This is the story of my second child’s birth. My first son MaiTai was born three and a half years ago in a hospital. (I’ll share details of that tale in a future post).
***BEFORE YOU READ: Again, this is a birth story. If you’re not accustomed to reading real birth stories, are uncomfortable with images of birth-related nudity, or have a very particular definition of what’s TMI, you might consider skipping this post.***
Read about my pregnancy and the circumstances that led to the decisions I made for this birth in the post Julep’s Pregnancy Story.
Birth Team, in order of appearance in story:
MaiTai: Firstborn son, age 3.5
Julep: Secondborn son
TDD (The Designated Dad): Husband
RD: Birth assistant
*All uncaptioned photos credited to Stephanie Shirley Photography*
I met with CR for a prenatal appointment, one of several that were tacked on after we’d passed both Julep’s guess date and my predicted date. I have strong feelings about the benefits of declining routine vaginal checks during pregnancy and so I didn’t know what my cervix had been up to by now. CR told me how the law required her to send me for testing by next week if I wasn’t in labor yet. This possibility made me nervous, though I composed myself enough to banish feelings of hopelessness.
I opted to get checked after she asked if I’d be “greatly opposed.” I agreed to a cervical check but specified I didn’t want a membrane sweep. I was 80% effaced and two centimeters dilated. These numbers could mean something was afoot! (Or… nothing was afoot). I didn’t think I’d be happy to know my dilation but surprisingly, it was just the thing I needed to reclaim my confidence. It sold my conscious brain the idea that I’m not broken and my body does know what to do.
On the way home, I randomly decided to treat myself to a manicure. And I mean random — I never get manicures except for weddings. I actually went to the trouble of U-turning and backtracking a mile to make this manicure thing happen. Anyway, the nail technician annoyed the heck out of me. She kept pushing me to buy other services, laughed about how the only time she ever used carseats for her kids was on the way home from the birth hospital, and told me I should look into medication for my sweating condition because my hands were “too wet” for her liking. Shut up and do my nails, thanks. At least MaiTai was behaved. And my fingertips, all fancy and emerald-green…. Winning.
I texted my birth team that I’d been feeling crampy since the morning. I didn’t know if it was worthy of mention since I’d been crampy for a month, but they wanted regular updates so, updates they got.
MaiTai accidentally called TDD. He thought it was ‘The Call.’ Oh the disappointment of a false alarm instead of a labor announcement… oops!
My mom picked up MaiTai for her usual weekly babysitting gig. Typically I get things done when she watches him but this time I thought it’d be a good idea to rest (rest?? I never rest!) instead of indulge an uncharacteristic urge to clean the house and stock the fridge. I cozied up on my bed, recreating the same atmosphere I staged every night during pregnancy to fall asleep: ocean wave machine humming, lavender oil sprinkled upon the sheets, body pillow within huggable reach…
As soon as MaiTai was gone, the cramps became what I’d most certainly call contractions.
I visualized opening up. I imagined my uterus was a skirt, that I was stepping over puddles with each contraction and I’d have to lift my skirt up to cross them. In my mind I saw my cervix pulling up, dilating out, building more and more at the fundus, gaining strength in layers at the top.
TDD got home from work. He gave me a relaxing massage and we had sex. Good for labor for many reasons, but no additional shareable details on that, of course…
My mom dropped MaiTai off with us. Soon after, TDD left to take MaiTai to Whole Foods. We decided he should leave him with my parents for the night. I wanted so badly to be in labor that I figured if this wasn’t actually labor, I’d find a way to make it labor. So I managed contractions using my vibrator during this time and, honestly, it was kind of the best idea ever. I also aimlessly meandered around the house before acting on productive energy, putting away dishes and attempting other chores I’m not normally so motivated to do.
I texted my birth team that my contractions were lasting a minute every 7-12 minutes. They had all told me to CALL, not text… but I forgot to mention how I avoid phone calls like the plague, so they were bombarded with a lot more texts than I’d agreed would happen.
I lost a bit of my mucous plug along with either watery discharge or some amniotic fluid. ND asked if things were picking up quickly, but I was in denial that I might be in labor at all so I said it still seemed early. She said she was finishing a job an hour away and it’d take an hour to get home, shower, and another hour to reach our house. I didn’t want to get her hopes up so I said that would be fine.
CR asked if I could still walk and talk through contractions. I couldn’t tell because I’d been home alone for a while, putzing around, with no one to speak to and not much space for a true walkabout. I joked, “I don’t know, but I’m still able to text just fine…” (I’m not that funny in labor).
TDD returned home with groceries. Food! Exciting.
We were trying to figure out all the tasks he’d need to tackle soon. I tried to help put away the provisions but the contractions rendered me pretty useless. TDD multi-tasked meticulously so I didn’t have to worry about stuff not getting set up ‘just so.’
