I was determined for this one to be different. My first birth was just short of traumatic – long medical induction at 41 weeks lasting 30 hours leading to an epidural I didn’t want to have but would save us from a c-section. My body felt awful after and my anxiety was even worse, heightened by early breastfeeding struggles and a year of exclusive pumping and severe oversupply that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I switched from a traditional OB practice to a Midwifery practice in hopes that it would shift the approach to birth, timing, and induction if it came to that. And yet, I was terrified this one would end the same way. Years of infertility kept me from trusting my body. I knew I could get through it, but I still wasn’t sure my body would do it on its own. So when we passed the 40th week mark (I was certain I was going to go into labor before my “due date” because I’d been having way more Braxton Hicks than I had ever had with my son) and started putting appointments on the calendar for worst case scenario planning, my mind went to that place again. Could my body do this? And not only could my body know how to go into labor, could it then also get through labor unmedicated the way I wanted it to?
Preparation for #2 looked a lot different. I had a solid 2 years of motherhood under my belt now. I’d done a lot of inner work with meditation, journaling, reflection, and breathwork that I didn’t have before my son’s birth. I knew, generally, what to expect. My nipples were shaped differently. I was much more in tune with my body and infinitely more connected to the little soul growing inside of me. I’d done this already, and had been through a full term pregnancy twice, so that had to count for something. And yet, the doubt still lingered, more and more as the days passed 40 weeks. Julie, our doula, encouraged me to hold onto being in this liminal space and stay present, and not rush things into existence.
But after my 41w appointment where we scheduled an induction for the following week just in case, I knew it was time. Julie had offered, and the midwives had suggested, the castor oil cocktail (literally, because it included both OJ and champs, but also peanut butter so not exactly a “sipper”), which she dropped off that afternoon, Friday January 27th, for me to take later that night. I ran a few last-minute errands I knew I wouldn’t be able to do for a while, gave the dog a bath, ordered my favorite pizza for what I knew would be the last good meal for a few days, did some laundry – really leaned in hard to the nesting urge. I was a hot mess of tears that night while putting my 2.5yo son to sleep, knowing that this would be the last time I would cuddle him before bed as my only baby. And then I made and drank (gulped… tried not to hit too many tastebuds on the way down) the cocktail at just after 9pm. I actually made it wrong the first time, so I had to run to the pharmacy to get more castor oil before I went to bed in case I had to make a 2nd dose of it in 6 hours. Settled into bed, turned on the hypnosis script to fall asleep to that Julie had sent me earlier that day, and set my alarm for 3am to see if contractions hadn’t started yet.
By 1am, my body woke me up with what felt like bad period cramps, but they were consistently predictable and came and went at somewhat regular intervals. I mostly resisted the urge to time anything, but texted Julie to let her know things had started to move. Castor oil can make your body do a lot of things, and mine decided to clear out my colon so I made a few trips to the bathroom in the next hour between light contractions. Never went back to sleep. By 2am I texted Julie “Ok I think we are to the point where breath and movement are necessary. I had to stop lying down for them. Still 3 mins apart. More intense and longer as well,” and “I’m doing hands and knees rocking during them at this point,” at which point it was time for Julie to come over. By the time she got to our house at 3am, I was managing contractions with breathing and rocking in child’s pose in our bed and spending the time between contractions lying and resting as much as possible in the cocoon of my pregnancy pillow, only getting out of bed to head to the toilet. The bedroom stayed dark except for the light from the bathroom, which helped keep the mood relaxed and helped me rest when I needed, my eyes being closed for most of it. I didn’t know it at the time, but Julie had been timing my contractions more steadily. By 4am, contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds, but they didn’t feel barely longer than 15 seconds to me, which I said out loud to Julie with pleasant surprise. With my medical induction, contractions were 0-60 real fast and stayed plateaued until the end of it, which made the contraction feel a lot more intense for a lot longer (not to mention the contractions themselves were actually longer and that part of labor lasted for 15 hours, not a few). These contractions were different – it felt like a bell curve. There was a manageable build, the climax was a fraction of the total length of the contraction, and once you passed the climax it was smooth sailing to the end. I knew already this was going to be a very different birth, and that was immensely encouraging.
We decided to head to the hospital just after 5am. Things were progressing and I had lost part of my mucous plug already, so Julie made the call. I managed contractions in the car for the 15 minute drive and on the walk from the car to triage, stopping and holding onto to Tyler when I needed. I consented to a cervical check to see how much progress I’d made, hoping it would be encouraging. Sure enough, after only 4 hours of labor I was already 5cm, 80% effaced, and had a bulging bag of water. It took me 20 hours to get that far last time. We settled into our room and I got in the birthing tub around 6am after getting off all the monitors. It felt freeing to be able to just be present in the tub with Tyler beside me, no machines, just us working together to bring this baby earthside. I would spend the next 5 hours in the tub, immersively, meditatively wading through the progressive dance towards transition.
