In May 2012, on a Thursday evening after your daddy, big sister G, and I returned from a trip to Rome for mama’s work, I took a bath with G. I had been feeling hungrier that week and felt this gurgling feeling in my belly like I did when I was first carrying your sister in my belly and suspected there might be another little person in there. I was right. I quickly whispered to G in the bathtub, “you are going to be a big sister!” and gave Daddy a card that night that said, “I look forward to adding a February birthday to our family birthday countdown calendar next year! Pure joy was radiating through my body.
After we found out we were having you, I learned that our solo practitioner OB/Gyn who delivered your older sister was taking a break from OB, and so we needed to find a new practice. Looking back, I am so thankful for this turning point. Had it not happened, I am confident we would have still had a good pregnancy and birth with our past doctor with the end result of You. Because of this need though, we turned down a path of discovery. When your daddy and I thought about your sister’s birth, we remembered being so happy to have had a healthy baby and so proud of how well I pushed her out, but the experience left us, well, wanting more. So we reflected a bit—what were the things we had wanted in a birth that we did not have last time?
To me, this meant finding a practice that saw birth as a normal life event and had faith in moms to trust their bodies. We did not want to be induced either, because of how the Pitocin felt in my body last time and the cascading interventions and lack of ability I had to move during labor that followed it I also wanted to give natural birth our best shot this time, and being second time parents, we now knew this would be optimized by picking someone (or a team of people!) with great ideas and experience to help guide us through not just the actual labor and delivery but also the mental and physical preparation for the big day. Thinking about these key goals, I remembered my friend Pleasance, the owner of my favorite yoga studio, Lil Omm, had found a group that seemed to honor these tenets during her pregnancy with her second child– the practice was Wisdom midwifery at GW. She filled me in on the group, suggested I get on their waitlist if I was considering them (which I did right away– at this point I was about 8 weeks pregnant). To be completely honest, before we were pregnant with you, neither of us knew very much about midwives at all. We began reading up and watching documentaries on the difference between models of care offered by midwives and OBs and talking a LOT with each other. After I attended a meet the midwife session at GW, I felt like Wisdom might be just what we were looking for. They seemed really chill and relaxed, excited about helping you birth your babies, and overall just really different (which I liked).
Daddy and I decided that this time, we would also like to have a doula, or a special birth helper, as part of our team, but wanted to choose someone who we were sure would remember Daddy wanted to be helpful for the birth too. Through Lil Omm, we learned about a yoga teacher Michelle Cohen who was also training to be a doula. We invited her over to meet and we all clicked right away. Throughout the pregnancy, Michelle was kind, fun, and full of ideas from yoga, her work as a doula, and experience as a mother, and most of all she understood and trusted the birth process. We were not sure there was another person in the whole world that was better match for us. Michelle was the one who helped us find our own voice about birthing and helped us to really trust ourselves, and I have to say she became a really good friend to both Daddy and me during the time you were living in my belly.
The next day after signing up with Michelle, we also decided GW Wisdom Midwifery would be the practice we worked with. We are so happy we made that choice, because they lived up to be everything we hoped. To be honest, we really chose them because of the birth experience we hoped for, but we got way more than that. The routine care was amazing. I felt like I was being taken care of by a village of experienced women who loved to share stories at each visit. I think they took my blood once during the pregnancy and always examined me in my clothes. Some of the midwives would even lean down and talk to you through my belly, saying “Hi baby!” really sweetly. I felt like a person not a patient, which for us, it turned out, mattered a lot and helped us develop confidence during the pregnancy that we could do this. also, instead of being worried that I am an avid runner, they embraced it and chatted with me being glad to hear I was getting the nutrients I needed from my diet to support the running and the pregnancy. It was clear they wanted to work with me and that they valued each woman and her pregnancy as unique and special.
