About 3 am Tuesday morning, I became aware that I was once again having contractions that were waking me up. I'd wake up long enough to be uncomfortable, time the contraction, and fall back asleep. After a little while of this, I realized this was different than all those other episodes of "false labor" for two reasons: contractions almost always slowed or even stopped when I laid down, and even those nights when I contracted most of the night, the contractions always stopped by 3:00 or 4:00 am. Just after 4:00 am, I was awake enough to text Morgan, who was about to board a plane back to New Hampshire with her five kids, telling her I was having strong contractions about 10 min apart. Her response? "I am so not surprised."
The contractions continued at 10 minutes apart for a while, keeping me wondering if anything was really happening. The contractions were certainly strong, required all my attention to get through, and felt different, aching deep in my pelvis, but I wasn't at all convinced they weren't going to quit on me like they had every time before. I was pacing my bedroom and would lean on the bed and rock my hips when the contractions came. By 5:30 am, though, I was having enough trouble coping with the contractions (and being quiet so I didn't wake anyone up!) that I woke up my husband.
I was grateful for the long breaks between the contractions, because as they quickly strengthened, I needed every minute of that rest to get through them without panicking. Tom started filling up the tub, which seemed a little optimistic to me, but when I hit my hands and knees on the rug in the bathroom, begging my husband to come hold my hand/press on my back/coach me through each contraction, I finally conceded that it might be time to call the midwives.
The sequence of events gets a bit blurry for me from here on out as the contractions increased in instensity and started coming much closer together. Tom tried to convince me to move from the rug in front of the bathtub to somewhere more comfortable and with more room, but I heartily refused. I liked the smaller space of the bathroom, and probably would have taken up residence in the closet if I would have thought people could get to me! Heidi arrived not long after we called, and started setting things up. Between the contractions, I kept thinking things like "This isn't real, they're going to stop." or "Why am I making so much noise with these contractions? Maybe I'm exaggerating this. It can't possibly hurt this bad when they're still so far apart and labor just started." Then as soon as another contraction started, it was all I could do to ride the waves.
I tried to vocalize what I was feeling and I don't think I was very coherent. I remember asking Heidi "these contractions aren't going to stop are they?" and starting to feel a bit panicked because everything felt so strong and powerful and painful and I was certain I still had hours to go. Soon, Laura, the second midwife arrived and she and Heidi and Tom all took turns providing counterpressure and encouragement.
Heidi and Laura kept telling me I was almost there, that this was transition and I'd be holding my baby soon, and my sarcastic inner voice kept arguing with them. "There's no way I'm almost done. Labor just started. I'm still not convinced that it isn't going to stop again. They have no idea what they're talking about." (It's funny to reflect on this now, because I felt the same way during Ashlynn's lightning quick birth, you'd think I'd remember what it feels like.) The midwives started to spread out chux pads and their equipment, and I still felt like everyone was being overly optimistic. I was trying to keep my sounds under control and labor gracefully and peacefully, but the low and loud vocalizations seemed to come of their own accord. Heidi encouraged me to "greet each contraction with relaxation," and I tried, I really did, but at that point I was holding on for dear life!
When my knees started to give out, everyone kept encouraging me to move to the tub, someone even suggesting "Let's have a waterbirth." I was a little panicky about changing positions and getting in the tub, worried that I wouldn't feel as secure or grounded in the water. They helped me move quickly in between the contractions, and I was grateful for the few seconds of relaxation the water brought before I was slammed by another contraction. It was about this point that I remember wondering (and maybe saying) why in the world I thought giving birth at home was such a smart idea, which got a good laugh from everyone.
At this point, I was pretty done. I was looking for a way to get out of this- to not finish. All I could think of was that I wanted to get out of my body. Of course the only thing I could vocalize was "This is wrong....I want out...." which led my poor midwife Laura to think I meant I wanted out of the tub, at which point she started trying to help me to get out of the tub. Finally I was able to sputter out "I just want. out. of my body," which caused everyone to laugh again.
