The blessings of a second baby . . .
As I planned for my second baby and my second home birth, I was much calmer in many ways. Confident, almost. Whenever I worried, Marcy said, “You know too much, and not enough,” – the curse of being a doula now. I worried about the size of the baby. I worried about our uneven, steep stairs and how I would get up them for all my trips to the bathroom in labor. If there was one thing I knew, I sat on the toilet a ton in my first labor. I worried when at 35 weeks, the baby turned breech and began contemplating the bigness of having a breech birth at home. When the baby turned vertex at 36 weeks, I worried about a cord or some reason the baby had been breech. And I remembered what I had to do in my first labor. There were moments when I had to go so deeply inward, some dark, dark moments. I worried about what would happen if I had to revisit those moments. But I was willing to do it so I could birth my baby and hold it in my arms immediately, never being separated, gently in peace as it was meant to be. So I could meet this beautiful tiny soul that grew in my womb while I worried.
At 40.2 weeks, my beloved midwife, who guided me and caught my beautiful first baby, offered to do an exam and maybe sweep my membranes. I was unsure, but after palpating my belly, she said, “Tanya, I think this baby is 9 lbs. now.” My first was 9 lbs. and it was no problem, but he was over two weeks past his due date. So, I agreed to the exam and the sweep. But . . . alas, my cervix was long and posterior, with no chance of her reaching the membranes. She said everything felt soft, but that was it. I was thrilled it was soft – maybe I wouldn’t be pregnant forever this time. And she said, “When you start having contractions, all that cervix will just melt away.”
During my pregnancy, Marcy and I talked about fast labors, precipitous labors, what my labor might be like, what to do if only Milo and I were here and the baby came. “The anterior shoulder comes first,” she said, but only after I probed. I only wanted to know in case I had to catch a client’s baby. Because after my first baby, which took about 42 hours, I had decided that this labor would be shorter. This labor would be about 24 hours, or maybe 15 hours, and much more intense.
So after the failed membrane sweep, I was somewhat relieved. Although I wanted the baby to come, I felt selfish trying to make it happen before the baby decided it was time. I believe anything we “do” to interfere with the baby and the body’s wisdom can have a price. And I always feared that price would be a harder labor! Marcy was putting on her shoes to leave and I said, “So maybe we’ll try again next week.” And she said, “If you’re still pregnant.” And I said, “I mean, anything can happen, right?” And she said, “Oh yes, anything can happen. You could call me tonight.” “Ok. See you next week and I’ll call you if anything gets exciting.”
I hoped so much it would. I was so sick of being pregnant. This one was so tough. By 35 weeks my hips and my back and my pelvis were achy all the time. I was so emotional. All I wanted to do was be in a clean apartment, but Milo spent his day job messing it up. Then I was left bending down to clean it up. I could have left everything there, but my nesting instinct was much more powerful with this pregnancy. I wanted to have this baby so I could sit on the floor and play with Milo again. Poor pumpkin. The detachment from him was so hard and so painful. Each day I would try to renew my efforts to stay positive and soak in the blessings of a healthy pregnancy. But it would always be short lived. My discomforts were like an annoying constant tap on the shoulder, reminding me of how miserable I was at every moment.
That night, Josh went out with Milo to get straws and I went to the bathroom. It was about 6:30 p.m. And on my pantiliner, I actually saw something. Chunky mucous (stay with me here). Now, this was the first time in my entire pregnancy that I had to change my pantiliner for a reason other than the fact that it was old. I looked at the mucous. No blood – nothing. I thought it was from the exam Marcy gave me that morning, but I was intensely excited. Nothing at all was happening, but this was another sign that I might not be pregnant for two more weeks!
I texted Elanna. She was with me as my doula for Milo’s birth, and now we are like sisters. She called me in return and acted happy for me. She later confessed that she thought, “Is she really calling me for a mucous plug?” Doulas . . .
I texted Josh. He got the straws and was headed home. Then said, “Hey, maybe tonight will be the night.” “Who knows?” I responded.
By now, contractions were happening. They felt like absolutely nothing. I mean that. Barely even cramps. I could talk through them. I was finishing some paperwork for my childbirth education certification and typing right through them. Ignoring them like a good student. This happened once before, when I was 38 weeks pregnant, so I knew this might be nothing. But by 7:30, I went to the bathroom, and my mucous had color. A little brown. Still maybe the exam? But Marcy said she couldn’t reach my cervix.
I called Elanna. “Ohhhh. Hmmmm. I wonder. It could be the exam though.” Just what I thought. “Call me if anything changes.”
