So it turns out that the stages of labor for me are a little more precise than the “early labor,” “active labor,” “transition,” “pushing” and “delivering the placenta” that the books describe. Mine are “not much going on,” “waters breaking,” “greasy food,” “many contractions, little dilation,” “holy sh!t” and “snuggle baby while trying to ignore the stitching.” It’s looking unlikely that there will be a third test case to verify this theory, but the birth of baby Oscar, while completely different in many ways from the birth of big brother Elliott, tracked the same pattern.
Pregnancy the second time was easier in most ways… less anxiety and more certainty that we were actually going to make it out on the other side with a healthy baby, slightly less heartburn (though still more than enough to earn Oscar’s full head of dark hair), and I had a much higher level of confidence that my midwives were there to support me in having the birth that I wanted than I did with Elliott. E was born at Northside Hospital, a huge baby factory where about 15,000 babies are born each year, almost 40% of them by c-section. My providers wanted to induce just because E was a week late (though perfectly healthy). Luckily, I went into labor naturally, but then they basically treated me like I was an alien because I didn’t want an epidural. We planned for O’s birth with a small practice of midwives known for their commitment to letting nature do the work. Since E was born, this practice started offering water birth at Atlanta Medical Center, a hospital just 2 miles from our house. Their response to O being breech at 34 weeks gestation? A referral to a chiropractor. He flipped by my next appointment. Best possible outcome, but it was also reassuring to know that my midwives would have supported a vaginal breech delivery if he hadn’t decided to flip with the help of the chiropractor.
So, the stage was set for a much calmer arrival for baby #2. The plan: O makes his grand debut in the peaceful waters of a birthing tub. My worst fear: O comes lightning fast, and we have an accidental home birth (A much less terrifying fear than the ones I had with E). Reality ended up somewhere in between.
The week leading up to his birth was frustrating as I’d hung on to the “second babies usually come earlier” statistic, I was getting increasingly achy and cranky, and part of me felt like I was “wasting” my leave time as I’d decided this time not to work past my due date. I had been convinced at my 39 week, 4 day appointment that I would not be back to the midwife’s office for the 40 week, 4 day appointment we scheduled. Not so! I left my office not to return on August 24… my due date (August 26) passed… still no baby. After my due date, I started more active measures to get things moving—taking evening primrose oil, walking, Scalini’s eggplant parmigiana. Still no baby.
The morning of August 30, I lost a bit of my mucus plug and started to see some “bloody show.” So at the midwife later that morning, the tech, of course, found blood and protein in my urine and asked, “Are you in labor?” Me: “If I am, I didn’t get the memo.” Hmph.
I ask for an internal exam and membrane sweep. 1cm dilated, 20% effaced. Double hmph. I told the midwife that I did NOT want to be pregnant in September, and she smiled weakly and gave me what must’ve been the most gentle membrane sweep of all time. I went to bed on the 30th feeling like it could be another week before we’d get to meet the baby, but hopeful that the blue moon on the 31st might get things moving.
Surprisingly, I actually got a decent night’s sleep, but I woke up the next morning pissed off at the world, i.e. my husband. Why was my house filthy??!?!?! Why the f#!k was there still a baby in me??!?!?!!! So, I started cleaning. Bleach in the shower. Q-tips in the corners of the kitchen floor. Periodically, I’d stand and jump up and down a few times to make sure the baby knew it was time for him to get the hell out as well.
After I’d properly worn myself out, I ate some lunch and sat down to catch my breath, at which point I felt the first contraction that seemed… purposeful. No worse than your average menstrual cramp, but there it was. I tried not to get my hopes up. I suggested to my husband and son that we take a walk, so all three of us headed to the park and the playground. More contractions along the way, yay!
By the time we got to the playground, I needed a break. This did not stop my 3-year-old from insisting that I show him how to pump his legs on the swings, so I hauled myself up on the swing thinking, “Please, let this be an awesome story I can tell about what I did while I was in labor!” We swung for a few minutes, and I managed to extricate my ginormous self from the swing without too much incident. Another 10 minutes or so, and I was ready to go home.
Around this point, I finally informed my husband that I was having contractions and that maybe things were getting started. I settled in for a rest in the bed and started timing contractions while my husband took E on an “errand” so he would fall asleep and take a nap. About 20 minutes after they got home, my husband is standing in our room talking with me as I feel a kick and the telltale gush of my waters breaking (4:52pm, according to the contraction timer app on my phone). Luckily, I’d placed a waterproof crib mattress pad under our sheets a couple of weeks before, just in case (because I know you were all concerned about all that amniotic fluid soaking into my mattress).
Another half hour or so, and the contractions are 4-5 minutes apart and 45-60 seconds long, but still not much stronger than a bad menstrual cramp. Since my waters had broken, I called the midwife anyway. Her response: “You don’t sound like you’re in labor.” We agreed that I’d call her back when they’d gotten much stronger. I, of course, foolishly hoped this would be soon. Maybe the baby would make it before August was out yet! I hopped in the shower while my husband went out for Chinese food, candy and a Redbox movie for the evening.
So, we ate crab rangoons and egg rolls and General Tso’s chicken. Mmmm… fried. The best part was my husband’s fortune: “You will soon witness a miracle.”
Around 8, we walked Elliott down the street to a friend’s house for a surprise sleepover, and we gave him his last kisses as an only child. Once we got back home, we finished packing the hospital bag and packed up the car, then settled in to watch the rented movie. Notes on movie watching in labor for other expectant moms: yoga ball, good. Expendables, bad. I’d go for something funnier. The only positive thing I have to say about this movie is that I was grateful that I did not see the bare breasts of either of the beautiful women in the movie.
