Our third baby girl was due on January 2nd, but I told everyone that it was the 1st, just because I liked the idea of a new baby on the new year. At my 39 week midwife appointment, the woman at the front desk corrected me after I told her that my due date was January 2nd. “It says here it’s the 3rd.” Ha. Not that two days makes much of a difference, but by the end, those days seem to move in slow motion.
Our friends took bets on the date of her arrival, kindly offering up dates at the end of December, in hopes of a 2016 tax break and a break from the ever larger discomforts of late pregnancy. Only Joshua guessed January 4th, sticking with the precedent her sisters had set before her, arriving after their 40 week due dates, but not waiting around too long. Lily arrived at 40 weeks and 2 days, and Lu arrived at 40 weeks and 3 days. Going into that last week, I felt sure that I could be patient through the 41st week, but that I might lose my zen if I had to wait longer than that.
On December 30th, I had a strange sensation emanating from my lower back. It was a tingling numbness that radiated through my hips and down my thighs. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but it reminded me of labor stories that I’ve heard (including Ina May Gaskin’s), where the mother describes labor as “trippy” or psychedelic. I almost felt like I was drunk, and friends, I was hoping that this was it, because yes, please. I’d rather describe contractions as trippy than painful. Alas, they subsided, and I made it to my 40 week appointment.
At the appointment, the midwife offered to check me and sweep my membranes, and I thought, sure! Why not? I’m ready to have this baby. She told me I was 1 to 2 cm dilated and 50 percent effaced, and though she warned me that the sweep would hurt, it wasn’t bad at all. I was pretty pleased walking out of the office, because I’ve never been dilated before labor, and if nothing else, 1 to 2 cm meant that I was already 10 to 20 percent of the way there.
That evening, I began to have what felt like early labor contractions. 6 to 10 minutes apart and lasting 30 seconds or more, these contractions didn’t hurt but were pretty strong. They began at 4 pm and continued as I made dinner and a cake that I quickly began to think of as a birthday cake. I told Joshua to finish packing his hospital bag, and we all had these ridiculous smiles on our faces. And then around 8 pm, they stopped.
I was pretty disappointed. I’ve never had false labor before, and with the girls, I knew with clarity each time that labor had begun. The next morning, we all made our way to the art museum, and the contractions started up again. This time, I felt accompanying pressure and even crampiness and so again, I told Joshua that I thought this might be it.
After another four hours, they stopped, and I started to realize that false labor can drive a person crazy. Each time, I started shifting plans in my head, anticipating meeting our new baby girl, and getting ready to undertake labor and delivery. I told Joshua that I no longer felt like I could trust contractions that felt like early labor, and that felt defeating too. With Lily and Lu, I was able to trust them and we had time to prepare and sink into the labor process. I told Joshua that I suspected this might mean a much shorter labor, and these feelings had some truth to them.
By Thursday evening, I was full on ignoring contractions. Sure, they were more frequent, but I wasn’t timing them. Sure, they felt crampy, but I wouldn’t have said they hurt or they felt any different from the ones I had experienced the day before, so I mentioned them casually to Joshua and then followed up with “I’m not in labor, though.”
That night, I woke up a couple of times with those same crampy contractions, but again felt nothing stronger or more telling than what I had been experiencing for the last three days. On Friday morning, I began crying. Though a snow storm had given Joshua one more day off on Thursday, today he had to go back to work, and after three days of false labor, all pretenses of being patient for a full 41 weeks was out the window. I sent a self-pitying text to my friend Stacy, and then I resolved to make the best of our day.
Gathering our things for a trip to the pool, I felt a few contractions, but again, nothing out of the ordinary. The girls were super excited to swim, and I piled them into the truck and drove to the rec center. It was on the drive there that I began to wonder if I had made a good choice. It occurred to me that I had had three or four contraction in the last 30 minutes where I had wanted to just stop and breathe, and here I was, having another one in the car.
I texted Joshua when we got to the rec center, just to let him know, but I ultimately decided that I’d continue on as planned because the girls were so excited to visit the day care at the rec center (which they love) and then swim. Plus, I have long labors, right? Plus, missing my workout on the 3rd had ticked me off almost as much as false labor, so I wanted to get my work out in.
