This is not a “normal” birth story. Which makes sense, since my family is not a normal family. Please note the lack of quotes that second time — it’s with good reason. While every birth is unique in its own way, and thereby not “normal,” most families in the United States welcoming a baby go through a fairly similar experience. And we had some of that, but when you are a family of four polyamorous adults, nothing is “simple,” “easy,” or “normal.”
On April 2, 2011 our little Munchkin came into this world, caught in the loving hands of two of his parents while a third held his mother. We were surrounded by a top-quality, professional staff made up of midwives, nurses, and our doula. His entry into this world went exactly as we wanted, with minimal intervention, surrounded by love and full of hope for the future.
This is meant to be the story of his birth, from the point of view of one of his fathers. You’d have to ask the baby for his, and since the only language he knows at the moment predominantly pertains to breastfeeding (which consists of various noises and sucking motions, up to and including full throated cries) — mine will have to do. The best place to start is the last full day our Munchkin was in his mother’s womb: April Fool’s Day, 2011.
Friday began like any other day in our household. In the middle of the day, Aimee had a well-visit with our midwives to see if anything was going on. Since we knew we were so close to baby-time, I elected to work from home on a paper for class, and to drive Aimee to her appointment.
At the midwife appointment Aimee was between one and two centimeters, so all of the practice her uterus had been up to was doing something. The nurse cautioned that things could stay like this for a few more days, or she could suddenly open up and give birth in a few hours. With that in mind we went home. Around 8:25pm, Aimee gave out an exclamation that was not as little as before. Then another. She was painfully cramping along with the Braxton-Hicks contractions. This was something new.
It suddenly occurred to us that maybe we should time them. The first one we marked was twenty minutes between cramps, then half that, but we weren’t very good at keeping track. Like a good geek girl, Aimee got a little app for her iPhone that created a log of her contractions. Push a button to start the timer, push it again to stop, and it created a handy dandy log of your use. She fired it up and started using it to get good data.
Her contractions were six to eight minutes apart, 30 to 50 seconds in duration. If this was early labor, we knew it could be a long process, or even stop. Ian and Mich went to bed, determined to rest in case it was the last good night’s sleep they’d have in awhile. Aimee was too uncomfortable to really sleep, so she and I bunked down on our sectional, watched movies, and settled in for a long night.
Friday night was a very long night.
Aimee timed her contractions while I kept vigil. To keep ourselves distracted, we watched movies most of the night. These movies took us up to about 3:30am, Saturday morning. We were now seven hours into early labor. There was no doubt now that this was it. The contractions were coming every 5 minutes for at least a minute in length. By the 5-1-1 rule, it was time to go to the hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with this law of pregnancy, it is the golden standard for pregnant women. If contractions come every 5 minutes, last for 1 minute, for 1 hour, then you are in labor. If they aren’t, or haven’t gone that long, then you aren’t.
The problem, of course, was that it was nearing 4am. We were already exhausted, and had an unknown number of hours ahead of us. So we switched from movies to music, and tried to get some sleep. We “slept” for three hours, at the most. In reality, neither one of us slept terribly well, or very long. I might have gotten an hour and a half of real sleep, the rest I was half conscious, listening to Aimee softly moan. She didn’t sleep at all, not really. She was resting, trying to relax, but no real sleep. How do I know this? Remember that handy-dandy iPhone app she was using? There is no break in the record of her contractions, which means she was awake and using it all night.
At this point (around 7am Saturday morning), Aimee had been awake for almost twenty-four hours, and in labor for eleven of them. I point this out because my admiration for her just went up, which is saying something, as the rest of the story will show.
Around 6:30, Aimee woke me up. We quickly consulted her contraction log, and I went to wake up Ian and Michelle. Then we called Barbara, our doula. During the night, I had collected our pre-packed bags and moved them to the front door. At 6:26am, I announced to the world via Facebook that we were heading to the hospital. We left the house at 8:23. In between, we showered, dressed, slopped the animals, and called our family members.
We arrived at the hospital at 8:36. We checked in, and were sent to a screening room for monitoring. Aimee was about 2cm, and her contractions were about the same as they’d been when we left the house. The nurses instructed Aimee to walk around for a couple of hours, to see if activity kicked her labor up, or if it would slow down or even stop.
The rest of our horde met me at the cafeteria. After we fueled up, Aimee went back to doing laps. With Barbara’s encouragement, Aimee took out her yoga mat and started doing poses. Two hours of walking and yoga go by quickly, especially when you’re tired. She went back in for another check, and was at 3 cm. According to the nurse, 1 cm every two hours was normal for this stage, which meant Aimee was officially in active labor. We were admitted, and taken upstairs.
By the time we made it to our room, we were all hungry, since breakfast had been four hours before and none of us had eaten much. Excitement does that to the appetite. I had just tweeted to the world that we were safely ensconced, and could update the folks at home more quickly and easily when I got sent off to the cafeteria to hunt us up lunch. I made it back to the room around 2:30, but all Aimee could swallow down was a few bites of a protein bar. At this point, her contractions were coming every two to three minutes, lasting for a minute or more, so to her, it felt like she was getting no break at all.
Aimee labored like a champ, and here is where Barbara really demonstrated why every pregnant woman should have a doula. She gave expert advice on positioning, encouraging Aimee to shift positions frequently to prevent fatigue. She had, of all things, a piece of shelf liner (the rubbery mesh kind that keeps things from sliding around), that she used to hold up Aimee’s belly. Taking the weight off of her, for even a few minutes at a time, was an invaluable relief. And I cannot underestimate how important her presence was for Ian, Michy and I. She took the lead on helping Aimee through the beginning of her active labor, which kept the rest of us physically fresh for when Aimee needed us later. She also taught Aimee a technique to use sound to stay on top of her contractions. They harmonized together, at a low frequency (kinda like a modified “OM”), to help her stay focused. It worked amazingly well, almost to the very end, when the pain and frequency finally began to overwhelm her.
