I thought maybe it was the last night. Bennett kissed me on the cheek and then slid down to kiss my almost 41-week belly, hanging over the edge of the ottoman. “I love you, baby,” he whispered between his lips pressed against her, moving inside me, until her home became firm, hard as a rock, as another contraction climbed. The contractions were strong but tolerable. I’d been having them since roughly 5 o’clock that afternoon. I thought maybe this was it, the last time we’d tuck in our oldest of just two. I thought maybe by morning, he would be able to kiss her on the outside, and two kids would finally become three.
I had never been one to want to rush a baby out, no matter how miserable I felt, but the third pregnancy had been a bit of a struggle, physically and mentally, especially towards the end.
I didn’t know if I could do it again…birth. It had been the most empowering experience with Abram, our second son, but this time, I had doubts. I had fears following me. There was just something very different about the third pregnancy. As much as I relived the joy and the power of natural birth in my mind, I couldn’t help but still fear the unknowns. My midwife, Kim, had told me countless times that it was normal to feel this way with the third pregnancy; yet, I just never got over it.
A lot of it stemmed from pain. My body felt so broken down. Every day past her “due date” took a toll on me physically. I could barely walk. The sciatica and the SPD was unbearable. Lugging around almost 70 extra pounds was almost comical to witness, I’m sure. My petite frame was being put to the ultimate test with baby girl. And I felt like I was failing. If I could barely walk, barely move, how would I match up to labor? Would it hold me back from another beautiful birth? I wondered…and the unknowns were crippling.
I labored all Sunday night. It was all the same. I sat up in bed most of the night, timing contractions that were intense but never got closer together or increased in intensity, that I could tell. They stayed 6-7 minutes apart, lasting roughly a minute each. I was told to get rest, but rest was impossible.
How do women possibly sleep through this?
The contractions were strong enough, my thoughts were loud enough, that sleeping would not happen for me. I watched Stuart sleep instead, and occasionally he would wake, to check on me and rub my back.
When the morning light peeked in through the blinds and chatter on the monitor ensued, Stuart sat up in bed and looked at me in my heavy, tired eyes, as I sat Indian style on the bed, rubbing my womb.
“This is the actual worst,” I said, as tears traveled down my cheeks, landing on her. I assumed another full day was ahead of me, ahead of us.
At the walls…out the window…through the faces at the dining table. All I could think about was my body, my exhaustion. All I could think about was her.
“Mommy, what’s the matter?” Bennett asked as he saw me wincing, breathing through another contraction. They were still intense, but still 7 minutes apart, give or take.
“I’m fine, hunny,” I said, even though I wasn’t. I was so in my head. I had been most of my pregnancy. It was the one place I knew I shouldn’t be. That is where fear thrives for me. It was the hurdle I’d jumped with Abram’s birth, and it could not have been more beautiful. My desire to have that again was so strong, but there I was again, stuck in my head.
The entire morning, that’s all I did: stare. I didn’t want to move from the dining table, even though my parents, my boys, and my husband surrounded me, quietly witnessing what probably appeared to be defeat, written all over my tired, broken self.
My midwife texted me at 9:30 a.m., asking if we could chat on the phone, so I finally hobbled up from the chair and settled onto the couch in my office.
She encouraged me to sleep, rest as much as possible, eat, and hydrate. We assumed it was a bit of prodromal labor, even though I was 41 weeks, even though the contractions were intense but stayed at the same pace for what was roughly 16 hours. Hearing her say baby girl would likely come “tonight or tomorrow” broke my heart a little bit.
I don’t know if I can make it that long…
But when we hung up, a sort of calmness came over me as I looked out the window at the most perfect, sunny spring day, one that all of the midwest had been waiting so long for, and I decided to just trust that she knew her birthday…she was waiting for the perfect day, and I had to trust her.
I just sat there, in silence, staring, wondering when she would come, hoping to see her soon…while the contractions continued to climb.
Sometime after 10 a.m., I was back at the table, gazing out the window, still taking on waves while finishing some eggs, and everyone in the house continued moving. I felt as if I was in slow motion or sitting still, while bodies around me were moving in a fast-forward blur. I was so focused on her, on my body, on withstanding every wave, that all the bustling around me became muffled…out of focus…like a backdrop. And the waves began to come closer, maybe every 5 minutes–I stopped keeping track. People asked me questions, and I didn’t always have answers. Every so often, Stuart would look up at me from his work with that half smile, the one that meant hang in there; I love you.
