10 days ago we welcomed our 3rd babe earthside. It feels as though it’s been a lifetime already; I can hardly remember what it was like before he joined us (though that may be due in part to some long nights of cluster-feeding). As I write out his story, little Theo is lying next to me, peering up with his dark eyes, wrinkling his forehead like a puppy, offering his impossibly soft cheeks to be kissed. He’s an angel.
Theo’s story is bittersweet because he is my last baby, our family is now complete. Though I have already warned my husband and close friends that at some point I will inevitably have a moment of ovary weakness and say “but maybe just one more.” They are to remind me that I despise being pregnant, am too old to be having more babies, and am too tired to properly raise any more. That just means that I am trying even harder than usual to drink in these sweet new moments, to remember every little look and touch. I already know that it won’t work, that my tired mom-brain will eventually have to overwrite these bleary-eyed days, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.
So if only to help me remember in years to come, here is Theo’s birth story.
But first, a poem. A year ago I was asked to read this poem at a blessing for dear friend, who was about to have a baby of her own, and the words have stuck with me ever since.
“Nighttime in the Country of New Mothers”
by Ona Gritz
Here, night spills its ink
and few citizens notice,
sleep being memory and hope,
moments stolen upright in a rocker,
the woozy feel of not enough, a way of life.
Here, women pace, speak in whispers
and in high unfamiliar voices that are almost song.
Held so they’ll rest, the babies feel warm, wilted.
Their smell sour but sweet
the way fear and love are indistinguishable
as together they govern the lamplit rooms.
Hour upon hour, the mothers study
these new ancient faces:
lashes and brows, wet demanding mouths,
the visible pulsing of veins.
Harm, we think, conjuring falls, bruises,
the near silent rhythm of breath silenced.
Cries rising from windows are mostly the babies,
but, rocking and nursing, some mothers weep too.
We were merely girls before crossing this border,
our empty arms impossibly light.
If you had asked me 5 years ago if I’d ever have a home birth, I’d have laughed in your face. I am not a “crunchy” or “all-natural” person, but somehow have ended up skewing that way as I’ve learned about and experienced birth…which has been a wonderful thing. Kit and Rosie were both born with Greenville Midwifery Care at their birth center, and I loved having my babies there. But just when I got pregnant with Theo, the birth center announced they were closing. At first I felt a bit like a ship lost at sea, not sure where safe harbor was. I knew that with my support team, I could have a good experience at the hospital, but would not be able to negotiate all the things I had loved most about the birth center… the peace and quiet, a small circle of people, the freedom to move and birth as I pleased, no mention of intervention, being able to return home within a few hours of giving birth. So after touring the hospital and considering the options there, we met with Hatched – Midwife Carrie Lachapelle LM, CPM. I had heard glowing reviews from several people, and after interviewing with Carrie, we felt confident in the level of care and safety she would provide, and jumped in wholeheartedly for a homebirth. Greenville Birth: Julie Byers, Doula and Educator was already enlisted as my doula, because everyone knows you text Julie as soon as you have a positive pregnancy test, as she is the best and in the highest demand.
My pregnancy with Theo was pretty much like my other pregnancies, which is to say, I was miserable for 9 months. Now to be fair, I thankfully haven’t had any actual pregnancy complications, so take my complaining with a grain of salt. But for me, being pregnant is 9 months of constant nausea, food aversions, and the aches and pains that come from being a tired mama in her mid-thirties. I never get the 2nd trimester energy boost I’ve heard fairy tales about, I lose a considerable amount of weight because I can hardly get down food, and by the end I’m only able to sleep a few hours at night. But my babies grow and gain just as they should, and 9 months is a finite window of time, so we just power through and are grateful that other than feeling awful, we are healthy and safe.
