The Story of Alder's Birth
I think one of the most precarious assumptions in life is to assume that because you have done something before, you will know what you're doing the next time around. That simply because you've been somewhere or experienced something before that the next time will feel & be the same. I've lived long enough now to know better than to make this assumption, and yet I absolutely thought this would be the case when it came to the birth of my second son.
I should have known better because my pregnancy with Boy #2 was completely different than with Boy #1. At the time, I had nothing to compare it to, but my pregnancy with my first son, Cayden, was very easy in the scheme of things. With the exception of the typical swelling, sleep loss, and heart burn in the third trimester, the pregnancy was fairly smooth sailing. This was not the case with my pregnancy with Alder.
If I were to pick a single word to describe my second pregnancy it would be: discomfort. I felt it constantly. I spent most of the past 10 months either quietly enduring or outwardly complaining about a myriad of aches, pains, swelling, heartburn, headaches, indigestion, and more. In fact, as soon as Baby #2 was out of my body, I felt so much better physically that I have found myself needing to be constantly reminded to "take it easy".
After enduring months of discomfort, my biggest hope was to have a baby that arrived on the earlier side of full term. My first had the wonderful courtesy of arriving two days before his due date, a rare occurrence for a first baby. I assumed that my second would follow suit with his big brother. I could not have been more wrong!
Baby #2 was incredibly active in utero, almost hyper actively so. That fact coupled with his early descent to a heads down, "locked and loaded" position had me and the midwives feeling as if he would be arriving sooner rather than later. In my mind, my only goal was to get to 37 weeks, as we were planning on having a home birth, and we needed to reach that full term milestone in order to give birth out of the hospital.
I had planned on working up until 37.5 weeks, and on December 19th the 37 week mark came and went. We had made it! I still had 3 more work days to get through but the little fella in my belly had different plans. The next day I was preparing to give one final big webinar for work, and I was hit by some very strong contractions. They were so strong I could hardly focus, let along give a webinar. Luckily I had had the forethought to record the session in advance just in the off chance that something like this would happen. I sent word to my team and rode out the contractions until they felt strong enough to call the midwives.
What resulted from those contractions was the first of what ended up being five rounds of false labor that stretched out over the course of the next month. The hardest part about all of this was that each time it happened it all felt so real, as if my baby was about to come. And when the contractions would stop or dilation would not progress, I would be left exhausted and discouraged, wondering how I had again misread the signals of my body,
That month was the longest I have ever experienced. We were expecting an early arrival so we had pretty much completed all of the major baby prepping activities. We had to come up with a lot of ways to pass the time. We cooked a bunch of food and went out to satisfy those last few pregnancy cravings for the things I couldn't whip up at home. We watched a ton of Netflix. I knit and crafted like crazy. We bought a house (no joke!). We went on lots of walks. But more than anything we waited.
Looking back the most precious thing about that time was the fact that James and I got to spend it together. He had taken a month off for the baby's arrival before he was to start a job at a new fire station, and I started my leave the week of Christmas. We ended up spending the most one on one time that we ever have in our relationship. We talked a lot. About what it'd be like when the baby came, about our goals, about the future. I cried a lot. Especially when my due date came & went. It felt as if the baby would never come. I have never been particularly patient, so this was an incredibly challenging time for me.
When my due date passed, I began discussing with my midwives a plan in terms of when and how we might encourage baby's arrival. I was already doing all of the classic things to get the ball rolling like eating copious amounts of pineapple, having sex, lots of walking & bouncing around like crazy on my birth ball. I added in evening primrose (to ripen the cervix) & cramp bark (to calm my "over-active" uterus to minimize more false labor) & passionflower (to sleep) at the midwife's suggestion. I also added in acupressure, and went that didn't work, acupuncture.
As I approached nearly a week overdue and after my 4th round of false labor, we discussed with our midwives the idea of doing a herbal/natural induction. James was due to start his new job and a 3 week intensive firefighting academy on January 16th, and we had hope and planned to have a baby well before hand. Seeing how that was no longer the case, we decided to plan on doing a herbal induction on Friday (the 19th), so long as baby didn't come sooner, in hopes that James could be there for the birth & then have time to bond and rest up as a family over the weekend.
