We found out we were expecting our sixth child while on family vacation in San Diego. Almost two weeks prior, we’d had a small party for St. Patrick’s day where I, slightly tipsy, announced to my friends that we were finally OK with being finished having children. Our two year old twin girls had been weaned for a few weeks by then, had started using the potty with regularity and I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to caring for small children. Finalizing our baby having had always been a hard topic for me to feel at peace with, even after having twins, but suddenly it felt right, even exciting, that we would be moving on.
I’m fairly positive we conceived early that next morning.
Having an inkling that we may be pregnant, I brought some tests with us on our vacation and took one in the hotel bathroom at 9 days past that lucky rendezvous. It was negative, and we carried on with our family time. Two mornings after, last test safely nestled in my suitcase, I woke feeling…different. I had a small flutter in my tummy and gagged on my toothbrush. I decide to take the last test and wish there was a camera on my face as I watched that second pink line form nearly at once. While part of me already knew, the shock of it actually being real was pretty extreme and I immediately started wondering how in the world I’d be able to tell my husband much less the rest of our family and friends.
As far as telling hubs, he walked in from the adjoining room just a few minutes later while I was trying to gather all of our belongings for the drive home. After a few minutes of strained silence, he simply blurted out ‘Are you pregnant’?! I just looked at him and nodded and the silent freakout commenced for pretty much the entire drive home and into the following weeks.
We held off on telling anyone publicly, and even most of our family members until we were out of the early weeks just in case of miscarriage, and mostly because we needed to figure out the best way to deliver the news considering many strong opinions on our family size. I needed to wait until I no longer felt like I should make an excuse, and until I could share joy with the news. I did tell our teen early on and she reacted quitestrongly in a very loud way right in the middle of our friend’s Easter supper. It was highly embarrassing then, but is a funny story now.
We’d been so blessed this far with healthy and mostly happy children, and had 4 successful home births after cesarean (my first being born by emergency c section 17 years before), the most recent two being breech twins, a feat no less than amazing considering the restrictions placed on midwives and women’s bodies when it comes to the birth of multiples. I began feeling extreme ambivalence about the current pregnancy that often times escalated to full anxiety and concern that surely something must be or go wrong considering our string of ‘luck’ so far. I said many times throughout the entire pregnancy that I’d struggled with being able to foresee an outcome that included a real live baby. We opted for early DNA testing to rule out chromosomal abnormalities by doing a blood test that was recently made available and discovered all to be well. The test could also tell baby’s sex, but we’d decided to keep that a mystery until birth, despite my strong feelings that we were expecting our second boy.
As weeks passed, with all tests coming back normal, I began to feel more connected and secure with the pregnancy, enjoying the baby’s kicks and my changing shape. I really do enjoy pregnancy so much, this one was no different. As we shared the news, we really only encountered joy and congratulations, it seemed so silly that we were nervous to tell anyone.
Healthwise, I continued to stay active and fit and my eating habits were better than ever. The older children, teen excluded, were so excited and full of questions about when their new sibling would arrive. My due date was December 10, so when they’d eagerly and impatiently ask when the baby would come, I would just answer “Christmas” to give them scope of just how far in the future we’d be welcoming him or her. The second trimester was nearly over and we finally succumbed to our curiosity regarding the baby’s sex, I just needed to get rid of the anxiety of baby NOT being male. In a series of silly and hilarious text messages between the midwife and myself, we learned that my instinct was indeed correct and we’d be completing our family with another baby boy! At a later ultrasound to confirm placental placement and to rule out accreta, the Perinatologist made a comment about baby’s size being on the bigger side. He estimated that baby was well over 8lbs at about 36 weeks and shared his hesitation about me birthing safely at home. Having the experience with pregnancy that I do, I knew that these estimations were often incorrect, but still had to mentally overcome whatever fears had been planted in my psyche by this guy and the resulting discussion that occurred with my regular back up doctor. All of a sudden, the natural birth/midwife friendly doctor I thought I’d discovered began shelling out your typical OMG BIG BABY GET STUCK, YOUR UTERUS WILL EXPLODE warnings and alluding to suggestions that I just go ahead and schedule my C section today to avoid mine and my baby’s imminent death. I smiled and stayed cool, offering my confidence and intuition that even if my baby was omg huge, I’d have no trouble bringing him into the world safely and that I trusted my plan as it was.
