February 6th, 2018 / 7 lbs. 15 oz. / 19.5 inches
During your first pregnancy, everything about the 40 week journey comes as a surprise. You keep coming up with possible scenarios of what your birth will be like, you don’t know what contractions truly feel like (that’s a good thing), what the “need to push” is, or even understand what that postpartum “high” will feel like.
If you’re anything like I was with my first baby, you’re book smart about the whole process (yes, I read a ton of books and articles about childbirth), but have no true experience. Bottom line: you’re on a roller coaster ride, and have no choice but to go with the flow.
I was not scared to give birth to Liam. I learned so much about childbirth over the course of my first pregnancy and felt empowered and confident. With Noah’s pregnancy, however, I was a bit more nervous. My thought process went something like this: I was lucky, blessed, enough to have one healthy baby. Would I really be this lucky twice in a row? I also knew from experience how painful contractions would be. I wasn’t just going into the experience blindly this time. I knew it would probably be one of the most challenging experiences of my life, once again.
If you read Liam’s birth story, you know that, one morning, six days past my due date, my water “trickled” out. Luckily, we went to the hospital to check, and, after a quick test, the nurses were able to confirm it was amniotic fluid. We checked into the hospital that night, and, after being induced early the next morning, our little man was born.
Well… Noah’s story began in an almost identical way, giving us all déjà vu. It was almost hard to believe that the game plan was Liam’s birth to a T.
But… a game plan is just a game plan, and if there’s one thing I learned during this second birth, it’s that no two births are the same, and you can absolutely not count on a plan being set in stone. We took some slight detours along the way, and Noah’s birth ended up being a personal challenge, with quite the dramatic ending.
Let me explain:
On Sunday night (a day before my actual due date), right after Joe came home from watching the Super Bowl with friends, I lost my mucus plug. This didn’t happen to me with Liam so I was a little frightened at first.
What the hell is happening? was my first thought, as I looked into the toilet bowl.
But… then, I got excited – things were definitely getting started, and it gave me hope that my body remembered what it had to do. It was almost time.
The next morning, I started questioning whether it was still mucus, or actual amniotic fluid that was still “trickling”. You would think that the difference between the two would be obvious, but it really wasn’t. We decided to drive to the hospital to double check, like we did with Liam.
This time, however, I really thought it wasn’t amniotic fluid and that the test would be negative. When the nurse said that it was, that my water had broken, my jaw literally dropped.
The midwife on call told us to go home, get our things ready, and meet her at the hospital after dinner. She wanted to make sure things “got started” twelve hours later, so that I would give birth around the 24 hour mark to avoid infection. She asked if I was having any contractions (I wasn’t), then recommended castor oil (which I declined, due to a bad experience the first time). She said she would check me at the hospital to see if I needed Cervidil to thin out my cervix overnight, or if we could just start out on a light Pitocin drip immediately.
We ran a few errands, went home, and finished packing our bags. We couldn’t believe the game plan sounded so much like Liam’s birth (water trickling, hospital after dinner, Cervidil overnight, Pitocin drip), and thought we knew what to expect at that point when it came to the whole experience. I was a bit bummed I wouldn’t get to labor at home, but figured that if this birth ended up being as smooth as Liam’s, there was really nothing to complain about.
When we got to the hospital that night, the first surprise was that I was already having some mild contractions. That made me feel a bit better about getting induced. The second was that I was already at zero station, 90% effaced, and 2 centimeters dilated. The good news was that we would not need Cervidil, but the bad—or scary—news was that we would start me off with the “big guns” right away.
The Pitocin drip was the most intense part of my labor with Liam (he was born only three hours later, after 5 pushes) and I knew how real these contractions would be in a few hours. Due to our previous experience with the drug, we assumed I would be giving birth in the middle of the night (not at noon, like with Liam), and prepared ourselves mentally for a quick, intense labor.
(If you’re not familiar with what Pitocin does, it is basically a synthetic version of Oxytocin, the hormone that your body naturally produces to induce contractions, and it is used to strengthen contractions. It makes the contractions more intense, but can speed up labor significantly.)
Turns out that I did not give birth a few hours later. The Pitocin was administered at 1:30am and, all night, my contractions intensified. At 6am, they were about 2 minutes apart and 40 seconds long. I had been on my feet the whole night, finding it helpful to lean over the bed or table during each wave of contractions. I refused to sit or lie down.
I have to admit that, although I feared the contractions the most going into this second birth, I handled them really well. I breathed deeply through each one, and really tried to keep my body as relaxed as possible to help them do their job. I even focused on not clenching my jaw or fists, and am convinced that letting go of everything helped me progress quickly.
