10.5 pounds of awesome. 7 days of labor. 4 births that came before. 2 midwives. 1 man in swim trunks. Our accidental UC was pretty epic. And pretty ordinary. An easy birth after a long, uncomplicated labor.
Xavier made me a “grand multipara.” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to add a fifth baby to our chaos, but he made the decision for me. I carried so many mixed emotions through that pregnancy — I stepped down from the BCIA, the organization I founded while I was pregnant with baby number 4. I was exhausted. By the end of the pregnancy, I used a stool as a cane when my hip stopped working. I had no idea how I’d juggle Wrapsody with two small children and three big ones. I had no idea how I’d be able to give enough of myself to five babies. And by the end of my fifth pregnancy, I felt so done. I just wanted the transition to be over — to transition from the months of worrying and struggling with quite ordinary pregnancy effects to the complex life of mothering 5.
Preparing for birth
Our birth tub, a small inflatable pool borrowed from a friend, was set up in the living room. Beside it was a smaller pool for my 23 month old to play in. I had prepped my youngest for the birth, making “baby” noises with her in the weeks approaching the birth. She and I talked about what to expect; that hurting and a little blood were ok.
My friends organized a truly empowering blessingway for me, knowing the many mixed emotions I was struggling with. They gifted me an incredible mosaic box and filled it with symbolism and joy. They gifted me birthing flags with encouraging messages. They gifted me a birth candle, and each of them took one home to burn in solidarity when the time came for me to bring my boy into the world. Essentially, they gifted me a birth altar — it’s the first time I’ve created one, and it was beautiful.
As with all my previous pregnancies, contractions started and stopped, letting my body work a bit at a time. After particularly difficult bouts of contractions, I’d ask my husband to check my cervix. Finally, I was about 3 cm dilated — and I was thrilled. With all my previous babies, they’d come within 24 hours of that milestone. I lit my birth candles.
The first night of a week-long labor
“I’m going to have this baby tonight,” I told my husband. One of my best friends had given birth for the fifth time two years previously, and she had warned us that fifth births are notoriously slow. He cautioned me to relax.
“No,” I told him. “I’m going to have this baby tonight.” I put on music and did some belly dancing, circling and circling my hips in the way that had helped me with baby 4. As the contractions became a bit more intense, I sat rocking on my birth ball, nursing my almost-2-yo at bedtime, thinking of what a gift the nipple stimulation was for labor. She nursed long, and I luxuriated in it, thinking that it would be the last time I’d have only one nursling for quite some time.
I ate; I danced; I moved; I rocked. And things progressed. The contractions got stronger and stronger. I climbed into the birth tub and called the midwives. They came. They waited. And the contractions stopped. Eventually, one went home to her two year old. The other stayed nearby, but she left to see other clients and do some other things (they lived about 90 minutes from me).
The beautiful midwives of Sacopee Valley
For days, I labored like this. Sometimes 5 hours at a time, sometimes 14 hours. My bag of waters bulged but wouldn’t break. I grew anxious and more tired. I worried.
I had asked the Sacopee Valley Midwives to attend our birth, as they had with Alice. My midwives were wonderful — especially Brenda, who stayed nearby and offered me encouragement, reminded me to eat, and walked me through the anxiety I felt. She laid out my options — my baby was in no distress; I was healthy; things were very normal. However, she reminded me, I could also go into the hospital to be induced or to have them break my water. (Baby’s head wasn’t engaged, so doing this at home would risk prolapse.)
That week comes back to me only in flashes. An ultrasound because I was starting to think baby’s cord might be holding him up and I was panicking. Trying to split my vermicompost bin and having to give up because labor came again. My midwife kindly checking my cervix when I asked, even though we both knew it didn’t really mean anything at all. My husband chasing me with towels because after a while, my bladder voided unpredictably with contractions. Stopping on the way home from the Memorial Day Parade when contractions made it impossible to walk for a moment.
My favorite labor partner
However, the most beautiful thing about my labor is the way my 23 month old labored with me. In bed, when I moaned and grunted, she moaned and grunted with me. When I rocked on the birth ball, she got her wee ball and rocked beside me. She kissed and patted my belly and offered me encouraging words. Alice (whose birth story is here) was an incredibly birth partner. She kept me grounded when things were difficult.
Baby was happy. He was moving. His heartbeat was fantastic. He just wouldn’t engage — I had an enormous gap between my diastasis recti — I joked that you could have driven a truck through it — which didn’t offer my boy the support he may have needed. I did breaststroke. I walked. I listened to my midwife’s advice to bind my belly with a traditional rebozo I’d been given during my fourth pregnancy — then moved on to binding with a Wrapsody wrap in a very intuitive cross carry variation. In fact, I panicked a little one night realizing that I hadn’t taken a video, and asked my husband to help me make an instructional video. This was taken 5 hours before the birth, and I had no idea how much longer I’d be waiting.
That night, we rested on an air bed. I don’t remember why the air bed, but we did. The contractions suddenly intensified — one huge, brutal uterine hug pressed in on my baby, and I moaned and writhed and then yelped exuberantly when I felt the telltale “POP” of the bag of waters. I woke my husband and asked him to check for meconium (there was none) and call the midwives. I asked him to fill the birth tub between contractions. I worried that there would be no time to prepare for a water birth as the contractions become more and more intense, grateful that my children were all asleep.
The tub filled fast, and I gratefully immersed myself in the warm water, contractions getting stronger and stronger. Time ran together, as it always does in the time of birth.
