I don’t quite know where to begin with this story. I wasn’t expecting to be writing it for a couple weeks and yet here I am. One big lesson I learned with this pregnancy and birth is that there is zero point in comparing one pregnancy, labor, and birth experience to another. In my mind I expected so many things from my Hugo’s birth to be the same this time. I was 4 days late so I thought for sure she would come right around my due date, he was 9 lbs 2 oz so I anticipated another big baby, (I mean I didn’t buy a single item of newborn clothes,) and I really expected many things to be similar in this labor to the last, how it started, progressed etc. Well, nature sure showed me as I was caught by surprise by Fiona’s arrival in almost every way.
The week of Fiona’s birth was special for many reasons. Monday was my birthday, and it was the start of 5 days of truly glorious spring weather. I had the absolute best day. Andy took off work, we had a really special time in the city with Hugo with tons and tons of walking, (Andy guesses 10 miles total,) and I ended the day exhausted but so happy. The rest of the week meant even more walking and on Thursday the 10th, I remember feeling like she had gotten so low that I had to walk the 2 miles to and from music class extremely slowly. We had a great, busy day. After Hugo went to bed and Andy came home from work I tucked myself into bed early saying I wanted to watch some birth videos. Soon after I watched a few I became overwhelmed with a huge sense of fear. I’m not sure what I was scared of , but seeing these women work so hard in their labors made me suddenly panic. There was no turning back! This was happening soon! I remember texting with my Mom and my friend Katy that night, asking if they thought this was normal, and being reassured it was. I went to sleep around 10:30.
At 2:20 or so I woke up noticing that Andy wasn’t in bed. I checked my phone to see a text from him saying Hugo was having a rough night so he had decided to sleep in his room, giving me space to sleep and get some rest. I got up to pee and felt a small gush. It wasn’t as obvious as last time, but I walked to the bathroom quickly and soon enough was sure my water had broken. I sat there on the toilet with my phone in hand not sure what to do. I didn’t want to wake Andy- what would be the point? He needed as much rest as possible. Calling my midwife (Marcy,) or doula (Madeline) seemed silly since nothing else was happening and they also would likely need sleep, so I kind of just scrambled around the apartment alone, doing some random cleaning/organizing in case this was a real thing. (I wasn’t convinced it was. I knew women whose water had broken and then didn’t go into labor for a week so I had no idea how things would go down.)
Finally I decided to try and call my Mom. If she wanted to make the birth she’d have to get on a plane shortly and any extra time to plan would probably be helpful. I had to call a few times before she answered, I told her what was going on and she said she’d start looking for a ticket.
At 4:30 AM I decided I was hungry and made myself a bowl of cereal. I heard Hugo wake up asking for water so I figured I would peek in since Andy was up anyway. I told him my water had broken and he rushed out in complete shock. I told him to go sleep in bed since I was up anyway and I’d listen for Hugo. I sat with my cereal and tried to watch Scandal. This was a fail, I was way too distracted, so I came back to bed. I lay there until 6:00 my mind racing. I knew I should rest but how could I? Was this really happening? I was 38 weeks that day…I had expected 2-3 more weeks for sure!
At 6:00 I thought Marcy would be awake so I called her. She was, and answered “Hi Audra- are you in labor!?” and after I told her my water had broken she told me she would start preparing and making her way towards me for the day. Then I called Madeline, told her I’d keep her posted if I started having contractions, and that was that.
Hugo woke up at 6:30 and walked into our room quietly, something he never does, and we all cuddled in bed for a minute. I hugged him extra tight, maybe even holding back a couple of tears thinking this may be the last day with him as my only baby.
We started our day kinda normally- breakfast, coffee, etc. On my to do list for the last week was to set up and assemble the birth tub so we figured we better do that ASAP. Soon after starting that we realized the cap that screws onto the whole thing to seal the air in was missing. I was instantly panicked. I really wanted a water birth this time and the thought if it not happening really upset me. I had let several friends borrow the tub since Hugo’s birth so it seemed like it had gotten misplaced somewhere along the way. We tried to duct tape it shut, to stuff a rag in there etc, but nothing seemed to work. We called around to try to get another tub, and my friend Katie was about to save the day and pick one up to send over, when I found the cap in the bottom of a basket and all was well. This was about 8:30 AM. Soon after Marcy arrived, dropping off her birth bag- heading back to her car to wait until parking opened up at 10:00.
