I was looking back through my (apparently) neglected blog and realized that somehow, I had neglected to ever mention my own pregnancy and upcoming maternity leave. On October 11, Fiona Rose joined our family. We couldn’t be happier that she is here. I will be taking the rest of 2014 off from photographing births and portrait sessions, and will ease my way back into shooting in early 2015. And without any further ado, here is Fiona’s birth story. ~~~~
The morning of October 10, I woke up and found myself 39 weeks pregnant – a full 1.5 weeks more pregnant than I had ever been with my son Tristan who was born 2.5 weeks early. Pregnancy and I don’t get along so well – apart from the fact that I miraculously escape any kind of nausea/morning sickness, every other pregnancy malady in the book seems to hit me with a double whammy. Insomnia, heartburn, aches and pains, difficulty moving around, lethargy, depression…the list goes on and on. Quite honestly I hate being pregnant. I had a hard time ever admitting this with my son because I really felt like creating life should be such an amazing thing that the happiness of it overwhelms any negatives.
But for some of us, pregnancy is not all rainbows and unicorns. My first pregnancy was hard, and so was this one, in most of the same ways and in some new ones (like the added exhaustion from chasing around a very active toddler.) Getting through pregnancy was very much about survival mode from the start. One day at a time. I was “ready to be done” when I was only about seven weeks along.
Thankfully this pregnancy flew by…until I hit 30 weeks. Then time slowed to a crawl and every day seemed to last forever. Since Tristan was born just after 37 weeks, I wanted everything to be ready by then “just in case” – which meant that after 37 weeks came and went, I started getting a little bored. I didn’t have any energy to do all the fun things I’d planned to do “in the waiting”, I felt like crap, and I just wanted to meet my baby girl.
As I passed by 38 weeks with no baby, and then as I hit 39 weeks, I’d started to think this little girl was going to keep me on my toes and come closer to my due date or even after. I deeply believe that babies come when they are ready, and as much as I wanted to be “done” I wanted to trust my baby and my body even more. Each night before I went to bed I journaled a little bit, sometimes cried a little bit, and reminded myself that my baby would come at the perfect time.
So on the morning of October 10, 39 weeks, I snapped this photo. I’d started to make peace with pregnancy lasting another week or two. At 8 am, right after Mike left for work, I started to feel some cramping…kind of like menstrual cramps, but even more mild. There was no pain attached to these cramps, just an awareness that something was going on. I noticed them fairly regularly but I didn’t time them. They didn’t seem to get any more intense or any closer together so I went ahead to my scheduled prenatal massage at 10:30. It was wonderfully relaxing, as always. I did notice as I walked back to my car in a pretty heavy rain that I was still cramping but further apart and more mild. I picked Tristan up from my mom’s house and we came home and had a normal afternoon. He watched some Thomas the Tank Engine while I puttered on the computer. I vacuumed and picked up a bit just in case these cramps meant something would happen in the next few days. I also noticed that I was losing some mucous plug/bloody show, but that had been going on intermittently for a couple weeks so I tried not to read too much into it.
Mike stopped on his way home and got take-out from Outback Steakhouse since I didn’t feel like cooking. I enjoyed some clam chowder and spinach and artichoke flatbread before we went upstairs to get the kiddo to bed. My plan was to have a relaxing evening, maybe take a bath (which I figured would slow things down), go to bed and get some rest.
I texted my midwife, doula, and photographer an update and told them I’d be heading to bed soon and was hoping for some action tomorrow. I hardly felt any cramps during my bath and climbed into bed wonderfully relaxed and ready to sleep. This was around 10 pm. I turned on a Hypnobabies recording…”Easy First Stage”…and started to drift off.
And then, about 15 minutes later, I pretty much leapt out of bed. I was getting so uncomfortable during the cramps – that suddenly weren’t feeling like cramps anymore but more like surges – that I had to be up and moving through them in order to find comfort. I texted Mike, who was getting Tristan back down after a wake-up, that I didn’t think there was going to be any sleep tonight. After letting everyone else know that I “spoke too soon,” I started really having to work through each surge. Mike started filling up the pool and I got dressed and in between surges got out some food for the birth team (which ended up not being needed), turned lights on, and other little things to get ready. The surges were piling on top of each other now, and it was becoming harder and harder to breathe through them and find any comfortable positions.
People started arriving around midnight. My midwife calmly started getting things ready and helping Mike get the temperature of the pool right. I really just wanted to get into the water because NOTHING was comfortable. I tried hands and knees, leaning over the birth ball, all kinds of things that only made the surges feel more uncomfortable. They weren’t really painful unless I was in the wrong position, so I ended up just mostly standing and leaning on our dresser.
Finally the pool was ready and I got in around 12:30 am. Instant relief. I felt the intensity of the surges float off of me as I was buoyed up by the water. Best.feeling.ever.
