and 2 days, the same gestational age I gave birth the first time, Huck woke us up to climb into our bed and sleep a little longer. He did this most mornings, but 5:40am was very early for him. As I moved to make room for him, I leaked. I told Adam my water had broken and he was excited as he had been waiting for any signs from me of labor, much as everyone else around me was at that point. He jumped out of bed to get the Depends I still had on hand from over three and a half years before.
When I had first gotten pregnant, Huck had just turned three. Rambunctious as he was and fascinated by anatomy, I had explained to him the different part of the baby’s home and their functions; the uterus, placenta, amniotic sac and fluid, and the umbilical cord, and how he had to be careful around me to not hurt the different parts and to not pop Mommy’s water balloon that the baby was swimming in.
As Adam went to get the Depends, Huck climbed the end of the bed. “Hey, Huck, Guess what? Mommy’s water balloon broke.” I will never forget the look on his face, the tears instantly welling in his eyes, the frown where I expected his smile to be, and the utter despair in his voice. “But why?” He thought his brother was hurt or I was hurt or that something had gone wrong. I told him that it had to happen for the baby to come out and that it meant that he would come out soon. Like a switch went off, curiosity and sheer joy swept across his face. “I wanna see that!” I told him there wasn’t anything to see yet, but assured him that he was going to be involved in every part of the birth of his brother. I got on my grown-up diaper which Huck got a kick out of, and we decided we would sleep in for a little while. None of us could. We got up.
Thinking we’d have some time before things got started and that we’d have the time to get him should labor begin, we went ahead and got Huck ready for school, letting him know he had the very important job of telling the school that his mom’s water had broken and his brother would be born today. Everyone had been asking and his classmates and teachers were no exception. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was hormones, but I started getting a migraine after not having had one in a very long time. Even though I was hoping for an unmedicated birth, I took a Tylenol and relaxed while Adam took him to school. It worked. When Adam came home, we put the finishing touches on the birth area, the recovery bed, and the menu. We put the Birth of Valentine playlist. Since our bed was upstairs, we made up Huck’s bed as the recovery bed complete with plastic liner and an extra sheet. Adam inflated the birth pool. We made green smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, coffee, red raspberry leaf tea, and laborade. I wrapped Huck’s gift from Valentine, then we focused on the birth deck.
I had been hoping to give birth outside. Week’s before, we pressure washed and stained the deck off the side of the house. Adam wired in some outdoor lights and outlets. We filled the planters with flowers and repotted the citrus and avocado trees. The citronella geraniums had grown huge and were fragrant. Tiki torches had already been mounted for weeks so that day of, all we had to do was make the tough decisions of which tapestries to hang up to shield the sun in the event of an afternoon birth. It felt good to be busy after spending the last few days waiting for any signs of labor. We were having such a good time nesting and singing along to our eclectic playlist. Once the essentials were taken care of, there was still no indication of labor, so we kept going. We hung LED curtain lights across an exterior wall of the house and a string of round bulb lights across the gutter. We rearranged the patio furniture. We put a comforter under the pool for cushion and Adam filled the pool every hour or so as the hot water heater allowed.
I’d been in communication with our midwife, Misty, throughout the day. We were hoping that between the tea, homeopathics, and pumping, that labor would start at some point that day. The day before, I was in denial that labor could or would start any time now, and had only gotten four hours of sleep. I was tired, but didn’t think I would be able to nap. By afternoon, I was looking at increasing the pumping which wasn’t looking to be very effective for me, and castor oil, something I was not eager to explore to say the least. We sat on the deck, newly shielded from the afternoon sun and dressed to the nines, waiting for contractions. The day was dragging and so was I. At 7:30, I was able to get in a 30-minute nap. I tried more pumping, but was starting to feel like he wasn’t ever going to come. We watched the sun set. At 9:50 I called Misty and we decided that we should all get some sleep and touch base first thing the next morning. The night set up on the deck was beautiful, torches and candles lit, fairy lights and music playing. The walk upstairs and to bed that night was crushing. I was glad to know it couldn’t be much longer, but had told myself I would be co-sleeping with my new baby that night, not maneuvering a giant belly around a knee pillow while wearing a perpetually wet diaper.
