Haha, well, it turns out that part of my nesting process for baby #3 is to reflect a little bit on baby #2— and finally finish writing up the dang birth story. I’ve felt relatively good throughout this pregnancy, and I’m feeling somewhat ready. But now that we’re getting down to it, the circumstances are bringing back a lot of my anxious feelings surrounding Inez’ birth. Though she was perfectly healthy, I, as my friend Mijin put it, was feeling a lot of feelings. I was disappointed in myself for not feeling more ready for her; I was upset at not being mentally tough and letting everything get to me during labor; I was stressed and upset with Israel during that generally uncertain and stressful time in the life of our family (new baby, work changes, potential move coming up, etc. etc.). So maybe that’s why it’s taken so long to process by writing down the words. I don’t want to resist those feelings, but walk through them (keep on truckin’) and try to let this time around be a healing process . . .
I have a sense of not wanting to betray Inez by admitting all of this (By the way, I am obsessed with her right now. She’s at such a cute stage.) . . . as if my negative feelings mean that Inez was born into strife. I mean, everyone is born into strife—it’s a tough world, a tough life. But it’s a beautiful world, and life is worth fighting for. Somehow, writing the story is my way of affirming that life is beautiful, that though something may be done imperfectly it’s still worth doing. That what happened is what happened and it’s OK to tell the truth about it. The truth wasn’t all bad—it’s just what happened, and we got through it and got our beautiful result!
The labor was difficult on several levels, but of course, labor is difficult! It’s labor! That’s not news. And it delivered Inez to us, so it was worthwhile and beautiful if only for that. Anyway, for all my emotional wordiness, on paper the birth went really well! I was just dog-tired by the end and felt like I’d been run over by a truck (despite all my mental toughness training during high school volleyball and basketball preseason practice).
[WARNING: This is a birth story, in which I tell you about the time a baby came out of my body. So. There’s that. Feeble male readers, turn back now.]
In December it will be two years since we went to the birth center too early, grabbed sandwiches from Taylor Gourmet, returned home dejected, did some exercises the midwife suggested, popped a Tylenol PM to try to get some sleep and hope for better progress the next day. Hope does not disappoint: the next morning, Inez was born at 10:05, in the water, purple, healthy. Received with much enthusiasm and much relief. I was freezing. There are no pictures.
I am such a believer in celebrating the beauty and amazing-ness, the empowerment of giving birth, whatever the details end up being. It’s truly a miracle. At the same time, I have self-diagnosed post-traumatic stress from delivering both my daughters, even though, again, on paper the births went spectacularly well. In my pleasant, comfortable, air-conditioned, centrally heated world of lattes, ballet flats, and infinity scarves, birth presents a stark contrast. It’s just INTENSE, primal, and yes, painful.
In that spirit of contradiction, sacred and profane (because, yes, there was profanity), I’ll share some of the best and worst moments from my experience welcoming Inez into the world.
Best moment that could’ve been the worst:
Since we used a birth center, we brought Inez home the day she was born. (In case you’re interested, the rationale was that we’d be more comfortable recovering at home. I was OK with that with baby #2, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it with Mary Tobin. My mom was there, and the midwife made followup house calls. Also, the birth center has limited space, so you’ve got to skedaddle to make way for any other future babies who’d like to present themselves.)
For me, one of the best benefits of natural childbirth is the zero recovery time. So, the afternoon of her birthday, Israel carried Inez in the carseat, and Mom and I walked down the hall from the elevator to our apartment, where Mary Tobin was napping and my dad and sister-in-law were waiting. They’d taken MT to her ballet class that morning, and barely had any time to feed her candy and watch any banned movies! Dad, always incredibly supportive and encouraging to his kids for even minor accomplishments, was enthused that we were back so soon. I believe that he was in awe of childbirth purely as an athletic event. If you know him well, you know his thinly veiled competitive nature, so I imagine he was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t take a shot at natural birth to see if he could break my record. (By the way, I don’t think the athletic event metaphor applies to childbirth perfectly, at all. I’m just giving you some insight into Dad to set up what happened next.)
So, as we walked down the hall toward our door, Dad got down on his knees and did the “we’re not worthy” bowing to me. I grinned, and as I made my way past him, he gave me a thump on the rear, as if I was a pitcher running into the dugout or a quarterback coming back to the sidelines after a beautiful touchdown pass. We all turned to him, jaws dropped. Probably the worst thing you could do to a woman who just gave birth would be to hit her bottom. After Mary Tobin was born it was uncomfortable to sit down for quite awhile. Fortunately, Dad’s bro butt slap hit either my lower back or upper thigh, not dead center of its target. For that reason, it will remain in the funny/happy column of memories from that day. (Welcome to the crazy wide world of sports, Inez!)
But let’s go back to the beginning . . .
