Saturday, August 3.
Only one day past my due date, but I was getting antsy. I really wanted to have the baby soon, for many reasons: I was sick of being pregnant, I wanted to meet my son, and I wanted to give birth before my close friend, Margaret, went back to Denver. That was happening on Monday evening, so we were coming up on the deadline. Besides, I figured the weekend was the ideal time to have the baby so that my parents would be able to come down as well.
I was feeling a bit mopey and sorry for myself on Saturday morning, imagining how sad I would be if I stayed pregnant for another week. I didn’t want to indulge that mood any longer, so I strapped Addie into the stroller and took a two-mile walk, figuring that the sunshine and fresh air would lift my mood and hoping that the walk might start labor.
It definitely did lift my mood. We met up with David and had a nice family lunch. Afterwards we came home and he went to get a haircut. Addie and I were playing in the boy’s room – she loved going in there and pretending to be a baby – and just waiting for David to come home. I looked around my son’s room and watched my lovely daughter and meditated a bit. I envisioned going into labor that day, imagining what it would be like, how I would call my parents and Margaret, how I would have David already home with me. And I spoke out loud to the baby, telling him that I trusted him and would wait as long as he needed, but asked that – if he thought he was ready – could he please come today?
And then, suddenly, a contraction. Stronger than the Braxton Hicks I’d been having regularly for the last week. Not painful, not even intense, but definitely strong. It was 2:00 P.M.
Ten minutes later, another one. And ten minutes after that, another one. At 2:31 I tweeted (because who doesn’t tweet in labor?): “Getting fairly regular, fairly strong contractions. Trying desperately not to get my hopes up. Getting my hopes up.
By the time David got home at 3:00, they were still regular, every ten minutes. I told him I thought it might be something but that it could be nothing. We joked that we should go to Costco, since I went into labor with Addie while we were there. Then we looked at each other and said, hey, why the hell not?
We wandered around the aisles of Costco – managing, of course, to find a bunch of stuff we “needed” – and my contractions stayed regular, now at 8 minutes apart. Still not painful, but bothersome enough that I had to cut the visit short so that we could go home.
It was about 4:30 by that time, and I was fairly certain it was labor. I knew that I wanted to call my mom and dad and Margaret as soon as we knew it was real, because they were all coming down from Wisconsin – a 1.5 hour trip in the best of circumstances, and possibly longer with Chicago traffic. But I was nervous; what if it was nothing? I didn’t want to bring them all down for a false alarm.
I called the midwives to talk it through and they suggested a bath and a glass of wine. So at 5:00 I got in. I spent over an hour in there, drinking my wine, relaxing, and meditating. But still the contractions came: now at 6 minutes apart.
At 6:30 I felt confident enough to call it: I was in labor.
I called my parents and Margaret and they all headed down right away. I called the midwives again, as well. They were just finishing up another birth and would be there within two hours. Unsure when the real stuff would start and worried about care for Addie, we called our friend Liz as well. She was out to dinner but promised to come as soon as she could. But for now it was just David, Addie and I.
We just hung out, playing and spending some good time together. David inflated the birth tub and put the sheets on the bed, and I prepared my stuff as well. David ordered a pizza for him and Addie, but I didn’t think I could eat any. I had some watermelon and cheese, instead, and forced myself to drink a lot of water. I knew I’d want to be hydrated once active labor started. For now, the contractions were 5 minutes apart but still not painful. I think my body was just waiting.
Because once things got started, they went fast.
The midwives came at a little after 8:00 and checked me right away. I was about 5 cm dilated and still in early labor. They talked about going out to eat and coming back in a bit, but decided to wait a little and see how things progressed. At 8:30, Margaret and my parents arrived. Between the three of them, me and David, Adeline, and the three midwives, there were nine people downstairs and it was loud and crowded and chaotic and I started to feel a little overwhelmed. My contractions were starting to get painful – I had to stop and breathe through each one.
I got Addie’s bedtime stuff organized for my parents and handed her off to them. And then I removed myself.
Margaret and I went upstairs where it was dark and calm and quiet. With Addie taken care of and the people I wanted with me, I think my body decided it was time to go. Almost immediately, my contractions got much stronger.
David came up and started filling up the tub. Well, he tried. We’d had a mini drama the week before trying to find a hose and a connector that would work with our faucet. It had involved multiple trips to Home Depot and many orders from Amazon. But we had worked it out. Only, now, it wasn’t working. I did my best to just leave it to David, despite my tendency to want to control everything. But there wasn’t much I could do even if I wanted to: the contractions were now demanding all my attention.
I had first positioned myself at the side of the bed, leaning over it for each contraction, and that’s where I stayed basically the entire labor. Margaret or David took turns rubbing my back and applying counter-pressure for each contraction. Liz arrived and helped with the tub and kept me talking and laughing when I could. The midwives checked the baby’s heart rate every fifteen minutes (maybe? it’s all a blur). I guess things were moving fast enough that their ideas about getting dinner had been dismissed.
This stage of labor lasted about three hours. It was getting painful, but still manageable, and overall it was really nice. I felt incredibly supported by my team, and I just chilled in my zone and made it through. By the end, though, I was tired from standing for so long. I had tried sitting on the bed or on the birthing ball, but the contractions were much more painful that way, so it wasn’t worth it. The exhaustion was starting to get to me.
