Ah…baby number four.
Poor child has almost no chance of having a baby book – maybe a baby folder with a few things tossed haphazardly in it? – but at least, because his mom’s a writer online, he’ll have a very complete record of his own birth story.
‘Cause that’s super important when you’re a guy, right?
So I’m writing this post as a love letter of a sort to him, but I’ll let you read it since he’s not quite that precocious (yet).
All professional images by Amanda Brown Studios.
My dear Gabriel Thomas,
The Tuesday you were born dawned gray and rainy, but by midday was a lovely specimen of October sunshine and was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, your daddy’s favorite temperature in the world…
He worked from home that day, “just in case.” We had been expecting you any second since Saturday, although I figured you might last until Monday the 27th.
You were technically a day overdue already, although I try hard not to focus on a specific date but had been saying for months: “The baby’s due the last week of October.”
Apparently you had been listening and were in no hurry to arrive on a Monday.
I had spent much of the day Monday being busy and moving around – I guess instead of encouraging you to come on out it rocked you to sleep, but it was worth a try. John and I played frisbee and ball and swings outside, did some gardening, vacuumed a lot inside (but never actually quite got to the edging as you were a bit in the way for bending over or kneeling down low) and went for a little walk, but not too far!
I had already gotten the bulk of my “lists” crossed off: house tasks, cleaning, gardening, plus homebirth preparation lists of things to buy and collect so they were ready in a moment. And “new baby” lists like carseats, washing baby clothes, buying diapers, finding the Moby Wrap, etc.
This is the next closest thing to a miracle for me, the one who has lists from two years ago that I still haven’t taken care of.
In spite of not focusing on a day, I knew the official date well enough. The last two labors had been quick (here’s number three’s crazy story that ended in the E.R.), but both had either two days or two weeks of discomfort and intermittent labor pains, so I sort of thought I might have a few days of “warnings.”
Once Monday the 27th had passed and I still wasn’t feeling as many “rumblings” as I expected (although some on Monday for sure, light labor pains, but very intermittent and mild), I began to get a little antsy.
By Tuesday afternoon at about 3:00, I posted on my personal Facebook page:
All right, baby! I’m running out of things to do here! The house is dusted, vacuumed, and swept. All the boys have fresh haircuts and children’s nails are clipped. My meal plans have run out and the freezer is as stocked as it’s going to get, and I bought 3 kinds of ice cream last night because I’m still pregnant. Bushes are trimmed, lilies and hostas winterized, kids’ rooms immaculately clean, kitchen counters as cleared as they ever are…so hurry up or the dust will settle, the hair will grow and I’ll have lists to tackle again!!
(This is for all of you stalking my FB to see what’s up. Due date was technically yesterday, so pray for me that this little dude doesn’t overcook and end up 9+ lbs!!)
I’m going to edge vac the house after John’s nap and then…there will be nothing left (that I want) to do. It is time…
I’m a planner, more or less, and playing the waiting game was becoming mentally difficult. I even forgot that I had a midwife appointment that Tuesday afternoon because when we scheduled it the week before I never expected to actually need it!
When the midwife left, I told her I thought she’d be back rather soon.
Later on she told me she had just arrived home, 45 minutes away, when I called. She wished she could have predicted how soon and just stayed nearby!
I texted Grandma and Grandpa about 4:00 and told them that they should still come over for dinner, our regular Tuesday routine. Grandma had been on serious “baby watch” since Sunday and was itching to whisk the big brothers and sister away, but I didn’t want them to disappear too early since it could be a few more days until you arrived. Who knew?
I decided I would make the mac and cheese from Better Than a Box with some sliced and fried sausages and frozen veggies thrown right in, an easy all-in-one-pot meal, plus some frozen salmon burgers from Costco (pretty decent ingredients!) because the open package of sausage wasn’t quite sufficient. About five minutes after I got everything underway, I realized the contractions were finally timeable. Oops.
I continued to put dinner together as fast as I could, barely taking the time to note the timing of my own contractions and a bit conflicted as to whether I should breathe into them, allowing my body to do its work and move you down and out, or tighten up a bit and work against them since I had some balls in the air in the kitchen!
Ironically, because we were living with my in-laws when I gave birth to John, number three, I also made dinner for them the last time I was in labor. New, weird tradition? (Let’s not go there.)
Daddy usually ends a regular work day at 5:00 p.m. and is home by 5:30, so I figured he’d be emerging from the home office any second, or at least by 5:30. When 5:40 rolled around, I couldn’t wait any longer. I opened the office door and said, “Hon? You need to come home from work now. I need help timing some things!”
