Today my tiny baby is one year old. It seems like a good time to write his birth story. A midwife friend recently shared with me her birthday tradition of telling her son his birth story each year. It made me think of Lorelai telling Rory her birth story: “…to me it was more akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite.” In true Lorelai style, she pelts the nurses with ice chips and names the baby after herself. The rest is history…
Wyatt was due March 12th, but he didn’t show his face until March 23rd. We have theories: he wanted to be an Aries like his dad; he wanted to wait until the full moon; he didn’t want to come out until we threatened him with induction. The real reason is that I was pregnant with a tiny acrobat. From the time we discovered he was still breech at 34 weeks until we determined he seemed to be staying vertex just after 38 weeks, I was a baby flipping machine (check out Spinning Babies to learn about optimal fetal positioning). I was doing inversions, icing and heating my belly, shining a flashlight at the bottom of my bump, bouncing incessantly and doing figure-eights on an exercise ball, wrapping the top of my bump to push him lower, wrapping the bottom of my bump to lift it and create more space for him, getting Webster method chiropractic care (from Dr. Jes Mitchell) twice a week, and marching my giant pregnant self all over the neighborhood multiple times a day. I chanted my own version of Beyoncé’s Formation: come on baby now let’s get in formation / prove to me you’ve got some coordination. Every time we checked via ultrasound he was in a new position. I even had an external cephalic version (ECV) at 37 weeks, which is a procedure where a doctor physically moves the fetus by manipulating the uterus from the outside. It worked great. He turned head down. Two days later he floated back up again. One year later, I’ve almost paid it off.
It was hard. The whole pregnancy, though relatively healthy overall, was hard on me physically and emotionally. I saw three different midwives, moved out of state (after a too-long time of uncertainty), changed insurance, and worked way too hard for the first seven months. I struggled with severe back pain from very early on, and heartburn every night for the whole second half. I gained 50 pounds, and my hands, feet, and face swelled up hideously. It wasn’t pretty. And facing so much uncertainty toward the end was rough.
I had a lot of fear about birth, I think in large part because it is generally so private, withheld, even secret — and then when we see it depicted in movies and TV, it’s set to a soundtrack of screams and punctuated by splashes of water breaking followed by sudden, intense contractions. “The baby’s coming! We need to go to the hospital now! Give me the drugs!!!” I knew that those scenes were overly dramatic, I heard in my childbirth education class “it’s not really like that” — but I didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it. I was afraid of the pain, I was afraid of the vague idea of “something going wrong” — but most of all I was afraid of feeling out of control. I didn’t want to yell and scream. I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to snap at anyone or say “I hate you, why did you do this to me?” to my husband. I was afraid that I would do or say things while I was in pain that I would regret or feel embarrassed by later.
I sought out birth stories, and read as many as I could. So many birth stories. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Thanks to the internet and dozens of incredibly brave birthing parents, I watched video after video of calm, quiet, gentle births. Births where nothing went “wrong,” and baby after healthy baby was brought into a joyful, loving embrace. Happy tears all around.
I was determined to have a natural birth at The Birthing Inn with my awesome midwife Neva. The big requirement for delivering at the birth center and staying under my midwife’s care comes down to two words: low risk. Among other things, that means no breech or transverse positioned fetus, and delivery in the window between 37 and 42 weeks gestation. Earlier or later is higher risk, and requires delivering at the hospital. The hospital in my area has a decent set up with CNMs and a few tubs to labor in, but I wanted to avoid a hospital birth if possible. (You can learn more about birth centers and their benefits on the Midwives’ Association of Washington State website.)
Now that Wyatt was finally staying vertex, we were excited and ready to go. 39 weeks came and went. 40 weeks. 41 weeks! With the deadline for my peaceful birth center delivery looming seven days away, I was uncomfortable and impatient. I’d had gentle contractions a couple of mornings — they were mild and faded away after a couple hours. Mostly I just had intense Braxton Hicks contractions every time I stood up and walked around.
At my prenatal appointment at 41 weeks and two days, we laid out an induction plan. Neva gave me three homeopathic remedies to take in rotation, the ingredients for a castor oil shake, and a pool ring to lie with my belly in to encourage correct fetal positioning. (I shouldn’t have to say this, but no matter how desperate you feel, please don’t take castor oil or do anything else to induce labor on your own. Talk to your midwife or OB.) We also made an appointment for a biophysical profile, a series of tests to ensure that the fetus is healthy and it’s still safe for the mother to remain pregnant. We made the appointment for the next day — “if you’re still pregnant.” If I’m still pregnant? The idea that there was a point in the future when I would no longer be pregnant felt pretty far fetched. At that point it felt like I was going to be pregnant forever!
I took my homeopathics and climbed the stairs at Point Defiance a few times. That night we set up the pool ring, partially inflated, with a sheet laid over it, and I carefully lowered my giant belly into it. It felt pretty great to lie on my stomach after months of rolling from side to side. I fell asleep for about an hour, and woke up to mild contractions. It’s hard to say for sure when you’re ten days overdue and you’re trying everything, but I really believe the pool ring did the trick. Gentle contractions continued throughout the night.
