My official 'due date' was 10/4 and in the week leading up to that day I was SURE that I was about to go into labor at any moment. I was feeling a lot of pressure and the strength and frequency of the braxton hicks contractions I had been feeling all throughout pregnancy started to pick up a little bit. I went out on lots of long walks with the kids, and tried my best to stay patient, despite starting to feel a little antsy. Despite all my 'feelings' though, my 'due date' came and went.
I had an appointment at the birth center on Tuesday the 6th. At the appointment we talked about my 'post dates' plan. I made an appointment for an ultrasound to check fluid levels and a non stress test to check on baby for the following Monday. Even though I knew I had almost a full week before those appointments and that a LOT could happen in that amount of time, I couldn't help feeling a little discouraged. Particularly because my midwife said the baby felt a little posterior with his or her (because at that point we didn't know!) back listing towards my back. The logical part of my brain knew that there were plenty of things I could do to encourage baby's back to turn more to my front, and that baby could even turn all on their own even during labor. The hormonal part of my brain though was going through all the what-ifs of a posterior baby. Head not engaging, very difficult back labor, very long pushing phase. I started to have panicky feelings that the reason I was having all these contractions that didn't turn into anything was because baby was posterior and I started to feel fearful of going all the way to 42 weeks and being unable to deliver at the birth center. I spent the whole rest of the day crawling around on my hands and knees and sitting on my big exercise ball to encourage baby to turn.
When I went to bed that night I wasn't having any contractions, but was feeling a lot of pressure. What I was mostly feeling though was anxiety. I knew that feeling anxious and panicky could actually keep my body from going into labor. Not to mention it could keep me from getting some sleep. So I went to bed and sat reading through the positive affirmation cards I had written for labor and delivery while working on deep breathing. Going through them already made me feel calmer. When I was finished with them I turned out the light and laid down to go to sleep. As I was falling asleep I thought of all the fears and anxieties I had surrounding going into labor, avoiding an induction, and baby being posterior. I acknowledged them and then started praying. I prayed for my fears to be calmed. I prayed for patience. For wisdom. For peace. For strength. For clarity of mind. For TRUST. Trust in God's timing and trust in my body's ability to bring my baby at exactly the right time. I prayed myself calm and fell asleep.
I woke up once or twice early in the night to pee and noticed I was having a somewhat painful contraction each time I woke up. Then, shortly before 2am, I woke up and actually laid in bed through maybe 2 strong contractions or so before thinking, "Oh! Those feel real!" I opened a contraction timer app on my phone and went to the bathroom. I noticed I had had my bloody show and my app was showing my contractions coming every 7 minutes. I had to stop what I was doing for each one so I knew they were 'real' and decided to give the midwife a call. Since this was my third baby and since we live about a half an hour from the birth center I was told not to wait too long before going in. I had no strong need to labor at home like with the other kids since the birth center was just like home and there would be nobody pressuring me into interventions. The midwife on call only needed to hear "3rd baby" "7 minutes apart" and "bloody show". She said she would gather up her stuff and head right over to the birth center and told me to do the same.
This was happening!
I went upstairs and woke up James, "We need to go to the birth center." Confused and half asleep he asked, "Why? Are you in labor or something?" which made me laugh a little. "Well yeah. It's 2am..." So he got up and started getting dressed while I called my mom (she and my dad started getting their things together to meet us at the birth center) and started gathering things for the kids. My bags were already packed, but I hadn't put anything together for the kids since I didn't know what exactly they'd need without knowing what time we'd be heading in. I pulled together food, clothes, and books for them. I knew they'd probably end up watching movies most of the day and I had put together big brother and big sister goodie bags for them with a few new little toys, coloring books, and treats. As I moved around the house getting things together I was still having contractions and they even got closer together the move active I was. Once everything was together we woke up the kids (both of them were very excited!) and loaded up the van to go! By now it was 3am so we were looking at arriving at the birth center around 3:30.
