When I had my son, I assumed that his birth would somehow be easier. After all, it wasn’t my first rodeo. I suppose I thought I’d know what to expect and that my body would remember what to do. Some of that was true, but I had forgotten something important: every woman, every pregnancy, and every birth is unique. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a straightforward labor and delivery. The birth of my second child was just as terrifying, unpredictable, and extraordinary as that of my first.
At my 38-week appointment, the midwife (I was under the care of a team of certified nurse midwives) said we could start to talk about induction if I didn’t go in to labor soon. I was shocked. I went all the way to my due date with my daughter, and I wasn’t about to hurry things along. Fast forward a week later, and I was huge, uncomfortable, and fighting a bladder infection. I was ready to get that baby out, but I didn’t want the added risk of C-section that’s associated with induction.
I saw a new midwife at 39 weeks and immediately fell in love with her. She was funny, sympathetic, and practical. She examined me, and I was a few centimeters dilated and my cervix was very soft. “If you let me strip your membranes,” she offered, “I can probably get you a baby by this weekend, and I’m on call on Saturday.” I was on board, but it ended up feeling like the worst pelvic exam of my life. She stretched me to a 4 before she sent me on my way with a pile of Chux pads. My bag of waters was close to bursting, and she wasn’t sure I’d make it home with it intact.
Under the advice of my midwife, I went for a nice long walk. My husband begged me to do it anywhere but Target, but it was 90 degrees out and the allure of air conditioning and the Dollar Spot was just too great. I made it out of there with only two pairs of newborn pants and a sloth lovey, but I was nowhere closer to being in labor. No contractions, no water breaking, no nothing. That evening, I began to have some contractions, but they did not increase in intensity or frequency and eventually went away altogether.
I spent the following day cranky and frustrated until around dinnertime when I began to have contractions. This time, they lasted throughout the night and, by the wee hours of the morning, had become stronger and more painful. My water broke at the onset of labor with my daughter, so I wasn’t entirely sure that I should go in, but my instincts said it was go time. We piled into the car, called our friends to meet us and pick up baby girl, dropped the dog off at the kennel, and headed to the hospital.
When I arrived at triage, I was disappointed to learn that the midwife I’d liked so much wasn’t there. Her shift started in the evening, and I was stuck with her less-friendly counterpart and her student. When they checked my cervix, I was dilated to a 3, which I thought meant I was good to go. I was 3 centimeters when I was admitted with my first pregnancy, but the midwife informed me that standard practice was now to wait until a woman was 6 centimeters to consider her in active labor.
My options were to go home or be admitted and get an IV and try to get things going. It was clear which option she thought I should take, but I live 30 minutes from the hospital and had already secured care for my dog and child. Plus, I was in real pain. I wasn’t going anywhere, but she definitely made me feel like I shouldn’t be there. A much nicer nurse told me I’d come at the perfect time, considering my current state and the fact that there were literally no other patients on the ward.
The nurse got me comfortable, and my husband and I settled in for what we hoped would be a shorter labor than the first go-round (which lasted a whopping 29 hours). Although I was hooked up to an IV, I was allowed to move around, so I requested permission to go for a walk. It was a Saturday, and everywhere but the emergency room and labor and delivery department was empty. We walked through the medical ghost town with me having to stop every few minutes to breathe through painful contractions.
By the time I got back into my hospital bed, I was having to grip the side bar to get through the pain. The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural, and I asked to have the midwife assess my progress first. I’d been laboring hard and wanted to see how close I was before I went the anesthesia route. Well, she checked my cervix and informed me that I was no more dilated than I was when I got there. Again, she offered to send me home. I was in agony, so I didn’t even consider it. Therefore, my options were to have my bag of waters broken or get Pitocin.
I opted for the latter; I’d had the synthetic hormone the last time, and it worked like a dream. At that point, I was also ready for the epidural. When I was in labor with my daughter, the epidural medication caused my already low blood pressure to drop dramatically, so the anesthesiologist was very careful. I was grateful it only took him one try to get it in because it look three attempts with my first baby. However, the slow and steady approach meant I was in pain for longer.
Once he figured out the right combination and dosage of drugs, I was finally able to relax and let the Pitocin do its thing. I felt better, but I was discouraged because nothing was happening! At shift change, the midwife offered to check me one last time, but I demurred. I was positive I was in exactly the same state I’d been in all day. I cannot begin to describe the relief I felt when the midwife I’d seen the week prior walked into my room. I am convinced that having someone I trusted and liked signaled my body that it was safe for baby to arrive.
When she examined me, I was complete and my bag of waters had broken. I hadn't felt a thing! I asked the night nurse if this midwife was, perhaps, magical, and she confessed that she was commonly known as “The Vagina Whisperer.” We decided to wait to start pushing because of the baby’s station. The plan was to let gravity do its work. I fully expected her to leave the room, but she wanted to change my position first because baby was “grumpy.” He didn’t “like” me on the other side either, and the next thing I knew, I was asked to get on my hands and knees.
If you’ve never tried it before, it’s extremely hard to get into a hands and knees position when you can’t feel anything from the waist down and when you’re hooked up to an IV and monitors. I didn’t understand their urgency, but between my husband, two nurses, and the midwife, I was soon flipped over. “Kimmie, I’m going to need you to push” were the next words I heard, and I felt completely caught off guard. Weren’t we supposed to wait? Was I supposed to cat-cow this baby out? Was something wrong?
The fact that they paged the obstetrician on call didn’t do anything to assuage my fears. I found out later that they’d lost my baby’s heartbeat. My husband said everyone was very calm, but he could see in their faces how worried they were. Fortunately, my position didn’t allow me to see any of that, and I was focused on pushing anyway. I had one nurse under each hip, and my husband braced me under one shoulder. I held myself up with one arm and used the other to periodically place an oxygen mask over my face.
With my first baby, even though I had the epidural, I was able to feel myself push. This time, I felt very little. I had no idea how to activate a part of my body which I could no longer sense. So I did what I thought was pushing, and the cries of “good job” let me know I was doing it right. It was physically taxing. I honestly felt like I was trying to push the baby out of my face, but it worked. The second the doctor came into the room, my baby’s heartrate stabilized. One final push, and I felt his legs and feet slip out of me.
Shift change was at 7:00 p.m., and my beautiful son was born at 7:40 p.m. After a long, arduous, and frankly boring day, he entered the world in dramatic fashion. I could hear my sweet boy, who sounded more like a drowning cat than anything else, but I couldn’t see him. It took much longer than I would have liked to get me untangled and in a position where I could hold him, but once he was in my arms, all was forgotten. He was tiny perfection — ten little fingers, ten little toes, and a head full of jet black hair.
The rest was a bit of a blur. I know my husband cut the umbilical cord, and I recall bloody sheets being taken away. I know I asked my midwife, “What just happened?!” but it’s hard to remember her answer. My most vivid memory of that time was when she told me that my baby had torn not only my labia but also my clitoris on his way out. I was too busy snuggling him to care too much, although I do have plans to bring it up at some inopportune time in the future so as to maximize my son's embarrassment.
When I think about the births of my children, I don’t know how I could have been so silly as to think the second time would somehow be old hat. Each of my babies has their own story, and they are equally as meaningful to me. The way my little ones came into the world was as unique as they are as individuals, so at the end of the day, I’m grateful it was different. I may be a little worse for wear, but I am rich in experience and the lucky mama of two wonderful kids.