Each of my children's birth stories really begins with the day before they were born, and Fiona's is no different.
The day before Fiona came was, as you all surely remember, my birthday. It was a happy day full of the simple pleasures that I most appreciate on my birthdays. It was a Wednesday, and my husband sometimes has an extra-long lunch hour on Wednesdays, so he came home during his lunch and the four of us went out to eat at a cafe together. Once he had to be back at work, I took Elisabeth and James to get hot chocolate, and then we came home and spent some time outdoors (it was probably about 60 degrees here that day), enjoying the first appearance of some crocuses in our yard. My friend Erin and her two boys walked over to our house with some birthday flowers and a card, and the children played together for a few minutes while the mamas visited.
I had a few cello students to teach that afternoon, and Elisabeth wanted to make me a cake. She worked on the cake while I taught my lessons, and then my mom arrived with Italian food. My husband, unfortunately, had a performance that night, so he wasn't here. But, while we were preparing the dinner and finishing up with the cake (the Goblin's Food Cake from this cookbook -- mine from my own childhood -- and frosted with pink-tinted whipped cream), 100 roses that my husband had sent were delivered, so his hand was in our simple celebration. After dinner and the yummy cake, we opened a few gifts from my mom, and then I put the kids to bed. My mom stayed until about 9:30, just visiting and sharing. It was a sweet evening.
A little while later, probably a bit before 10:00, my husband arrived home and said he smelled natural gas! It turned out that one of our stove burners had been turned all the way down, but not off. I was alarmed that none of us had noticed the smell, but I guess it was because it was such a slow and gradual "leak". We opened all the windows to air the house out. I didn't want to go to bed until we were pretty sure the house had been sufficiently ventilated. We watched the news and finally got off to bed a bit before midnight.
At about 2:00 or a few minutes after, I woke up to go to the bathroom. When I was on the toilet, I noticed a couple of gushes of fluid that I was quite sure were not me relieving myself. (Sometimes at the very end of pregnancy, that can be a little hard to tell, OK?) My husband was asleep on the couch due to the embarrassingly annoying snoring habit that I have during pregnancy. I woke him up and said that I was pretty sure my water had broken, but I wasn't having any contractions. He was really groggy, and said, "Are you sure?" He got up and we were trying to decide what to do, since I wasn't completely sure about my water having broken, and since there were no contractions. Then I noticed another small gush of fluid, and then another, and we were then quite sure that it was indeed the beginning of labor.
My husband turned on the computer to call for a substitute teacher at work, and I paged my midwife, Amy. The phone shows that she called back at 2:17am, so it had been about 15 minutes or so since my water broke. I told her about my water having broken, but that I wasn't having contractions. She said that she'd get dressed and put her things by the door, but would try to rest until I called back with contractions. Since my last labor had only been 60 minutes, the primary concern for her and me was that she came quickly once it was really "time". She told me to rest, too, but my husband and I decided to take a few minutes to get a few things in order before laying back down. I made a red raspberry leaf infusion, got some ice packs ready in the freezer (for after the birth), brushed my teeth. My husband did a bit of tidying. In the midst of this, my contractions began. Neither of us were really keeping track of the time, and I wasn't even aware of how long it had been since I'd talked to Amy, but I called her back at about 2:30 and told her I'd had three contractions and didn't know how far apart they were (I was thinking it had been about 30 minutes since I'd spoken to her rather than the 10 or so minutes it had actually been). She said that they must be fewer than five minutes apart since it hadn't even been 15 minutes since she'd called me. She told me she was calling the other two midwives and was on her way. I called my friend Meghan, who we had planned on being present for the birth after speaking to Amy, and she said her youngest was having an allergic reaction. She didn't feel like she could leave her, and didn't feel like she could really bring her along, either. She made the difficult decision not to come, which was disappointing for us both. But she said, "Do good work tonight," and I will never forget that moment. So, I ended up calling my mom, who lives about 45 minutes away, hoping that she'd be able to make it in time (and offer support to James if he awakened and needed it). She agreed to come and left her house a few minutes later.
Contractions were not too close together, and my husband and I were working through them in the bedroom. Amy was the first person to arrive, and she hurried into the house to see if she needed to catch a baby right away (as had happened when James was born), but we were sitting on the bed with candles burning, and I was still really comfortable in between contractions. Once she'd checked in with us, she went to gather her equipment from her car. This part of the process was fascinating to me because the midwives had never had the chance to set out their equipment when James was born. The other two midwives arrived soon after Amy, and the three of them were in and out of the room, checking in with us, and preparing things from the birth kit, getting towels laid out, and making sure they knew where everything was, but they were letting us manage my labor privately, which was really nice. The energy was really calm, peaceful, and quiet.
My mom must have arrived not very much later than the midwives, and I greeted her, still feeling cheerful between contractions, but I mostly wanted my privacy. I know that the three midwives and my mom were talking quietly out in the living room.
