There are many ways I could begin the birth story of my Austen Rose. I could begin with my first contraction on that cool and sunny morning, or I could begin in the week before her birth when I began experiencing prodromal labor for the first time, but I think I'll begin with the crazy accurate predictions John had about both our children's births. When I was pregnant with River, John said my labor would start with my water breaking, that it would be a fast birth, and that he would be born around dinner time. He was correct on every point. My labor did begin with my water breaking, I only labored for four hours, and River was born at 5:45 in the evening. This time, he joked that Austen would be born on a Thursday morning.
The night before Austen was born, I was up late watching Friends on TV. Now, I love Friends, but it's not often that I catch it, and I hadn't seen an episode during my entire pregnancy. Earlier, John had been looking up natural ways to induce labor and we were talking about how silly some of the suggestions were. Anything from eating tons of basil, to going on a bumpy car ride, to dining on Chinese cuisine, to putting mandarin oil on your heels. John said he figured that most of the suggestions on the list were just things that people happened to do right before their bodies naturally went into labor on its own. I joked that I had watched Friends the night before River was born, and here I was watching it again, just days before Austen's estimated due date. If I went into labor the next day, watching Friends is a natural way to induce labor.
The First Contractions
At about seven o'clock the next morning on October 13th (a Thursday morning), River came into our room, half-awake and doing the zombie walk. I scooped him up and took him to the bathroom with me, because I knew he wouldn't want to wait in the bed, and while we were in the bathroom I had a crampy contraction. I didn't think much of it because I had been having a lot of prodromal labor; regular contractions lasting thirty seconds to a minute in length, some as close as five minutes apart. They would become quite crampy, but would hardly grow in intensity. I began to wonder if I would know when I was in labor. We made our way back to the bed, and shortly after settling in I had another contraction. A few contractions later, at about 7:15, I couldn't fall back asleep and decided I might as well get up. We had our forty-week visit with our midwife Alisa at 9:00 and needed to leave the house by 8:30 so we could stop for some breakfast tacos on the way. Since these contractions were a bit more painful than what I had been experiencing, I wondered if today was the day, but figured I was just getting my hopes up.
I texted my friends who were supposed to come to the birth, and jumped in the shower where the contractions continued. I remembered how I labored in the shower with River during those first contractions, and had to get out because they got stronger. All these memories from my first birth came back, and I started feeling anxious, excited, and nostalgic. Could today really be the day? I got out of the shower and slowly went about the morning in my towel, making coffee, checking Facebook, watching whatever was on TV on a low volume. At this point, whenever another contraction came I had to stand and walk through them, but they were still pretty mild and remained uneventful. I realized that since it was more comfortable to move during a contraction, it really could mean that I was in labor... but still, I didn't want to get my hopes up. After all, three friends were coming from Austin, and it would kind of suck for them to pause their day only to have to return later on. Against my will, I kept thinking, This is the day! This is the day! From that, my mind kept going back to the Bible verse, "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!" Over and over in my head. It was perfect. I wanted that to be on my mind on the day my daughter chose to grace the world, so I posted the verse on Facebook.
At about 8:00 I made a call to my midwife. I told her I had been having crampy contractions for the last hour, but that they weren't too strong and I thought they were probably about seven to ten minutes apart (I hadn't really been timing them). Seeing as how fast my labor was with River, I told her I wasn't sure if I should try to make it out to the birth center... I mean... if I was really in labor. Which I probably wasn't. She told me she had a full day of appointments so she wouldn't be able to meet me later in the day, but that I could stay home and wait it out if I wanted -- if I was in labor, she would come to our house (obviously), and if I wasn't, we could just meet tomorrow if I was too uncomfortable to make it out to the birth center. I decided I didn't want to miss our appointment just because of a few contractions, so I told her we'd see her at nine. I woke up John and told him I'd been having a lot of contractions and even made a call to Alisa, but that it could just be more prodromal labor. You guys, I was in serious denial.
I wanted to take a picture with River -- our last picture together with him as an only child -- but we were in a rush to leave, and I forgot. I will always wish I had remembered.