But, I knew that to really prepare for this natural birth, we needed not just to stack our team (which we totally did), but we needed to educate ourselves through practice on how to labor effectively. I knew I wanted to bring yoga into the pregnancy and I decided to sign up for a Saturday prenatal yoga class with you at Lil Omm that was during G’s naptime. This way, I felt that this time was just yours and mine. I invited you on to my yoga mat pretty much every Saturday afternoon for the 6 months before you were born. In this sacred space in Alicia’s class, I had a chance to grow stronger physically, practice positions and flow of movement, and breathwork that would be helpful in natural childbirth. I was happy to have the time to just think about me and you and meanwhile enjoy the company and friendship of other moms, moms-to-be and our awesome yoga teacher. When I look back that those 6 months, they were some of my favorite in my life, because I grew very much spiritually from my time on the mat with you. It was there that I learned more about myself and who I wanted to be for you, our family, and for me. There, I found myself trusting my body to know what to do and how to do it. There, among peaceful music and focused on your movements within me, I started learning how to be present and was able to start each week with a goal of better seeking out and appreciating the ordinary moments of life.
On February 6th, the night before your due date, I started feeling some contractions about 30 seconds long and 8 minutes apart for a while. We thought, “Yay, you were going to be born on your due date!” We called Michelle and the hospital to let them know about our status, but the contractions were of a strength that I thought I might be able to sleep still, so I took a shower and did fall asleep for a few hours. When I woke up, they hadn’t gone away, but were not any stronger or closer together. Daddy and I worked from home on February 7, and after talking to Michelle, decided to take a big long walk to try to move things along. We even made a pit stop and had a really fun and delicious soup and omelet lunch date in Bethesda at Le Pan Quotidian where we talked about your impending arrival. Afternoon turned into night and when I woke up on February 8, the contractions were gone. “OK”, I thought, “not the real thing, but probably a great warm up.”
On Tuesday, February 12, at around 1215 am, I was awakened from sleep by a huge contraction that lasted a minute and was strong enough that I thought my bladder was exploding. I considered letting Daddy sleep but based on the strength of this one compared to the ones I felt several days earlier, I kind of knew inside this was it! I quickly downloaded an app to record contractions, and went to the bathroom. I had another contraction in there. When I came back to bed at 12:25, another one came on, just as strong and I started recording contractions. I found myself on all fours rocking and breathing through it on top of the covers. I knew you were coming to me, and woke up your dad and told him, I think this is really the day. Daddy called our friends A and M (who love your dog Shorty as if she was their own) and asked them to come pick her up to take to their house while we labored. He also jumped into the shower to quickly wake up. Until about 1am, I labored on the bed on all fours rocking during contractions, then I’d move into cat’s pose right after each contraction, then child’s pose to rest until the next one. I was feeling a LOT of back labor, and all of these positions felt really good for that.
By 1am, the contractions had been 4-5 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute or longer for 45 minutes. Daddy called Michelle to tell her our status. She told us to let her know if we needed her here and to update her when things progress more. We also called the hospital and talked to the midwife on call, Kimla. She could tell the contractions were strong and told me to call her when I was leaving for the hospital and she would meet me there because she was also about 20 minutes away this time of day. After we made these calls, I wanted to switch positions and move downstairs. I was surprised when Daddy told me that M had already picked Shorty up very quietly about 10 minutes after he called them. We decided not to call the Morton family yet (our wonderful neighbors, Mrs. L, Mr. D, E, and A, who were our friends who were going to take care of your sister), in case the contractions did not progress, so they could get as much sleep as possible.
I was relieved and kind of excited to have the whole house to labor in. Time to put all my good yoga and breathing tricks to work. Daddy had already packed the exercise ball in the car, and I asked him to go get it, which he did. He also set up the hypnobirthing meditations to play on our laptop; these had been very calming to me during my pregnancy and during G’s birth and he made sure I was drinking plenty of water. Contractions were about 2.5-3.5 minutes apart now, and I labored leaning on the ball with my forearms, rocking back and forth during the contractions, which were building in intensity by the minute! I would have a contraction, then run to the bathroom and sit on the toilet, then come back and labor again on the ball. I did this for about 35 minutes and also brought in some vocal toning. Towards the end of this time on the floor, I started feeling really nauseous and dad brought me a trash can. At the same time, I started throwing up, contractions really picked up in intensity and became closer to 2 minutes apart for the remaining time we had in the house. Daddy got a concerned look and started speeding around the house collecting any last things we wanted to bring with us (luckily we had been packed in the car for weeks for you so I wasn’t nervous about forgetting anything and was able to totally focus on breathing and working through each wave of pain). Daddy updated Michelle again to say we were getting ready to leave for the hospital. Daddy also called LM to let her know tonight was the night and we would call her probably very soon to come over and sleep here with G. For most of the last half hour or so in the house, I mostly labored standing up pushing my hands and arms strongly against the wall as if I was going to push the wall away while doing figure 8’s with my hips. Then I would just rest against the wall between contractions. For a couple minutes before we left, I moved back to the floor for a few minutes and began to think about the mantra “let… go” like we had practiced in yoga class, after a few contractions like this, dad and I looked at each other and said, “We gotta get going”.