And then I felt what seemed like her hand PUNCH so low and…POP!
I GASPED and JUMPED in my seat as I felt the heavy rush of water gush through the opening inside me.
“Oh my GOD my water just broke!” I cried as the fluid reached my ankles and continued to flood into the cushioned chair.
Everyone came into focus.
“Oh my God…it’s still coming…” I cried and froze in a panic. “It’s everywhere!”
Stuart shut his computer and was already gathering our things to go.
“We got to go,” I said, lifting myself from the cold, wet seat.
There was a tangible shift in the energy about the room and in my mind. Reality set in immediately. I was certain transition would happen fast. Now that my water was gone, labor would take a turn and would take a turn quickly…and I wondered if it already had.
We had to move. We had to drive 35 minutes to the birth center still, so every minute was crucial. I called Kim, told her we would leave as soon as possible, and she said she would be there, waiting at the center.
This was it.
My mom walked me up the stairs, my sopping wet pants clinging to my skin. On the toilet, I braced through a contraction that made my legs shake, and fear set in.
We got to go…I have to make it there.
I could hardly think. I left my wet bottoms on the floor and put on pajama pants and a maternity top. There was no time for shoes, so I threw on my J. Crew slippers. I stood in the doorway, gripping the frame, as I battled a brutal wave.
We gotta go!
I took another couple steps only to stop at the first stair and take on another contraction. It shook me up. Fear flushed through my veins. Stuart was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. He was calm. He was ready. He yelled his quick goodbyes to the boys, running out back with Papa, and then he took my hand and walked me to the car, where I slid in, groaning, and a shadow of doubt followed. It was time.
I looked down at my belly. It looked different. Smaller. Tighter. She was getting ready.
I was terrified, but Stuart was undeniably calm as he flew through traffic and I gripped the edge of the window and the cup holder with each turn, with each rush. There was a pattern…a short, intense wave followed by a long, productive beast of a wave that made me vocal…and I could feel subtle pressure already.
“We gotta get there, babe,” I mumbled on the down climb.
“We’ll get there,” he assured me, every time. “You’re doing great…I’ll get you there.”
He was solid. He was calm, collected. It was honestly the perfect remedy for my pain, for my mind that continued to try to go to a place I didn’t want it to go…the place that told my body I may birth in the car.
Stuart wouldn’t let me go there. He didn’t know it, but his demeanor, his positivity, his assurance saved me in that long moment, that drive that felt like it wouldn’t end. His calmness helped me break things down, focus on getting through each wave, reminding me that each one brought me closer to the center, got me closer to meeting our daughter.
At the last roundabout, I hit a pretty brutal peak that came with some noticeable pressure. I looked down at my thighs and the towel underneath them. I watched my stomach harden as I moaned louder and gripped tighter.
“We’re almost there,” Stuart said. “Almost there.”
I looked at the clock. It was 11:24 a.m. I figured about 2 more contractions stood between me and the door to her birth place. Almost there…
I texted Kim.
Can you have the tub ready?
The windows were open and sheer curtains ebbed and flowed with each gentle breeze passing through. The sun wasn’t outspoken, but it wasn’t shy. It truly was the most beautiful spring day, the first of its kind.
As I gripped the edge of the pristine porcelain tub and leaned my weight against it, breathing harder and rocking my weight from my heels to my toes and back again, I remembered what I’d said to Stuart just days before.
She’s just waiting for the perfect day to meet us.
This was that day. April 8.
As I rested between waves, I also remembered dreaming about giving birth during the day, what it would look like and feel like, and there we were. 11:30 a.m. on a Monday. It all seemed so perfectly aligned.
But as another contraction began to climb, I snapped back into focus, remembering what I was there for and the mountain that still stood in front of me.
The mountain between my daughter and me.
Kim was bright-eyed. Stuart seemed excited and ready. There definitely was this positive, peaceful energy surging through the birth suite. Again, though, I started to sink into this zone…faces and movements and sounds kept falling in and out of focus or tune…the waves were building closer, coming stronger, peaking higher. I started to feel anxious, like I needed to do something, not just stand there staring at the water filling in the tub.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” Kim asked as she felt the water’s temperature.
“I probably should,” I mustered. Stuart took my hand and walked me to the bathroom where two more waves crashed into me, and it felt as though I would rip the toilet paper handle off the wall. There was no longer a bag of water between my baby and me. There was no more padding.
