In the wee hours of the morning, around 1:30, I awoke to contractions that were mild but just enough to keep me awake most of the rest of the night. Not only that, Timmy's activity level was off the charts. It was like a storm in my belly between his movements and those of my uterus. I was very annoyed, rolling with no small amount of difficulty from one side to the other, trying to get comfortable. For awhile, I timed them and they were about six minutes apart, but then they slowed back down, and became shorter. I figured that once again, my body was thinking about labor but not sure about it yet. This had happened the previous Monday morning too, and all the contractions had wound down by morning.
I was not surprised when, after very little sleep on this Monday morning, six days before my due date, I woke again cranky and still pregnant, occasionally contracting. When I went to use the bathroom, I noticed (TMI warning) a little of what's known as bloody show. The contractions would go away, then they'd come back and be five minutes apart, and I didn't know what to think. I decided I might be in what is known as "early labor," but had never experienced myself before. With both the girls, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning already in active labor. Early labor was something I'd only read about. I'd heard it could last for days. I emailed Tim with the subject line, "Maybe today?" Lucky for us both, he had nothing better to do but stand by and wait for more news.
Still, I called my midwife to give her the update. She said that it sounded to her like I was in labor just from the sound of my voice. She also said even though it was early, she wanted to just come see me that morning. I was happy to have her come help me figure out if I was having a baby soon or not.
In the meantime, I decided to treat this early labor as a gift, a luxury of extra time that I'd never had before. When I'd woken up in labor with Annie, I'd barely managed to brush my teeth. Feeling energetic and upbeat, I cleaned my bathroom, vacuumed my floor, folded and put away a load of laundry, and just went around picking things up and putting them away. I put on makeup too, thinking to myself, for once I might not look like hell when I have a baby. At Tim's suggestion, I plugged in the camcorder and got the tripod out of a closet and put it in my room.
She came that morning around 10 or so, checked me and said I was 4 cm, but could "easily stretch" to 5, and my cervix seemed very ripe. She said that it was still very thick, only 20% effaced, but that could change very quickly once the contractions really picked up and got consistent. We chatted for a little while, and I told her how my plan for that day had been to take Annie out to lunch alone, like I had taken her sister out alone a couple days earlier. I was debating, not on whether I should leave the house, but whether I should only take Annie. Delaney knew of my plan, and even though she understood she'd already had a turn on Saturday, she was very sad at the idea of being left at home. I was feeling very mushy about the two of them, and wanting everybody to be happy, so I considered maybe we should all go somewhere. I was still going back and forth on what I should do even as Sherry went out to her truck to bring some of her supplies back into the house. Sherry's only opinion was that wherever I go, I should stay "this side of New Bern", meaning don't cross the bridge. She told me to call her with an update whenever the contractions "picked up."
In the end, I felt it was very important that I get the alone time with Annie. Delaney was happy at the idea of painting while we were gone. After Sherry left, Tim Sr said to me, "Are you still going?" Having been updated by Sherry, I think he was a little unsure whether I should be going anywhere. I said, "Yeah, I've got to get out of here." He asked me if I minded if he called Karen to give her an update. I told her I didn't mind, but I said, "Tell her not to hold her breath." I might have sounded a little surly. I had been feeling like everyone, including people I didn't even know, were watching me and waiting for me to pop out a baby. And I didn't want to get anyone's expectations up over nothing.
I'm so glad that I ended up having my little date with Annie, my last baby. We went to Subway and had a nice leisurely lunch, where she would take a bite of her sandwich in exchange for another one of my chips. She shared her apple slices with me, and I just enjoyed her sweet, funny, two-year-old self so much. I didn't think much about the contractions, or time them, but during some of them I had to breathe and sway slightly on my seat. Otherwise, I ate over half my foot-long roast beef sub, and was feeling pretty good.
