Baby Walt's Birth Story
The night before Walt arrived I cried my eyes out. Up until that point I hadn’t felt particularly emotional about the birth or impending change to our life, and all of a sudden it came pouring out. Joan, our first baby, surprised us all by arriving at 38 weeks - her slightly early entrance saving me from any due date anticipation. And though we had only just entered into our 39th week, there had already been talk about a stretch and sweep, and ways to bring on labour. All this talk felt entirely premature and left me - heavily pregnant and clearly sensitive - fearful that I may not be able to let my baby initiate when he or she wanted to come. So, tears. Lots of them. So much so that I went to bed with an icepack on my face. Though it actually felt good to release those fears and get back to tuning into, and trusting, my body and baby, rather than wondering about the “what ifs”. When I woke in the morning I was, surprisingly, not all that tired or puffy. It was a Friday - the 19th of October - and Joan and I had the whole day to ourselves. She was a little grizzly, with a raucous cough, so I let her dance teacher know we’d be missing class to stay home. Joan wanted to colour, so we coloured. We ate toast and built Duplo towers, including a mighty fine house for her hair brush. Later in the day we visited the shops for milk and broccoli, and I bought her a mango lick. While waiting in line at the checkout this song came on, and we danced and sung the words to each other - “Set on you!” - and all the while she had the most contented little smile on her face. It’s a moment I will cherish forever. Back home we pottered around and prepped sweet potato, falafel and quinoa for dinner. Through our front window we saw our neighbour and her boys playing on the street, and went outside to join them. When my neighbour asked how I was feeling, I told her Great!”. I had loads of energy and didn’t think we’d be having the baby soon. Perhaps next week? Though I was feeling increasing heaviness around my cervix. Looking back I had been experiencing menstrual-type cramps on and off throughout the day, but that wasn’t unusual. Since around 37 weeks I’d had those cramps every other day or so, and often at night. They were more persistent on that Friday but I ignored them, as I didn’t want to get my hopes up that labour might be imminent. It wasn’t until Joan and I sat down for dinner that it became clear something was happening.
Ben had a work function that night, so I gave Joan her meal and saved mine for when she would be in bed (as I often do when Ben is late and Joan is in need of an early bedtime after not having a day nap). At 5:40pm, ten minutes after we sat down at the table, I felt my body release some discharge. That’s not unusual for me (I’ve had loads this pregnancy), but what followed did stand out - the sensation of a tiny “pop”. I got up, went to the bathroom and saw that I had lost my mucus plug. This didn’t happened with Joan’s birth (not that I saw, at least), and all week I had been eagerly looking out for it. Now that it had actually happened, I was thrilled! I then googled “How long does labour start after losing your mucus plug” and came to understand it could be soon or in a few days time; however, with your second (or third, etc) baby, it was more likely sooner rather than later. I resisted the urge to text Ben the picture I had taken of the mucus plug (knowing he would likely check it when surrounded by work colleagues), and instead called to update him. “Don’t come home early”, I said. “I’m just letting you know". I did, however, show the mucus plug to Joan. She has been interested in birth from the beginning of my pregnancy - practicing childbirth multiple times per day and requesting to watch birth videos, of which I have shown her a few (all positive and calm ones, of course). I knew, though, that she was still wrapping her head around the fact that blood doesn’t always mean pain or something bad. So, upon her request, I showed her the blood-tinged plug. I told her this was good news, and I was excited because it meant the baby was coming soon. At this stage we were very much going to play it by ear as to whether she came to the birth or not, but I felt it was important for her to see that what my body was doing was normal and GOOD. I then went about cleaning the kitchen in a chipper mood while she played (I overheard her informing her toy kangaroo that she had also lost her mucus plug). And then I recognised that those menstrual-type cramps were back. They would come, and then there’d be a break, and then they’d return. I wasn’t timing anything, but the pattern felt regular - perhaps every 15 minutes. I decided to get Joan into the bath and have a shower myself. Afterwards I went to the toilet and saw blood - just a small amount of light pink liquid. This development, coupled with the cramps, lead me to call