It started when I woke up that morning, about 7:15: contractions. I felt one, then another, then another, then turned over so I could see the clock and tell that they were pretty regularly around four minutes apart, though pretty short and not very painful. I’d been fooled the day before by an hour of that same thing, so didn’t let myself get too excited, but lay there for about a half hour before getting up and going downstairs.
It was a Saturday. Mom and A and Ingrid were up already, playing on the floor in the living room and talking about going out for breakfast. I chatted with them for a while before mentioning, well, I’ve been having a few contractions. There was some excited twittering about whether we should still go for breakfast, and the two of them got all jumpy when they saw me rock back and forth through a few contractions. Mom said, “Let’s make breakfast here,” and she whipped around the kitchen making waffles and sausages while I played with Ingrid a little and kept paying attention. I wasn’t at all sure they were regular enough to be the real thing, but we were all kind of jittery anyway. I started the kettle to make myself a cup of tea. A asked, “Are you making raspberry leaf tea?” I said, “No way—this is black tea. I don’t want to have a caffeine withdrawal headache in labor!” I think that gave him confirmation that I thought this was probably the real thing.
But at times there seemed to be long gaps between contractions, and I was worried that things would fizzle out. I spent a lot of time trying to remember what it had been like last time: How far apart were the contractions? Were there gaps like this? After breakfast, when things seemed to be keeping up, I called our doula, R, to let her know something might be going on, and A called his mom to ask her to come down to take care of Ingrid (she lives about an hour away). He brought the phone out on the front porch to call her, and I remember calling to him, “Tell her that it might be a false alarm, but to come anyway!”
I went about my usual morning: Playing with Ingrid. Organizing a few things, packing a few things in my hospital bag. Sending a few e-mails, none of them acknowledging that something big might be going on. I called my friend E, whom I’d been wanting to talk to for days, and left her a message saying to call back to chat, that in the afternoon I’d either be at the hospital giving birth or at home discouraged by the lack of progress.
It was a special day, weather-wise. For weeks—almost all of July—it had been hot and humid, so hot we could barely go outside and I certainly couldn’t do much of the brisk walking I'd wanted to do to get labor going. But that day—eight days past my due date— it was cool, cool, cool, and by mid-morning it would be raining. It felt like a huge relief.
After A's mom arrived, A and I went out for a walk. I carried an umbrella. It was so pleasant out. Just a light rain, and flowers blooming and the sound of the rain and breeze in the leaves. I remember trying to breathe that all in, knowing the last half of the birth would be in the hospital, far away from those sensations. A timed the contractions, and we talked about easy, ordinary things, about Ingrid, about how glad we were it was cool and rainy. The contractions were strong enough to make me shift my walking rhythm just a little but not really slow me down. Moving seemed to make them shorter and closer together, by about half. I really wanted to keep aware of what was going on with my body rather than trying to block it all out, and I kept thinking of my uterus as a giant muscle, trying to think about how the feeling of a contraction was similar to, say, a bicep or tricep doing its work.
We stopped at the neighborhood coffee shop. We sat outside. In my shorts and tank top, I was, for the first time in weeks, almost too cold. Sitting still in the chair, the contractions got longer, but farther apart and a little weaker.
Before we headed home we wandered through a new gift shop next door to the coffee shop. It felt so strange to be in labor in that public space—like I should tell people about it. I contemplated buying a souvenir (!) but decided things were starting to move along enough that we should head home.
Walking home, the contractions were definitely stronger than they had been on the way out ... they slowed down my walking quite a bit and even made me catch my breath.
At home I settled into sitting on the living room floor next to the birth ball, sometimes just rocking through contractions and sometimes leaning my forehead against the ball to relax through them. It was coming up on Ingrid’s nap time, and I really wanted to be able to put her down for her nap “one last time” (despite disbelieving looks from everyone else in the house). When it was time I took her upstairs and we went through our whole usual routine: tooth brushing, reading stories, nursing, hugs and kisses. I felt incredibly sentimental about it: our last time doing this, just us. At the same time, the contractions were getting harder and harder. They did slow down while I was upstairs with her (mind over matter?), but as we were looking at a book together I had a pretty hard one and it took some work to stay quiet and relaxed through it. It was a deep, hard pain at that point. An ache.
I ate some noodles for lunch and then went back to having contractions on the floor with the birth ball. We called R a number of times through this, trying to figure out, first, was this really labor, and then, when should I go to the hospital. I’d tested positive for Strep B, so the doctor wanted me there four hours before the baby was born to get IV antibiotics. I didn’t want to end up being there too long and getting messed with. And I’d found out the doctor on call was not the one I trusted the most (I’d heard she could be a little jumpy with the medical interventions). Every time I talked to R, we decided to check in again in another 20 minutes or so. Then about an hour would go by before we remembered to call her again. The contractions were pretty hard—I couldn’t talk through them, and, even between contractions, wasn’t doing much other than relax and wait for the next one—but they weren’t yet a full minute long and weren’t a consistent distance apart, so I was kind of worried I wasn’t very far along.