This was my husband’s second baby, my fifth. I’d had a hospital birth, 2 planned freebirths, and a midwife-assisted birth. During my previous labor, my husband had been the very picture of a parody of a husband during labor — he kept asking me for advice on dinner (at one point I yelled at him, “I’m pushing out a BABY! You’re 34 years old — you can handle dinner. It’s PIZZA! Or you can wait a few minutes until I’m done pushing!”) and when our little girl was born, he stood as far away as possible while remaining in the room. When I offered her to him so I could climb out of the birth pool, his expression of horror was, frankly, hilarious.
He was determined to be a better birth partner this time. He stayed nearby, offering encouraging words as things became more intense. Finally, a HUGE contraction, and — my water broke! Again! That explained how CLEAN the water had been — only the outer bag of waters had broken, and all the vernix was still inside the second bag, with the baby. (Only my chorion had broken the first time; pretty interesting!)
Just after that HUGE contraction, as the warm fluid mixed with the warm water, I felt my baby begin to descend. OK, I thought. Another unassisted birth. “Baby’s coming,” I told my husband.
I AM SO GRATEFUL I WAS LOOKING AT HIM. He did a little jump backward, landing in that semi-squat position that an outfielder might have when he sees a ball coming his way. He looked to the door, closed against the night, waiting for our midwife. He looked to his left and lifted his hands, about level with his nipples, palms out, as wide as his feet. He looked left and right again, then took the three steps toward the tub. At first, I was horrified to realize he was getting into the birth tub — I’m strangely private about my births, and I felt a little defensive. Then suddenly I realized HE WAS WEARING HIS SWIM TRUNKS and I started to laugh. My husband was a ROCK STAR. He was so prepared.
I think he asked me what he should do — I’m not really sure — and I just did what I do, moving inward, riding the wave. A contraction came, moving my boy downward, slowly, and I roared (well, I felt like I roared. My husband called it a moan.). Baby came down, down, down, and down, in one long, slow, endless contraction, and I gulped for breath because I’d used up all my air in the moan and yet the contraction was still coming. In one long, slow swoop, with barely any tearing, my baby’s head was born.
He paused, then, and I crouched in the water and reached down to feel his hair. The pool was more shallow than birth tubs I’d used previously, and I could feel his head bouyant, trying to float up to the surface of the water. I leaned back and tried to push again without a contraction, but he was taking a moment to rest, just as my third child had. His head pulling up against my vulva was uncomfortable, and I reached down to apply some counterpressure … and it felt somehow wrong to be moving my half-born baby’s head, so I stood up out of the water. “Make sure I don’t dunk him, ” told Jonas, and I leaned forward against the wall of the tub waiting for the next wave, which came pretty immediately.
I leaned into the contraction and the tub wall gave under my weight, sending a rush of water into my living room. I started to lean back into my legs but my husband reminded me not to squat. So I stood on my toes, leaning forward, my legs shaking as my baby’s shoulders came. The door opened and Brenda came in — I was facing the door, which was only about 7 feet from the birth tub. She quickly moved around the tub as my baby’s legs and feet were being born into Jonas’s arms, and I thought, “I wish I had a picture of that!” The feeling of connection, of being perfectly supported, of being absolutely together in the moment was the closest I’ve ever felt to my husband. I lifted my leg over the cord and gathered my boy, triumphant, and marveled at him with Jonas. My boy grabbed my finger as I ran my hands over him, grasping it tight. No newly born baby has held my hand with such insistence in those first moments after birth; it was really, really special.
Xavi was a fat, hungry boy, incredibly hairy, weighing in at 10.5 pounds. We knew immediately that our chosen names — we’d narrowed them down to Bastion or Quinn — didn’t suit him, so he had no name until evening. It was a Thursday morning, and just before dawn, the kids came trickling in. I offered them the option of staying home from school, but none of them took it. The snuggled their new brother and then got ready to go, and honestly, after a week of very hard work, the only recollection I have of those hours are from photographs.
First time up
Also: Because I know you’re curious, it was a few days before Xavier James went up in a wrap, and there was nothing momentous or ritualistic about it. I was playing cribbage with my husband, and I had a WrapDuO on the floor from where I had bound my belly during labor, so Jonas grabbed it and wrapped him up in that. Although, just now, I realized it is the same wrap I used during my maternity shoot, which is pretty fantastic! But in a babywearing family, those moments become nonchalant. Like the birth. My baby was in me. Then he was in my arms. The kids said goodnight to a pregnant mom and woke to a postpartum mom. They didn’t find it remarkable. Instead of birthing being a moment separate from our lives, it was just another moment in our lives, and I love that about homebirth.
So. Finally, on Xavier’s third birthday, I’ve written his birth story. The summer was eclipsed by an endless run of mastitis, temporarily debilitating parvovirus, lip and tongue tie problems that made weight gain problematic, and four children, including Xavier, with pertussis (he spent three nights in the hospital). In the long run, each of those issues was minor, but taken together, it certainly meant that writing a birth story was not a priority. I’m certain I’ve mixed up some details, as time is not kind to memories, but thank you for letting me set it down in writing and share it with you finally.
PS. We did not name him Quinn Gomer, which would have meant “fifth and final” — but he is indeed my last baby, and his babyhood, at three, is officially over. It is the first time I have had a 3yo who is not nursing. He is hardly ever worn. So keep sharing your stories and your babies with me, please. I love them; I love the memories you share with me; I love the memories your moments jog; I love the joy of sweet wee babies.
Summary of links:
- Giving Birth to the BCIA
- Sacopee Valley Midwives
- Cohain J. False And True ROM. WebmedCentral OBSTETRICS AND GYNAECOLOGY 2010;1(12):WMC001355
- Welcoming Alice: Hiring a Midwife after Two Unassisted Births
- Wrapsody WrapDuO: Water, sport, and every day
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