I stopped recording contractions at 2am because it became too much and a little pointless. Daddy called Michelle and said, “Let’s meet at the hospital” and called L to come over to be with G. He helped me put on our friend S’s Tens machine on my lower back, where I was experiencing a lot of the contractions. I was not looking forward to having contractions in the front seat of the car, and thought the electrical vibrations would make them a little more manageable (they did, to the best of their ability). I also brought an icepack to put on my neck, which always helps when I feel nauseous. L met us in the parking lot outside. I looked at her, so thankful to have such a great friend and said, “Thank you for taking care of my baby while I go deliver her sibling”. It was a warm moment and she was very calm too and helped me through one last contraction before I got in the car. Now, time is a little fuzzy for us here, but I am pretty sure we left the house around 2:15am.
We made it to the hospital in about 20 minutes, but the 10-12 contractions in the car, as predicted, were awful. I wanted to jump out of my skin. Daddy sped, coming to a short pause at red lights and then gunning through. I tried my best to breathe through them using some deep “ohhh’s”, but it was sometimes too much just sitting there not being able to move. I was literally wriggling in my seat! When we hit Cactus Cantina on Wisconsin Ave, I almost asked Daddy to let me out of the car for a few seconds to have a contraction because I could not take “not moving” anymore. So glad I didn’t because I think I would have had you right there on the sidewalk. When we hit Massachusetts Ave, we saw a police officer ahead and hoped he would see and escort us (we had the flashers on), but he didn’t. Daddy just kept going pausing briefly at lights and then accelerating as fast as he could. About a mile from the hospital, I remember screaming during one contraction, and Daddy reminded me to do something different with my voice. I was thankful for the reminder to get me back on track with the Zen I had going for my labor so far.
When we pulled up the GWU hospital ER entrance, I had nothing else on my mind but getting the heck out of the car. I literally leaped out of the car and ran into the hospital, leaving Daddy to figure out double parking the car. I found the desk to check in and had two contractions right there. The attendant was pretty nice and rubbed my back while I breathed through them. They were almost on top of each other and things were moving so fast.
Daddy met me inside and we were escorted upstairs to labor and delivery. I had a bunch of contractions along the way, in the elevator, outside the elevator… basically every minute. When we got to our room, Room #10, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change into a hospital gown, but when I labored with your sister that made me feel like such a patient, so I decided to bring my own clothes this time. She seemed a little surprised that I wanted to risk getting something of mine dirty– had she ever heard of laundry? I dismissed it… more important things to think about. The nurse was also not happy that I did not want to have an IV or heplock put in. During your sister’s birth, it might sound silly but this was my least favorite part. I did not even have a birth plan written this time (because the practice I chose was so much in line with everything I wanted) but I had told Michelle and a few of the midwives that the only thing I care about is NOT having anything in me. I told the nurse I would sign a form/waiver and went immediately to the bathroom, because I felt like sitting on the toilet was the only thing that might feel good and I was tired of talking through the past 4 contractions. It felt ok on the toilet but then I found myself on the bathroom floor on all fours for the next two contractions. I laughed to myself in this moment, because I must be dealing with a lot to choose being on a hospital bathroom floor as an option. I could hear outside the door that Michelle and Kimla had arrived. I wanted to go out and greet them, and did. Daddy needed to go move the car, and we both agreed now would be an ok time since Michelle was with me. However, we had NO idea how quickly things would move after saying that.
