The first thing I'll say is that this is one very delightful baby. He has truly not cried for more than about 10 seconds at a time- and if he goes that long, that's his version of a real fit. Of course, he's only 39 weeks and 5 days, so it's a bit early to make any personality-type predictions, but I have my hopes. He weighed 7lbs 9oz, and was 19.5 inches long when he was born at 6:33pm on Wednesday, July 22nd.
It's hard to say when my labor with Bran truly began. I did my first nearly full night of early labor contractions on July 11th, and I did harbor some hope that he'd be born safely early on my birthday, the 12th. But, those contractions fizzled away, and we chalked it up to a change in the barometric pressure. About a week later, following acupuncture and Serafina's signature eggplant dish, I had another night like that. Again, fizzle. Now, I had set myself up from the beginning to expect Bran to be late, but these teaser sessions really started to make me long for him to come early- that and the fact that I really needed a break and knew I couldn't get that until he was born! Being so pregnant, with a baby that is so low, is exhausting already. Add the hottest summer on record for Seattle, swelling, and three big kids to entertain, and I was really getting worn out. In spite of those factors, though, I also had lots of nesting energy and in many, many ways felt more "normal" and better than I had throughout the pregnancy (and most of the last 2.5 years). My fear that I had had earlier in the third trimester that I wouldn't be able to manage labor and delivery with the fatigue and pain from POTS faded away as I kept making it pretty safely through very busy days of kid-wrangling and major cleaning projects.
On Tuesday morning this past week, I took my kids to see a $1 movie at the Regal Cinema. You should totally check that out if it's available in your town. As we chuckled at Peabody and Sherman, with my big girl in my lap, I started noticing a lot of what I figured were just Braxton-Hicks. But, they were a little different that the usual. I didn't pay much attention. After the movie, we headed to PCC to grab a few things we needed and pick a lunch. The kids weren't any more crazy than usual (I don't think), but for some reason they really drove me to the brink! I lectured the whole way home about how they need to try on purpose to be more calm and how stress over their disobedience was not going to help me get their brother out! I got ALL worked up as the afternoon wore on and wound up having a major emotional meltdown. I convinced myself once and for all that the stress of not resting and not being at peace with these wild people around all the time was going to surely delay my labor and leave me pregnant until 42+ weeks. Then that thought just made me cry and cry and cry. I cried out loud to my God, "please, help me!"
Eventually, I calmed down and got busy doing some cleaning and laundry. While I worked, I realized my contractions were seeming consistent again. "Oh, great" I thought. "Another night of teasing to keep me awake is probably coming." Still, I got a little excited and started timing them. 8-10 minutes apart. When Brendan got home and we were having dinner, the got a little closer together. I got very excited and then felt like maybe my big breakdown earlier had been the result of good flood of labor hormones. We went to the playground after dinner, and the kids played with Brendan while I did laps around the park. I enjoyed discovering the paths through the little wood behind our community center and had my first sour-but-almost-there blackberries of the season. My contractions jumped to 4-5 minutes apart, and I let Brenna know that something may be starting. These contractions didn't hurt enough yet. When I got home, we got the kids to bed, and my contractions continued. I took a shower and drank a ton of water, and they just kept coming, but still didn't hurt. At 10, I decided to let my midwives know that they should probably get some sleep. Cindie was out of town, right at the beginning of a 2 day trip, so I would be working with Stephanie. I was sad for Cindie to not get to be with us, but I was also looking forward to having Stephanie as I really like her and have worked with her with my doula clients before. Right after I talked to Stephanie, I had a small gush of amniotic fluid. I let myself get excited. The contractions did feel a bit stronger, but they still didn't hurt. That was bothering me.
Brenna, Elisabeth and Stephanie all arrived shortly after my little fluid gush. We figured that if my water broke I'd probably have a baby in a few hours. Around that time, something weird happened. I got this flood of fear that felt very physical. My mood went from excited to somber and unsure very quickly, and I started to shiver. Labor hormones can definitely cause shivering, but the fear was strange. I laid down to deal with it. Eventually, the sensation faded, and the shakes lightened up. It left me feeling tired, though, and my contractions spaced out a bit. We decided to all try to get some rest. The three ladies went to chat in my living room for a while and eventually, very adorably, all slept slumber party style on the fluffy rug. I was having too many contractions to get much sleep and kept waking up every 10 or 15 minutes with a flood of confused thoughts. Brendan was supportive, but I eventually quit bothering him as it was late, and I knew he would need the sleep he was able to get.
At 2:30 in the morning, I got up to pee. While sitting there, I felt what I thought was a big kick from Bran and heard a popping sound. Nothing happened until I stood up to get back in bed, and when I did a lot of fluid came pouring out. I had a lot of bloody show as well. I got excited again! "Ok! Let's do this. Bring on the painful contractions! They'll probably start any minute." Well. They didn't. I finally fell asleep around 5am with the thought that when the sun came up I could eat and start walking and maybe get the labor re-started. I woke up at 6:30, and I was having almost no contractions. I sent everyone home. We had a talk about how most women get into labor within 24 hours of the rupture of membranes and how that would probably happen with me. I felt ok about it all. I was excited that, now, no matter what, I'd be meeting Bran soon. But, I also was tired and discouraged and starting to think through what I would do if my labor didn't start. The thought of winding up at the hospital was depressing.