My friend E ended up calling back as things were heating up. I wanted so much to be able to talk to her, and we chatted between contractions and I had to just be silent through them and finally hung up sort of abruptly. She said that I should send some of the contractions her way later, so she could take one or two for me if I needed a break.
Ingrid took a really short nap—only an hour. She seemed so cool with what was going on at the time, but looking back I can see she must have sensed the excitement and tension and couldn’t sleep that well. (And also, come on, Grandma and her dog were there, so who would want to nap?)
I think that after she woke up I spent about another hour in the living room. A's mom did an awesome job of keeping Ingrid busy and occupied. And clearly Ingrid noticed something was going on with Mama, but she didn’t seem worried. She’d come and talk to me between contractions, and then when another one came I’d say, “Mama needs to rest a little bit right now,” as I closed my eyes and leaned onto the birth ball, and Ingrid would go off with Grandma again. I’d been worried that having her in the house would be stressful or irritating, but it was completely the opposite. Hearing her voice in the other room as I was breathing through a contraction was really, really soothing, like its usual sweetness was magnified.
I called R again, and she seemed to think (probably because I was quite lucid and normal between contractions) that I still wasn’t very far along. She suggested I go for another walk to try to get things going. I said to her, “I don’t think I can go for a walk,” and Mom and A, listening to the conversation from the couch across the room, both shook their heads vigorously. “Everyone is saying no,” I relayed. Mom and A were starting to get antsy about getting me to the hospital, but I wanted to wait another 20 minutes and re-evaluate then.
Very soon after that phone call, the contractions got quite a bit harder. I felt uncomfortable, felt I needed to make more noise (I’d been keeping pretty much silent, for Ingrid’s sake), needed to pee, felt sort of nauseated. “Come upstairs with me,” I said to A just as a contraction ended, then I bolted up the stairs. I peed, then had a contraction that knocked my socks off, announced, “I’m going to throw up,” and threw up. A lot.
We called the doctor’s office to tell them we were on our way. I kept vomiting and trying to recover from the vomiting, and finally felt good enough to get myself down the stairs, giving instructions about what to put in the car, etc. all the way.
I still get all teary thinking of saying goodbye to Ingrid—who seemed preoccupied with Grandma and, looking back, was probably so nervous about what was going on that she was sort of ignoring it—I gave her a big hug, my big, grown up girl, and said in her ear, “Next time I see you you’ll be a big sister.”
In the car I reclined in the front seat, lying almost on my side. It felt good to lie down, like I could relax in a way I hadn’t been able to at home—and I was tired and damn uncomfortable. I’d described the contractions, a bit earlier, as “rude,” and they began to be more so.
I had a bunch of contractions as we walked through the hospital, mostly falling to my hands and knees to get through them. Someone I couldn’t see stopped and said, “Do you guys need some help?” Without looking up, I said, “No, we’re fine.” And we were. I was pretty lucid, thinking my way through contractions, and in between feeling pretty normal.
In the triage area they checked all manner of things and finally my cervix. With her hand inside me, the nurse said, “How do you like the number....six?” Six centimeters! I was thrilled. I hadn’t thought there was any way I’d be that far along yet, since things hadn’t gotten truly horrible. I remembered Ingrid’s birth, when I was admitted at six centimeters and was terrified that that was all the farther I was; I already felt like a wild animal at that point. But not this time. I put on a gown over my tank top and wrapped a drape around my bottom half to walk to the room where Iris would be born.
In the room I lay on the bed, on my side. I needed to have an IV, to get the antibiotics, and they put that in. It made me cold all over and made my arm ache. A remembered what it had felt like to have an IV as a kid and he brought me a warm washcloth to put on it. Which felt great, but the contractions were pretty harsh by then, and A had started pressing on my lower back (and R on my hip) through every single contraction, and soon I needed that much more than any relief for my arm. At one point A needed a break from doing the back pressure, and Mom did it instead. I remember saying “Push hard,” before realizing she was probably already pushing as hard as she could. I really needed super strong pressure, and apparently A was doing it in some pretty wacky positions because of the way the room was arranged—it ended up giving him a stiff neck for several days afterwards.
I had some nasty heartburn during that time, too, and I remember almost asking for some Tums before realizing it may look a little silly, me making a big deal about completely unmedicated childbirth and then asking for Tums to deal with a little heartburn. It’s funny how much it bugged me, though ... just that tiny bit of additional discomfort seemed like too much.
I lay on my side for a long time, and began to really concentrate on my breath. I remember that if I could get through eight deep breaths, then I could get to the point where the contraction was starting to ease off. I’d breathe and count and in between I was imagining floating up on a wave in the ocean, or picturing the muscle of my uterus working to open me up, picturing the baby I’d soon be holding.
The nurse was in and out of the room; the doctor came in to check on me, I think. This went on for a while and then R suggested I get up on my hands and knees and lean on the birth ball for a while. I did, and then needed to get up to pee. She suggested I hang out on the toilet for a while. I thought I’d try, but when I was standing up I realized there was no way I could get through a contraction without someone pressing on my back. So after I peed I scooted back to the bed to do another one on my hands and knees, and halfway through that contraction I knew I was about to puke. Which I announced to everyone, and a basin appeared in front of me, which I threw up into copiously.