TDD told the birth team he was home now and would be fielding calls from now on. I figured we were in the ‘calm before the storm’ and decided to enjoy a quiet dinner (for me, Vietnamese noodle tofu bowl and vegan sushi; for TDD, a basic tortilla and vegan bratwurst combo).
My contractions were 6-10 minutes apart, lasting almost a minute. I sat on the birth ball and caught up on computer business. TDD started boiling water to sanitize the placenta bowl. After dinner I bent over, squatted, swiveled my hips with each contraction and moaned. It felt wonderful to moan and move.
TDD and I thought we’d settle down and watch a movie. I was also carrying around my Breastfeeding Goddesses book, wondering if maybe now would be a good time to hang out on the birth ball and flip through it. Based on the intensity of pain of my first birth, I felt things were barely getting started and thought these would be a good ways to hunker down for the long haul.
TDD started timing my contractions but he was in charge of various duties so only managed to record a few. The first was fifty-two seconds; three-ish minutes between this one and the next few. We were unable to time them religiously so he told CR they were about a minute long, every three minutes, “but still random.” She was like… what the heck do you mean, “still random”?? Not exactly like that, but she clearly thought we were crazy. So, CR not-so-subtly suggested it might be time for her to head over.
TDD read her text and I kind of rolled my eyes.
“Well okay, I guess that’s fine if she wants.”
I figured she would stop by for a few minutes, check on me and Julep, then head back home until things intensified. TDD started getting the bed set up and updated the rest of the birth team.
CR headed over to assess the situation. She told us that my expected assistant midwife was off-call tonight. TDD and I cracked jokes between contractions, but the ache in my sacrum and hips was constant. I tried not to worry about it. I told TDD I thought I was probably still dilated at a two, so he reiterated to ND that it was okay if she wanted to go home and shower before heading over.
Birth Team Begins to Arrive
CR arrived (an hour and twenty minutes before Julep would be born). She recorded Julep’s heartbeat and took my vitals. She asked again if I’d be opposed to a cervical check. My ‘Birth Preferences Plan’ explained how I’m not personally on board with routine internal checks during labor and if I did agree to a check, I didn’t want to know the numbers — not the dilation, station, effacement, anything.
However, before she came over I told TDD I’d changed my mind. I figured I was still at a dilation of two and if CR informed me I was a two or more, the number would be good news instead of potentially defeating. I still wasn’t convinced if we were even at the ‘point of no return.’ (Oh boy…).
I hadn’t gotten a chance to relay this change of heart to CR, but she forgot I originally wanted the numbers to be kept her own little secret.
She checked me quickly and announced, “You’re a six and 100% effaced!” Then to TDD with a hint of urgency, “She’s a six! You need to call people now.”
A six?! Already? Okay, I guess I’m in labor then…
TDD hopped on the task of filling the pool (he told me later that it overfilled and needed to be partially drained). CR charted notes and kept me company while I leaned into the coffee table.
Since finding out my expected midwife assistant wouldn’t be attending, I wondered who would take her place. I assumed a complete stranger and, although I presumed she would be wonderful and helpful, I was disappointed that someone I’d likely never met would be included in my birth circle.
Then… surprise! RD showed up! We’d previously met when she was a guest speaker at one of our Birth Boot Camp classes. I was so happy to have her with us! As she stole away into the bedroom to get things set up, TDD flashed me a look that relayed, “How lucky are we!”
Now I was doing things on the birth ball while happily munching on delicious frozen fruit cubes lovingly homemade by TDD the week before. CR asked me questions pertaining to her notes and it was a nice distraction.
Then she asked me to rate my contractions’ level of intensity on a scale of 1 – 10. I laughed and admitted how I just hated that question and I never know how to answer it. She and RD laughed with me but still prodded for a response.
I said, “I don’t know, can I just pick a random number?”
“You can pick anything you want,” CR said.
“Ok, maybe a five?”
That seemed as neutral and uninformative as it could get, though even a plain-Jane five did seem to be shooting high. Little did I know, I was probably actually in transition or close to it.
Julep’s heartbeat was strong and steady during intermittent fetal monitoring done with the handheld Doppler, the only machine technology listening in on our birth.
CR offered to rub my back and asked where I felt the ‘intensity,’ careful to avoid using the word ‘pain.’ (Semantics are everything to a vulnerable and suggestible laboring woman). She used arnica oil, applied counter-pressure to my sacrum (which was nice), and tried the double-hip squeeze (which sounded great but I hated it enough that I had to recoil away).
I didn’t feel like I needed to be touched, really. Still, I didn’t tell her she could leave me be. I was afraid if I did, later on I’d have to ASK for physical support… which would be, like, my worst nightmare. So I accepted the help while it was freely given as it felt lovely, whether vital or not.
RD made a trip to Katy Birth Center to pick up another just-in-case oxygen tank (TDD told me later what everyone was up to. During labor I could only fully focus on my contractions, and on other happenings superficially).