After about six hours, I decided it would be a good time to get in the tub. With Liam, I got from 7 to 10 cm in the tub and found it amazing in terms of pain relief. For a natural birth, the key is to switch positions and find temporary comfort, and being able to relax in the warm water brought me so much relief.
However, this time, it didn’t. At all.
The second I hopped into the tub (I assume I was about 6-7cm at that point), my contractions stopped coming every 2 minutes, and decreased in intensity. You would think I’d be happy to stop being in pain, but I was super frustrated. All this hard work, and now nothing? The nurses told me to give it some time and not to worry, that I was still contracting, but I knew something was off. After a couple minutes in the tub, I told Joe I wanted to get out and start walking again.
Best. Decision. Ever.
The second I stood up, boom, a strong contraction took over my body. Then, less than a minute later, another one. I quickly realized that gravity was super important for this birth, and that being on my feet would get me to 10 cm. Just as Joe stepped out of the room to go get coffee (he told my mom to call him if things got crazy), my contractions intensified so much that I realized I was moving into the transition phase of labor. My steady breaths became moans, and I truly felt delirious, on the verge of tears, rocking back and forth against the bed. I knew that it was a matter of minutes before I’d feel the urge to push. It was crunch time.
I just didn’t think it would take two contractions.
At the end of my final contraction, I pushed, and the rest of my water broke. My mom panicked and ran into the hallway to call the midwife and nurses. It was a busy morning, and three other moms were close to pushing in the other hospital rooms around me, so it took the team a little while to rush in. At that point, I was already crawling up on the bed, nervous that the urge was coming on so strong. I was shaking from head to toe, and Joe was still nowhere to be found.
When everyone came in and the midwife checked me, they were concerned that I was still at zero station, but after one push, the baby descended. The midwife told everyone to stay put, and that things would probably speed up at this point. Joe came running in right then, shocked to find me on the bed.
With Liam, pushing actually felt good. I was so happy to be done with contractions, so excited that my body was taking over to do its thing, and I welcomed it. This time, however, I felt scared. The urge to push wasn’t as intense as it had been with Liam (although I did know it was time), and I still felt a good amount of contraction pain. The midwife told me to push, and within two, three pushes, Noah’s head was out.
But this is where it got a bit dramatic.
Once the head came out, the shoulders got stuck. No matter how hard I pushed (and trust me, I was giving it my all), nothing happened. Hearing the nurses yell “Johanna, you need to push!” over and over again, when I was already giving it my all, was very stressful, making me wonder if I’d be able to do it. I got into my head a bit, but, luckily, when the nurses pressed down on my lower belly during the next contraction, the shoulders slid through. This all happened pretty quickly, but it felt like a good half hour.
When Noah was propped on my chest, he was purple and took a few seconds to breathe. Liam cried and peed the second he was born, so I wasn’t prepared for this silence. I stared into my baby’s eyes, holding my breath.
When Noah finally let out a high pitched squeal, I don’t think I’d ever been that reassured in my entire life. The post birth high took over me and I cried, and cried, and cried.
We’d done it. We were healthy. It was the best feeling in the entire world.
Noah came into this world with a bang, but all that matters is that he was born healthy. He latched onto my breast immediately with a strong, confident suckle. I can’t begin to explain how complete I felt at that moment, holding my sweet baby boy.
When I think about this second birth, I realize that you have zero control over how your baby decides to enter this world. The “game plan” changed multiple times throughout the night/morning, and Noah’s birth turned out nothing like Liam’s. Even the things I thought I’d use and love (yoga ball, tub) were totally different this time. You cannot predict how you’ll feel and what will work for you on the spot. Every birth is different, and each one has its own challenges and victories.
I am so proud of myself for having had a second epidural-free birth and coping through contractions as well as I did. I stayed in my head, in my bubble, and didn’t let the pain (or the shrieks coming from the other delivery rooms) get the best of me. And, this time, my midwife was hands off – like I said, it was a busy night – so I really had no help throughout labor. I had to follow my gut when it came to positions that would help my labor along, and those that just didn’t work for me. I had to boost myself back up when I lost confidence and faith in my body’s ability to labor on its own.
Was it easier the second time around? No, definitely not, but the work was a bit shorter (7 vs 10 hours), I felt more comfortable throughout active labor because I knew the intensity was normal, and the recovery took a lot less time. I also felt a lot more comfortable when I got home, not as disoriented as the first time around.