So I dropped off the girls, changed into my suit, snapped a picture of pool to put on my Instastory, along with a self-pitying caption about still being pregnant, and jumped in the water. I looked at the time, because I typically swim for 40 minutes. It was 10:20.
I swam the full 40 minutes like I usually do, complete with flip turns and no pauses, and during that time, I really felt no contractions. At 11, I got out of the lap pool and went to sit in the hot tub for a few minutes before I went to pick up the girls.
By 11:30, the girls and I were back in the pool. Lily is totally blissed out when she’s in the water, so Lu and I followed her around the “deep end” while Lily happily propelled herself on a couple of noodles. After lifting Lu onto the side of the pool and catching her for the dozenth time, I had to pause. Lu splashed the water, saying “up on ledge! I want to jump!” I said give me a minute, and I breathed through a contraction. Six or seven minutes later, I had to do it again.
By the time the lifeguards whistled for 10 minutes of adult swim at noon, I was mentally coming around to the idea of labor. The contractions were the kind where I had to stop and breathe, and they were coming with some regularity. Even so, when the girls protested that they hadn’t been able to swim for very long, I promised them that they could get back in the water for “just a little bit” after the 10 minutes were over.
When we got back in, I realized I had made a mistake. I started thinking about what it would take to get the girls out of the water, into the locker room, showered, changed, and driven home, and I began to feel scared. The contractions were just intense enough that I really didn’t want to be parenting through them, and yet, here I was at a rec center in a pool with two children under the age of five.
So after about five minutes, I looked at Lily, and I said, “sweetie, I know we didn’t get to swim for very long, but we have to go now. I think you’re going to meet your littlest sister today.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “Are you in labor?” she asked. I nodded my head and as the next contraction came on, I breathed out through my lips and closed my eyes. “Are you having contractions?” she asked. I nodded again.
Lily was amazing. She explained everything to Lu as we got out of the pool and wrapped ourselves in our towels. “Momma’s having contractions! She’s gonna have a baby!” An older lady came over to tell me all about her family full of sisters, and when I began breathing funny, she just kept talking. After a minute, I realized she had asked me a question, and I had no idea what it was. And I really just wanted to be gone, so I told her I was very sorry but I hadn’t been listening because I was in labor and I needed to go. As we were walking away, she shuffled behind us, “how can I help?”
In the locker room, I grabbed our stuff and then went to the private shower. Once inside, I called Joshua. Just shy of a panic, I told him that he needed to meet me at home. I can’t recall the full conversation, but I do remember telling him that I was overwhelmed because I still needed to get everyone showered and changed.
But shower we did. I paused for two contractions, breathing through my lips audibly and bending over and swaying. Lily chatted loudly with Lu about momma’s contractions and labor, alerting god knows how many octogenarians in the locker room to my current state.
Finally done showering, we moved back to the locker where somehow I managed to clothe both my children and stuff them into their winter gear, pausing for contractions and breathing loudly and nearly dropping to me knees. One woman stopped with her bra halfway on, looking at me. “You’re in labor, aren’t you?” she said. I nodded. “Can I help?” she asked, but by this time, we were ready to go, so I told her no. I just really needed to get the girls to the car as fast as possible.
Thankfully, we got to the truck. Lu walked the whole way with her little hand in mine, and Lily was great. I piled them in, buckled in Lu, and then hopped in myself, relieved to have made it to the truck. Another contraction hit, and sitting through it was too much, so I got back out and leaned over the seat, swaying. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 12:35 pm. I called Joshua and began driving.
Thankfully, Joshua was already home, and though he offered to meet me at Crown Hill, I told him no. I just wanted to get home and hand off parenting duties to anyone other than me.
I had a couple of contractions on the way home, and I breathed loudly, telling the girls in between that everything was ok and this is what mommies do when they have babies. To their credit, the girls seemed totally calm and cool with my weird behavior.
When we turned onto our street, I was so relieved to see Joshua standing on the snowy curb with the carseat and hospital bags in hand. As I pulled up, he asked me if I wanted to talk to the midwife, whom he had on the phone, but I absolutely did not want to speak to anyone because I was having another contraction. “Um, she’s nonverbal,” he reported.
