Boo’s birth was magical. Attended by the same midwife that helped us deliver Poppy – and the same midwife I’d been working with for the last year – the experience was both intimate and familiar. Overall, my labor lasted 9 hours from start to finish (about 1/2 that of the first) and throughout most of it, I felt great. I felt calm, under control, and damn near giddy with happiness, even when hitting the traditional “hard spots” like transition. I don’t know why he universe gave me such an experience, but I am oh so grateful. When it was all over, I felt healed in a way I didn’t even know I needed. While Poppy’s birth was equally affirming and empowering, it was much more “unknown” to me and, at times, emotionally overwhelming because of it. My hemorrhage afterward has always marred the experience a bit as it was both physically and emotionally draining. This time, thankfully, my body did everything exactly as it was supposed to and I walked away from the birth feeling like I could conquer the world.
I am incredibly grateful that I was able to give birth at home both times and the birth teams we assembled were a huge part of that. Thank you to everyone who was a part of our experiences. We couldn’t have done it without you <3
I woke up at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning and had to pee. Not terribly unusual when one is 39 weeks pregnant, of course, but when I climbed back into bed a few minutes later, I did so with my phone in hand, Googling “mucous plug.” And, yep, that’s what that was. Gross. (And I don’t recommend you Google it, just FYI).
A few minutes later, I climbed back out of bed, unable to get back to sleep, my mind racing. I couldn’t help but think, “This could be the start of something!” I wasn’t having any contractions and there was nothing else signaling pending labor, aside from the usual Braxton-Hicks contractions I’d already been experiencing for several weeks, but I couldn’t help but think this was the day. I stayed up a while, sitting in my rocker alone in the living room before finally heading back to bed. When I got there, my husband woke up and asked if everything was ok.
“Yep, just lost my mucous plug!”
“Oh! That didn’t happen last time, did it?”
“Well, it must have at some point, but no – I didn’t notice it.”
“Are you having contractions? Does this mean things will start soon?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Could be another week. Or two. Time will tell.”
Later that morning, my husband, toddler, and I all got out of bed. Tony went off to work as usual promising to keep his phone accessible all day “just in case!” and Penny and I got ready to head out to breakfast together at our favorite coffee shop. Because I had promised to be communicative with my birth team, I sent out a mass text to my midwives, doula, and invited friends and told them what was happening – and what wasn’t yet happening. They mostly responded with things like “Great!” and “Keep us posted if anything changes!” and we all went about our days.
At breakfast out that morning, Penny was better behaved than usual. I got my usual chipotle omelet (I’m an addict) and she her cranberry scone and we chatted and played while eating. She’s had an obsession with picking her nose recently (toddlers are so gross), so she spent half of breakfast picking cranberries out of the scone then using the same finger to pick her nose before returning to the pastry, much to the delight of a woman sitting at the next table. She was full of “pleases” and “no thank yous” and was really just beyond perfect from start to finish, even walking along without issue or much dilly-dallying all the way to music class after. Although she’s generally pretty good when out and about in the neighborhood, this level of accommodation was certainly not the norm. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew something was up. She had, after all, predicted that Boo would be born on this day.
When we got home after class (during which I’d had a couple of inconsequential contractions), we played a few minutes, had a nice lunch, and then she declared herself tired and ready to nap. We went into the bedroom, read a couple of stories, and not five minutes after I walked out, she was passed out cold. Again, perfect. Too perfect. What was going on?
Half an hour into her nap, regular contractions started. It was 1 o’clock.
I immediately recognized these as different from all the Braxton-Hicks I’d been having, but wasn’t alarmed. They were incredibly mild, feeling more like slight indigestion than anything terribly meaningful, and fairly sporadic, and I was able to continue to move and talk through them without issue. When I realized just a short while later that they were coming with some regularity, however, I decided to download a contraction app to my phone and see if I could time any.
An hour in, they were averaging around 7 minutes apart, but only 35 seconds in length and I still wasn’t being slowed down by them in any way. I started to wonder if this was the start of early labor or just a fluke. I texted Tony to let him know and he responded, “Hey girl, I know there’s no timeline to birth – it’s whatever you body and the baby need.