Failed labor strategy:
Inez was due December 28, but my parents arrived in town early to at least celebrate Christmas with us, though we all felt that she might be early. Her big sister Mary Tobin debuted three days ahead of schedule. (I’m perennially late in life and find it surprising that both of my girls were born early.) On Saturday evening, December 21, Israel and I opted to go for one last date night, while my parents were around to babysit but before other family members arrived in town for Christmas. We walked to a concert at the Folger Shakespeare Library called “Christmas in New Spain.” (It was a great production with instrumentalists and singers performing 15th and 16th century holiday songs by Latin American composers—a unique blend blend of European and native American styles. The percussionist played all kinds of items including seashells and was particularly memorable.) But throughout the show I was shifting in my seat, trying to get comfortable and not sketch out the man next to me too much. By the time it was over, I was exhausted and asked Israel if we could skip dinner (we’d planned to try Rose’s Luxury) and go home to eat the tacos that my mom had made. We had a mini-argument and I cried. That evening lying on the couch I felt what I thought could be first contractions.
I didn’t sleep too well and continued having mini- possible- contractions, and I let Israel know the next morning. We told Mom and I told her not to get too excited—advice I should’ve taken to heart myself!
I thought about the timeline with Mary Tobin, and calculated that Inez would probably be with us that night. Mild contractions continued through the day and I was a bit nervous about the timing of when to call the midwife. I called in the afternoon to check in and give a heads up that I was in early labor. Contractions were regular, probably 5-10 minutes apart and not increasing too much in intensity, despite my wishful thinking. When I called, the answering service took my information and asked if I was in pain. I answered Yes, and I do believe the contractions were painful at that point, though manageable. But, they were nothing next to those that were to come! But it was enough to bring back the sensations of labor to my memory, and I was scared! I just didn’t feel up to it.
Around 4pm, Karen the midwife called back to check on how I was doing. Nothing had changed too much, but I told her I wanted to go in to the birth center at 5pm to check in. I didn’t want to wait until the intense part like we had with Mary Tobin, because I thought the laborious check in process at the hospital slowed things down, plus the birth center would be a more comfortable place for labor than the hospital anyway. We packed up our bags and left instructions with Dad for Mary Tobin’s bedtime and for meeting Israel’s sister Raquel who was arriving that night at Union Station to visit for Christmas.
We met Karen, whose attitude was, Let’s just see how things are going. Clearly I was not in active, intense labor at that point. It almost felt like when you’re a kid and a little bit sick, and you want to be sick enough to stay home from school, so you’re milking it a tad. Later I read somewhere that if you take smiling pictures before you head to the hospital, it’s not time to go yet. That was us!
Karen asked how dilated I thought I was . . . I didn’t have a guess. Israel said 3cm. She said, If I’m generous I can say 3 cm. I laid there and wanted to cry. Karen told us it’s common with second births to have annoying contractions that continue for a couple days before things really get going. Also, Inez was head down with her back on my right side. Babies always turn clockwise to get into position on the left side before descending, so she still needed to rotate almost full circle (as opposed to a simple quick quarter turn—blurgh!), which Karen said is the reason for many long labors. She printed some exercises—called The Miles Circuit—for me to do to help get Inez in the right spot and move things along. She recommended doing those, then taking Tylenol PM, or Tylenol and Benadryl (I learned that that’s what Tylenol PM is. Fun fact!), so I could try to get some sleep, since with any luck we could be back in the middle of the night or in the morning.
Gah! I was so bummed and discouraged that we weren’t there for the long haul! And I probably felt embarrassed and dumb for being so off on the timing. Plus I was annoyed when Karen mentioned that lots of people were having the same trouble about the baby rotating, so she and another midwife had been talking about giving those exercises to people ahead of time—yes, that would’ve been a good idea! Well. We went to Taylor Gourmet to pick up salads and sandwiches to take back to the apartment for supper. I remember the girls working there were super friendly and happy to see a very pregnant lady. But I sat there in a dark cloud.
Successful labor strategies:
We ate back at our place and, since I was so tired and wanted to begin so I could try to sleep, I started the Miles Circuit exercises: half an hour lying in something like child’s pose, with pillows stuffed all around to support me. Contractions continued, it seemed, less frequently and more mildly in that position. Then, half an hour of side relaxation position. My instructions were to relax, and if I fell asleep, fine. Israel struck up the birth play list he’d curated for me (mostly consisting of my very specific requests): some classical, some soft Avett Brothers, Emmylou Harris, and my personal anthem for this pregnancy: “Just Breathe,” with versions by Pearl Jam and Willie Nelson. I didn’t fall asleep, but during this time with the nice music in our dark room, I relaxed and some sense of peace returned. Inez would be born; I wasn’t scared. And, while lying on my left side, I could feel some movement. Maybe it was working and Inez was rotating! Then onto half an hour of stair climbing. Then to bed with the help of Tylenol PM, some of the only drugs of my pregnancy.
[Side note: I’ve sent the Miles Circuit site to several people at the end of their pregnancies, who are either trying to get labor started, or are in frustrating early labor for awhile, like I was. For at least a couple of them it helped a lot, and it certainly hasn’t hurt. Bookmark it for later! Send it to your friends who are great with child!]
