The story of the birth of my son has to begin with the telling of the death of my grandmother, Mom-mom. Mom-mom has always been an especially important person in my life, as grandmothers often are to grandchildren. When I was a child she was always kind and motherly, taking care of me when I was too sick to go to school, not allowing me to get up from the couch for anything other than using the bathroom. One of my favorite memories of Mom-mom was the wonderful food she prepared, especially the chicken soup with little meatballs she made when I was sick and the Eggplant Parmesan she’d make for my birthday. As I got older, I learned to appreciate Mom-mom more as a friend than a grandmother who showers you with gifts at Christmas and pampers you unconditionally. Through the years we had many conversations that made me appreciate her beyond her role as my grandmother, and I realized how truly I loved her, even beyond the inherent love one feels for a family member.
Ever since I graduated college Mom-mom had been asking when I was going to get married and start a family. As the years continued and I entered my late twenties the pressure got greater, as she would tell me that all her friends had great-grandchildren and she wanted them too, so get moving already. No one can marry and start a family for someone else, but it was always in the back of my mind that Mom-mom was getting older and I was taking my time to find the right person and the right time in my life to settle down. I finally found Jeremy and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, and luckily he felt the same way. We married just a year ago, on May 27th 2007. Our wedding day was, until JJ was born, the best day of my life.
And at 81 years old, Mom-mom was there, all the way from NJ, despite the fact that she hadn’t traveled up to that point since the death of her husband (my Pop-pop) in 1995. I am so grateful to have had that time with Mom-mom looking so beautiful and genuinely happy at my wedding. She even said that she would consider flying out again in the future to visit again which really surprised me.
Unfortunately, Mom-mom had some major health problems earlier this year and spent the last few months in the hospital. I was lucky enough to see her when I visited NJ for my baby shower in April, but she didn’t look good. We all knew it was only a matter of time before she would pass, but she told us that she wanted to stick around until our son was born in June. I was really hoping she’d be able to meet him in person or at least to know that he had been born safely before she left us for good. But it wasn’t to be.
Mom-mom passed on June 1st – just four days before the birth of little Jeremy Jr. His birth, the story of which follows, was a welcome joy in the face of great mourning for my family. I had considered traveling out to NJ for the services, more for my own closure than any sort of feeling of obligation, but decided against it since I was almost 39 weeks pregnant. And it’s a good thing I stayed here in Wisconsin – I went into labor the day of Mom-mom’s funeral and he was born the following morning. Mom-mom is gone from this world, but I believe she was was with me throughout my labor and delivery. Jeremy and I planted a rose bush in our back yard as a memorial for her (her name was Rose) and a place for me to do my grieving.
I woke up on June 4th after a night of restless sleep full of sporadic contractions. They felt like Braxton Hicks contractions, except they were tinged with what felt like mild menstrual cramps. It crossed my mind that this could be early labor, but really I believed that the Braxton Hicks were just ramping up a bit, or that this was false labor. Jeremy and I lay in bed, having our morning chat as we always do. I told him about a dream I had that night, in which I was at someone’s house, waiting in line to go into labor. There was one girl in front of me, Kristy from my Bradley Method class and one girl behind me, my friend Erin Watts. In reality, Kristy had her baby back in February and Erin is about 10 weeks pregnant now, so I suppose we were lined up in the appropriate order. In any case, Jeremy proceeded to tell me about his dream, that the baby was already here and he was filled with a sense of euphoria and fulfillment. Jeremy joked that since we both had dreams about the baby coming, maybe today was the day; I smiled, but commented that I didn’t have any bloody show or other indications that labor was imminent. Not to mention that my due date wasn’t for another 8 days or so.
After eating breakfast, I went into the bathroom to take a shower. While undressing I noticed some bloody show in my underwear. I called for Jeremy and showed him, as we both laughed at my earlier comment about a lack of labor signs. I took my shower and when I got out, I saw some more blood. I just happened to have an appointment set with my midwife Jan at 11:30am that morning, but I thought I should call her and see what she thought of all this. Jan said to come in as planned, but that if I wanted to come earlier she was available, so I got ready and made my way up to the Well-Rounded Maternity Center in Menomonee Falls. Jan and I had a pretty typical visit, except that she decided to do a vaginal exam to see if that would give us any more information about what was going on. Jan informed me that I was about 1 ½ centimeters dilated and 60% effaced, which surprised me. But, she cautioned me, this didn’t necessarily mean I was in labor or that I would go into labor any time soon. I told her about my sporadic contractions, which were still going since the night before, and asked her if I should go to work or not. She told me that I should be able to go to work, as long as I felt ok with it.