I laughed out loud. Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?
Around 2:30, Penny woke up from her nap and we sat down to have some pasta together. I figured if this was the start of labor, I may as well do some carb loading in case we had a long night ahead of us. I talked to Tony shortly after, told him my contractions were remaining regular, but still pretty short (maybe 45 seconds long), and still mild. He was distracted just the same and decided he’d be better off at home with us. I also touched base with the midwife to let her know that things were happening, though I didn’t foresee anything happening too quickly just the same.
Wanting to get a little fresh air, Penny and I wrapped up our snack a little while later and headed out to meet Tony at the subway station. I was surprised that Penny waking up hadn’t distracted me enough to slow down the contractions in any way and wanted to see what a walk would do – get things going or stall them out. Penny was thrilled to see daddy and, if anything, his taking over her care seemed to free me up to progress. On the short walk home, I had a couple of contractions that made me stop talking for a moment and caught Tony’s attention.
“Yeeeeeah” [talking through the contraction] “This one’s just a bit… more… distracting than the resssssst.”
We got home around 4 and Tony went into overdrive. He distracted Penny, played with her, and started cleaning the house. We’d been keeping things in pretty good order overall since we were planning a homebirth and wanted things to be tidy whenever labor got going, but there were still messes to deal with – as anyone with a toddler can probably imagine – and it was bothering and distracting me. I did what I could between contractions, picking up laundry, cleaning up the table and desk tops, etc. but they had started to get a little more intense and were now a solid minute long and anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes apart, requiring that I slow down and give them a little attention during.
Seeing that things were probably not stalling out at this point, we called all the parents, sent a text to close friends and family, and made it Facebook official that I was in labor. Then Tony got out the pool supplies and enlisted Penny’s help in settings things up. The two of them got things together and Penny helped him pump it up, much to her delight. It wasn’t time to fill it with water yet, but it felt good having it at least ready for that moment.
All the while, I was having contractions and just trying to do my thing wherever they weren’t. Which is easier said than done in a 1-bedroom NYC apartment. I labored sitting on the birth ball for a while, which was only ok, and then busted out my Hypnobabies tracks to see if maybe the Birth Day Affirmations would help. On the plus side, they really did, as I was able to put in my headphones and tune out what the rest of the family was up to. On the negative side, my zoning out and doing something that looked interesting only drew Penny to me and she requested to “listen to the music” with me. While adorable, it was quite distracting.
Tony saw that I was needing to get into my own space at this point, so he invited Penny to read some stories, fed her dinner, and eventually invited her into the bedroom to put the mattress cover and cheap sheets on our bed and to start the bedtime routine. Not long after, he came out of the bedroom alone.
“She said she was tired and ready for bed. So we read some stories and she went to sleep”
Well, ok, then. It wasn’t even 7 at this point. She never goes to bed that early and certainly never declares herself exhausted and puts herself down. But we were thrilled. Obviously. Especially considering the intensity of contractions was really starting to pick up.
While he’d been doing bedtime, I’d been listening to music and dancing around the apartment. I’m not much of a dancer, but it felt right in the moment and kept me moving while working through contractions alone. Embarrassingly, it was Bob Marley playing while I boogied about and all I could think was, “Oh my god, you are such a fucking hippie.” Yes, that’s what was going on inside my head. I am my own worst critic. And I’m glad no one was there to see me :)
At this point, the contractions were coming regularly and with a bit more force but even at the peak of them, I felt surprisingly good. I was really excited to be in labor (which falsely led me to believe I must still be in fairly early labor) and was really enjoying the work I was doing. The dancing was fun and my mood was high. The oxytocin was clearly flowing through me in high doses.
When Tony re-joined me in the living room post-bedtime, I asked him to call our doula to let her know things were picking up and we’d need her soon; he did and she promised to come by in around an hour. I’d had a couple of contractions that were a clear step above the rest and my good mood aside, I instinctually felt that things would be happening sooner rather than later. We also got in touch with two of our friends who planned to come and let them know things were ramping up so they could get themselves in order, as well.