The grandparents arrived soon afterward to the news that yes, I was in labor.
And yes, we still fed them.
Can you imagine the chaos in our house for that hour span of time???
- Daddy is running around doing his “prep for baby” list, which included double sheeting our bed with plastic, laying down tarps, getting a huge tub filled with warm water in our bedroom – not a small task. (We didn’t rent an official birthing tub but ordered this one off Amazon per our midwife’s recommendation and will be able to reuse it next summer in the backyard!)
- The big kids are coming home from friends’ houses, greeting Grandma and Grandpa and trying to play with them…
- …while I’m in the kitchen whipping dinner together, making a quart of “Laborade” (recipe here, with honey), packing tomorrow’s lunches to send with the grandparents along with the non-perishable lunches that had already been packed for a week, in case they stayed two days there, making sure backpacks had other necessary schtuff in them…
- …and Grandpa is moving three carseats to his vehicle and grabbing the already-packed suitcase of kids’ stuff, making sure the kids have warm winter-y clothing because we were just in that “transition” time between fall and winter when you start to need gloves and forget them…
I just scarfed a salmon burger and a few sausage slices and some cucumbers and skipped the mac and cheese since I was determined not to eat grains before and after birth (here’s how that worked out). Not long afterward I regretted eating so much fish.
Oh Yeah…a Home Birth
Still taking pictures at 7:43 p.m.
I had been fairly quiet online about our decision to have a home birth, I guess mostly because I didn’t want to get into any arguments with people about it. I’m not a gung-ho proponent of home births and really wasn’t sure how it would go. As a couple, we were fairly certain this was the right choice for us, for this pregnancy, for this time…but there were always doubts.
Daddy, of course, did not want anyone to know at all so they wouldn’t think we were kooks, so in the final months his wishes trumped any motivation I might have felt to open up about our plan in a very public way, and we didn’t even tell your Grandma and Grandpa (Daddy’s parents) until a few weeks before your due date when they asked a direct question about where you would be born.
Big sister Leah started spilling the beans by talking about how Nurse Leslie (our midwife) came to the house, and Grandma asked point blank: “And will she come here for the birth, too?” I wonder if they already had suspicions…
They rolled with the news just great, by the way, and Grandpa actually said, “Well, I was born at home!” so we were treated to a rare glimpse of his childhood. In the middle of the night after he entered the outside world, his (much) older brothers were awakened to meet their new baby brother. They looked, said “Mmmm” and went back to bed.
I think they’re getting used to us being a bit out of the mainstream. Just a bit.
(Here’s my post on the pros and cons of homebirth, because there definitely are both sides to the decision.)
Pushing People out the Door
The hour and a half between when I told Daddy, “It’s time,” and we really got down to work is a total blur. We were busy! We were finally pushing some very prepared and well fed grandparents and older brothers and sister out the door at around 7:00 p.m.
Big brother Paul, for some reason, really hated to break his routine and desperately wanted to stay home, promising he would not bother us and even getting tearful. It broke my heart! I felt like I was hurting his feelings or something by “sending him away.” That was a hard spot that weighed on me for a little while after the house became quiet again.
Our midwife Leslie had been “hanging nearby” grabbing dinner so that she was closer than 45 minutes when we called to say “for sure.” She stopped by to check on me around 7:20, I think, and it was certainly time for her to stay.
Spreading the News
One of the first things I tried to do once we could focus 100% on “we’re having a baby” tasks instead of “what do the other three children need?” tasks was asking for prayers from my church moms community, my blogger friends and colleagues and my Kitchen Stewardship community.
And Facebook was down!
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that happen before where I couldn’t access all of Facebook via any browser or my phone. What timing, right?
I felt truly lost, impotent and…quiet. It was a bit lonely not being immediately connected to a bunch of people I knew would care.
Finally between 7:30 and 7:40 I was able to post a quick note to a few important groups and pages on Facebook – “Official labor prayers requested! Should have some fun news by morning!” More than one friend who knows my quick labor history chimed in saying they knew it would be before then.
I must say it was encouraging to hear the pops and buzzes on my phone while people liked and commented, sending their support and prayers. I was connected again and no longer lonely! “Your phone’s blowing up!” Daddy would say, probably privately rolling his eyes.
Your brother still gets the prize for “most technologically close” birth, though, because I was still tweeting just 30 minutes before he was born…and we weren’t at the hospital yet!