It wasn't until, in the middle of one particularly nasty contraction, that I felt the tell-tale burning, stretching, stinging, baby-is-about-to-crown feeling that I actually truly believed that he was coming. And then I started to panic. Crowning is the scariest, most intense part of labor, and I wasn't looking forward to it. In the space between contractions, I looked at my husband and muttered, "You. Are. Getting. The. Procedure. I am NEVER doing this again." He was amused.
Two more burning, stretching, crowning, entire-body-splitting-apart contractions. Heidi encouraged me to reach down and feel his head, and I tried, but couldn't move my hand without feeling like I was losing all my stability. One more huge push and his head was out, followed quickly by the rest of his body. I opened my eyes, saw my baby and reached down to pull him up to my chest.
I cried, breathed a huge sigh of relief that I was done, and exclaimed "A baby! I had a baby!" to anyone that would listen. Everyone grabbed cameras, and I couldn't take my eyes off my sweet baby. He was quiet, breathing and pink, covered in vernix, with the thickest head of black curly hair that any of my kids had been born with. He was gorgeous and perfect and I was so blissfully happy to finally have him in my arms. Best moment ever.
My kids all came rushing in, thrilled to meet the newest member of the family. Ian immediately begged to hold him, before the cord was even cut! He was the first to climb up on the side of the tub and reach out for Charlie, and wouldn't leave his side for most of the day. Ashlynn called dibs on cutting his cord when we first told them we were pregnant, and once he was free, they bundled him up and passed him to Tom and four eager brothers and sisters. Some of my most treasured moments from Charlie's birth were watching my big kids interact with and love on their new baby sibling.
Charlie weighed in at a whopping 8lbs 7oz, and measured 20.5 inches long. He didn't love the newborn exam, but settled in to nurse quickly and proved to be a natural. My parents came almost as soon as Ashlynn called and announced "We have a baby," and after a quick look at her new baby brother, Abby ran out the door to catch her ride to violin institute.
One of the hardest parts of Charlie taking his own sweet time to make his way earthside was the conflict with violin camp, which we have been to every summer since Abby was 4 years old. This year, she had sent in a video audition to play at one of the lunchtime honor's recitals, and she was chosen to perform in front of the entire institute, a big deal. I didn't worry about her being assigned to Tuesday afternoon because I never imagined I wouldn't have a baby by then. But life goes on, and she kissed her baby brother, and went off to Institute to happily tell everyone that mom had just had a baby that morning. (I was there helping people register the day before!) Tom took all the kids and my parents to go hear her perform at the 1:00 recital, and I curled up in bed with my new baby Charlie. While I was heartbroken to miss her big performance, (I had basically taught her this piece from the beginning, we had worked on it for months, and she was playing it brilliantly,) I knew there was nothing I could do. Tom tried to skype me in to see her perform, but it cut out just before she walked on stage. I knew the minute her performance was over though, because I got 4-5 texts from people in the audience telling me what a great job she did. The tears flowed freely as I looked at my newborn son and realized how blessed I was with all 5 of my amazing children.
Charlie has been such an amazing addition to our family, and the adjustment to having him here has been remarkably easy. He is by far the most mellow of the five, and is for the most part, remarkably easy. He's a great sleeper and has been from the beginning- I commented to Tom that it seems like his bad nights are the equivalent of my other kids' good nights. I have spent hours with him on my chest, cuddling him, memorizing every detail, and trying to absorb every moment since I know he truly is my last newborn. He is truly loved, (and fought over!) by his siblings, and I regularly have to fend Ian off and tell him that baby Charlie has had enough kisses. Within a few days, it seemed like he had always been a part of our family.
First day at church. He was underwhelmed.
Amazing Midwives at 3 weeks old
I am so grateful for such a wonderful birth experience. While I wouldn't say it was easy, (is any birth ever easy?) it was by far the easiest and most satisfying of all 5. Straightforward, simple, fast, intense, powerful and wonderful. Within days I felt nearly back to normal, and by the time a week had passed I felt like nothing had happened. With each of my previous births, I look back and think "I should have..." or "If only..." and I feel nothing like that this time. With the exception of Morgan having to miss the birth by hours, I have no regrets, which is such an amazing feeling. It was a long hard pregnancy, but the baby at the end? Totally worth it.