Over the next hour, Tony helped me tie on my birthing necklace and continued to clean up and get things ready, hooking the hose to the sink, making sure the needed birth supplies were handy for the birth team, etc. I continued to work through contractions. They were still consistently coming 4-6 minutes apart, but some of them were creeping around to my hips and lower back and the overall intensity continued to escalate. I tried several different coping methods at this point, as I was really not a fan of the sudden lower back discomfort, and finally settled on leaning over the birth ball on my hands and knees and swaying through them while they washed over me. That seemed to lessen the discomfort more than anything else, and it was sort of soothing to lay relaxed over the ball and zone out in between them.
Not long before our doula arrived, I went to the bathroom to try and empty my bladder and came back out mostly naked. Midwives and doulas like to joke that you can gauge where a woman is in labor based on how many articles of clothing she still has on, so when I wandered out of the bathroom having shed everything but my bra, it caught Tony’s attention. It suddenly became clear that calling the doula a while back was the right call.
Chloe arrived not long after this to find me laboring over the birth ball again, only this time I had wedged myself in between the pool and the bookcase. I was ready to get into the water, but was afraid to get in too early and slow things down so I was waiting for a second opinion. Chloe checked in with me to see how I was feeling and seemed pleasantly surprised at my upbeat attitude because even though things were clearly moving right along, I was still in a great headspace.
I told her about the lower back discomfort during contractions and after watching me work through one of my own, she helped me through the next couple of contractions by applying some pressure to some accupressure points on my lower back while I labored over the ball. I was amazed at how much her light touch in just the right spots seemed to ease the aching during the contractions. But I still wanted the water. So we called the midwife to let her know where we were and to ask her advice.
“If you want to get in the water, get in, give it 15 minutes and see how things are going – whether they slow down, stay the same, progress. Then give me a call back and let me know.”
When I slid into the water, I immediately felt better. It was warm and comforting and I felt buoyant for the first time in months. I settled in and relaxed, leaning my head back on the inflated sides, and waited for the next contractions to come. I got a little bit of a break here, earning a couple of extra minutes of rest and was so grateful. I was chatting with Tony and Chloe who were hanging out nearby and as I felt the next contraction start to come on, Chloe would see the change in my face and reach in for the acupressure points again. She continued to do so for the next couple of contractions, but eventually stopped as the water seemed to be easing up the worst of it. I hung out mostly on my side and swished back and forth as the contractions overcame me, twisting my body as if I were dancing to ease the backache and cope with the sensations.
Much like my last labor, I continued to have comfortable breaks in between contractions, even as things clearly picked up. While I would have to stop and focus during the peak of the waves, I would quickly come back into my usual conscious self as soon as they were over and rejoin the conversation, cracking jokes and laughing along as though I weren’t in the middle of active labor.
Sometime around 8 o’clock, and not long after I got into the pool, our friend Carmen arrived. She’d had two homebirths of her own with the same midwife, so we’d invited her as extra support and photographer. I yelled hello from the pool while between contractions and she immediately made herself at home and started snapping photos.
During this time, as our support people slowly trickled in, I continued to labor in the tub with Tony by my side. Much like last time, I didn’t want him out of my sight and reach once things were really going. The contractions continued to intensify bit by bit and I could feel everything progressing. At the peak of some contractions, I started to feel like I wanted Joan there soon and mentioned as much as I came back down the other side. Around 8:15, I had a good long, strong contraction and when it was over, I asked Tony to call Joan and ask her to come now.
“These are getting good. I want her here and I want to hear the baby’s heart rate.”
He left me in Chloe’s hands for a minute and went off to call Joan again. She didn’t hesitate when he said I’d requested her and promised to be over shortly.
A few minutes later, around 8:30, our friend, Emma, arrived as well. Our toddlers are best friends and she was there as Penny’s caregiver in case P woke up and needed some love and support while Tony tended to me. She checked in on whether we needed anything, then settled in on the couch to hang out and watch things unfold.