Ben to tell him to come home “soon”. I got Joan out of the bath and into her pyjamas. I then checked again - more blood. I called Ben once more, telling him to leave “now”. I was worried. Two women close to me have had placental abruptions in recent years requiring emergency C sections, so that was certainly on my mind. I called the hospital where I was to be giving birth and, after some good and thorough questioning from a lovely midwife, felt reassured that this wasn’t a ‘call an ambulance’ situation. I called Ben to update him (he was still 45 minutes away) and asked him to call my Mum while I was tending to Joan. What I didn’t know, was that Mum was already on the line with Ben. “I’m two minutes away”, she said. Mum had received some missed calls and couldn’t get ahold of us to return them, so decided to just get in the car and come over. That’s my Mum; she is always there when I need her. Two minutes later Mum walked through the door and started playing with Joan so I could dry my hair and finish packing our bags. The midwife said it may be that my hind waters had broken and were trickling down, bypassing some blood and causing me to see pink when I wiped. She asked us to come in and check to see if this was the case. Ben’s bag wasn’t packed, so I threw some clothes together and ate a banana. First, though, I lay down and poked the belly. I wanted to feel my baby move. I wanted to know he or she was ok. After not too long I felt a good wriggle from within, and went about getting us ready to go. The cramps were getting stronger and I found myself having to breathe through them as I slowly moved around the house. When Ben got home we loaded the car and said goodbye to Mum and Joan. Joan was upset. She knew what was happening and wanted to be with us at the hospital. I told her what the midwife told me - that we were just coming in for a check-up and could very well be coming home afterwards. I knew this wasn’t true, though. I knew we’d be having our baby in the coming hours (and I expect she knew this, too), but she accepted us leaving after I told her there was a carob bear in the cupboard for her. Since we first started talking about having Joan at the birth (which was 100% initiated by her), I knew she wouldn’t be present if it happened at night. The plan was to have her arrive for the final stage when her baby brother or sister was born (I didn’t want her there while I was labouring, as I thought I would find it distracting) and because my cramps were becoming more intense, I figured we would be meeting our baby in the early hours of the morning. So, I settled on the fact that she wouldn’t be there for the birth. Not this time. I also thought I’d have my Mum at the hospital, like she was when Joan was born (the plan was for my Dad to stay with Joan), but when it came time to leave I asked her to stay home. I needed her to be with my girl more than me. I kissed Joan goodbye and she kissed me twice while I held back tears. Mum and Joan then sat on the front lawn and waved us goodbye as we drove away.
The car ride to the hospital was nice. Ben and I got to slow down and reconnect. We were buzzing with excitement about what was happening. I swigged coconut water and breathed through the pains, which came three times over our twelve minute drive to the hospital. We arrived at 7:30pm and walked to the maternity ward to find the midwife I had spoken to. She took me to a birthing suite and hooked me up to a monitor to check on bubba and assess my blood pressure/heart rate, and I handed her the pad I had put in my underwear so she could test to see if it was amniotic fluid. Our vitals looked wonderful and my midwife confirmed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, which honestly surprised me. Most labours don’t begin with the spontaneous breaking of waters, and because that is what happened with Joan’s labour, I assumed this one would be different. Though this wasn’t a gush like when my waters broke with Joan (with her birth, it was my forewaters that broke), in fact, I barely noticed it. After being hooked up on the bed for a while, perhaps half an hour, I asked to get off and move around. During the assessment I had been swirling my hips to try and keep things moving along, but I knew I needed to do more. The pains had slowed down since arriving at the hospital, which made sense, as I had entered into a new environment and was lying on a bed, but I wanted to make sure I continued to progress. Ben and I had had the discussion with my midwife that if labour didn’t continue I would need to be induced by latest Sunday morning, due to my waters having broken, and I was given the option to go home or stay. I didn’t want to go home, as I felt doing so would slow things even further. Joan’s labour progressed quickly and I felt in my bones that this one would, too, if I could move about and get in the birthing zone. So that’s what I did.
