Margaret Amanda Heinrich: The Girl Born Next Door
I figured that my second pregnancy would be even easier than my first, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first trimester was filled with exhaustion and nausea. When I finally started to feel good again, a subchorionic hematoma (blood clot in the uterus) put me on 7 weeks of bed rest and caused me all kinds of worries about the baby and the delivery. By the third trimester, I was grateful to be cleared for a vaginal delivery with a midwife as we had planned, but was still uncomfortable all the time and paranoid of pre-term labor – my son Paul had arrived 5 weeks early, and if this one came before 37 weeks, I’d still have to go to the hospital.
I finally hit 37 weeks and felt incredible relief – I was ready now! So of course, I started having contractions and false labor almost every night. There seemed to be enough signs that baby would come early that we had my mom fly out a week earlier than planned, since we would need someone to stay with Paul during the birth. Since Paul’s birth had been so fast and unexpected, I had never experienced the “waiting game” of late pregnancy, and it was driving me crazy. Every night I stayed up reading, wondering if my contractions were going somewhere or just another false alarm. Jan, my midwife, reassured me that there would be a moment when I would know for sure that it was the real thing, so I tried to focus on relaxing and letting it happen.
On Wednesday, August 21, I tried to go to bed around 11pm, when a contraction woke me up that was definitely different. It surged on fast, felt like it took over my entire lower body for about 20 seconds, and disappeared all at once, leaving me relaxed again. I waited nervously to see if it would repeat, and when I had two more that felt the same way, I decided it was time to call Jan. She left to meet me at the Well-Rounded Maternity Center, a birth center conveniently located right next door to our apartment in Milwaukee (The center had opened the same weekend we moved in, and we had just learned that I was pregnant – it seemed too good to be true!). I woke up Rudi (my husband) and my mom, and when Jan arrived, Rudi and I headed down the stairs and next door around midnight.
It felt more like checking into a hotel than arriving somewhere to give birth. We had a simple room painted a calm bluish-green, with a big bed in the middle and a birthing tub in the corner. Jan set to work getting her equipment ready and filling the tub, and Rudi and I got comfortable and looked at some old photo albums together. The contractions were about 10 minutes apart and 1 minute long, and just intense enough that I needed to hold Rudi’s hand and breathe through them. After about an hour, Jan suggested that taking a walk might help move things along. It was a cool, crisp night, so we took a middle-of-the-night stroll around our Bayview neighborhood, running into several random people on the on the street who wished us congratulations and good luck! It was relaxing and fun to spend the time together, and it definitely worked – by the time we came back, the contractions were less than 5 minutes apart and getting intense enough that I couldn’t focus on much else.
The tub was full and warm by now, so it seemed like a good time to get in for a while and relax. The water felt amazing, especially since the tub was so deep and I could be submerged all the way to make neck, taking the weight completely off my sore pelvic muscles and heavy belly. It actually slowed the contractions down for a little while, but they were just as intense. After about half an hour, my legs started to cramp up and I was ready to get out. I moved back to the bed and lay on my left side with lots of pillows, a position that felt quite comfortable for me, and where I would stay for the remainder of labor. Jan’s student assistant, Jessica, arrived, and we were starting to get down to business.
The next several hours were the most intense physical experience of my life. While my first delivery had been unmedicated, it had all happened in such a rush and a panic, with a lot going on at the hospital, and a feeling that I wasn’t entirely in control. The pain had been abstract, and I had done what it took to get through it. This time, I knew exactly what was going on in my body, and I could feel it in so much more detail. The pain was deep and visceral. As the contractions grew closer together, I closed my eyes through them, squeezed Rudi’s hand as hard as I could, breathed in through my nose and moaned deep and low. After a while, I discovered that singing songs took my mind off the pain more, so I belted out a few choice tunes, to Jan and Jessica’s delight. Eventually, my water broke, and even singing became too difficult – I just hollered, afraid to let go of my voice and let the pain seep into the silence. It began to feel less like contractions starting and stopping and more like constant burning pressure. Jan told me to go ahead and let myself push slowly when it felt right. She helped me reach down and feel the top of the baby’s head, which I could hardly believe was real.
Pushing was so much different this time. The first time around, a few hard pushes and an episiotomy had brought on a sudden crash and splash of baby into the world. Now I could feel absolutely everything in slow motion – the shape of the head and face, the literal sensation of bringing a child into the outside world. When the baby’s head was through, Jan held a mirror for me to see it. For the second time in my life, I saw an incredible full head of dark hair and knew I was almost there. Rudi looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me I could do it. Pushing until I could barely take it, I felt the shoulders, arms, legs, feet move through me. I rolled onto my back, and saw my beautiful daughter, her eyes wide open and a lively squawk from her lips, glide onto my belly and into my arms. Rudi and I said “hello, Margie!” and sang to her while she looked at us with huge, alert eyes.
It was 6:30am – a six and a half hour labor from start to finish. The sun streaked into the room for a short while before a thunderstorm rolled in. Delivering the placenta and getting sutured (I had only torn minimally this time, which meant that Jan could stitch me herself) were far more bearable when we were spending time holding our baby. Around 9:00, Rudi went next door to get my mom and Paul. When Paul came in the room, he said “go to Baby Margie’s house!” He climbed onto the bed with us and saw his sister for the first time, curious and uncertain, but smiling at her. “Four people,” he said, “Mama, papa, Paul, Margie.”
I can’t express how fortunate I feel that after all of the worries and complications, Margie’s birth was even better than I imagined it would be. No machines, fluorescent lights, masks, or stretchers…just me, my husband, and our child in a quiet room with a few trusting people who knew what they were doing. I knew that birth could happen this way, and it did on August 22. Happy birthday, Margie!