He’s seven months old at this point, so it’s probably time to post his birth story, eh?
I had been contracting on and off for weeks. Not just a contraction here and there, though that was happening also, but contractions that were seemingly textbook perfect: five minutes apart, lasting a minute or so. Contractions that made me feel like it was go time, in other words. Since Henry was born three weeks early, we were prepared well in advance of my mid-November due date. At first, our goal was just to make it past 37 weeks (when Henry was born). When that passed, we thought we’d have a Halloween baby (38 weeks). Then we just wanted to get past John’s November 11th birthday, so that they wouldn’t have to share that day. Then we hit 40 weeks. Then 41. Pretty soon it started looking like we’d have a Thanksgiving baby, which would have been 42 weeks exactly. People were calling, emailing, and texting literally every day, asking if we’d had the baby yet. My great fear was that I would go into labor in the night and John’s mom would have to come take care of Henry when he would be at his most difficult (his stranger danger extends to his grandparents and I knew he wouldn’t be easy to manage if she had to try to put him back to sleep). On the morning of November 26th, I had a couple more contractions similar to those I’d been having all along, so I didn’t think anything of it. (Sidenote: people always say that ‘you’ll know’ when you go into labor, you’ll feel ‘funny.’ Ha. I did not know, nor did I feel funny.) Just in case, I pulled up the contraction timer app on my phone and started timing. When John woke up, I told him that I’d had a few contractions again and that it was probably nothing. We got Henry up and dressed and had breakfast. In the kitchen, while I was making Henry’s egg, I started to realize that my contractions were becoming more powerful. We finished breakfast and called our midwife (whose name is also Emily), John’s mom, and made arrangements for our dog, Luke, to be boarded.
I had enough time to shower before I had to devote my full attention to the contractions, which were suddenly not kidding around. Emily had arrived at that point and met me in the bathroom, where a contraction had brought me to my knees. As I rocked back and forth on all fours, she massaged my back and I… realized that our grout really, really needs to be redone. I remember I was slowly chanting “om” (the idea being that higher pitched sounds work against you in labor, so I was trying to make very low sounds, and “om” felt like it worked the best) when I opened my eyes and saw how awful the bathroom grout was. You don’t notice it normally, you know? Only when you’re on the floor like that. And John and I had an entire conversation, in between contractions, about how we needed to regrout the floor. Not right then, obviously, but, you know, later. (We still haven’t gotten around to it.) When I got up from the floor, I moved to the bed. I was vaguely aware that more people were suddenly in the house, but the contractions were serious enough that not much else registered. Henry was keeping a close eye on me and I tried to keep him calm. Mostly, though, he was interested in all the supplies our midwife was setting up, particularly the birth pool. I kept to the bed, breathing deeply and “ommmmm-ing” through my contractions. I was determined to make my contractions work for me this time, rather than just trying to get through them as I had with Henry. I fully believe that just (hah, “just”) getting through my contractions made my labor with Henry longer. (Though, at under 12 hours from start to finish, it was already shorter than normal for a first birth). I shied away from the pain with Henry’s birth, rather than understanding and embracing the idea that “the only way out is through.”
Also during my labor with Henry, I remember wanting to tell our midwives about midwifery in colonial New England– particularly that, in the case of an unwed pregnant woman, the midwives attending her would wait until the height of labor, when the pain is the greatest (the “ring of fire”), to ask the laboring woman who the father was. The idea was that a woman in that much pain would not be able to lie. (Those clever Puritans!) But I never got to tell that story during Henry’s birth, which sort of made me sad (weird, I know). But! I was able to rectify that this time. While everyone else was busy getting supplies ready, our birth photographer, Becky, who is also a doula, stood patiently by my bedside as I gave my mid-labor history lesson. I don’t know why this pleased me so much, but it did.
When the birth pool was ready, I got in. John, Emily, Becky, Emily’s helper midwife Jenn, and even Henry all helped me through my contractions. But at a certain point in labor, you become aware that only you can do this– only you can do the laboring and get that baby out. And it, I don’t know, drowns out all the other people and noises in the room. People were bringing me things to drink and washcloths for my face, but with each contraction I felt like I drew further away from them and turned more inside myself, if that makes sense. [At some point, someone took Henry downstairs to Jane, which made me a little sad– he had been such a great comfort to me– but at the same time, it was probably getting a little too intense for him. I was so proud that he’d stayed in the room for so long, because I thought for sure he’d be too scared.] With each contraction, I ‘ommm-ed’ louder and started urging the baby downward, saying “downnnnnnn, downnnnnn, downnnn” while I pushed. Emily– or someone– was massaging my back, people were offering hands for me to grip, and I definitely remember tapping (hitting, really) my forehead repeatedly against the cushioned walls of the birth pool. At some point, Emily asked me to flip over, so that I was facing up rather than down. They had me grab my legs behind my knees and I felt that same sensation as I had when Henry was born: that my body was going to rip in half. It’s such a unique sensation, quite unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, a pain unlike any other. I remember with Henry thinking, “this is it, I’m going to die.” That thought returned to me at the same point, undoubtedly the “ring of fire.” I think I was yelling. In fact, I know I was, because in the days following, my voice was nearly gone and my jaw hurt from the pain of it. But then he was there: Ezra. Ezra James Casey. I had lost all sense of time, of course, as you do during labor, but when someone told me the time, I was shocked. From the very first contraction to the time he was born, only four hours had passed. All those weeks of contractions and all of my chanting had paid off in a blissfully short and, all things equal, easy labor. And then he was there, in my arms, all ten pounds of him.
I knew with this pregnancy, as I had with my first, that it was going to be a boy. We didn’t find out in advance, either time, but I just knew. Two boys, Ezra and Henry. And while I loved being pregnant both times, and while I’d have a hundred more babies if time and money and sanity allowed (okay, maybe just one more if time and money and sanity allowed), our little family is complete.
In the days and weeks that followed, our life was incredibly challenging. I remember steeling myself and thinking in time chunks: ‘if we can just get through six weeks, things will get easier’ and then ‘if we can just get through to March, things will get easier’ and so on. And, of course, things did get easier. Old frustrations gave way to new challenges, as they always do. And although those early days and weeks were difficult, I look back on that time– and that birth day– with great fondness. Thanks for letting me share it with you.