The birth of my son Ryan John was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The chaos of settling into life with three year old and newborn baby have made it hard to process it all, but I’d like to try my best to put it down in words.
My daughter was a scheduled c-section due to her breech position. That birth was not what I had originally hoped for but ended up being an absolutely beautiful experience. I heard my daughter’s cry before I saw her, and as my husband carried her over to me. We touched foreheads and she immediately stopped crying. In that moment I felt the connection that only a mother and child can have, and my heart forever expanded.
For my second birth, I wasn’t sure if I’d schedule a repeat c-section or if I’d attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Once I became pregnant and gathered all of the facts and opinions, I decided I’d try for the VBAC. I wanted to try for the experience of it, but also because I really hoped to avoid the c-section recovery. It was very difficult the first time around and I hoped not to have to go through it again with a three year old at home.
I did what I could to optimize my chances of having a vaginal delivery. To encourage optimal fetal position I went to a chiropractor weekly in my last trimester, did yoga every evening, and was conscious of my posture. (Thank you Prenatal Yoga Center for teaching me about all these techniques!) When it became evident he was in an ideal head down position near the end of my pregnancy I knew we had a chance.
I had a supportive practice of doctors who felt it wasn’t safe for me to be induced after having a previous caesarean, but I could go up to ten days past my due date. So, I hoped and prayed I’d go into labor on my own. Having that ten day cushion sure helped ease my mind.
By forty weeks pregnant I was so ready! I had convinced myself baby would be born in March and when my due date 3/30 came and went it looked like that wasn’t happening. My husband Steve and I joked about how funny it would be to have an April Fool’s Baby.
At forty weeks and a day I took my daughter to a birthday party and walked a good distance to get there. Once we got home I told my husband I had to lay down. I was having severe cramping. I wasn’t convinced this was the start of labor though because I had had cramping for almost a week so I didn’t get my hopes up.
That evening I went to go to sleep and as soon as I laid down I had a contraction. Now this wasn’t the early contraction I had heard about. It was strong, and full body. I couldn’t ignore it or go back to sleep.
I told my husband Steve I was going to go in the living room and for him to go to sleep. I figured it would be a while. I put on Good Will Hunting, a favorite and familiar movie for me, and began keeping track of my contractions. Like clockwork they came every five minutes. After an hour of this I decided to call my doctor. I had a contraction over the phone and she said I seemed very uncomfortable and she recommended if I wanted an epidural I should come in about an hour.
At this point I woke up Steve and told him I was in labor. I told him I was not in a rush to get to the hospital as I hoped to labor as long as possible at home.
We agreed I should call my dad and step mom to let them know as they were planning to come and stay with Emmy whenever I went into labor. I gave my dad a call and it went straight to voicemail which was strange. I tried again. It rang but there was no answer. I wasn’t worried because I felt like we had time.
By midnight I had called and texted both my dad and stepmom and wasn’t getting an answer. They did not have service on their phones so we had to figure out what to do.
In the meantime, I was getting strong contractions every five minutes. I decided I’d call up our babysitter Cordelia who lives on our block and see if she could come over and stay until my dad and stepmom were able to come.
I called Cordelia who answered on the second ring. “I’m so sorry to wake you. I’m in labor and my dad isn’t answering his phone.” Without hesitation she said, “I’ll be there in two minutes.” And, that she did!
Steve was calling his parents in NJ to see if they could come. Luckily they woke up and headed over. I was vaguely aware of what was happening but tried to remain focused on my labor. I surrendered to the fact that our plan for Emmy was going to be different than we talked about and that was okay. Steve was on top of it, I had to take care of myself and baby boy.
I decided I didn’t want to go to the hospital yet, and Cordelia stepped up and acted like a doula. It was amazing! She began timing my contractions, giving me a shoulder rub, and massaging my feet. It was so wonderful to have that feminine support at this time and I was able to stay calm and present with her help. She was able to tend to me while Steve tended to the logistics of getting us to the hospital and care for Emmy.
Around 1:45am my mother in law and father in law arrived at our apartment. At this point I had no sense of time and was just rolling with each contraction. I was able to breathe through them but had to pause, stand up and bend over with my hands on a table or on the wall each time a surge came. I remember them walking through the door and having a contraction as they came in. I thought I’d stay home a bit longer, but when I went to the bathroom there was some blood and I got a strong contraction so I told Steve I wanted to go to the hospital.
At 2:00am we took an Uber to the hospital and I had a few contractions during the ride. When the driver dropped us off he said, “Have a nice night!” and I laughed. I wondered if he realized we were about to have a baby!
We signed some forms and checked in, and I was admitted to triage where they would monitor me for an hour. This was tough because I had to lay flat in a bed throughout the contractions and I really wanted to be standing!
The night before we had watched the documentary Free Solo about a professional rock climber working towards doing the first free solo climb of El Capitan. I remember through each contraction I was imagining myself climbing a mountain as the pain was increasing. I’d tell myself once I reached the peek it would get better. I used deep breathing and visualization (and lots of squeezing of Steve’s hand!) to get through these contractions.
A doctor came to check on me and said I was contracting regularly and was 100% effaced but only two centimeters dilated. She asked if I wanted to walk around a bit and I said yes.
The next thing I knew, a nurse came and told us they had a delivery room for us. Great! So she set us up in there and said they wanted to just monitor me and baby for 20 minutes to be sure we were good and then I was free to walk.
I asked Steve to put on a playlist I had made for labor. I had been adding songs and listening to it throughout my pregnancy when I practiced yoga at night. I also asked him to hand me my Gentle Baby essential oil for me to rub on my wrists. I was finding that music and scents were helping me get some relief through my discomfort and pain.
