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Major James was born. I still can’t believe it’s been a week since the (other) best day of my life. I’ve been waiting for a quiet moment to write his Birth Story, but wanted to do it as quickly as possible, since I learned from my postpartum with Marlowe that the further it gets from you the hazier your memory becomes. And I can honestly say that I want to remember this experience forever– every single intense, life-affirming moment. I’m sharing the story of his birth and some photographs (WARNING: I know birth photos aren’t everyone’s cup of tea) because it was such a loving, joyful, challenging, and life-changing experience and I think that normalizing birth and the staggering beauty of it can only be a good thing.
A note on the below: This is my story. These are my choices. I know that other people have other stories and make other choices, and I’m totally fine with that. Are you? I’m all for a healthy conversation about Home Birth or birth in general, but the place to have that is not below. This piece of writing is for Major, our son, to commemorate his entrance in to the world. Keep it positive, please. It’s not normally my practice, but all negative comments will be either screened or deleted, promptly and with relish.
Major James Martino…
I like to think that Major’s birth story really started the night before. As most of you know who have been following my blog throughout the pregnancy, I was totally SHOCKED that he didn’t come early like his big sister! By the time I was just a few days before my due date, I was getting worried that he may never come or that I would end up with an induction. Not because that’s what logically follows when you are getting close to your due date, but because it had been so difficult for me to separate my pregnancy and birth with Marlowe from my pregnancy and birth with Major. It had been so hard to really designate them in my mind as two different experiences, and my children as two different people. Major just wasn’t deciding to meet us yet, and I was frustrated. But I really hadn’t stopped to think if there was anything emotional holding up the process. Birth is such an emotional thing. The two are very closely linked, as I had learned during my first labor (more on that later) and sometimes how you’re feeling can get in the way of what your body knows how to do. The night before Major was born, the atmosphere in the house was emotionally dissonant. Kyle and I were kind of snapping at each other, both exhausted, and things were just feeling very tense between us and in the air in general. As we got ready for bed I felt like I wanted to cry. There were so many emotions coursing through me (and SO many hormones) and the truth of the matter was that I just wasn’t feeling close to my husband. I felt like we were two ships passing in the night, and as anybody who has gone through labor will tell you– that is NOT the type of feeling you want to have as you prepare to welcome a baby with someone. In bed, we finally hashed things out. It turned out that we both had stresses and feelings about everything that was about to happen, and we really hadn’t talked about them. We were both feeling anxious and we needed to get on the same page. After talking through it all for a while, and some tears (mine, as per usual), things felt so much better. We were finally understanding each other. I hugged my husband and felt truly connected with him for the first time in probably weeks.
The next morning, Marlowe woke us up at 7am: “Mama! Daddy! My green light IS ONNNN!” We snuggled in bed with her for half an hour, singing and laughing. I remember looking at her and smelling her sleepy toddler skin and just thinking, “Man. How did I get so lucky?” We watched a YouTube video of the “Once Upon A Dream” song from Sleeping Beauty, which actually used to be my special song with my Mom. Marlowe loved it. I started feeling a little crampy, but that had been going on for at least a week already and I didn’t think anything of it. We went to her room, and I dressed her for school and carried her down the stairs for breakfast. As she ate her cereal next to Daddy, and I made her some lunch, my cramping started getting more intense…and more regular. I had a feeling like an actual light bulb going off when I suddenly realized, “Ok, this is happening today.” I turned to Kyle and repeated exactly what I had just heard in my head. He started smiling. He looked so excited that it made me excited! I had been expecting to feel really nervous when I knew the time had come, but instead I felt those Mama Bear everything-under-control vibes. I finished making Lowie a quesadilla, packed her lunch, picked out a jacket for her. By now, the sun was really blazing outside. It was turning out to be the most beautiful day ever. Sunny and warm, but with the gorgeous, changing Fall leaves out in full force. I remember thinking, “What a beautiful day to be born.”
Kyle put Marlowe’s jacket on to leave, and my stomach did a somersault. I felt tears spring to my eyes. I had imagined this moment a million times– the one where I would look at my daughter and know that the next time I saw her things would be different, changed. I didn’t want to speak for fear that I would start sobbing and never stop, so I knelt down and took her face in my hands. I put my forehead against hers, kissed both her cheeks and wrapped her in my arms. I whispered, “I love you” in her ear, just once, and stood before she saw my tears. “Bye Mama! Have a good day!” she called to me as she hopped up in to the car. I watched them drive away. I let myself fall apart for a few minutes, and then I got right down to business. I packed an overnight bag for Lowie (you never know how long labor will take!), I made some Laborade, and I got my camera ready and fully charged. I took a picture of myself in the mirror, just as I had done at the start of my labor with Marlowe. Then, I went upstairs to make our bed with a waterproof sheet, and a set of cheap sheets on top. I put some plastic we had bought around the upholstered parts of our bed, and rolled up our rug to protect it.