After everyone left, I cried for a while to Brendan. The thought that really made me cry most was the concern that I'd done something wrong- like maybe I'd jumped the gun or like I shouldn't have gone walking or shouldn't have had acupuncture 5 days before, or, or, or... Brendan shut all that down for me very quickly, firmly, and kindly which was exactly what I wanted and needed. Texting with my mom helped too (and continued to be helpful to me throughout the day). I knew she was praying along with my friends who knew the situation and our family. The kids and dog got picked up by Brendan's parents, and that was a relief. I was sad, though, that Bran hadn't just come in the night to surprise them first thing in the morning. Oh well. I knew that having them all squared-away would help me to focus and allow Brendan to give me the attention and affection I'd be needing. We slept for a while then.
I felt better when I woke up. I was ready to get dressed and attempt to go walking and try (for the fourth time now) to get through some (Stupid, frustrating!!!!) early labor on my way to some real-deal labor that I hoped and prayed would come on its own. We did pray often, and I felt every time like God was answering us with new information (like when my water leaked the first time, and then later popped big), with encouragement (like my mom's prayers and texts), and with new strength. We went walking around Matthews beach and then our little Meadowbrook Pond. Contractions did pick up, and I felt somewhat encouraged. I was leaking lots of fluid, and that was not fun (though I did find it funny every time when I told myself that Bran was peeing my pants...) We went to have our non-stress test with Stephanie then.
I'd never had an NST before, so that was fun and interesting somewhat. I did have one big-ish contraction that made me feel like maybe we were getting closer. Bran's heart rate took some deeper dips during that one, but he bounced back like he should; and everything else looked great. Stephanie did say that she'd like to be with us as soon as the contractions really did get serious so that she could keep good watch on his heart rate.
When we got home, I ate a good snack and we watched some Jim Gaffigan. Humor is your friend at times like these. My contractions got much stronger, and I finally got really excited. Brenna came back over, and by then I think they were about 5 minutes apart, maybe less, and were increasing in intensity. We called Stephanie to let her know, and I called her again in a 1/2 hour to say I wanted her to come over. I had that thought in my head about keeping Bran safe, which was good because otherwise I may not have had her come so soon. Brenna arrived at 4:30, and Stephanie was there by 5:30. By the time Stephanie arrived, I was needing Brendan to help me deal with the contractions. I alternated between sitting on my ball, kneeling at my bedside over a pillow, and sitting on the toilet. Elisabeth came sometime around all this too and started her photo-documenting.
I eventually landed backwards on the toilet and was planning to stay there for a while. Stephanie got started on placing my IV port for the saline we planned to deliver after the birth to help give me a boost in dealing with my POTS. She did a fine job, of course, but it's never fun to have that kind of distraction when you are dealing with such intense contractions. At the same time, I could feel that my blood was pooling in my legs a bit from how I was sitting. Once she finished the IV, I announced that I was dizzy, and they helped me get to the bed to lie down. Brenna massaged my leg to get the blood flowing again, and that felt great. Brendan started using a cold rag on my neck and back. The next contraction was officially one of the most painful of my entire childbearing career, and I had the thought, "oh, man. I hope I don't have to deal with these for long!" At nearly the same moment, I realized that I could push a bit, and it felt better! "I'm pushing!"
I felt Bran move down and out of my uterus. It was a very cool feeling, and I quickly started to feel the stingy, stretchy feeling of a baby's head about to crown. I did not have to push very many times. Everyone was very encouraging. We had planned to try to have me do my own catch, and I felt somewhat able to look down, feel him with my hands, and at least imagine pulling him up on my own. Once his head was visible, I had to actively try to not push him out right away. I panted to try to give myself time to stretch out and think a little bit about how and if I'd be able to get him. Stephanie was wonderful about listening to me and giving encouragement. I kept saying, "help! help!" not in a scared way, but in a "I need you to tell me what to do" way. Once his head was out, I did more panting, and we saw that his cord was around his neck. No big deal usually. It did frustrate my catching plans. Once I pushed his shoulders out she had to get him untangled because the cord was around three times! By the time she got him free (about 2 seconds that felt like forever to me!) I pretty much tore him from her hands! I was ecstatic and screamed, "I did it! I did it! I had another baby!" And I wasn't just referring to the birth, but to our entire journey of deciding to have Bran. I felt so full of confidence in God's love for all of us, and I thanked him. I had very minimal blood loss, and my POTS symptoms have not returned. I'm pretty amazed by it all.
Bran and I instantly bonded, and I have fully enjoyed him ever since. There could be so much more written into this story about my emotions, prayers, wonderful friends and theological ponderings during these days of his birth. I'd also love to write a bit about what the last few days have been like (chronic illness and learning how to care for myself have done me some big favors!), but I'm down to one hand typing now as I nurse my sweet baby. All of us here love him madly, and I look forward to eventually introducing him. For now, I'm guarding every moment and enjoying him as fully as I can. I want my memories of these days to run long and deep.