It wasn’t long – less than an hour – before I started feeling “pushy.” At first it felt good to bear down a little bit and just breathe down. But before long the “real” pushing overtook me. And when I say “overtook” me I mean it quite literally. This is the part of both of my births that felt completely beyond me, the part where my body did its thing and I was just along for the ride. It felt both immensely powerful and completely out of control (probably because it WAS completely outside of my conscious control.) I began “roaring like a lion” as we described it to Tristan when we were prepping him for potentially being present at the birth. Low moaning and breathing into the surges/pushes was the only thing that dissipated some of the intensity and at the same time sent all the energy down through my body where I felt like it needed to go. I felt like holding my breath (the way they instruct you to do in hospitals) would have made me explode. So I knelt, leaned against the side of the pool, grasped Mike’s hands, and roared my baby down.
I’ll be honest, this part lasted a LOT longer than I expected. As a birth photographer I’ve seen a lot of second time moms give birth extremely quickly, with pushing stages that lasted a mere contraction or two. As the minutes dragged onward and I didn’t feel a baby coming down I started feeling discouraged…like all I was doing was pooping, not having a baby. Some of the birth affirmations I had up on the wall started flashing through my mind…as well as something that I have written on my birth photography website about what I photograph when I am at a birth story:
“I look for the moment – near the end – when mom thinks “I can’t do this anymore.” And then she goes and does it anyway. There is a moment in giving birth where we as women discover our innate power, power that we carry with us always but aren’t necessarily aware of it. From the time I step into a birthing space until I go home, I am looking for that moment. The moment a woman becomes most fully herself :: the strong, determined, powerful woman bringing a baby earthside.”
Partway through this incredibly intense pushing phase I had to accept that for whatever reason, my baby was NOT going to just slide out, that I had to reach deep inside myself to find the ability to KEEP GOING when all I wanted to do was STOP. And in that moment I would, once again, “discover my innate power” of becoming most fully myself…strong, determined, powerful.
My midwife and her assistant sat calmly across the room while I worked through the surges and roared my baby down. Mike was quiet by the side of the pool and his sense of calm helped ME to stay calm. My doula sat quietly by the pool and held space for me. I felt both like I was deep inside myself and being held up by these witnesses who believed in me and knew that I, and I alone, could and would birth my baby.
Just as I was starting to despair that a baby was EVER going to come, my midwife recommended putting one foot in front, basically in runner’s pose/lunge, in order to open the pelvis a little bit more. I did so in between surges and it felt AWFUL. But I didn’t have time to go back to just being on my knees before another surge came and so I just stayed there. It did the trick – I started to feel her crowning and the whole “ring of fire” business. I have to say, it felt WONDERFUL. Not literally, maybe, but I was so happy because I knew she was almost here. All this work had a purpose. My doula ran to get Tristan – who miraculously had stayed asleep this whole time – and I kept at it, joyously feeling her head come out and a second later realizing I had to give it one last effort to get the rest of her out. And then she was out…in the water, scooped up on my chest, with the most incredible joy and relief and elation…feelings I’ve only felt at that intensity one other time.
After that was just bliss. I think the first few hours after birth may be my favorite part about birthing at home. The calm, the gentle, the family moments, the lack of any kind of rush or agenda. Just lots of time to snuggle and get to know our new baby. Tristan was enthralled with his new baby sister (once he woke up enough to realize what was going on), and Mike and I couldn’t wipe the smiles off of our faces.
All in all I think it was a little less than 4 hours of active labor after all the early labor “cramping” throughout the day. And despite feeling like it was taking forever, I pushed for less than 40 minutes total and only around 20 minutes of the “roaring my baby out” kind of pushing. It was more fast and furious than I expected or had time to fully process in the moment. It wasn’t painful the way we usually think of pain, but was such an incredible amount of intensity that I’m not entirely sure how the human body can withstand it…and yet I did. It was primal, and powerful, and while it didn’t feel gentle, it was about as close to perfect as I could have hoped for.
I had pretty much the most awesome birth team EVER so I can’t finish this post without thanking my midwife, Tammi McKinley, for believing in me and trusting me and always helping me to release worry rather than piling it on; Katy Vega, Tammi’s student midwife/assistant, for bringing calm and joy to every appointment and into my birthing space; Lindsey Vick, my doula, for our prenatal sessions that really helped me feel prepared for this birth; Angela Torres, for stepping in at the last minute to come in Lindsey’s place when she couldn’t make it because she was at another birth – thank you for holding space for me, for being amazing with Tristan, and also for the work you did over the next two days encapsulating my placenta; Suzy Brown, my amazing birth photographer, who traveled here from Chicago and spent 2 weeks in DC capturing our last days of pregnancy, our birth, and our first few days as a family of 4; and finally, even though he wasn’t AT the birth, my chiropractor Dr. Andrino for not only keeping me out of pain and comfortable throughout my pregnancy but also helping to assure that Fiona was in an optimal position for birth. I truly was surrounded by the best possible care providers and I love each and every one of them.
Enjoy the slideshow!