I decided to bake banana bread with Hugo, thinking it may be a fun special activity for us to do on this big day. All through this I maybe felt a little crampy but no contractions of note…At 9:45 my sister Ameara offered to walk Hugo over to a friend’s house for a playdate while I sent Andy out for toilet paper and and snacks. Mom was on her way, Marcy was outside, Madeline was driving.
By 10 both Marcy & Madeline were here- busy getting their stuff set up and assembled. My bed was prepped with plastic liners and birth sheets, the tub was half filled and ready. Everything was ready to go- except me. Nothing happening. Maybe one or two easy contractions but that’s it. I started feeling restless and guilty in a way. I felt bad that everyone was here waiting and nothing was happening. Marcy suggested we go for a walk. It was a gorgeous day- 60s and sunny, and I actually did really want to get out so we went for it. We only walked around the block a few times but it sparked a few contractions here and there.
When we got home Marcy announced that she and Madeline were going to go to lunch somewhere nearby and I should call them if anything changed. I felt a bit relieved about this, just to know they wouldn’t be waiting for me and maybe we could just go about the afternoon like normal. Ameara came back with Hugo who had fallen asleep in the stroller, Andy transferred him to his bed, and we tried to take a little nap ourselves. I put my headphones in and started listening to my Hypnobirthing relaxation track for a bit. We woke up- still no action, my Mom arrived, Hugo woke up, and we got him situated with Ameara and my Mom (She lives in the basement apartment of my building, so it couldn’t be more convenient!) They were planning to take him to the playground for a bit.
Around 2:15 I decided I was hungry and we figured why not go out to lunch? Maybe this would be our late date right? Hugo was taken care of, the birth team was still hanging at a restaurant around the corner, and I still was having irregular contractions so we went for it. Again, I had a few contractions on the walk over, nothing crazy, we sat down, I had a glass of wine and we ordered a panini and some crostini, and enjoyed a random Friday patio lunch date. It was weird. We talked about baby names and our future and for a little while seemed to forget that we were probably having a baby that day. We finished up and headed home around 3:15/3:20.
3:30- We get home and Marcy and her assistant Loretta are waiting inside. We sit down and Marcy says we have a couple options moving forward: 1- She and everyone else could just go home, and sit tight until I let them know anything is happening, while possibly risking that they could get stuck in rush hour and maybe not make it back if things happen fast. Or 2- She could check me, and maybe do a few natural things to move things along, she mentioned some homeopathic remedies, stretching my cervix a little while she checked me, or maybe even a small amount of Castor Oil. Andy & I decided we weren’t in a rush and that we were Ok just sending everyone home and having faith it would work out. Right after that I had a big contraction. I had to slow down and breathe through it and Marcy came to feel my belly while it was happening. “That was a good contraction!” she said and we decided she should check me.
We moved to the bed, she did her check, and did what I guess was a bit of “cervix stretching.” It did not feel good. It was kinda like a contraction, which makes sense because the discomfort of a contraction is from dialating right? I gripped Andy’s hand until she was done and asked if I wanted her to tell me how dialted I was. Since I felt like I had done zero work so far, even if she told me 2 cm. I would have been Ok so I said yes. She said I was at a 4, but she stretched me to a 5, and that she wasn’t leaving.
Within moments there was a big change. My sporadic 15 mins apart, contractions became back to back. Now- let me take a quick second to mention 2 other people who ended up being a big part of the birth story. There were actually 3 people who were “wild cards” in terms of whether or not they would be at my birth. I had liked the idea of two things, a close friend who had been through natural birth to be there for extra support, and someone to take some pictures of my labor/birth. My sister Nadia is a photographer, but she is currently in an Off-Bway show and we had no idea if it would work out for her to come. My friend Sophie is also a great photographer as well as one of my oldest friends and a mama who knows natural birth, but has 2 kids and a tricky schedule, and finally my dear friend Katy. Months ago we talked about her maybe being at my birth. She has never been to one, but had both her daughters naturally and has this calm, funny and loving presence I knew I would like during labor. With all 3 of them we left it like this: “Don’t stress, if it’s meant to be it will work out, we’ll just play it by ear day of.” All three have very limited schedules so I knew it may be that none of them could come, but I wasn’t too worried either way. That afternoon I was texting with all 3 and it turned out that my delayed labor meant Katy could actually make it, as well as Nadia until about 5:30 when she had to leave for the theatre. I had texted with both of them and at this point (4:00) they knew things were happening and they were both headed my way.
