When I was pregnant with my first, I moved far, far away from anyone I knew or loved, besides my husband’s family. My work schedule posed a challenge in cultivating new friendships with other moms and moms-to-be, so I didn’t have a baby shower or anything like that. This time, I’ve lived here for a couple years, and made some great friends- truly inspiring women. A few of these women I met through work or through other friends and family, but many of these women belong to our yoga moms tribe. Something I hope is not unique to Southern Maryland, as I would like to believe I live in a world where this is normal- these women offer each other support, information, and love. They all probably became part of the tribe the same way- attending one of my doula’s prenatal yoga classes. There, she would direct them to her facebook group, a closed forum for local moms and moms-to-be. On this forum, women vent or ask for help or advice, arrange meetups and even volunteer meal-trains for post-partum friends.
Since it’s my second child, also a girl, I figured we didn’t need much in the way of material things, so why throw a shower? But my friend E, godmother to Z (baby girl #2) called me from her home in Ohio to ask if I’d be having one. When I told her I didn’t think so, and why, she said surely I could think of something it would be nice to have this time around. It didn’t take long for me to make a list and convince myself it would indeed be worth throwing a “sprinkle”. But more than a sprinkle, I wanted an event that would have meaning for all in attendance, that would give me some good energy for the rest of the pregnancy and the birth, and that would show my friends how grateful I am to have them in my life. Something like a Blessingway, but with my own spin on it (naturally).
And so it came to pass that I held a brunch at my in-laws’ house on the water, where we currently live. E flew in and helped me get everything set up and cook all the dishes. Since Z was due on Easter Sunday, I bought small candles that looked like Easter eggs for all of my guests to take. I bought myself a pillar candle with a charm on it resembling a pregnant woman holding up a full moon which was represented by a round moonstone. All the candles were blessed by the priest at our church, and as luck would have it, the morning of my Blessing Brunch, a priest from my husband’s childhood happened to be in town and came by and blessed my own candle. We passed the candle around and one by one, my guests gave me a blessing for my birth and for the child. Then, in turn, I went around the table and said something special about each woman to show how much it meant to me that they could be there. The candles would be lit during labor. A friend of mine who had had a Blessingway last summer brought a few blessings herself that she had liked from hers. She brought a handwritten poem, a jar of water to remind me to be fluid and fill the space wherever I am, a small piece of paper with the namaste symbol and “I am patient, I am calm” written on it, and a skein of red yarn. With the red yarn, we made a web connecting all of us at the wrists, then cut the yarn and tied it to our wrists to be cut after the birth.
I still haven’t cut off my yarn bracelet. I decided I wouldn’t cut it until this birth story was finished and published, so that my friends could be recognized for their part in this amazing event.
In the wee hours of the morning on Holy Thursday, while the moon was still full, I began having painful contractions. This had happened the morning before as well, and they suddenly stopped after a few hours. They were each a half hour apart just as they had been the day before, so I didn’t think it was really labor starting. But they were getting intensely painful. I remember thinking, if this is how bad they are in the beginning, what am I in for this time?
Per the advice of my doula, Stacy, I stayed in bed in the dark and tried to relax and sleep for a couple hours until I could no longer sleep. As I lay in bed staring at the fan through nothing but the shadows of moonlight, I allowed myself to feel fear. The endorphins and oxytocin weren’t kicking in nearly as intensely as the pain. I could no longer sit still and I was hungry, so I woke up RJ and filled him in, told him I was going to eat some breakfast and watch the contractions. He could continue to sleep until they started getting closer together, then we’d get ready to go to the hospital and I’d make my favorite recipe of lactation cookies (recipe available on this very blog, a couple entries back).
Bake cookies? During labor? Why, yes! In my preparation for this birth, the 2 books I found most helpful were Hypnobirthing and Birthing From Within (Ina May’s books were the most helpful for my first birth, but this time I wanted more!). In Birthing From Within, I read a handy little piece of advice: to have a labor activity to keep your mind off of timing the contractions and let your body do the work of early labor. The idea was that instead of timing contractions to know when to go to the hospital, you use your mental engagement in the activity as a barometer for the intensity of labor. If baking cookies, the smell of burning cookies should signify to you that you can no longer pay attention to anything else and must now go to the hospital for active labor.
After breakfast, since the contractions were getting closer together (yes I was in fact timing them on an app called Full Term), I called Stacy to let her know what was going on. By then, I think it was around 5 am and they were about 5 minutes apart. I woke RJ up and he got last-minute items together for our hospital bags while I turned on some music and baked cookies. The endorphins were kicking in and I was actually having a lot of fun. They were easier to breathe and move through. Occasionally, RJ would be in the kitchen checking on me, and hold me gently while I rocked and swayed through a contraction. I still wasn’t confident that this was “it”, especially because the rushes were getting easier to manage and there was a stutter in their consistency. But after a significant stutter which had me wondering if labor was stopping, they began coming closer together. When the cookies were done, they had started coming 7 minutes apart, and I wanted to make sure this time it was really happening. So I called Stacy and told her we were going for a walk and asked her to come over and rub some sage or basil essential oil on my feet to get labor going strong.
I had lit my blessing candle when I started baking cookies, took a picture with my phone an sent it to everyone who had been at the blessing, and to my parents, my aunt, and my soul sister K. Everyone who had an egg candle lit theirs and sent me and my on-point-girl Heather (the head of the phone tree) pics throughout the morning as they woke up. I felt their energy uplifting me and giving me strength.
