Welcome back for a very special blog post about the birth of our sweet baby girl.
On a Monday in May, I took C to the farm to buy vegetables. We brought Blue, our dog, along. First we stopped for a walk in the woods (and a sneaky snack). I remember thinking, I can’t take much more of this belly. It was a beautiful day, and I was very conscious of giving C some special Mama Time before the baby arrived.
The next day was June 1. I went for a short walk with a friend. I had this beautiful blue dress on and was feeling very beautiful and feminine—except, for some reason, I didn’t want to see my friend. I felt I wanted to hide. That should have been my first clue.
In the afternoon, I had some contractions that were slightly more painful and lasted slightly longer than the usual Braxton Hicks ones. When I felt them, I got very still and turned my focus inward. C noticed and it alarmed her, I think. Papa took her for a walk, and I sat on our stoop, soaking up the sun and reveling in my solitude.
That night the contractions were more frequent and regular. I remember looking at the clock around 10:30 and again at 10:45, then again at 11:00. Was it too soon to tell? Better not let on to Papa.
But the contractions kept coming. I slept in between, but I was uncomfortable. I finally told Papa that I thought this was The Real Thing. Around 3:00 am, I had the strongest contraction yet and lost the mucus plug. I called the hospital. They said, with contractions at 10 minutes apart, I still had time.
But there was still so much to do! Trying not to panic, I called and texted the many neighbors who had ever mentioned they would be happy to watch C in case I went into labor at night. Well, none of them answered, because duh—they were all sleeping! Finally Papa went knocking on doors and thankfully our friends who usually get up that early to go to work answered and could take C. So I left instructions for another neighbor to take care of Blue while we piled into the car, dropped off C, and headed for the hospital.
We had taken that path to the hospital sooo many times before just for checkups. It was so exciting to finally be going for the real thing. But my contractions were getting more and more painful. The acupressure points helped a lot, even though Papa had to slow down and pull over. At least there was no one else on these country roads at 5:00 am!
We made it to the hospital and were told to go for a walkabout to get labor a little more active because I was only 1 centimeter dilated. I’ll always remember walking around the huge tower building at the hospital. I still felt beautiful as a hugely pregnant person. I was wearing a very flattering black dress, and I just felt good. After about an hour, I was tired and ready to go back to the room.
We had barely gotten back inside when the contractions just became too much for me to handle. I began screaming in pain. There was no position I could take to make myself comfortable. But I was only 2 centimeters dilated! I had such a long way to go yet! I was shocked because the contractions had been a lot easier to handle in my first labor with C. My hopes for a natural birth soon left me. I said out loud, “I can’t do this.”
I begged for the epidural. After I asked for it, I cried a little. I already felt like a failure. But then the next contraction came, and all I knew was pain. I said to myself that I didn’t want to spend my labor out of my mind with pain. I wanted to experience it with more zen, and the epidural was going to help me do that.
It was the best decision I ever made. It took 2 hours for them to give it to me because the anesthesia team had other emergencies to deal with, but I just thought of the other scared mamas who really needed the epidural and with the acupressure we fought through the pain of the contractions. The pressure points at my ankles worked the best. I needed them even through the epidural—I had bruises that would hurt for days afterward!
It’s a funny thing, labor. We spend so much time building it up in our heads, and it’s indeed a momentous event. But the responsibility of parenthood eclipses labor and delivery almost immediately. I don’t remember many details of my birth, only 4 months ago now. But these are some moments I can still recall today:
I had to switch positions on the bed every so often to get the anesthetic to distribute evenly. I had a little button I could press to increase the dosage. It was cool because I could still feel the contractions but I could manage the pain.
Papa didn’t want to leave me, but I made him take a break at lunch and at dinner. I tried to rest and sleep as much as I could. I do remember putting on the radio which was a clutch move. It helped me to stay relaxed. I heard the weirdest jazzy versions of “Stranger In Moscow” and “Bad.” A thunderstorm came through briefly.