I spent the last week of the pregnancy with my mom, going to fetal monitoring & acupuncture appointments along with various bakeries to keep my 3rd trimester sweet tooth at bay. In my mind, Friday could not come quick enough. But on Thursday night James came home from academy and he was as white as a sheet. He told me he felt ill and went downstairs to take a bath. A few minutes later I could hear him throwing up. He had come down with a severe case of food poisoning. I kept worrying that the baby was going to come in the midst of that hectic evening. Luckily my mom had decided to stay the night and was able to help with Cayden, and the baby decided to stay put so I was able to take care of James.
By Friday morning James was on the mend, so I headed to the midwives. There I got instructions on how to make my herbal induction cocktail, which was a mix of apricot juice, verbena (as in lemon verbena extract, it tastes just like the scented candle would smell), castor oil (I can only describe this as vaseline but in liquid form), and almond butter. Delicious, except not really. I made the concoction as soon as I got home, and chugged my first dose as quickly as possible. Because my contractions were still pretty mild, I took a second dose two hours later, and things picked up intensity by a bit.
By evening my dad had arrived with take out Thai food and his overnight bag. We were all expecting the big arrival of a baby by morning. I rode out the contractions until late evening and eventually decided to call the midwives. They came over and checked me and let me know that while my cervix was very "ripe & soft", I still wasn't really dilating. They encouraged me to take a bath and get some rest. After some time in the tub, I ended up crawling in bed with Cayden around midnight. I was woken up periodically by my contractions, but they weren't really getting any stronger. By 7 am they had stopped completely. I was exhausted, and honestly, devastated. It was so hard to go through that whole process and still not have my baby. What was more, I now was 11 days overdue. I knew that if I didn't have my baby in the next 3 days, I would have to be medically induced and give birth at a hospital which was not at all what we had planned.
Because we were all starving and probably to help lift my spirits, my dad suggested we all go out to breakfast. We headed off to Geraldine's, where I ate my weight in delicious diner food. Looking back, the baby must have moved into a much lower position sometime during the night, because for the first time in months my stomach had ample room & I could eat all I wanted to. My spirits didn't improve much with the meal though. At one point James raised his glass to make a toast, and I made him put his arm down and told him "We don't have anything to celebrate". I was emotional to say the least.
As we were leaving the restaurant, we ended up standing out front debating whether or not we all wanted to go get a mocha from our favorite coffee spot. All of a sudden, I felt a big gush of fluid down both of my legs. Luckily, right before we had left the house I had had the forethought to put on a maxi pad, otherwise my pants would have been completely soaked along with my socks and the sidewalk. We walked (slowly) to the coffee shop and I used the bathroom to double check that it was indeed my water breaking, as I had already falsely thought my water had broken during a previous round of contractions. After inspection, I was fairly certain it was the real deal, so I called the midwife to let her know. She told me to head home and to keep her posted, as things could either progress really quickly or really slowly from that point forward.
We went home and waited. But no contractions came. I was anxious and a little bit pissed off. Why weren't the contractions coming? Had I made a mistake again and my water hasn't broken? I began to be filled with doubt that this was another false alarm. The day passed with all of us watching cooking shows on Netflix. But as afternoon wore on with still no contractions, we decided to go out for ramen, which was another food oriented activity to distract me in hopes of improving my mood. On the way to dinner I touched base with the midwives who told us to come by the clinic afterwards. We ate dinner uneventfully and dropped my dad off to the ferry, as it seemed like no baby was coming, swung my mom & Cayden back home, and then James and I headed to the clinic.
At the clinic they started by monitoring the baby's fetal activity, and then they checked my dilation and examined for amniotic fluid. Although I was now fully effaced, I was only dilated about a centimeter, and the midwives could not find any signs of amniotic fluid coming out of me or on the pad I had brought along for them to test. I was so discouraged. Because another day had passed though, and because there was only a 2 day window left to be able to give birth at home, the midwife sent me on my way with more verbena and instructions to get as much rest as possible before taking it the following morning.
I awoke on Sunday and took the first dose of the herbal induction cocktail around 9:30 am. James and I were lounging around watching football, and since things didn't seemed to be picking up in any way, my mom left to run some errands. Because my contractions were fairly mild, I took a second dose at 11:30. I was sitting on the couch when all of a sudden things started to intensify. I went upstairs not sure if I needed to pee or throw up (I did both), and when I was about to go back downstairs, a huge contraction hit me with the force of a semi truck speeding downhill. I had to sit down at the top of the stairs and James had to rush up to hold me and help me through it. It was at this point when I knew for certain I was in labor. Strong contractions kept coming on one after another, and as much as I wished they would stop, they did not. By 12:15 I felt like I was stuck on a ride I couldn't get off, with no idea when it might end. I never managed to make it back downstairs.