Maybe This is Happening
I got myself dressed (while thinking, This could be the dress I'm wearing the day I give birth to Austen), applied my makeup just so (Just in case... gotta look good for those birth pictures) and made my awkward hair look slightly presentable (I shouldn't have gotten my hair cut. Really bad decision). When I got River dressed, I purposely chose his "World's Best Brother" t-shirt that John's aunt & uncle bought him, because he could be a big brother in a few hours. By 8:30, we were in the car and on our way to our appointment. At this point, sitting through the contractions was terribly uncomfortable. I started dramatically moaning and complaining through the contractions, and realized that yeah, I probably was maybe kind of in labor. We pulled into our fave cheap Mexican food place and my contractions were tough enough that I couldn't tell John what kind of taco I wanted (disaster) and I had to moan and give hand signals while John ordered our food. I'm not sure the lady working the drive-through had any idea what was going on. If she did, that's pretty cool. How often does a woman in labor go through the drive-through window at Chacho's.
I realized at this point, there was no way I could make it to the birth center, twenty minutes away, and back. It was way too painful to sit. I called Alisa and she said she had just left her house and to go home, she would come over and check me -- if I was say, a two, she would go to the birth center and come back when labor picked up, and if I was like, a five, she would stay until I gave birth. Great, I thought! My state of mind was "Yay, labor day!" This didn't last long. When we got home it was about 8:45... read it: fifteen minutes later. Up until this point, I wasn't even sure if I was really in labor. I had a hard time getting out of the car. The damn door tried to slam on my contracting belly and good lord, who knew holding a car door open on a sloped driveway mid-contraction could be so awful.
I had been in contact with my friends and family the entire time and my friend Samantha, who once again realized I was further along in my labor than I imagined I was, was on her way from Austin. Speeding, because she knew I was in labor while I didn't. I was having trouble contacting one friend, so I hopped on Facebook to try to get ahold of her. I was forcing myself to eat a taco because I hadn't eaten anything and I noticed my hands were getting shaky and I was losing my appetite -- exactly the two things that happened when I went into transition with River. My contractions were growing in strength and intensity and pain, and half-jokingly, I would say, "This isn't fair. How did I do this with River? I changed my mind, I don't want to do this."
The joking quickly turned to full-on seriousness. The contractions were so painful and I was feeling very sorry for myself. I started crying through and in-between the contractions. I kept repeating, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this. This isn't fair. Why do I have to do this?" (Um, because you chose to do this, maybe?) They were so overwhelming and I felt so weak and helpless as they crashed into me. They were one on top of each other and I barely got a break in between. This happened so fast, I didn't time to prepare myself emotionally. In the twenty minutes after we arrived home, they had gone from manageable to absolutely mind-blowing. John was running around the house, doing some last-minute picking up, stopping every once in a while to kiss me and tell me I was doing a good job, and Alisa had pulled into our driveway and was making calls, rearranging her day with her fellow midwives and clients. She had just talked to me a short while ago and had no idea I was so far along.
River was by my side the entire time. He was confused, but handling things well. Comforting him was surprisingly comforting to me. He didn't annoy me like I thought he might when I went into labor. The past month or so, we had been watching homebirth videos on Youtube. He had gotten used to watching them and we talked about how mamas "roar like dinosaurs" when their baby is coming out. We would roar together and talk about how "Austen is coming! Austen is in Mommy's tummy, but she is going to come out, and Mama is gong to roar like a dinosaur! Can you roar like a dinosaur?" This was Alisa's suggestion and I'm so glad she guided us through preparing him. During my labor, if he ever got worried about why I was moaning and crying (and roaring) through contractions, I was able to separate myself from the pain momentarily and calmly remind him (in a slightly chipper voice, even) that Austen was coming and Mommy was just roaring like a dino. He was very attentive, calm, curious, and compassionate, offering plenty of hugs, and mostly just watching quietly. After one particularly painful contraction, he wrapped his little arms around me, saying, "S'okay, mama." He kissed me. "Aaaaall better." I want to never forget that.
And Then She Came, Fast and Furious
I was laboring standing up, leaning over a table in our kitchen and I started feeling "pushy." I didn't recognize the pushy feeling the first time, but knew exactly what it was this time. I started grunting through contractions. My water burst, and I yelled to John. He ran outside to tell Alisa, and she came in immediately. It was 9:20. She was about to check me when I started having another contraction. When it was over, we were all shocked to find that Austen was all the way down, and that I was definitely ready to push. "John, the pool!" I suddenly remembered this was supposed to be a waterbirth. But Alisa interjected -- "John, there's no time for the pool! Your baby's head is right here!" She had to say it a few times for it to click. We were both shocked to learn I was much, much closer to having the baby than either of us thought. She was right there. I could feel her head. When did that happen?!