When the contraction passed, I said as politely but as efficiently as possible, “if you want me to talk to her, it has to be now.” He handed over the phone and the midwife said asked me something. I don’t remember what, but my reponse was, “I don’t know if I’m that far along or if I’m just not handling them very well because I’m in public and have two children with me.” She responded by telling me to come in, and although part of me thought I should maybe go in the house and try to get my zen on, the other part of me thought it might be nicer to do that at the birth center. So when Joshua told me we just head over to Stacy’s to drop off the girls and then go straight to the birth center, I agreed.
In the passenger seat, I turned so that I was facing the back of the truck. Joshua quickly dropped off the girls, and they waved goodbye as I breathed through another contraction. Once we were driving again, the feeling of relief was so strong that I didn’t even care that I was laboring in the truck. With my other two labors, I had dreaded laboring en route so much that it had been my number one concern in changing my care to Mountain Midwifery. Typically, the drive is about 25 minutes from door to door, which feels like a lot to me, but with traffic, it could be more. But after laboring in a public pool, in the locker room, in front of my children and a bunch of old ladies, and then in the truck as I was driving, laboring in the passenger seat with nothing to worry about but myself was pure relief.
On the way to the birth center, I collapsed between contractions, lying on my side and nearly sleeping. During contractions, I’d get on all fours, holding onto the top of the seat and breathing noisily through my lips. I was handling them much better, but I was also thinking through the rest of my labor, including how I planned to refuse to let them check me upon admittance so they couldn’t turn me away if I was just 4 cm. And how if I had to labor for more than a couple more hours that I could always use nitrous oxide to get me through.
When we arrived, Joshua helped me out of the car, and I leaned into him for another contraction. We walked into the center, and as soon as I saw the nurse, I started sobbing. Another wash of relief came over me because we had arrived. I finally felt like I could relax after the chaos of the first two hours of labor.
The nurse and midwife assessed my strong response to arriving and also the next contraction and exclaimed that I was indeed in active labor. Draped over the end of the bed in the beautiful “caravan room,” I sunk in and let them undress me. The midwife told me that she was going to check me, but they sounded so positive that I was in active labor, that I never resisted. She let me go through the next contraction and then checked me. “7 cm,” she announced, and again I began crying because I was just so, so relieved. I told them I was afraid I was only at 4 cm, but hearing 7 cm told me that I was nearly to transition and it wouldn’t be long. With Lu, I was also at 7 cm upon admittance, and it had been just over an hour later that I delivered.
There was some laughing about the fact I had swum over a mile and been laboring in a public pool just a couple of hours ago, with the nurse and midwife exclaiming that I must have been at 4 cm while flip turning in the pool.
I crouched in child’s pose on the bed for a few contractions, resting in between. Joshua started diffusing oils and put on our birth mix music. I remember Modest Mouse coming on first and quickly saying, “no Modest Mouse.” Haha. I felt so sensitive to outside stimulus. I like having Joshua rub my back between contractions, but during I wanted nothing touching me and no talking. Even between contractions, I really wanted no conversation, and I remember giving commands like, “no touching,” and “no talking.” I wanted to be nice, but I was also just really feeling an economy of language, so I was pretty blunt.
After a few contractions on the bed, I moved to the toilet and labored there for a few contractions. From there, I moved into the oversize tub. Sinking in was bliss, and I labored there, eventually finding the handles along the wall to hold onto for dear life as the strongest contractions came over me. At some point, Joshua joined me in the water, reminding me to keep my jaw loose. I did try to keep my face relaxed, but I remember resigning myself to clenching my arms and hands as hard as I could with each contraction, because I just couldn’t force that part of me to relax. That was transition. A couple of times, I said that I couldn’t do this, but really, what I was saying was I’m pretty sure this is transition, and I’d love it if someone could confirm if this was transition and that I’d be pushing and meeting my baby very soon.
