Otto's Birth Story
Bring on the oxytocin! Tales of my whirlwind home birth...
My son Otto wasn’t officially due until September 12th, and it’s pretty unusual for second babies, especially when a mom’s firstborn was induced, to arrive ahead of schedule. I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions for months, with several more intense practice contractions in recent weeks, but these are also typical in second pregnancies. So when I began having what I assumed were more Braxton Hicks, but now with discomfort around my tailbone, on Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if it might be the beginning of labor, but I wasn’t at all sure. Lots of weird sensations come up late in pregnancy, so some achiness in a new location wasn’t, like, a big flashing sign that baby would be here soon. I had, however, read that real labor pains often move from the back or hips to the abdomen, or the other way around, so, yes, the thought did occur to me. And I did mention to Aaron, my husband, when he arrived home from work, that I thought “maybe, but I have no idea, really…” these pains might be a small, not-so-flashy sign of something.
Our midwife, GB, was already scheduled to visit that evening for our home visit – basically a walk-through of how we should set up when labor did kick in. By the time she arrived, the contractions had been happening every 12 to 15 minutes for a few hours, but this, too, had happened before with Braxton Hicks (always eventually subsiding sometime later). While they were uncomfortable enough to give me pause, they certainly weren’t terrible, and I was, overall, functioning normally.
I described the sensation for GB when she arrived (“Um, I’m having some butt pain,”), and she said it sounded like more practice labor, but suggested we do a quick internal exam to see what might be going on. That, too, was uncomfortable; GB said my cervix wasn’t thinning, but it was pointing toward the back, and baby’s head was pushing against it in kind of a funky way. “Sometimes babies get in weird positions, causing the uterus to contract while they work their way into a better position for labor,” she explained. “It can be frustrating for moms, since it hurts, and you get a little excited, but this could just as easily pass within a few hours as develop into real labor. I think right now it’s about fifty-fifty.” She suggested I get into a warm bath, and said she’d be back in a few minutes with some Cramp Bark and some wine. The bath and wine (half a glass) would help me relax, and the Cramp Bark would help us parse what was happening; it’s a great herb for easing cramps and even staving off early labor, but it won’t slow the real thing.
I’d been uncomfortable for a few hours by then, and the bath felt amazing. The wine tasted better than any I’ve ever had. (It was from a convenience store.) And the Cramp Bark seemed to work almost instantly. My contractions didn’t stop entirely, but they eased up a little. Their movement from my butt and back of my hips to my abdomen had become fairly distinct before I climbed into the tub; it seemed less so now.
GB put towels behind my head and sat beside the tub, chatting with me, and with Kaspar, my three-year-old, who was running in and out of the room with various tools from his toy doctor’s kit. I asked GB, “Since the contractions are hurting less, do you think it’s probably not labor?” She agreed that the contractions seemed to have eased pretty quickly. She showed me how to use an app on her phone – Labor Mate – to time my contractions, and asked if I’d be okay if she left the bathroom for a few minutes to talk with Aaron about setting up for the birth. I could hear them discussing where to put the birth tub during labor (what she had come to show us in the first place), downloading the same app on Aaron’s phone, and going over instructions for him about when he should call her: if contractions became as frequent as eight minutes apart during the day, or five minutes apart at night.
She stayed for another half hour, probably, sitting with me and timing my contractions while Aaron started Kaspar’s bedtime. The contractions didn’t stop, but they still weren’t picking up or changing. They were just sort of there; I’d feel them in my sacrum and tailbone, then breathe deeply while they moved to my abdomen. GB tracked them with the app, and we’d resume our conversation once they’d passed. I was relaxed, and she said I should stay in the tub until our house had quieted down, then get some good rest. “Call me if anything changes,” she said. “I’ll be at my office tonight.”
“You’re not going home?” I asked. Her office is about five minutes from our house, while her home is probably twenty minutes away. “Are you sleeping at your office because of me?” I felt a little badly for having blindsided her evening already with what was probably not real labor.
“Yes, I do it all the time!” She said.
“This probably isn’t going to turn into labor, though, right?” I asked. (Contraction.)
“I’d say I’m at 55% no.”
