The story of Evie’s birth has been a harder one for me to begin. I haven’t been able to find the right starting point, even though logically it would be with labor, because somehow it just doesn’t feel right to me to jump in there. Her birth story encompasses so much more than just the labor and delivery; the emotions associated with it encompass the ten days of waiting and the week beyond her birth, not just those short seven hours of laboring.
So, we’ll start with where I am now, eight days postpartum and feeling the heavy, inexplicable weight that sometimes comes with hormonal changes after birth, the unpredictable sadness of the heart that postpartum blues bring. There have been so many things I experienced with Evie’s pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period that I didn’t go through with Asa, but this was probably the least expected. Not because I don’t believe in depression or PPD or postpartum hormones that can affect your mood, but because I am generally a pretty positive person and when you’re the kind of girl who always sees the bright side of life, you don’t expect to be inundated by a sadness you can’t really put a name to day in and day out. You don’t expect to wake up asking yourself “am I okay today?” and having the answer be “not yet.”
At first I attributed these feelings to a personal matter with a friend that popped up four days postpartum; the encounter left me crying uncontrollably for half an hour at least, but I imagined it was all exhaustion, disappointment in the situation, and general “I just had a baby” emotions given that the last four days had been surprisingly easy for me to handle. Then, I thought it was just being overwhelmed after the many visits from family, visiting with ladies while seeing the midwife, a birthday party, a baby shower, and a photoshoot packed into two days’ time.
But when the feelings persisted yesterday morning even after nine hours of sleep interrupted only once by Evie waking up to eat during the night, and climaxed in a total breakdown watching Asa walk out the door hand-in-hand with his daddy to visit grandma and give me a break, I knew it was more. And I knew that the hardest part would be admitting that it was more, first to myself, then to my husband, then to friends who could support me.
I don’t like baring my emotional weaknesses publicly. I hate crying in front of people. I’ve always been one to shut myself away in my room and deal with deeper feelings in seclusion; not because I am embarrassed by them, but because the more passionate, tearful moments in my life have always felt far too private and intimate to share with just anyone. I laughingly say that I cry too much, that I’m emotional, that my husband has to put up with a lot, but it’s a struggle even to talk to him about what I’m feeling when I’m feeling deeply and fiercely.
Much less when it’s something I can’t even explain because it’s just there. Without warning, without explanation other than hormones, without a way to fix it except wait it out. But yesterday when Asa left the house I realized that along with the hormones, I missed him. I missed it being just him. I sobbed and I made myself vocalize it: I wanted my baby back. I wanted him back, the days of his babyhood and dependence on me, when there was just the two of us throughout the day. I wanted to turn back time and revel in those days, and I didn’t want to do this whole second child thing just yet.
The emotional difficulty of admitting that, of writing it down now, and facing it as it comes is like nothing else. It’s not something I want to admit, not with this exquisitely beautiful girl sleeping on my chest in total trust and need of me, this faerie child who calls out for my breast when she wants to sleep, just so she can rest her cheek against me and slumber; she is gloriously precious, and I don’t want to feel this way right now. I want to be happy and enjoying her arrival and wondering at her perfection with unmarred feelings.
But it’s necessary to admit and grieve before I can move on, and so here we are.
I waited for Evie’s labor to start for what seemed like an agonizing nine days past her due date. I never thought that my second child would be later than my first — who was six days past due — but much like I did not expect postpartum blues, stretch marks, nipple pain while nursing, or the intensity with which she would come, her arrival was both wholly predictable and completely unexpected.
On September 5th at 4:15pm, my midwife arrived at our house to check me for dilation and effacement a mere two days after she’d announced that, at a week late, I was a bare 1cm dilated and not effaced at all. Because of Asa’s lateness and the lack of predictability we had due to his three days of prodromal labor, I had thus far kept up no expectations of when Evie might arrive. I merely took all of the midwife’s news, or lack thereof, with very little disappointment and a reminder to myself that regardless, we would have a baby by 42 weeks. On that Saturday, when she checked and said I was beginning to soften to about 50-60% effaced but was not much more dilated, it was much as I had expected.
Happily, though, she decided to try starting my labor. At 4:45pm, after dosing me with my first round of antibiotics for beta strep, she swept my membranes- or, I’m assuming she did. I didn’t ask, I just know that it was one of my least favorite things about the whole childbirth process. Then, she told me, we would wait. If it didn’t work that day, we’d try again the next, but if it did wait… I’d have a baby soon! Telling me I should start feeling contractions within an hour or so, she left and my husband and I settled in to wait and see what would happen.
By 6pm, I had started to feel contractions that lasted about 40 seconds and varied in how far apart they were, so we called my parents and had them come pick up Asa. I knew it wasn’t time yet; at least from my experience with prodromal labor I knew that real contractions had to be rhythmic and continue to get stronger. But by 8pm, when the midwife had hoped to have me come up to her birthing center due to strong contractions, I was still only feeling the 40 second ones. She called to see how I was doing, and said what I expected — unless they got stronger, we’d just try again tomorrow.
