Helena is almost 3 months old today. I started writing this weeks ago but never got around to finishing it. I’m scared now the memories have already started to fade a little, so I’m not going to go back and make any edits to the parts that I had already written in an effort to keep those things frozen in time when they were fresh. So if this seems like it jumps around a bit, that’s probably why…
Helena came into the world at 8:04 AM on July 7, 2021. She was 19″ long and weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces.
It all started with this text message to my midwife:
I knew, as my midwife pointed out, that it could be days still–but I also knew if things went the same way they did with Myles, that I might be having a baby in the next 24 hours or less.
I tried hard not to get too excited. I can’t recall exactly when I went to bed (I think it was a little after 11 PM), but I didn’t rest for long. I started having contractions around midnight and started tracking them with an app on my phone. At first, I was able to lay in bed and track them, while flipping back and forth between TikTok and the contraction-tracking app.
Mike was asleep in our room upstairs, and I was in the spare bed downstairs. (I had been sleeping downstairs for a while because as I got VERY pregnant it was more comfortable to sleep alone with my huge pregnancy pillow arranged just so.) I figured I would let him sleep as long as I could. I thought surely–despite the app telling me repeatedly that I should go to the hospital (ha!)–that I wouldn’t need anyone till at more reasonable hour in the morning.
I was wrong.
Around 1:30/2 AM, I got too uncomfortable to stay in bed. I moved to my recliner in the family room. At first I sat and knitted, continuing my contraction tracking. The pains were coming steadily. It wasn’t very long till I couldn’t sit or knit anymore. I ended up on the floor on my hands and knees with my head resting on my chair instead. I had YouTube playing on my iPad, propped up next to my face for distraction.
Around 3:30 AM, I got up to use the bathroom and realized I was having a really hard time functioning through the contractions. I called Mike’s phone upstairs, planning to wake him and ask him to come downstairs to help me call our midwife and my mom. I felt like if I tried to make the calls myself, a contraction would hit and I wouldn’t be able to talk or think straight. His phone rang and rang–no answer. I called him over and over, and he wouldn’t answer. It sunk in that I was going to have to go up the stairs and wake him. (Yelling wasn’t an option, because I didn’t want to scare Myles who was also sleeping upstairs. Ben was in Arizona visiting his mother and wouldn’t return until July 8th.)
I gritted my teeth and climbed the stairs, using my phone as a flashlight. I shook Mike awake and he startled awake with a yelp. I’d been holding the phone under my chin like a flashlight at a campfire, and I guess it made for a pretty ghoulish vision to wake up to!
Thank goodness despite scaring him half to death, Mike was able to wake up and take charge. He made calls to the midwives and my mom. He moved the dog’s kennels to the garage and put them outside so they wouldn’t be a bother during my labor. He inflated the swimming pool and started filling it with warm water. I also asked him to plug in the twinkle lights … because for some reason, in the midst of labor, twinkle lights seemed VERY important to me.
I resumed my position on the family room floor, face buried into my recliner chair. I ditched YouTube, but still had my phone on the chair next to my head, and every time a contraction would hit, I’d tap the big “Contraction Started” button in the app to time it. After about an hour of tapping, my mother arrived. Another half-hour passed, and my midwives arrived.
I was only vaguely aware when the midwives came in. I heard them carrying in bags and setting up their supplies, but all I could do was rest my head on the chair and breathe and moan. I recall at one point asking if I could please stop tracking my contractions because having to concentrate on tapping the start and stop button over and over was getting very frustrating for me. Jenny laughed and told me I could absolutely stop.
Poor Mike tried valiantly to continue filling the pool. I had purchased a 100-foot long hose and an adapter that would enable him to hook it to the sink. Unfortunately, I had overlooked the fact that we have one of those fancy kitchen sinks where the main faucet is a sprayer, so that adapter wouldn’t work. Mike was filling 5-gallon buckets as fast as he could, but it was clear that the pool wasn’t going to be filled, or if it did get filled, the water would be too cold by the time it was full. No one told me outright it wasn’t going to work, but I noticed the buckets stopped coming. I was a little heartbroken and maybe a touch scared. I had experienced water birth. I knew I was capable of that. I wasn’t so confident about birthing without the luxury of being in water. But I was also worried about complaining; somehow even though everyone was there specifically to support and care for me, I didn’t want to come off as demanding if I asked about the pool. So I tried my best to let it go, and psyche myself up for a different birth than I’d previously experienced.
I also remember wishing Jenny would check to see how dilated I was, so I had some sense of a timeline. She didn’t offer, so I finally asked. I forget sometimes that with home birth midwives, they tend to be pretty hands-off and let the mother guide things unless there’s a medical reason to step in. I can’t recall now what my dilation was, but I do remember that it was less (I want to say 2cm less) than what I was when Valerie (my prior midwife with Myles) checked me. That hit me hard too: with Myles, I was 7cm by the time I was getting mildly uncomfortable. I was already in a lot of discomfort, and way less dilated.