We went to Food Lion, which was right next door, and I picked a small cart that she insisted on pushing around herself. I tried not to be obvious about guiding it from the front because pushing it all by herself made her feel like a big girl. I picked some fruit, cheese and crackers, enough to possibly share with any friends we might have over at the house later. I also got the juice and cereal that we were out of.
Driving home, I had some contractions that were hard to ignore, and I just breathed through them. I wasn't really timing them but they were about six or seven minutes apart.
I got home just in time for nap time. Annie invited Grandpa to story time (he's always invited, but sometimes one or the other of the girls will tell him, "Grandpa, come to storytime."). The girls each picked me to read their story. I believe I read Spot's Baby Sister and Clifford's Ice Cream Mess. I tried to keep my voice normal as I felt another contraction. The stories were very short, though, and by 1:00, Annie was settled into her room for nap, and Delaney was upstairs for her quiet time. I told Tim Sr I would try to take a nap of my own. I had barely slept the night before, so I really hoped to get some rest.
I opted to call the birth photographer first. First, some background on her: I researched birth photographers in the area, and she was pretty much it, even though she was an hour away in Jacksonville. She was recommended to me, and I saw her website and liked her work. And I really wanted a photographer for this birth, mostly because Tim wouldn't be there. We talked and she agreed to do it. A couple weeks ago, she emailed me saying that she was "officially on call" for my birth, but that a family situation had come up that might require her to drive to Virginia Beach to stay for a couple days on Sunday and Monday (the 24th and 25th). She said to call her as soon as I thought I was in labor, and she would hurry the three hours to my house just as fast as she could make arrangements for the kids. I rolled my eyes, and said, "Of course, that means I'm having the baby on Sunday or Monday. It's a prophecy!" I told myself not to get upset about this. Sherry and Debbie, the assistant midwife, had both told me they'd be happy to snap photos with Sherry's camera or my camera. I would have pictures one way or another.
I didn't know when to call her because I didn't know if I was really in labor or not. And if the family situation was important enough for her to drive there in the first place, why would she then want to drop everything and drive the three hours back before she'd planned on leaving? In the end, I decided to give her a call, and tell her I thought maybe her "prophecy" was being fulfilled. She was like, "Oh no, really?" She said, "I've never missed a birth, and I thought, this is just a day and a half I'll be gone.." Ha. We talked for a little while and I told her how I was feeling (she's also a doula by trade), and that, by the way, I was having another contraction. She said, "It sounds to me like you're in early labor since you can still talk through it, and I've known early labor to last as long as a couple days. With your history, it could change quickly, though." I told her that's pretty much what Sherry had said. She suggested that if the contractions were keeping me from getting rest, I could take a warm bath and that could slow things down enough for me to be able to take a nice nap. She said she'd be on her way back the next morning, and that she could have her husband drop her off here if I wanted. We ended the conversation with me promising to keep her posted, although I figured that by the time I knew it was time, it would be too late.
Right after I got off the phone with her, Tim called. That was at 1:26, I know, thanks to my iPhone. His ship was in port at Souda Bay, Crete for repairs, and he was seven hours ahead of us. I told him about my conversation with the doula, and he helped me time the contractions, which abruptly became closer together. He said to me, "You realize you're having contractions three minutes apart, right? Do you think you should call Sherry?" I said I'd call her and give her the update, although I wasn't sure if I wanted her to come over yet. He said he'd call me back in 10 minutes.
I called Sherry at 1:38 and told her the contractions had picked up but I didn't think I needed her yet. Before Tim had had the chance to call me back again, I changed my mind and called Sherry again. "Yeah, I think you'd better get here."
