When I was pregnant with Eleanor, I couldn’t read enough birth stories. I especially loved the stories in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I loved how the women in that book relied on and trusted their bodies to birth their babies. I always felt so empowered after reading their stories. I read blogs about natural birth, I listened to Hypnobirthing CDs, and I prayed every night that I would be able to manage the pain and intensity of labor.
But, like most second-time moms, this time around I was lucky if I got even a page into a birth story before falling asleep at the end of the day. It made me feel under-prepared and apprehensive about labor not reading as much, not taking all the childbirth classes, or going to prenatal yoga three times a week. I wondered if I could really do this again. My lack of confidence surprised me. I guess I thought I should have confidence in spades having done it before, but I didn’t. I feared this labor being completely different and not knowing how to do this one, whatever it would be. Of course, everyone would tell me I was more prepared and capable than I thought; having gone through it once I had everything I needed to birth this child. I hung onto that as much as I could and hoped I could remember it when I was in the throws of labor again.
Saturday, July 11th, I went to bed noticing some mild cramping but didn’t bat an eye as it was nearly a week before my due date and thought I’d surely see my due date come and go. I remember waking a few times in the night from the cramping but easily drifted back to sleep. The next day I had the same mild menstrual-like cramping throughout the day off and on but nothing noteworthy in my mind. I went to my dear friend’s son’s birthday party while Daniel finished painting a doorway we had been meaning to get to for forever.
That evening I got the bloody-show but honestly didn’t think twice about it not only because I hadn’t reached my due date but because of how my labor with Eleanor went. I was in labor for days after I got the bloody show with her so it didn’t mean too much to me. But that night when I went to bed and the cramping got more contraction-like and woke me every time they came. Again, I did my best to ignore them and thought maybe I’d have the baby this week sometime.
Monday, July 13th, I continued having contractions but they were off and on, and would back off when I’d change position. I told Daniel to go ahead and go to work and I kept all my plans that day. I took Eleanor to her play group that morning, and went to hang out with my friend and her baby after I dropped her off. For the most part, I was able to hold conversation and talk through the contractions. I’m not sure my friend would have even known I was having contractions if I hadn’t told her. Mid-hang out with my friend I went to the bathroom and saw more bloody show. Again, I thought—at best—I might have a baby this week sometime…
We had planned on going out for pizza at The Firehouse down the street that evening and I insisted we keep those plans. I wanted to go out just the three of us for what I knew might be the last time for awhile. We got to the restaurant at about 5:00 that evening and as dinner progressed the contractions were becoming more regular and difficult to sit through. I would have a contraction every time the waiter came to our table, of course. I was annoyed and tears started coming to my eyes. The contractions were getting painful. All I could think was if I could just get home and sit on that birth ball the contractions would subside again and I could maybe rest. I told Daniel I couldn’t make it through dinner and decided to start walking home. Meanwhile, Daniel got a to-go box for the food and came home with Eleanor shortly after.
At home I sat on the ball but the contractions were not letting up like I thought they would. I thought maybe this was the start of one of those long contraction-filled nights, like I had so many of with Eleanor, and they’d back off in the morning.
Soon I realized I didn’t want to be in the pain alone anymore. I needed Daniel with me. He was frantically trying to get Eleanor to bed and emailing his coworkers to let them know this was probably his last day of work before he took his paternity leave. I sat on the birth ball, moaning, begging Daniel to squeeze my hips harder. I heard Eleanor upstairs, mimicking my sounds. I remember thinking how sweet that was, but also feeling anxiety about keeping her awake. Daniel called his parents to come get Eleanor for the night or, in my mind, probably 3 nights.
Daniel’s parents got to the house at about 8:00pm. Eleanor came in to see me before she left. I remember her putting her hand on me and not wanting to leave me. I was moaning and crying and probably should’ve gotten a clue that I would be having this baby sooner than later when I couldn’t hold it together in front of my kid. But I just couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t let myself believe it. I remember wanting it to stop and if I could just fall asleep maybe the contractions would subside. But there was no way around it. Contractions are like nothing I’ve ever felt, and even now, having experienced them twice, I can’t describe them accurately.
Daniel decided to call Cindy, our doula, because of how I sounded. I remember thinking why can’t I get it together? Did I sound like this this early on with Eleanor? Cindy heard my yells over the phone and said she was coming over. She was with me through two contractions and said she thought we should call the midwives. I remember looking at her in utter disbelief…I think I said, “Really? But it’s so early…” She asked me if I was feeling any pressure. Yes, I had been feeling that but just thought “what an inconvenient time to have to poop.” Second-time moms are apparently exquisite at denial. Especially mamas who had prodromal, long labors with her first baby, like I did. The midwives got there at 9:20pm and June was born at 10:03pm. Like I said—exquisite at denial.