Just as RJ and I returned from our walk, Stacy pulled in the driveway. We were still at 7 minutes apart. We came inside and she looked at my contraction timer app to see how things were progressing. By this point in labor with Anjolie, when I closed my eyes, I saw vivid moving patterns, colors, and shapes. This time when I closed my eyes I saw faint colors moving through the blackness, but nothing distinct like aloe vera plants dancing in sync and arranged in the shape of a heart.
“Have you called Brooke yet?” Stacy asked. Brooke is my amazing midwife.
“No, I haven’t really been confident that this is real labor yet,” I said. She told me to go ahead and call. Ruth, the new midwife who’d been shadowing Brooke picked up, and her greeting sounded like a voicemail recording, so when she finished there was a moment of dead air as I waited for the beep.
“I’m sorry, I thought you were an answering machine!” I said, finally. I filled her in and she listened to me breathe through a contraction. I think Brooke was listening also. She put me on hold while they discussed, then they advised me to head to the hospital since it was a half hour drive.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. With Anjolie, I was transitioning in the car with the same length of time on the drive. It was intensely uncomfortable. With Z, I was still early enough to be pumped with endorphins and not in too deep. The sun was rising, casting pinks, purples, blues, and gold all across the sky. We opened the sunroof and let in the perfect breeze as we held hands and listened to the Beirut station on Pandora. The contractions slowed down in the car, but Stacy said that was normal. With my first, RJ pulled the car into the Emergency lane and left it there as we made our way to the maternity ward. With Z, we parked a good distance away from the door so I could get a good walk in and get labor going again. RJ left his door open and I happened to notice it as we walked away. So, still early labor at this point. We took the stairs and I was still pretty “with it” when we checked in, saying hi to everyone and smiling real big. They put me in a bigger room this time, and when we walked in, I put my arms out wide and spun around.
“I could dance in here!” I exclaimed.
“You probably will,” said Stacy. I asked for a labor ball to sit on, and the nurse started asking me questions and monitoring the baby, and that’s when active labor took over. As soon as the midwives brought me the exercise ball, my body took the reigns. I could feel Z moving down to the birth path and I withdrew my consciousness into my heart and my body. Through my contractions, I moaned deeply and rocked or made hip circles. RJ lightly brushed my collarbones with his fingers, which was ecstacy, and Stacy and the midwives rubbed my legs. I stayed very relaxed and let all the intensity wash over me and imagined all the energy gently gliding Zelda down the birth path. I knew it was getting serious when I asked RJ to switch the music to my “Serenity” labor mix and whispered to ask for water between contractions.
Brooke asked to check me because it was time for them to head in to the office unless I was getting close. I was 7 cm and 100% effaced, so they stayed. It felt like it was time to change positions. The crowning would happen soon, I thought. My legs were already getting tired, so I no longer wanted to squat and deliver as I had originally intended. Stacy suggested putting up the top half of the bed so I could rest on my knees and hold on to the bed. It was the perfect position- now my arms took over the work of supporting my weight so my lower body could stay relaxed. The downward movement started getting very intense, so I got very vocal. RJ was right beside me the whole time, showering me with affection. Brooke, Ruth, and Stacy gently murmured encouraging words. At some point in this haze, I remember “our song” coming on- “Venice” by Beirut.
“Do you hear what song is playing, baby?” RJ asked.
“I hear it,” came my voice, breathy through the fog.
When A was born, I walked into the delivery room and my water broke, and she was out within half an hour, charging through me like an Amtrak and leaving me torn. This one was gentle. It took longer to breathe her down gently (even though the entire active labor took half the time) but that was what I wanted, to give my body time to stretch and open naturally. Between contractions, I rested, and it almost began to feel as if I could bring them on and stop them at will. When my water broke, it felt like a water balloon exploding. POP! SPLASH!
“Open, open, open…” I commanded my body, imagining petals unfolding around Zelda’s head. During contractions, my vocalizations grew much more powerful.
“Now, Jessica,” Brooke said with gentle care, “Feel free to be as loud as you want, but you might want to redirect that energy downward.” She was right: I was wearing myself out and needed every ounce of energy I could muster. I turned my thoughts to the practice of breathing baby down. Best advice I can give any expectant mother is to watch some hypnobirthing videos on YouTube for how to do this, and practice with every bowel movement you have until the baby comes. And then after baby comes, keep doing it this way to avoid irritating your hemorrhoids. Yeah. I went there.
Nearing the crowning, Brooke rubbed some oil on my perineum and stretched me out a bit. I was very aware as she crowned, feeling the ring of fire, the impulsive tightening between each push. Her head took something like 3 pushes, her shoulders felt massive, but her body slid out as they pulled her. Her umbilical cord was very long, so it was easy for me to turn over and receive her. Her face was all scrunched up- I told RJ she looked like the Disturbed album cover. She cried a bit but quieted as I sang to her. She took to nursing right away. Her left eyelids were swollen and pulled back from her eye, so that it looked as if one eye bugged out. We instantly nicknamed her Popeye.
I had wished it were possible for me to have a home birth, mostly because I wasn’t looking forward to the mid-labor drive to the hospital. But with the loving support of my friends, doula, and midwives, I was able to have my ideal birth in a hospital.