. . . . .
My labor with Sam was only 5 hours, which is very quick compared to most first births. My midwives and I were a bit concerned about the possibility of this baby coming even more quickly, so they told me to call them the MINUTE I thought I was in labor, and not to wait until the standard 1 minute long contractions–5 minutes apart–for one hour rule. For Sam, I had been 3cm dilated and 70% effaced starting at my 38 week appointment, and got up to 5cm and almost completely effaced days before I went into labor. I’d also had a decent number of Braxton Hicks contractions (generally not painful – just a clenching tightness all across my belly) for a few weeks before I went into labor for real.
This time, fairly intense contractions started much earlier (34 or 35 weeks), and were often painful enough to take my breath away. I couldn’t walk or speak through them, and they often came as frequently as 5 minutes apart for a half hour or so. But they never showed a pattern of progression and also would let up fairly quickly after I lay down and/or drank some water. So after one early cervical check where I was deemed definitely NOT going into preterm labor, my midwives weren’t concerned and just told me to take it easy whenever I felt myself contracting. Not always feasible with an incredibly active 2 year old, but basically I learned to pretty much ignore my frequent contractions for a couple months.
At my 38 week appointment I requested a cervical check just out of curiosity, since my doctors in NYC had done them starting at 37 weeks and I wondered if my body was preparing itself similarly to how it had with Sam. It was almost exactly the same! 3cm and 80% effaced. My midwife warned me that it didn’t mean labor was imminent, which I obviously realized based on my experience with Sam, but I was still glad to see that at least I wasn’t behind where I’d been with him at that point.
Then, when I was 39 weeks pregnant, Sam caught the norovirus. He woke up in the middle of the night vomiting, and it went on for hours and hours. He was miserable and all he wanted to do was snuggle with his Mama to make himself feel better. He had never been even 1/100th that sick before, so I was powerless against his sad little whimpers for Mama, and just tried to avoid the vomit as much as I could, while my husband John cleaned up the lion’s share of it.
I was terrified that I might catch it and, even worse, that the sickness could kickstart labor, which seemed like literally the worst way to go into labor and have to deal with while laboring. Then, exactly 3 days after Sam got sick… John caught it. He was up all night, just as miserable as Sam had been, which only seemed to confirm that it was inevitable that I’d get it too. That day I had a midwife appointment, and spent the entire time talking about whether or not a stomach bug could trigger labor, how they’d handle that logistically, and if it would increase my chances of requiring transfer from the birthing center (where I hoped to deliver) to the hospital.
When I pushed my midwife to give me a straight answer on whether the spasms from vomiting and diarrhea could legitimately start labor, she hemmed and hawed, finally saying, “Would God really be so cruel?”
This was not very reassuring. I said as much and she finally admitted that, well yes, it could. “It would be miserable, you would be miserable, we would be miserable, but we would deal with it and get that baby out, and after a few days you wouldn’t be sick anymore and you’d have your baby!”
NOT really what I was hoping to hear. She also confirmed what I’d heard from another friend — that it typically cycled through families with a 3 day incubation. The fact that John had caught it exactly 3 days after Sam made me certain I’d catch it in 3 more days…which was exactly my due date.
I was already exhausted and sick with a cold, as was my mother who was staying with us to watch Sam when I went into labor. So I was torn between trying to kickstart labor ASAP and having to risk being sick with a newborn, or waiting it out and hoping I didn’t get norovirus, or if I did that it didn’t trigger labor. But since many second labors are earlier relative to your due date than first children, it really seemed to be a race against the clock either way. I asked my midwife her advice and she highly recommended waiting and hoping that everyone in the house could get healthy before the baby was born. She even refused to do a cervical check on me because she was worried that it could kickstart labor!