Around 5 am I gave up on trying to sleep, and started timing contractions. They were about ten minutes apart and mild, but consistent. I checked Facebook on my phone and saw the news of the attacks in Belgium. I texted with Evan’s aunt Dana in Brussels, and learned that they were all safe, though one of their boys had been near the explosion on the Metro. She was so encouraging to me, even in the midst of the stress, fear, and sadness of the day. Her calm kindness will always be a part of how I remember Wyatt’s birth.
After a while we went in to see Neva for a labor check. She confirmed that I really was in early labor, and sent me home to rest, hydrate, and keep in touch. Laboring at home was great. After the anxiety and discomfort of late pregnancy, labor felt simple and straightforward. It made sense, and I knew it was all happening for a reason. I walked around, napped, ate, hung out in the bath tub. It’s amazing how much warm water helps. At that point, out of the tub my contractions were uncomfortable but manageable — in the tub I was aware of them, but they really didn’t hurt. It’s pretty magical. My mom came in the afternoon, and in the evening we went back to see Neva. She said that I was very likely entering active labor, and gave me the option to be admitted or to go back home for a while longer. At the time it felt like a hard choice. Neva left the decision up to me, but pointed out that once people check in to a room, they tend to want to see things happening. We both felt I had a way to go yet, and we agreed to keep in touch. I am so grateful that she encouraged me to labor at home. It really felt right. I spent the next several hours leaning on the birth ball, listening to music, relaxing, and often sleeping between contractions.
How my husband describes labor: “you were totally normal, and then you would have a contraction and go to a different world, and then go back to normal. Until later…” Those last few hours laboring at home are pretty blurry. I remember thinking that it would be nice to just take a break, sleep for a few hours, and then pick back up again. Two clear memories I have from that time are fixating on the repeating, interlocking pattern of stitching on a nearby throw pillow, and my husband giving me a lemon head candy. I had been just positive I would want them in labor, and sought them out specifically. They’re hard to find! When the next contraction came on, it took all my will power not to spit it out onto the floor.
We finally went back in at 2 AM. I had two or three contractions during the short drive, and they were frankly pretty unpleasant in the car. I made Evan pull over at least once. I don’t know what the point was in pulling over — did it make it any better? Maybe I could just focus better. It really made me thankful that I had been able to labor so much in my own familiar surroundings, walking and moving around, doing whatever felt right — not sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to electronic monitoring equipment. And once we got into the beautiful birthing room, I knew I had made the right choice to stay home so long. I immediately felt the sense that we were in the place where my baby would be born, and I felt impatient to get it all over with and meet him. And of course, he took his time. I labored for another six hours in the huge tub before I was ready to start pushing.
My husband interjects at this point — “‘I labored for six more hours.’ It’s only one sentence! To me that seemed like the main part of the labor.” To me, those six hours are like one long, weird dream. I remember waking myself up by snoring, having fallen deeply asleep in the very short gaps between contractions. Time moved so strangely. I remember noticing it getting lighter outside and wanting to check the time, but knowing it wouldn’t make any difference. You can’t control it, you just have to accept it.
A couple different people have told me they really liked pushing. “I finally get to do something,” one friend said. And it’s true, in a way it’s really satisfying! What no one mentioned to me, though it should be obvious, is that in between contractions that head is still right there. You don’t get the same relief as during the first stage of labor. I kept thinking “surely, surely this must be it. I’m going to hear him cry.” And it just kept going. I only pushed for an hour, but it felt like such a long time! I was just so tired after a long labor, and I found it really hard. I imagine that with a shorter, faster labor it might be very different. But ultimately my body knew what to do, and I had the greatest support. Evan never left my side, and my mom and Neva were so encouraging. I admit, I yelled a little. But I wasn’t embarrassed. That was a truth of labor for me — once I was in active labor my fears of being loud or rude didn’t occur to me again. I didn’t become a different person who says mean things, I just did what I had to do to meet my baby.
At 9:15 AM on March 23rd, Wyatt Sinclair finally made his way out into the world. He was born yelling and pooping, and just perfect. I was able to hold him skin to skin right away, which was very important to me, and Neva waited until we had a couple hours of quiet bonding time before doing his full newborn exam. The whole experience was so great. I’m so grateful that after all the stress and worries of a long pregnancy, I was able to have the calm, simple, uncomplicated birth I was hoping for, with the freedom to do what felt right.
Looking back, one year later, at the tiny baby in the photo with a curled up ear and blood still in his hair, it’s hard to believe he is the same boy asleep in his crib in the next room. Who a couple hours ago was staggering from one end of the couch to the other, one hand skimming the cushions for balance, joyfully screaming at the dog. Stacking blocks three high. Eating blueberry pancakes for breakfast, drinking his milk through a straw. One year ago we had never seen his face. Two years ago he was only an idea. Now his laughter fills the house.