Maig (long "a", hard "g" for the curious) is almost 6 months and I can’t believe how fast she's growing! I’m so excited to finally be sharing her birth story with you all and hope that our experience can be a tiny picture of what undisturbed birth is like for those who are unfamiliar with unmedicated birth outside of a hospital setting.
Sweet Fair had been talking about Halloween for weeks. She was so excited to dress up as a unicorn and trick-or-treat around our little neighborhood. On Halloween day, I began having contractions around 2 PM. While they were mild and spaced out, I knew Maig was on her way. Tightenings continued throughout the day, even as we walked and gathered candy that evening. I had a neighbor ask me when my induction was scheduled after I shared with her that I was just a day shy of 41 weeks. While laughing inside, knowing that I wouldn't be waiting much longer for baby girl to come on her own, I also felt a little wave of frustration over the state of our nation’s maternity care - Mommas, being “late” or post EDD (estimated due date) is not a medical reason for inducing labor (usually this involves starting labor with synthetic hormones). Induction carries risks for both baby and momma. I don't believe that these risks are communicated completely from most providers to patients. Starting labor before our babies are ready to tolerate it and or before they are ready for life outside the womb (even just days), should be reserved for medical reasons. (1)
We went door to door until Fair told us she was done. When we were on our way home she said that she was glad Maig wasn't born yet so that I could get candy with her and her daddy. Sweet girl! I thought for sure all the walking would strengthen the waves of pressure I was feeling, but by the time I fell asleep that night they were pretty much gone.
I woke up right around 3 AM that next morning (November 1) to my water breaking. Thank goodness we had already plastic wrapped (non toxic, of course) our mattress and laid out towels. This was a new experience for me because my water didn't break until I neared transition (intense dilating of those last couple centimeters) in labor with Fair. At this point I wasn't contracting much, so I cleaned up, ate a sandwich, gave our midwife a heads up, and went back to sleep. I was up every so often the rest of the night; holy leaking fluid! While not getting much sleep, I was able to rest quite a bit which I was so very thankful for. I woke Landon up around 9 AM when I felt my body moving into more active (but still quite early) labor. Waves of pressure were coming every 5 minutes and were "uncomfortable", but they weren’t quite taking all of my attention just yet. We finished setting up our little birthing space, topping off our birth pool with air, and getting the hose connected to the shower head. I sent Landon to work, knowing that I needed to labor alone, just like I did with Fair years ago. I set Fair up with a movie and some coloring pages and decided to rest, walk around the house, and bounce a bit on our exercise ball. My contracting stayed steady for a long while but wasn't getting much more intense, something I knew needed to happen to open my body and move baby down and out.
The day kind of dragged on. I ate well, and spent the afternoon with my big four year old girl who wouldn't be an only child soon. I hadn't mentioned to her that her sister was coming. I wanted her and I to just be us for the last time. By 4 PM my tightenings were about 4 minutes apart and I was ready to get things moving and see this long awaited second child of mine. I texted Landon and told him I would be fine on my own until he was off of work at 5.
Days prior, I had been reading about reversing energy to progress labor. I applied that knowledge of birth by reversing directions in order to gain some progressive momentum - Being upright during birth is great; gravity does wonders. However, child’s pose (a hands and knees position with chest down and bum in the air) takes a bit of pressure off of the cervix. This may help baby readjust positions and engage more properly once momma is upright again.
To my surprise, a single contraction in this position slammed me straight into strong and active labor. It was then that I remembered the intensity of labor sensations. I remembered how hard it would get before I had my baby in my arms. I remembered that this work of labor would take all of me; all of my attention and all of strength. And then I cried. I cried knowing that these moments were finally here and that I had to walk through them once more. I released my momentary fears and tension and texted Landon right back asking him to come home now rather than later. My immediate physical response to these stronger and longer contractions was movement and moaning, which Fair took notice of. “What’s that noise you’re making, mom?”. I finally told her that her sister was going to be born that night (yay!) and that I needed her to be so, so quiet. Anyone who knows my Fair knows that this isn't an easy task for her. In all her excitement she ran and laid our her pink unicorn swimsuit and pink flamingo towel near our birthing pool, and went and put on her pink unicorn costume.
*For the squeamish: Our culture has made birth out to be something like, “Unless you've done it or are planning to, you don't need to know or hear about it. It’s a yucky and scary experience.” Please be reminded that every person was born and most people will have children of their own at some point. The way humans are brought into the world is brilliantly designed. While childbirth is in no way pretty, it is so very beautiful. That said, this IS a birth story.