Aaron and I settled down for some Netflix time (new Porlandia episodes!) after he’d gotten Kaspar to bed, and I’d soaked for a while longer in the tub. I couldn’t get comfortable on the couch, though. I decided to try to sleep, and brought Aaron’s phone with me. (We hadn’t downloaded the app on mine, and it was just as easy for us to trade.) He came and lay beside me, but, since I was squirming around every ten to twelve minutes, saying, “Ow…,” I suggested he go to the couch so he could get some sleep before working the next day. He brought my phone in case I needed him.
The contractions continued like this for a while. I’d been texting back and forth with my other midwife, Brielle, throughout the afternoon and evening; she and GB work as each other’s backup teams, and she was scheduled to drive back from New York, where she’d just delivered her friend’s baby, the next day. (We’d known from when I switched my birth plan from hospital to home birth, at about thirty weeks pregnant, that there was a chance Brielle wouldn’t be here for my birth; I’d thus been seeing GB for a few weeks for my prenatal appointments, while Brielle was out of town.) Around 11, I think, I called her.
“Brielle, these contractions aren’t stopping.”
“How far apart are they?”
“Ten minutes, more or less. They’ve been like this for hours. If I get up to pee I have one, though, no matter how long it’s been since the last.”
“Are they becoming more painful?”
“I don’t know. I’m fine in between. They’re just really uncomfortable, and they’re keeping me from sleeping. They hurt, but they’re not terrible… What if I don’t know when I’m in labor?”
“Try to relax and doze. They’ll either pick up, if it’s labor, or they’ll pass. Hang in there. This is common, actually, and this part can be harder than real labor, since it often doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. But it’s all part of helping your baby become ready to be born, even if that still doesn’t happen for a week or two.”
“Hang on, I’m having one…” (A little bit of breathing, nothing major.) “Okay. Okay, thanks Brielle… So you think they’ll eventually go away? I kind of just want to do this thing.”
“Either way, try to rest. Call me if they get more intense.”
Three contractions later, I called her. “I think they’re hurting more.”
“How far apart are they?”
“The same, I think. They’re varied.”
“They might pick up more. You’ll know. Hang in there. I’m starting to think you might have your baby tonight. Let me know if they pick up, okay?”
“Okay… These hurt.”
“Try to rest. Keep me posted.”
Two minutes later, I had a contraction that was in another league entirely from the others. It made me writhe; I almost couldn’t breathe. It passed after about a minute and a half, and I lay there afraid to move as it dawned on me that things were indeed picking up, and quickly, and that this was going to hurt. A lot. Three minutes after that (or whatever… I was no longer timing), I felt my water break, like a balloon popping, followed by a small gush. Adrenaline surged through me. My body hurt and I started shaking all over. I shouted, “Aaron! Aaron!” and fumbled for my phone. I called Brielle.
“I think my water just broke!” I was shaking so hard my teeth were chattering.
“Okay! What color is it?”
“I don’t know. Hang on…” I pulled the top sheet of our bed closer to my face. “Clear, I think. I’m shaking a ton. Aaron!”
Aaron came into the room.
Brielle said, “Okay, good. Taylor, you’re going to have your baby, and probably really soon. You’re shaking because there are huge amounts of hormones in your body right now. You can do this. Breathe.”
“Owwwwwww,” I wailed, burying my head in the pillow. I handed the phone to Aaron, who spoke to Brielle, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. As the pain escalated, my field of perception seemed to contract as well, and the world around me became blurry and far away. When the contraction ended, I looked at Aaron and said, “Hey, babe. I’m okay. Hi. My water broke. What did Brielle say?”
He handed the phone back to me. “She said to get the birth kit. I’m going to do that, and to unlock the front door, okay?”
I nodded, then said into the phone, “Wait, wait. Is this happening NOW? I don’t want Aaron to deliver the baby!” (Sorry, Aaron.)
“GB will deliver your baby, Taylor. I’m going to call her now. She’ll be there soon. I’ll call you guys right back. You are going to do great; you’re going to meet your baby!”
From that point on, I was in full-on labor. I was aware of GB arriving, reassuring me, reminding me of where I was, reminding me that I was having my baby – this pain was all for that purpose – and to use the breaks between contractions to rest. My doulas arrived as well, along with another midwife, as backup for GB. Kaspar’s Montessori teacher arrived, too, and popped her head in to say hi, and tell me I was doing a great job.
“I really thought I’d be more of a badass than this,” I said in her direction.
“Well you look pretty badass to me,” she replied.
