I remember when it occurred to me in the middle of David, my firstborn’s, birth (that was a 21 hour labor so I had time for thought!) that at that moment I was the weakest I had ever been, hardly able to move without help, but at the same time I was doing the strongest thing I had ever done, bringing a new life into the world. That is why I like reading, and writing, birth stories—a birth, no matter how it happens, can be a defining moment not just (obviously) in a baby’s life, but in a mother’s life also.
David and Elanor were both eleven days late, and with both of them, the time between due date and birthdate was miserable for me—not just because I was uncomfortable, but because I was expecting and hoping labor to start at any hour and kept being disappointed. I would wake up crying realizing I was still pregnant. Hormones were definitely going crazy, and I felt stuck in a horrible holding pattern. Both births also involved very leisurely drives to the hospital. David’s labor was so long we could decide whether to leave home before or after rush hour traffic (we opted for after so we could eat dinner at home, that’s how slowly things were going). When we drove to the hospital with Elanor, I wasn’t even in labor. I was expecting to be induced, and would have been if she hadn’t decided on her own that today was the day as soon I was settled comfortably into a hospital bed.
With Brennan, I wanted to avoid the days of disappointment. I assumed he would come as late as possible—my midwife team and I decided for a number of reasons that would be seven days late, not eleven, so June 20th was going to be his birthday. I expected another slow drive to the hospital on the morning of the 20th, and hoped that with a little nudge my body, perversely waiting for who knows what, would decide to have a baby that day.
So on Saturday June 13th, the due date, we went grocery shopping, cleaned the house, and Ben mowed the yard. I made a week plan like I always do on Saturdays, this time planning to take the week slow, get a little done each day, and do fun things like meet a friend at the pool with the kids. I told Ben that night before we fell asleep that I was fine with waiting until the 20th. I’d been waiting for 9 months, I could hang in there for 1 more week. So I fell asleep.
A little after 2 a.m. I woke up having a contraction, which would have been surprising if it hadn’t been happening every night for the past several weeks. This time I had a few contractions in a row, and my only thought was that I hoped they would stop so I could fall back asleep. We had church in the morning and a birthday party in the afternoon—not a good day to wake up at 2 a.m. But I couldn’t fall asleep, and eventually my moaning woke up Ben. He brought me a cup of iced tea and I sat on the edge of the bed telling him this was not the real thing and wishing my contractions would stop so I could sleep.
Finally a particularly hard one came and I said, “Well, I’m obviously not going to sleep like this, so we may as well start the drive to the hospital just in case. We can always turn around and come back, and driving will be better than lying here miserable.”
It took us only about 10 minutes to pack up, and I went downstairs to wake up my sister Anna, who is living with us right now and had kindly agreed to take the kids if we needed to leave in the middle of the night. “This is probably not the real thing, but we driving to the hospital just in case, we will probably be back soon, so sorry to wake you up!” And as I got in the van to leave I told Ben, “We are probably being so stupid!” I felt annoyed because I had not wanted to get my hopes up and be disappointed again. I was fine with waiting until the 20th, and driving to the hospital only to learn I was not in labor seemed like a pointless way to spend the night. But off we went.
The contractions were getting stronger on the way there (Ben told me later he was timing them with the van clock and they were about 2 or 3 minutes apart). Ben, who normally sticks to the 55 mph speed limit, was going about 80. I still didn’t think it was for real, but I just wanted to get there where I could be more comfortable than I was sitting in the van passenger seat. I tried eating something, since with both my other labors I had eaten a good meal at the beginning. This time all I had was one bite from a fig bar, and I could hardly swallow it. I was just not hungry. Maybe that should have been my indication that I was farther along than I thought, but I didn’t think about it.
We called the midwife team, and Julie was the midwife we got on call. She was new to the team, and though I had had an appointment with her, I didn’t remember her in the moment and felt a little nervous. She told me she would meet us at the birth center. A deer jumped out of the road while I was on the phone with her and I gasped. I don’t think I was quite coherent enough to tell her it was a deer, not a contraction. Fortunately we didn’t hit it and kept going.
We turned my birth playlist on using my phone, and I was listening to songs like “Shoulders” by King & Country and “You Make Me Brave”—probably the best birth song ever:
As Your love, in wave after wave, crashes over me …
You make me brave, You make me brave,
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.
I started crying at that song, not because I hurt but because I felt so darn vulnerable, not sure what to expect, preparing to be disappointed, and to be honest still somewhat groggy from sleep, like it was all a weird dream.