SS arrived (forty minutes before Julep would be born). She was startled to see me upon entering because the lights were dimmed and I was crawling around on the living room floor wrapped in TDD’s oversized, dark navy bathrobe like a drunken bum.
I said hello, and from my vantage point a foot off the ground, I randomly noticed something — a pair of kitchen scissors hiding under the library shelves. I drew her attention to them and she seemed confused. I wanted to question TDD about why the heck these scissors were stashed under the shelf, but he swept them out of sight before I had a chance to dwell on the sharp object lurking in a baby’s potential crawl space. Sooo… welcome to my labor, SS?
TDD handed me a wet compress soaked in essential oils and my iPod loaded with oxytocin-inducing ’90s hits (what else?). I assumed an all-fours position during contractions and my hips rocked without much conscious effort of my own.
“That’s right,” CR said, “wiggle those hips.”
I let my body do what it wanted and I was both on the cusp of an out-of-body experience while also feeling brought more into my body than I’ve ever been.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw SS snapped a photo in this moment, and it’s the only photo I noticed her take during the entire labor until after Julep was born. (Awesome professional photographer stealth, SS!).
I’d worried all pregnancy that my ever-calculating left brain would disturb or sabotage my labor. I was surprised that it actually seemed to help me stay present; it was an anchor, and it became okay to take mental notes of what was happening to me. I knew this would be my last pregnancy, last labor and birth — and I wanted to savor and remember every second.
A contraction would move through me and I’d think, Wow! This is so interesting! I’m used to constantly deliberating and analyzing. So this mode of being is familiar to me. The head chatter never left, yet it seemed to float above the event — I was in birth bliss. Everything I looked at, touched, smelled was enveloped in a haze but I connected to these things with such intimacy.
The firm rubber of the birth ball under my thighs felt so good. The cast of my attendants’ auras looked so good. The merciful quench of each sip of water tasted so good. I could absorb it all because I was on the best kind of drugs ever, a cocktail of feel-good hormones swirling within.
During my first birth, Hypnobabies practice involved turning off my brain’s reflex of referring to sensations as the presumably negative experience of ‘pain,’ and replacing with decidedly opposite, positive word or visual connotations. Now I’m a language geek and all, but I found that to be utterly impossible.
This time, I realized I could easily suffer through the sensations as ‘wrenching pain,’ failing as I would to relax through them if following a program’s orders to do so, or I could just… let them be. Instead of awarding positive verbiage to what I felt, I did not try rationalizing it into words at all.
In earlier labor, a few times I recalled a video I watched wherein a fear-mongering obstetrician described her labor contractions as like a vice grip upon her insides. The memory didn’t frighten me now however; it made me smile because I had the power to refuse integration of her simile into MY body. I wouldn’t label the sensations as something else — not a vice grip, not relaxing, not lovely, not orgasmic, not as pressure or surges or rushes or waves.
(For the purpose of recollection, I’ve tried my best to translate the feelings into words so this story could exist on paper. Only in hindsight, in attempt to find fitting phrases to explain what transpired, did I understand the pure good in all of it. It was all good, a word that could have described any given want, need, exertion).
I paid attention to the sensations, loved them, knew they came along with my baby who deserved just as much of my attention and love. And the sensations that could’ve been unbearably painful instead became unbearably interesting. The book Birthing Without Fear first introduced me to this idea of non-judgmental awareness (ironically, TDD had simultaneously been studying this as an aspect of nonviolent communication in parenting).
A Moment Alone
CR asked if I wanted to get in the pool. I made a face.
“Welll… I don’t know. I’m hesitant because I don’t want to stall things.”
I’d been so worried about my labor stalling for some unpredictable reason that TDD and I spent countless hours, weeks, months planning all kinds of ways to revive a weakening labor. CR said since I was dilated to at least a six, I would be fine. It seemed she was tuned into something I wasn’t and I didn’t want to be seen as difficult or naive, so I went with it.
She said she could tell by the way I was acting that this wouldn’t take much longer. I was excited to hear my trusted birth guardian say this, but I was also confused as I felt great, I was able to converse normally with everyone between contractions, and I wasn’t bearing a smidge of what I’d call pain (the unremitting pressure on my sacrum and hips came closest).
On my way to the pool, I visited the bathroom. Everyone else was busy readying things and it was nice to steal away by myself. I had two or three contractions in here — leaning against the sink, the wall, the toilet. I could depend on these structures. They were eminently grounding at exactly the right time. The contractions had suddenly intensified and I felt much progress made by going through them on my own.
Into the Pool
I managed a few contractions around the perimeter of the pool, then changed into a two-piece bathing suit. CR told me she usually doesn’t have moms wear bottoms in the pool because second-timers tend to go quickly and she didn’t want to have to cut them off. At the time I thought she was being ridiculous but I humored her by removing my bottoms (as it would soon turn out, I was the ridiculous one!).