I gave Kimla and Michelle hugs and said hi (between contractions) and walked over to the couch to lean on it for the next contraction. Michelle helped me change into a nightgown I had brought to labor in and Kimla came over to talk to me, asking about my labor so far but then started talking about the heplock. It was very hard to talk during contractions and I was hoping this whole conversation would be over soon. Michelle was in tune with me and took over so I could focus on laboring (all while still applying some great pressure to my lower back and squeezing my hips during contractions). Michelle said I did not want it and asked for a little more time. Right after she said that, Kimla walked away for a quick second, and then I had told Michelle that I felt crazy pressure. She said, “That’s your baby, sweetie”. She was right because I felt an overwhelming (and uncontrollable) urge to bear down. I yelled, “I am pushing!!!” And thought I felt my water breaking, but it was really just a little bit of blood. At this point I was still laboring standing, leaning with my forearms on the couch. Michelle called out to Kimla and the nurses saying “is this ok?” referring to the place in the room that I was, knowing that this baby was coming and we should probably move to a place with better light! At this point, it was 3am when I started pushing. Michelle also texted Daddy “ 911!” to mean get back here quickly so he didn’t miss it (having experienced lots of births, I think she knew that this baby was coming within minutes!). Kimla came over and checked me from below and I overheard something about baby being a +2, which I knew meant you were close to popping out! Yay!
Between contractions, I scurried myself over to the bed and they raised it up so I could standing up, lean on my forearms, and bend my knees just a little when I was bearing down. This position felt perfect. I was able to wiggle my hips side to side during and between contractions to help you move down too. I remember looking up after a few contractions and seeing that your dad had made it back (I later found out that he didn’t see the emergency text, but luckily was moving at the speed of light anyways to get back to us!). I had Michelle behind me coaching me calmly and massaging my back and your dad in front of me holding my hands and talking to me too (and, if you can believe it, making me laugh). It felt amazing to me that for this birth, it felt like YOU were doing the work and I was just your partner, moving in ways that helped you get out, all with such a rockstar team of supporters around us. There was also a midwife student Kelly, who was on the ground with Kimla and nurses ready to catch you. Someone (not sure who) was applying a warm compress below for me and Kelly was coaching me about times when I needed to ease up and push very slowly. I have to admit, I never really looked down or around to take note of the room. Rather subconsciously I had decided to focus on you and us with my eyes closed or having a focus point on the bed most of the time.
I began to feel really hot, and needed to get cool to best do this work, so I took off my nightgown, and Michelle brought over a washcloth or towel soaked in freezing cold water and put it on my neck which felt wonderful and cooled me down immediately. At one point, I remember that I began to (for the first time during labor) feel a little out of control and shrieked and said “Get this baby out!” And when I did, Daddy and Michelle reminded me that the high pitched noise would not help my baby descend. Michelle reminded me to use the deeper sounds like Ohhhh. So, for the time I spent pushing you out, I used a lot of vocal toning along with that mini squat/knee bend while standing. I made the sound “ohhhh”, nice and low and doing that came on naturally (which I kind of never expected to do). This also helped me breathe really well and regularly.
All of this was working like a well-oiled machine, but one of the nurses kept insisting that I get that silly heplock. She started talking to me (as if I was listening to her) about how if I bleed to death I would be sorry. There was absolutely nothing or no one I was going to let steal this wonderful experience from us all, so instead of getting ruffled, I just zoned her and all the other chatty nurses out. Daddy and Michelle both made some very direct comments to the nurses to tell them to leave me alone and this talk was enough. The head nurse was murmuring about how antibodies change every 24 hours or something and this was so risky. During a contraction, Kimla suggested that instead of the heplock, they just take my blood now. Your dad and I immediately said no- that I was in the middle of delivering my baby! But the nurse was insistent and came over and actually swabbed my forearm with an alcohol swab as if she was prepping me to stick a needle in, even though I said no. I was very strong and pulled my arm away from her and said loudly (during a contraction, mind you), “No. I am not doing that now.”