As the pregnancy drew to a close, we were in the midst of many demanding, life changing situations. Hubs was busier than ever with work, we were hustling through the hectic holiday season, all while I was trying to nest as hard as possible in preparation for possibly being post partum during the Christmas holiday. As my due date approached, I became more and more unsettled wondering when baby would make his arrival. I thought for sure, being baby number 6, that I’d go into fast and furious labor, and more than likely it would be early, even though physically I rarely experienced pre-labor signs. We finalized our Christmas shopping, planned our meals, I cleaned and re-cleaned, stayed more and more reclusive and became increasingly agitated and perplexed as our due date grew ever near and then passed.
Then a week went by.
So many nights had gone by where I would begin having increasingly intense Braxton Hicks contractions only to wake up the following morning still pregnant.
At 41 weeks, I saw the back- up physician for a non stress test and baby passed with flying colors. We were now a week away from Christmas Eve and totally befuddled that we were out Christmas shopping and attending school performances with baby still growing inside me. I set a follow up appointment for a week later, the night before Christmas Eve, with the full intention that I would be canceling it in a few days while nursing a freshly birthed baby. All of a sudden, that day arrived, I was still pregnant and reluctantly dragged my huge self into his office to do yet another NST and midwife ordered AFI to assess baby’s amniotic fluid levels.
This appointment is where it all kind of fell apart for me. Baby’s NST was “not encouraging” and my fluid levels were calculated at a low normal. Despite these results, I maintained that I would be waiting to talk to my midwife, and after stating so, the doctor had me sign a form acknowledging that I was aware that by avoiding his advice to induce and/or section I and/or baby could die. Once in the car, I phoned my lead midwife, Leslie, hoping that she would help dispel the doctor’s grim advice, but with an unresponsive NST, she was concerned that our baby may no longer be tolerating pregnancy and that I should buy some castor oil and go into a local VBAC friendly hospital to have a follow up NST, that would hopefully have favorable results and I could go home and drink the castor oil in the morning to get labor started and this show, finally, on the road.
If the NST was again unresponsive, I could gently induce labor in a hospital setting and have a better chance at a vaginal birth while under closer medical supervision should baby need extra attention. I went back inside, bought the castor oil and drove home in tears feeling defeated and worried that I’d be in a hospital on Christmas potentially recovering from surgery, an outcome so vastly separated from my vision of how our child bearing years would end.
That evening, we invited a dear friend over to help with the kids, enlisted the teenager and her friends in the task of wrapping all our gifts, and I sadly packed a bag for the hospital in the event I was admitted. We drove out to UCLA and were admitted to L&D by a very friendly staff. They hooked us up to the monitors and we listened to our sweet baby’s chugging heart rate while we chatted nervously about our back up holiday plans. When the nurse returned and declared our results to be “perfect” I felt a huge rush of relief and hopefully waited for the OB on staff to come give us an ultrasound. When she did and also gave her approval on baby’s state, I asked for her to measure the fluid one more time. This time, the number was more than twice that of the earlier in-office test, news that filled me with even more hope and relief. Of course, the physician recommended induction at 42 weeks and daily NST’s should I go past that considering the risk of fetal demise rose considerably at that point.
Upon sharing these results with the midwives, they shared in our joy and instructed me to go home, sleep, and take the Castor oil in the morning. Lead midwife Leslie was leaving town for the holiday and her partner Catherine would then be my contact.
I began reading about CO induction and started feeling a little hesitant to do it, but went to sleep hoping that labor would wake me and I wouldn’t end up needing it. When morning came and I was still pregnant, I called Catherine and shared my hesitation to do the CO while still trying to get Christmas festivities handled for the kids. I did not want to be on the toilet throughout the holiday, and since baby looked great, we decided to put the CO off until after Christmas presents were opened the following day, provided labor didn’t begin on its own in the meantime.
Sometime during that day, I came to my own peace with the baby and the pregnancy in a tearful, laughter filled outpouring down on my knees. I finally surrendered to the fact that I wasn’t in control of this baby’s arrival. That despite my complete bewilderment, I had made it to Christmas still pregnant, a fact that also made still being in that state a bit easier since I knew that all the gifts were wrapped and ready to go and the kids would have their morning.that afternoon, I made a public Facebook post that read:
“i appreciate everyone's excitement over our little one at such an otherwise busy time of year. your love and support is so awesome. we are still awaiting the arrival of our littlest family member, and promise to let y'all know asap. for the worrying types: as for now, our baby looks nice and healthy and we will continue to monitor this as we wait for him to choose his own perfect birthday. this time of year is pretty intense for planning babies’ births and families’ holidays and avoiding illness and worrying over finances, it’s no wonder that a baby might wish to stay in the warm peace of mothers’ bodies a bit longer...”