For the next hour and a half James helped me ride out wave after wave of contractions. It was just the two of us, pacing, breathing, moaning (mostly me) and writhing (all me) around the third floor of our townhouse. Sometime after 2 pm, I felt things pick up in intensity and I asked him to call the midwives. They showed up no more than 20 minutes later and confirmed that labor was (finally!) underway and that my vitals and the baby's were strong and stable. They gave James and I space and proceeded to set up their equipment in our bedroom. We had forgotten to let my Mom know that things were under way, so she was a bit surprised to come back to a house filled with the sounds of me laboring with a bunch of medical supplies in the entryway.
Around 3:30 or so the midwives proposed the possibility of breaking my bag of waters (as they thought it was still intact) to speed things along. Because we were already up against the clock in terms of heading to the hospital unless the baby was born at home in the next day, I eagerly agreed. I laid down on the bed so the midwife could check me and then puncture the bag, but when she went to check me she was surprised to find there was no bag at all. My water had actually broken the day before like I thought it had. All she could feel was the baby's hair and I had already dilated 5 cm. She encouraged me to stay on my feet, as that was when my contractions seemed the strongest, and she suggested I get in the shower. Looking back, I am so grateful she did.
As soon as I managed to get in the shower, things started to shift dramatically. It was all I could do to get through each contraction. I repeated my mantra ("Okay, okay, okay..."), which had come to me spontaneously as things had intensified, and held the shower head directly to my belly to distract my mind with the different sensation. Just as I was about to utter "I can't do it", I recognized what was occurring. I was transitioning and it was happening fast. I realized that meant that after all of the month of never ending waiting, my baby would be here very soon. Rather than having to endure for hours and hours more, I knew I could soon be pushing. My mindset shifted completely, and my new focus wasn't just to get through each contraction, it was to get him into my arms. Soon my midwives heard my breathing change and become more constricted as I felt the urge to bear down, and they called for me to get out of the shower. James helped me dry off and I headed into our bedroom. It was time to push!
The midwives instructed me to get on the bed on all fours, and went to check the baby's heart rate. But rather than the steady, fast beats I'd heard throughout the labor, his heart was slower and had dropped below 100 BPM. The midwives immediately had me shift onto my side, and then Heather, the midwife in charge, turned to my mom and instructed her to call 911. She calmly told my mom to inform them that it was a planned home birth and that we would deliver at the house but that she wanted the EMTs there just in case the baby or I needed assistance or an immediate transfer. She had her assistants put an oxygen mask on me and I began pushing as my mom stepped out and made a call to 911 at 5:03. By 5:08, 4 EMTs and 4 firefighters were in my bedroom, along with the midwife, her 2 assistants, my mom, and James. A firetruck, an ambulance, and an emergency SUV were all parked out front of our house.
To their credit, the crew from the Seattle Fire Department were incredibly respectful and non intrusive when they arrived. My midwife did an incredible job at holding the space, providing them the information they needed, and clearly giving each person instructions. As I pushed, the two female medics in the group stepped forward. One helped hold my left leg while the other shined a flashlight for the midwife. They both chimed in along with my birth team to encourage me as I pushed.
After about 5 or 6 pushes, one of the female medics told me I was close and that they could see all of the baby's hair. I could feel a hot burning sensation and knew he was crowning. After about 5 more pushes, I heard the voice of the same EMT say "Open your eyes and look down! You are going to want to see this. Look down and see your baby!" I opened my eyes as I gave one last big push, and watched as he slide out into the world. Pink and wriggling with a full head of hair, he immediately let out a big cry. As soon as the EMTs heard and saw him, they knew all was well, and they left as swiftly as they came. It was all such a blur, I think I might have thought I imagined the whole thing if it wasn't for several blankets they left behind.
The midwives placed the baby on my belly, and I felt his body breathing against mine. I remember saying his name over and over again. Alder, Alder, Alder. After all of that waiting he had arrived so quickly. Born at 5:18 on January 21st, I was only in labor for a little more than 5 hours. Suddenly with this new bay in my arms, all of the doubt, all of the impatience, all of the disappointment of false labor melted away completely. My body had known what to do, and my baby had known when the time was right for him. After months of waiting, and growing, and wishing, the sweetest reward in the world was fast asleep on my chest.