I texted my Doula and Midwives to let them know that I suspected that I was in early labor. By now my contractions were definitely building as the waves that I remember, but were still pretty mild. Kind of like bad period cramps. I hadn’t been timing them yet, but they felt about fifteen minutes apart. Now that I had made peace with the fact that this kid was coming today, I had to make sure he would actually come today. So many women get labor “warm ups” and I wanted to make sure we were prepping for the main event. I remembered my midwives telling me that a gentle way to make sure your labor progresses is to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and let your body feel the natural rhythms of nature. I put my slippers on and went out to the yard. I started slowly walking in big circles with my arms resting on my belly. I thought a lot then about people I love who have passed away recently, and also about the generations of women who have come before me in my family. All of that strong Mama birthing energy of all those different women who made it so I was standing there, in a yard in Connecticut, with my son getting ready to exit me. I stopped for a moment to look up at the clouds and ask for all of their blessings for our son’s birth and for their help to get me through it. I’ve found childbirth to be so unique in its ability to completely humble you while also completely empowering you. It reduces you to your essence and strips you of every pretense. It reminds you that you are no better than all the women who have come before you, but also no worse. You are just one of them, doing something that women have done since the beginning of everything, and just like them you will somehow get through it. With this reminder, I called my midwives. I had been timing my contractions and they were now 8 minutes apart, lasting 45 seconds. I told them how I was feeling, and we agreed that they would leave soon and plan to arrive at my house between 11 and 12. I texted my Doula to head over. Kyle got home, and went upstairs to fill the birthing tub. I got on our bed.
As I lay there and rode through my contractions, all my fears began to come to the surface. My last labor had been an extremely challenging thirty six hours, and had taken every last ounce of my strength. My Los Angeles midwives had switched up the midwife on duty at the last minute and had left me with somebody who I had only met once, in passing. While I am grateful for my positive outcome with Marlowe, looking back now I know that my long, anxious labor had so much to do with my discomfort with my birthing situation and my inability to let go and allow my daughter’s process to take over. Fear. My entire pregnancy with Major, I was nervous about enduring another long labor– as a tired Mama to a rambunctious toddler, would I have the stamina to get through it? What if I couldn’t? What if I wasn’t strong enough this time? I thought about Marlowe and my mind went to a dark place– what if I died today, bringing her brother in to the world? How would she grow up without a Mother? Would she even remember the time we had spent together or how much I had loved her? I started to cry, I was so overwhelmed. I called Kyle over and asked him to lay with me. For several contractions, he held me, rubbing deeply in to my lower back as the waves of contractions passed over me. As a wave began to build, I would roll over on to all fours on the bed, swaying my hips while he massaged me. “You’re safe,” he kept telling me. “You’re doing this. You’re so good at this.” If there is one thing I am so thankful for, it’s that I have somehow found myself a true partner– Kyle was amazing at Marlowe’s birth, but now during this second round, I noticed with newfound appreciation how calm he is, and how steady his confidence was in the process and in me. He had held me as I pushed our daughter in to the world, and now he was my comfort object again as we got ready to welcome our son.
I had been timing my contractions with an app on my phone. I looked down to see the average of the past five, and realized that they were now a minute long and about five minutes apart. All of a sudden, they became much more intense. My doula had arrived by then, and took over massaging my lower back while Kyle finished filling the tub. With every new contraction, I could feel them getting stronger and working to bring Major down in to my pelvis. In between contractions, I rested in Child’s Pose, and took sips of Laborade. I asked for a snack, and my doula brought up Yogurt. I wanted to make sure I was strong in case the labor took longer than I anticipated. I took a few bites of yogurt, and felt a super strong contraction coming on. I called to Kyle to come hold me. He pressed down on my hips and led me through the contraction. As soon as it passed, I felt a huge wave of nausea. “Grab the bag!” I yelled. During my labor with Marlowe, I had puked about 8 times all over the place as my cervix expanded (when your cervix opens it can release lots of hormones which can make you nauseous) and so I was prepared! Ha! He grabbed a garbage bag nearby and I threw up like crazy. I remembered from my last labor how every time I puked my cervix had opened significantly, and I knew that I was dilating quickly.
As if on cue, another contraction came over me, and almost knocked the breath out of me. Without even thinking to, I screamed to Kyle “Call the midwives! NOW!” The midwives had been coming from an hour away and were due any moment. He went to call them just as they were coming up the driveway. “Hi Mama,” my midwife said, smiling, as she walked through the doorway to our bedroom. “You’re having a baby this afternoon.” Just seeing her calmed me down immediately. Both of my midwives have the greatest, most soothing, maternal energy. She came over and gave me a big hug and kiss and asked how I was feeling. “Like I want this baby out of me,” I replied. Charming as ever!! LOL. Just then another contraction came over me, and she checked his heartbeat as I rode the wave. He was doing great. She checked my blood pressure and pulse after I was done with the contraction, and I was also doing great! I begged her to check my cervix. After my long labor last time, I was desperate to know how dilated I was. I just felt like the contractions were so intense that I needed to know we were well on our way– that this wouldn’t last forever. She checked me. “You are eight centimeters.” Kyle told me later that he doesn’t think he’s ever seen me smile so big in all the years we’ve known each other. So there you go, Major! That’s all you, buddy! Haha.
