[Warning: This birth story includes details!]Labour is fantastic. No, really. It is. The experience is intense and exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming, and I enjoy it. That certainly doesn't mean I wish mine had been longer! But I recall it with positive feelings, remembering how powerful I felt, how in tune with myself I was.
In the weeks leading up to Penelope's birth, I experienced frequent contractions which were regular during the day, yet stopped when I went to sleep. Far from being “false,” these contractions moved my body further and further along the birth journey. A week before I gave birth, the baby had already dropped, and I was dilated to 3cm. The day before my Guess Date, November 20th, I chaperoned my (step)son Nicholas' class trip to the fire station. On my actual Guess Date, November 21st, I went along with his class to a pumpkin patch an hour from DC. I figured the one day I could be confident the baby wouldn't come would be the due date. What baby ever comes on the due date?! Riding the hayride was fun, but it wasn't as bumpy as the schoolbus ride!
That weekend, I walked all over the National Mall, helping my son Stephen show his visiting daddy his favourite museums. We went to Nicholas' mom's church's fall festival. We attended church and enjoyed seeing and hearing the famous Hereford Cathedral Choir during Mass and again at Evensong.
Halloween came, and I was still pregnant, so I threw together an appropriate costume, and ended up matching my boys quite well. We traipsed through the neighbourhood and scored tons of candy. And all the people who said, “Great costume! When are you due?” nearly died of shock when I answered, “Last week.” Nicholas' birthday came, and I made his requested pirate cupcakes, and helped host his wonderful party on the morning of November 2nd.
Around 2pm, I started feeling contractions again, the same kind I'd been getting for the past week. I checked my cervix, and found I was dilated to 4. I wasn't sure if these contractions would quit, like all the other times, so I took some black cohosh and lay down for a while, turning my focus inward. I really, really wanted to have the baby before Stephen had to go back to North Carolina (and he was due to be picked up the next afternoon, on Sunday). My father-in-law left to go back to NC, since he had to preach the next day.
From 2 till 6, I had about ten contractions per hour. Then I took a break from counting. I leaned over the kitchen counter and my mother-in-law massaged my back, which was starting to ache. While bent over, I didn't feel any contractions at all, and I stayed in that position for a good half hour. I worried that the contractions had stopped, so I took some more black cohosh and lay down for a while. (The contractions hadn't stopped--I just wasn't experiencing the sensations in the same way because the massage was good counter pressure.)
At 8pm, I started bouncing on the birth ball and counting contractions. I had fifteen in that hour. At 10, my husband gave me one last perineal massage and checked my cervix. I was dilated to 5 or 6. Then I got into bed again. The boys were asleep, and my mother-in-law as well. Just as I was starting to drift off and dream, I felt a POP! and my water broke! Of course, this happened at 10:30, when Ashley had gone out into the hall to text and update people. So I was alone in the dark, with two kids and a mother-in-law sleeping in the same room, and I was high on adrenaline, laughing because I was so happy to know that I really was in labour and it wasn't going to stop, and cursing because I couldn't get up without letting more amniotic fluid gush everywhere. I'm pretty sure when I felt that POP, I said, really loudly, “Bloody Hell!” because I was so surprised.
Managing to get myself to the bathroom, I stayed in there a bit, till I stopped leaking quite so much. That's where Ashley found me (and then he and Mom cleaned up the bed and even ran the sheets down to the laundry room in the basement of the apartment complex). After that, the contractions changed in intensity. They got a lot stronger and more defined. I could easily tell when one started, the climb up, the crest of the wave, and falling down on the other side. In spite of the stronger intensity, it was easier for me to bear, because they were so obvious. I knew if I could make it to the top of the wave each time, I'd be fine. I focused on relaxing, and then relaxing INTO each contraction. I got pretty noisy.