So back home we went to wait it out after spending another half hour discussing all the contingencies which would necessitate delivering at a hospital — an emergency for me, an emergency for another woman in labor at the same time, if my labor stalled or I decided I wanted an epidural after all, blah blah blah. Again, I was reassured that while yes, all of these were possible, if I really wanted to deliver at the birthing center, the odds were overwhelmingly on my side that I would not require transfer.
where I hoped to deliver. (image source)
My mom was kind enough to come early because I was freaking out about what would happen to Sam if I went into labor before she got here. Our best plan for who would watch him was friends who would take at least an hour to get to us to pick him up, which might be more time than we’d have if I did have a quick labor. She spent almost all of the next few days with Sam while I just lay around drinking a ton of water and trying to take it easy… and not get sick. My cold went away and I got some good sleep. I didn’t have any norovirus symptoms….
The night before my due date (which was also 3 days exactly after John got sick… exactly 3 days after Sam had), I was still terrified of catching norovirus, but also at that level of impatient frustration that only a full term pregnant woman can know. I rationally understood that my midwife had given me the appropriate advice and that it would be best to wait as long as we could to allow the baby to enter a healthy household, but I was SO DONE being pregnant. This pregnancy was a million times harder on me than Sam’s pregnancy had been. I was in constant pain from less than 20 weeks (back and pelvis mainly) and had been far more nauseous and fatigued than with Sam, and had terrible heartburn and acid reflux every minute of the day for months. I could barely move and every position was excruciating. I wanted the baby out and had a nonstop running argument in my head for why I should do whatever I could to have the baby RIGHT NOW vs. why I should try to wait. Sam was upset that I wasn’t playing with him hardly at all and was constantly in a bad mood, and I wasn’t really pleasant for anyone to be around.
As the Friday night before my Saturday due date progressed, John or my mom suggested that John and I go out for our last kid-free date for what was sure to be a very long time while my mom stayed with Sam. We made a reservation at a fancy restaurant near us that we hadn’t tried before, and I tried to get excited about it while secretly hoping I’d be in labor before the time of the reservation rolled around. With Sam, I’d been told I’d have the baby “any minute now!!!” for almost a month before he was born, and now I was just as dilated and effaced except that second kids are supposed to come earlier. Yet my due date was only hours away and I was miserable.
We went to dinner, and much to my surprise I was able to really enjoy it! We ate way too much and lingered over dessert and had a lot of fun. Winter Storm Nemo was in full force by the time we headed home, but only a dusting of snow was on the ground by then. When I got home I felt a bit ill, which was normal for overeating with such a tiny squished stomach, but I didn’t think anything of it and felt back to normal within less than an hour.
We got ready for bed and I actually forgot for a few hours that the turn to midnight would mean both that it was my turn for norovirus and my due date. I went to bed happy.
At 3:37 AM I woke up with intense stomach cramping. It didn’t feel at all like the contractions I’d been having for months now (or the ones I had with Sam), but like I needed to urgently sprint to the bathroom. Of course, I was unable to sprint at exactly 40 weeks pregnant, but I managed to grunt and groan myself out of bed and make it to the bathroom in time. Sam had woken up an hour or two earlier and John had gone up to his room and promptly fallen asleep in his bed with him (with the door shut, on the 3rd floor). And my mom was asleep on the first floor with no hearing aids in, so I didn’t disturb anyone as I hobbled to the bathroom. I made sure the door was shut tightly so I wouldn’t wake anyone. While I did feel quite sick, I was hopeful at first that it was just from overeating very rich food at dinner.
Soon, it was evident that it was not just from the rich meal. I had caught the norovirus. I was in so much pain and so sick that all I wanted was to curl up in bed, but I was tied to the toilet. Time kept passing and I kept getting sicker and sicker. After a while I came to enough to ask myself the question, “could I be having contractions??”
I squished on my belly during a painful spasm but it didn’t seem to have the characteristic tightness of a contraction, and the spasms felt SO different from any labor or pre-labor I’d experienced before. I considered this a good sign that norovirus hadn’t started labor yet. Even though the spasms came in waves with brief moments of respite in between, I was in no position to remotely consider trying to time them, and they really just did not feel AT ALL like contractions. They felt exactly like a bad stomach bug, and exactly like John had described his sickness to me.
