Sometime after midnight on May 26th, I woke not with the usual heartburn, but with mild contractions. In the days leading up to labour, I always wonder if I’ll remember and recognize the feeling of a birth’s beginnings. I worry I won’t notice it or correctly identify it. But of course, it is unmistakeable.
Finally! I thought as I stumbled to the bathroom for a drink of water. The night was warm and muggy, the fans gently whirring in the hallway. I let P sleep: experience told me we should all just sleep, so I got back into bed, snuggling Colm to me, intensely aware that it would be the last time we’d lie in this bed in this exact way. I slept.
In the early morning, the contractions hadn’t changed much. We all got up and I told P and the boys I thought we’d be meeting the new baby sometime later today. The day began as usual: with oatmeal and green tea, and cereal for the boys. I texted my mom to tell her today would be the day, and cancelled the 41 week appointment I was supposed to have with the midwife that afternoon. Then, I tried to relax and let my body do the work while I spent my last morning as a mother of two.
Becoming a mother for a second or third time is so different from the first time. Of course it is. The excitement and anticipation are there but there is also an undercurrent of guilt, of worry that I won’t be able to divide myself to attend to them all; that I’m robbing the previous baby of his rightful babyhood, pushing him into the next stage of developement too soon.
I tried to relish that morning with the boys, tried to be loving and connected and present for them. We read books and I did the voices and I didn’t yell. I put Colm down for a nap and snuggled him so hard while I napped, too. And then, shortly before 1, I couldn’t be patient any more.
The contractions were taking more and more of my concentration. As the boys ran from one end of the house to the other, bouncing off the walls in between, I frantically texted my mom.
Can you come over now?
While we waited for her I got the boys ready to go to the park. I paced and I fretted over when to call the midwife. As soon as they were out the door, I headed upstairs to make up the bed in the birth room. Finally, I decided to page the midwife.
I couldn’t tolerate the kids any longer, I told her.
She laughed and said she was on her way.
I told P he should start filling up the birth tub. I paced some more, the contractions getting a little stronger.
When Julie, the midwife, arrived, I was dilated to 5 cm. My previous labours have been fast, but still I worried that I’d paged her too soon. In spite of my constant worry, the combo of the kids being out of the house, the midwife being there and the tub being filled acted as a powerful augment to my labour: suddenly the contractions gripped my belly, doubled me over as I tried to climb into the pool. Julie called the second midwife as I began to vocalize through my contractions.
The warm water was wonderful, relaxing, and I thought I’d have more time but it was as though my body knew I was eager to be done with pregnancy and onto the next phase. A few more strong contractions and I was sounding grunty. My vocalizations got louder, the pressure in my bottom was intense. The contractions were coming hard and fast, I was pushing and how the hell can I be pushing already? I thought. The second midwife arrived; I reached down to feel the baby’s head bulging against my perineum. Almost there, I thought, screeched, groaned between clenched teeth. As the baby’s head crowned I felt myself on the verge of losing control of myself. The pain was more intense than in either of my other labours. I just wanted this to be over! I pushed hard with that thought in mind and the head was out.
It is such an otherwordly experience to feel a head emerge from your body. I could give birth 10 times and still be awestuck each time. And then, there is a blissful pause, a strange between-worlds few moments in which I felt the baby’s body rotate. I could barely wait for the next contraction before I began to push hard, long, beyond the contraction to birth her body. Your body. You’re here now, in my arms, in this hot, stuffy room in the afternoon of May 26th. Not crying yet, eyes still closed. The midwife towels your face, flicks the soles of your feet. You oblige, and take a breath and let it out with a soft cry that gets louder. Your colour is lovely, your hair thick and dark.
A girl, your daddy says, and I don’t believe him until I look for myself.
Your brothers come bounding upstairs, they kiss your head and tell me I was too loud. Your grandma beams down at you, at us, and herds the boys downstairs. After all my earlier nostalgia, I don’t mind seeming them go. This time is for me and you.
Soon P cuts the cord and you are free of me, I am free of you, carefully getting out of the tub and settling into the bed to deliver the placenta. I look at you. We are quiet in the bustle around us, and you whisper your name to me: Charlotte.
The rest doesn’t matter, the afterbirth, the afterpains, all passing irritations. You’re here, in my arms, on my chest, sleeping already.
Welcome to the world, Charlotte Maeridh.