At 3:30 we got to the Natural Birth Center, across the parking lot from the Birthing Inn section of the hospital. The nurse opened the door for us, and I got out of the van with my purse and my phone still playing, trying to walk in like I was fine, except that I had another contraction before I got to the door. I expected to go to a triage room where they would see if I was in labor, but instead we went straight to one of the bedrooms. There was a queen-sized bed with a lot of pillows and a huge bathtub, a beautiful home-like environment. The nurse started filling the tub immediately and I was looking forward to soaking in it while we decided whether or not I had to go back home.
Though I had talked to Julie on the phone, Paula was the midwife who came in. I was glad since I had just had two appointments with her and knew her better. She checked me, and I was bracing myself for her to say, “You’re still 3 cm, Lisa, go home” or maybe—hopefully—“You’re 4 or 5, you can stay and we’ll see what happens.”
Instead she said, “You’re 9 cm.” What?! I could hardly believe it. There wouldn’t be time to get in the tub. At that point I decided to do all I could to just get to the end and out of the pain as fast as possible. Paula broke my water. She said lying on my side would help, so I tried that for a few contractions until I felt ready to push.
This was my first birth that I got really cold during labor. For whatever reason, I was shaking with cold and my teeth were chattering. The nurses were piling warm blankets on me, and it was like I couldn’t get enough.
I also remember—and this was true with my other births as well—that even when I’m in pain and so much is going in my body, I am vividly aware of the details around me. I remember wondering about the stripes in the window valance, for instance. And we put my phone on the bedside table and kept it playing music the whole time, and I remember the different songs coming up.
It’s always hard for me to transition from relaxing during a contraction to pushing. It’s like I don’t know how to do it, and it just hurts, and I can’t figure out a position to be in that makes it better. There were two nurses in the room by now, and both of them were giving me instructions that just confused me. The nurses at Brennan’s birth were probably actually the least sensitive of the nurses I’ve had, but I know they were trying to help with their ideas. I got the feeling that if I could just figure out what to do I could be over the hurdle. Paula wondered if I wanted to try a different position. But with both David’s and Elanor’s births, I was lying down in bed supported by pillows, and I wanted to do what I knew worked for me. Ben kept looking in my eyes and letting my foot push against him and encouraging me. He was the only one not telling me what to do at that point, and it was nice just to know that he was there and that I was going to figure this out.
Finally we got it together so I was pushing effectively in each contraction, and in four contractions Brennan was out. He was born at 4:30 in the morning, only an hour after we arrived, and just over two hours after I had first woken up. He was 8 pounds 7 ounces, and 20 ½ inches long.
Paula put him on my chest immediately, and I was so overwhelmed and still in so much pain it was hard for my mind to grasp that my baby was now outside me. It had all happened so quickly that it still felt surreal and hard to grasp. Brennan lay on my chest attached to his cord for awhile while they fixed me up. They put a blanket over both of us to keep him warm. I was grateful just for the time to hold him and gradually realize—This is my baby! We did it! He’s on the outside! The birth is over and it only gets better from here!
Me and Paula.
So Brennan begins his life outside the womb as my earlier than expected baby, coming quick and forceful. So far he’s been relatively easygoing and I only hope that lasts. I was worried that I might have a hard time attaching to him (probably because I just worry about things, I don’t think this one had any rational basis), but that has been no problem, to put it mildly, since I’m utterly besotted with him. He loves to rest his head against my chest with his arms folded, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake looking up at me like, “So there’s the face that belongs to the voice I’ve been hearing all this time!”
Resting at the hospital.
Today I asked David to check on Brennan while he was sleeping, and David came back and said, “He’s not crying, but he is awake, just looking spectaculared.” Pause. “Is spectaculared a word?”
We told him it wasn’t, but I knew exactly what David meant about Brennan’s gaze—that wide-eyed with wonder curiosity like he’s trying to take everything in. With this baby I’m more aware of the miracle I get to see unfolding. So many babies begin their lives neglected by their mothers, or taken from them because staying with them would be unsafe. I get to love my baby and bond with him from day one, and give him this healthy foundation for life. The newborn weeks are challenging, but I don’t want to wish them over too soon because I know I’ll never get them back—I’ll blink and Brennan will be crawling, walking, developing his personality, starting school. Right now I’m happy to have his arms folded against my chest and his face looking up into mine.