In the middle of that the nurse came in to put the monitors back on me. After I mostly recovered from the vomiting, I lay back down again. I was still so aware in between contractions, I didn’t think I could be going through transition yet. The nurse started getting the supplies ready for the actual delivery—things for the baby, sutures, things to cut the cord with—and I joked, “Do you actually think I am going to have a baby?” It seemed very far off, but in reality it would only be a little longer before Iris was with us.
They ran the monitors for a while. R looked at the printout and said, “It looks like the baby is doing better.” It was news to me that she had been looking not so good (less reactive—not something to worry about, necessarily, but glad I didn’t know it while it was going on). The doctor came in and asked if I wanted her to check my cervix again, and I said no, I’d rather keep on going for a while longer.
She left the room, and almost immediately after that—maybe the next contraction—I started to feel like pushing—just kind of grunty at the top of the contraction. The next contraction after that I really felt like pushing, and said to R afterwards, “I really felt like pushing that time.” R was like, “Yeah, I could tell.” It seemed like it was immediately after that the nurse appeared again and checked me. As soon as she put her hand in, my water broke. It wasn’t during a contraction, so it felt very gentle—just a muffled pop, and then fluid running out of me. I said, “Oh! There’s something...” She pronounced me to be completely dilated, but the baby was still so high she needed to keep her hand inside me through a contraction to make sure the cord didn’t prolapse. She asked if it was feeling too awful for her to be doing that, and, weirdly, it wasn’t at all. It didn’t hurt, and it was actually kind of a fascinating sensation—to have my body open to the world that way. I pushed through a contraction with her hand inside me until the baby moved down far enough, and then the doctor reappeared.
Pushing was harder than I remembered. At first it was a relief: After the first contraction I pushed through, I said, “I LOVE pushing!” and everyone laughed. But as the baby moved down, it got excruciating. It felt like hell and I couldn’t wait to be done. Excruciating. The sensation of pressure, of not knowing exactly what to do with it, of needing to work, of being stretched out so fast. My body felt completely open—my cervix, but also my throat, enabling me to make sounds I have never made before.
R got right next to my face and kept talking me through it in my ear: "Just push right through whatever you’re feeling. Just keep pushing, and you can be done." I whispered to myself, finally pretty much incoherent: “You can do it. You can do it.” “Strong. Strong. Strong.”
They said I pushed for only 11 minutes. It felt like at least an hour. 11 minutes: that would be, like seven pushes or something, maybe fewer. Three while the nurse’s hand was still inside me. A handful more to move the baby down. Then one that brought her to crowning and me to total all out bellowing pain. I yelled "DO SOMETHING!" When the contraction ended I couldn’t believe I needed to wait for the next one to get that baby’s head out. To wait with her lodged there. R helped me reach down to feel the head, and I was glad to do it but was also so panicked at the level of pain that I couldn't really feel anything with my hand—I just swiped around down there, unable to tell what was me and what was baby.
The next contraction I knew I had to get her out and pushed with all my might. I think I pushed beyond the end of the contraction, not wanting to have to wait for another with her inside me. I did it. Her head was out.
A and Mom scurried to the end of the bed to see the baby’s face. The next contraction I pushed her body out and could feel her arms and legs wriggling as she emerged, like she was swimming out of me. I could sort of see or sense the baby lying perpendicular to how she’d come out as A cut the cord. He said, “Caro, we have another daughter!” and the doctor lifted her up and lay her next to me, only somehow she ended up almost throwing her, and she landed next to me in the curve of my body like a big fish splashing up onto deck, still all wet, sort of bloody, and crying. I lay on my side next to her for a long time, saying, baby, baby, hello sweetie, and she was full of healthy strong cry.
Her face looked so very unique; I think we’d been expecting an Ingrid replica, and here she was, her own perfect self: pointy chin, cheekbones, full lower lip. Yelling her head off. Sucking on her hand and making enormous slurping sounds.
A and I took turns holding her for a long time. She wanted to cry for about fifteen minutes after she was born, and our holding her didn't seem to matter; it was like she just needed to cry to get over all that smooshing and squeezing. But then she calmed down in my arms, looked around, blinking. And then I tried nursing her and she latched on as though she'd done it a million times before.
When I think of our time in the hospital with her, I think of Iris's soft, soft head. How it felt to kiss her scalp.
She was born at 5:11 p.m., about 10 hours after labor started (just a couple of hours shorter than my first labor, if you're keeping track), and two hours after our arrival at the hospital. Some parts of her birth were amazingly similar to Ingrid's: the puking at key moments, the quick dilation from six centimeters to ten. It felt very different, though. The earlier contractions were harsher, hurt more than I remembered, and pushing, as I mentioned, was far more terrible than the first time around, probably because Iris descended so quickly. But transition was somehow a breeze; I never reached a point where I felt crazed between contractions.