7am my mucous plug fully came out while sitting on the toilet (darn you castor oil). I had made a killer birthing playlist to have on in the background but by around 8am I started skipping songs that irritated me. I don’t remember which ones, but the music vibe just wasn’t matching mine. I was still in good spirits enough to dance in the tub to some of the songs, which was nothing short of miraculous. Julie coaxed me into eating some honey sticks. 9am my water broke in the tub, and I remember feeling it break. I had no concept of time because I was surprised to find out that it was only 9am when I asked. I was fully in a state of flow – I felt almost nothing around me except for my body, the water, and Tyler (and sometimes not even him), and time ceased to exist. It was as close as I could have gotten to that “expansive presence” space I knew I could get to through meditation. Which is why I felt like I wasn’t progressing well enough – partially because I didn’t know how much (or rather how little) time had passed, and because we were nearing transition but I didn’t know it. By this point with my son I’d had an epidural and couldn’t really feel anything. It was such a gift, both in the moment and retrospectively, to be able to feel every single thing and be so primally and viscerally connected to the process.
I remember thinking at this point (around 10am), just as I was getting to full dilation, that the contractions felt out of control. I was starting to have a hard time controlling my breath and the contractions felt unmanageable. This was the first time my brain had been snapped back out of a flow space, and the first time doubt entered my thoughts. The only time I said it out loud was in the shower with only Tyler next to me. I told him I wasn’t sure if I could do this. Either he didn’t hear me or chose to ignore my feeble plea for relief, knowing that I was fully capable of doing this and not allowing me to give up on myself. My body had started the hormone shivers and Julie convinced me to get out of the tub. We did a cervical check to look for some encouragement, and sure enough I was fully dilated and effaced, and likely had been for a while without knowing it. I remember feeling like I had to poop but thought that, because of the castor oil pooping situation, I actually did have to poop and didn’t recognize it as a signal to start pushing. And also, again, last time I did not have that physical feeling to trigger pushing because of the epidural and was told when to start pushing, so didn’t recognize the feeling when it came.
I tried just about every pushing position you could try. We tried tug of war with a rebozo on hands and knees on the bed. It was after 10:30am at this point and we got back into the tub. Pushing with the contractions actually made what felt like previously unmanageable contractions much easier to get through – something I never felt last time either.
Tyler was now the anchor for the rebozo tug of war, with me first squatting in the tub, and then with one leg up on the edge of the tub, Tyler bracing his entire body against the side of it to counter my weight and force. By noon I was again feeling discouraged and asked if the pushing was working. Encouraged to reach down and feel for her head, my finger met the soft part of her skull only one knuckle deep, and at that moment I confirmed what I knew to be true – that she had a full head of hair. Yes, this was working. I confessed that the hardest part of the whole process was right before I started pushing, probably because I had gotten through transition and my body was telling me to start pushing even though I didn’t recognize it, and it felt like we were on the last 10k of the run leg in an ironman. You know that last 10k is going to be brutal, but you’re so close you can taste it. I thought that I had long left my meditative headspace, but it wasn’t until Julie told me weeks after the birth that I realized I hadn’t – I’d fallen asleep between contractions 2 hours into pushing, with another 1.5 hours to go (about 12:30pm). I’d been told it happens, but never imagined I would.
Contractions were starting to stall and my playlist had long since cycled all the way through. I did some nipple stimulation and took some tinctures around 1:45pm, in a last effort to get to the finish. It was just enough to get there – 18 minutes later one push got her over my pubic bone and crowned, and one push got her head and body fully out. It was at the point of crowning that I realized the epidural I thought didn’t work for my son did, in fact, work. Birth at 2:03pm, cord clamped at 2:19pm, placenta delivered at 2:44.
Contractions for the placenta were alarmingly intense and since I didn’t feel them last time, I didn’t know to expect how painful they could be. It took long enough that I finally stood up on the bed with a person for support on either side of me in a squat position and pushed out the placenta, landing on my feet, standing in a puddle of my own blood. But wow was that placenta beautiful.
I remember thinking to myself in our recovery room how much more alive I felt. I didn’t feel hungover from 30 hours of drugs in my body. I felt every bit of my body after Blythe arrived. Better yet, I felt her IN my body as she was moving through it. I knew where her head was when it was entering the birth canal. I felt hormone shakes for a solid 12+ hours after her birth, something I didn’t feel with my son but probably because the drugs interfered with that part of the natural process. I felt so much more emotionally, mentally, and spiritually PRESENT, both for myself and for her. She latched within the first hour, and I cried tears of joy. She would go on to latch several more time that night and in the first 24 hours, beginning what will hopefully be a long breastfeeding journey that we’ll get to share for as long as we want. I felt instantly connected to her. Protective and loving of her. No more loving than that which I eventually came to know with my son, but which took weeks, even months to develop with him. In the days and weeks that followed, my head was clear. Sure I was a ball of emotions and tears from time to time, but the lows didn’t hold a candle to what I felt with my son. I wasn’t anxious; I knew my body could provide what she needed, full stop. I could spend my days snuggling her and wearing her and not have to worry about when I needed to pump next and being frustrated about how I was going to manage putting her down every 2 hours while I pumped, or fearing even leaving the house because of needing to take pumping equipment with me, or just never leaving the house because I never felt like I had enough time to go anywhere between pumps. We truly “lied in” – spending hours in bed together feeding, sleeping, and snuggling. I fiercely love and adore my first child and always will for the mother he made me. But my second child and birth, my Blythe, is my healing earth child who showed me just how much of a mother I could be.