I truly had no sense of time and wasn’t aware of how closely together the contractions were moving through me. At this point it was like they were holding hands, each one working from the lingering squeeze of the last as I curled deeply into myself.
RD asked TDD if he planned to get in the water with me. He said he didn’t think I wanted him to (though he had a pair of swim shorts on hand just in case). I’m glad he perceived my wants correctly; it was a joy having the safe nest of the pool all to myself. I would’ve felt pressure to ‘share’ my intensity with whomever else entered this watery enclave. TDD was my protector here and so he surveyed the scene without rippling the waters, so to say.
I sat into the water and it felt fabulous. I thought, How lucky am I, this is like a spa day! Except I can be semi-naked and don’t have to wear one of those stupid monogrammed robes!
From TDD’s notes: “Contractions are definitely more intense. Holly has found her voice in them and it is wonderful to see.”
One contraction caused me to involuntarily spring forward into a splay-legged position on all fours. (I remained in this position until Julep was nearly born). I could’ve done the splits and still wouldn’t have felt I was open nearly enough. I wanted so badly to stretch my whole pelvis even wider. This compulsion didn’t intend to relieve pain (I wasn’t experiencing any), it was to enhance what already felt good.
Water Breaking in Water
My water broke a few contractions after I entered the water. The energy felt like an electric shock and I was, quite literally, shocked by this new development. I watched a tiny chunk of red tissue scuttle off to the left of the pool’s floor. I wondered if anyone had noticed. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I’d done something wrong, but I hushed that familiar guilt trip and returned to non-judgmental awareness.
With my first birth, I’d felt like an eighteen-wheeler ran me over with each contraction after an unnecessarily high dose of labor-augmenting drug Pitocin was administered. This time, I could’ve believed I WAS the eighteen-wheeler, driving somewhere fast. But it made all the difference that I embodied the primal, wild animal, Mother Wolf of myself, not the civilized, working machine.
I sensed things were happening much quicker than I expected. I guess my birth team was right! Thankfully, there was hardly time to panic; yet also all the time in the world, no rush, no timeline. Plus I was enjoying myself far too much on the way to a swiftly impending conclusion.
After my water broke, Julep’s head was in the birth canal. The whole round thing, all of it so suddenly. I remember thinking, What is this power inside me, responsible for making something better than a machine out of my body, that treats me like a revered being to have been chosen for this task? Where is it even coming from?
I realized how much more in control I felt when I surrendered to this power completely. I felt my pelvis opening up, side to side, causing me to humbly hesitate. I wondered how much more intense this would get. I didn’t want to break my rhythm by allowing fear to be an option. So I chose to love this feeling. Oh God, more of this, more of this, I told myself. (Though of course, out loud it became “Ohhhh-ggg, ahhhhhhhhh-AHHH.”)
ND arrived (ten minutes before Julep would be born). I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I didn’t even notice her sidle up to the pool — I didn’t ‘see’ anyone else in the room either. Birth blinders, if you will. I only felt their warm presence and heard their gentle guidance, but that was more than enough.
By this point, the contractions moved through me like waves one on top of another. I was overcome by an instinct to submerge my head under the water, but I focused really hard on holding myself back from doing so. Logic reminded me that I couldn’t be sure of the safety implications of heading underwater.
The instinct made me feel self-conscious for the first time and I really didn’t want to be told “Get your face out of the water,” so I compromised with the desire by keeping my face just above, feeling the surface graze my nose and lips as I bellowed into it. (Later ND explained how she’s witnessed some women naturally react this way during water births to literally drown out the myriad all-encompassing sensations).
Part of one of the birth stories in the book Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth had stuck with me. The story’s author described how she imagined riding her contractions like a horse. I know the push-pull feeling of riding a horse, the joy and power of commandeering this massive, beautiful creature and the fear that comes when he begins to canter, then gallop, faster and stronger until it seems he may very well throw you to the ground. You can either grip tight in a panic, making the most torturous doom of this ride, or you can simply trust you won’t fall. You can trust that the horse’s seemingly out-of-control rhythm is exactly what it’ll take to reach your destination. So I recreated this journey in my head as I sat in the water straddling an imaginary charging horse.
I couldn’t tell if everyone was aware that Julep was coming out now or if they still thought we were in some intermediate phase. They offered gentle affirmations (“You’re doing so good, Holly”) and seemed way too calm to know this was IT. But I figured, they see this kind of thing everyday, I suppose they shouldn’t be terrifically bowled over.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening. I very strongly didn’t want to note every new development out loud. This was not a sporting event where I would be the announcer of play-by-plays. It was far too personal, far more inviolable than that.
“Keep your tones low,” they reminded.
I realized my vocalizations had run away on a leash of their own into a high pitch, potentially wasting energy upward instead of sending vibrations downward with the baby. The gentle “stay low” prompts worked like the perfect switch, enabling me to dial my tones down instantly. Ahhh noises were more likely to elicit a high tone while ohhh ones allowed for a more effective guttural sound.