Once we decided to stay, the lights were turned off, my birth playlist was turned on and Ben put clary sage essential oil in the diffuser. With Joan’s labour I despised the music I had chosen but this time around, having put more thought into what tunes to include on my playlist, I found it immensely beneficial in helping me relax (you can see my playlist at the bottom of the post). Though before he pressed play I asked him to “Get f***ing Norah Jones off my playlist” (why I included her, I don’t know - I knew I would hate it). While breathing in clary sage I swirled my hips to the music, which felt sublime. Meanwhile Ben moved about the room setting things up and, I expect, getting his head in the zone. At this point, my midwife told me she was supposed to be ending her shift, but, if it was ok with me, she would be staying until I had my baby. I was incredibly happy to hear this. I felt safe with her; she was familiar with hypnobirthing, having done the course with her first child, and just seemed to understand us. Ben, myself and the baby were then left alone to do our thing. I had re-read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth in the lead up to the birth, and noted her suggestion for laughter, claiming it can help labouring women to open their cervix. Taking her advice seriously, I asked Ben to find a Ron Swanson video (few things are guaranteed to make me laugh like Ron Swanson). I found the video actually worked too well, in that it was completely distracting and took me out of the birthing zone. So, we went back to the music. I then decided to ask my body to bring me contractions - strong ones, productive ones. BRING IT ON. I knew the big ones meant I was closer to meeting my baby. And come they did. When a contraction began, I would lean over a bench and breathe as calmly as I could, imagining my cervix opening like a red flower (a visualisation that is suggested in most birthing books, which I found to be helpful). In between them I would walk around, sip coconut water and try to relax. One of the beautiful things about labour is that you can experience time distortion - meaning fifteen minutes passes but it feels like only five. So, it’s hard for me to say how long this stage lasted, but it didn’t feel like much time had passed before the contractions started to feel really intense, and I found myself struggling to welcome them. When they arose, I would say, “YES”, but in the back of my mind I was also saying ”Dear lord, I hope this doesn’t go on for too long”. Upon Ben’s suggestion, I had put the Tens machine on, which we’d borrowed from my Nana. We had intended on using it for Joan’s birth, too, but had remembered way too late for it to be of any value (you need to put it on right at the start of labour to get the endorphin release). To be honest, I wasn’t keen on using it this time around, as the thought of having pads stuck on my back was unappealing. Moreover, my Nana’s machine isn’t a labour specific one, meaning there were some fiddly cords and Ben had to adjust the settings when I wanted it turned higher. But so many people rave about the Tens machine during labour, I decided to give it a go. And I’m glad I did, because it absolutely helped to relieve the pain. It sort of felt like pins and needles in my back, only in a really good way. After not too long, however, the battery ran out (yep, we forgot to charge it), but that was fine. It felt good to be free of the cords. I was really having to breath through the pains now. I had the option of getting in a big bath, but because I like to move about during labour that didn’t appeal. In between contractions I found myself heading to the toilet to wee, but was never able to feel like I got all the wee out. Blood continued to come when I wiped and it was getting darker, which I found unsettling. One time a gloopy, bloody mass came out but my midwife reassured me this meant my cervix was doing what it was meant to.