Contractions continued, still no big deal. And I mean that. I have no tolerance for pain and I prefer not to tolerate any pain at all. I complain when I am in pain – constantly. I am no hero for pain. These were a cinch. I finally roughly timed a couple. Maybe 7 or 8 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. But the brown mucous continued, so I called Marcy.
She didn’t answer, so I left her a message. And I decided I should head to bed. If this continued, tomorrow would be a long day. Josh poured a big glass of Moscato for me. It was sweet and sparkly and delicious. And it did the trick. Marcy called back around 11:30 and said I should drink wine (which I was doing) and go to bed. “Way ahead of you!” as I took a sip. “Call me if anything changes. And by the way, this isn’t from the exam I gave you. I couldn’t even come close to sweeping your membranes.”
I lay in my bed and slept between contractions. Milo was in his bed sleeping, right next to mine. Josh was inflating the tub downstairs, just in case. The contractions were waking me up and I was breathing . . . relaxing the best I could. And I hit the timer - they were 5-6 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. By 12:30 a.m. (an hour or so later) I thought they were artificially painful lying down. So I decided I would get up and go downstairs to sleep upright in our comfy chair. I sat up in bed with the next contraction and water came pouring out of me, like a waterfall. Like a faucet! My legs were off the bed, but I knew I was leaving a total mess. I put my hand between my legs to stop the water – to no avail. Guys, don’t try to stop your amniotic fluid from coming out – you can’t do it.
I ran across the hall and sat on the toilet. I looked down and saw the fluid on my pantiliner was light green – light meconium. My worries about the breech and the cord came flooding back. And I thought – this is totally dysfunctional. I am not in labor and my water is broken. What is going to happen?
Josh heard me run to the bathroom and he followed me. I told him. He was so calm. “It’s ok.” I’m sure he said something else, but my mind was racing with every possible scenario. And then I saw my belly. It looked so different – so low and round and firm – completely changed.
I called Elanna. “My water broke.” “It did?” she replied. So few words with so much meaning, the way a sister would know. “But I’m telling you, there’s nothing happening. Don’t come. It’s too early.” “Hmmm. I hear what you’re saying, but can I just come and sleep in your extra bedroom? I know I’ll have to wait and it’ll be a while but I just want to get there.” Elanna comes from Brooklyn, in a neighborhood so far away, no one knows where it is. She has a car. I reluctantly agree she can come, but I secretly feel like a total pain in the ass. She is going to be here forever. “And why don’t you call Marcy too?” she suggested. “Ok, there’s light mec so I’ll call her but it’s way early. There’s nothing happening at all.”
I hung up the phone and had a contraction. I didn’t dial Marcy – I put the phone down and closed my eyes through this one.
I called Marcy. She answered this time. “My water broke, but it’s nothing at all and I don’t think you should come. There’s light mec.” “I’m not worried about the meconium, it’s fine. Are you having contractions?” “Yes, but they’re nothing. It’s super early.” “Ok, I’m going to come. I’ll just sleep on your couch. Your water is broken and now you’re committed. You’re going to have the baby.”
There was one more person to call - my best friend, AJ. We met while pregnant with our boys and had dinner together when I was in labor with Milo. I was present for the birth of her second baby. I consult her on every important matter in my entire life. (She didn’t think she was getting a love letter in this birth story, but there it is.) “My water broke. It’s nothing. Go back to bed. I’ll call you when something happens,” I said. “Ok. Good night,” she replied with a smile I could hear through the phone.
I made all these calls from the toilet. And then I had three more contractions on the toilet. The first one started to feel stronger. I closed my eyes and went as limp as I could. After it was over, I felt a kind of buzz. I never felt that the first time around.
The next contraction was stronger. I started to moan but that didn’t feel right. It almost made it harder. I felt myself tense up.
Before the third contraction, I vowed that I would completely let my body go no matter what. And it was even stronger, and I started to moan and when it was over, I felt good. My hormones were rewarding me. And I told Josh to call my mom and tell her I was in labor. It was 1:00 a.m.
I put on a pad and went into the office. I sat on the birth ball and had a contraction that was so hard. I couldn’t sit. But I let Josh hold my hand. I was hoping I could let him help me more this time. Last time, I rejected all his efforts and wouldn’t let him touch me. These contractions were nothing like what I felt with Milo. Each contraction felt like tremendous downward pressure. Sitting was the worst torture. I got on my hands and knees for the next couple of contractions. Then I wrapped my arms around the birth ball while on my knees, and held on.
By now I was making enough noise that I thought I would wake Milo. Josh was timing contractions and coming in and out of the room. Getting me water. He said they were 90 seconds apart and 30 seconds long. Still early. But by now, they were huge waves, crashing over me. “Ohhhhhhh Gooooooood,” my voice trembled during the exhales. My legs shook. It took everything I could to hold on. I thought – my God, this is so, SO HARD! This is so much harder than with Milo. How am I going to do this for 24 hours? There’s no way. I can’t do this. I am so screwed. I need help. I need to calm down. I told Josh to call AJ and tell her to come and to call Elanna and Marcy and make sure they were really coming and weren’t in the shower. Elanna always tells me of quick showers she takes before heading to births.
