The Lion of Births
The birth of my third little one, Leo, starts really days and weeks before his actual birth. For one I had been pregnant the longest ever by the 38th week and feeling uncomfortable and beyond ready to meet this little one. I had weeks of prodromal labor, often contractions lasting for hours as close as minutes apart, only for everything to stop. I was doing all the things to support and encourage Leo along drinking red raspberry leaf tea, evening primrose oil, seeing my chiropractor once a week and my acupuncturist once a week the last two weeks. Sometimes things would get going after one or all of those things, only for it all to stop. Finally I had my midwife do a stretch and sweep a few days after 39 weeks. She stretched me to 4cm and I continued to lose large pieces of mucus plug as I had now for a week. It blew my mind that I walked around at 4 for days when that was the turning point in labor with Ori. That day I had the S&S I had contractions almost all day that were bearable and again it all stopped eventually. I had an appointment again the next day and my midwife could feel baby’s head lower in my pelvis and quailed my fears that this one was going to be a big baby. The following night I was up from 1am – 7:30am laboring convinced it was the real deal, but then falling asleep only to wake to nothing. Super frustrating and gives me great respect for those with long labors! The midwife stopped over that day to give me a pep talk and encourage me, reminding me that I wouldn’t be pregnant forever and third babies like to be the wild cards.
After getting little sleep the night prior I spent the day resting as much as I could and going to bed early since I was exhausted and wanted to be sure I’d have some energy should labor really begin in the coming days. Tris climbed into bed with us at some point during the night and like clock work I woke at 3am to use the bathroom – although this time it was the lovely beginning of clearing out my system. Not thinking anything of it I climbed back into bed with Tris snuggled close. I soon realized that I was being jolted awake by waves and decided to time them – 10 minutes apart. I managed to keep sleeping between them just breathing them away in attempts to not wake Tris. Eventually around 4:30am I snuck out of bed and moved to the back room to labor as I was needing to breath deeper and could feel soon I would be vocalizing some. I texted my midwife, Melissa, who was already on call at the birth center to give her a heads up in case this turned into the real thing. I was able to get some food in between contractions and found leaning on the birth ball or sitting on the toilet to be my preferred ways of coping. It was actually pretty peaceful in the backroom with my red Christmas lights and birth affirmations hanging up and everyone still sleeping. The waves started to pick up and after talking with Melissa we decided it was time I wake up JG (~5:30am). I notified my birth photographer too who dropped off her girls at her parents and headed to the birth center. By 6am I texted our sitter that we needed her to come over to help with the kids. Thankfully we had all the bags packed and ready to go I just needed to grab the kid activities from the closet that were a surprise for them from baby brother. Courtney arrived at 6:30am just in time for us to pile into the car and head to the birth center.
The kids did great in the car while I labored on the way there getting quiet whenever I started to moan. Ori made me laugh through one contraction as she commented I sounded like a monkey. Gotta love kids for comic relief! We finally arrived at 7am where Melissa greeted us and just like with Ori I only got halfway to the room before a contraction hit. Alyssa, our birth photographer, was there waiting for us and starting taking photos. I was amazed at how at some point I forgot she was even there taking pictures- a sign of an awesome birth photographer!
Melissa checked me and I was sitting around 5/6 cm with some effacing needing to be done, but water bags bulging. This was the first birth where my water didn’t break in early labor, so that was new to me. She got working on filling up the pool and I continued with the birth ball, this time sitting on it leaning onto the bed.
I heard a voice I knew say “you had to be greedy and have us both here huh?” to which I smiled and looked up to see Genee. I’ve worked a few births with Genee in my doula work and had told her early on in my pregnancy I had a dream she’d be there for the birth of Leo. I guess he manifested that too!
I moved to the toilet for a bit and finally into the awesomeness of the warm pool. The kids were in and out with Courtney, with Ori being super into it and always saying “I love you mommy” as I labored and Tris observing cautiously from a distance or playing with the birth balls.
I explored different positions leaning over the pool and then sitting back in sort of a squat on the mini bench in the pool. JG had turned my playlist on at some point and was by my side continuously reminding me to surrender (the word I chose from Leo’s labor) as the intensity picked up. This is where things all start to blur a bit.
At some point my vocalizing changed and it seemed like maybe I was pushing a bit. I was starting to really turn into the animalistic primal self making all sorts of sounds and trying to find a pattern of comfort often commenting “my back my back” as I seemed to have a lot of back labor and pain. Melissa, Genee and JG rotated to make sure I always had counter pressure on my sacrum.
At some point I was screaming “get this baby the f out” which made Melissa chuckle and say “oh I remember this part” as I said that when I hit transition with Ori too. She encouraged me to keep sounds low and try to resist pushing in case I wasn’t complete yet. I asked why was it taking so long and Melissa suggested maybe we try to get me out of the pool onto the toilet again to see if the change in position and more that squat like position could get Leo in a good spot. I knew it meant the waves would triple in intensity, but also knew it would help. I can say this is where I now look back and was having trouble getting out of my doula mind and trying to see it from beyond myself vs. work with it intuitively.
JG found the perfect way to support me sort of hugging me from behind for counter pressure as I gripped and leaned into him while I was on the toilet. Melissa kept wiping my face with a cool wash cloth that felt divine and reassuring me as I broke into tears saying I give up, take me in and drug me up (thankfully they all know me well enough to know that’s exactly what I do NOT want). Change of position was suggested again to get into the bed side lying in case I needed to push there and/or let my body relax more between them.
