The day before his arrival I was preparing myself for his birth. I walked my husband, James, to the metro several blocks away and opted to take a pass on my normal add on of a walk, or previously a run, through Meridian Hill Park. Home was calling me. I took care of some work on email and prioritized my day. Top on the list was a nap and a swim. When invited to lunch with a friend I contemplated whether I wanted to make my way over to L'Enfant Plaza. Normally I would love to meet up for lunch, but it felt both too far and that it would cut into my nap and swim time.
After enjoying both the nap and the swim, I met James for a final date night as just a married couple. I opted for the spicy curry shrimp noodles to go with pregnancy induction traditions. I wouldn't attribute the birth on it, but it was a tasty and a filling last meal. I then called it early from playing rummy with my mom and headed to bed about 9:30 to get sleep while I could.
When James came to bed at midnight I felt my first contractions just after that. At first I laid in bed and tried to sleep them off, knowing this is what all advice will tell you to do. After an hour I knew that they were coming often enough that I should start to time them and call my midwife. I laid there, going back and forth to the bathroom between contractions, while I timed the contractions. Over the course of an hour they were steady but a bit irregular, ranging from 10 to 4 minutes in between.
I called the midwife around 2 and was told to take a bath to try to slow the contractions and get some sleep, and to call back at 7 if various signs had not occurred. I knew at that point that there was little chance of getting sleep, but I would do what I could. I called my twin sister and let her know that things were getting started. She wanted to get on skype already and I said, sorry I love you, but I just can't talk to you right now. I drew a bath and didn't last long in it, flipping from side to side with each contraction.
I called on James and my mom to start setting up the tub, to have it ready when I needed it. By the time they were done setting up the tub and making up the bed I had given up on timing contractions because I couldn't be bothered. I asked James to help me, telling him okay at the start and end of each contraction. James then called the midwife back and let her know my progress, it was about 5 in the morning and she would be there in an hour.
I had them start filling the tub. As any expectant mom who has done a home water birth knows, this feels like it takes forever. I eyed the tub as it slowly filled, contemplating slithering into the bottom of the filling tub just for the comfort of it. I convinced myself that I could wait until it filled or the midwife arrived. I managed, and it was worth the wait.
As it happened, my gym Mint was having one of their summer events that day. A field day with good old fashioned field games. Since Clark and I had had nearly perfect attendance at the gym 5-6 times a week throughout pregnancy, the joke had been that I'd either be there with a new born, be there nearly a week past due and kick some final but while pregnant (I had won the fitness competition in April while nearly nine months pregnant), or I'd be in labor. It turns out that it would be the final option, the fitness goal I was most preparing for. We were also invited to a pool party while I was in labor, but we were already having our own private pool party.
Over the course of early labor I was first surprised that I wanted nothing but to lie down and toss from side to side. I had done a great deal of prenatal yoga and practiced supported labor techniques in our birth class. At minimum I would have thought I would want to walk or stand, but neither had any appeal whatsoever. The closest I got was misguaging an arrival of a contraction and hugging the wall until it passed.
The second surprise was that the labor process rendered me mute. It started to some degree earlier on, but perpetuated as labor progressed. It literally took me significant effort to utter the word water or lip balm. If you could read my mind, all the better. The was no need for words. It wasn't as if the pain was that bad, I just couldn't go there myself. I heard and listened to others, even replying in my mind, but rarely said a word. While I realized this during labor, it really became apparent when the moment after his birth I was speaking in full sentences without any hesitation. It's amazing what the body and mind can achieve.
I started to have the first urges to bare down just before I got in the tub. I also recall my midwife noting how differently my belly was shaped. We have a huge mirror right above where the tub was placed and I recall marveling at what it looked like to see my baby move down into position. As I slipped into the tub the morning sun was suddenly streaming in through the room and across the tub. It was gorgeous and peaceful.
James sat at the edge of the tub and let me lean back on him or lean over the edge of the tub and rest my head upon him. That felt great. Eventually James needed some rest and pulled in my mom for support while he took a nap.
Our midwives Jennifer and Marilyn were fabulous. A big thanks to Birth Care and all the work they do. They essentially did their thing will little bother to me. When Jennifer arrived and took my initial vitals she said that she didn't think she'd have to take them again. I didn't ask how long that would be, but trusted that things would progress as they should. In the end I would have Clark eight minutes after they should have done my vitals, four hours later.
At one point early on the midwives enjoyed croissants and coffee on our gorgeous tree lined front terrace and marveled at what a great birth experience it was all around. My twin sister was also present via web video, watching us from the middle of the night in Portland, as we heard the birds chirping from across the country. Her family joined as they got up for breakfast and her three kids watched the birth in between cartoons. They had been there, along with me, for the birth of their youngest child, Teagan, now nine months old.
Things continued to progress. After getting in the tub it was easier to simply relax into the labor process. At one point my midwife asked if things might be slowing down since I was so calm, which was not the case, it was just very relaxing and contractions came and went. I could feel my body literally contracting and pushing my baby down. I really wouldn't categorize these a painful, in some ways it was akin to an abdominal workout where you are pushing it to your limits. When you are fit it doesn't hurt, but feels strengthening.
Eventual things were moving along and my mom went to get James. She looked in all of the obvious spots and somehow couldn't find him in our 950 sq ft apartment. At last she checked the bedroom again and found that he had actually fallen asleep on the floor, so as not to disturb the made up bed.
Not so long after James joined I knew that things were moving along. I could feel him getting closer and closer, letting each contraction work it's magic. I shifted into a supported squat position, holding on to James' arms, and let gravity help. I shifted back down onto my knees and with the next push the head was out.
One of the midwives came over to get a fetal heart rate with a Doppler and was surprised to realize there was a head. In my mind I was thinking, of course I know there is a head. She later commented that she'd never been at a birth where it wasn't really obvious when that moment happened.
I shifted around onto my back and prepare to birth the rest of my baby, and then a last time onto my hip as I reached down and pulled our son up onto my chest. My water broke in the final moments of birth as well. Clark was slightly occiput, or with his head askew a bit from the ideal positioning, meaning he came out at a wider angle.
Our son Clark Pierce Hendrickson was born at 10:38 am. He had a reassuring first breath and had good color, looking around at the world. We knew right away that he was a big guy, later weighing in at 8lbs 14oz and 21in tall.
While my expectations for the pain of child birth was that it would be less painful than most people make it out to be, the actual experience was even far less painful than I had prepared myself for. I guess I'll thank nature's drugs at work and count myself fortunate for having had the pleasure to birth in the comfort and privacy of our home.
We hung out in the tub for about ten minutes and then got out to birth the placenta. I squatted a bit and was told to give a big push, which was so big that the splash of blood was huge and even hit the midwife in the forehead. The placenta was one of the biggest that they had seen, at about ten pounds and with a very thick and healthy cord. Everything came out quick and easily and James cut the cord. When I started to stand to go back to the bedroom I became woozy and was very close to entirely passing out. Luckily I had already given Clark to James and was able to quickly come around.
We settled into bed and Clark began to nurse within the first bit. After us both being checked out we were recommended to take a four hour nap and then have a real meal. We napped and then my mom made dinner and we sat outside together on the front terrace with the sun setting through the trees and the perfect temperature. It was anything but quiet, with sirens, a presidential motorcade, and Saturday evening revelers, but it couldn't have been more peaceful and relaxing. The weather was idyllic and we stayed there until dark was upon us. A beautiful way to spend our first day with Clark as part of our family.
Baby Catcher, by Peggy Vincent.