By now, it is 1:20 a.m. I had been in the office for 20 minutes and it had been that long since Josh told my mother I was in labor. We have a deal with my mom . . . we’ll tell her when I’m in labor and then we’ll call again when the baby is out or if we transfer to the hospital. As Josh came back in the room, I pushed at the peak of the contraction. I remember this from the first time. I pushed and the contraction stopped. And that’s when I thought, “If I’m 2 centimeters, I need to calm the fuck down.” My water had broken only 50 minutes ago. I was working with contractions for less than a half an hour.
Josh said they were on their way. Marcy was at 40th street and Elanna was on the bridge. AJ was leaving her apartment. And I needed water. “Go fill up the tub, I’m not gonna make it.” Josh started to leave but I stopped him, “Wait! Don’t go!” I was on my knees and held his hand for another contraction. “I’m coming with you!” I didn’t want to be alone.
I made it two doors down to the bathroom and got on the toilet again for another contraction. It was huge and I pushed in the middle on and off. As a doula I know that if a woman is having trouble pushing, a great way to help her push better is to ask her to sit on the toilet. And at that moment, I knew I had to get the HELL off the toilet. I finally abandoned my underwear, which was doing me no good at all at that point anyway. There was so much water coming out of me this entire time.
I went straight for the stairs so I would make it down before a contraction. Josh brought the ball and put it on the living room rug. I headed straight for it, got back on my knees with my head on the ball and said, “Get a towel.” I needed it under me. I love that rug. And I held on through the huge rushes. For some of them, I prepared my mind and agreed I would just let myself go wherever it was taking me. Those were much, much easier. But then the fear would come back and I’d fight again. Always making deals with myself in this labor. And now, pushing so much, I needed to know where the baby was. I knew if I felt the burning it would be too late for Josh to rush over and catch. I reached inside but couldn’t feel the baby, so I knew I had some time.
At about 1:40, the doorbell rang. I am howling now, not holding anything back and any thought of waking Milo has completely left me. I don’t think of him again in this labor. I don’t even think of the tub filling anymore because I know I’m not going to make it into the tub. This baby is coming. I hear Marcy’s voice, “Where’s the box?” She meant the birth kit. I am thanking God that she is here and can check on my baby.
And then I feel hands on my back and I hear Elanna. “Tanya, you’re gonna have your baby in a couple of minutes, you’re almost there.” And I say, “Ok,” but I’m trembling and moaning and just so overwhelmed with the power moving through me. That’s it. I got it this time. It’s power and energy and it moves through you. You have to let it. It makes it easier. I told Elanna, “I’m scared,” and right away she said, “You’re safe. Marcy is here, we’re all here and you’re going to have your baby in just a couple of minutes. You’re safe.” Which is just what I needed and just what I finally felt. I felt Elanna tapping on my forehead (Elanna is a budding EFT practitioner). And I felt Marcy examine me and say, “The baby’s right here.” With the next contraction, I pushed and I felt the baby’s head start to descend and fill the birth canal.
“I can feel the baby!” I said. And Elanna said, “Yes, you’re going to meet this baby!” And then I reached in again and felt my baby’s head and I wept. “Oh my baby! Hi baby!” When you are having your second baby, you don’t have to imagine what it will feel like, you know what it is to experience a mother’s love. I couldn’t wait!
With the next push, I felt the burning. It was intense but I couldn’t escape. This is the time in labor when women get sore throats. I was certainly earning mine. As she crowned, I reached down again and was so thrilled to touch my baby. As her head was born, I was just overcome with the power and the burning. Then I felt Marcy feeling for a cord, and she told me to push without the contraction. I was scared of the size of this baby, but it came easily with the next push. Birthing the shoulders – definitely only reserved for a few short seconds in one’s lifetime. It was 1:48 a.m. – just 48 minutes after I decided I was in labor, 30 minutes after I called my birth team back to make sure they were on their way.
“Baby’s out. It’s out,” I said. I knew it was over. But I was still on all fours. I didn’t hear anything but I wasn’t scared anymore. Elanna said, “Marcy’s just untangling your baby from the cord.” There was a cord around the baby’s neck. Still nothing but I didn’t turn around to look either. I was barely opening my eyes and coming back to the room. “You baby is opening its eyes,” Elanna said. I knew that was really, really good. Still no crying. Still I wasn’t scared.