Barbara and Aimee would harmonize through her contractions, and eventually we all took it up, taking turns being her physical and emotional support.
The next few hours were a blur. Aimee’s contractions were almost non-stop at this point. Barbara and Aimee would harmonize through her contractions, and eventually we all took it up, taking turns being her physical and emotional support. Around 3:00pm, she was hit with the strongest contraction yet, and her control faltered for the first time. As it passed, she told us that she peed “a little.” When a woman’s water breaks in the movies or on television, it’s usually portrayed as a gush of fluid. This is rarely the reality. Aimee was much more typical. She leaked a bit, fairly consistently, for the next two hours.
Ironically, right before that contraction, we were talking about getting Aimee out of the clothes she was wearing to the hospital. She settled that question for us! At this point, Aimee again asked for the tub. She’d asked for it earlier, but it wasn’t available. We changed Aimee into a skirt and sports bra, and prepared to walk her to the tub room. Before we left, the nurses checked her cervix again. She was at 7cm.
Knowing that the end was in sight, we headed off to the tub on foot. Unfortunately for the rest of the unit, it was on the complete opposite side of the ward from us. Aimee had two contractions in the hallway. We must have been a sight, four people helping to support one laboring mom, two nurses trailing behind, stopping every few minutes to moan in tandem in the halls!
The tub was instant relief. It was a free-standing tub, with high sides and a hand sprayer. It was theoretically mobile, but in practice they kept it in the same room most of the time. The water was warm and waiting for us when we got there. I know Aimee would have stayed in there and given birth if they’d let her. She really liked the tub. After one contraction, she tiredly exclaimed, “You guys are awesome.”
It seemed longer at the time, but we were only in the tub room for about thirty minutes. The nurses kept checking in with Aimee while she was in the water, asking her how she felt. They kept asking if she felt pressure, like she had to go to the bathroom. Aimee was so far out of it at this point that she didn’t understand why they were asking. She reported that she felt pressure, so they moved us back to our room. Mercifully, we transported Aimee back in a wheelchair.
Once back in our own room (about 3:45pm), Aimee got back in the bed, on her hands and knees, and continued to labor. They were coming in a constant wave at this point. The nurses began monitoring them more regularly; blood pressure for mom, heart rate for the baby. Both passed every check with flying colors. About ten minutes after we got back in the room, our midwife said to Aimee, “You’re ready to push!” Aimee, becoming more unaware of her surroundings with every passing minute, replied, “Really? I can do that?” The nurse chuckled, “That wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Your body will know what to do.”
Her voice was starting to break, the humming replaced with exclamations like “Come on baby!”, “Get this kid out!”, “I can’t take anymore!”, and “Jesus Christ!” and other more colorful expletives.
She was right. Aimee started pushing at 3:58pm. Ian supported her upper body, Mich and I stood on both sides. The nurses faded into the background. Barbara helped with ice, but from here on out, our family was pretty much running the show. With each contraction, Aimee pushed, with very little coaching or encouragement. More fluid came out, more harmonizing happened. It was getting harder and harder for her to stay on top of the pain. Her voice was starting to break, the humming replaced with exclamations like “Come on, baby!”, “Get this kid out!”, “I can’t take anymore!”, and “Jesus Christ!” and other more colorful expletives. At one point, I pointed out to her that her Catholic was showing, so the next contraction was met with, “Oh Gods!”
After about a half hour, Aimee’s poor legs had finally had enough. She’d spent much of her labor on her knees, either over the bed, a yoga ball, or in the tub. We coaxed her into lying down on her side. Once she was laying down, she again said that we were all awesome, and got down to the serious business of birth.
We first saw his head about fifteen minutes before he was born. Each push brought him tantalizingly closer. The nurses kept back, letting Aimee and us do the work. Every few minutes, they’d check the baby’s heartbeat, but otherwise, we could have been at home alone. Twice, they encouraged Aimee to reach down and feel his head, to prove to her that her suffering meant something.
Every time Aimee pushed, I glanced at the clock, wondering if this was the minute he would emerge. Ian joked that we should have gotten a pool going. Michy held up like a champion, being strong for Aimee when she needed it most. At about 4:55, our midwife asked if we (Michy and I, since we were in position), wanted to catch him. A few minutes later, the Munchkin was fully crowned. Time slowed down. At 5:04pm, Aimee gave a prodigious push, and the baby’s head popped out. Liz (the midwife) guided Michy and I to catch him. Aimee screamed in pain and relief, and with one last bit of encouragement, pushed for the final time.
Our son entered into this world, caught safely in the hands of his father and his little mother together, while his Dad-E held his mother safe and strong. Afterward her three partners milled about in stunned pleasure, alternating between taking pictures and stares of pleased bewilderment. And lots of hugs and tears. We started making phone calls to far-flung family and loved ones, letting them know that the baby had finally arrived. Aimee’s parents arrived about fifteen minutes or so after Connor was born. They came into the room expecting to see their daughter still hard at work. What they got was their little girl nursing her little boy, and the waterworks began to flow.
Time continued to pass by in a blur. There were tests, eating, nursing, visiting friends and family, sleep, and more nursing. Barbara gracefully bowed out about an hour after Connor was born, wanting to give us time to just be alone. We hugged her goodbye. Aimee’s parents left after a little while, to spend the night in a nearby hotel. Aimee had her first real meal in almost two days.
Before we knew it, we were heading home.