My contractions continued and ramped up during the movie, so I decided to lie down and rest a bit after it was over… at which point my contractions slowed waaay down, but started to get stronger. This part of labor was confusing… do I call the midwife? What if all this contracting isn’t going anywhere? What if I don’t call soon enough? I don’t really want to have this baby at Sister Louisa’s Church (a local watering hole) en route to the hospital… (though that would also be a good story.)
Once I started moving around again, the contractions quickly picked up to every 4 minutes, so I called the midwife and declared it time to go. By the time I was watching my husband return the movie at the Redbox kiosk, I noticed that they were down to every 2 minutes, so I was very very glad we were on our way… to the CLOSE hospital.
I decided I could walk in from the parking garage on my own, so we parked, leaving the car at 2:15am. By the time we walked into the after hours entrance through the emergency room, the receptionist took one look at me and asked, “Do you need a wheelchair?” I declined.
We checked into labor and delivery, and they installed us in a triage room. I got hooked up to the monitors and the nurse did an internal exam at about 2:30: 4cm, 80% effaced. After all those contractions! Disappointing. I’d been through this before with Elliott… after hours of tough back labor contractions all night, I’d been a whopping 4 cm dilated by about 7am. But there was hope… after that disappointment, E was born at 10:34am.
Sure enough, my contractions quickly went into overdrive. I was breathing and sounding through them and keeping my thoughts focused on the relief that would come in the water tub. After what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, I was still on the monitor and the nurse came back in to let us know that it had actually been 40 minutes (grrr!)… the monitor was losing the baby’s heartbeat sometimes during the contractions, so they weren’t getting the readings they wanted. At that point the nurse looked pensively at the monitor and checked me again. She looked a bit surprised and told us in an astonished tone that I was 7-8cm dilated, 100% effaced. She quickly left to call the midwife, and I unhooked from the monitor to use the restroom. I didn’t pee much, but I got everything good and bloody in there before I left. The nurse came in and got me from the toilet and helped me down the hall to the labor and delivery room–#7. It was about 3:20.
On our walk, two separate hospital staffers asked her if she wanted them to get the water tub ready for me, and she told them, “Not yet.” I found this a little puzzling since I was past the 6cm they require before you go in, but I was expecting to be there for a while yet, so I didn’t question it. In retrospect, I am sure that she already knew that the time for the tub had passed, and we were having a baby, and SOON. By the time we got to the delivery room, I could barely get myself on the table, and I was kind of pissed when the nurse was asking me questions about my highest level of education while I was having what felt like a lightning storm in my belly.
Contractions were coming one after the other without much time to catch my breath in between. Just when I’d get in a good mental place, breathing, “Om”ing, relaxing and letting them do their job, they’d speed up again. Soon, I was just panting and holding on to the bed like I might fall off… the nurse got a cold cloth for my face and started scurrying around getting things ready, “just in case she goes fast.”
I remember my vocalizations wavering and changing when I started feeling the strong pressure of his head wanting to come out. I was struggling, trying to control the feeling, remembering back to Elliott’s birth when I’d been told to “hold it” because I wasn’t completely dilated when the urge to push came. The nurse noticed too… she checked me again, and I was almost completely dilated—she didn’t have to ask if I felt the need to push.
She only semi-calmly tells us that our midwife hasn’t arrived yet, but there is a hospital midwife on the floor, and they are going to go get her, “just in case.”
Just a few moments later, our midwife walks in, in time to hold up my right knee for me to start pushing. Or to stop preventing my body from pushing might be a more accurate way to say it. The nurse starts pulling my top and bra off so I’ll be ready to hold and nurse him when he is out. Until she did this, I don’t think it really dawned on me that he was about to be born… that I was almost done—we’d barely been there an hour.
The midwife had me hike my right hip up a bit to get him better positioned to come out, and she started coaching me through. About 4 pushes later, and I feel the pop of his head coming out and the relief of his body slithering out after. 3:50am. She chucks him up on my chest, all wet and slimy and screamy and perfect. Another few minutes and an easy push, and the placenta is out as well. After the cord stopped pulsing, the midwife clamped and cut it and left me to admire our little creation while she admired (and stitched) the second degree tear in my perineum (right down the episiotomy scar I had from last time) and a first degree tear in my left labia.
So, no water birth for us. No unexpected home birth either, so I guess that’s a decent compromise. I have to say, though, that I think all the people who wish a short labor on others probably haven’t had one. The under-2-hour active labor was a little scary. We did get a really cute baby out of the deal, so I guess I can’t complain too much. And maybe it was predicted by my husband’s Chinese food fortune, after all… “You will soon witness a miracle”… in bed.
He was born September 1 (notably, just in time to make the birthday cut off for school in Georgia!) at 3:50am. About 14 hours after contractions started and 11 hours after my waters broke. 7lbs, 2.5oz and 20.75 inches long. He has a full head of dark hair that is somewhat finer than his big brother’s and cloudy grey eyes. He looks so much like his big brother, though his face is maybe shaped a little more like mine. I think he has also inherited mama’s eyebrows… so I’ve got about 10 years before I have to figure out how to introduce tweezing into my pubescent boys’ lives…
We dithered and waffled about his name until just a few days before he was born. He ended up Oscar Harvey Kaye, named after his great great grandfather, Oscar, and his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather, Harvey (Jr. and Sr.). I never met my great grandpa Oscar, but since my Grammy Viola, one of the most wonderful people who has ever lived, nearly mourned herself to death when he passed away in the early ’70s, I think he must’ve been pretty great. I do know, at least, that he was quite a fox. The Harveys–my dad and his (late) dad–are the kind of men you hope your son will grow up to be. I don’t think either of them once has thought of himself before others. It’s also a pretty great movie. Which, coincidentally, won an Oscar.
I heard y’all wanted some more pictures.
He mixed it too fast….