The pain kept getting worse and after an hour or so I was sobbing alone in the bathroom, desperately wishing that I was in labor instead, because then at least the pain would be productive. This pain was doing nothing other than making me miserable and terrified of trying to labor and birth a baby while I was so sick. Everyone else in the house was still asleep, but a bit after 5:00 I started considering waking someone. It had been well over an hour and I just wasn’t feeling any better at all. But there wasn’t anything anyone could do for me, so I stuck it out.
At around 5:30, my stomach symptoms seemed to stop fairly abruptly. I was half asleep and sore and sweaty and miserable, but I remember opening my eyes and thinking, “Hey! I don’t feel like dying right at this second!” I had been frantically googling “how long does norovirus last” in between bouts of playing Snood on my phone and had never found a satisfying answer, but both John’s and Sam’s acute sickness lasted several hours before tapering off to a few days of not-feeling-great. After 2 hours, was I finally reaching the end of my acute phase?!?
Then I had a feeling of just desperately wanting to push this out that I believed to be constipation. I was feeling better now, but all I could think was, if I can just finish emptying out my system then I can get back into bed. I strained for a moment but nothing. Then I thought, waaaaiiiiiittttt a minute. How is there possibly anything left in my system to empty after what I’ve been doing the past 2 hours?!? I felt all the blood drain out of my face as I thought, oh god, could this be urge to push?!? There’s no way I could have been in labor but not noticed it… is there???
I put my hand down to check and everything felt normal so I breathed a sigh of relief. I was just paranoid about norovirus triggering labor. I wasn’t in labor. I just needed to finish evacuating my system so I could go climb back in bed. Then I had that intense need to squeeze everything out again. I squeezed as hard as I could. And then I felt different. Very very different. I put my hand down, but this time I felt a wet little skull, covered with thick hair, sticking out of me about an inch.
The whole world stopped for a moment. If I hadn’t been sitting (on the toilet, still) I might have just fallen right over. Gradually my heart started beating again and I took a deep breath. Okay. So apparently I WAS in labor. And I was going to have the baby at home. I should get John. I called him on his cell phone which he’d taken up to Sam’s room, but the ringer was off. I thought about screaming but at this point I still didn’t want to wake my mom. I called John’s phone again, but still no answer. I thought for a moment and concluded that, well, I guess it was more important to have someone there than risk waking someone who could be sleeping. I screamed “JOOOHNNN!!!!” Nothing. ”MOOOOMMMMMM???” Nothing. ”JOOOOOOHNNNN??????” Still nothing.
Since I couldn’t get ahold of anyone in the house, I called my midwife’s on-call line. Jade answered, sounding a bit groggy. I had clearly woken her. I managed to spit out, one on top of the other, “I-caught-norovirus-I-didn’t-know-I-was-in-labor-I-just-thought-I-was-sick-but-now-the-baby’s-head-is-sticking-out-I-can’t-get-John-he-won’t-answer-his-phone.”
To my amazement, she seemed to understand. She asked where John was.
“Isn’t your mom there too?”
Later, Jade told me a chill went down her spine when I said that because it seemed so creepy that I’d be alone in my bathroom screaming my head off having a baby with a whole house full of people sleeping peacefully around me. But at that moment, she just had a very no-nonsense tone and commanded me, “You have to wake someone up. There are two adults in your household. You need them. Do whatever you have to do to wake them up.”
Crying in agony, I hobbled to the bathroom door and swung it open. I screamed again. ”JOOOOOHNNNN!!!! MOOOOOMMMMM!!!!! JOOOOOOOOHNNNNNN!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”
Finally, I heard my mom’s panicky half-asleep voice.
“Laura??? Are you okay???”
“Mom, I’m having the baby RIGHT NOW. Go get John out of Sam’s room!!!”
She sprinted past me and got John as another contraction had me screaming at the top of my lungs. Sam woke up from the commotion and started crying, so my mom stayed with him as John ran groggily down the stairs to find me slumped on the bathroom floor.