Tim called me again at 1:49, and I put him on speaker phone so I could begin moving and doing what I needed to do through the now intense contractions. I felt the burning in my thighs, hips and lower back that I remembered all too well. Sherry walked in within 10 minutes, and as soon as I saw her kind, compassionate face, I burst into tears. I felt so overwhelmed all of a sudden, like this is really it, oh-my-god, I don't know if I can do this.. "I don't know why I'm crying," I sobbed. Sherry hugged me and said that crying is a "good release." Debbie came in shortly after, and the two of them busied themselves with getting the birth pool filled up. I went to get one of the "laborade" popsicles I'd made a couple weeks before, and as I walked back to the room, Tim Sr said, "I guess you're not taking a nap after all!" I said, "No, no nap for me for awhile." Debbie rubbed my lower back during contractions, and helped me sway and move my hips like Elvis to try to wiggle the baby down. I was grateful for her strong, expert touch, but becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
Tim was still on the phone, waiting in the bedroom. Sherry told me he'd said he'd be right there waiting while I did whatever I needed to do.
Finally, the tub was ready and I got in. Karen, the assistant midwife's daughter, was taking pictures nearly constantly with my camera, and the first picture of me in the tub is at 3:07. Oh, the sweet relief of that hot water. The laborade popsicles were a must, too, and I had three altogether. I kept asking for more. They are made out of fresh lemon juice, honey, a couple of crushed calcium-magnesium tablets, and water. I got the recipe from a friend who recently had a homebirth. I wasn't in the mood to talk much, just vocalizing through the contractions, and resting in between. I could hear Sherry talking to Tim from time to time, letting him know what I was doing, and I was so glad she did that.
|Sherry's listening to the baby's heart, and I'm not sure what Debbie's doing, maybe she had just been rubbing my back during a contraction.|
At first, I pushed in that same position you see me in the picture above, holding onto the side of the pool. But Sherry said I wasn't giving the baby enough room to come out, but when I raised myself up more, I was no longer in the soothing water up to my waist. The pool could have been filled up more, but they opted not to. Later I understood why. If the water was much higher, it would have been hard to hold Timmy's head out of it after he was born. Sherry suggested I sit back against the side, and that's what I did. My pushes weren't making much progress because my water bag was still intact. I said, "I wish it would break!" Sherry said, "Me too!" At last it did. Sherry said, "Good, the fluid's clear."
Once my water broke, I felt Timmy moving down, but I was still impatient with how long it was taking. I said, "I wish he'd move faster!" Or something like that, I'll have to watch the video at some point. My camcorder was on a tripod recording the whole thing. Sherry said, "You can tell him that while you're kissing him." Then she told me to reach down and feel his head and see how close he was. I felt, and thought the top of his head felt mushy. I could have left my hand down there to help him emerge, but instead I opted to grab the handles on the birth pool with both hands, leaving that to Sherry. I started to think, this is really happening. I'm going to have my baby right here in this room, soon!
Then he was crowning, and I moaned and yelled, "It-hurts-it-hurts-it-hurts!" Sherry said, "I know, Rachael, I know!" Then I heard Sherry and Debbie exclaim, "His head is out!" Sherry called out the news in the direction of the phone. I could hear Tim telling me what a great job I was doing. It took a little while for the rest of him to come out because as Sherry explained later, he'd had his hand and elbow wanting to come out next, instead of a shoulder. She also said that he came down the birth canal with his hand next to his head, and that may have accounted for why I had some difficulty pushing him out. All I know is it hurt like heck, all those body parts trying to come out of me at once. I thought I made some godawful noises during that time, even though they all swear I was so quiet. I guess the video will tell the truth, whenever I get around to watching it.
At last I felt the whole of him wiggle out with help from Sherry, and she had me take him from her and up out of the water. I felt awe and disbelief, and above all, gratitude, and I said, "Thank you, God!" I cried and said all kinds of stuff I don't remember. Sherry said, "Tim, you have a son!" Timmy began crying and "pinking up." He was born at 3:30, an hour and 41 minutes after Tim called me the second time.
Next, we had his big sisters and Grandpa come in and meet him.
A little while later, while Sherry and Debbie were tending to Mama, Timmy got to go out to the living room to bond with them some more.
What an amazing day. What a lot changed in just a short few hours. Here are a couple more pictures of Timmy with his adoring big sisters.
Now we have these three beautiful kids!