Within an hour of falling asleep, I was woken up by a contraction and they continued all night about every 20-30 minutes apart. As soon as I would fall asleep, I was woken up by another. They weren’t very painful, but strong enough to not sleep through and they were regular. They brain does strange things when it is sleep deprived and even stranger, I’m sure, when pre-labor hormones are surging. Each time I woke, the song All Together Now by The Likes of Us would automatically start playing in my head, the chorus being, “You don’t have to have it all together now.” It was a reassuring soundtrack to top off what was the longest and most defeating day of my life. Every contraction came with this song except one. The most intense and longest contraction came with She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain. By the time the contraction was over, three verses had played. Equally fitting to think about a contraction having to make its way round the mountain, and a nice upbeat tune to focus on, but the randomness of this song playing in my mind out of my sleep in the middle of the night will remain an example of the power of the mind over the body and the sense of humor one must have to get through pregnancy, labor, and the longest waiting game ever.
By the time Huck climbed into our bed again the next day, I was excited to tell Adam I had been having contractions and knew I should get up and moving if I wanted them to last. But I procrastinated too long, and they fizzled into nothing. We decided that if walking couldn’t get them going by 9, then castor oil it was. Huck had the option to stay home all day or to go to school for the annual Mud Day. I expected him to want to stay and he did so we got dressed and took off on a power walk around the block. By the time we were two laps in, he changed his mind. Since my in-laws offered to stay on call again today to bring him home when things got started, we went home, got Huck dressed, and Adam took him to school while I stayed home to drink a castor oil milkshake and walk the block. Without Huck there, I was able to walk considerably faster and soon noticed a pattern of cramps about 8-10 minutes apart. I could power walk through them so I wasn’t sure if they counted as true contractions. I’ve even dubbed my neighbor’s yard as contraction corner as I got one every time I rounded it.
Adam pulled into the driveway and we walked together. Even after twelve and a half years together, we can still talk each other’s ears off and after days being cooped up waiting for labor, today was still no exception. We are both pretty passionate about natural birth and its place in modern medicine and it turned out to be a great topic of conversation. The more we talked, the faster we walked and within minutes, my cramps or Braxton Hicks as I was calling them were 4-5 minutes apart. We decided maybe we should get home and reheat the pool that had been getting cold overnight and call Misty.
I texted Misty at 10:07 that they were getting ‘closer and stronger’ and when she asked if they should come straight there to check in rather than the postpartum visit she had planned for that morning, my response was ‘I think so’. Lacking the intensity of the contractions I had had with Huck, I still wasn’t sure what kind of progress was being made. I texted Adam’s mom at 10:09 to pick up Huck around 11 after Mud Day.
If I stood still for any reason, it brought on a contraction and a more intense one. Noticing that pattern, I paced the house from room to room at about the same pace I had been walking the block just 10 minutes before. I returned a missed call from Misty at 10:18. She was wanting to know how things were going and if there was time to finish up a blood draw and wait for the student midwife, Danika, to get to the birth center so they could carpool to our house. I talked to her through a contraction and told her I thought they were fine to get here when they could and that contractions were now two minutes apart. Her response was “Oh God!” In hindsight, I suppose that’s pretty close together, but when you’re talking through them and hardly sure they are real contractions at all, it’s hard to judge. I had spent the last 24 hours not wanting to cry wolf over nothing so I explained my hesitancy to ring the alarm bells, saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t done this very many times.” She instructed me to get in the pool and that they would wait to carpool, but if anything changed, to call her right way. Side note: referencing the recorded phone calls from this day has been helpful in piecing together timelines and information. Having these conversations documented is priceless.
Adam topped off the pool from the water heater and started two pots of boiling water to help bring the temperature up. I decided on one more trip to the bathroom before getting in the pool. When I got up, things were definitely picking up, but not so much that I didn’t take the time to turn my leggings right side out and hang over the shower rod. I met Adam in the sunroom on the way out to the deck, but didn’t have much to say. I motioned for him to stop where he was and hung onto his body. For whatever reason I felt the need to transfer my energy to him and rubbed his back through the most intense part of that contraction. We talked about it afterward and he said, “Yeah, that was interesting.”
I went outside to get in the pool while Adam went in to get the first boiling pot of water. I didn’t have time to remove my socks, but in my defense, they were compression socks and my feet were difficult to reach with my nine-month pregnant belly in the way. I sort of slid into the pool and onto the inflated bench that was in it. As soon as I sat down, a contraction started and within seconds, from the back of my throat down to my knees, my body was pushing. Getting in the pool is supposed to slow down labor, and maybe it did, but with both of my labors, the second I got into the water were two of the most intense contractions I ever experienced. As cliché as it is, it was all I could do to yell to Adam, “Call the midwife!” He dumped one pot of boiling water into the pool which felt great and got Misty on speaker phone. I told her I my body was pushing with the last one and she said she was leaving immediately and was on her way from the birth center. Brookhaven is 13 minutes away.