Contracting in the car is AWFUL. I don't like sitting through contractions and all the little movements of the car just felt terrible. I was contracting about every 6 minutes during the drive so I didn't have TOO many, but the few I had were rough. I wasn't "in the zone" yet either which just made them that much more difficult. I felt like crying tears of joy when we pulled into the birth center parking lot. I knew I was due for another contraction very soon so I hurried out of the car to breathe through it on the sidewalk. The midwife on call, Gazelle, met us at the door with her trainee, Hannah, and we went in to get settled. Mom and Dad got there shortly after us and sat in the living room with the kids while James and I stayed in the bedroom so I could get a cervical check. I was pleasantly surprised to hear I was 4cm! I was 50% effaced so I still had a good bit of work to do in the department, but I was on my way. Gazelle and Hannah left us alone at this point and said they'd come check baby's heart rate in about a half an hour or so.
Through the rest of the dark hours of the morning I hung out in the living room while the kids watched movies (I thought they'd go back to sleep, but no luck there). My contractions weren't especially consistent. They were following a similar pattern to what I had experienced in early labor with Kate. They were coming about every 4-5 minutes, but only every other one would be especially strong. The ones in between were short and not very intense at all. My mom, James, and I (with Kate in the stroller in hopes sh'd sleep a little) went for a walk down the street around 5:15 in the morning.. Hannah was going to check me again at 5:45 to see if I was making progress and truly in active labor. Walking didn't make my contractions any more consistent, but the strong ones did get stronger so that was good!
At my check after the walk I was at 6cm and about 80% so that was good news! I was feeling tired at this point and my contractions took the hint. They spread out to every 10-12 minutes and I spent some time eating and snuggling my big kids. How awesome to be an environment where nobody was rushing me or watching the clock!
We went for another walk, but my contractions were still hanging out around every 10-12 minutes. They were definitely strengthening though and I felt a lot of pressure.After our walk my back was feeling really sore so I spent some time leaning over a counter in the living room letting my belly hang. It felt AMAZING, especially when coupled with James rolling a wooden roller along my lower back. Contractions were still quite manageable. I was using some hypnobirthing visualization techniques and deep breathing. As long as I was able to hold my focus through the entire wave I felt pretty great. There were a few where I lost focus and they were completely different contractions. Focus was obviously the key.
At this point Gazelle and Hannah had gone home as their on call shifts had ended and Sheila came in. I was so excited to see her. I had just seen her the day before at my prenatal appointment. The one where we made that 'post dates plan'. It was nice seeing her while in labor less than 24 hours later! Plus she just has a personality that really clicks with mine. She wanted to check me again at 9:45 since my contractions weren't getting any closer together and hadn't gotten any stronger. I was still at 6cm so we chatted a bit about some options to move things along. She said that my water bag was bulging and she'd break it if I wanted, but that would possibly take my dilation back a centimeter or even 2. That's exactly what happened during Sam's labor and I definitely didn't want that. Sheila was trying to be diplomatic and just lay out my options without influencing my decision, but I could see in her eyes that she didn't think breaking my water was a good idea. She said we could also try a little nipple stimulation, that hopefully 15 minutes on a breast pump would maybe get things moving along a little more. This was exactly what I had done with Kate and it had worked great so it was definitely an option I felt comfortable with. She also said I could absolutely just keep doing what I was doing and see what happened. No rush. I loved that. I loved how comfortable and not rushed I felt the entire time I was there. Sheila left the room then to let James and I talk about what we wanted to do. He and I both agreed that nipple stim worked in the past, so why not give it a try again. My contractions were already starting to regulate a little more just sitting in the bedroom. I told James I thought I needed some time away from the kids. That maybe relaxing a little, just him and I in the bedroom, would help things move along. I felt a little weepy at the thought of not hanging out with the kids, I had been feeling really clingy to them, but it really did seem like some time away would be a good idea. This was only reinforced when Sheila came back in and suggested some time away before even asking how we had decided to move forward. So we all agreed on taking some time away from everybody out in the living room, and trying some nipple stim. Sheila recommended I eat some more too. James went and got me some pretzels and filled up my water bottle. He came back in with Emily, our nurse who left us with the pump. At 10:29 I started on the pump, planning 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, and then 15 minutes on again if it