The second I knew someone was coming, I’d just collapsed in relief and exhaustion and pain. I really wanted to be back on the toilet, but I remembered from Sam’s birth that many different people had had to scream, “DO NOT HAVE THE BABY IN THE TOILET!” at me. They had to physically drag me to the hospital bed when I refused to move, so I figured lying on the strip of floor next to the door (on the bathmat!) was better than “pooping out the baby” which I had been explicitly told not to do so many times. It is also worth mentioning that the floor there is about 18 inches wide, between a storage unit and the bathtub, so I had to throw one leg into the tub. I didn’t have anything to lean back on since the door was wide open.
Jade had John switch my phone to speaker and told him to check what he could see. He told her the baby’s head was clearly visible. As she tried to give him instructions, I had another contraction and screamed over everything she was saying. The second I stopped, she shrieked at John to gather two towels immediately to catch the baby in and that the most important thing was to check that the cord wasn’t around the baby’s neck. If it was around the neck, he had to gently pull it up over the chin BEFORE Laura pushes out the rest of the body.
No sooner than she’d finished saying that – and literally only that – did another contraction hit. I pushed because there was no way I could NOT push, and pop! There was the baby’s head!! John yelled into the phone, “BABY’S HEAD OUT!” and Jade told John to catch it in the towel and check for the cord. It wasn’t around his neck, so just a small second push got the rest of his body out. John caught him in my regular used bath towel and he was perfect. His greyish skin instantly pinked up and he started crying before he was even all the way out. Jade had John wipe him down with the towel he’d caught him in, then wrap him in a dry towel and hand him to me. I pulled my robe out of the way and laid him against my chest for skin to skin. He was absolutely perfect, with thick black hair, much more than Sam had had. He started rooting to nurse within seconds, and latched on before we even realized what had happened. It was 5:47am, barely 2 hours after my “sickness” had awoken me from a deep sleep.
When I tell this story, many people are terrified and almost everyone says, “you must have been so scared!!” But the truth is, since I had only realized I was in labor for about 15 minutes, and the intense biological need to push was so dominant, I honestly hadn’t thought about it at all. It wasn’t until after I saw my perfect boy squirming in his father’s arms and crying that it even occurred to me that things could have ended differently.
At this point, we got a bit more info from Jade. She was about a 20 minute drive away, but she was currently scraping ice off her car because it was, of course, also the night of the big snowstorm. She would be here as soon as she could, but we just needed to give her a little more information first to determine if I needed to go to a hospital before she’d be able to reach us. She had John assess my bleeding (“Well, just make sure it’s not abnormal.” ”How much is abnormal?!” ”You know, excessive.” ”????”) and asked how I felt.
Honestly, I felt AMAZING!!! All of my pains had instantly vanished. My stomach felt 100% back to normal, and even my persistent pregnancy aches and pains seemed to be gone. I was high on adrenaline and hormones and I was holding the most perfect baby in the world (well, a tie for first place) and it was OVER!!!
Around then, maybe 2 minutes after the birth, my mom noticed that it was quiet downstairs. She called out “John? Everything okay?” not expecting an answer, certain we’d left for the birthing center by then. She almost fell over in shock when John calmly replied, “Yep, everything’s good! The baby’s here!” She asked if she could bring Sam down to meet him. We said sure! Less than 5 minutes after his brother was born, Sam was peering over my shoulder wide-eyed, as we told him, “This is your brother! This is Ian!”
My mom decided to take Sam down for breakfast since it was nearly 6:00 by this point, so that we could finish doing what we needed to do without him being scared by the gore of it all. After he was settled, she came back up and got me a pillow to lean against while John ran downstairs to get a bucket (as requested by Jade) for the placenta. At this point, my mom started getting worried. She thought my face was starting to look pale, even though I felt great and Jade seemed to think I had normal bleeding, based on John’s description. My mom asked if we should call 911. Jade replied in a calm but confident voice, “If you would feel more comfortable calling 911, absolutely do it. But I just want you to know that if you call them, they’re legally required to take Laura out on a stretcher and admit her to the hospital. From everything I’m hearing right now, it sounds as though both she and the baby are doing great, and I can be there in 15 minutes to do a more thorough exam on both of them. If anything at all seems abnormal, then we’ll still have to go to the hospital, but from what I’m hearing, we might be able to safely avoid that and have a less chaotic birth experience, since I know Laura was hoping to deliver in the birthing center.”
