After I had Colm, I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d want to try for a natural birth the next time around. While I certainly benefitted from the experience more than I did from the induction and epidural I’d had with Paisley, it was no walk in the park.
When I found out I was pregnant with our third baby, I decided that I definitely did want to try for another natural birth however, I wanted it to go differently. Having an unmedicated hospital birth can be a real challenge, especially for lucky moms like me who tend to have longer labors.
Nurses change shifts. OBs want to go home. At our local hospital (with its crazy outdated birth place practices) moms are forbidden to eat and drink for the duration. And moms are pretty much bullied into pushing in one position: on their backs in bed.
While laboring moms noshing on ice chips and lying on their backs to effortlessly give birth makes for great television fodder, this setup is hardly appealing in the real world.
Thus, barring a crazy weather or health event, our third baby wouldn’t be born in a hospital, but at a freestanding birth center. Instead of being stuck with a list of dos and don’ts to adhere to as soon as I checked into the labor and delivery ward, I’d get to call the shots for my own baby’s birth.
Now there are some significant differences between a freestanding birth center and a hospital delivery ward. For one, births are attended by midwives, rather than OB-GYNS.
The facility is also completely different. It’s not medical, but rather more of a home-like environment: delivery rooms are just bedrooms with beds, dressers and bathrooms. There aren’t IV poles and monitors all over the place, but giant exercise balls, rebozos and birth pools.
The birth center I chose to deliver at is connected with a local hospital, so if there’s an emergency, moms can go straight over to the delivery ward there for care. Same goes for those who decide that they want an epidural or some Pitocin to help speed the process along.
Having our baby at the birth center meant I wouldn’t have the option of pain meds, but I would be allowed to eat and drink during labor. I could labor in any way I wanted and push in whatever position felt best, including in the water if I wanted to. This was definitely the environment where I felt safe and comfortable to bring our next child into the world.
In my midwife appointments leading up to my February 10 due date, multiple midwives warned me that labor and delivery with a third baby can be a total wild card. And boy were they right!
Around 37 weeks, I start to have very regular contractions around the clock. They’re nice and consistent, about a minute long and three to five minutes apart. Were this my first baby, I’d be convinced we were having a baby, like now.
But I’ve had babies play early labor games before, so until contractions are intense enough to make me pay attention, I’m not going to do anything about it. These contractions keep up for the next two weeks and are exhausting, but definitely not labor yet.
At my 39 week appointment, the baby is fully engaged and I’ve made some progress toward “real” labor, so my midwife offers me a membrane sweep, which I gladly accept. By the time I leave the office, I have definitely made some more progress, but it’s still not quite time, so I go home with the hopes that labor will kick in soon.
By 3:45 the next morning, I’m having contractions strong enough to wake me up and keep me up. After about an hour, I wake Josh up and tell him that we needed to get ready to go to the birth center. Then we call my parents to arrange details for the other kiddos and the midwife to ask her whether it’s time to come in.
The midwife on call is the same one who I’d seen the day before so she knew where I am progress-wise and advises me to come to the birth center. So Josh and I threw the last of our stuff into the car and head off to battle the beginning of rush hour traffic on the beltway to Annapolis. (Yay.)
We’d been warned that the stress of traveling might cause labor to stall out a bit, and sure enough, my contractions slow way down as we drive down the highway to the birth center. By the time we get there, I’m terrified that I’m going to be told to turn around and head home.
But I’m dilated between a four and five, so it’s better for me to hang out at the birth center, reduce stress and let the rest of labor come on naturally. Apparently there’d actually been a birth center patient with highway birth that week, and no one wanted a repeat scenario.
Going into this birth, I know that stress is going to be my biggest challenge.
Stress dictated a lot of the outcome for Paisley’ and Colm’s births, and I even sent both babies crawling back UP, rather than down because I was so tense during both labors. (Let’s talk about how much fun that is…)
Instead of worrying about the passage of time – or anything else – my midwife wants me to focus on “relaxing through labor”. Um… Okay? I don’t know about you, but the words “relax” and “labor” don’t really go together in my mind. Even so, I give it a go, especially after previously witnessing firsthand the negative impacts of stress on my labor process.
Now my job is to get the contractions to increase in intensity, since they’re not really causing me much pain, even if they’re coming frequently and consistently. I walk up and down stairs, pump, use a birthing ball and take some herbs to keep things moving along. It’s a busy morning.
Unfortunately, the day is creeping on and I’m still not feeling the pain from contractions, although the pressure keeps increasing and Josh keeps telling me “I can see that the baby is lower now”. No one else is particularly concerned about how long (relatively) my labor is taking, and my nurse and midwife keep encouraging me to eat and drink while I still feel like doing so.
After about 12 hours in labor (around 4 PM), though, I’m really starting to get discouraged. It doesn’t help that two or three other women had come into the birth center, had their babies and gone home in the time it’s taken me to dilate a couple of measly centimeters. (That’s one of the downsides of the smaller, intimate birth center setting.)
I keep thinking that by the third labor my body ought to know how to get into gear and get this kid out. But of course, that’s not how labor works.
In my frustration, I asked my midwife to break my water so I can get on with having a baby today – typically my labors do progress fairly quickly after my water is broken. Theoretically, I could have waited (and waited), but my energy is waning, and I need to make some noticeable progress soon to keep my spirits up enough to do the hard work of pushing later on.
As it turns out, breaking my water is pretty challenging, since the baby is so well engaged, but soon enough, the deed is done. I take some more herbs and get back to my stair walking, pumping and bouncing routine.