seemed like I needed a little more. About 2 minutes into pumping I felt a contraction starting. James rubbed my back and shoulders as I went through it, like he had been with a lot of the other ones, but this one was different. It was super strong and there was a lot of pressure. It lasted a long time and I started to lose control a little. When it ended I was immediately shaky and covered in sweat. James got in my face and said, "That was very intense. Are you ok?" I said, "I feel like I'm in transition, but that can't be right. I'm 6 centimeters. How many minutes have I been on the pump? I don't know if I can do another contraction on the pump if it's like that." Just as James was telling me I had been on it for about 5 minutes another contraction hit me, "Hit me" is really the only way to describe it. "Turn it off turn it off turn it off!" was all I could say to James. He turned off the pump and I threw the flanges and bottles onto the floor, standing up and grabbing onto a windowsill. I felt even more pressure and vocalized through the contraction for the first time. I was struggling to hold my focus. James asked if he should call Sheila in and I told him if I had another like that then yes. I was feeling that panicky, shaky, transition feeling, but not fully believing that's what was happening since I was still thinking I was 6cm. I told James I had to pee and he insisted on coming with me. I got halfway down onto the toilet and said, "I can't sit down." Another contraction came and I grabbed the wall, "Call Sheila now." but James was already getting her. She came into the bathroom and asked how I was doing. I told her my body was pushing and another huge wave came over me. She helped me walk back to the bed and she and her assistant started getting things ready quickly. Emily, our nurse, had gone upstairs to the offices and they were trying to get her back down there. My mom said she saw the nurse come running down the stairs and through the living room and that's when they knew something was happening. James went and got her right then so she could take pictures for us. Sheila was trying to get me onto the bed, but I couldn't do it. I went onto all 4s without even thinking about it and Sheila told me to stay there if I was comfortable. The crazy waves that had been crashing over me this whole time were easing off and I was feeling intense pressure. That's when it actually hit me that this was it! We were about to meet our third baby!
When the crazy waves were calming down I was able to regain my focus and use some hypnobirthing techniques again. I started to feel really calm and let my body do it's thing. I could feel the baby moving down without me doing anything but deep "birth breathing". Somebody brought James a cool cloth for my head just as I was opening my mouth to ask for one. Contractions started again, this time with a very distinct purpose. I was still just letting my body do what it wanted to do, not actively pushing, just breathing baby down. I did this for maybe 2 or 3 contractions, sipping water that James brought over to me in between each one. Then I wanted to push into the pressure a little. For the first time I was feeling 100% in control of the pushing phase. With both other kids this part felt totally out of control. This time was no less intense, but the amount of control I felt was so amazing! I was able to rest in between contractions which was wonderful. I'd keep my eyes closed, take deep breaths, sip water, and repeat positive affirmations to myself in my head. "This is it. My body is doing exactly what it's supposed to. Trust in that. I will be holding my baby so soon." Then when I'd feel the next contraction starting I'd say out loud, "Ok." and dig down deep. I continued to breathe the baby down, just with a little more intensity now. Sheila broke my water then after asking if that's what I wanted. When she broke it I felt the most immense relief! I did hear somebody say, "Meconium." And I laughed a little and said, "Well we're 3 for 3. All our babies pooped." And then promptly forgot about it. I had already asked about the birth center's policies as far as babies born having already pooped. In the hospital that meant I couldn't have immediate skin to skin because they wanted the baby to be suctioned first. At the birth center though, they just keep an eye on the baby in those first couple minutes before determining whether or not they need suction. Knowing and trusting this, I was able to focus on getting the baby out and not worry about the meconium. The next contraction I felt baby's head coming out. I tried to breathe the head out slowly as best I could. That contraction faded just as Sheila told me, "Great job Sarah. You can reach down and feel your baby's head. The hardest part is over." That pause between contractions, knowing baby's head was out and being able to reach down and feel it, was sort of surreal. I felt really suspended between two worlds almost. I've never had a pause like that after my baby's head had been birthed. It was a very calming feeling somehow. With the next contraction, everybody helped me flip onto my back so that Sheila could assist the shoulders a bit. This was the one moment I felt any anxiety. My baby's have not always gotten their shoulders out very easily and I know that has the potential to be dangerous. I barely had time to dwell on that though because Sheila was saying, "Sarah. Reach down and catch your baby."