The next 40 minutes were long and short and bizarre, and I’m probably not the person to tell the accurate version. I remember it was dark: how I like it to be when I’m in labor apparently (I wanted it as dark as possible with Eleanor too). I remembered that one of my midwives was away for a long weekend and feeling sad she probably wouldn’t make it to the birth.
The student midwife on my team arrived first, heard my crazing animal-like sounds, and asked someone where the baby blankets and hats were. I remember being confused, wondering why she was worried about getting those things together right then. I don’t think I would actually let myself believe I was having this baby until I was pushing.
Stephanie, the midwife I had with Eleanor, arrived soon after that. It was a relief to see her and, at some point, I remember grabbing her hand and telling her it had to be early still, it just had to be. She responded in her lovely midwife way, “Let it be whatever it needs to be.” Meanwhile, Daniel remained by my side squeezing my hips through the contractions, saying beautiful things to me. In the incredible pain, I felt so much love for him for doing this with me again.
The contractions were relentless and so were my yells and moans. Stephanie asked if I felt like I had to push, and I remember not feeling sure. She suggested changing position and getting off the birth ball. She said having something beneath me, holding me up, might be keeping that need to push at bay. I agreed, even though I was afraid of giving into the pain and pressure, and got on my knees, holding on to her and Cindy at the edge of the couch. Stephanie checked me at some point and I told her I didn’t want to know (still believing, crazily enough, she would surely say I was only 3 cm or something awful like that). She had Laura, the substitute midwife standing in for our lead, check me as well. I remember her saying, “Your baby has a lot of hair.” I was completely shocked. I was 9 cm. I think I even said, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I’m 9 cm.”
I wondered if it was ok that I was pushing when I wasn’t fully dilated and hearing Laura say, “Your baby doesn’t care that you’re 9 cm, push if you feel like you need to.” So I did, and it was excruciating.
It was so different from my experience with Eleanor. The pushing was much more painful this time, perhaps because June was coming even though I wasn’t complete. Stephanie asked if I would like her to hold that lip of cervix back while I pushed. I didn’t want her to because I knew it would hurt, but I agreed because I knew it would make it go faster. I just wanted it to be over.
Before this point, my water had not broken. As I pushed I almost forgot that fact, until I heard a pop and felt the gush. I remember trying to channel my screams and yells and energy downward, but I felt so tense up in my shoulders and felt so afraid to let go. So much more afraid than I did when I was pushing Eleanor out. I didn’t like the fear I felt. I wanted so badly to let that go, but couldn’t and felt disappointed in myself: disappointed that I couldn’t quite get on top of all the contractions and pushing. I was sure this labor might kill me. But I remember Laura saying, “It’s just for now. Just for now,” which was such a helpful, buoying thing to hear. Every time I thought I couldn’t do it, someone was there to tell me I could.
Stephanie made the call that she thought it was going to be a boy and that all that hair would be brown. Everyone thought it was going to be a boy throughout my pregnancy so we thought it would be too, even though I secretly hoped it was a girl since I knew Eleanor wanted a sister so badly. I pushed and pushed and even though it was so fast it did not feel fast enough. And then there she was, my June. Stephanie caught her, I sat back on the ground from my squat and relaxed, looked at her beautiful, crying face, and then looked up at Daniel’s crying face. I could not believe I had done it again and I felt so grateful. We checked for the gender and literally couldn’t believe what we saw. Both Daniel and I thought the same thing when we looked, “Well that’s a weird looking penis.” We were both so convinced with everyone else that it was a boy, and after the insanity that is birth you aren’t really seeing straight. But I looked again, and lo and behold, June surprised us all and made one big sister very, very happy.
I felt each moment and now, writing this, the sensations feel impossible again. They feel mysterious and unexplainable. June Rose was born at 10:03pm, on Monday, July 13th, three days before her due date. Named after her sister Eleanor Rose and after the city they were both made and born. She was and is so beautiful. I am in awe of what my body did, and I feel so much gratitude for being able to have another home birth, and to have another healthy baby girl. I know I was blessed and I will never forget that. It was what I had feared—the vastly different labor I didn’t think I could get through. But I did, and I couldn’t be more humbled and grateful.