Theo’s guess date was November 12. My babies have been very punctual in the past, arriving within a day or so of their due dates, so I naively assumed that Theo would do the same (though in the back of my mind, I suspected he might come a week late just to mess with me). I was getting ready for a big event with Makers Collective, and had planned on working right up until he was born, which surely wouldn’t happen until a day or two before the 12th, at the earliest. And not to mention that I wasn’t quite prepared for his arrival… baby clothes had yet to be sorted and washed, the birth kit was only partially assembled, and who knows where in storage the infant car seat was hiding.
Late Sunday night, November 3rd, 2:30am. I awoke to a small gush of fluid. This was unexpected, my water had never broken before until I was pushing. I verified the fluid was clear and waited to see what would happen… which was mostly nothing. No more fluid, though I lay awake with cramping waves for the next couple hours. Insomnia was familiar by this point, so around 4am I got out of bed and tried to be productive. I took care of the baby clothes that had been waiting patiently for me, gathered the last few items for the birth kit and got it organized, cleaned the toaster oven… you know, normal chores for the dead of night. Satisfied that labor was not starting yet, I went back to bed around 7:30am and grabbed a couple more hours of rest. I had some contractions off and on throughout the day, but this was nothing new, contractions had been happening sporadically since August, though they had increased in intensity and frequency as I neared the end of the pregnancy. I checked in with Carrie and Julie that day and alerted them that I was leaking fluid, but we all felt fine to give it some time and see what happened.
Tuesday morning, November 5th, 6:30am. 39 weeks gestation. I don’t know what it is about that magical time, but for each of my babies, labor has started right around 6:30am. Theo didn’t dare break that streak, and I woke up with decently strong contractions about 8 minutes apart. After an hour, I got out of bed and began to move about. The waves slowed a little, but stayed consistent and seemed to be intensifying. My mom came to pick up Kit and Rosie, and Cory and I settled in to have a baby. By 10am the contractions were 3 minutes apart but only 30 seconds long. I told Julie that I thought this baby was going to mess with us (spoiler alert, I was right). Within an hour the waves had spaced out slightly but were pretty intense, I was needing to vocalize though them and it seemed like things were moving quickly. Surely I’d have a baby by noon!
11am. Julie walked in the door and all of a sudden, labor froze. No contractions, no discomfort, baby was curled up, sitting high, saying “just kidding!” We tried some movement exercises, stretches to help positioning, drank some tinctures. Nope. I was stalled out. With no action in sight, I sent Julie on her way and settled in for an afternoon of bouncing on the birth ball and watching Netflix. With the exception of a few random, teasing contractions, it was an uneventful afternoon. By dinnertime I was convinced that this false start didn’t mean anything, that I should probably get back to my busy work week, and have the kids brought home. Thankfully, I decided we might as well enjoy a quiet evening since my parents had already agreed to keep our little ones overnight.
9pm. Contractions resurfaced… kind of. The waves were only coming every 20-30 minutes, but at least it was a consistent pattern, and they were strong.
11pm. I texted Julie with another update, caveated with “I’m probably going to jinx it.” Contractions were 7-9 minutes apart, still only 45 seconds long, but very strong, I had to work though them and was involuntarily vocalizing. Julie suggested trying a bath to see if it would speed things up or slow them down.
11:29pm. As soon as I got in the bathtub, things kicked into high gear. Waves increased to 3 min apart, long and strong. Julie was on her way. Within 10 min, I felt a pop, and my water officially finished breaking. Contractions were now less than 2 min apart, and quite intense. I suddenly realized that it could progress very quickly at this point, and called for Cory to start prepping the homebirth tub. Unfortunately, last Cory knew, contractions were a half hour apart and I was resting in bed. He was currently in the shower, and could not hear me yelling for him in between contractions. He finally heard my calls of distress and came running to find me in full-on hard labor, white-knuckling the side of the tub. I barked out an update and some orders: “It’s happening! Julie’s coming! Blow up the birth tub! Start pots of boiling water!” Normally, you have a couple hours to prep the birth tub and get it filled with hot water. But we hadn’t anticipated labor progressing so quickly, and we had just drained our meager hot water tank with the bath and shower. He jumped into action and I got back to laboring away.