I kept my mouth open as wide as I could. It must have looked like my jaw was unhinged, but it felt like an essential thing to do. This helped send an abundance of tension out of and away from my body. (The throat chakra is intimately connected to the sacral chakra; this pathway’s opening helps the cervix open, too).
I hadn’t intended to play music during my birthing time, but now asked TDD to put on “something.” The stillness of the room as everyone awaited my progression would soon make me uneasy, a bit like a ‘watched pot,’ without some distraction in the air. Music it is!
Radiohead was playing from TDD’s phone a majority of the time I was in the pool. Unplanned fate called for Julep to be born to the song “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and he emerged at the lyric “I’ll hit the bottom / Hit the bottom and escape.” (Seriously. Lyrics here).
I finally noticed ND at the side of the pool. Her mere presence radiated a commiserating energy, and I was grateful she recognized a respect for the elbow room I needed in these moments.
The woman has a gift for knowing what it means to ‘hold the space.’
I heard CR tell me, “That’s a good position.”
She attempted to take Julep’s heartbeat but couldn’t find it (I was told later). Even with this clue, it hadn’t dawned on them that he’d descended much lower than expected.
I grabbed my stretching vulva and perineum with each wave of energy that opened me up more and impelled Julep down further. The well-acquainted pressure of my own touch was enough to help me discern where the stretching was happening so I could support the expanding tissues. I could tell my body was channeling him out quickly.
And his head… it was already there! I felt the softness of his skin and the fuzz of his hair. I was obsessed with the way the top of his crowning head felt and didn’t want to stop holding it.
Never did I think or say “I want drugs” or “I can’t do it anymore.” I felt no pain, but the fullness was enormous. I do remember thinking as I cupped his crowning head, HOW am I going to finish doing this?
With each new wave, I was overwhelmed by the excess. And so ecstatic. I wasn’t worried (as is typical for me). I was amazed that he was coming out on his own without me needing to push at all. As I straddled the pool’s floor, I let him press beyond me. I know in this stage, it’s common for babies to move one step forward, two steps back for a while before it seems any ‘real’ progress has been made. But he kept swelling forward the whole time, and I remember being elated about this.
I didn’t feel the widely-feared ‘ring of fire.’ Maybe because I permitted my body to move Julep down instead of driving him out; because my tissues had softened in the water; or perhaps because I supported my perineum to gauge when to breathe through parts of a contraction and hold him instead of allowing his head to burst through at once.
Relax, breathe, feel the earth — do nothing extra. In breathing him down, I realized the importance of breath as a tool here. Heave and release of the diaphragm, no coached rhythm needed, just natural draws and exhales. So simple, so effective! I really couldn’t believe it. It was like meditating him into the world (albeit quite loudly).
In one moment, I felt Julep kick me from the inside. His whole body, from shoulders to toes, wiggled inside the birth canal right before the contraction that would bring his head out completely. It was a wild, incredible feeling.
Then, his head was out.
Apparently, no one even knew I’d been fully dilated and had spent all this time in the pool not just moving Julep down, but also OUT! I was pretty amused by this. And secretly thrilled that no one had to inform me I was ‘complete,’ ‘fully dilated,’ or ‘ready to push.’
SS was the first to notice I wasn’t just grabbing my vulva, I was grabbing a baby.
“Uh… the head is out,” she said.
“It is?” CR replied.
“The head is out. The head is out,” CR stated matter-of-factly to the others behind her. To me she tenderly cooed, “There’s your head!”
A sudden flurry of activity. Written in TDD’s notes: “There was a moment when we all realized that Julep’s head was already out and it was a serious double-take for the whole room to kick into gear.”
I had originally wanted the chance to see in a hand mirror the reflection of Julep crowning, but it was too late for that. Instead they offered it now so I could get a good peek at his head fully exposed. I saw his vernix-covered head and it was exactly what I expected: raw, real, gorgeous.
CR whisked her hand around Julep’s neck and informed me she was checking whether the cord was wrapped around it. I didn’t like that pokey feeling at all so I tried to push her hand away. I thought I said “No” or “Stop” but only managed a groan. Thankfully she was still able to conclude that the cord appeared to be clear of his neck.
10:49 – 10:50 p.m.
I couldn’t admire the backside of his head for too long because soon RD told me to get up on my knees. I was crouched too low to be able to easily deliver the rest of Julep’s body. Though I felt quite inflexible at this point and wanted nothing more than to rest in this position indefinitely, I somehow shifted onto my knees in pause for a contraction to bring him down further.
The wait for the next contraction seemed like forever. CR gently reached for his shoulders to help him turn in the birth canal.
I continued to feel every angled and rounded inch of his body as he slid out. First he was supported in CR’s hands and then I caught his body in the water and brought him to my chest (mindful of speed to avoid pulling on the cord if it was too short).
He found his voice at once and gurgled a cry that sounded so much like his brother’s first, too.