Meanwhile, I was trying to text my friend Kimberly, who had offered to pick something up from the store on her way to the birth, to tell her that she should just head straight over, because the baby was coming quicker than we thought. But it took about three-contractions length to send a simple text and all I could get out was:
(photo courtesy of Expose the Heart Photography. Please check them out -- wonderfully talented photographers and very dear friends of ours!)
Through this pushing stage, I kept reminding myself that the key to dealing with the pain was to stay calm, but I just couldn't. I remembered that the peace that came during my labor with River was when I let go and worked with the contractions, rather than against them. But nothing was helping me get through this. I tried to stay relaxed and loose, but my entire body was tense with pain. My hands were in fists and I was very loud. I was light-headed from breathing so hard and being so tense, and extremely thirsty. Within minutes, there was that burning ring of fire. Honestly, I don't even remember it. At all. I just remember those contractions. Alisa had to tell me to bend my knees and literally, before I knew it, she was here. With her little up-turned nose and dimpled cheeks and long toes, she was HERE! I didn't even know! Seven minutes of pushing.
Oh, it was a happy chaos. We were all laughing. Laughter, Austen. That's what you were greeted with when you came into this world. We were all so overjoyed to meet you, little girl. You are wanted and needed and precious to us all. The entire room was filled with JOY. It was absolutely unbelievable. Alisa asked John to get towels. Austen screamed. Oh, my little girl. Dramatic from the moment she entered the world! She wanted nothing to do with breastfeeding and just cried as if her feelings were hurt. We continued to laugh and Samantha came through the door seconds later, and Kimberly, minutes. Austen smelled so sweet. I didn't smell the sweetness with River because he was born in the water and it was washed off. But that brand-new, fresh sweet smell that comes with birth, I smelled it so strongly on Austen.
After the excitement settled a bit, Alisa suggested birthing the placenta. Oh yeah. That. I wanted to know the time to see how long it had been from birth to cutting the cord, mainly out of curiosity, and it had been twenty minutes. The time passed quickly -- I thought maybe it had been five minutes. After Daddy cut the cord, we moved to the bed and did the placenta thing (I don't even remember. How are memories so fleeting?), and then Austen had her newborn exam. She screamed the whole time, but liked being in the hammock when she was weighed (just like Brother) -- a beautiful 8 pounds, 3 ounces.
The next week we were blessed by so many friends who brought us meals. My friend Jessica even cleaned the kitchen for me with her own little baby in the carrier. I am so thankful for everyone's help those first few days and am not sure how I would have survived without so much support from our friends. Sometimes I still don't know how I survived the first couple weeks postpartum, but obviously I did, because I am here tonight with this beautiful little six-month-old sleeping beside me.
Austen's birth was very different from River's, in almost every way. It was only two and a half hours from that first contraction to the time she was born, and it was only the last thirty minutes of labor that was extremely difficult -- but I would take another birth like River's any day. The pain was so intense. Before giving birth to her, I never would have though to use the word "excruciating" to describe giving birth, but I can say that giving birth to her was very painful. I do believe it is because I did not have the chance to prepare myself mentally and physically (putting on makeup doesn't count).
Some people, when they see our birth video or pictures, have said I'm strong and that I was "amazing." When I was pushing her out, I felt anything but. I felt overpowered by those contractions, completely out of my control, and on a ride about which I had nothing to say or do. Now, looking back, I am amazed at what my body can do. Women are strong and amazing -- it doesn't matter if your baby came via c-section or out the old-fashioned way. Just the fact that our bodies have grown and birthed a baby is amazing.
When I watched the birth video two days later, it actually made me cry and feel terribly uncomfortable to see myself in such a state. It made me feel vulnerable and primal. It was so different from having River; when I gave birth to him, during the pushing stage, I was calm and quiet and focused. With Austen I screamed. I considered not showing the video to anyone, because if it made me want to turn my head, surely it would make others uncomfortable as well. But that's what birth is. It is difficult and painful and messy. It's not pretty. But it is beautiful. (No matter how a baby comes into this world.) But the intensity of the pain was matched by the intensity of joy felt when she came. Alisa even told me she felt giddy when Austen was born. The word I've used to describe River's birth is peaceful, and the word I use to describe Austen's is definitely joy.
(really awesome placenta picture for all you birth junkies out there. to think a baby was in that for nine months! look at how strong that bag is! )