I knew I was so close to meeting her.
I realized quickly that I was maybe the only one who knew that she would come very soon. When I crept through the kitchen and made it back to the tub, I immediately tossed my shirt and crawled in. Kim continued to pass by, getting things in order, and Stuart stayed with me, giving me water to sip on and casually took a couple pictures of me and the beautiful, zen birthing place.
I think I was afraid to say she’s coming soon.
As if I would jinx it…or maybe I was wrong. But I could feel it. I was so still until a wave would build, and then the water would move as I became tense and jagged, fighting through it.
“I’m just going to do some charting in the other room here,” Kim said directing our eyes to the small living room on the other side of the door, “but you just let me know if you need me.”
I nodded. When she left the room, I zoned in on this warm light, shaped like a flame, sitting on top of a shelf in the corner of the room. I could hear my birth music playing. I could smell the oils diffusing nearby. The water surrounding me felt like a soft hug. I tried to channel the peaceful energy, but every once in awhile, as I came down from another fight, the unknown would creep in…
How long will this go on? How long will the waves come?
I don’t think even two minutes passed before the first massive wave began to build, and I could feel my body and mind bracing for it…
My body hurled forward and I could feel my jaw drop as I moaned and Kim’s name fell from my mouth. It was time.
She came right away, knelt at the front of the tub where my feet began to relax again and the water settled as I came down from the wave that shifted the energy.
It was time. She was coming.
Stuart rubbed my arm and whispered encouragement in my ear. His calmness was still palpable, and it was all I needed from him.
Kim’s assistant, Tammy, appeared in the doorway. I’d met her once before, and she too brought such a positive, excited energy to the room.
“Alyssa just had her first very vocal contraction,” Kim told her as she tied my long and unruly hair in a bun for me. As tired as I was, running on no sleep, everything felt right, and I felt completely focused.
The next wave was even more brutal, and I could really feel the pressure. I could physically feel her moving her way down. As the wave continued to climb, my body heaved forward, my hands gripped each side of the tub until my knuckles matched the white of the flawless porcelain. I roared and consciously relaxed my jaw. I remember feeling as if my mouth opened as wide as a watermelon is round. The sounds and the tones that came from me were primal and uncontrolled. I just let them release from inside me. I could not and would not tame them. They were bringing me closer to her.
Yet, something didn’t feel right in that moment…with my body. The pressure in my bottom was something I wanted and needed to feel, but lying on my bottom in the tub was adding to the pressure in a way that I felt was possibly stunting my progress a bit. My body hurling forward with each wave was also exhausting.
It was as if Kim read my mind. That was what I loved about her, and about midwifery in general: there’s this undeniable intuition they have. She knew I needed to switch positions. And she suggested the exact position I was envisioning.
“Maybe try sitting up and getting on your knees, facing this way,” she said, pointing to the middle of the tub, where Stuart was already kneeling, holding on to me from the outside.
I immediately thought back to Abram’s birth, when I naturally got on my hands and knees on the bed, and just minutes later, I met our son.
That felt right. Kim took my hand and helped me rise from the tub, sliding a towel underneath my knees as she guided me to face Stuart. Before I could settle my mind into this new place, a progressive wave had me hurling my head over the edge. I wasn’t thinking about my arms or the fact that my head and neck were literally upside down, hanging outside the tub, and my breasts were pressed against the cold porcelain. I was thinking about opening. I could feel myself opening. It was happening.
She was coming.
When I lifted my head to rest, all I could see was Stuart. His perfect features were vague, but his voice was clear…
“You’re doing so good,” he whispered. “You got this. You’ve done this before.”
And for a split second, I was able to think one clear thought that was not clouded with fear, or doubt, or uncertainty. I was certain…
I would meet my daughter in minutes.
The second wave came, and my roars went from bold and bellowing to a heightened scream as my reflexes, my body responded to her making her way down. I was tired. I likely looked like a rag doll hanging out of that tub, but I was in control. My body knew exactly what to do.
More was said, but all I heard were voices…sounds…select words. I was in and out of reality. Tammy was applying pressure to my lower back. Kim and Stuart continued to encourage me, let me know I was almost there. And my body let me know, too, that I was. I was confident.
It was time to meet her.
And as the last wave climbed, I thrust my head over the edge, gripped the tub, and settled into a moan, somewhere in the middle of my body’s full power…but as I roared louder, dropped my jaw, let my voice peak…
I let go.