This had all taken place within less than a minute.
We leaned back against the tub, together again as one unit. He was calmed by my skin’s contact with his belly and face and a receiving blanket draped over his back.
It was incredible to hold him, but it seemed like I had a memory of what this would be like before it even happened. I recognized Julep instantly. Yes, you’re my baby! I know you.
Then TDD swooped in for a kiss. Yes, this is my family! We are complete. He stayed by my side with one arm around my shoulder and a hand on Julep while CR and the others debated whether he’d be given an Apgar score of nine or ten (she went with the latter). Then TDD suggested someone bring over coconut water in orange juice, which ND held for me at the edge of the pool.
I asked TDD if he wanted to announce the sex. After a quick peek he smiled and said, in a discreet volume just for us, “He’s a boy!”
The birth team laughed about how they had no idea Julep had been crowning. CR asked when my water had broken and I admitted it happened a while back. Surprise!
We stayed like this in the pool for a few more minutes enjoying and processing the moment. And I was in love with everyone in the room.
Delivering The Placenta
Now, things weren’t quite over. I remember holding Julep above my heart and thinking how weird his slimy cord felt stretched taut across my curved belly, tethered into the opening between my legs. I wanted Julep to remain attached to his placenta for as long as possible to preserve all his blood, some of which still pulsed through his cord. So, we intended to wait for the placenta to release on its own instead of dragging, tugging, or drugging it out.
CR asked if I felt cramps. I could hardly focus at this point — I felt drunk! I said I didn’t feel contractions, but maybe my bottom was sore?
The amount of blood in the pool was normal for a while until… a shock of red. No one showed concern. CR said it could just be the placenta starting to detach. She felt the cord to determine whether it was starting to lengthen (she assured me she wouldn’t apply traction, which I didn’t want because it can be dangerous). I didn’t like the cord being held but I was too fixated on catching the next contraction to say so.
“If you feel like you want to push it out, it’s okay,” she encouraged.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just… it hurts because the cord is sitting right on my clitoris…”
She repositioned the cord for me and I was able to try moving the placenta out. This felt a bit awkward as I hadn’t pushed at all to deliver Julep, and I couldn’t immediately understand the mechanics of the task.
Julep was in a state of quiet alertness during this time. He let out a brief wail just after CR felt for the placenta and then said, “It’s ready. It’s right there.”
They suggested I try to deliver the placenta on the bed. They helped me stand up, with Julep clutched to my chest, and the placenta fell out immediately as I hovered above the water. CR caught the slippery organ in her hands before setting it into its designated stainless steel bowl held by ND.
A few trailing membranes refused to release so I tried coughing them out. CR snipped the rest (they would pass later in my postpartum lochia). For the next few hours, that placenta bowl stayed in close company with Julep, who was attached to it by a foot-long cord, and attached to me by skin-to-skin bond.
Onto The Bed
Somehow a purple robe magically wrapped me up, I was guided onto the bed a mere two feet away, and a mass of pillows and soft things appeared where I would recline with my newborn.
TDD broke out the essential oils and massaged them into my feet. CR took my vitals and checked my bottom. Though I didn’t tear with my first birth, I figured it just happens sometimes and tears have their way of mending themselves. So I hadn’t been afraid of tearing. Thankfully my parts were spared from damage yet again.
Julep latched for the first time and I remember the feeling was… beautiful. It felt right. Memories of MaiTai’s first latch attempts in the hospital three and a half years ago came flooding back. Was I really doing this again? How lucky am I! And what work we have ahead of us…
The first nursing latches are so special. Hope, vulnerability, wanting, delicacy, strength… all present here. I’m glad I was able to capture the preciousness of these moments after both of my births. The fresh postpartum is a time of great relief and, incidentally, also a blur.
I nursed this bright-eyed, alert baby on and off during our stay on the bed. (More photos of his first latches can be found in this post).
A short time later, it became clear that Julep wasn’t yet able to relax as easily as he should and his breathing was abnormally fast. A respiration count concluded he had transient tachypnea (TTN), a respiratory problem that presents in some newborns after delivery. The abnormally rapid breathing is thought to be either due to extra fluid retained in the lungs or a surfactant deficiency in the lungs if born before term. (The condition isn’t life-threatening and tends to resolve itself within twenty four hours).
ND explained how sometimes it can just be difficult for babies to make this dramatic transition into our world and it takes a bit of time for them to get used to being Earthside. Julep didn’t need extra oxygen, but CR did give him special granules three times ten minutes apart to help relax his breathing.
After nursing, skin-to-skin time with TDD, taking the granules, and group prayers to bring calming energy to our baby, his respirations landed right under the acceptable level and then normalized. The process took about thirty minutes to an hour. CR also had to pat Julep’s back to move out any extra fluid (it didn’t seem there was any, however).