I reached down to see what I could feel. The bag of waters had resealed a pocket under the pressure of Valentine’s head. I felt the bag, then I felt it pop. I reached again, felt his head, and knew it wouldn’t be long. The next two contractions were hardly distinguishable as separate or as contractions. I anchored myself on my hands and let my entire midsection float in the water, my knees bumping the bottom of the pool as I floated. I could feel the tightness building in my belly, but there wasn’t pain. I took turns between focusing on the water in front of me and closing my eyes and letting the the sensation of floating distract my body from any urge to push. I was one hundred percent mind over body and was able to stop for a few minutes what I would later find out was transition. I felt that at any time I could turn back on the pushing contractions and felt the intensity building.
I yelled to Adam who was inside heating more water to come out and that Valentine was going to come with the next contraction. He positioned himself in the pool behind me and when it started, I told him, “This is it.” I instructed him to give some counter pressure on Valentine’s head as I could feel him coming fast. At the start of the next contraction, his head was born. At this point, I felt like time was in slow motion as I had a decision to make. Should I rest here on his neck and finish with the next contraction, or should I get done what we came here to do? I weighed the options and felt I still had a solid 30-60 seconds in this one. I pushed on. His shoulders slipped out and Adam guided the rest of his body out and to the surface.
He held Valentine with one hand while I had him help guide my foot up and over the cord so I could turn around and face them. He handed him to me as I watched him gurgle and spit fluid and bubbles. I moved us into the sun to keep him warm. He wasn’t gasping or crying right away so I laid him over my left forearm, head down, and started rubbing his back along his spine from tailbone to neck. As if room was tight in the womb, all of the vernix that was supposed to be covering his body had concentrated onto his back along his spine, nearly the size of a stick of butter. He continued to gurgle and spit, his arms and legs moving. Adam got out of the pool and got Misty on the phone.
“So he was born,” were his words to Misty. She instructed me to rub his back as I was and stayed on the phone with us asking about his color, muscle tone, and breathing. He was waving his arms legs right away and continued spitting up fluid so I was confident all was fine, but it took him a moment to pink up. Once he did, I took a seat on the bench in the pool.
Misty stayed on the phone as she was pulling in the driveway and coming through the front door. She arrived within 5 minutes of the birth and Danika wasn’t much farther behind her. Misty handed me a towel to wrap Valentine in and commented on how big his hands were. He latched and began nursing while we waited for the placenta. Once it was birthed, it floated in a bowl between my legs waiting for Huck to get home to cut the cord as promised. As the sun got higher in the sky, we covered it and my legs in a towel. Adam’s dad was in route to pick up Huck and since all was going well and the weather outside was so warm and sunny, we were able to wait for him in the pool. We took this time to piece together a timeline of when contractions started, how long pushing was, and the time of Valentine’s birth. I was sad for Huck that he had to miss the birth that he was so excited about seeing, but being quick as it was, there wouldn’t have been much to see anyway. He made it home about 45 minutes after the birth and got to meet his brother. He was in awe and asked, “Can I touch him?” With considerable effort and several cuts, he was able to cut through most of the cord. I had to help with the final snip and was surprised at how hard the cord was.
We enjoyed the pool for a little while longer while Valentine nursed on both sides, then we made our way inside. Valentine weighed in at 8 lbs. 6 oz. and was 21 inches long. Physically, I didn’t feel like I had just had a baby. He was quite easy on me and my body felt surprisingly great. Huck loved watching Danika do the placenta inspection and he brought me water and a banana. He told me I was a strong mommy.
The rest of the day was spent lounging around the house and birth deck, the pool having been cleaned and refilled for the kids as we had several visitors that day. Valentine loved sunbathing and spent a good portion of the day on his brothers lap on the deck.
The entire birth process was surreal; the start of contractions to the birth took under an hour. Finishing writing this nearly two weeks later, it seems even more so that it didn’t happen. It was all so fast and I wasn’t left with the typical aches and pains of childbirth. I can almost see how the stork could be believed in. Valentine just appeared one day and, in a flash, I was a mother of two. We are a family of four. The memory seems so distant now as a single hour on any given day is a short amount of time to have so many defining moments in it. Not 30 minutes before he was born, I was power walking the streets of my neighborhood. Not 10 minutes before, I was folding and hanging my leggings. I wasn’t nearly as coherent during Huck’s birth, but similarly didn’t know I was progressing as quickly as I did. I now know, without a doubt, that I am a terrible judge of labor but it is apparently something I am pretty good at. The longest day of my life gave way to the shortest and sweetest labor and birth I could have asked for.
Valentine Lucio hurried into the world at 10:41am on Friday, June 29th, 2018. Surrounded by trees and blue skies, the first light to touch his skin was the sun. The water was warm and the birds were singing.