Only a day later (and even now, five days postpartum), I felt brand new. I am in awe of the female body and its ability to go through something as powerful as childbirth and bounce back so quickly. When I was in the recovery room, Noah swaddled in my arms, it almost felt like the whole delivery was just a distant “dream”. I was on an adrenaline high, a little cocoon of bliss, a feeling I’d completely forgotten about… and didn’t realize I’d missed all along.
To you Mommies about to go through childbirth a second time, my first piece of advice to you is to stay calm and confident in your ability to have a healthy, positive birth. We are so incredibly strong and don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve. Remember: We are made for this! My second piece of advice is to try not to have any expectations, or think that things will go the same way as the first time around. In my case, it felt like an entirely different experience. Try to let go of all of your fears and tensions and allow the contractions to bring you closer and closer to your baby. It’s all about perspective: if you look at them as a positive (which they are), they will hurt less. Don’t look at them as a whole, but focus on each individual one. Stay in a positive, controlled headspace. Don’t fight the contractions – give in to them. The stronger they get, the closer you are to the end, the closer you are to your baby.
What a gift motherhood is. Little Noah James, you complete our family, and I feel blessed to be your Mama. I will cherish it all – even those tough nights – because, this time, I know those special moments with you are only fleeting. One day you won’t need me as much as you do now, so I will not take a second it for granted. I feel so lucky that you chose me to be your mom.
Now on to this new chapter, this whirlwind, as a new mom of two!
June 26th, 2015 / 7 lbs. 12 oz. / 18.75 inches
As my due date approached, finally came, and the days following it started ticking… two, three, four, five… I started prepping myself for labor. Not the physical effort itself, but the emotional impact it would have on me if things did not go as planned.
What would I do if I needed to have an emergency cesarean, for example? Would I still see Liam’s birth as a fulfilling one? How would I feel if it affected everything else I had in mind, like immediate skin to skin after delivery and breastfeeding? What would I do if my body needed the extra help (aka drugs) to progress from early to active labor? Would I be okay with that?
My water broke (well, trickled) at 9 A.M. on Thursday morning, two hours before my scheduled ultrasound appointment. My husband, Joe, and I decided to stop at the hospital to check if it was really amniotic fluid.
The nurses at Phelps Memorial Hospital confirmed that it was.
Later that day, I felt my first real contractions, about 5-7 minutes apart and mild. As a first time mom, I wondered how intense they would get (I was handling them really well, I thought, at the time.) I called my midwife and let her know that they hadn’t stopped and were slowly building in intensity. She asked that I eat dinner at home and meet her at the hospital that night around 9 P.M.
My mom, Joe, and I packed our hospital bags in the car and went right away.
When Robin, my midwife, came in, checked me, and told me the plan, I wasn’t thrilled. First, she said that the contractions I’d been having all day weren’t “true” labor contractions. They were close together but not intense enough. She recommended that we use a gel called Cervidil to soften my cervix overnight at the hospital. We would check me the following morning and decide what the plan would be if things didn’t progress. This would mean breaking the rest of my water and starting me on a light Pitocin drip.
Surprisingly, Joe was the one with the doubts. “Two weeks ago, you would never have agreed to do this,” he told me, when she left the room. “Are you sure you’re okay with it?”
He was right, but deep down, I trusted Robin’s advice. She knew how I felt about unnecessary interventions, but also knew, with her experience, how long I could potentially be in labor without the extra help.
Early the next morning, Robin said the Cervidil had done its job: my cervix had softened and the baby’s head was a lot lower in my pelvis. The intense contractions I’d had the whole night, though, still weren’t strong enough to move things along. This surprised me because the pain I’d experienced all night was definitely real — I couldn’t lie down for more than a minute and spent the night in a rocking chair, breathing through the contractions, watching them on the monitor. My mom and Joe slept for a few hours on their two small cots beside me.
Robin said that if it was okay with me, she would break the rest of my water and start me on a Pitocin drip. I had chills as I agreed, wondering if it was a big mistake. After all the research I’d done on inductions, I knew there was a greater likelihood of a domino effect eventually leading to a cesarean birth. Robin reassured me and said they would only use a small amount of Pitocin to trigger my own body’s contractions. They would then stop it when I reached 4 cm and let me labor in the tub naturally. I became nervous about how intense the pain would become after that. I was already very uncomfortable.
My mother reassured me as soon as Robin left the room: this was exactly the same thing she’d gone through for my birth. The Pitocin had helped her enormously and I was born quickly and above all, healthy.
