Anna’s birth story is of the birth I had envisioned, the birth I had tried to have twice prior. Anna’s birth story is of the birth I had always wanted. “Third time’s a charm,” they joked while I was still in the tub. She was my VBAC waterbirth.
I wasn’t due for two more weeks, I didn’t know about the changes in the hospital VBAC policies only a day before my water broke. When you hear about someone’s “water breaking” it’s the sitcom scenes we visualize – the embarrassing splash, the unmistakable gush – but more often it’s kind of a question mark. Did I just pee or did my water break? I’m old enough to know how to go to the bathroom, but what is this?
It was 12:30 am, I got up, went to the bathroom and got back into bed. As I settled in, I had a tiny, throat-clearing cough and that’s when I felt it. A little warm, a little wet. I got back up and went to the bathroom to test things out. Hmmm, I think my water broke. Even the third time around, there can be uncertainty, it hadn’t happened spontaneously with my first two births so I had no personal point of reference either. Excitedly, I put on a pad and climbed back in bed planning to get some sleep before things kicked in.
Instead, I laid there thinking, “When should I call my Mom to come?” She was going to be at this birth and had a four hour drive. I didn’t wake Nick up but realized that I should leave him a note, in those days, he was getting up around 4:30 am to leave for work at 5:00 (insane hours but that’s another post!) I quietly slid out of bed again. I left a Post-It note on the shower door, “I think my water broke. Don’t go to work.” And I got back into bed ready to doze off. Then I realized if I fell asleep I didn’t want Nick to wake me up, so I crept out of bed again and left another square yellow note under the first: “Please don’t wake me up.”
It’s funny the details I thought mattered then, and every one is still clear to me. I never did fall back to sleep. Nick rolled over at 4:30 am as his alarm rang out and I blurted the news before he could see my well-planned notes. We snuggled in together just resting and whispering through the mild, early labor contractions I’d been having overnight; I called my Mom to get her on her way and snuggled in bed some more.
When the house started to wake up, Nick got Ali and Michael ready. I already had an appointment to see my midwife that morning and had my friend lined up to watch the kids. Nick teased me as I made phone calls to cancel other appointments between contractions and I even squeegeed after my shower. He joked that he’d tell the kids that even while I was in labor, I squeegeed so they have no excuse not to!
I felt calm, invigorated, relaxed and just took each contraction as it came. At my friend Kelly’s house, she scurried the kids inside and scooted us out the door as my contractions punctuated our conversation.
The drive to the hospital over winding, turning, bumping, looping back roads took a lot of work. I climbed into the far back seat of our Odyssey and leaned backwards over the seat. I preferred leaning forward through contractions and tried to recreate that position within the constraints of the moving car. I think I even needed to give Nick a few breathy directions on this twisty route I took regularly but that he rarely did.
I remember arriving at the hospital at about 9:30 am. Knowing what I know now, I was in good solid labor, I felt great and happy. Our midwife, Cindy, met us on the floor and after my first contraction in front of her, she told me, “You’re doing great.” I vividly remember how it felt to hear her say that. It meant so much to receive her gentle praise stated as a fact. It contrasted my first birth experience when the doctor, despite knowing I did not want medications, looked at me, stuck in a bed, and suggested drugs; I thought to myself, “He sees Moms in labor all the time, if he’s suggesting that, I must not be doing well.”
Those simple words of encouragement from Cindy were packed with deeper meaning for me.
It took no time for us to be settled into our room, my Mom arrived all excited and chatty. She quickly realized the drill was to be quiet during contractions but that we could talk between them. We tried a few different positions, sitting on a birth ball, “slow dancing” with Nick, but my favorite position continued to be me leaning forward and swaying my hips. Soon after arriving, I ate a banana that I shortly thereafter threw up. (That can be a good sign of progress!)
Cindy suggested I get into the tub so Nick changed into his bathing suit and climbed in with me. Almost as soon as I was in the warm water, Cindy told me I could go ahead and push when I felt like it. I couldn’t believe it, it seemed too quick.
Before going into labor, I was most worried about being able to get through transition (the shortest but most intense time in stage one labor – dilation – going from about 8 to 10 centimeters). I was surprised I’d gotten through transition without feeling overwhelmed or miserable – I did it! I was fully dilated!
I pushed with Nick beside me, supporting me and with my Mom by my head. Months earlier, when I asked if she wanted to be at this birth, she hesitated, afraid to see her daughter in pain, but after considering and talking with friends who’d been at their daughters’ births, she happily chose to be there. I was so glad for that decision. I wanted my Mom there and we knew this would be our last baby.
Throughout my birth, I felt supported and surrounded by love, yet I consciously recognized how I was the only one in the room doing this thing. I needed their encouragement and help, but it was all my effort and work that would birth this baby. I didn’t feel alone, but I was solo in the work of birth. I knew my baby was working with me, and that made me smile, our birth dance together.
At one point in pushing, I was holding back without realizing it. In her soothing, calm manner, Cindy told me to push through the sensation, to not pull back. It was what I needed to hear in that moment; it helped me know that I would be okay despite the intense feelings of my baby descending. Because I knew it was what I needed to do, I could manage any pain that came along with it. I didn’t pull back anymore.
There was a time when I commented, “That hurts!” Cindy asked, “Do you want to get out of the tub?” I answered, “No. I want to get this baby out!” She laughed and replied, “That works, too!” I went back to work pushing. Determined.
“Reach down and touch your baby’s head,” Cindy invited, I felt the crowning head and felt relief despite the burning. Listening to Cindy’s guidance, we waited a moment, allowing my skin to stretch, then I pushed my baby out into the water. Cindy swept the baby up onto my chest and covered us both with a warm towel.
This moment is filled with joy, strength, empowerment. My baby was on my chest, each skinny arm spread to one side embracing me, my first hug. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
Nick answered me, “A girl.” He was the only one who had looked as she was born. Then he hesitated, “I think it’s a girl.” With a peek under the towel, it was confirmed, we had our Anna.
My Mom was crying, still kneeling beside me. My sweet baby lifted her head to see her new world, she was cozy in the warm, moist air of the bathroom, her body against mine. My best friend, my husband, by my side, admiring her perfection, kissing me, gleaming with joy.
One of the first things I said was, “That was the birth I always wanted.” It took me three tries to get it, but I did it.
Cindy looked out for us medically, of course, but she also respected and honored my birth experience. She protected our wishes and even those we didn’t realize were so important until later. She magically cleared the room and politely dismissed the hovering nurse wanting to take my baby saying, “She’ll weigh the same in an hour.”
Nick held Anna, each wrapped in dry, heated towels, while my Mom pet her head and gazed at her. Together, the two artists watched Anna’s face change, her cheeks fluff up, her eyes unmush, her tiny nose unflattening. They still talk about how they saw her change before their eyes.
In a peaceful moment, my Mom sighed, exhaled a breath of relief and pronounced, “Whew! I feel like I just ran a marathon!” We all turned, in a bit of disbelief, to look at her, then collectively burst into laughter. While I worked physically, my Mom was tensing, experiencing birth from a perspective she never had, in a way she never had. Her own baby was having a baby. The stress and weight of that felt to her like the exertion of a marathon. It’s a funny, wonderful comment that I cherish. Though it came out as ridiculous, I somehow got what she felt and meant. She owned a piece of my birth story.