Good turns bad:
Hooray! I got some sleep, and when I woke up in the morning on December 23, I could tell that the contractions were more serious and this would be it. Still keeping our cool, we made a plan for the morning. I’d take a shower while Israel took Mary Tobin to my parents who were staying at our neighbor’s. They could get up and start getting ready. Then Israel would shower, and we’d make our way over to the birth center to meet the other midwife Dorothy when the center opened at 8:30 or 9. (Is Dorothy a perfect midwife name? Yes. She also looks the part, with long white hippy hair and glasses.) The shower felt great; I was handling the contractions and had a good rhythm. In fact, I should’ve realized, the shower probably sped things up. While Israel was getting himself ready, I sat in front of the couch, knees on the floor, head resting on the seat of the couch, surviving. My parents arrived and Israel, to his credit, knew we needed to hurry. He also knew that he needed nourishment to face what was coming, so he asked my dad to make him an egg sandwich while he finished getting ready.
I’m laughing as I recall this absurd scene. But at the time: I am dying inside. Actually, literally, my insides are ripping themselves open (maybe not ripping, but a lot of crazy stuff is happening). I am intensely focused, but still aware of what’s going on with the family around me. Please understand: Dad only makes eggs for himself on a special blue nonstick pan he keeps at home. He hates our pans (which are really nice, by the way), and he does not know his way around our kitchen. So he’s not your go-to egg sandwich guy when your wife is dying. So Israel’s trying to give instructions, while he’s putting on his hair gel, I guess, or getting our bags or something. Not sure where my mom is; probably getting Mary Tobin ready for the day and prepping her that we’re about to leave. On the inside, I am FURIOUS that Israel is so concerned with his breakfast while I am in active labor. But it’s become active so suddenly, that I can’t convey the urgency to him. It’s such an odd situation: my mind is racing and I’m having these thoughts, but my body will not allow me to say them out loud.
During the egg sandwich debacle, while my mind and body were in turmoil, Mary Tobin brought two of her stuffed animals—orange bear and panda—to me on the couch. It was such a kind little gesture and actually did help me feel better.
Here comes the profanity:
Once we got it together, Israel, Mom, and I went down to the car. As I climbed in, Israel helpfully said, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear the seat belt.” Friends. At this point there was no way my body would have allowed me to sit in the seat normally with a seatbelt. Even if I could sit like that, what was going to happen? Was he going to pull the dad move of not starting the car until we were all buckled? I—equally helpfully—replied, “No f*cking kidding.” Only F-bomb of the day, as far as I recall.
When we got to the birth center, Dorothy met us and asked, “Are we crying?” Oh yes.
I had wanted to use the bathtub they had (not like a big birthing tub, just looks like a normal bathroom), since hot water had been so helpful with pain relief in labor with Mary Tobin. In hindsight perhaps it wasn’t so helpful in this situation, but once I got in I did not want to move. At some point during this time, the nurse kept encouraging my mom to take pictures, which I wrote about here. I got to a point where I wanted to quit and somehow crawl out of my body. It felt like it wouldn’t end.
Dorothy told me that I could start pushing. (I guess I was experiencing an urge to push like I’ve heard others describe, but I didn’t recognize it as such? Not sure. With both girls, I found the transition from trying to relax through contractions to pushing to be tricky and unclear.) I don’t think I pushed very long. I remember wanting to stop and give up, but Karen (the other midwife from the night before) said, No, she’s almost here! I remember thinking, “Oh, why didn’t y’all tell me that we’re almost done?!” I had no idea and couldn’t tell on my own. I reached down and touched Inez’ head. Though we hadn’t planned a water birth, that’s what happened. (Sorry if that freaks y’all out! Like Jim Gaffigan’s wife, I just did this to make you uncomfortable.) When she was placed on my chest, I kept repeating, “Hi baby. Hi baby.” Israel cut the cord.
When I stood up, I remember saying, “Wow, I feel so skinny”—which made everyone laugh. (For the record, that feeling didn’t last too long.)
Also for the record, some interesting birth facts, if you’re into that kind of thing: my water didn’t break until close to the end, when we were in the tub, and I wasn’t aware of it (very different from Mary Tobin’s birth). One of Nessie’s feet was slightly turned in, having been smushed in the uterus, which we kept an eye on and has since straightened itself out. She had hair, but not as much as Mary Tobin, and she immediately looked different to me from her sister. They weighed close to the same: 7 pounds 5.5 ounces for Inez (7.7 for MT). We’d arrived at the birth center a few minutes before 9, and Inez was born at 10:05 AM.
Best Christmas gift ever:
We really had the most pleasant Christmas with our sweet Nessie girl and a lot of family able to come visit. That part was such a dream, despite the fact that I’d been run over by a truck.
And, one final note for the record: Israel is the best dad ever. This account is merely an attempt to convey faithfully the events as I experienced them, with all the feelings. Over and out.