The last days of my pregnancy were filled with more calm relaxation than anticipation, even though I didn’t go into labor until six days after my due date. During that week, my oldest, two and a half year old Edie, started a month-long summer parent’s day out program. It was her first preschool experience and although it was only two days a week, I was nervous that because its start date coincided so closely with my due date, Edie would feel pushed out and displaced. But the baby gave us an extra week during which Edie not only adjusted to school but emerged as teacher’s pet. Not to mention that this bonus week gave me my first two Edie-free days at home ever that were not filled by studying for the Tennessee bar. The first day she was in school, I walked the dogs, rested, cleaned and organized. The second day, house eerily clean and organized, I was able to go to the gym and get a new haircut. This haircut was apparently a major departure because when I arrived in Edie’s class to pick her up, she stood next to her teacher, squinted at me and said “Is that you, Rachael?”. Very funny, my little comedian.
Later that evening there was a dinner for the neighborhood moms club I’m in. I hadn’t rsvp’d for it, given that I thought I’d be home with a tiny baby on that date. But in a fit of the closest thing to bachelorette-dom that I imagined I would be feeling for quite awhile, I decided to attend. So after my day of a workout without having to leave a teary-eyed child in YMCA daycare, an hour alone in a salon, a nice dinner sans kids with my whale-like self somehow squeezed into what was never meant to be a littleblack dress, and at least ten different moms at the dinner commanding my unborn child to be born already, contractions started as I walked to my car around 10 p.m. that night.
I didn’t tell my husband at first when I got home because they were gentle enough that I thought they could fade away. But after we went to bed, they were strong and regular enough for me to feel certain that baby was on the way. So I rolled over and told him I was having contractions, but nothing urgent, so go back to sleep and I’d text Susie, my midwife, to let her know. He heard “go back to sleep” loud and clear. Sleep didn’t find me that night, but I was able to rest and to stay in bed until about 6 a.m. I felt happy and excited, but also determined to let these early contractions pass through me without counting the seconds between each one or letting my mind run amok. Though the birth of my daughter was a healthy and in general a lovely experience, it was long and draining. Like many first timers, I let my adrenaline get the best of me from the first contraction and in retrospect I believe that clenching anxiety gummed up the works.
Around 6 or 7 in the morning, I called my midwife, Susie. We had a regular check-up scheduled for that afternoon at 1:30 p.m. but we decided that she should stop by earlier. For weeks, maybe months, Edie had often danced around me yelling out “Susie! Susie! Come get out Tummy Baby!”, just sort of shouting it into the wind, hoping that this alleged baby brother or sister would finally make an appearance. It seemed like today would be that day – though I didn’t tell Edie that Tummy Baby seemed imminent. I did not want to get her all worked up and her well-being was my only nagging concern. We don’t have any family in or near Nashville, so we were counting on my mother-in-law driving in from northern Indiana as fast as she could. Set to arrive at our house about noon, Will and I had a lot of time to kill with Edie, and a lot of contractions to disguise as mommy playing the brand new freeze ‘n’ breathe game. It became obvious that having Edie around wasn’t doing much good for anyone, so I called our dear friend Carolyn who rearranged her morning so that she could watch Edie for a few hours. Will dropped Edie off and told me that she went in without so much as a peep about her mom’s absence. This was among the first of many leaps in independence that Edie would make surrounding her brother’s entrance into this world. And it made me feel that intense mix of grief, pride, and joy that I never knew until I became a mother.
My morning at home was rather calm, all things considered. Susie came by at 10, and confirmed that things seemed to be progressing well. I was about 4 cm dilated, contractions were regular but still manageable. Because she had another appointment in the neighborhood, Susie left for awhile, ready to return when I needed her. For his part, Will was there for whatever I needed but he let it slip that maybe he wouldn’t hate a trip to the gym. I asked him to keep his phone on and told him to get going; I could certainly appreciate the anxiety he was feeling with our world about to get turned upside down again. I think we both needed a moment alone. For my part, I started off pacing up and down my hallway to get the contractions going stronger, but eventually found myself swinging on our back patio on a fairly mild Tennessee summer morning.
Will picked Edie up on his way back. We gave her lunch and then – in a move that truly solidifies my status as a control freak – I rocked Edie to sleep for her nap, singing lullabies through no less than four contractions. I wanted so badly to hang on to the final threads of normalcy and my obsession with Edie getting enough sleep could not be quelled even by active labor.