From 11pm to around 2am, I lay on my side and slept in between each contraction. They were only a few minutes apart, but I felt like I was deeply asleep each time I woke up to be actively present in each contraction. Towards the end, my vocalisations were getting louder, and I was relying on the Hypnobabies-type peace programming more and more. (I'm sure my mother-in-law wondered why I kept moaning, “Blue, blue, blue!” over and over again. But, hey, it worked for me!) The kids slept through it all.
I got in the shower at 3:something. The hot water felt nice, but I felt like I had to DO something. So I cleared all the shampoo bottles from the towel rack inside the shower, and, holding on with both hands, I swung from the bar during the crest of each contraction. I checked my cervix one last time. I was very close to 10cm, and I thought I felt the baby's head.
After about 30 minutes, I got down on my knees and let the water fall on my lower back during contractions. Ashley came in and sat with me, got towels so I could kneel on something soft. I told him it was close, and that he should get receiving blankets ready.
I didn't get a very discernible Transition. Once my body was ready, it started pushing right away! At 4:40ish, I stood up after a strong, yell-a-bit-to-get-through-it contraction. I said I was ready to move to the bed. Ashley turned off the shower and started to help me get out of the tub, but another contraction started. I dropped back down to my knees and realised this contraction was different. My body was pushing! I gave in to my body's leading. With the next push, I joined in, and the baby's head come out into my waiting hand. With Ashley and his mom encouraging me keep pushing, I breathed and complained that I wanted to take a break. I honestly thought I would get the chance to get into a rhythm of pushing! But then my body took over again, and, chanting, “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” I pushed the baby the rest of the way out into Ashley's hands. Three pushes was all I got. (I still feel gypped and wish I'd gotten to have more!) The time was 4:58am on Sunday, November third. (Ashley called out to his mom to check the time on his phone so we'd have the correct minute.)
It felt glorious. I felt so strong and in control. I peeked between my knees and, as Ashley gently unwound the cord from the baby's neck (no easy task, because the baby kept wriggling!), I saw that I had a daughter.
Ashley passed her between my legs to me and helped me move to the bed, where her brothers crowded close. They'd woken when I'd been loudly moaning in the shower, and came into the bathroom as I was pushing. Both boys had watched homebirth videos on YouTube with me before the birth, and had been very excited. Now that their new baby was finally here, they couldn't get enough of her. They still like to pet her, and enjoy holding her and "teaching" her how to build cool things with Legos.
Sitting up on the bed, we left the cord intact while we waited for the delivery of the placenta. Our baby girl, who was cuddled on my bare chest, immediately army crawled to my breast and latched on. And, boy, the uterine contractions she triggered were strong! Much stronger and more intense than actual labour contractions. Those afterbirth pangs are the ones no one prepares you for! After 55 minutes, the placenta came out, and Nicholas helped Ashley cut the cord while Stephen supervised. We weighed her on a food scale, and found she weighed the same as Stephen when he was born: 7 pounds, 11 ounces. She was 20 inches long.
All told, everything went to plan, and we had a beautiful birthing time. I had intended to give birth in the side-lying position in bed, to help prevent tears, but this baby just came too fast, and I ended up delivering on all fours in the shower. (When I joke that she just fell out in the shower, I wasn't kidding--she really did, with only three pushes, and hardly any time in between!) I did sustain a second degree tear, but by the time we got it looked at by a midwife two days later, it had already healed to a first degree tear, so we just left it to heal up on its own.
Baby Penelope Olivia Ann is a breastfeeding champion, and my milk, which came in the next day, is more than plentiful. We've nursed on the Metro, in bed while sleeping, at Nicholas' school, while grocery shopping, in church, during walks, and even through diaper changes. She's a great sleeper, and I don't feel sleep deprived. She loved being swaddled, and likes the ring sling very much. She makes the most hilarious faces and keeps us laughing. We're so blessed.
In this picture, you can see the boys in the background. They got bored after fifteen minutes of waiting for the placenta, and they couldn't hold her till it was out, because the cord wasn't long enough, so they played 3DS games and hung out. They were angels.