Melissa offered to check to see if there was a lip of cervix left knowing I’m not a fan of cervical checks. After a few waves I agreed and quickly told her to stop, which she respected. The guess based on the super brief check was that I was about 8cm. I opted to flip to hands and knees and lean against the headboard of the bed swaying my hips side to side or in circles to work with the contractions vs. against them. This is when my playlist started one of the hypnobirthing tracks and it jolted me into focus getting me back into a tangible rhythm while still letting myself be as loud as I needed. Shortly after my water broke and was nice and clear. JG suggested we head back to the toilet as that seemed to work. Similar to labor with Tris I found I liked to stand with the peak of the contraction and then sit back down. After a few waves there he encouraged me to get back into the pool as he knew how badly I wanted a waterbirth and I’m sure could tell we were getting closer.
The pool had been warmed again and it felt almost too hot initially so I stood hunched over JG with contractions and then slowly lowered myself into the water. The classic “lull” happened with a nice long break and then a wave hit hard and my body started to eject Leo with the fetal ejection reflex and just enough time for me to yell “he’s coming out!!!”.
Melissa was trying to get gloves on fast and encouraged me to reach down to get ready to catch him and slow things down. I felt what I thought was a super squishy head emerging and then needed to reposition myself and moved my hand away. That’s when Melissa’s face changed and she sternly said in her midwife voice “Vanessa get out of the pool now”. I was confused for a second, but then heard her turn to the student midwife to get Genee fast and heard the word breech. My thinking brain knew immediately (thanks to listening to tons of Dr. Stu’s podcast on vaginal breech births!) what she needed me to do to safely deliver Leo. By some superhuman way I managed to get out of the pool with Leo’s butt hanging out of me and onto the bed all fours where one leg and then another were born.
Genee and a few others rushed in and she got ready to do her thing. [Side note: Genee is the breech expert and not just two weeks prior we had been nerding out on breech births.] Then each of his arms were born and I had the surreal view looking down at his body born and knew I had to give it my all to get his head out as quick as possible. With the biggest push I had I birthed his head all at once.
He came out pretty pale blue and limp, but I could tell he just wasn’t quite ready to be in his body (a concept I thank Indie Birth for introducing me to). Some stimulation via rubbing his back, suctioning and homeopathics caused him to pink up, eyes flew open and locked with JG’s and he let out a nice calm cry.
Just like my others his cord was short (I have a theory that my short torso causes them to have short cords as there’s not much room to move in there), so I laid on my side so he could be closer to my chest. He didn’t take too long to latch beautifully! Courtney brought the kids in and it was so special to see them beam with delight to meet their baby brother and cautiously come up on the bed to see him up close. Of course their attention span wasn’t too long and they were running off for more snacks as I was preparing to birth the placenta.
After some time had passed there was concern starting to grow around the placenta not being born yet. I could feel the cramping happening and tried to push, but Melissa said it didn’t feel like it had fully detached yet. Eventually after some fundal “massage” and light traction it emerged. Once it was out I felt something warm and realized it was a gush of blood, followed shortly with another. Then not too long after that another gush (the bed was starting to look pretty gruesome). The nurse got Genee and got the Pitocin ready in case they needed to stick me with that. But after Genee really got into the fundal massage (me resisting the urge to scream) a very large clot passed and bleeding started to stabilize. They cleaned me up best they could and Melissa checked for lacerations. By some miracle I pushed our largest baby out butt first and didn’t have a single tear!
Once I was situated with Leo contently nursing the kids came back in and JG headed to get celebratory lunch for us all (Dunkin donuts beyond meat breakfast sandwich for the win!). It was like a big birthday party with my favorite midwives and family around enjoying lunch. The placenta was lotus style hanging out still attached to Leo. After eating we got the cord burning box my dad had built and set up to burn his cord. It was very special to watch JG hold one candle and Tris the other as they separated the cord. Even a week later Tris fondly recounts this part of Leo’s birth with such pride. It was a way to honor the work of the placenta and truly bring Leo into the world as an individual.
After we were able to finally weigh him and my jaw dropped as Melissa stated he was a whopping 8lbs 4oz!! Our biggest baby by far!
I started to feel ready to get up to use the bathroom and shower. The nurse and Genee felt ok to let me do that as my color was looking better and I had had plenty to drink and eat. With assistance I got to the bathroom, where I passed another decent but more normal clot. Genee got the shower set up for me thankfully with a stool and towel padding to sit on in case I felt faint. Well I learned that blood loss like I had experienced and hot showers aren’t a good combination! Soon I cracked the door and said “I feel a little . . .” and folded over myself passing out for a second waking to the lovely smell of ammonia under my nose and ice cold washcloths on my head. Out of the shower and back to the bed I went after stabilizing. After more rest and fluids I started to get more pink vs ghostly white. Eventually my strength was restored enough to get dressed and start thinking about heading home with strict advisement to stay in bed, push fluids and stay on top of taking my iron (which I’ve done now for a week, as well as take my placenta capsules). All 3 kids got cozy pjs on and we loaded up to head home, where we crawled into our beds now a family of 5! Leoric feels as if he’s been a part of our family all along and what a way to finish my birthing years! I have a feeling this one will have a sense of humor, our little lion.
Photos credit of Alyssa Dwayer Photography