Throughout all of this, Tony was a rockstar. He stayed near me, alternating hydrating duties with Chloe, wrapping his arms around me as needed and requested, and encouraging me as best he could. Sometimes he was serious, talking me through the contractions as they rose, peaked, and waned, and at other points, he deliberately messed with me to check in on my mood and see if I was still able to laugh.
Homebirth Ryan Gosling was a regular punchline through the afternoon and evening; all someone had to say was “Hey girl” and everyone present would giggle like mad. The first time Tony did it, it was clear Chloe hadn’t seen the blog yet, so while in between contractions, I explained the gist of it to her as quickly as I could. It was only later that I realized how ridiculous this probably appeared. Here I was, in the middle of really active labor, waiting for my midwife to arrive and maybe half an hour from pushing, and I’m busy explaining an internet meme to my doula. This is how I actively labored, people. It was beautiful.
Joan and her assistant, Patricia, arrived just before 9 and I was in the middle of a contraction when they came through the door.
“You sound pushy, Jo!”
“Not yet, but soon. I can feel it coming!”
And just a couple of contractions later, there it was. It was time to push this baby out. I got a little nervous at this point. Last time, the pushing came at me like a ton of bricks. My uterus took control and pushed and left me feeling like an innocent bystander. Had I been in a hospital and someone had dared tell me “don’t push!” I would’ve looked at them as if they had two heads. Not pushing was simply not an option – my body was going to do it whether I helped or not. And it was terrifying and unexpected. I was geared up to experience the same thing this time, though I was determined to be ready for it.
I gave myself a little mental pep talk (“All right, Jo, just let your body do its thing. You’ve got this!”) and as I felt the next contraction starting, I pulled myself deep into my body and tried a little push.
And I felt relief.
So I pushed a little harder and felt more relief. So I gave it my all and beared down into it and the sharpness and pain of the contraction disappeared, instead replaced by a feeling of comfort and accomplishment.
And I suddenly got it. Those women I’d been questioning for the last two years – those crazy ass women who talk about how awesome pushing is and how it feels useful and… good? I became one of those women. Instantly.
I have never been so relieved in my life.
I think I may have hollered something like, “Oh my god, THIS DOESN’T SUCK!” as I came down off the first real pushing contraction and made everyone laugh. I then asked Joan if she wanted to check me, to make sure I was fully dilated before I really went at it, but she didn’t see a need.
“But what if I have a lip?” I asked, clearly reaching into my professional brain rather than my laboring one.
“Why do you think so? Do you feel any sharp pain when you’re pushing?”
“No reason, really. Just something to worry about. Pushing feels awesome.”
“Then you’re probably fine.”
Over the next few contractions, I started to find my groove. As the contractions crept up on me, I pulled Tony and his bear hug down onto me as much as I could and I pressed my face against his arm. I got two or three good pushes out of each contraction and, dare I say it? I looked forward to the next one.
In between, I mostly laid on my side, with my face pressed tight against Tony, either resting quietly, saving my energy for the rest of this adventure, or rambling on to everyone about how damn happy I was.
At one point, Joan asked if she could check the baby’s heart rate and I realized what that meant: it had been 15 minutes since she had last checked. Which meant I had been pushing for longer than the 10 minutes I had been telling everyone I was willing to endure this time around. I said something about this out loud and everyone chuckled.
“Did you really think you were gonna push for just 10 minutes and the baby would fall out?”
“No, I guess not. But I was hoping!”
So much for that. Thanks, Boo.
The rest of pushing was left up to me to navigate and I really felt like Boo and I were in sync. At one point, during a particularly long, strong contraction, I pushed with everything I had and I physically felt the baby move down in my birth canal.
Considering the last time I did this, it was taking every fiber of my being to simply not resist what my body was doing and to try to keep myself under control, this was amazing. I was so present in what we were doing together. I knew exactly where she was and what she was up to and knew that it wouldn’t be long before she’d make it the rest of the way down.
I told my birth team that I had just felt her move down and no one questioned whether that was true. They trusted me.
It wasn’t long before I felt her move down again. And then another smidge and another. Joan had the flashlight out and was keeping an eye on my progress from the other end of the pool. I wanted to ask her whether she could see anything yet, but I resisted. I knew she couldn’t – she didn’t need to tell me that – but I knew she would soon.