Big Brother Meets Baby Brother
My parents dropped off MaiTai at half past midnight. TDD met him at the door to explain how Julep had just been born. He prepared him for their first meeting, telling him who was in the house with us and how we were all trying to be quiet. Because MaiTai had fallen asleep in the car ride to our home, TDD gave him a honey stick to wake him up a bit.
MaiTai was very excited to meet his baby brother, and I was so happy to have him here. I’d missed him. I was a bit sad he hadn’t been present to witness his brother’s birth, however I knew I’d have been too distracted with his needs on my mind.
We thought labor would take long enough that he’d have his very first sleepover with his grandparents, but it was quick enough that we would all get to spend the night together as a new family of four.
MaiTai looked impossibly mature. Like he’d grown immeasurably big in the few hours since I’d last seen him.
I thought he might get upset but he showed us he was good and ready for this meeting. He kissed Julep’s forehead and whispered hello so sweetly, like they were old pals.
True to character, MaiTai was keenly aware of the photographing and hammed it up with smiles when he got the chance.
Cord Burning & Measurements
12:47 – 1 a.m.
Instead of cutting the cord we held a sacred severance ceremony, which involves using candles to burn the cord. It was a beautiful and peaceful few minutes dedicated to Julep’s final step in the separation from his uterine life.
We used a wooden box handmade by TDD, non-toxic candles, and a swatch of cardboard to keep any potential blood splatter away from Julep. ND held the blue candle while TDD and MaiTai together held the white one.
(More photos and details on the cord burning process in this post).
Placenta expert ND indulged us with a biology lesson on the placenta after it was separated. I ran my fingers over the cord (which was gooey, thin, and cold by now) and felt the bumps and grooves of the placenta.
ND used food-grade dye to make three gorgeous placenta prints before priming the placenta for encapsulation later on.
(More photos and details on touching, printing, and eating my placenta in this post).
We had no ibuprofen in house. I don’t normally take medication for pain but, first, this was a special occasion and, second, the postpartum contractions were much tighter and more forceful than I remembered after my first birth! Yowch.
RD made yet another trip (was it the hundredth?) to Katy Birth Center to pick up ibuprofen and herbal drops called AfterEase to help lessen the pain of my postpartum uterus contracting back into shape.
1:16 – 1:28 a.m.
Julep passed his meconium twice and, of course, MaiTai giggled. TDD brought Julep to the end of the bed to assist with newborn measurements. From his notes: “I’m happy I was holding him as much as I could in between measurements so that he would have constant family contact.”
We used our own non-toxic ink to get Julep’s footprints — and my, were they bigger footprints than I expected!
In fact, overall Julep was a larger baby than I expected, especially given my own petite frame. He was 1 pound and 10.5 ounces heavier than MaiTai was at birth. My vegan baby Julep was 7 pounds, 6.5 ounces (after passing meconium).
Someone set up candles in my bathroom and steeped sitz herbs to draw up a warm bath for me and Julep (anyone want to admit to this flagrant display of thoughtfulness? Speak now…). We soaked in there for about twenty minutes until Julep got upset around the time the water began to cool.
CR finished taking notes about Julep’s newborn exam at this time, and it turned out she had news for us.
“Guess what?” she said. “His fetal assessment says he’s 39 weeks.”
Huh? My ‘overdue’ baby might have been… ‘early’? She said he was a bit of a mix with some indications of an immature baby and some suggesting he suited his guess date (in perfect health either way). I suppose it’ll forever be a mystery exactly how long my womb carried him!
Love To Our Birth Circle
I appreciated how attentive everyone was to our family during this transition time. They cleaned up leaked blood as I walked to the bathroom; candles magically appeared where they thought I might like them; dirty laundry was relocated into the laundry room and out of sight; they toweled me off after my bath so I wouldn’t have to bend over. They intuitively knew what I needed without me having to ask for it (or as in my first birth, to fight for it).
Moments that could’ve robbed me of dignity or modesty were touched with kid-gloves (rather, mother-gloves). I wasn’t handled like a hazard. In fact I wasn’t handled at all, I was treated — like I deserved the moon and stars for bringing a child here from a universe in between.
My birth team acted like it was an honor to attend us in our home, to be invited behind the curtain, to support us at a most vulnerable time in our family’s history. Most of all, to witness the transformation of this mother from round and ready; to roaring and strong; to ravaged and recovering.
From TDD’s notes: “One of CR’s first comments was how she knows a lot of women who would have loved to have had a birth like that. Very peaceful, very in control. A lot of positivity, good vibes, and girl power here, everyone knew their job and did it wonderfully.”
RD, she the heartening helper, the busiest bee, was unstoppable with her enthusiasm and positivity.
SS was the ultimate cool-headed professional, she the preserver of an un-substitutable memory.
CR, she the safekeeper of my birth vision, had a familiarity with my pregnancy from the very beginning that was so important. A whole three trimesters with the same care provider is a gift I wasn’t afforded the first time around.
