It was early morning of February 17, and, at 38 weeks 3 days, I was one day more pregnant than I had ever been. I had fully expected to have a newborn in my arms at this point; I had assumed that the last of my progesterone shots would have worn off nearly a week earlier and was shocked when I was still pregnant into the Valentine’s Day weekend. I was uncomfortable and very ready to be done, though I hadn’t quite hit the mental brick wall of *needing* to be done with pregnancy. I just really wanted to be able to sit with my knees together again and to be able to sleep without some limb falling asleep.
I woke up around 3:30 and couldn’t fall back asleep easily. This had been a pretty typical pattern for the last week and gave me a good chance for some quiet conversation with baby, letting him (I was pretty sure it was going to be a boy) know that we were ready and excited to meet him any time he was ready. Most mornings for about the last week I had had a run of contractions coming every 10-15 minutes for an hour or two, so when I felt a couple of contractions between 4:20 and 4:45 on that Wednesday morning, I didn’t think too much of it at first, but after two or three they started to seem a bit stronger than usual…and I got hopeful that these were leading up to the real deal. I was up to the bathroom several times after the contractions started, which hadn’t been part of the routine on the previous mornings–was this just a result of what I had eaten for supper last night, or was this my GI tract clearing out for labor?
When the contractions were getting a little stronger and closer together around 5 o’clock, I decided to wait through one more…and then one more…and then one more…before waking Rob to say it was time. I hadn’t experienced early labor with either of my last two births, and I didn’t want to call everyone in just in time for my usual morning contractions to peter out. But something said it was time. I dropped my mom, who would be up soon, a message on Facebook to see if she could come up that morning instead of the following morning as we had been planning on. Then I started calling in our birth team, starting with our favorite midwives: Emme and Clare of Trillium Midwifery.
After scrambling out of bed, Rob added a bit more air to the birth tub, and then we began working on filling it with the hose attached to the showerhead pipe in the hallway bathroom. Though I had checked the connectors and thought everything was fine, it turned out that something was causing water to spray all over the bathroom. Some was still going into the tub, but it was only half of the full flow at best. Luckily I hadn’t gotten around to returning the standard hose I had gotten as a backup yet, so we were able to swap that out; however, we had wasted a good chunk of the first fill of the hot water tank and were now having to wait for the next fill to heat through. After they arrived, the midwives started boiling water on the stove (just like in the movies!), and Rob helped them haul it upstairs teapot by saucepan. By this point I was still able to talk and laugh between contractions instead of freaking out about the tub not filling very fast.
We had our Sound Birthing team (Jessica and Cathy from First Notes Family Music) present for support along with our four-peat doula Megan of Healing Garden Hypnosis. As the intensity of my contractions ramped up, Jessica and Cathy matched the mood with the music options from the playlists we had discussed in advance, and Megan helped me maintain my HypnoBirthing zone with softly whispered affirmations and encouragement. I spent a good portion of this time leaning forward on the birth ball on the edge of the bed and swaying to the rhythm of the music.
As I was swaying through a contraction, I felt a pop as my water broke. Midwife Emme wasn’t able to get fetal heart tones to register on the handheld Doppler while I was standing, so I had to get into bed so she could try from a different angle. Heart tones were fine after all, but I ended up having to weather a contraction while lying down in bed. Not being able to move and sway made the discomfort so much more intense for me (I don’t know how unmedicated laboring mamas manage to do it lying down!); I knew it was time to get into the tub. I remembered the feeling of lightness that came with being in the water for Ellie’s birth, and I was really looking forward to that.
There was barely enough water in the tub to make it worthwhile for me to be in there, but Rob hopped in and brought the water level up so that enough of me was submerged to give birth in the tub. The sides of the fully-inflated tub turned out to be too high for me to be able to rest my head and arms on, so I ended up sort of squatting while kneeling down low. I asked to have the birth ball tossed into the tub, hoping that would give me something to hunch over, but I didn’t think about how it would float so we quickly got rid of it again.
Contractions were coming strong and fast by this point. Rob was giving me a very light back massage that I can only describe as being the human version of a TENS unit. I was breathing long and slow and envisioning that J-shaped birth path. I also kept telling myself that this was the last time I’d ever be feeling pain like this and that it would be over very soon. I could tell that I was straining with my face (going against Ina May’s law of sphincters!), and focused what energy I could muster on relaxing those muscles. All of a sudden I felt that burning “ring of fire” and knew that I’d be meeting our baby within minutes. I could feel the baby’s head more and more and then all of a sudden the head was *right there*. In the moment, I thought, “This kid’s head is HUGE!” Then I heard Emme’s voice telling me to slow down. Then with another smaller wave…relief. Complete and total relief as the baby was fully born. I was told afterward that in a fluid, dance-like movement, I reached down, pulled up the baby, turned around, and fell back against Rob’s chest. I have no memory of any of this; I was too overwhelmed by that beautiful sense of relief and the beautiful little round face looking up at me.
As my mind came back to the present from my HypnoBirthing zone, I realized that Jessica and Cathy had “Ode to Joy” playing for us; we had hoped to have this immediately after all our births, but we finally achieved it this final time. I then realized that I hadn’t checked to confirm my hunch that the baby was a boy, so I tried to look…but the umbilical cord was in the way and I was too exhausted to move the cord. After a few more minutes of soaking in the wonder of our beautiful newborn, I peeked again and was absolutely shocked to find out that our baby was a girl, not the Samuel Robert we had been anticipating! Moment of minor panic–we didn’t even have a girl’s name picked! I guess when we had been telling people during the pregnancy that baby’s sex would be a surprise, we sure were right.
Big sister Ellie was very curious about the new baby and wanted to sit on the bed with us; the big brothers came up for quick visits, but then went back to playing whatever board game they had started a couple hours earlier. Nate was particularly pleased that we now had an equal number of boys and girls in our family. After enjoying my post-partum bowl of gelato (hooray for homebirth and having special treats readily at hand!) I handed the baby over to Rob for some skin-to-skin snuggles so I could hop in the shower. While our birth team cleaned up their supplies and began to depart, Rob and I talked through name possibilities. We eventually settled on Margaret Rose: Margaret is a name with family connections on both sides, and Rose was the name the kids had suggested for a girl (to parallel their suggestion of Sam from The Lord of the Rings trilogy).
And now, six weeks later, it seems like Miss Margaret has been with us for so much longer. I have been pleasantly surprised at how I haven’t really experienced bittersweet thoughts linked to completing my final pregnancy. Instead I’ve enjoyed the peace that comes from knowing that our family is now complete, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better birth experience to be my last.