After hearing that my labor was progressing so quickly, I got a burst of energy. It’s as if my fears got totally swept away, and I realized for the first time that this was a different birth, a different experience, and a different baby. I looked out at the gorgeous, sunny day. Kyle had opened a window next to the bed to let some fresh air in, and a breeze blew through on my face. I was ready to do this. For the next hour, the most intense contractions I’ve ever felt rocked my body. Kyle, my Doula, and the Midwives all took turns holding me and encouraging me. Every time the waves would come, I would lift up on to my hands and knees and let out deep guttural moans, rocking back and forth. My Midwife kept reminding me to keep the sounds low and grounded. Kyle kept telling me to think the word “Yes” as I rode the waves of my body opening and releasing, to accept this openness and to call Major down. “Come On, Major!” I cried as I pushed my head in to the pillow.
I began to get the urge to bear down. Without even thinking about it, during the peak of my contractions I felt my body pushing and opening. In between the waves, I noticed on the periphery the midwives getting rubber gloves on and gathering supplies. I knew what was coming. Kyle got to the side of me, and with the next contraction I felt my perineum stretching like fire and so much pressure. “Wow! Eva! He is still in his water sack! Feel this!” As I rested between contractions, (rested is an overstatement when your kid’s head is crowning and just hanging out like that) my Midwife guided my hand to feel the top of his head. There he was, still inside his squishy, warm water sack! Just then, another strong contraction came over me. I felt his head pop out. They kind of pulled on it a bit I could feel some tugging. “Okay, now push Eva. Push his shoulders out. Nice and steady.” With my next contraction, I pushed with all my might and felt him slip out. And then the gush of water as his sack finally opened.
I stood up on my knees and they passed our son in to my arms! I looked down. He was so warm and perfect– and BIG! His hands were huge! His fingers so long! And tons of dark hair. I felt so much joy, and so so so much relief in that moment. They guided me to hold him with his head down so any fluid could drain out of his mouth and nose. I felt invincible. Every color seemed brighter in the room, every feeling I had was vibrating like magic. I turned to Kyle, laughing. He was grinning so big, lighting up the room. We kissed and I felt the love of the whole universe. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerful in my life. I lay back and put our son on my chest, they wrapped a towel around him. The room was buzzing with joy. The midwives could stop talking about his “en caul” delivery! I had heard of it before– its auspicious significance. The Midwife’s assistant came to the bedside and asked if I had seen the ladybug. “What Ladybug?” I asked her. “Right as you were pushing him out, a ladybug flew through the window and was crawling on your arms. I tried brushing it off but it kept coming back to you.” I mean!! How many signs do you need?! This was truly a blessed experience. I thought to all the ancestors and loved ones I had called on as my labor had begun and silently thanked them for this gift.
I looked down at Major. His eyes were open and he was staring up at me. I thought about my miscarriage and the child we had lost, the pain we had endured as a family. In that moment, as our son gazed at me, I realized that everything– all the pain and the heartache– had brought us to this moment and had brought us him. I understood finally that this was the child that was meant for me to hold in my arms and to raise. I understood that my sweet, deep and internal relationship with the baby who I held only briefly inside me had had its own purpose– and that we had lived a lifetime together in those nine short weeks. Finally, finally, finally, I trusted the journey and the process and the Universe. I was healed. For the first time in a year and a half, it felt ok to just be deliriously happy. And so I was.
All in all, my labor lasted five hours. A lot happened after, of course. We examined me, examined Major, and gave him a full physical and his vitamin K shot. They helped me take a shower and put on clean, comfy clothes. The vibe in the room was so relaxed and cheerful. The sun was still shining through the windows and we were all rehashing the birth like we used to rehash a great college party the morning after. We laughed a lot, going over the details, joking about it all. Like, for example, how Kyle had spent almost two hours filling up a huge birthing tub with warm water and I had never even stepped one toe in to it. Funny, right Kyle? LOL. Here I was, lying in my bedroom with a tribe of amazing women, my beloved husband, and a fresh-outta-the-oven baby boy who I already loved fiercely. He was doing great, I was doing great, and our family was complete.
During my pregnancy, I had so many fears and trepidations– so many bouts of anxiety, worries about how I was feeling, if I was feeling the right things, or how my feelings were affecting my family and myself. I wondered often if I was enough to birth and parent a second child– strong enough, good enough, loving enough. What I learned from my son’s birth is that fearing the future is normal, but a waste of time. The very thing I had feared turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had– so perfect in all the ways I needed it to be. I’m forever grateful to everyone around me who pushed me up the hill these past ten months, encouraging me, loving me, listening to me, and assuring me that everything would work out in the end. I am so grateful to them, and to my body, for sticking with me and by me– for being enough in all ways to bring my son to me. Finally. Finally. Finally.