July 18

The whole day, contractions had been slowly emerging from the circle of tension sitting tenderly on my hips. It was a gorgeous 100-degree morning, with a gentle breeze floating through the cathedral of trees that frames our backyard. It was very comforting to me that my husband was near me, working from home. My mom was with us, caring for our 3 year old. I was wrapping up work, perched on the loveseat with my computer and pausing every ten minutes or so to breathe through the discomfort. I had everything I needed and felt like everything was in place. As I paced through my kitchen, a voice in my head said, today is the day you are going into labor. This is the dress you'll wear while you labor. Meanwhile, a louder internal voice piped up to prepare me for another week without a baby, light ongoing contractions, and possible inducement.

We'd visited Beth the day before, at 3 days overdue. The membranes were swept, I was 4 cm dialated, and I felt ready. But I also felt scared. My first birth, three years before, was amazing, mysterious, a little confusing, and left me with a few mixed feelings. Succumbing to an epidural after 5 hours of pitocin contractions felt like a defeat at the time, although it brought me rest up for many more hours of contractions and 3 hours of pushing, kept me from a cesearean, and helped deliver our breathtaking daughter, so I embrace it all. Still, I wondered if I'd go through that again.

Tuesday continued in slow heat, contractions suddenly feeling a little sharper near dinner time. But I still ate a full dinner, and had a great, funny evening with my family. I was not feeling great, though. I promised my big girl I'd take her through the bedtime routine - and then at 7, I started to backtrack. "How about I do shower and Daddy does books?" I suddenly asked. By 7:10 my voice got more demanding. I needed my husband with me, right away. "Let's both do the bedtime routine," I said. I sat down in the bathroom as contractions started coming faster and hurting more. He ran our girl's shower, and we both chatted our way through a fast cleaning, expressing awe at her independence and explaining that the baby wanted to come out and was starting to hurt mama's tummy. I was quietly gathering things - toothbrush, moisturizer. By 7:30, my mom quietly hurried Pea into her room to read books as I groaned aloud and gathered a few more things (colorful scarf, Huey, pictures drawn by our girl). By 7:45, we were pulling out of the driveway.

By 8:20, I'd had my first IV dose of penicillin (for GBS) and was sitting on a birthing ball, hands on the hospital bed. It had taken three tries and two nurses to wedge the heplock into my forearm. "Tough skin," remarked the more experienced nurse. "I've heard that my whole life," I thought, but said nothing. A week later, my arm is still bruised. But I'm proud of my tough skin.

We had a few sweet moments, in between those early contractions, reminiscent of our first birth, when we'd watched Men in Black III and wondered innocently about the presence of a pink bedpan nearby (soon enough we'd be employing it). This time, the equipment was familiar, but not the sounds. We heard a call from somewhere on the wing - a unusually high-pitched, nonverbal call - and wondered aloud together if a toddler was outside the room. The staff around us said nothing. Then it was louder, and more predominantly female. "Oh!" we both said in unison, as Beth nodded to confirm. "Someone getting very close to the end," she said softly. In a few hours I would surprise myself with a throaty scream during one of my very last pushes.

As Beth sat across the bed from me, holding my hand, I had to give voice to a mortal fear lingering in every contraction. I knew that unspoken fears can slow labor and delivery, and I wanted to give this one everything I had. "I'm afraid something will happen and I won't come home to my beautiful Pea," I said, as Dan rubbed circles across my lower back. Beth smiled. "Whenever we labor with a second child, the first child is always with us," she said, rubbing my wrist gently. "You're not just you anymore, you're her mom." This acknowledgment calmed me and I was able to gaze at her drawings, relax, and move into the contractions. I wanted them to come.

Mantras to repeat: Opening, Beautiful Birth, It's Okay, This is exactly what should happen, All the right people are in the room, Low Tones, This is just what I want, This is good.
Positions to try: On ball, on knees, on side, on back at 45 degree angle.

Music: 2.5 hours of Talking Heads on D's iPhone as just he and I moved through dialation and everyone else stayed out. Many lyrics helped me through contractions. My wonderful husband was fantastic labor support, despite getting numerous restrictions placed on him throughout the course of the night. He was banned from mentioning orchids, or how tired or hungry he might be, or leaving me for any length of time, as I demanded he rub my lower back when they were happening. In between contractions, I'd apologize, and he'd assure me that everything I was doing was fine. We'd touch foreheads, and then they'd start up again.

Visually: A beautiful wall-length view of nighttime Boston, skuls skimming the surface of our beloved Charles River. The next day would bring warm electrical storms, but that night was clear. White flow of traffic and red glow of skyscrapers fomed a softly changing vista of the city our children will always call hometown.

My water broke soon after I got there, but a lip of fluid remained, slowing the baby's progress. Beth asked if she could break it, and I hestitated, clinging to a commitment to no intervention. But I asked my husband what he thought. "Break it!" he said. "You're not that comfortable anyway. Let's get there!"

She broke it and the sensations intensified. In between contractions a nurse, Elizabeth, would get a read on the baby's heart rate by holding a palm-sized monitor up to my belly. It was strong, strong, strong until I got into a seated position. Suddenly Beth's voice stopped delivering the mantras and comfort of a friend and got very stern. Thank goodness - she needed to reach me. "Cedar," she said, "the baby doesn't like this position. His heart rate has moved into the low 90s from the 120s. We need to move." They lowered the bed so that I was lying down and we all waited anxiously until his heart rate came back up.

