Ever since I became a mom to my daughter a couple years ago, I have loved hearing (and sharing) birth stories. I always tell people that I have never felt the mind, body, soul connection more deeply in my life than I did when I was giving birth to my daughter. And I've never felt more vulnerable, yet more strong and proud of what my body can do. It was truly a spiritual experience for me, and I remain in awe of the mystery and miracle that is birth.
I would say that my second birth experience was equally as powerful as my first, everything just happened a little faster. The following describes the 24 hours leading up to Nolan's birth. Just to lay a bit of background, I should mention that this pregnancy was less complicated than my first for a few reasons, the main one being that I did not have gestational diabetes. There was no diet regulation, no checking my blood sugars four times a day, no extra ultrasounds or non-stress tests. I also didn't have the swollen feet or get the charlie horse leg cramps in the middle of the night like I did when pregnant with my daughter. So all around, it was an easier pregnancy, other than the fact that I had a toddler to chase around.
Tuesday, March 27th, 24 Hours Before Nolan's Birth
On Tuesday evening, March 27th, at 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant, I headed to my routine prenatal appointment. My doctor checked my cervix and found that I was 3 cm dilated and 50% effaced, which meant I was a good candidate for a membrane sweep. This is a simple procedure where they use a finger to sweep between the membrane of the amniotic sac and the uterus. It is a good way to get labor started without drugs or other interventions. I was anxious about this because I had Googled it and read about other women saying it hurt, so when the nurse took my blood pressure and saw it was high, I wasn't surprised; however, when the doc did the sweep, I did not mind one bit. I remember asking her, "Did you do it? Wow, that didn't hurt at all!" I then did a non stress test and baby boy passed with flying colors (which I knew he would because he was extremely active throughout my entire pregnancy).
That night I had menstrual-like cramps in my lower back and in my lower abdomen. I figured this was due to the membrane sweep since cramps are fairly common following that procedure. I had been having these cramps and Braxton Hicks contractions periodically during the last month of my pregnancy as well. When I woke up the next morning and still hadn't gone into labor, I felt a sinking disappointment. I was SO sure that I would go into labor in the middle of the night when the time finally came and I was hoping it would happen that night.
Wednesday, March 28th, Nolan's Birthday
Being a week overdue at this point, I was feeling nervous because I did not want to be induced. I had an ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to check on baby and since I don't like extra testing, I was not looking forward to it. I convinced my husband to work from home to babysit Cora so that I could swim laps at Franklin and Marshall College over lunch to destress and get some of my favorite type of exercise (I am a mermaid, after all, remember?) The cramps continued to come and go periodically that morning and were painful enough that they were annoying and hard to ignore so I decided to meet up with friends at Commonwealth Kitchen & Cafe for a distraction (also I felt like I had to poo and knew that a mocha latte would probably do the trick, and it did :-p).
As I was swimming laps over lunch, I noticed the cramps were continuing so I decided to time them on the digital wall clock as I swam. I was a bit surprised to find that they were happening consistently 4 to 5 minutes apart. By the time I got out of the pool and had my hot shower, I had the sense of urgency that I should probably get home and figure out if this was the real thing. I had been anticipating labor for so long that I was in disbelief that it could actually be happening now, and like I said I was convinced it would happen in the middle of the night. I called into my doctor's office on my way home and spoke to the phone nurse since my doctor was not in that day. After describing my symptoms she suggested I go into the hospital and get checked.
Even though I had been prepared for this for weeks, I was a mess when I got home and forgot to pack several of my toiletries and clothing items that I meant to throw in my hospital bag. I was choking back tears as we rushed around to gather our things. I sobbed as I hugged Cora goodbye, knowing that the next time I saw her we would be a family of four and everything would be different.
Upon arrival in triage they found I was 5 cm dilated, which surprised me because even though the contractions were starting to become more intense, I remember 5 cm being a lot more difficult to endure when I was in labor with Cora. Lancaster General Women and Babies Hospital was packed that day, so it took them a little while to get us into a labor and delivery room. I never had a chance to eat lunch and I think the caffeine and anxiety of being in labor and not quite ready made my blood pressure go super high, which meant they had to check it every half hour while I was in labor and do some blood work. Thankfully everything was fine.
Once we got into our room, I was relieved that my blood pressure came down enough that I did not have to get a hep-lock in my hand. Being able to move freely and change positions during labor was one of the most important things to me, so I did not want an IV nor did I want to be hooked up to monitors. I also did not want any drugs, epidural or pain killers. It may sound crazy, but as I said with my first birth, I wanted to fully experience this thing that women have been doing since the beginning of time. Side note: I'm also a big fan of Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and that book very much impacted my desires for my labor and birth experience. Second side note: I think all moms are heroes, no matter how they gave birth. I know many friends whose birth stories did not turn out as they desired or imagined; regardless I just want to acknowledge that every mom who has ever given birth has done an incredible thing.
My mom and doula arrived soon after we got settled in the room and labor continued to progress and become more intense. During contractions I spent a lot of time rocking on the birthing ball, on all fours and sometimes lunging or squatting. I also spent some time in the tub. Dave and my doula Meghan of Village Birth Collective were awesome at encouraging me and applying pressure to my back and hips. The ambience was set just as I desired with folky music playing, dim lights and lavender essential oil diffusing through the air. I tried my best to focus on relaxing my face and mouth through every contraction, knowing how important it is to help relax the pelvic floor muscles and help labor progress.
Below I'm posting some super low quality photos and video that my mom took while I was in labor. When I look at these, I think I appear a lot calmer and more peaceful than what I was feeling inside.
In no time at all I had entered transition and the deep moans coming from within me grew louder and wavering. This part of labor I find to be the most intimate and transcendent; entering into that space where mind, body and soul are so intertwined and focused on nothing else but bringing that sweet babe into the world. The doc checked me and I was 7 cm dilated and as she was in there poking around, my water broke. Within the next half hour I was having the urge to push. I tried to surrender to my body and let it do all the work but the little guy still came fast and furious and I ended up with a second degree tear. After probably 4-5 contractions and less than 10 minutes of pushing, Nolan Avery arrived earthside, born at 5:50 p.m. weighing 7 pounds 10 ounces after less than 5 hours of labor. Now, a month later he is becoming a chunky little piglet and we all adore him so.
If you want to see Cora meeting her new baby brother for the first time, click here to view the Fresh 48 video and photos by Vanessa Shenk of Vanessa Joy Films. Hearing Cora's sweet little voice saying, "You want to hold him Daddy?" gets me every time. We will treasure this always.
NOTE: The photos and video above of me in labor were taken by my mom with a low quality point-and-shoot camera, not to be confused with Vanessa's professional work.
And below are a few more photos taken by me of baby Nolan in his first month of life.
Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!