I didn’t really want to go to work, but not because of the contractions. It was Wednesday and Friday was supposed to be my last day before maternity leave, and I was anxious for my time off. Still, I knew that I should go, since there was really no reason not to go. So I was at work at 1pm, my usual start time. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything; I guess deep down I knew something was happening inside of me. After putzing around at work, not really getting anything accomplished, I noticed that those contractions I had been having the previous night and all day were slightly more noticeable and regular. So I sat down at a computer, went to dateandtime.com (the only place I could find a clock with a second hand) and started timing my contractions. There were still pretty far apart, about 5-6 minutes, but they were consistent, and that’s what made me wonder if this might be it. I called Jeremy at work and also mentioned the situation to a few co-workers; everyone thought I should go home. They didn’t have to twist my arm – at 3pm I was in my car and on my way home, but I still wasn’t convinced that the baby was on his way. In fact, I felt apprehensive about leaving work early because I thought I’d feel really stupid the next day when I showed up to work saying it was false labor and there was no baby yet. But, of course, I left anyway.
Once at home I continued to time my contractions, which seemed to be on the same path, now about 4-5 minutes apart. I called my childhood friend Lauren, who is a midwife in NJ and asked her if I was timing the contractions right, whether she thought this might be it, etc, etc. She was a great comfort and help to me – my surrogate midwife. I made a few more phone calls to let some important people know what was going on, and Jeremy came home from work a couple of hours early, which I welcomed but didn’t think was entirely necessary since I still wasn’t convinced of what was happening. I called Jan and gave her an update on what was going on. She recommended drinking half a beer to see if it would stop the contractions. Not that we necessarily wanted to stop them, but if this was real labor the contractions would not stop and if it was false labor, they would probably slow considerably or stop altogether. So this would give us a better idea of what was really happening. My first Guinness (well, half) in about 10 months was delicious. But it didn’t stop the contractions. They slowed down a little, to every 5-6 minute, but soon got back to the 4-5 minute range. For some reason, I still didn’t think this was real. I made dinner for me and Jeremy and cleaned up the house a bit.
I’m not real sure about any times for the rest of the day, night and following morning, since I wasn’t really keeping track, but I think it was about 9pm when we called our doula, Coral to come over. She was here about an hour later and we talked a little bit about what was happening with my supposed labor. I remember sitting on the birthing ball and drinking a cup of red raspberry leaf tea, but I really don’t remember very much detail of when things happened after that. I know that Coral told me to try and get some rest, so I went in the bedroom with Jeremy to lay down. I remember having four or five contractions while laying on my side and that was enough to get me out of bed – they were miserable. I still don’t know what stage of labor that was – first stage, the end of first stage, moving into transition – but those contractions were awful. It is mainly because of those contractions that I cannot imagine having a natural birth in a hospital bed.
Coral did a vaginal exam at some point, I think it was around 10:30pm, and determined that we were still early on in the labor, since I was still only 1 ½ cm, but that she believed this was definitely the real thing. She wanted me to go on the bed and do a few minutes of knees-to-chest to try and get the baby to back out a little from his wedged position in my pelvis, as she believed he would have trouble descending from where he was. That was miserable, too, but I did it and I think it definitely helped things to move along.
Jan and her assistant Pam came over sometime just around midnight, and my friend Jason came over to get our dog Tommy shortly before that. I remember feeling really bad about all these people driving to our house because of me, since the night was particularly foggy. But again, I was still unsure whether or not I was really going to have a baby in the next few hours which, in retrospect, seems terribly short-minded. Jeremy and I spent a lot of time in our bedroom, working through the contractions while Jan, Coral and Pam worked on getting the tub filled. Jeremy was wonderful – he lit candles and had some of my favorite CDs ready to go should I want them. I appreciate everything he did for me throughout the labor but to be honest, once I was in it, I didn’t really care what was going on around me. The candles were nice, but we never did turn the CD player on.
Eventually I was having contractions right on top of one another – transition. The funny thing is, there were a few where I had 5 or 6 minutes in between contractions, but then I would have 2 or 3 in a row – essentially non-stop. Because of the 5-6 minute lull between some of these, I started thinking (again) that maybe this wasn’t really it. And like I said, I was in TRANSITION! I even said to Coral, “do you think I’m in transition?” She must have been laughing at me in her mind, since it was so obvious, but she was nice and answered me as if it was a totally reasonable question.
It was sometime shortly following this that I told Coral I felt the need to push. She ran to wake up Jan and Pam, who were attempting to get some sort of rest before they were needed. Jan did a vaginal exam only to discover that I was 8 ½ centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Everyone was really happy with this – I was just surprised that I was REALLY going to have a baby! I was finally convinced. And it was time to get in the tub. I have to admit, the tub didn’t feel like the instant relief I was expecting from what I had seen on baby shows and videos of natural waterbirths. But it did feel really nice, and I soon realized that it helped a great deal with the contractions.