A couple of contractions later, I instinctively reached down while pushing and felt a bit of her head poking out and laughed out loud.
“Oh, there’s the baby! Oh my goodness, the head is so… MUSHY!”
There were giggles all around.
A couple more contractions and even more head was poking out.
“Oh! And the head is so… fluffy! Holy cow, that feels like a lot of hair!”
Someone else laughed and made a remark about how long and dark her hair was.
“I know! I can tell!”
Each of these times, she retreated a bit once the contraction was over again, but I knew that was normal and expected. There’s a lot of two-steps-forward-one-step-back in this stage, so this didn’t bother me in the least. She would be here soon.
Finally, I had a couple of contractions that brought her to the brink. She was crowning and I pushed with all I had, then stopped and panted and breathed through the rest of the contraction. I wanted to take this part easy and let her find her way out gently.
I pushed and felt that burn as the widest part of her head came through and then her nose and chin pulled through and her head was born. The contraction ended and I started to cry as I reached down to feel her face and hair and laughed and yelled again about how happy I was.
Joan asked if I was having a contraction still. I told her no and asked if it was ok to rest a minute before pushing the rest of her out. She checked her for a nuchal cord (none!) and assured me it was fine, so I buried my face back into Tony’s arm and cried the happiest tears I’ve ever cried. During this brief rest, I got to feel another really wild sensation as she rotated her shoulders back and forth inside me, looking for the best way to exit. I laughed as I told everyone what she was doing and how weird it felt. I will never forget that.
As the next contraction started, I got ready to meet my baby. I pushed and reached down and felt her shoulders come through, then grabbed onto Tony’s arms and gave it one final go as she slid out of me entirely into Joan’s waiting hands. I quickly reached down to help guide her the rest of the way out, took a deep breath, and slowly pulled her up onto my chest with Joan’s guidance.
She was here. It was 10:07 p.m.
She looked just like her sister, only she was covered in lovely vernix, and although we hadn’t yet checked whether she was a boy or girl, we both knew.
At this point, I again couldn’t help but let my professional brain step back in and I started to rub her back vigorously to see if we could get her to cry. She came out so calmly and peacefully that it took a second, but then she sputtered and yelled and Joan threw a warm blanket over her and took over and pretty soon she was hollering away, letting us know she was a-ok. And at some point, Joan’s assistant reached over and popped an herbal pill into my mouth to help prevent hemorrhage (a scene that clouded Penny’s birth and which I was most desperate to avoid again). Boo started to pink up beautifully and Tony and I couldn’t take our eyes off of her, both of us simultaneously laughing and crying as we realized what we’d just done.
I didn’t want to stay in the pool long because of my previous hemorrhage (it’s easier to monitor blood loss on dry land), so a couple of people stepped over, arranged some towels and blankets on the floor, and helped Boo and I step over the side of the pool and get situated on the floor together, still attached, leaning against Tony for support while we waited for the placenta. Joan asked if I was having any cramps and thankfully this time I was. Mild, but I could feel them coming. She palpated my uterus a bit to encourage it along and we waited for the cord to stop pulsing and my body to finish its work.
As we laid there resting and waiting, a couple of people asked whether we’d checked the baby’s sex yet, but up to this point we hadn’t been in a terrible rush to know, instead savoring those first minutes with the Boo that we had come to know and love in utero. We decided it was about time to see what this new baby was going to be named, however, and we peeked under the blankets together.
“It’s a girl. Yep. Just like we thought!”
Someone asked whether we had a name picked out and, fortunately, my pregnancy dream turned out to be wrong in this one important area and our frontrunner name poured from my mouth as I gazed down at her.
“Eleanor. Ella. Eleanor Joy.”
Everyone cheered and laughed and Tony hugged me and told me he was glad the name was right.
After a few more minutes, Joan asked if I had any urge to push and although there was nothing strong or obvious, I told her I was willing to give it a try. It took a couple more minutes, but eventually a couple of small pushes from me brought my placenta out without incident. Joan and Patricia stayed close and at the ready, but my blood loss was normal, my uterus contracting well, and everything looked great.