Back to my labor: man did things go from 0-60. The birth tub was being topped off with hot water and I was laboring in the bedroom on the floor holding onto Andy. I got into the tub probably around 4:20 and man did I love it. It felt SO good and I got so relaxed. Marcy said the water may make the contractions stop but it didn’t. Actually I found that if stayed reclined on my back I had a longer break, but as soon as I turned onto all fours a big one came. I tried to give myself a break here and there but I knew I had to get through the contractions eventually. I am really proud of how I handled labor this time. Sure I whined and complained a bit, but compared to last time I really found my groove. I really could feel the baby moving down, I knew the pain was because of my cervix opening and it was all bringing her closer. I had told Andy & Madeline that counting was helpful to me so during every contraction I would say “Count!” and we would count from 1-60, which seemed like how long they were, and really did help me.
Around 4:50 Katy walked in, and I was so happy to see her. She came to my side right away and I said something like “Katy- why when we tell them that we are done having kids do they not believe us?” and we shared a laugh. I held her and Andy’s hands and Madeline sponged me down with a cool cloth and Andy counted. This was the hardest part of my labor by far. After awhile it seemed like there was zero breaks between contractions. I remember saying “This isn’t fair! Why don’t I have a break? I need a break?” They were back to back. I coped by remembering what it felt like when my cervix was stretched and knowing she was coming soon. These pains were for something.
Suddenly I needed to stand up and get out of the tub. Right away I ask for a barf bag and puked up all of our lunch, which I suppose could be expected. Just like my labor with Hugo, I felt an overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom and waddled to the toilet. I didn’t have to, but this just meant she was moving down. I didn’t want to go back into the tub so I moved to sitting on the birth ball in our bedroom. Andy sat on a chair opposite me and I nuzzled my head into his shoulder and held onto him while I had contractions.
Soon after I got to the ball at the tail end of my contractions I felt a small urge to push. I called out to Marcy to tell her and she said “Just stand up with you want to push” but I couldn’t move. I wanted to be squatting. I ended up climbing onto Andy’s lap on the chair, straddling him with my arms around his neck. I was full on pushing at this point. Katy asked me if I wanted to move to the tub, knowing how much I had wanted a water birth, but the part of my mind that had desires about my birth was replaced with a primal urge to be grounded. I needed my feet on the floor and I needed to not move and just focus on what was happening. I would never have imagined giving birth this way but it was truly out of my hands. I pushed for maybe 5-10 minutes, and then pushed off and stood a bit as I felt the burn of delivering the head and the rest of her body. Marcy caught her behind me, so there were a few awkward moments of trying to get me turned around so they could hand her to me. I didn’t want to be on the floor so we slowly inched to the bed and fixed the pillows so I could sit comfortably. It felt like ages (though maybe only 2 minutes,) until I finally could just breathe that sigh of relief and take in the baby I had worked hard to push out.
Even though the day had been long, I was amazed that I only had 2 hours of actual hard labor. People ask if it was easier than Hugo’s birth, and in many ways it was, but the hard part was just as hard. It did help to know what to expect, and to really know that the pain was all worth it.
It took me a couple hours after the birth to really accept and process all that had happened. I actually don’t think I was really able to bond and take Fiona in until the next day. This labor had caught me be surprise, then it just escalated so quickly and here I was holding my daughter. My teeny little peanut of a daughter, weighing 7.5 lbs which was so much smaller than Hugo that she seemed miniature in my arms. I strangely felt a sense of loss for the last 2 weeks of my pregnancy. I know this seems silly, but I really thought I had 2 more weeks to tie up loose ends, to spend more quality time with Hugo, and to have some more time with Andy and my friends. I have accepted everything by now of course, but it really did take some time. If I have a third baby, I’ll know to throw away all expectations and to prepare for the fact that really anything can happen. I’m finally feeling proud, and happy of myself, and my birth. It was peaceful at times, also awkward and messy, but it was real and it was perfect. I had the best people there to support me, I couldn’t be more grateful to them.
I will post recipes again soon I promise, I can’t say when as this 2 kids on my own thing is going to be harder than I imagined, but I will. I also will share more about Fiona’s name as I’ve been asked that a few times. <3
Labor Photos by Nadia Quinn