As I said earlier, I have no concept of time regarding all of this, but I know from the little notes Jeremy was posting for the web-cam viewers that it was about 3:30am when I started pushing. I didn’t like pushing. Not one bit. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting pushing to feel like, but it didn’t feel anything like what I thought it might feel like. In reality, to me, it felt like a really strong, unpleasant bowel movement. The actual act of pushing during a contraction was satisfying to a degree, but once I started I couldn’t stop and the grunts and moans that came out of me actually scared me a bit, though not as much as the sensation that I was pushing my insides out along with the baby. I thought pushing would be the “easy” part, “easy” being a relative term in this case, but on the contrary, it was by far the hardest part of the labor for me, and I dreaded each contraction because I knew that I would have to push. There were some contractions during which I knew I could have pushed but resisted the urge, although I kept that to myself at the time. I didn’t want anyone pressuring me to push. Sounds funny, I know, since this is childbirth. But I was just terrified of pushing.
At 4:35am my water broke. I remember feeling a “POP!” and I said, “…something just popped!” Jan (or Coral, or Pam, I’m not really sure) said, “Yep – that was your water breaking.” And with that, a huge clap of thunder outside and then an instant torrential downpour of heavy, heavy rain. For the record, that rain would last for approximately 4 days straight. The little man brought with him the wrath of god. I was happy to hear all this because I love thunderstorms, but I wasn’t expecting it to last as long as it did or to bring the tornadoes and other dangerous weather that swept southeastern Wisconsin for the next four days. Still, I like to think that the thunder and the opening of the heavens was Mom-mom watching from above, where I know she is, making her presence known. After those four days of rain the rose bush we planted for her is thriving, with about two dozen buds ready to bloom into beautiful flowers.
After my water broke, it was another hour of pushing before the baby was out. I remember the delivery of the head and asking whether I tore. That was one of my big fears which, in retrospect, was kind of a silly fear. I didn’t tear with the delivery of the head, but I did tear when his shoulders came out, and I didn’t feel it at all (the tearing, that is).
I always thought that I’d cry once the baby was out and fall in love instantly. It wasn’t really like that for me. I loved him, but moreso in the way I loved him while I was still pregnant. It wasn’t that big of a moment for me — it was more a relief that the pushing was over. Also, I think I had a really short umbilical cord, because I was sitting in the tub, holding the baby so that his body was in the warm water but his head was not in the water, and I could feel a slight tug on the cord, which was uncomfortable. So I guess I was a little distracted by that and the fact that my bottom just felt WRONG. I won’t go into detail on how my bottom felt; I’ll just leave it at that.
While I sat and looked at little JJ for the first few minutes of his life, Jan and Pam worked together to figure his Apgar scores at one minute and five minutes. I kept asking if he was ok because he didn’t cry right away and his extremities were still kind of purple, even after a several minutes. Jan assured me he was fine, but I was convinced there was something she wasn’t telling me. But there wasn’t. He really was ok; it just took him a while to get his color. I mean, the poor kid was in the birth canal for two hours, so I guess it’s to be expected that he’d look a little rough around the edges once he was out.
Next I moved to the couch where I laid the baby on my chest so we could have skin-to-skin contact. Eventually he started bobbing his head, looking for my breast — it was amazing! I couldn’t believe a little tiny infant, just minutes old, had that kind of strength, especially after the ordeal he’d been through. I had to help him find my nipple, but once he did I nursed him for a while (I’m not sure how long, since everything is kind of blurry in my memory). I delivered the placenta which was painless but gross-feeling, and then Jan assessed my perineum. I needed three stitches, which is really nothing, but it seemed to take forever for Jan to finish them. I just wanted to be done with everything so I could just lay with the baby and not be poked or prodded anymore. Still I’m sure this part of the process would have been more irritating in the hospital, since Jan was so patient with the delivery of the placenta and everything else involved with my immediate post-natal care.
I talked on the phone with several people around this time. I’m not sure if people were calling or if Jeremy called some people to tell them the news, but I felt like I was constantly on the phone. I didn’t mind so much, though, since I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of those people for quite some time and I wanted to share the moment with them. But I remember being really uncomfortable on the couch and holding the phone was just making me more uncomfortable. But soon enough I was off the couch and after using the bathroom (FINALLY) I was cleaned up and ready to spend some time resting. Of course I couldn’t sleep that whole first day because I had such an adrenaline rush, but I rested in the bed with the baby, and Jeremy took care of everything I needed. Oh! And I almost forgot… at about 7am (an hour and a half after JJ was born) our plumber was scheduled to come with the City of Greenfield inspector to get the rough plumbing approved on our upstairs remodeling project. We never canceled the appointment since we weren’t sure the night before whether or not I was actually going to have the baby. So we just let them come and do the inspection. They never even realized that I had just had a baby in the living room less than two hours earlier. Good thing we didn’t have a hospital birth or we would have had to reschedule the inspector, which is no small feat.
I guess that’s really where the birth story ends, but really it was just the beginning of all the wonderful things to come. There were a some drastic ups and downs the first couple of weeks and now there are less severe ups and downs, but overall being a mother has been wonderful. JJ is beautiful, and I love him more than I knew I was capable of loving anything or anyone.