Soon afterward, Susie returned and my mother-in-law arrived. Though we were all quiet as mice, Edie could not be fooled even in her sleep. She uncannily woke up less than half an hour after I got her down. But Edie’s short nap was just as well, because it was getting pretty clear that this baby was going to arrive in the near future. I was not mobile at this point, but Edie came in my room to say hello to me and then got her real thrill when she saw that Grandma Sally was here to play. As I lay on my bed while folks scampered around in the house, Edie cried out and then I heard her dad say that she’d gotten a splinter. Edie and Susie had gotten very close throughout my prenatal care, and upon hearing her cry Susie tried to make a pit stop to help her little friend out. I truly didn’t mean to steal the show from Edie’s splinter, but I began to groan in my room and Susie decided to abandon splinter duty for now and instead focus on getting her assistant, Cindy, here. Edie and her grandma left to go play at nearby Ugly Mugs café.
Susie examined me again and I was at 8 cm at around 1 p.m. Now the endorphins were flowing and I was rendered totally drunk with that surreal birthing sleepiness. The bed hadn’t been prepared, the birth tub hadn’t been filled, Susie hadn’t changed into her scrubs, and I was still wearing my sun dress. But this baby was coming. My labor was getting intense at this point and I was getting close to the transition phase. Being in active labor in the middle of the day was a totally different experience than my first time, when I labored throughout the night and gave birth near sunrise. This time, I was much more able to be fully present and not just exhausted and overwhelmed. At this point, it was all very primal. I felt like an animal that had wandered off to lay down in a field to give birth. When my water broke, I muttered “Oooh. That was my water.” sounding not at all unlike Eeyore. The intelligence of the process was a lot clearer to me than the first time, and Susie’s reassurance and quiet support kept me at ease.
Before it was time to push, Susie and Cindy offered the birth tub to me, saying it was really my last chance to move. I shot that offer down immediately. I don’t curse, have negative feelings toward people, or even shout that much while giving birth. But I have very strong opinions on being touched or moved. My loving husband tried to rub my shoulders and was told something like “I love you. Thank you. But you must stop.” At this juncture, moving was not an option for me. Susie did manage to get me to roll onto my side, though I whined a bit about even this amount of jostling.
Once I was in a good position, it was time to push. I was left almost entirely to myself during this process, which for me was perfect. A few directions, suggestions, and words of encouragement, but mostly it was just me and baby. I tried with everything I had to stay with the contractions – not to shirk away and just wait until they passed. But instead to connect with the baby, focusing on this new person who I finally got to meet. As we got toward the final pushes, Susie and Cindy laughed about the head of hair my kid had. And though I don’t think I would’ve believed this before it happened, I was relieved to feel the crowning begin because I knew we were so close to being done, and I knew that I could muster up the final effort to help my baby out. There was a short spell of odd quiet when the baby was first out, which I later learned was because his rather short umbilical cord was partially wrapped around him so that it took a bit of wiggling to get him into my arms. But within a few moments, Will told me that we had a son – just as he’d been the one to tell me that we had a daughter. And then I got that little boy in my arms. As soon as he saw me he let out a short but powerful cry, and then settled on my chest. It was 3:43 p.m. and we had our son, who we named Eli Robert.
It is hard to find words for what I felt when my son was placed in my arms. When Edie was born, I loved her completely but I was so scared. It took me time to set aside my fear of being needed so completely by this helpless human being and learn to revel in the experience. But with Eli, though I had apprehensions about managing life with two kids, I was ready for him. Finally meeting him was like standing under a waterfall, just totally consumed with gratitude and bliss.
Edie came home shortly after the afterbirth was out. Instead of bounding in like usual, she came into the bedroom cautiously; my sensitive girl could no doubt tell how sacred this moment was. And I was in heaven in my own bed, with Eli in my arms, Will at my side, and now my first born there with us. Edie absolutely glowed as she leaned in to inspect and kiss this tiny boy, as we told her “This is Tummy Baby, Edes. His name is Eli.” For days she marveled in that fact – “You don’t have a Tummy Baby anymore, mom. Eli is Tummy Baby!”
Evening was upon us, so Will ordered some pizzas and Susie and Cindy stayed for dinner. I felt well enough to sit on the couch with Eli, close to my family and birth team who were having a little pizza party. We took some more pictures. I thanked Susie and Cindy again and again, though never enough, for seeing us though Eli’s birth. Will put Edie to sleep that night, which was a first – he’d never done so with me in the house. She complained for a moment, but quickly relented and was even asleep at a decent hour. My quiet Eli had roused a few times to nurse but was generally in a peaceful slumber on his birthday. And I even got a few hours of sleep that first night, mostly with Eli dozing on my chest as I lay propped up on a pillow, or with him curled up against my side. If I could’ve frozen time, I would have, just for a bit, to savor those moments before all of the endless small things in life add back up and cloud what’s real and important.