I moved from our living room into the bathroom and noticed quite a bit of show (blood and mucous). I had been leaking fluid all day and decided to labor on the toilet for a while in an effort to not make a mess or have to continue to change out pads. Landon arrived shortly before 5 PM and I asked him to fill the birthing pool with hot water. I originally assumed that I wouldn't get in until I felt “pushy”, and would then birth Maig into the water. But, at this point I just wanted some pain relief and wanted in sooner than later. I stayed put in the bathroom for a bit and texted our midwife an update around 6 PM. I was contracting every 3 minutes and the pressure seemed to be lasting longer (about 1+ minutes). Knowing that I was approaching transition, I asked her to come and take a listen to Maig’s heart tones. Baby girl felt active, and I wasn't worried. I just wanted to hear her.
Our midwife and her assistant arrived shortly before 7 PM. They took my vitals, and they listened to Maig’s strong little heart beating. Fair kept busy with a movie, toys, and the occasional checking in on us. Landon sat near me in the bathroom as I passed through each wave of pressure. He didn't have to say or do anything, it was just nice to have him with me. He held the space so well. My contractions were coming fast now, and lasting so long. At this point the sensations were extremely intense. I stayed confident though, knowing that my body was working the way it was created to. The pain, while not fun, was helpful (increasing endorphins and oxytocin).
After the tub was filled (around 7 PM) I moved into the water. Just as it helped while I labored with Fair, the warm water was magic. It felt so nice to be held up a bit and hugged on all sides. The birthing tub was set up in our dining room and our midwife and her assistant sat nearby, watching and waiting patiently while checking baby and my vitals every so often (the beauty of midwifery care). I labored in the birthing tub for about 2 hours, getting out to empty my bladder twice. My body was working perfectly, but transition had me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Each wave of pressure and pain would creep up slow, but at their peak of intensity I began having these ridiculous thoughts that maybe it was more than I could handle. Labor makes women think silly things.
I think I had convinced myself during pregnancy that Maig’s birth would be a “typical” second birth; a faster and “easier” experience than my first. Haha. These strong contractions were holding for a full 3+ minutes, some even pushing 5. Generally speaking, contractions this late in labor last only about 1.5 to 2 minutes. However, every labor and birth is unique and this was my variation of normal.
Sweet Fair kept coming up to the edge of the tub and asking if it was time for her to get in with me, but I couldn't have her distracting me in these moments. I remember saying, “not yet!” quite a few times. At one point, I peeked over to see Fair leaning backwards far over the side of the tub with most of her hair dangling in the water. Her sweet voice is one of my favorite sounds, but in this tough spot in labor I didn't want to hear her at all. Every sound was bothering me and I needed things to be quiet. While Fair stayed more calm than I had expected (we did have a dear friend on call in case I felt overwhelmed with her there), Landon set up a little tent in her room for her. Looking up from the side of the tub, I could see into her room but I couldn't hear her. Despite my laboring noises, she had fallen asleep!
At about 9 PM I started to feel so much low pressure. I became nauseous and vomited into a bowl that Landon held close. Good man. I have to say that I am proud of my coping and relaxation efforts at that point. I was conscious of dropping my shoulders, remaining loose, and breathing deeply. I clutched a small bottle of eucalyptus essential oil (globulous, for the curious). I’m not sure why it was that specific one. I just needed to smell it. Its strong, earthy scent seemed to ground me and helped me focus. While I labored with Fair years ago I remember holding my eyes tightly shut for most of her birth. I made a point to open my eyes this time and even kept them open through a few really tough contractions. Although I wanted to crawl out of my skin, I felt completely in my body and present, which was a feeling that is hard for me to describe.
I wanted Maig’s birth to be led by my body. I had previously shared with our midwife the desire to not be checked internally during labor (zero vaginal exams). Dilation tells a woman and provider how far she has come but not how much longer labor will last. While knowing can be helpful in certain circumstances, I simply did not want to know (I declined an initial exam when our midwife had arrived hours prior). In the tub now, I decided that with all the pressure I was feeling, I would reach in myself to see if I could feel Maig’s head. After all these hours of labor I still couldn't feel her anywhere. Why on earth was she so high? And when would she move down? I wanted to wait until I had the urge to push before I put any effort behind my contractions. I wanted to ‘breathe’ my baby out. But where was the urge? These never-ending, bloody (a curse, not actual blood) transition tightenings would not let up, and there still was no overwhelming need to bare down. There were a few moments in transition where I prayed aloud for God to help me. Internally, I kept telling myself, “Let go. LET GO! Relax. This won’t last forever!”.