Before the Pitocin even kicked in, the contractions became longer, more intense. I started getting very focused, unable to sit still. I focused on my breathing and luckily, had a wide array of positions to choose from thanks to Robin. She had me lean on Joe’s arms, letting go of my lower body, which helped a lot. She laid down pillows on the raised hospital bed and had me rock my hips back and forth. When I told her, in between contractions, that the pain was getting intense, she checked me.
Sure enough, I was at 4-5 cm and ready to hop in the tub.
The relief I felt in the warm water was immediate: my body loosened and relaxed as the water enveloped me. At this point, I had to focus all of my energy on my breaths: long intakes of air and strong exhales. Joe held my hand as I entered the most difficult stage of labor: transition.
Although the tub was a lot better than being on solid ground at this point, the contractions I felt were beyond anything I had ever experienced. My body caved and arched itself as I tried desperately to breathe through them as I had done for the past seven or eight hours. Exhausted from the night before, I took 30 second naps in between each contraction. When they started again, I tried to let go of everything and breathe, tell myself that with each contraction there was a build up, a peak, and then a decline, but the pain became more and more difficult to control.
During my final contraction, I said I couldn’t do it. Funny that I uttered those words out loud because I had a strong feeling we were nearing the end.
The echo of voices — Robin, my mom, and Joe — all reassured me.
“You’re doing amazing.”
“Yes you can. You are so strong.”
“ You are so close now. This is it.”
Seconds after that, I felt the overpowering urge to push and sure enough, I let out a strong groan as my belly dropped. Joe couldn’t help shouting in unison with me.
This was it — the final stretch.
Robin checked me immediately. She looked me in the eye, a grin spreading across her face.
“You’re done,” she said, smiling.
I got out of the tub, she dried me off, and I made my way back to the hospital bed for the final stage of labor.
Pushing was almost a relief. After such intense contractions, I enjoyed the way my body took over and almost did the work for me. I pushed with every last bit of grit and energy I had in me. I felt Liam’s head pressing down on my first push but when the contraction went away, Robin told me to stop pushing, breathe, and let her know when the next one came. Two, three, four pushes, the head was out.
Robin gave Joe a pair of gloves and told him to help her with the birth. With tears in his eyes, he told me he could see his dark brown hair.
The “pain” wasn’t anything close to what I had experienced during transition. I didn’t feel delusional and out of control, but powerful and empowered. A warrior. The most difficult part was behind me and I was about to cross the finish line. No episiotomy, only Robin’s expert hands and arnica oil to do the job.
During the fifth and final push, I felt everything drop and the rest of Liam’s body followed. I stared in amazement at our son, our creation, right there between my thighs. He cried immediately and even urinated on Robin (which is apparently good luck!)
The rest is a blur: the few first degree stitches, the placenta, the blood… I had my son in my arms. My beautiful baby boy. All I remember is Robin telling me what an amazing job I had done.
“You do good work, Mama,” she said. “That was incredible.”
In the background, I heard Joe ask her about the blood. “Is that the normal amount?”
She told him it was a little more than expected but I didn’t care, my nose buried in Liam’s hair, his little warm body against mine.
Later, Robin told me that Liam had started his descent in a posterior position. I hadn’t felt any contractions in my back, luckily, but Robin explained that it was probably why I was stuck at 4 cm for what felt like so long.
When the room was cleaned up, Robin left us in the room to bond with our son, who latched on to my right breast right away: the most incredible feeling in the world. I had been blessed with a natural, vaginal birth with no epidural, episiotomy, and/or unnecessary interventions. Pitocin took me from 2 cm to pushing in less than three hours. My son and I were both alert and ready to breastfeed and it showed instantly. Everything was as perfect as could be. An hour later, I was out of bed, feeling like myself again. I felt this high, this adrenaline, for the next 72 hours: no exhaustion and not even the slightest amount of pain.
Bottom line is this: Over and over again, I was told to be open minded about birth. I had a plan in my mind and despite worrying about the way things would go (the baby’s position, my fear of a cesarean birth, the worry that I wouldn’t have a say in my birth), I always had faith in my body and ability to labor naturally. The fact that my water broke early was beyond my control but I am 100% happy with the choices I made: Switching from an OB/GYN to a midwifery practice at 32 weeks of pregnancy and a gentle induction of labor to get things going.
I got the midwife-assisted, vaginal, epidural-free birth I wanted. I didn’t need an episiotomy. It was a personal journey I had to take on my own and I’ve never been more proud of myself for anything I’ve ever done. No one could take the pain of labor away from me, but I did it anyway, and I did it well. I can truly say that I fully experienced childbirth in all of its intensity and power. What a victory.
I did it all for you, Liam, and will forever consider myself the luckiest woman in the world. Now on to the next chapter of my life… as your mom.