“Tanya, take your baby,” Marcy said. And Elanna guided me as I lifted my leg over the cord. And this beautiful baby. This beautiful little face with eyes open and arms outstretched came under my leg facing up at me with a little furrowed brow. Such a precious little perfect face, with all this dark hair. And I said, “Hi baby, hi. I’m so glad you’re here.” And then the baby started to cry and Josh and I lit up with delight. I heard a clicking and I looked over and noticed Elanna was taking pictures. And I held the baby to my chest and I wept. “Oh my God, we did it. You’re here!”
“What do we have?” I had to know. I looked down and saw puffy genitals with an umbilical cord blocking where a penis would be. I moved the baby from side to side to see. And I checked again and again. Definitely no penis. “You’re a girl baby. We have a girl baby.” Not at all what I expected! Wrong again!! And I kissed Josh because he thought it was a girl. Josh is the oracle when it comes to baby sexes. “Oh my God, she is so pretty! Look at her!”
We sat back for a few minutes on the floor and got to know each other. “Does she have a name?” Marcy asked. I replied, “Well, we have to see,” and Josh said, “No . . . we know her name.” “Do we?” I asked. “I think so,” Josh said. I looked at this perfect baby of ours. “Yeah. Her name is Violet.”
After about a half an hour, Josh cut the cord and I birthed the placenta. The placenta never disappoints. It is the true moment of rebirth for me in both of my births. The moment you become truly no longer pregnant. It was wonderful.
I called my mother. “Hello? Already?” She knew it was me. I told her we had a girl. She said, “Finally one of my daughters has an easy labor like mine!” I was glad for it too!
They helped me to the couch and within a couple of minutes AJ arrived. “Did you have a baby?” “We have a girl baby! This is Violet! Come see her!” AJ made a film of me talking about the birth. Then she went to the kitchen to prepare my placenta.
We have loads of highly inappropriate photos of this process. And this part is not for the faint of heart. The placenta has many medicinal benefits for the postpartum mother including reducing postpartum bleeding, increasing milk supply, and reducing the risk of mood disorders. AJ made a lovely plate of tiny raw pieces for me, served on a little sushi plate with chopsticks. A little placenta comedy. I put a piece in the back of my mouth and swallowed it like a pill with water. I tasted absolutely nothing. No raw meat, no blood, nothing. After a few pieces, I felt hungry. So Josh made a chocolate smoothie for me with some placenta in it. It was delicious and I tasted nothing but chocolate.
Marcy checked me and I didn’t need any stitches. Violet lay on my chest and moved around, eventually self-attaching and nursing. No special holds or techniques. Just a baby left to her own devices. It was heavenly. Josh drained the little bit of water that was in the tub. We all sat around and laughed. “You’re all welcome for my speedy birth. None of you have to be here all night waiting!” And we laughed some more. We weighed her. We knew she looked littler than Milo. And she was – 8 lbs. 12 oz. 21 inches long.
Elanna took me upstairs to take a shower. I dried off and everyone kissed us good-bye. It was around 5 a.m. and Josh came into the bathroom. “He’s up. He’s with her.” Milo met his baby sister. He completely understood who she was and was introducing her the next day to people. “His name is Vi-wet.” Milo was 2 years, 3 months old at the time.
We spent the next couple of weeks completely in love with Violet and completely blown away by the ton of bricks that was parenting two. This went on for about six weeks. And it’s only now, as Violet approaches 7 months that I have time to write this. Violet has a very easy temperament and sleeps well. She is a joy and a delight.
I asked myself how it was that I thought I might be so blessed with this second birth. I had been so showered with blessings the first time, being born a mother myself. There were so many lessons in this birth for me and I am still processing it. As a childbirth educator I know that if there is quick change in a labor, it is moving fast. As a mother, I was in complete denial. I am so thankful my birth team was not and didn’t listen to me. Although I do believe everything would have been fine had Josh caught Violet unassisted, I’m glad he didn’t have to. He did manage to catch her anyway, which was a gift.
But I am mostly in awe with Violet, and how she brought these beloved people from my life together one night, just for a few hours. The pain was only a few minutes and the memories of that night will last a lifetime. I feel so blessed that she has come to be with us and that she brought such loving people together for her arrival. And the birth was so, so healing for me. Two things I thought in this birth. During pushing, between contractions I didn’t have the energy to say it, but I thought, “Guys, this isn’t that bad. I can do this.” And as soon as she was born and I saw her and I knew her, I thought, “This cannot be the last time we do this. Look at this little soul. This cannot be the last one that joins us on this planet.”
About the Author:
Tanya Wills is a graduate of the midwifery program at Yale School of Nursing, where she received her Master of Science in Nursing and also earned her R.N. (Registered Nurse).