Not surprisingly, there were no mind readers in the room, but thankfully, the nurse and the midwife came in just as I began to push. “Am I pushing?” I asked, meaning can you please tell me it’s time to push?! To which the midwife responded, “sure! If you want to!” Which wasn’t entirely what I was looking for, but I began pushing anyway. I overheard the midwife saying that the baby had moved way down, and as she checked me, she exclaimed, “oh! She’s wriggling!” Which was definitely different. I could feel her moving down and twisting the whole time, something I don’t recall with Lu.
I pushed for 10 minutes. And though I had been silent up until now, there’s just something about pushing that releases the animal. I thought I had remembered just being thankful to push and knowing I was near the end with Lu, but this time, pushing felt scary. I was convinced my tailbone was going to break. Finally, the midwife told me her head was out and she needed one more push. I gave it everything, and in a blur, they lifted me from my position on all fours to on my back, handing me our baby girl along the way. The shock of adrenaline and shaking were so much that all I really felt was this panic, but gradually, I was able to zero in on my wriggling, screaming, pink little girl.
Allowing me to calm down for a few minutes, the nurse and the midwife eventually helped me stand up and carry the baby to the bed, where they had me lay down and deliver the placenta. Again, I remember feeling anxious to push out anything else, but the nurse said, “this one doesn’t have any bones,” and it wasn’t something I could really stop from happening anyway.
The placenta was delivered quickly, and then I was able to lay back on the bed with our sweet baby girl in my arms. She cried for nearly 30 minutes, but she was pink and perfect, with an Apgar of 9 and a sweet, chubby face. The cries just confirmed what we could see: a very healthy little girl.
As we lay there, we admired our little girl who was still nameless. Though we had a short list of names, we hadn’t felt ready to commit until we met her. While we debated, the nurse came in intermittently to push on my uterus (a terrible feeling) and check my bleeding, which wasn’t bad but was heavier than she liked. The midwife also checked me for tearing and luckily, I was fine! Hooray! I’ll tell you that one third degree tear is enough for me, thank you very much.
After a shot of Pitocin to slow the bleeding, the nurse drew a bath and I got up to use the bathroom. They weighed and measured our little girl and she clocked in at 7 pounds and 8.5 ounces, 20 and ½ inches. Joshua held the baby and tried out names. “Are you a Ramona? Winnie? Freyja Luna?” Funnily enough, we forgot to consider our other top contender, Lorraine, but eventually, Joshua said, “yup, I’m pretty sure she’s Freyja Luna,” and I agreed. The name had been our front runner for the last three or four weeks. We had come to Luna first, loving the imagery and also liking how the “moon hunt” is a game that we had started playing during this pregnancy with the girls, looking up at the sky each night and seeing who could find the moon first. And even though Luna isn’t a flower like Lily and Lupine, we felt it fit because of the “L” and the strongly associated visual. We had played around with other combinations, like Ursa Luna, but one day Joshua was telling me about his lesson on the origins of the English language. At one point, he mentioned how the days of the week come from Norse gods and “Wednesday is Odin’s day, Thursday is Thor’s day, and Friday is Freyja’s day.” I interjected that I had forgotten about the name Freyja but that it was a name that had come across both of our “possible names” list, and it sounded great when paired with Luna. Joshua enthusiastically agreed, and we immediately pulled up Freyja on the internet, refreshing our memories on the myths and imagery associated with the goddess. We told the girls that Freyja is a goddess in a cloak of feathers (which is cool because I have a tattoo of feathers down my back) pulled in a chariot (a word they’re familiar with because of our stroller which is called the chariot) by two cats (um. Yes. Both girls adore cats just like their mama… Lily even had a cat-themed birthday when she turned two.).
As we settled on Freyja Luna just a couple of hours after her birth, it didn’t even dawn on us that there was another layer of synchronicity, even though we did look up the poem again about the days of the week and the traits associated with those babies (something we’ve done with each baby). Not only is Friday’s child “loving and giving,” but all the more fitting that Freyja was born on her “day” of the week, Friday.
So I know that’s a lot of name talk for a labor story, but if you know me, you know I’m a bit name-obsessed and many of you have already asked about the meaning behind her name. I know just as many people were expecting a first name that “matched” our first two girl’s names, and though that was on our radar, (and for me, names like Lorraine/Loie and Winnifred Winona/Winnie really fit the bill without being too predictable) we decided it was more important to follow our hearts and give her a name that fit her and spoke to us.