How Catholic Labor is Different
A week or so before your due date, I put out requests for intentions, asking people if I could offer up my labor pains for their specific needs.
It was neat asking in some groups that weren’t all Catholic, because people hadn’t necessarily heard of the idea of uniting one’s suffering to Christ’s, and I love sharing that element of our Catholic faith.
I ended up with a full sheet of paper, almost 50 requests, that I was so humbled and honored to bring to God during my earthly suffering to bring your new life into the world. My favorite intentions to offer during labor are for others’ pregnancies, deliveries and infertility, and I had many of those, plus requests for conversions of close family and friends, job discernment, illnesses, financial difficulties, and more.
On my knees in between contractions, I read the Magnificat in the book of Luke, uniting my motherly pains with Mary’s beautiful prayer proclaiming the greatness of the Lord (although I admit I wasn’t really able to focus on the meaning very well). Good thing I had gone to Confession three days earlier and meditated on the Magnificat as my penance already.
I also poured a splash of holy water into the birthing pool – did you know that if you add just a drop of blessed water to a larger amount, it all becomes blessed? I figured there was no better entrance for you into the world!
Not Until Hard Labor Starts
One of my goals for your birth was to remember seeing you for the first time.
I realized in reflecting on other births that my memories were pretty spotty – I don’t have a first image of either Leah or Jonathan (numbers two and three, for the readers). I remember more from Paul’s birth 9 years ago than theirs, and my hunch is that my adrenaline was so high because of the rushed situation that my memory suffered.
Besides that, women in labor receive a good dose of a “forgetful” hormone, God’s way of making sure you aren’t all only children, I believe.
This time, I was determined to have a more peaceful birth (a word at which my good friend scoffed pointedly – and correctly). I was determined to remember more.
Turns out the good Lord may have had a point with those forgetful hormones!
In spite of my best intentions to both remember and to make sure I did a “brain dump” of memories within a day or two of your birth, here I am nearly four weeks later, finally writing it all down. It’s just been too nice snuggling with you and nursing (and trying to keep up with the rest of the kids too), and I haven’t wanted to focus on a large task.
So I’m still a little spotty on all the details, but I do remember a few main points (that your future wife – and my readers – and me – will probably care a lot more about than you ever will!):
- Contractions timed so odd – I’d have 6-9 minutes between them, then have a fairly short one, about 30-45 seconds, then only a 60-90-second break before the next one, which would be very short, just a little hint. I began referring to the follow-up contractions as “aftershocks.”
- I decided to lay down on the bed once, relax, and focus on laboring and contractions, and everything immediately slowed down even more. I did some figuring and decided it would be better to just get it all over with than lay down for an hour, so up I went again!
- The midwife, Nurse Leslie, said that if I really wanted to get things going, walking up and down the stairs was quite effective. I chose to stay in the bedroom, on the tarps. I didn’t want any stairs puddles!
- At some point in the midst of all this, Nurse Leslie said something about how she and her assistant, Nurse Kate, would stay downstairs and out of our way “until hard labor starts.” I thought, “You mean this isn’t hard???” I was a little discouraged and worried inwardly that this labor might not end up as fast as the others and I’d be doing this all night long.
- It was definitely a comforting feeling to know that the midwives were already there, the supplies were all set up, and everything was ready. No figuring out “when to leave for the hospital,” no having to talk to people at the registration desk or deal with anyone who didn’t already know me (and the way I wanted to give birth), no unfamiliar places.
- The midwives were plenty present but not obtrusive, and Leslie and Kate came back up to be with me when she heard me make a groaning noise (at which point I specifically thought – and again a bit later when I was even louder – that it’s a darn good thing we didn’t decide to leave the children in their beds or something if labor started in the middle of the night! Plus, the entire hallway, main bathroom and the next bedroom over from ours all became “hospital areas” in my opinion, a thoroughfare for the midwives doing their work. No one could have slept through all the commotion!
- At some point in this whole process, Leslie did “check me” to see how the cervix was opening. I was at six centimeters, which pretty much meant nothing since one could stay there for hours or zip right to ten, but at least it meant something was going on. As much as I tried not to think about that number, I found myself wishing it had been an eight or nine already. The psychological power of knowledge is a force to be reckoned with.