I asked for the bed to be raised so I could lean over during contractions. I also asked for the soft face washer I had brought from home to be dunked in water with some lavender essential oil. While breathing through my contractions I would rest my face on the cold face washer, which felt so good. My midwife brought us a bucket of water filled with ice-cubes so we could keep the cloth cold. Ben was doing light touch massage whenever a contraction would come on (as learnt in Hypnobirthing), but his hands were too hot for me, so he would plunge them into the ice-water between contractions. Bless him. He is an outstanding birthing partner. All of a sudden I felt like I was going to vomit. My midwife handed me a bag and I got on all fours, but nothing came. Instead, I started shivering and shaking. I got back up to lean over the bed. Things were different now. I found myself starting to instinctively grunt and rock through the contractions. I didn’t want light touch massage anymore, and asked Ben to press his hands hard into my lower back for counter-pressure. At the end of one big contraction, I yelled so hard and felt a huge pop as my waters broke onto the floor. The release I felt and the splash it made were spectacular. My midwife cleaned the floor (somehow, Ben, who was standing behind me, didn’t get wet) and, noting how my movements and sounds had changed, told her colleague to get things ready - we were about to have a baby. Funnily enough, my wonderful Obstetrician was away that weekend. During my checkup earlier that week we agreed, jokingly, that I wouldn’t have the baby while she was away. The midwives informed the on-call OB that he probably wouldn’t make the birth, and rushed about getting everything they needed. I was asked if I was happy to have my baby where I was, leaning over the bed. I said yes, and they set up below my legs. My contractions were now ferocious. Between them, my midwife would rub my shoulders and tell me to breathe and centre myself. With Joan’s birth, I found great relief in this stage of labour. I could use my Hypnobirthing techniques and breathe her gently down for the 45 minutes it lasted. With this birth, I found it really hard to do so. My contractions were coming so fast and strong, and I moaned uncontrollably through them. I tried as hard as I could to visualise breathing my baby down, as opposed to pushing (as we’re taught in Hypnobirthing), but it was a real challenge. I felt the head come down and move back a few times, which pleased me, as it meant I was opening gradually, and would be less likely to tear. At the same time, though, I prayed that this back and forth business wouldn’t go on for too long. The next time the baby’s head came, it stayed there. My midwife put a warm compress on my perineum and told me to pant. I did what she asked and forced myself to not grunt or push. I breathed and panted the whole rest of the way - little by little releasing my baby out of my birth canal. I could feel it all. It was agonising and incredible. I heard Ben exclaim excitedly that he could see the baby. My midwife had a mirror on the floor so she could see what was happening, which meant that he got to see it all, too. He kept saying “It’s amazing! It’s amazing!”, and that our baby was “So calm”. Eventually I could tell that the head was all the way through and, with some more gentle breaths, I felt the body slip out of me. My midwife passed my baby through my legs and into my arms, and I pulled him up to my chest. He was here. He was crying and safe and beautiful. I checked the genitals and told Ben we had a son (I knew I spied a penis at our twenty week scan). Like Joan’s birth, I was in complete shock and awe at what had just happened. After my first wonderful and empowering experience of childbirth, I prayed for another. I didn’t assume it would unfold that way, though, as every pregnancy and birth are different. I feel overwhelming gratitude for my beautiful, healthy son, and for his safe and speedy delivery, during which I felt so well-supported by Ben and my midwife. Our babe was born at 10:10pm, two hours after I had taken off the monitor and turned down the lights; and four and a half hours after I had lost my mucus plug in our kitchen.
I climbed onto the bed with our baby and asked Ben to take my bra off so our babe could be on my bare chest. My midwife wrapped us both in a warm towel and Ben and I felt the cord, which was pulsating strongly. It took some time for it to stop pulsating completely and when it did, our midwife clamped it so Ben could cut it. She then delivered my placenta after giving me a shot of syntocinon (while I feel strongly about limiting unnecessary interventions during labour and birth, for whatever reason, I am totally happy to forgo a natural third stage. Go figure!). While lying there, my midwife told me my baby had come out with a hand beside his face - a nuchal hand birth, they call it. That, with the combination of a fairly fast second stage (he was born 18 minutes after my waters had broken) meant I had torn. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, actually. All the while I was moaning and struggling to be gentle, I knew I would probably end up tearing. The on-call OB arrived to stitch me up while bubba latched. We lay there for an hour or so, Ben and I staring at our calm, wide-eyed baby boy. We noted the ways he looked similar and different to his older sister - the same mouth, the same hair colour, but with much more hair… I ate a salad wrap, which tasted glorious, and eventually our babe was weighed. At 39 weeks + 2 days he weighed 3.4kg (or 7.8 pounds). Around midnight we settled into our room, but I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to hold him. Eventually, around 3am, I woke Ben and handed him our babe so I could rest. Ben and I both have an instinct to keep our babies close, rather than place them in a bassinet if they do not seem to enjoy it. Soon after 7am we received a text from my parents informing us that Joan was insisting on visiting. When my first baby walked into our hospital room she had sweet, timid smile on her face, which just about broke my heart. Suddenly she seemed so big and I missed her greatly. Joan climbed onto the bed and I wrapped her in my arms. She then leaned her head on my shoulder and touched her brother’s head. I told her she had a brother and that his name was Walt - Walt David. Ben and I chose the name Walt because, like Joan, it felt timeless and strong (we also like the work of the poet, Walt Whitman). His middle name, David, is after my late brother.