I lost all sense of time, but knew things were moving quickly, and so was this amazing team. Each person’s presence felt reassuring as it circled in and out of my orbit, especially GB’s; I felt she understood exactly what I was experiencing. And I was experiencing something I could never have imagined before I was in it. (GB later told me that one of her own four children had been born after a labor as fast as mine. She’s seen many like it since; when they progress like this, mamas have a pretty wild time of it.) I threw up, I screamed, I whimpered between contractions. I felt like my body was about to come apart at the seams. Then each contraction let go, for a time, before the next wave moved in. GB’s, or Aaron’s, or one of my doulas’ hands rubbed my back, and, when I’d come back from the contraction, they reminded me, “You have a break now. This is hard work, mama, but now you have a break.”
I made it from the bed to the shower, and back again, with their guidance. The trip back felt like a thousand miles. I crawled across our bedroom: knee… hand… knee… hand… and made it to the edge of the bed just before another contraction. I lay on my side, clinging to one of Aaron’s arms, with my team circled around me.
One of my doulas listened to the baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler as he made his way down the birth canal. “That’s a healthy, happy baby, Taylor!”
After another contraction, I could feel their excitement. “We can see about this much of his head!” GB held her hands together, making a circle about the size of two quarters between her forefingers and thumbs.
“That doesn’t seem like very much,” I panted, between contractions. (I thought briefly of how much more baby-head we had to go…)
“It’s perfect, Taylor, you’re almost there,” GB said. “Good work.”
“I don’t feel like I’m pushing,” I moaned. “Should I be pushing?”
“You’re body’s pushing!”
And it was. After another one or two contractions, I felt my baby’s head emerge and heard him crying. (Aaron exclaimed, “He looks just like your dad!”) I felt GB pull the rest of his body out, and then my baby was in my arms, just under two hours after I’d first yelled for Aaron from our room.
Moms say the pain of childbirth disappears instantly when a baby is born. It’s true. I looked up, and Aaron was wiping tears away (“You did it, babe,” he said.); everyone around us was smiling, and there was Otto, here was Otto, our perfect little person, as if he’d been here all along. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said. I was joking, sort of, but I also meant it.
I’d thought, before labor, that I might find myself afraid of dying, or of something being wrong with the baby, or a million other things, when the pain set in. I didn’t worry about any of it; I could tell I was in the midst of a process that, while intensely painful, was progressing as it was supposed to. It was like a big storm, something natural and powerful.
I did ask about Kaspar several times throughout labor, though. My mommy instincts didn’t disappear; I could only imagine how it all must sound to him, and I didn’t want him to be afraid. He slept through most of it, as it turned out, waking about twenty minutes before Otto arrived. Kelsey, his teacher who’d come to keep him company, asked him if he was feeling nervous, and he said, “Nope. I just can’t sleep with all of this noise!”
Kelsey poked her head into the bedroom again, after we’d rested for a moment, and after I’d pushed the placenta out. (The placenta was carefully placed in a bag beside the bed, and left attached to Otto by the cord, for a long time after that.) Kaspar wanted to meet the baby – and I wanted to see him. He walked into the room, beaming, and hopped up onto the bed. He put his face close to Otto’s and told his new brother a nonsensical knock-knock joke. (Three-year-olds don’t really get how those work yet.)
We all talked for a while, and then Kelsey took Kaspar to read books, and eventually return to his own bed. Otto nursed for about an hour, while our midwives and doulas tended to us, cleaning up, preparing food. Aaron then held Otto while I took a shower, and our team made our bed with fresh sheets. GB stayed the longest, weighing Otto just before she departed. She gave us some basic instructions, but mostly encouraged us to just rest and enjoy our baby. She’d return in the morning to check in. (She, and Brielle, have been back several times since, and we’ve been texting and talking constantly. This is what I call post-partum care.) When she left, it was raining. It rarely does here. Our family of four was greeted by a rainbow at dawn.
For all of his determination in barreling into the world, Otto has proven to be quite the peaceful soul since his arrival. We’ve been holding him directly on our skin nearly 24/7; I don’t have many photos to share of myself with him yet, as I’m topless in all of them. (He’s nursing like a champ.) He smells intoxicating and squeaks when he sleeps. For my part, I’m feeling wonderful — surprisingly so, physically speaking. I’m savoring these first precious days with our new baby, and looking forward to sharing our family’s adventures with you in the weeks and months to come.
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