ND was an essential part to this birth in the immediate postpartum and also, the pre-partum. She, ND — my understanding friend to lean on with concerns, vents, and pleas for reassurance throughout pregnancy.
I knew they all believed in me and my desires for Julep’s birth, and my trust in them to be my best advocates was not undue.
Just Us at Home
2:30 – 3:30 a.m.
Upon trying to leave, ND discovered her van’s tire was flat. Alas she was stranded until her husband could pick her up and had to put the placenta on ice. (Thanks a lot, Mercury retrograde! And the influence of five other retrogrades slowing things down everywhere…). She also watched MaiTai while we finished up housekeeping business and records with the midwives. MaiTai has quite a nose for trustworthy people (rather, untrustworthy ones) and he took to ND easily, of course.
Everyone left at staggered times. The postpartum period was much longer than the amount of time everyone was here for the actual labor (4.5 – 5 hours of attending postpartum versus 10 minutes – 1 hour, 20 minutes of attending labor).
Finally, the house to ourselves! And a plate of delicious vegan sushi, summer rolls, and fresh fruit calling my name! TDD put MaiTai to bed quite easily. It was a big day for all of us.
TDD and I had a long conversation about everything that transpired. We were advised to count as many sheep as we could during the remaining hours of Julep’s recovery sleep, especially since he’d squeezed in most of his rest before the birth team left. By the time TDD and I finished talking he was awake, bushy-tailed, and rooting for a breast. Oh well! We haven’t really slept since MaiTai was born, what’s one more night?
I breastfed my fresh, birth-musky baby while TDD napped. From across the room, I heard my iPod playing my Birth Music ever so faintly through the headphones. It was a living artifact, the last remnant of our birthing time that seemed so, so long ago already.
The adventure continued, but later postpartum is another story for another day.
The Birth Video
A week postpartum, I watched my birth video. I made sure to view it after writing most of the above as I didn’t want it to alter my unique perspective of the birth.
What I felt in reality was so much bigger than how it appeared through a lens. On film, the scene looked so… small. Contained. Tangible, like you could trace lines around it. Through my own eyes at the birth, everything within reach was buzzing and soft.
I realized new things from the video, which was as close to the perspective of my birth circle as could be. I hadn’t noticed how tired everyone seemed (birth workers are HARD workers!). It was late after all, and on the heels of a full day of work for everyone.
I hadn’t noticed how TDD kept trying to offer me water in between contractions, but they came with limited breaks so it was never a good time to squish between the other ladies to reach me (husbands are hard workers too!). It appeared that ND and RD managed to get close enough to offer me sips but that was beyond the scope of my awareness at the time.
I hadn’t noticed how my vocalizations in the pool were what I might describe as the drawn-out whimpers of a grieving animal. In my mind I imagined the noises to be sing-songy and delightful to the ear (sadly not actually the case). On video it did sound as if I’d been aggressively tickled for hours on end and it was hard to tell between the serious look on my face and my moans whether I was actually a willing participant in this game of over-stimulation. A more experienced listener, however, might better interpret my labor voice as indulged and gratified.
My noises were never the classic ‘pushy’ type and I looked unbelievably calm despite the considerable transformation happening inside me. No wonder my birth team had no idea when Julep was crowning!
During my birthing period I waited to be transported to the infamous ‘labor land,’ that time and place where there really is no time or place. I remember feeling a bit disappointed that it had apparently eluded me. Until I watched the video, I didn’t realize I’d actually been there for quite some time though I felt surprisingly in control.
I hadn’t seen how bright the room was either. I expected anything other than near darkness would cause me anxiety, but I think the soft lights coaxed me into a state of keen vigilance.
I didn’t need TDD or anyone else in the way I thought. I expected to want an incredible amount of physical support, natural pain management methods like massage, rebozo sifting and more, and a lot of reassurance ‘when’ I’d inevitably beg to go to the hospital for stronger relief. But I didn’t want. I didn’t beg. It was surprisingly easy to trust in myself, in the willingness (nay, desire) to surrender, and to embrace my passion for the process of giving birth, becoming birth — it was not happening to me, after all.
Though this typed reminiscence indicates otherwise, the actual experience was not split into discernible parts. It was as fluid as the water into which Julep was born. What could be more organic than one’s arrival upon Earth?
A woman’s first birth is decidedly a rite of passage — into womanhood, motherhood. I believe subsequent births are, too, but already being a mother, now a passage to where? Into what? The lessons that come with these soul contracts might rest in mystery until hindsight can better explain.
Here’s what I do know.
My first birth taught me I can handle so much more than I used to believe. I was made a warrior. I felt like I’d been to war, but in this challenge I was not defeated.
My second taught me I can manifest anything my heart truly desires. I was made a goddess. I’d participated in a miracle, so extraordinary it cannot be repeated.
In my view, Julep’s birth was perfect for us, as was MaiTai’s in its own ways. And I hope he feels the same.