That evening we had dinner with friends, came home to meet Catherine so she could listen to baby a bit, settled the children to bed and readied ourselves for Christmas. At 130a, when I was peeing before finally going to bed, I lost a big old sexy piece of my mucous plug.
Throughout the night, as I slept, I felt some noticeable contractions, one of them even making a cameo in a dream I had. At just before 6a, I woke up and decided to start timing them. They came at a near regular interval of about 10m. I woke hubs and whispered to him that we’d be having a Christmas baby after all, and we discussed our day’s plan with a mixture of giddiness and exasperation. At 730a, when the kids were still sleeping, we laid back down to rest a bit…but only for a few minutes before we heard the first sneaking footsteps by the Christmas tree.
We had our present opening frenzy, I called Catherine and let her know what was happening with labor, and we went about our day with contractions fluctuating between 20 and 4 minutes apart. They were noticeable, but not too painful, and I noticed they’d space out as I became more involved with caring for the family. Finally, it was decided that we’d send the younger kids over to our sitter’s house and the teen would go hang with her friends. I got them squared away around 2p and we suddenly found ourselves in a quiet house. I had arrangements to have the birth recorded by a professional videographer and I had won the services of a doula/healer early in the pregnancy, so they made their way over respectively.
About an hour after this, I started to feel a lot of downward pressure in my buttocks, and increasing amounts of bloody show, so I sent Catherine a text message that she may want to come over and check my dilation. Earlier cervical checks had shown very little by way of effacement or dilation and baby was always pretty high up. When Catherine and assistant Michelle arrived and checked, we found that I was at about 5cm and baby was still at a fairly high station. I was kind of discouraged and wished I had waited to call everyone because now we were on watch. Catherine mentioned that she could feel the bag of waters bulging and we thought if we ruptured it, baby would descend and labor would move quickly from there. I agreed and we waited an ominously long time for another contraction before she was able to break it with a hook. Fluid was clear and we set about waiting for labor to pick up and baby to be born.
I found that if I stood and rocked back and forth, I could bring contractions on. Also, walking around the house helped to keep them coming. I did a lot of this while the team sat and waited. I realized that the camera made me pretty conscious and that I needed to keep from looking at the videographer, Jody, in order to keep focus on labor. Contractions seemed to be forever apart and not getting any stronger and I began to feel antsy and anxious for labor to get moving. My hips were super sore as were my butt cheeks and that was a unique feeling to this labor. The feeling was a lot like the after effects of a really hard work out and I think I realized that this baby was definitely bigger than the rest by this feeling alone. We had purchased a baby pool for the purpose of laboring and potentially birthing, but hubs was struggling to blow it up, and I really didn’t feel the urge to be in the water, so we scrapped that plan and I continued to labor standing beside our bed for a few hours more, intermittently coaching hubs on what to do with Christmas dinner that was put into the oven earlier in the day.
After two hours we did another cervical exam to find that my cervix hadn’t really done much, it was still quite soft and stretchy but baby was still pretty high up and my spirits began to sink a little. Catherine suggested that hubs and I spend some time alone, so we closed our bedroom door and I sobbed a little about feeling tired and discouraged while he held me in silent support. Catherine sent Michelle home at the realization that there was still a ways to go.
Eventually I got back to working the baby out, after Catherine’s suggestion that we use the breast pump to stimulate contractions. Also at this point, doula Tania and Catherine offered their mutual remedies of Labor Tincture and some homeopathic Caulophyllum in order to help my sleepy uterus do its job at increasing the strength of contractions.
This immediately stepped up the level of pressure I felt and I was soon in active labor. These contractions sucked a lot. They hurt like a mother and I began to worry whether or not I’d be able to handle at least a few more hours of it on such little rest. I did start to feel nauseous between contractions and eventually started vomiting between each one. This is a huge indicator of transition for me so while feeling pretty miserable, I also had hope that we’d eventually get to the end of this pregnancy.