I was starting to vocalize loudly with each contraction, so the midwives thought I might be getting close to transition. The tub was full and they suggested I try getting in.
Oh my god! It felt so amazing! The moment my legs and back were in the water I felt intense relief and it felt like my muscles just melted.
The next few contractions went well, but they were getting more and more painful. Then someone mentioned that it was midnight and I suddenly lost all hope. It seemed like I had been in labor forever and like it would never end.
I told Margaret that I was feeling hopeless and she reminded me that most women feel hopeless when they’re going through transition, and if I was going through transition it meant it was almost over. Intellectually, I knew she was right; but emotionally I just didn’t believe it. I was sure that I was hours away from transition and that I would never make it.
I guess my next contraction must have been really bad and that I must have made some intense noises, because suddenly all the midwives came in. The lead midwife, Tera, checked me and told me I was almost fully dilated, but that I had a little cervical lip. That was the same thing that had happened to me with Addie and with her the hospital midwives had told me to start pushing right away. But Tera wanted the lip to go away before I started pushing. Which made sense to me, because I still wasn’t feeling the urge to push. (Which I never did with Addie.)
She offered to try to push it aside manually, but that sounded like the worst idea ever. Just her checking me had been really, really unpleasant and I didn’t want her inside me again if I could help it. But the alternative wasn’t great either: she wanted me to walk up and down the stairs to try to get it to go away. I agreed, but it sounded horrible.
Getting out of the tub was brutal and trying to walk up the stairs was really painful. During each contraction she wanted me to lunge up the stairs with one leg and at that point I’m pretty sure I was screaming. But about three contractions in, it worked. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs with one leg three stairs up, lunging forward, and my water broke!
And, immediately, I felt something I had never felt with Addie: the intense and undeniable urge to PUSH.
“Can I push?” I asked urgently.
“Let’s get back in the tub first,” Tera said.
“I don’t think I can!” The “urge” to push was an understatement: it felt like something that my body was going to do whether I wanted it to or not. But the tub was only a few feet away and they helped me get there quickly.
When the next contraction started I tried to push, but just like with Addie, I had no idea what I was doing. I was terrified of it, and I arched my back, threw my head back and squeezed my legs together.
Tera pulled my legs apart and told me, “Don’t run away from it Sara. You have to open your hips, tuck your chin, and round yourself over your baby.” No one had ever described it to me that way before, and it made sense.
But I was scared and I started to panic a little. Another one of the midwives saw my panic and told me, “Don’t go to that place Sara. You’re in control. You have to take back your control.” I looked her in the eyes and she held my gaze and told me without saying anything that I was strong and I could do it. “Don’t go to that place,” she said again. It saved me.
And with the next contraction I grabbed my legs and rolled myself over my belly and pushed with all my might. I looked down and saw his head coming out – covered in black hair! – but then the contraction ended and I had to stop pushing. He was getting squeezed and his heart tones went down, but I let his head come back up a bit and his heart rate accelerated.
I thought of the nearly four hours I had pushed with Addie and how incredibly miserable it had been and I knew I couldn’t do it again. I knew I had to get him out quickly.
With the next contraction I rolled myself up again and pulled my legs apart and pushed with all I had and I looked down as I felt him come out and there he was! I caught his head in my hands and pushed one more time to get the rest of him out and then he was here! I pulled him to my chest and held him tight to me. My son!
I held him on my chest as his cord pulsed, then they clamped it and David cut the cord.
I had to get out of the tub because we were collecting cord blood, so they put the baby on David’s bare chest and then got me into bed.
A minute later, I got a beautiful surprise: my mom was still awake and came up to meet her newest grandson. And a bit later, my dad woke up and came up and met him as well. I was so happy that the boy was so surrounded by love right from the very beginning.
The next couple hours were a beautiful blur. I delivered the placenta, breastfed for the first time, and they did the newborn exam.
David got to hold the scale as they weighed the baby and we got a surprise: he was 8 lbs 3 oz! So much bigger than Addie, who was only 6 lbs 6 oz. I had expected the boy to be small as well. It was extra shocking that I had pushed him out so easily when he was so big!
The midwives cleaned up everything and left at about 4:00 A.M. Margaret and my parents went to sleep and then it was just David, the baby and I. He slept on a little co-sleeper between us, but I couldn’t sleep: even at 8 pounds he seemed too tiny to be able to keep breathing. So I basically stayed up all night watching him. I didn’t mind: I was in heaven.
Addie woke up at about 7:30 the next morning and came right upstairs to meet her baby brother. What an amazing moment!
We hadn’t picked out a name yet, so once we fully woke up and got ourselves together, David and I pulled out our short list of names. We had been leaning towards one name, but as soon as I met him I had felt that it wasn’t quite right. So I looked at the list afresh and tried to think what name was best. Immediately, Archer jumped out at me. But I didn’t say anything and just handed the list to David.
“I’m kind of feeling Archer,” he said.
I smiled and said, “Me too.” And that was that: we had a name. We choose Harry as the middle name to honor my favorite grandfather, Harry. We shared the name with everyone and they all loved it.
And so there he was: our son, Archer Harry.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. It was so calm and peaceful, and I was surrounded by people I loved. Active labor was 4.5 hours and I only pushed for ten minutes! And it was so amazing to be able to sleep (or at least lie down!) that night in our own bed.
And as for little Archer, he’s perfect and I’m so in love.