Just Me in the Tub
I had planned out what I was going to wear in the tub, which took more thought than it sounds like it warrants. I didn’t really want to be naked, particularly in case I ended up getting a photo of myself in the tub, and only certain items in the closet fit over a 40-week-pregnant belly. A sports bra is the first obvious choice, but the thought of having to peel one of those things OFF to be able to nurse just wasn’t going to cut it. Too tight! I ended up going with a maternity tank top with spaghetti straps that I knew I could pull down to nurse in the tub or if I didn’t end up getting wet, and it would be pretty easy to get off if it was wet.
About a week before your birth, I realized that while I had asked a lot of questions about the birth process and how everything would work leading up to that very special moment, I didn’t know much about the moments to follow.
Would I stay in the tub to nurse? Would I snuggle you there or have to get out right away? Where is the placenta delivered?
I emailed the midwife to get a better picture of all this, actually, and I was glad that we had a plastic sheeted bed since I would be there, with you, before long.
It didn’t seem like I had been doing the work of labor and focusing on contractions very long before I asked when people get into the tub. I knew the warm water would ease the contractions a little bit, but I also knew that the heat would leave faster once we took the blanket covering the tub off. I wanted to time it right (but at least there wasn’t the stress of timing the hospital trip right!).
I had been told that some women get in and out and go through lots of towels, and I had the sense that I wanted to get in and stay in, for a number of reasons, including the practical one that I didn’t want to run out of towels! (Bothering to think about little details like that is one potential downfall of a homebirth, by the way, if you’re anywhere near a type A…more on that in a pro/con post later.)
I only deliberated about the pool for a few contractions before they seemed plenty intense enough for me to want to get in.
Once in the tub, the water was perfect and felt sooooo wonderful. Leslie said that my husband had filled it to exactly the right depth and the ideal temperature (just about body temp, maybe slightly above) and joked that he should hire out his services. He shrugged and said he just filled it until we ran out of hot water.
One of my other major goals with this birth was to attempt not to tear – that’s definitely the hardest part about recovery when trying to sustain a new life who cries and makes you sit on your bottom to nurse all day, and I thought it would be quite dreamy if I could avoid stitches.
The waterbirth was one step toward that goal, as the water can reduce the impact of gravity and create a more gentle environment for the perineum, and birthing on hands and knees can also reduce the chances of tearing since the baby’s exit isn’t exerting so much downward force on that area.
When I labor, I like to bend over forward and let my belly hang down, either leaning on something or going down to my hands and knees anyway. I hate sitting during a contraction, and I couldn’t imagine that sitting in the tub or resting while leaning backward would be tolerable at all.
Hands and knees sounded just about right.
I hung my arms over the edge of the tub like a drunkard hugging the porcelain throne, and it was perfect.
I Got That “Giving Up” Feeling
It wasn’t long after getting in the tub that things amped up considerably.
I remember slamming my open palm on the outside wall of the tub with a resounding crack, not unlike the move Daddy did on the living room floor in response to a terrible play by the Spartans back when your oldest brother was just a few months old, sending that baby into fits of frightened tears.
I was trying to log everything away in a more permanent file in my brain, while simultaneously thinking, “This is harder than I remember! Maybe I should try to forget…”
I had been feeling tired and my legs got fatigued even before I got into the tub, and I was a bit disappointed in myself and my own stamina. I remember thinking, “Maybe I’m not in shape as well as I thought…I should work on that.”
Once in the tub, I was plum exhausted.
And that worried me.
How will I get through it if there are a few more hours of this? I thought I was ready – why is this knocking me out so badly? What if I can’t do it?
If you’re familiar with the stages of labor, “transition” is the one right before pushing, and it’s characterized emotionally by a feeling of everything being too hard, of wanting to give up and/or thinking you can’t possibly make it.
I knew that academically but thought I might just be wimping out early. What if I was still in stage two and just being a weakling and thinking it was too hard, but it wasn’t really transition yet?
Women overthink things like that, even in hard labor.
Speaking of hard…it was definitely hard now. I was saying things like, “I just need a break…” I really wanted a few minutes to just rest in the water, maybe lay down and take a nap, but you were having none of it. I felt like the contractions were coming one after the other and giving me little time to breathe in between.
Nurse Kate tried to use the Doppler machine under the water to get your heartbeat, an important part of keeping everyone safe in labor, and I wanted that thing OUT of my way when a contraction hit!
Leslie told me later that she knew I’d be having a baby in another minute or two so she didn’t worry about the fact that we couldn’t get in to listen.
It takes more than a minute or two to write the story though…so we’ll finish up in part two with the moment of birth, the results of my “no stitches” goal, how Gabe nursed those first few days, and how we chose his name. UPDATE: Read part two right here.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!