Since I hadn’t built up any expectations thus far, I assumed at most it’d be a long night of contractions that weren’t quite the 5-1-1 pattern she’d told me to wait for (five minutes apart and a minute long for an hour), but surprisingly by 10pm I noticed they were finally strengthening and settling into a pattern of six minutes apart. I called the midwife to let her know, and she told us we could come up to the birthing center. I needed antibiotics for beta strep every four hours, so I would labor there (and we would hope it didn’t take too long.)
The 40 minute drive to the birthing center felt incredibly quick yet unbearably slow. Between timing contractions, I listened to my favorite Ari Hest song, and as we got closer to the birthing center I cried. I was afraid, excited, overwhelmed, and so, so ready to hold this baby girl in my arms.
We arrived at the birthing center around 11:15, and when she checked me I was the same; effaced, but not dilated. So we waited, resting on the bed, feeling contractions that slowly drifted closer and closer together, and all I could focus on, other than squeezing Nehemiah’s hand, was listening to One, Two over and over again. By 2am I hadn’t made much progress, so she made the familiar decision to break my water — as she had with Asa. I felt temporary relief that maybe it wouldn’t be too much longer, but dread when she told me she wanted me to walk around or sit upright for a while.
The next hour and a half was the most agonizing hour and a half I’ve ever gone through. With Asa, I already knew that making noise and moving around really didn’t help my pain, but walking back and forth I couldn’t control my voice or my body. I had to bury my face deeply in my husband’s neck and every contraction was a wave of pain that weakened my legs and forced my voice louder and louder, irritating my own ears and tensing my entire body. I was momentarily relieved when she told me I could sit on the bed, but sitting didn’t help. Even resting, I couldn’t stay still, and as the pain climaxed I rocked, I clung to Nehemiah, I buried my face, I moaned, and I felt so, so weary. I told God I could not do this again. I told my husband I was so tired. I don’t know if I cried, but I felt like I could have just sobbed.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes, the midwife checked to see if I had made progress and disappointingly I was stuck at 3cm dilated, where I had been when she broke my water. When she told me the news, I felt so defeated. After what had felt like agonizing hours of labor, no progress had been made and I despaired of ever having this baby naturally. What if subtle background fears were realized and I had to have an emergency c-section? But logic reminded me that it could take up to 24 hours of labor and the baby could still safely be born, so I pushed down those fears and focused on getting through contractions one at a time.
I don’t know when Nancy suggested I get int the tub the first time, but I was so hot and my skin was so irritated that I shook my head; warm water did not sound good. Nothing sounded good. Then another wave of contractions hit me, and as I rocked and rode out the pain I felt my stomach curling up and desperately motioned for the nearby trash can, barely getting out “I need the trash can; I’m going to throw up” before everything in my stomach spewed into the white bin. And with the tail end of a contraction moving through me, the taste of bile in my mouth, I wondered if I’d really be able to do this again.
When the midwife suggested I get into the tub again, I did not refuse. I’d try anything, and at least it was familiar ground. To my surprise, sliding into the tub flipped an internal switch and the labor suddenly seemed doable. Letting the water take pressure off my body with each contraction, I sank and floated as the pain grew more intense, squeezed my husband’s fingers, and reveled in the silence that had come with the relief of the tub. I was instantly able to relax between contractions, to hold myself still, and to breathe through the pains.
It was such a difference that I nearly fell asleep between contractions, and often felt my husband jerking the arm that had the IV in it up so that it would not submerge.
I was not aware of how much time had passed when I emerged from the tub to test my body and determine whether the bear-down reflexes were a need for the toilet, or a need to push. The feeling had come once before and I had gotten out, but it hadn’t been strong enough for me to want to push yet so I’d gone back to the water. This time, though, I tested pushing and it felt right — if not as strong and uncontrollable as with Asa — so I told Nehemiah to get Nancy, and we made our way to the bed. It was 5:40am.
Unsurprisingly, since the need to push was not as strong as I’d felt with my other baby, she told me I was 8cm dilated and fully effaced, and she waited for me to decide what to do. It surprised me that she didn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t do; at that point I was waiting for instruction but she knew better than I that my body would tell me what it needed, so she kept silent. I was mentally pulled between getting back into the tub to wait until 10cm, or pushing now — which felt good. The deciding factor was Nancy’s response to do whatever felt good after I asked if I even should be pushing, and right then I made up my mind: it was time to have this baby. Without my saying anything, the midwife prepared; laid down towels to catch fluids, set up everything she would need for the birth and after, and then she calmly came and sat beside the bed, and she waited.