Anyway, back to the birth center and the birth story. I soaked in the bath for a bit and then got out. Freyja Luna (who I’ll now call just Luna on the blog for her privacy) and I started nursing, and right away, we were impressed by her vigor and enthusiasm. The nurse came in, and out of curiosity, I asked her to share times from her log. We arrived at the birth center at 1:40, I began pushing at 2:42, and Luna was born at 2:53. Which meant that working our way from the start, labor went like this:
7:30 I’m crying about not having had a baby yet and Joshua leaves for work.
9:30 I notice that I’m having “crampy contractions” but nothing too different from what I was experiencing in false labors on Wednesday and Thursday evening.
10:00 I text Joshua when I arrive at the rec center to let him know I’ve had a few contractions. Idrop off the girls at the daycare.
10:20 I jump in the water and swim 40 laps.
11:00 I sit in the hot tub for five minutes or so and then go and get the girls.
11:30 The girls and I get in the water, and I start to notice that I’m having some stronger, more regular contractions.
12:00 The whistle is blown for “adult swim” and I decide that this is probably labor.
12:10 I make the questionable decision to get back in the water, but then pretty quickly tell the girls it’s go time.
12:15 I call Joshua from the locker room. We shower and change.
12:35 We get to the truck in the parking lot and I call Joshua again.
12:50 We meet up with Joshua at home and I check in with the midwife.
1:00 We drop off the girls
1:40 We arrive at the birth center.
2:42 I start pushing.
2:53 Miss Luna arrives.
7:00 We leave the birth center for home.
Isn’t that nuts? It felt crazy to go into labor in the daylight, deliver in daylight, and return home before bedtime the very same day. It was a bit of a shock, but overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better labor. Though Lu’s labor went well, I joked that this time around I not only knew what to expect, but I also knew how much it hurts… In anticipating Lu’s labor, I knew more of what to expect, but because of the epidural at hour 30 with Lily’s labor, I didn’t really know how much it would hurt. I don’t say that to scare anyone, and it’s been interesting to compare my very long labors with one that qualifies as “rapid labor.” A few people have asked me if this labor was easier or less painful… It’s an interesting question. I think that ultimately, labor and delivery is labor and delivery and in that sense, they’re very much the same. In that way, Lu and Luna’s labor are so similar. I spent about an hour in the hospital with both of them, transition was probably about the same duration, and so was pushing. With minor differences, the sensations were pretty similar too. The lead up to that, though, is very different. With Lu, I knew what was coming. I was able to slowly sink into labor, do yoga, do my oils, and choose when I was ready to go into the hospital. Those hours of labor were tiring and work, but I also felt very in control and very safe the entire time (I even went to Jazz in the Park during early labor!). With Luna, the false labors took away that confidence and my ability to sink into labor and arrange everything just so. It was stressful entering active labor in a public space and being in charge of two young children at the same time. That being said, it was a blessing to fast forward through a process that I had some fear over, and it was also amazing to me that I was able to cope even when all I had was my breath and the commitment to rest and relax between contractions.
It’s funny. Knowing that this is my last pregnancy and labor, I said shortly after delivering Luna, “as powerful and life changing and surreal and special (and all the superlative adjectives to describe labor and delivery) these experiences are, I’m also really, really thankful in this moment that I never have to do it again.” Haha! It’s true. I’m so thankful for these three births, these three wonderful, wonderful little souls that I had the honor and privilege of bringing into the world, and at the same time, I’m so at peace that this is my final first-person experience of birth. Or at least that’s how I felt moments after Luna arrived. As I’m writing now, I’m feeling a bit more romantic/sentimental about the whole process, ha! I am at peace with our family of five and three daughters, but there’s something gripping about the experience of birth… Hence my one day goal of becoming a midwife? Yes, hence 😉
And there you have it. My third labor story, my third daughter, complete with ruminations and tangents and all the gory details. As with Lu’s story, I think I’ll add a summary of things that helped me and I also might go a bit into my experience with postpartum thus far, but this is the story of how Luna came into the world. It kind of drove me crazy when people constantly reminded me that “third labors are the wild card,” but in our own way, we fulfilled this old wives tale too. It was a humbling experience to let go of control, but it was also empowering to find that even when things didn’t go according to plan, that we were still able to cope and that in the end, we were blessed with a lovely, healthy little girl.