That was such a huge relief. As I’d told my midwives at several points during the pregnancy, it wasn’t that I feared a hemorrhage in that I feared for my life or well-being, but that I dreaded it. I fully trusted them to handle it clinically and keep me safe if it did happen again, but the experience was so physically and emotionally exhausting the last time that I obviously wanted to avoid it at all costs.
So thank you, body. I owe you one.
Once it was clear that everything was ok, we were all able to relax. As the cord had long-ago stopped pulsing and the placenta was now in a bowl alongside us, Joan asked if we wanted to cut the cord, prepared it, and then gave Tony the honors.
As we resettled and started to talk about where we were headed next – baby to daddy, mom to the shower – Ella decided that was ready to try nursing and before I knew it, she’d bobbed her little head over to my breast and latched right on. I hadn’t expected her to be so eager, but there she was. Like an old pro.
Someone asked if I was ready to get up and I had to say, “Oh, no! She just latched on! I think we’ll be a few minutes.” So while we laid on the floor nursing together, leaning back against Tony’s legs, the two of us gazing adoringly at this new little creature, people started to flutter about and get things ready for us. Someone started cleaning up birth supplies and towels and got the pool draining. Joan stepped away to help a couple of folks take apart the couch and pull the hide-a-bed mattress to the floor so we’d have a place to settle in, do the newborn exam, and get a couple of hours of rest without disturbing Penny, who’d stayed blissfully asleep off in the bedroom throughout the entire event.
Eventually, after a surprisingly vigorous first nursing session, Ella dozed off in my arms and I let people know we were ready to move. A couple of people helped me pass the baby off to Tony, who took off his shirt so he could hold her skin-to-skin, and slowly helped me to my feet. Joan took my arm and quietly led me to the bathroom so that I could wash up a bit. Once she had the shower at a decent temperature, I climbed in and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Again, juxtaposed with my last birth when the hemorrhage had left me so drained of energy that I miserably sat down in the tub and let the water wash over me, this was easily the best shower I’d ever taken. I took my time, slowly washing my hair and body and enjoying the warmth of the water while the rest of the birth team flurried around the apartment on my behalf. The pool was drained and disassembled. All garbage and linens bagged up. The temporary bed set up for us. The placenta prepared and stored in the fridge. They were a machine and I was so grateful.
When I was ready to get out of the shower, Joan came back to the bathroom and helped me out. She dried me off, helped me into a clean pair of pajamas, and walked with me out into the living room where Tony and Ella were patiently waiting for me. I settled in on the couch, surrounded by my friends, and watched as Joan did the newborn exam and checked out our baby girl from head to toe. When it was time to put her in the scale, she asked everyone for their best guesses.
I’ve gotten pretty decent at guessing newborn weights by sight over my year in birth work, but I was simply convinced that Boo was going to be smaller than Penny. The pregnancy was easier, I gained significantly less weight, and she was the most active fetus ever, making me believe she couldn’t be terribly large and still have that much room in there. So I shouted out “7lb 9oz!” Everyone else made similar guesses, so you can imagine all of our surprise when Joan lifted her up in the sling and laughed at all of us.
Once the newborn exam was over, there wasn’t much else to do but settle in for the night. We all gathered together for a group photo or two and lots of hugs and tears all around, and slowly bid our support team good-bye one by one.
Once we were on our own, Ella and I settled down on the mattress in the living room to call my parents and sister while Tony went into the bedroom to check on Penny and change her diaper.
While in there, she woke up and they chatted a minute. He told her Boo had arrived and asked if she wanted to meet the meet baby, to which she responded, “No. I sleep now. See Boo in the daytime.” Again with the perfect response as we didn’t actually want to wake her and get her out of bed, but wanted her to have the option just the same. Who knew our toddler would be so awesome throughout the entire experience?
Once Penny was resettled, Tony rejoined us in the living room, made his own phone call or two to spread the good news, and then settled in next to the baby and I for a few hours of rest before we met the next day as a new family of four.
Birth photos courtesy of Carmen Castillo-Barrett