She also pushed a little bit of the cervix out of the way, once I'd made it to 9 3/4 dialated. That put me at 10cm: time to push! It was less painful, but harder - the hardest thing to do. It felt like every fluid in the world was spilling out of me. The nurse smiled warmly, held my leg, and counted to 10 three times with me while I pushed three times for each contraction, holding my breath. It was awesome. At one point, she said, "You are having a natural childbirth!" I felt so proud.

After almost an hour of pushing, I almost felt like I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't really believe I could push a baby out, anyway - it just seemed wrong. And I didn't feel a baby coming out - just wild pressure and pain deep in my pelvis. Just as I was starting to wonder how I would keep going, all three of my helpers began to exclaim in excitement. "Reach down, Cedar!" said Beth. I reached down and felt a wet little head....and shoulders! Unbelievable. Once again, Beth's voice took command of the room. "The cord is looped around his neck quite tightly," she said. "His heart rate is fine, so I'm not worried, but don't push yet." She did something - a manuever of some sort - and had me push again, which seemed strange to do without waiting for a contraction. He slipped out and in an instant was on my belly. We looked at his beautiful eyes and heard his little cry. We touched his soft, bluish skin and watched as it pinked up. He blinked and blinked and wiggled his long fingers and toes. He had a lot of dark hair. My  husband, in a brilliant request, had thought to ask that my clothing come off so the baby could be directly on my skin. We did it in between the last few pushes, and so we were skin to skin as we waited for the cord to stop pulsing. He cut it as Beth said, "No nerve endings here" and then I could pull my little man up to my neck and get a good look at him- eyes, belly, penis, everything. There he was - our son. 1:28am on July 18.

While I was kissing his wet skin, Beth asked me to push again. I did it without even thinking about it, and the placenta slid out into her hands. I heard her say to the nurse, "See, that's a benefit of just pausing to coo over the baby - the placenta detaches itself." I loved her natural approach, her continuous teaching style, her support of my intuitive path. How many conversations over 9 months had she and I had in which I asked if I needed to take a childbirth class or hire a doula? She always encouraged me to trust my instincts and do this intuitively if I wanted, and I'm so glad I did. I lucked out - she had no other patients in labor and she could be my labor support. 5.5 hours of labor and we had our little guy. We had a blissful hour and a half in that room with him - just the three of us and the softly blinking 3am Boston skyline. Somewhere over the river, I saw a small firework go off.

That was Wednesday. We went home on Thursday morning, filled with gratitude, and held him up to smell the orange and pink roses growing at the corner of our house. And at dusk on a warm, gorgeous Saturday I danced with my son in my living room to "King of the Road." No phone, no pool, no pets...



Today the stanhopia popped open, providing an exhilarating 7am performance in our kitchen as my husband and I breathlessly watched this flower peel back its purple-spotted petals to expose the deep yellow curves so inviting to a particular Central American bee. Smells of cinnamon and stale beer suddenly filled the kitchen as four pendulous flowers trembled with energy on their one single beautiful day of existence. It was hard to ignore the obvious metaphors, as I stretched to smell the new blooms without pressing my belly into the counter. 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant; "You're as pregnant as you'll ever be," said Blue helpfully. My cervix is 3 centimeters dialated and 50% effaced - last week it was 1-2cm and not effaced, so it's opening, too. "Three centimeters!" exclaimed the labor & delivery nurse who led Peony's sibling class at the hospital, looking at me almost in alarm as I led my three year old down the ancient hallway. "You could go into labor at any minute!" A train just left Penn Station minutes ago bringing my mom to our home in Boston for the any-minute-to-ten-day wait for the baby.

My mind. It's everywhere. I ache for more singular moments with our daughter while she's still an only child. I push her towards her dad, knowing that soon my arms will be filled with baby and she'll need to seek solace elsewhere. I long for moments with just the 3 of us even as, when they come, I'm so overwhelmed with  physical discomfort that I have a hard time enjoying them. For I also know, really know, for a fleeting time in my life, that the magic of pregnancy and the peacefulness of this time is  interwoven with impossibility of eating or sleeping comfortably, or walking with my family, or cuddling, or working, or even thinking, to be honest. I have gratitude for the experience of being pregnant, and appreciation for this vanishing time without a newborn - really! - but I also don't love being a pregnant parent. I love being a mobile, active one, who runs and jumps and cuddles with abandon. And I really look forward to the return of my patience and energy. I'm sure it will be a while before it's the same, but when you look at a pregnant woman, especially one who is trying to parent, you don't see (or remember) the challenges. You just see the magic. 

My cat just flipped over onto her back, exposing her furry belly for me to pet; looking at her soft, upside-down face makes me think of a quote I read once about how everyone should have a dog because dogs don't know about their mortality and being around them makes humans forget, too. I don't want to fear all that which is outside of my control; I want to open to it, be present for it. Right now, my fears and anxieties about childbirth really can be calmed by the total peace of a purring animal - which is good, because as my doctor reminded me this week, if there's anything outside of our control, it is childbirth.