Her silence and allowing me to direct myself was all the confidence I needed to go. Suddenly, everything got focused. With help from Nancy, who moved my cervix over the baby’s head, I dilated through 9cm to 10cm in the next contraction and push.
I don’t remember how many times I pushed, but I do remember feeling Evie’s head come and halfway through pushing so hard that I emitted a sound I can’t quite describe. It was such a primal, uncontrolled, half-scream half-roar that it surprised even me, and my husband, who had been silently bearing the torture I was performing on his poor hands, finally admitted “ouch” after the push let up. I had squeezed his hand so hard that my hand hurt, but it was not quite time to stop yet. I vaguely heard the midwife telling me “just a little more, just a little more!” and then, suddenly, she was there on my chest, a heavy little thing who lay silent for just long enough that I willed her to cry.
And she did. Loud and alive and healthy and breathing and the relief that I was done and she was here was sweet.
Delivering the placenta was a little more painful this time, much as the usual afterpains of my uterus contracting back to its normal size were more intense. And just as with Asa, I was curious to see the placenta, so the midwife showed me how it looked when it came out, how the entire sac was with it and where the baby had been. It might be a weird fascination with me, but I almost wish I had pictures; my poor husband had to avert his eyes the entire time I was studying the organ.
I bled more than I should have with her, but Nancy was quick to act and knew exactly what I needed; I remember having to massage my uterus for quite a while while she worked to add pitocin to my IV and performed the indignity (her word) of pressing a few plugs into place to stop the bleeding. For myself, I didn’t care as long as the bleeding stopped and my baby was healthy, both of which happened.
She was an 8 pound 15-1/2 oz baby, but for the records – who don’t allow 1/2 ounces, we called her nine pounds. Just half an inch shorter than her brother at 21 inches, and with the same 15″ head, she was what people categorize as a big baby.
A little while later, I asked Nancy how long I had pushed; I knew it hadn’t been as long with Evie as it had been with Asa — forty minutes with him, which seemed like a short enough time to me — and she smiled. Looking at the clock, she said “well, honey, you got out of the tub at 5:40am, and the baby was born at 5:45!”
By this time, I was trying to nurse her, shaking uncontrollably from cold and adrenaline and a little bit of shock, and I couldn’t believe what she had told me. Five minutes, for a nine pound baby? It seemed impossible that I could have birthed my second baby with just five minutes of pushing, but the bruises on Evie’s face said otherwise. I asked if I had torn at all, and she told me I hadn’t. I am still amazed at how quickly she came. This baby who waited a leisurely ten days after her due date until we finally had to evict her ourselves; when it was time to come, she came fast. Three hours and five minutes after my water was broken.
For about an hour after Evie’s birth I shook. My husband ran back and forth with warm towels and I did my best to nurse the baby while my whole body ran its course of shaking and processing the birth. For the most part, I let my baby nurse, and I laid back and tried to relax.
Eventually, the shaking stopped, and I was glad that, upon finally getting up, I did not faint as I had nearly done with Asa. I still felt as though I couldn’t support myself, as though the core of me was gone, and when we left around nine in the morning, just three hours after her birth, I opted to have Nehemiah wheel me out in the wheelchair.
Her birth was the kind of birth that makes women feel as though they could wait a very long time before ever doing that again. With Asa, even just after his birth I was open to the thought of another pregnancy — not immediately, but sometime. With Evie, I didn’t — and don’t — want to do that again for at least two years. Especially now after having dealt with a latch issue, scabbed nipples, nursing pain, the afterbirth pains that I had to labor-breathe through, and most of all this persistence of baby blues that I am hoping will fade quickly.
The midwife told me she was so very pleased with how everything had gone, and I think I am too, even with all of the hardships. I laugh because she told me she thought I was very quiet when I know I made quite a bit of noise through the first hour-and-a-half of transition labor and that otherworldly scream birthing my baby, but I am thankful that she encourages seeing how well everything went.
Physically, I am healing faster. I have no “rugburns” — for lack of a better word — as I did with Asa, and was able to walk myself around the house by day two post birth. My belly seems to be shrinking faster. I gained 2 pounds less this time, which surprised me as I always expected each subsequent child would put on more weight. I feel encouraged that my body is working well, that I have no long-lasting healing to do physically.
But mentally, I can’t say how long it will take. The hormones ebb and flow; the sadness comes and goes. Today is better than yesterday, but yesterday was worse than the day before. So, I cannot predict. I can only act; let myself cry if I need to, keep my hands busy and my heart full of the joys of two children, the love that Asa has for his baby, the love that I have for her, too.
Because it’s all worth it; the intensity of the labor, the throwing up, the horrible pain, the lack of control, the sadness; all of it, I would take again for this beautiful, beautiful baby.
Somehow, we’ll make it.
One day at a time.