When they told me I was 10 centimeters dilated, I was relieved. I was happy, but also tired and getting fed up. I felt so weak and I just wanted to meet my baby. But I stayed patient while they changed shifts at the hospital. It was beginning to feel a bit like C’s birth… except no one threatened me with a C section this time! It was around 8:00 pm.
Finally I woke up from a nap in what I can only describe as a labor rage. I called the nurse and told her, “I am so done with being pregnant! I want this baby out!”
And this new midwife must have been a drill sergeant in another life. She basically said, “Okay, then let’s have a baby!” and called her team in. Soon I was pushing as the drill sergeant screamed directions at me. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but I really appreciated the intense method of coaching.
At this point, I was so anesthetized that I couldn’t feel much down there. My contractions came two at a time, which was useful for pushing. I could feel them building up so I still knew when to push. But there was absolutely no pain, and I’m totally fine with that. Papa had a look to check my progress and was excited to see our daughter’s head crowning! I had another burst of motivation. I was so thrilled that I was about to deliver. It was the experience I always wanted but didn’t get to have with C.
After only 10 minutes of pushing, I heard the drill sergeant say calmly, “Reach down and take your baby, Madame.”
I looked at Papa in disbelief. Did I actually just push a watermelon out of a straw? YUP.
M was born at 9:51. Many hands helped to lift my baby to my chest. Finally. I was so happy. I was in a haze of oxytocin. Again, I don’t remember every minute, just some details. I am pretty sure I said to Papa, “We are never doing this again!” I might have cried with joy. I don’t even know anymore. I just knew that my daughter was finally safely in my arms.
I held her and did skin-to-skin. Another moment I didn’t get to share with C. When I felt M rooting, I put her to my breast. I will always remember her smell. It was unlike anything I had smelled before. She was mine.
My wits came back enough to ask what the midwives were doing down there. “Oh you just had a little tear, nothing major.” So you are stitching me up. Grand.
I can’t remember if that was before or after the placenta. I didn’t deliver the placenta by pushing. I can remember them tugging on the cord and me asking, “Am I supposed to deliver that now?” because they looked like they were having some trouble. The midwives suggested I simply ask my placenta to detach because I had delivered my baby so quickly after having stated out loud that I was done with being pregnant. So I said aloud, “Placenta, you can come out now.” And out it came! I had never seen one before so I looked, and indeed, it looks like a steak. One nurse was turning it over on the table and I asked what she was looking for. She said she needed to make sure that it was all intact. It looked all good… oh no wait… there is a piece missing.
Do not forget when you are telling your placenta to vacate your uterus to be specific, and say, “Placenta, you can come out now—and in one piece, if you don’t mind.” That’s the key, see. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that a doctor (a student, by the looks of her, but I hope she wasn’t) had to actually reach in there and grab the rogue piece and pull it out. Wtf.
So that happened. It was super stressful because all of a sudden a roomful of people sprang into action. The doctor-student seemed nervous and kept saying, “I can’t do it if he’s in here!” and the drill sergeant replied, “It’s fine, you can do it! He’s not looking, he’s sitting in a chair with his back to you.”
So in the end, everything came out a.o.k. At some point, the medical team in the room dwindled. Papa went home to care for C. I was left in the bed with my baby in her bed next to me. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I was hungry, dammit!
I was finally wheeled to my room, M in my arms, at about 2:00 am. A feast of sausage and lentils awaited me. The midwife on the night shift was my daughter’s namesake. I gave M to her to take care of so that I could get some sleep. A doctor would be coming to check her in a few hours, and I was exhausted and wanted to feel good as I started this new journey in motherhood.
To say that M’s birth was different from my first with C would be an understatement. I cannot emphasize how much easier it was psychologically and physically to recover. To everyone who had or who will have a C section, I applaud you. It’s not easy. To everyone who gave birth or who will give birth naturally—enjoy it. Some natural births aren’t easy, but this was just my experience. And to all those who are hoping for a successful VBAC: YOU CAN DO IT!
And the knowledge that little M was born healthy in the end was really all that mattered.
This is the penultimate episode in my pregnancy series. The final installment about postpartum life will be posted 1 month from now. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experience and going on this journey with me. Thank you for being here. I truly appreciate you.
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !