It went dark.
I turned off the giraffe lamp in Bennett’s room, and I swallowed the rock that lodged in my throat as I cupped my hand under my belly, the way I always did when I wandered out of his bedroom at night.
In my short journey through the darkness of his room, I realized I had just said goodnight to my firstborn for the last time…the last time as my only one. The moment was surprisingly pivotal for me, and I let a few tears go as I made my way down the hallway and sat down on the end of our bed.
My baby boy…
For just a tiny moment, I let myself be consumed with sadness and with a strange bout of guilt because I knew that he didn’t know…he didn’t understand…that in the morning, or at least within a day, his whole life would be drastically changed. As his mom, I was moving and changing his entire world by bringing him a brother. For that, I let myself be sad for just a minute, knowing that it would never really be just the two of us ever again. I let myself cry for a minute because I only gave him all of me, my entire, undivided attention, for 20 months of his life. It didn’t seem like enough, when I let myself think about it, but then I made myself stop. I let myself have that moment, and then I made myself move on because I knew my heart would have room for two and so would his. He would learn to love our new life along with me.
I lifted up my shirt and moved my hands across my belly as his brother pushed against my skin.
My baby boys…
I sat up in bed; it was 11 p.m., and I felt queasy. I thought about the castor oil cocktail churning in my gut, and my chin became clammy. It had been less than 4 hours since I choked it down, and I was almost scared to know if it was finally working.
I grabbed my phone and browsed online for a bit, trying to ease my mind. I went to the bathroom and lost more of my water and saw more bloody show, but that was it, which I was thankful for.
I sat back down on the bed, and after a few minutes, my stomach seemed to settle. I had only slept an hour, and I was wide awake, wondering, waiting for something to happen.
And by 11:30 p.m., it was happening: I was contracting.
The contractions were tolerable but surprisingly close together right off the bat. A wave would come, and I swayed through it as I sat Indian style on my side of the bed. For awhile, I did this, alone; I didn’t wake Stuart, but eventually, as the waves came on stronger, he woke, as he heard me breathing through them a bit louder.
“How’s it going?” he said while looking at me with sleepy, squinting eyes.
“It’s starting,” I said. “So far, my contractions have been 5-6 minutes apart but they’re lasting less than a minute.”
We were both surprisingly calm, considering we both knew: it was time; it was happening. Typically, at such a telling moment, my thoughts would spiral out of control and I would panic and adrenaline and anxiety would set in, but in that moment, in a way, I was centered. To my surprise, I was calm.
I phoned Nicole to keep her posted; she was already at the center for another birth. I kept my doula in the loop too. Everything was packed and ready to go. Bennett was sleeping soundly down the hall. My parents arrived 2 days before. Everything was falling into place, and for that, I was thankful.
And for the next 2 hours, I was able to focus on the waves at home. I was able to be at peace, knowing our baby would be here soon.
We arrived at the birth center at 2:15 a.m. for my second dose of antibiotics, and at that point, the waves were strong enough to feel uncomfortable but tolerable enough to talk through. I waddled into the reception area with Stuart holding my hand. Nicole was there, waiting, and I could tell she had been busy; apparently, a woman had just given birth in the purple birthing suite down the hall, plus she had been working since well before my appointment the day before. But the beauty of midwives is that no matter how tired they are, they’re always ready for the biggest moment of your life. Midwives, just like laboring mothers, pull energy from somewhere we never knew existed.
“How are you doing? Still contracting?” she asked. I could see she sensed things were progressing as my forehead wrinkled and my eyes closed.
“They’re going,” I mumbled. “I’m having one right now.” I gripped Stuart’s hand a bit tighter, and he and Nicole watched as I worked through it.
“Good!” she said, leading us to the blue birthing room.
The silent air and the subtle glow of the dim lights was welcoming and warm. I could barely fathom that this would be the stage where we would meet our son for the first time. I had envisioned our birth in that exact room for 9 months, and we were finally there. It was surreal as Nicole brought in the birthing ball, and I immediately took to it. I bounced and swayed back and forth as she hooked my IV up to another dose of antibiotics.
We chat a little, as I slowly rocked and Stuart got our bags settled at the foot of the bed. Nicole told me about her busy past 24 hours, and I bounced and listened and worked through each wave. I was a little on edge anticipating what I knew was coming next.
“Alright, why don’t you hop up on the bed and we’ll get you checked,” she said, releasing the syringe from my wrist. She laid a towel on the bed for me.
“I hate this part,” I winced as my legs began to shake impulsively. Cervical checks had been excruciating for me during Bennett’s labor. I remember writhing in the hospital bed, gripping the sidebars with each of my hands as tears streamed down my cheeks. I tried not to compare to that moment. I tried to focus on right now and the fact that…this time was different. This pregnancy was different. The care I had gotten throughout was different.
This felt right.
And like that, it was over. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel pain. It was tolerable, and the only check I abided to (since the midwives typically admit laboring mothers at 6 centimeters dilation).
“Four centimeters, about 60 percent effaced, minus one,” Nicole said as she stepped away. My mind and the entire room went on pause. “I’m going to keep you here; I feel like things are picking up quickly,” she added.
I looked at the clock. It was 2:40 a.m. We were staying. This was it. I updated Stacey and told her we were staying. I feared it was too early to be at the center. I didn’t want it to spike my adrenaline or make me overly conscious of the time clock. I didn’t want this to stall labor.
I didn’t expect to be here this early…hope that’s ok…
I said to her in a text.
Of course it is!
We just gotta roll with it.
It’s cozy there 🙂
And she was right. It was cozy, and peaceful, and oh so beautifully quiet.
“The mother next door just left, so I’ll have Jen clean up the bathroom and it’ll be all yours,” Nicole said before leaving the room. I hadn’t met Jen, the nurse on call, until then, and I quickly grew to like her. When she came in for the first time, I was working through a wave when I felt a large gush. She didn’t hesitate to offer to help me change into a new pair of Depends. As soon as I put them on and crawled up onto the bed, I quickly soaked through that pair.
“I think I need to go to the bathroom,” I said to her. I had been sipping on my “labor aide” drink, as well as water, in order to stay hydrated, and I remembered that it’s good to empty your bladder often during labor.
As I stood up next to the bed, a felt more water flow out of me in a warm, continuous stream.
“Ohhhh that was a lot,” I said, and we both sort of laughed at my wide-eyed reaction.
“That’s ok! That’s good!” she said, leading me slowly to the bathroom. As I lowered myself down, it felt surprisingly comfortable to sit on the toilet for a bit. As she tore the sides of the diaper off, I was surprised to see the padding drenched in red. I looked at the water: more red.
I knew it was normal, but I asked anyway, for reassurance.
“Totally normal, just more bloody show,” she said as she held out a fresh pair of Depends and guided my legs into them. I stayed there for a bit while I contracted. My legs were rigid as the waves grew stronger and the breaks between grew shorter. When I was ready, she walked me back into the room where Nicole suggested I get up on the bed and lay on each side with the peanut ball between my legs for 4 contractions on each side.
Stuart laid next to me in his jeans and white T-shirt while I stripped off my shirt. I am typically conservative, but there, I was comfortable. Laboring in a thin bra and an adult diaper was the last thing on my mind.
“Here comes another one,” I said as I reached for Stuart’s hand to squeeze and pursed my lips as the wave began to build…as my belly squeezed tighter and tighter…as my breathing became audible…as my eyes pinched shut…until I was on the way down…and my belly softened…and normal breathing resumed…and my eyes reopened…and my grip released…and more water escaped through the leg openings and onto the towel on the bed.
“They’re getting stronger,” I said to Stuart. “I don’t know when to tell Stacey to come.”
He didn’t know either. He and I were wired to think we would be there for countless more hours before our son would arrive. We were in the hospital for 4 days with the induction of our first, so it’s all we knew. And with that, we decided to have her wait.
Nicole and Jen had given us perfect privacy, and mentally, for me, it was comforting to enjoy the peacefulness without countless eyes on me. For the most part, it was just us–Stuart and me and the baby we’d soon meet–and it allowed me to focus on just that, just us.
Getting through 4 waves on each of my sides was doable but in no way simple. As I continued to lose water, the waves came on with more power, more frequency, but I was riding them. I remember Stuart looking at me when a particularly large wave came, followed by a short break, and then a smaller wave stacked on top of it. Just when I felt like I had lost to them, I saw the outline in his pocket. They were my birth affirmation cards. I didn’t have him pull them out; I didn’t need to. I remembered the one I needed in that moment…
Each wave brings my baby closer to me.
Nicole popped in and suggested I get on my knees on the bed and lean forward with my arms resting on the peanut ball. I was all for it; I felt confident in my progress. This seemed to be working, especially for getting rid of the padding of my water. I stayed focused on each contraction, each gush of water, knowing they both meant I was that much closer to meeting our boy.
I climbed up on the bed, resting my head on my folded arms and faced Stuart lying on the pillows to my right. It truly felt like it was just the two of us, at home in our bed, and that alone made the pain seem conquerable, less intimidating. Then, for a second or two, I fell out of my “zone” and thought:
Are we really here?
We had walked past that very room so many times throughout the pregnancy. We’d heard other parents’ babies give their first cries from that room, but not our own…
We made it.
We’re really here.
It was our turn.
It was my turn to experience the birth I’d always wanted, the birth I wholeheartedly believed my body was made for. I’d been calling it my redemption birth, and that fueled my desire and fed my motivation to go on, push through, take on each wave one by one.
Then, as the fourth and final wave in that position began to build, I felt a powerful “pop” that made me jump and gasp out loud.
Stuart shot up in bed.
“What, what happened!?” he asked. His eyes were as wide as mine.
“Something just popped,” I said, slowly retreating from the ball. I felt a large rush of water as I became upright again. Nicole stopped in to check on us and put away the peanut ball, assuring me that it was likely my forebag that popped.
Another step closer…
And it felt like a big step…as I slowly began to swing my legs off the edge of the bed. I had a desire to get back in the bathroom, for a dry pad and to just sit there, for some odd reason. I didn’t even know what time it was. But the waves were beginning to stack…closer together…and I was now battling to stay afloat.
As my feet touched the floor again, my belly tightened immediately upon standing; there was no build-up to prepare for. I tensed my jaw and grit my teeth and rocked side to side as the unexpected force ran through me. It didn’t last long, but I had reached a new peak of pain. When my eyes slowly opened, Jen slipped in the door.
“Need to head to the bathroom?” she asked, reaching her arm out to guide me. She knew exactly where I was going.
“Ya, I just lost a ton of water,” I said confidently. And before I could take a step in her direction…
Instinctively, I looked down as I felt the warm water flood into the padding that was now a heavy weight underneath me.
“Pretty sure I just lost the rest,” I said, almost with a smile. Jen was smiling, I think, because she knew, like I knew, that that was big progress, the biggest progress, the biggest step.
It was then that we told Stacey to come. I told her things seemed to be moving quickly. It made me excited, and I felt like everything was falling into place. But then I had a fleeting thought. I knew what would come next; I was pretty sure. I may not have known my actual dilation at that moment, but I didn’t need to; deep down I knew: I was getting there, again, to 8 or 9 centimeters–I had to be close. That was the moment that broke me last time, so I tried not to let my mind go there, completely, not for more than a second. I didn’t have time to retreat to the past. I didn’t have time to psyche myself out, and I didn’t want to…because I knew:
This is it.
This is transition.
My knuckles went white as I gripped the metal bar next to the toilet. I looked down at my stomach as it hardened and squeezed into a sort of irregular, tight shape–the shape of our baby. I could see then that the padding truly was gone, and the waves were big and brutal. I moaned as I waited to come down from one, and I vaguely noticed four faces in the bathroom with me.
“I feel nauseous,” I said with a pained brow. Jen squat down next to me with a blue bag in case I needed to vomit.
“It smells like peppermint to help with the nausea,” Nicole added. I could smell it from where I sat.
I didn’t want to move from the toilet, even though my rigid body on the porcelain seat was far from comfortable. But I didn’t want to move. Stuart stood in front of me as my forehead began to wrinkle and my grip tightened again in anticipation of the next wave. As it climbed, my dangling feet involuntarily stepped forward and backward, left then right, in a pattern, and I closed my eyes. The wave’s power was almost unfathomable, and I started to think it was unbeatable. My muscles were tensing; my movements became impulsive and uncontrolled; my body felt mechanical. It was doing things without me, in a sort of defense against the invincible waves.
I couldn’t make out the details of everyone’s faces except my husband’s, and I’d seen his look before, just as he had likely seen mine. That was where I was 2 years ago. That was where I’d started to break, and he and I both knew it.
“I’m going to start filling the tub,” Nicole said in the doorway. She knew, too, that I’d reached that point. And maybe water would help. I hoped it would help. I didn’t know how much more I could handle. The waves were starting to drag me under, but I would not let myself drown. Four faces were watching me, but it felt like just me. While each of them were watching me, I let myself go. I let my body, my voice be impulsive with each wicked wave.
Finally, as my belly hardened into a rigid rock, those words came busting out.
“I can’t…I can’t…I CAN’T!” I groaned as my feet rocked back and forth and my bones seemed to crumble inside my body. “I can’t do this!”
I could see the agony on my face in Stuart’s eyes. I could only imagine how I looked in that moment: my distorted posture, my hard stomach, my shaking thighs, my chattering jaw. I’m sure he thought I was breaking. But really, I was almost there, and I was fighting.
I could hear Stacey’s voice as she squatted down into my view as I was looking down, hanging my head, watching my feet make their pattern as I braced myself for the next wave:
“Yes you can,” she said. “You can do it.”
The words kept coming out like uncontrolled vomit as another wave stacked in front of me.
As the wave settled, it was quiet for a second; just the trickling of water filling the birth tub was all I could hear. My head was hanging heavily as I rested my toes gently on the floor. Something was happening…
I felt myself opening.
All of a sudden, I realized where I was. I wanted to get off the toilet. The pressure intensified. I lifted my heavy head and looked into Stuart’s eyes, which came to meet mine. The words fell out:
Just seconds passed before I found myself on my hands and knees on the bed. Another second more, and I no longer was conscious of anyone in the room, not even myself.
He was coming, now.
He was coming, fast.
And my body transformed in that moment. My palms and kneecaps had barely sunk into the mattress when my body succumbed to the unstoppable reflex, the invincible urge to push. And I subconsciously slipped into a powerful, primal state.
I didn’t tell myself to, but I did. I could feel my eyes bugging as this power, this mysterious strength pushed my baby out. Just one long roar and he was almost here. I hung my head and rocked back and forth as I took a second to take exaggerated breaths and the impulsive reflex relaxed with me for a moment. That moment wasn’t long. I didn’t have time to look up at my husband or look back at my boy on his way into Nicole’s arms, into the world. For that short moment, I felt myself again, but just for a moment. Until, it came back, more powerful than ever, and I let go of control.
My jaw dropped.
I picked up my head.
And I roared, baring my teeth.
Until I felt my body completely release him. On my hands and knees, the weight was gone and I was consumed in satisfaction, in relief, in absolute shock. I slowly lowered myself down onto the bed, and my husband’s look said it all: he had witnessed the power of natural childbirth, a power we both didn’t know I had until that moment, a moment that passed in a matter of seconds. He had witnessed redemption.
The awe, the powerful energy in the room was palpable. Nicole and Jen helped me lay back onto the bed until my shoulders and back rested on the pillows.
I caught my breath.
And then we met.
Nicole laid Abram Joseph Britson on my chest, and I did not cry. I was still coming down from the highest high I’d ever reached.
“Oh my goodness…” I muttered, in relief, stroking his head. “Wow.”
I was in shock at myself and at his arrival. Looking up, all their faces were perfectly clear again: Stacey, Nicole, Jen. Stuart, who had his head resting on my shoulder, was smiling as he looked over at our second son, cozying into my breasts, covered in a beautiful thin layer of vernix. I asked if he was OK, because he was just so peaceful and quiet against me. And he was; he was perfect.
Everyone in the room was smiling. We had a short laugh at how quickly the birth progressed. We all couldn’t help but gush over what had just happened in a matter of minutes.
Just 3 hours had passed since we had arrived. It was 5:15 am when he met me. That was the first time since we arrived that I looked at the clock near the foot of the bed.
The time clock…
Jen and Nicole shuffled around, trying to control my bleeding and watching Abram’s cord, waiting for it to stop pulsating so dad could cut it. Stacey stood nearby, taking candid photos of us all snuggled together in bed. Despite their movements, though respectfully slow and quiet, it felt like just the three of us.
“He looks just like Bennett,” Stuart said, nuzzling his scruffy cheek into my left shoulder and rubbing the back of my arm. Then he whispered in my ear: “You did it.”
I did it.
I smiled briefly at him, but I was fixated on this beautiful baby boy brushed up against my breasts. I stroked his head with my hand, and I watched his back rise and fall and felt his warm breath against my chest.
There was chatter; we all talked about the moment we’d all witnessed, but I admit, I don’t remember much, and at the time, I didn’t say much. I didn’t have words. In a way, I let myself revel in the power of the moment, in the power of his birth. In a way, I was still in shock of it all; we all were. In a way, I was still coming back into my own body.
Abram’s arrival was more beautiful and satisfying and powerful than I could have ever envisioned. It was surreal to feel his warmth up against me, his heart and my heart beating together on the outside.
“That was amazing,” I said under my breath. “He’s amazing.”
I snuggled him closer to me as I looked around the room, my heart so satisfied, my heart so content. There was just an inch of water in the tub. He came quickly, but not as quick as it took for my heart to expand with love for him. That was instantaneous. That was effortless. He made me a mom, again, and gave me a priceless gift: a newfound trust in my body and in the power of my mind. He made me look at myself in a new way, a way that was not shadowed with fear, a way that would change me forever.
And he gave me the birth of my dreams…my redemption birth.