Having a baby born into my own hands, and being the one to pull this new little creature onto my chest was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. I cannot put into words the feelings I was having right then, but pictures almost capture it.
There was no crying from baby for a little while, but I didn't feel even a second of worry. Because I could feel everything. I could feel the baby's moving, I could see the baby looking up at me (oh what a precious, quiet moment!), and I knew that everything was absolutely fine. After a few minutes baby did cry, but only a little, and that's when I said, "Oh! Wait! Is it a boy or a girl?" Sort of really cool to hold our baby for several minutes before even knowing this important bit of information! James, who was sitting right next to me took a peak and called out (with obvious emotion), "Oh! It's a boy!" And I just kept repeating, "Henry! Hi Henry! Hi baby boy!" And just like that our family grew.
We waited for the cord to stop pulsating before James cut it, and around then Henry started rooting so I got him latched on while birthing the placenta. I had a small tear that required a stitch or two and once that was taken care of everybody helped move me up on the bed propped up on pillows. Henry stayed latched and nursing the whole time. Once I was situated my mom went to get my dad, brother, and kids. Sam and Kate climbed right up in bed with me and started loving on their brother. I couldn't believe I was sitting their with all *3* of my babies. Sam especially had such a sweet reaction. I was a little worried because he had been SO sure my whole pregnancy that he was getting a sister, but he accepted a brother with so much love. We counted all of his fingers and toes together and Sam exclaimed over how, "Tiny and cute!" they were. After a few minutes my parents and Tommy took the kids back out to get their Big Brother and Big Sister bags of goodies.
Sheila was a little concerned at this point about the amount I was still bleeding an hour after birth, so I handed Henry off to James for some skin to skin while Sheila checked me out. Henry slept peacefully on Daddy's chest for an hour while we got my bleeding under control (thankfully it was never overly alarming, my uterus was just being a little on the lazy side which is apparently common once you've had more than 1 or 2 kids). Everything was perfectly fine and behaving the way it was supposed to fairly quickly.
After an hour sleeping with Daddy we got Henry's official stats (8 lbs even and 20.5in, our smallest baby!) and James gave him a sponge bath. Henry got to go to meet his Nana, Grandpa Bob, and Uncle Tommy for a little bit then while I ate. My mom had made my 'birth meal' (french toast, eggs, sausage, and fruit per my request!) while Henry was being weighed and bathed. Best french toast I've ever eaten! I showered after that and then everybody except James and I headed home. My mom took Sam and Kate back to our house. Henry had his official newborn checkup now and did great. Barely even fussed. He latched on again after that and James, our sweet baby, and I dozed off in the bed for a while. It was so peaceful.
We woke up to get our discharge info. Just a couple sheets to keep track of Henry's and my vitals for the next couple days (nothing major, just temp and respirations/pulse) and clarifying the day and time for our home nurse visit to do Henry's hearing test and have him weighed again. After that we were cleared to go! So about 6 hours after our boy made his appearance, we were loading up in the car and heading back to our big kids in time for dinner and bedtime. So wonderful to be able to sleep in our own bed that very night!
I am so grateful to have been able to have a birth center birth. The entire experience was so relaxing. There was never a moment were I felt rushed or pressured. I truly felt that the experience was 100% MINE. There were no negotiations, no compromises, just complete trust in my body from everybody in attendance. I love that our family was able to stay together. I love that Sam and Kate met their brother when he was only minutes old, and that we were all able to snuggle in bed together. And I just love how calm the entire thing was. Such a beautiful way to grow from a family of 4 to a family of 5. We are truly, truly blessed.