Ok. I needed a break. Like, a real break! I needed a bit of a rest and a moment to gather my anxious thoughts. My midwife recommended right side lying, so before the next contraction I was up, out of the tub, and in my bed on my side. Her assistant, being the angel that she was, draped a blanket over me that she had been warming in our dryer.
But then the next contraction came.
It was then that the dreaded “I can’t" words flew out of my mouth. I “couldn't” handle the length of my tightenings, they just wouldn't let up. Before I could say anything beyond “can’t”, my midwife’s firm voice spoke over mine, “You can. Yes, you can”. It’s funny how a simple affirmation can change your entire mental and physical state.
With the next wave of pressure, I moved up to all fours on our bed. I was facing our wall, away from my midwife, and Landon was sitting by my side. I reached inside to check for baby’s head again, but didn’t feel anything. I felt a bit discouraged, but I was done sitting and taking these tightenings with all the “limp and looseness” I could give. I was going to push my baby out. I got in that miracle working child’s pose once more and bore down for the life of me. As soon as that wave of pressure let up, I got to my knees, reached inside myself again, and there she was! I felt her little head! That was one of the most empowering moments of my life. Feeling Maig’s head just a finger length away from crowning myself, without any direction, made me feel incredibly powerful and in control. I tilted forward to my hands again with the next contraction and put a ton of effort behind the pressure. When I had birthed Fair, this second stage was so different. I was directed a bit and didn't know much of what I felt except extreme pressure. With Maig however, I felt my body opening and my bones moving out of her way. I felt her head slowly traveling down. It was the strangest and most overwhelming of sensations.
I shouted loudly while putting all the pushing power I could muster behind the next contraction. Instinctively, I felt like baby girl needed a bit more space, so I moved my right leg up, putting myself in a running start position.
It was a few minutes after 10 PM when I heard my midwife say, “Crowning.” While I obviously knew what I was feeling, hearing it out loud was glorious.
“Slow your breathing”, she said. I breathed deeply and focused on the last moments of this hard, hard work.
“We have a head.” Ah! More of those glorious words! We actually had a head and an arm. Like her sister, Maig preferred to be birthed with a hand on her face.
“Reach down for your baby, momma.” I was holding all of my weight up. Inside my head I was shouting for Landon to reach down for her, but I later found out that he was waiting for me to do the same. I just couldn't get words out.
With the last bit of effort in me I pushed and I felt Maig’s shoulders and body move out of me. Sweet girl had her cord wrapped around her little neck, but as she plopped into our midwife’s sturdy hands it was quickly unraveled. Around one third of babies are born and fare just fine with a neck or body wrapped umbilical cord. (2)
I turned around to face my baby girl, and placed my hand on her brand new little body. I told her to breathe. Our midwife gave Maig a bit of forced air, and within the minute she responded by taking her first big breath.
It was 10:08 PM the moment that our lives changed once again. We were four now, and forever with a precious Maig Sea. I snatched her up in my arms and held her to my chest. She was here. Perfect, pink, and crying all the beautiful cries.
At this point, Fair was still fast asleep. Landon tried unsuccessfully to wake her so she could meet her new baby sister.
Maig needed to settle, and the closeness of my skin and smell helped bring a calm to her. We laid in bed for a long while. Maig looked so much like her sister, and both girls look just like Landon. She weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces, and was 21 inches long. She had a head full of blonde hair and dark, dark eyes. She stayed in my arms for a good hour, nursing and gazing. We kept her cord intact, not clamping or cutting, even when I squatted at the side of the bed to birth my placenta 20 minutes post birth. Research an “undisturbed” third stage of labor! (3)
I passed Maig to Landon a bit after 11 PM, keeping her placenta in a bowl nearby, as they still had not been separated. I got up to shower and get into comfy sweats and was given a clementine to snack on. Landon then cut Maig's cord. Research optimal cord clamping, friends!
It was white and limp, as it had emptied the rest of Maig’s blood into her body. She fussed a bit while being weighed and checked by our midwife. Although she was a bit unsure of her surroundings, she recognized our voices and kept looking up at us. She was so aware.
Maig's birth looked a bit different than I had imagined it would, but it was perfect. Hard, intense, limit testing, empowering, and perfect. Landon and I have walked through these moments together twice now, and we are so thankful for God’s favor on our experiences.
As tired as we were, sleeping wasn’t going to happen with this gorgeous new human in our arms. We finally just brought Fair into our bed, and she slowly woke up to meet her baby sister for the first time. The 4 of us enjoyed a little birthday party for Maig in the middle of the night, with sleepy eyes and grateful hearts.