My contractions were painful, but at the same time, I was doubting whether it was really happening. I had no way of gauging the progress of my labor. I was drinking a lot of water, and making frequent trips to the bathroom. ;) Laying down on the bed made the contractions slow down a bit. Amy told me that things would move faster if I were up, and I told her that I was afraid for it to move any faster. Soon, I was feeling lots of pain and pressure even between contractions, and Amy speculated that this could mean that it was the end of dilation. I started to feel panicky, and was pacing very fast in the bedroom. Amy asked me if I wanted to take my pajama pants off, and at first, I didn't want to, but asked if it would hurt less if I took them off. She jokingly said that it would. After a few more minutes, I did decide to get undressed.
Amy, my husband, and my mom had a brief "conference" and decided that it was time to wake Elisabeth. She was with us when James was born, too, and has very positive memories of his birth, so she had been very clear that she didn't want to miss this baby's birth. My husband went into the kids' room and carried her out to the living room, where she rested on the couch with my mom. James was sleeping through it all, and we had agreed in advance not to wake him if he didn't wake on his own.
Suddenly, the contractions stopped. My husband and I sat on the bed. For about ten minutes, nothing happened. I joked with Amy that she could just go home.
Finally, at about 5:00, I had another contraction, and it felt a little bit "pushy". I asked if I could get up to go to the bathroom one more time, and the midwives said "sure!", which at the time felt a little bit surprising, because I had been so managed during Elisabeth's birth (in a hospital), and James's birth had been too fast for questions like that to even arise. I had a few more contractions where I felt like my body was beginning to push, but I didn't feel like I needed to work along with it. By about 5:10, I began to feel a real urge to push, and started to work on moving my baby down and out. I was squatting at the side of the bed, growling with each push, and standing between contractions.
Elisabeth came into the room at this point. I asked her if she was afraid, and she said no. She was sitting on the bed with two of the midwives. Everyone was very quiet and centered. It seemed as though we were all very present in that moment.
Amy was using a flashlight and mirror to watch for the baby, and also a really lovely jasmine oil for my perineum. The baby was still high up, and I was working so hard to bring her down. The contractions were coming very close together and I was becoming afraid that I'd have to push for a really long time, which was terrifying to me. Amy suggested that I get onto the bed, but moving sounded scary. One of the other midwives was leaning across the bed, talking to me, and reassuring me. Soon after my initial moment of panic, I dropped to my knees for a push, and after that, Amy basically insisted that I get onto the bed. Later she told me this was because there was so little space and she didn't know how she'd be able to catch the baby right where we were.
I still felt reluctant to move, but the other two midwives were gently coaching me to just move one knee up at a time. I finally got onto the bed, on my hands and knees. My husband was crouched on the floor to my right, and Elisabeth was sitting at the head of the bed, just to my left. The three midwives were all sitting around me on the bed. I started to feel a little bit calmer than I had on the floor. I pushed a couple more times, waiting to feel the burning of crowning, and knowing that it would be the sign that my baby was nearly here. And then, with the next push, I started to feel that burn, but only for a second or two, because suddenly, without actually crowning at all, the entire baby slipped right out! She fell onto the bed faster than anyone could believe -- no one was prepared for that! -- and she cried very loudly right away. Though it was such a rush, and he can't remember doing it, I learned from Amy that my husband was the one to lift the baby up off the bed and pass her between my legs and up to me. It all happened in the matter of a few seconds. The baby was curled up and reminded me of a football as she came toward me. I remember looking at her and not believing it was really her!
The next minutes (like this photo) are a blur to me. I remember feeling worried about the baby's cord being pulled, but I was reassured that there was a lot of slack. I remember adjusting the ISO on my camera for someone. Things were so fast, and yet so outside of time. I asked about James, and my husband (I think, or maybe my mom) went in to check on him. We were surprised he hadn't been awakened by the ruckus in the next room, but he hadn't been. They brought him in to see his new sister. The sun was just rising. We were a family of five.
This baby's birth was such a joy. Despite feeling a little bit out of control during parts of it, it was not frightening. The energy of my family and midwives was peaceful and I am so full of gratitude for all of their presence. It was as it should have been, in every way.
One of the most joyful and touching moments -- of many that day -- came when Elisabeth and James cut Fiona's umbilical cord together. As I watched them hold the scissors together, I realized that this was the first thing that the three of them would share in their life together as siblings that was just theirs. It was an experience that only belongs to the three of them -- the rest of us in the room were just witnesses. My mom was standing behind them as they did it, and she noticed that after they finished cutting the cord, James put his arm around Elisabeth, as if to say, "We shared this moment together."
Fiona Catherine, born on February 26, 2009, after just about 3 hours and 20 minutes of labor:
We love you, little one!