At around 4:00am while being monitored for 20 minutes the contractions began to get stronger. The nurse informed me that there was one point when baby’s heart rate had dropped a bit so they wanted to monitor me for 20 more minutes. It was nothing to worry about, they just wanted to be safe.
Then, I felt something start to gush out and told the nurse I thought my water broke. Contractions were getting stronger and stronger. I could no longer see use visualization and breath to get through the contractions. Instead, I had to let out some vocalizations to get through each one. I also continued to reach out to Steve and he held my hand through each contraction. I’m not sure how hard I was squeezing but it was probably pretty hard! The next time the nurse came I told her I wanted the epidural.
A doctor checked me and said my water had indeed broken and I was now 3cm dilated. The nurse said progressing a centimeter in one hour was great. I was glad for the encouragement.
At 5:30am the anesthesiologist came and administered the epidural, pausing a few times while I had contractions. The nurse was so helpful telling me I was doing great and helping me breathe through them.
I remember at this point Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” was playing and she said “This is a great song.” “It is!” I said. I was amazed that for a split second music took me outside of my pain.
After the epidural kicked in all I can say is I felt like I was in heaven. Suddenly I was feeling relief from the 7 hours of contractions I had been enduring. I couldn’t feel any pain, but could still feel my legs well enough to shift side to side. I asked for an extra pillow to put between my knees to keep my pelvis open. The nurse could only provide some extra sheets but I rolled them up and that did the job.
I think of this next part of my labor as the blissful, fun part! Once the epidural was kicked in Steve and I rested. He took a mini snooze and then went out to get coffee, and I texted with the grandparents caring for Emmy. My sister in law had been texting me every day the past few weeks saying “39 weeks!” or “39 weeks 6 days!” I got a text from her saying “40 weeks 2 days!” and I texted back a picture of smiling in the hospital bed.
At 7am the doctors switched shifts and I was thrilled to see my favorite doctor come in to greet me. She asked me to catch her up on what had happened that morning as she had came to check on me right away. We both agreed that since labor had begun to slow down once I got the epidural (this was to be expected) that it was a good idea to get Pitocin.
Once I got the Pitocin labor picked up again, and I didn’t feel one bit of pain. Because my water had broke, the doctor didn’t want to do an internal check until four hours later to reduce the risk of any infection.
For a moment, I felt my calm thoughts drift into panic. What if getting the epidural was a huge mistake? What if I had screwed myself over? What if the Pitocin led into the cascade of interventions I was always hearing about and I’d end up with an emergency c-section?
I continued to listen to my music, calmed my mind with the only phrase that kept coming to me “Praise God.” Now let me mention here, I absolutely believe in a greater power that many call God, but saying “Praise God” is not something I think I’ve ever done. It’s what I heard then though, and that mantra comforted me so greatly I flowed with it.
When the doctor came back to check me around 11am I prayed that I’d be at least five centimeters dilated. When she said, “You’re 8 centimeters” I was elated!
“Really??” I gasped. “I was hoping for just 5!” She told me she was too and we were both pleasantly surprised.“I think you’re going to be able to push in about two hours.” She said. Steve and I looked at each other and just smiled. Wow! We were going to meet our baby boy so soon!
“Pushing is like running a marathon”, she said, “So for the next two hours I want you to just try to sleep and rest.
And that’s what we did. At this point I put away my phone and knew I wasn’t going to check it anymore. I went totally inside myself and listened to the calming familiar music that continued to play. I breathed in the smell of the Gentle Baby essential oil. I rested.
It felt like I drifted into this alternative peaceful place that was in between being awake and asleep. I felt total peace. I saw a vision of this adorable baby boy with a little curl in the back of his head. I breathed slowly. I smiled a lot.
I also was very conscious of continuing to shift and move from side to side. I circled my hips often to encourage baby to keep moving down. I also pressed that epidural button whenever I could!
About two hours later I told Steve to change the playlist to the upbeat “Baby Boy” one to inspire me for pushing! Our April Fools baby was coming soon. We also took out the Orange oil I had brought and each put some on our wrists. It smelled so good and was immediately invigorating.
When doctor came to check me she said, “It smells good in here. What is that?” We told her we had both just put some Orange oil. She laughed and said that was great because it rarely smelled good in that room!
Then she checked me and said “Baby is really low and you’re ready to push!”
At this point I wasn’t pressing the epidural button anymore so was feeling just enough to be able to feel baby was low, and to be able to feel when contractions were coming, but I was in zero pain. It was absolutely incredible.
Only my doctor, a nurse and Steve were in the room with me as I began to push. About ten minutes into pushing my doctor told the nurse to call the pediatrician on duty because it looked like baby was going to be born any minute! Five minutes later Ryan John was born and took his first breath. I remember seeing his tiny toes and thinking “there they are!” The song “Kodachrome” by Simon & Garfunkel was playing as he entered the world.
They placed him on my belly- he couldn’t quite reach my chest yet because the cord was so short! Steve and I marveled at this because Emmy had also had a super short cord which is why we think she couldn’t turn around in my womb. The doctor said, “I guess your babies just want to stay close to mama!” Once I delivered the placenta and the cord was cut, Ryan was finally on my chest. He stopped crying as I kissed his face over and over.
We remained in the delivery room for a while after, bonding with Ryan and informing family he had been born.
I cried tears of joy with him on my chest. I thought about the babies I had lost before him. I thought of how we had accomplished this VBAC together. I thought of how much love I had inside of me and how all these things had led me to him. I held him and was in bliss. Our baby boy had arrived and the experience better than I had ever dared myself to imagine. Now it was time to get to know him.