On the sidelines, Josh is starting to flag a bit and is doing that weird thing that men do when they’re hungry. I know how this story ends – grouchy, lethargic husband insisting that he’s fine – and know that’s going to be nothing but trouble when it comes time to push, so I asked him to go get some dinner so he can rally.
I have an ulterior motive in my seeming kind gesture – the laboring wife thinking of her husband’s appetite while she’s trying to bear a child. Haha… I’m not that awesome of a person. I’m secretly hoping that sending Josh away will cause the baby to speedily come into the world during the half hour that he’s gone.
While he’s away, my contractions get considerably more intense, but the baby does not fly into the world. I can tell I’m transitioning from early to active labor, since the contractions are getting much closer together and stronger, but where’s the pain? Perhaps my eating and drinking (I’d drunk well over a gallon of water and coconut water) early in the process is aiding in my comfort at this point? Or I’m having a magical unicorn child?
Now labor is really flying by (read: this part takes about four hours) and I’m getting very emotional and weepy. I also have a minor panic attack around nine to ten centimeters that I’m not actually going to have a baby. I’m freaking out because we don’t know the baby’s sex and I can’t feel any kinds of emotions toward the baby him- or herself. There’s just a lot of panic at this point, okay.
I’m still chilling in a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of shorts and am leaning the upper half of my body against a birth ball on the bed while having my maternal existential crisis, and my emotional state is clearly indicative to everyone around me that we’re most definitely having this baby soon.
I have my heart set on a water birth, so my midwife and nurse go into the other room to draw a bath for me, since it’s almost time to push – thankfully, no one says it quite in that way, because I may have waddled my giant self out of the building at that point. My emotional status is just so out of control by now, and I’m still not in any pain, even though I’m fully dilated.
When the tub is ready, I go into the room, which is surprisingly relaxing. The lights are off and there are some candles adding a bit of ambiance. Who knew ambiance during labor was a thing? (It’s a thing.)
As I get into the tub, I start to relax somewhat and my emotions come down from the creepy heights they’d gone to. The water is soothing and instantly eases the pressure from my contractions. I’m starting to have a bit of pain at this point, either from changing position or from the fact that pushing is literally around the corner, but the water helps to even out the pain too.
It doesn’t take long before the intense pushing contractions start, and I start to freak out again. This time, from the pain and changing sensations.
My midwife is instructing me to push when and how I feel like it. But I really didn’t know what the heck I’m feeling, except for a lot of pain.
With both of my previous labors, I had doctors and nurses coaching me through my pushing, which wasn’t the awesomest thing ever, but at least it gave me something to focus on.
You hear a lot of women talk about having the urge to push, and just knowing how to do it. I decide in this moment that I am not one of those women. I have no freaking clue what the urge to push is. All I know is that I to get a baby out at some point so I might as well try something.
So I start trying things. Different positions. Different phrases to shout – at one point I deliriously holler a version of the Hail Mary, which Josh finds deeply amusing.
Finally, I’m kneeling at the edge of the tub and find some traction to get some decent pushes in. I still don’t know what the heck I’m doing, but at least I feel a little more in control.
My nurse is gathering some warm blankets and other things I presume we’ll need for delivery, so I figure I’m probably getting pretty close to actually pushing the baby out. Sure enough, with my next two pushes, I stand up and the baby comes, crying before I’ve even finished giving birth.
As it turns out, I actually am going to have a baby that day. And it’s here! Wait, what? The baby is here?!
I reach down to grab the baby, who Josh caught (how cool is that?), and my hand randomly lands on an opportune place to realize that the baby is a BOY. I think I’m the first one to notice, and shout, “It’s a boy. Holy crap, IT’S A BOY!”
I’m shocked and stunned, but also incredibly happy. Now everyone is helping me back to bed so we can get cleaned up and get some vitals, but I’m still like “hey look, there’s a baby here” so I don’t really pay any attention to what’s going on.
Now I’d also been totally convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were having a girl. We had a girl name picked out and ready to go. We had a few contenders for boys’ names, not thinking that we’d actually use one. So for right now, our baby boy is just Baby Boy, which, according to Josh, I keep calling him. (I have no recollection of this.)
While we’re sitting in bed and looking at him, I realize the baby is most definitely a Kyriakos. I’m about to tell Josh when he leans over and askes, “Can we call him Kyriakos?” And so he is named.
After Kyriakos is born, there’s not much left to do – after all, we’d come to the birth center to have a baby. A baby who decided not to even come until after 10 PM at that! (Thanks, Buddy.)
Once Kyriakos and I do skin to skin, my midwife checks him over and tells me that he’s likely about 37 weeks gestational age, since he’s covered in a thick layer of vernix – my only baby to be born with any – and has a few very minor underdeveloped features. But I’m assured that 37 weeks is considered full-term and there’s no medical danger regarding his development – these features develop just as well out of the womb as in it.
(Now, considering that Kyriakos just turned three weeks old and weighs between 10 and 11 pounds now, I’m very glad that I didn’t have to carry him until his full 40 weeks. According to my due date, he was born at 39 weeks, 3 days – but due dates are often just someone’s best guess.)
Typically, they have you stay long enough to monitor mom’ and baby’s vitals for about an hour, let you get cleaned up and eat a decent meal.
Because it’s already so late and I’m feeling fine and very much not like I just gave birth to an eight pound watermelon, my midwife and nurse allow us to leave only three hours after Kyriakos is born. Yes, we are heading home to our own deliciously comfortable bed in the wee hours of what is now the next day. And it’s a good feeling.
All in all, my third labor ended up being the longest, clocking in at a little over 19 hours from start to finish. Kyriakos was also my largest baby, weighing in at 8 pounds on the dot.
Now back to the newborn snuggles and chaos of life with three kids!