And her entire body rushed out of me, the same length of my roar, and until I became quiet, until my body relaxed, until I opened my eyes and slipped back into myself, into reality, Kim’s voice became clear…
“Bring your baby up.”
And out from the water, I pulled her up and slowly laid back down, sinking into the water, and settled her onto my chest. My voice took on an excited pitch I’d never heard before. My entire being was on an unexplainable high.
“Oh my GOD, my baby!” I cried with joy. “HI!”
And I looked into her eyes and rubbed her soft skin covered in the most beautiful, thick layer of vernix. She molded right into me. She was home.
“Oh my GOSH, she’s so beautiful,” I cried, and continued to say “hi” to her sweet face. As she nuzzled in closer, her body and my body softening into the moment together, I let my head fall back to rest on the tub and the words shot out of my mouth:
“I’m so happy!”
And the four of us cheered, in our own ways. She was born at 12:20 p.m., less than an hour after we got there. “You’re such a trooper,” Kim said, as my eyes stayed locked on my daughter.
“She’s so perfect,” I cried, rubbing her beautiful red hair and gazing into her wide open eyes. “Oh my gosh, hi, you’re looking right at me! She’s so sweet…”
Then, Tammy asked, “What’s her name?”
It took me by surprise, but I knew, we knew, her name. I looked up at Stuart, smiling and already so smitten with her, and I said…
“I think Livian.”
“Livian it is,” Stuart said, kneeling down to be closer to us. Livian rested her little hand between my breasts, and Stuart rested his head against my ear. As soon as she heard his voice, she looked at him. I knew I was witnessing an unbreakable bond right then. She fell in love with her daddy as soon as she heard him speak. She followed him with her eyes, and when he reached down for her hand, she wrapped her delicate fingers right around his. I knew right away, she would be protected forever.
Kim took my camera and snapped a few photos while the three of us took each other in…every breath, every tear, every movement. Stuart kissed me as Livian lied content cradled in the crease of my arm, surrounded by water, warmth, and overflowing love.
We wouldn’t move for awhile, even as the water turned cool and became colored red. For that moment, I had prayed. We had prayed. And I wanted to cherish it. Outside, the world was moving, like normal…at home, Bennett and Abram were likely finishing lunch and playing with Nana and Papa…but here, time stood still. That birthing suite felt like our own small little world for awhile, and that world was too perfect to part from…so we didn’t.
Her cord was a stunning spiral against my now empty womb. Once her placenta fell away, Kim placed it in a beautiful ceramic bowl and let the blood continue to flow to her. The water in the bath was now cold, and it was time to move to the bed.
When Stuart took her from my chest, I watched her rest her head against his bare chest as he lightly bounced her in the other room. The light coming in from the windows, resting on their fair skin, was the most beautiful picture I’d ever seen. It is forever painted in my mind. I continued to watch them as I rose from the tub, water and blood streaming down from my exhausted, upright body. As Kim lightly washed me down and dried me with a towel, my eyes were fixated on Livian and her father, my love, making their marks on each other.
And when I slowly made my way to the bed, where she was now curled up against his warm skin and a swaddle, I fell in love so deeply with my girl and my husband. I slipped under the sheets, and Stuart handed her to me so she could nuzzle against my breast and nurse.
All felt right in the world.
And for the first time, actual tears welled up in my eyes as I admired her against my breast, Stuart’s chin against my shoulder…we just gazed at her, our first daughter, the most perfect, beautiful baby girl. It felt surreal, as it always does, when the baby you’ve waited so long for is finally there, real, breathing against you, with you. We just stayed there for awhile–time had no meaning–and we soaked it all in. Her placenta was tucked away between the two of us while we simply cuddled and kissed, in awe of her, in awe of what just happened, reliving her powerful entrance into this world, oozing over her every move, her every smirk and sound, rubbing her soft skin and resting our lips on her perfect head of auburn hair…falling in love with her.
When I did look up for a moment, I gazed out the windows, past the sheer curtains, still rolling in the breeze. I had said she was waiting for the perfect day to be born, and this was that day. She was waiting for this very day. And at that moment, I finally knew why…
I could hear cars buzzing by; I could hear the air pass in and out through the windows; I could see the sunlight still beaming across the town of Burlington; the most perfect spring day was still playing on outside the room. This was the perfect day, and it was the day she picked to meet us.
It all made sense. It all fell into the right place.
And she–our little Livian–was more than worth the wait.