Back home, we’ve been settling into life as a family of four. Walt is now almost two weeks old and we’re all starting to find our feet. My after-birth pains were shocking, but only lasted four or five days, and while I bled a lot more this time around, it has almost completely eased. I’m beginning to feel more normal in terms of the type of movement I can do, and over the past few days have started wearing Walt in a wrap, which gives me more freedom to play with Joan and do things around the house. Walt feeds incredibly well (this balm has been helping with cracked and bleeding nipples), and spent the first days of his life building up an impressive milk supply. Ben presently has a bulging disc in his back, so he’s been out of action. But, thankfully, it all feels so much easier this time around that it’s not such a big deal. I’m not questioning whether I’m doing thing “right”, I’m just doing what I feel is right and trusting that that’s best. Joan is adjusting brilliantly to our new family dynamic. She’s gentle with her brother and, when content, is super attentive - rocking him in the bouncer, patting his head and giving him kisses all over his body. The first week of his life, she had a number of 3am crying sessions, which were heartbreaking. But they were also important, and no doubt helped her to work through and release her emotions. And now she seems so settled. Her heart appears lighter - joyful, actually - as she seems to have accepted our new way our life. This new baby has seriously rocked her world, so more feelings and challenges will come (along with normal three-year-old stuff), and that’s all good. I’ve been striving to give her as much one:on:one time as possible, to show her she is just as special and loved as ever. The two of us have a new, sweet morning ritual of morning cuddles in bed, after I hand Walt to Ben (at night, Ben sleeps with Joan in her room, while I’m in the big bed with Walt). I am also still lying with Joan at night in her bed while she falls asleep - something I have done forever and hope to keep up for as long as I can. Certainly throughout this transition, at least.
As I finish this post, I am sitting on our outdoor couch - the one we bought last winter soon after our first pregnancy loss. When we assembled the couch, I recall saying to Ben that I hoped to be lucky enough to be sitting on the couch next Spring or Summer, breastfeeding a newborn and watching my eldest play. And here we are.
Real Love Baby - Father John Misty
The Wind - Cat Stevens
Where Do The Children Play - Cat Stevens
The Park - Feist
Dawn - The Pride & Prejudice Soundtrack
Liz on Top of the World - The Pride & Prejudice Soundtrack
Adventures in Solitude - The New Pornographers
Cello Suite No. 1 prelude - Bach
Harvest Moon - Neil Young
Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Isreal Kamakawiwo’Ole
City of Stars (humming) - La La Land Soundtrack
Here are some photographs of the birth and days following. We didn’t book a birth photographer, as we didn’t want to have someone in our birthing space with whom we weren’t close. Our plan was for Ben to take pictures but, of course, he was a little busy supporting me. I wish we had some more photographs of Walt’s birth. Joan’s, too - I would have loved to have seen her breech birth on film. Perhaps next time. I do love the photographs we have, though. Ben also took a video of me moving about to my birth playlist. It’s dark, so you can’t see much beyond the glow of the diffuser, but I included it nevertheless, as it takes me right back to that moment.