Wednesday, November 6th, 12am. Julie had already arrived and was by my side as I labored in the bathtub of our hall bathroom. We were joined by Jen, a Hatched apprentice, and Emily, my dear friend. They busied themselves with Cory readying the birth tub. Julie told them to keep prepping it but that she didn’t think we’d make it there in time, and I agreed. By this point, labor felt like it had during the finale of my other 2 births, just before my babies were born. Contractions were long, hard, strong, with very little break in between. I drifted into that birth time-warp and squeezed Julie’s hand for dear life.
12:25am. Carrie arrived and checked to make sure baby’s heart tones were good. With her on site, my birth team was complete and I was sure Theo would be born at any minute. I was used to this level of intensity and discomfort and knew it meant I was almost done (spoiler alert, I was wrong).
At this point I heard some commotion and what I realized was the sound of the birth tub being dragged down the hallway, but I didn’t have the mental space to give it much thought. Turns out there was a bit of a fiasco filling the tub, as the expanding hose I had bought didn’t expand as advertised and the hose-to-sink connector didn’t actually connect to our sink as it as supposed to (we still had a week! we were going to test these things out, at some point). The tub was planned to be set up in the great room, but they ended up moving it to our bedroom, as they had to connect the hose to our master bathroom shower instead. Cory and Emily were concerned that I might be disappointed by this change in plans, as the great room was more spacious and conducive for photos, but the reality is that at that point they could have told me the birth tub was on the roof and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. My team rolled with the punches like pros, did several rounds of boiling water, and before I knew it, the birth tub was ready for me.
12:47am. I moved from my half-full, tepid bathtub to the big, soft, hot birth tub. It felt glorious. I was ready to get baby here and felt like it was time to begin pushing in earnest. I tried out a couple different positions and finally settled into my standard, leaned back with Julie on one side and Cory on the other, gripping their hands in mine as I moved into the never-ending contractions and let my body take over.
I was now in a different kind of time warp. Instead of time standing still, the minutes seemed to stretch on into hours upon hours. The waves had moved into unfamiliar territory, and I had never before experienced this intensity and level of pressure. My moans had turned into primal screams. There was almost no time to catch my breath in between before the next wave had me hurtling over the edge again and again. At one point I managed to get out “This doesn’t feel right, it’s not working.” I was pushing with all my might but my efforts didn’t seem to translate to progress.
Cory asked me later if I remembered something about the background music (which was lovely, he had put together a peaceful playlist that I enjoyed a few seconds of here and there when I had a tiny break). I laughed at his question, because the thought of being able to experience anything outside of the contractions was preposterous. I told him that during those crazy pushing contractions it was like being pressed up against the side of a tunnel, with a train screaming past my face. Except that I was the one screaming and the train was dragging me along. There was no space for anything else.
At some point along the way, we realized why labor had become so difficult. Theo was in a posterior position. (Most of the time, babies are facing the spine when they descend, as this position allows them to most easily move through the pelvis. When they are posterior, they come out facing up. Posterior positioning takes a lot more effort to get them to descend and to move through the pelvis and down the birth canal.) But there was nothing to be done about it now, he and I just had to do the work and get through it.
1:28am. Finally, he crowned. I can remember actually being thrilled when I felt that familiar burning sensation (affectionately known as “the ring of fire”) because I knew what to do with it. Baby was almost here and I could finally be done. I rallied some strength and pushed with all my might, and his head was born. Another push and he was out!
1:30am. Carrie scooped Theo out of the water and into my waiting arms. He settled right into my chest and once more, I experienced that unique sensation of immediately recognizing his shape, the feel of him. Even though for months I had carried him inside of me, my body translated that to holding him on the outside and it was like I already knew every inch of him.
Theodore Olen Godbey was born at home on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 1:30am after 2 hours of active labor, into a gentle pool of water with no medication or intervention. He was welcomed into the world to the tune of Starálfur by Sigur Rós, surrounded by all the love in heaven and earth.