If yoga has taught me anything this year, it is to be present and own my moments and I was determined to do just this, which in this case required a bit of calming the scene. Even though this attempt at an intervention seems like a nuisance, it never really was to me. I felt very supported by your dad and Michelle, and was glad for Kimla having made a suggestion that might possibly satisfy these particular nurses, and but decided to bring it home myself so we could stop the distraction and not-so-great energy the nurses were giving off. Finally, I said calmly something like “Please be quiet. You are welcome to take blood right after I give birth, but for now, I am going to have this baby and I would like you to stop talking about this.” I must have sounded pretty assertive because they stopped right then.
Ok, we had the room back in command, and you were ready to make your entrance. Even in the middle of fierce contractions as I was bearing down, I remember taking a big cleansing smile and saying gratefully, I am so glad my baby is finally coming. With your sister, I did not feel that ring of fire for a while, but with you I felt it so much sooner. With each push I could feel your head coming out of me, and then back in. I was thinking, “Let’s go buddy!” With one final push, I finally felt you slide out fast (along with my gushing water- which did not break till that last push)! You were born at 321am on February 12.
I took one big deep cleansing breath of relief and then realized that the midwives were asking me to pull my baby up to me! (Note: this had always been an image in my “dream birth scenario: and it was totally unprompted, so I was caught by a very happy surprise!). I must not have heard them, because Michelle said again to me, S, pull your baby up! Still standing up, I reached down, feeling prouder than I have ever felt in my life, and scooped you up with my hands under your little but totally strong arms. I was full of so much love my eyes welled up with tears. You were so peaceful and your skin was a little darker than G was when she was born. You didn’t cry right away, but I could feel your strong little breath on my chest. And the motion of pulling you up to my chest, all while I was standing up and you were still connected to me seemed like some fairy tale out of a movie to me. Was this really happening? Then someone asked, “Who is it?” And I got to be the one to hold you up and find out you were a boy! I said “It’s a boy!” and looked at Daddy with tears in my eyes and said “We have a son.” The moment was a little reminiscent of the lion king holding baby Simba in the air. Then you let out a cry and I cuddled you onto my chest, and everyone helped lower the bed and get us both up there into it.
They gave me a little blanket to put over you. We were still connected. And, my cord was short so I was constantly reminded of this while you were on my chest too:) Then, after the cord stopped pulsing, Kimla and Kelly set it up so your dad could cut the cord. About 12 minutes after you were born, the placenta came out and then the nurses laughed because it was shaped like a heart (which probably was funnier at the time because Valentine’s Day was 2 days later). We shared your name with everyone. A. After my late grandfather, AM, a wonderful and creative family man and carpenter. (A few hours later we decided on your middle name- F- after Daddy’s late grandfather FG).
About 15 minutes later, we all realized we had not weighed you yet, and Kimla and Kelly said we could do it whenever. But your dad and I were so curious and wanted to see how much you weighed because you looked and felt bigger than G. I guessed around 7lbs. Turned out that you were 7lbs 10oz and 20 inches long! Around 4am, you started sucking on my shoulder and making motions like you wanted to nurse, so that we did, and you latched on like a champ and we nursed for a while. You looked so content and calm. We got to stay in the labor room until about 7am, the hospital and room were so relaxed at these wee morning hours and we dimmed the lights and enjoyed the time getting to know you. I couldn’t believe that you came so quickly to us– labor was 3 hours! Daddy joked later to me and said, “S that was a little faster than your best marathon time!” We felt so good after the birth, we really wanted to just get home to introduce you and your big sister, which was the happy moment we had been anticipating most for the past 10 months, and we left the hospital at lunchtime on the 13th. You and G met for the first time on the night of the 13th. She looked at you with smiles and just laughed giddily. She turned to me and said “Mama, baby A came out! G hold it?” She held you on her lap and talked with such excitement, looking at you and then us and then back to you again. Daddy and I’s hearts grew about 10 sizes that night seeing how much she loved you too.
I am forever changed by your birth, AF. Our natural childbirth experience bringing you here was empowering and fulfilling. I am in awe of your brave and fierce entrance into this world, and how you, on your first day of living, really led the show.