Things that helped before and during labor:
I felt torn that I wasn’t able to do more prenatal yoga and I didn’t read as much as I had intended to in preparation, but the same things that helped me with Lu’s labor helped me again in Luna’s.
- Laboring on all fours or in child’s pose.
- Concentrating on my breath during contractions.
- Trying to keep my face relaxed during contractions.
- Relaxing as completely as possible between contractions.
- Using essential oils and music to help relax.
- Using water to relax during transition.
- “Horse lips” during pushing to prevent tearing.
- Watching birth videos in preparation (I just searched for “gentle birth” on youtube).
- I’ve listened to almost every episode of The Birth Hour. I’m sure there were a ton of tips in there that I picked up, but mostly, I just love listening to birth stories.
- I did “let the monkey out” and use meditation techniques this time, but it’s amazing to me how I didn’t really have to think about it. With Lu’s birth, these were such novel coping strategies and they actually carried over into other parts of my life in powerful ways. This time around, they felt natural.
My experience with postpartum this third time around is both familiar and just as visceral. I do think that it came as a shock the first time and even second, and it’s a part of the birth experience that’s not talked about much. It’s reassuring on this third time to recognize patterns that are normal, and as a result, there’s less fear associated with it. Some things that I’ve come to expect and recognize with postpartum:
- Postpartum uterine cramping is no joke. I’ve read they get worse with each subsequent pregnancy, and though I can’t verify that with certainty, I can definitely say that this time around was pretty intense. I’d even compare them with contractions you feel at 4-5 cm. I’ve definitely wanted to use ibuprofen for the first 24-48 hours after delivery to take the edge off.
- After Lily’s birth, I had a pretty horrific postpartum, complete with tearing, stitches, swelling, and infection. I could barely walk, and learning how to nurse and becoming a parent for the first time was just… The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I definitely had some postpartum depression, recovering physically from such a long, hard labor was just part of it. The other part was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another: I was saying goodbye to parts of my life that would never be the same now that I had a child and also forming a new identity in motherhood. The jury is still out with adding a third baby to the mix, but I always say that going from “none to one” was the hardest transition.
- Physically speaking, I’ve found that having unmedicated labors has made all the difference in postpartum. I’ve had no tearing with either delivery, and I’ve been able to walk and move around comfortably immediately after delivering this way.
- The tears come in when the milk comes in. All three times, I’ve gotten pretty weepy about 48 hours postpartum. I feel a little embarrassed to admit the full extent of my mood swing, partly because I don’t think this is something that we feel comfortable talking about in our culture period, but I’d even classify this “weepiness” as a full blown I-feel-like-the-whole-world-has-changed-I-feel-out-of-control-and-I’m-not-sure-it’s-going-to-be-ok feeling. Small problems feel like big ones, and though I hate to admit it, these have also included not-so-nice exchanges with my wonderful spouse.
- Learning to nurse the first time is hard, but you have to keep learning. Each baby has different preferences and quirks, and though nursing subsequent babies is easier, there’s always that moment where you’re not 100 percent certain how to handle a new problem, and it can be humbling and intimidating.
- The first couple of weeks postpartum are pretty sedentary, and that’s always hard for me, but I’m also trying to see it as the temporary blessing it is and a chance to snuggle and bond with this little squish nearly 24/7. This time does not last forever, and there will be a day when I will think of long, lazy hours snuggling a newborn with longing.
And that’s where I am right now. Feeling all the feelings. The largess and wonder of new life, and the fear and growing pains that accompany it. Getting all the precious new snuggles and the back ache that is the inevitable result of sitting in a bed for 48 hours. Crying and also staring with so much wonder and love at these wide blue eyes, this fuzzy head of hair (!), and her shoulder, her little fisted hand as she nurses. Soaking up the joy and enthusiasm with which the older sisters have greeted the newest member of the family, while also trying to curb the more aggressive gestures of love and excitement. Life is good and it is full. Amen.