What my mind kept coming back to is that the baby will come regardless. It’s a process and there’s no stopping it, so why fret? You just have to ride it out and be excited for the beautiful prize at the end.
I never really moved from my spot on the family room floor in front of my chair. I’ve read a lot of books about home birth and one of the things that has always fascinated me is the variety of places, when given freedom to choose, women seek out as safe and comfortable places to give birth. It reminds me of whitetail deer, and how mother does seek out dark, quiet thickets and if they are disrupted, their labor can actually stop. I think human mothers are a lot more like other mammals in the animal kingdom than what we care to admit. Most humans also seek out dark, cozy spaces too. For me, it was under the twinkle lights, resting on the floor against my favorite chair. And the funny part was, I had a bed all made up and ready in the room adjacent. I had two sofas to choose from. But somehow your brain goes into instinct mode and you go to where you feel comfortable in the moment.
So, the family room floor got covered in chux pads, and there I stayed until sometime around 7am or so. At that point, my midwives decided that I should try and go to the bathroom. They kept insisting that my bladder must be full, even though I was certain it wasn’t. So they managed to get me to my feet and walk me across our family room, through dining room to the kitchen, through the music room, and into our downstairs bathroom. This took several minutes because every time a contraction hit, I would have to stop till it passed.
Our downstairs bathroom is tiny. It has a toilet, a small sink, and a shower stall, and only about enough open floor space for two average size people to stand nose-to-nose. I obediently sat on the toilet and tried to pee while the midwives waited outside the door in the music room. Nothing happened, except another hard contraction which gave me visions of having to birth the baby on the toilet (it happens) alone with the midwives unable to fit into the tiny room with me. I was glad to get out of that room – but unfortunately, when I got up, I took about 2 steps into the music room and fell to my knees as the hardest contraction yet hit me.
At that point, I couldn’t pick myself up. My midwives were calm and encouraging, but I also could sense some urgency in their voices; they were trying to get me up and moving so I could get back to the family room where all of their supplies were located but they were also recognizing that I might not be able to get up and move, and they were discussing (quietly) if they should start moving their equipment into the music room. It was interesting in the moment because I was almost having this out-of-body experience where I was completely consumed by the pain I was experiencing, but I was also observing that they were being calm and gentle and encouraging with me, but quietly in professional-planning crisis mode simultaneously. (Midwives are incredible people. I’ll say it a million times over.)
It finally became clear to me that they really wanted me to move. A contraction eased up and I realized if I was going to go, I had to GO FAST or I wouldn’t make it. I asked Mike to stand in front of me so I could hold onto his arms. I said something to the effect of “Okay, GO.” Mike walked backwards, holding my arms, and I walked as fast as I could shuffle through the music room, the kitchen, the dining room, and back to my spot by my chair. I knew if I stopped moving, I wouldn’t get up again; wherever I dropped, that’s where the baby would be born. Thankfully, I made it back to my spot before the next contraction hit me.
That little journey across the house did serve to get my labor progressing a lot faster. Everything after that point was a blur. I do know that my dear friend Erica came walking in, ready to photograph the birth. I think I said hello to her, but I’m not entirely sure. I was pretty intensely preoccupied by that point.
Jenny felt that the baby was getting caught under my pelvic bone. We decided that I should try laying flat on the ground to see if we could get the baby to move around the bone. She kept apologizing saying that she knows that’s usually the last position most mothers want to birth in (flat on their back) but that giving it a try might just do the trick… and sure enough, it did!
With my only prior experience with birth having been in water, this was a whole different experience for me. I remember feeling like sharp bones were stabbing into me. At one point, I remember just asking that someone would HELP me because I had the sense something was stuck or wrong. (It wasn’t.) When I started to push, my water still hadn’t broken. As I pushed, I felt a sudden GUSH as she crowned and my water broke. The process was slower with Helena from there. With Myles, I felt a POP and he came out FAST. With Helena, her head emerged, then there were several seconds before she finally turned, then the shoulders, then the rest of her body. I’m actually very thankful, silly as it sounds, that I’d watched the entirety of Call the Midwife during my pregnancy, or I might have panicked over her slow arrival.
She didn’t cry much. I kept asking if she was okay, and of course, she was. She finally let out a few good yells to reassure everyone.
Myles had woken up and come downstairs sometime while I was pushing. He woke up worried when he heard my yells. My mother was there to intercept him and take him to the other room. A few moments after they placed Helena on my chest and we knew everything was OK, he came back into the room to meet his little sister for the first time. He was so excited and overwhelmed by the experience!
We spent the rest of the day resting. Erica’s daughter Amelia joined us and she and Myles played together. Erica hung out and kept an eye on things so Mike and I could rest and bond with Helena. She also was kind enough to put Helena’s very first diaper on her.
Welcome to the world, Miss Helena Faye. You are so loved.