Tania’s knowing touch was such a relief during those more powerful contractions and I soon asked hubs to step away and let her do her magic. He was doing this nervous talking thing that really started to bug me and I shushed him more than once while he asked me seemingly ridiculous questions in the middle of painful pressure…he eventually left the room to finish making our dinner.
After starting to feel like I wanted to push through contractions because it felt better doing so, at around 720p, we did yet another cervical exam to discover that I was at about 7c dilated with an anterior cervical lip. This was horrible news. In all my other singleton births, I have had that lip and it’s stubborn and pretty much only goes away if the midwife pushes it up over baby’s head during a contraction. This hurts. So bad. So that’s what Catherine tried to do and I involuntarily reached down and removed her hand from my body quickly and with great force. That wasn’t happening tonight.
I realized at this time that the baby might not even be a Christmas baby and started getting really angry and pretty exhausted thinking about still having hours of pushing a big baby out. I decided to get in the shower and stayed in there under the hot relaxing water for enough time for the tub to fill, after which, I sat down into the water and commenced my internal pity party. Contractions in the shower had still been quite strong and I began thinking all I wanted to do was take a nap. Catherine came and sat down beside the tub and we had a small chat in which I whined a lot and she lovingly reassured me that I would be having the baby eventually and made the suggestion that I lie on alternating sides during contractions to help move past the cervical lip. I tried one contraction on my right side and felt as though I would never survive another and got up out of the tub intent on resting a bit.
I walked over to my bed and rocked through a few more super strong contractions. During these, I started to feel a lot of pressure and felt best pushing down through them. At the peak of one of them, I announced that I had to go to the bathroom and rushed back to the toilet in my room to sit down - Lucas, Tania and Catherine close behind. During the next contraction, my body just started to push involuntarily and I began to growl ferociously, I was in such shock as another wave immediately hit and I pushed even harder and roared even louder as i felt my baby start to crown. Catherine was on the floor in front of me and instructed me to stand up and put one leg on the toilet. Another contraction hit and I pushed his head out even further. “Hi little guy” I heard Catherine say and I began to push even harder, encouraged by the idea that eventually this discomfort would soon be over. I pushed as hard as I could until I heard C announce that his shoulders were coming, after which she told me to blow in order to gently birth his body. “Cant” is what I remember saying as his shoulders started to emerge, after which I demanded Catherine to “PULL HIM OUT”, something I guess you really can’t do though it seemed to make sense at the time. One more push and a tiny push right after and I was suddenly pulling my sweet baby up into my arms, an event that seemed so preposterous to me after convincing myself that there were still many hours to go. I sat back down on the toilet and held his sweet body to mine and laughed. Lucas was at my side crying with joy and Tania and Jody were behind him at the door with huge smiles on their face as we welcomed our dear little boy into the world at just before 10pm on Christmas Day. He took a little encouragement but soon cried loudly as I whispered to him how much he was loved and waited for.
We cleaned up right there and I moved from the toilet to the shower to further wash off. I felt great, really no dizziness or fatigue and we moved to my bed to measure our 9lb4oz lovely boy after letting him nurse awhile with his perfect and eager latch. I was pretty sore and surprised to find that I didn’t tear, but only had a minor abrasion. Tania gave me some arnica tablets and I drank some coconut water and a plate of our delicious Christmas dinner. We cracked open the champagne we’d been saving for baby’s birth and all had a celebratory toast to his arrival and the team’s success. The teen came home to meet her brother and soon after everyone else left, as we settled to sleep in the early hours of the morning.
We weren’t quite certain of his name and took a day or two finalizing our plans to use the name we’d chosen during pregnancy, Reed Stanley. His middle name is after my father, and it is also my grandmother’s maiden name and my grandfather’s middle name. Very special.
I am writing this as we reach two weeks of age and sadly, I am sure a few details are lost. What I retain most about the experience is that every birth for me has held its own fears and triumphs over said fears. I have come to the point of total surrender and no return and each time felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I wanted to give up, and then eventually realizing that I could not give up and deciding that I HAD to make it happen, and subsequently doing so.
I know that after this birth, I never wanted to do it again, a conviction I can’t seem to remember from previous births. Though it has faded a bit over time, I should probably record it considering we are supposed to be DONE now.
Maybe that is also typical, birth amnesia…insurance for the continuance of our species.