Since I still felt fantastic, Jade was so close by now, and Ian was clearly doing well, we decided to wait. My mom, who I certainly can’t blame for being nervous!!, was not entirely on board. But she agreed that Ian looked strong and healthy and thought the color was returning to my face, so she just made us swear that if I suddenly seemed worse, we’d call 911 even if Jade was moments away by then. We agreed and she went back downstairs to Sam.
By now, maybe 15 minutes had passed since Ian had been born. I was getting more comfortable with my pillow and a blanket (I was shivering and freezing cold, but Jade assured us that was normal), and Ian was alternating between nursing and kicking and crying. Jade asked for the 10th time if there was any progress on the placenta. There still wasn’t. She said that the window for safely delivering it was getting smaller, so we should try to help it along. She tried to coach John how to massage my uterus and had him gently gently tug on the cord. I passed a few clots, which John humorously described to Jade as the size of chicken gizzards… and when she had no idea what that meant, he clarified with “slightly larger than chicken hearts.” Jade, who I think might be a vegetarian, asked, “could we please compare the size to something that’s NOT a chicken organ??”
Jade had me try to push the placenta out, which was infinitely more frustrating and painful than pushing Ian out had been because I had zero urge to push, and I was now starting to feel sore when I tensed those muscles again and where I had torn. She stayed calm as she continued to coach us while driving here, but we could sense her voice getting more and more anxious as time kept passing with no progress. Finally, I had an urge to push and the placenta whooshed out all at once. Jade had John pick it up and examine it for tears or missing pieces. He couldn’t see any, so she had him place it in the bucket – still attached to Ian – and just wait until she showed up, hopefully in about 5 minutes.
With that done, we finally hung up with Jade and were able to just look at our baby and ruminate on his surprise arrival for a moment. Poor John hadn’t even been awake a half hour at this point, and had been awake barely 10 minutes before catching his baby on the bathroom floor.
Jade rang the doorbell and my mom went to let her in – shocked to find her on the phone!! Apparently another woman had just called her saying she was in labor, but Jade told her to stay home for her early labor because she sounded like she was still many hours away. When my mom showed Jade upstairs, she was amused to find us all still in the bathroom. She asked why we hadn’t moved to the bed yet. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me, but my mom said she thought it was like a broken leg – you don’t want to risk making it worse by moving before the doctor arrives. Jade laughed and helped us lay out trash bags and towels on the bed for me to lie on. I definitely felt feeble walking across the house to my bed 20 minutes after giving birth, and it was a very strange sensation carrying the baby while John followed with the placenta in a bucket still attached to him!!
Once we got settled into bed, Jade gave Ian and me a more thorough exam. While she deemed my tearing “second degree…but VERY messy,” she said everything with Ian was perfection, and guessed he was well over 7 pounds. She didn’t see any problems after examining the placenta*, so she rummaged in her bag for a cord clamp… but couldn’t find one. Finally she asked in a slightly embarrassed tone, “Do you have any dental floss?” Luckily she did have her surgical scissors, so she finally cut the cord after tying it around several times with our floss. Waxed, mint flavor.
As she checked her bag, she realized she was missing a few other things she needed. She explained that even though she could tell that my blood pressure was within the acceptable range, she legally had to monitor it, and she had to weigh the baby, etc. She said we could go to the birthing center, but she really didn’t want to have to transfer us so soon after the birth so she was trying to figure out what needed to be done now and what could wait. Then she (happily) decided to call a nurse friend who she knew was working the overnight shift but would be getting off at 6:00. Her friend was indeed just off duty, and agreed to bring her bag over to our house so Jade could use her blood pressure cuff and scale etc.
Ian weighed 8 pounds even and was 20.5 inches! And all of the additional health checks for both of us were perfect. After Jade had been here maybe a half hour, she said, “You know…we might not actually have to go to the birthing center at all if you don’t want to. If you don’t mind, I can just hang out on your sofa for a few hours and do intermittent checks and if everything continues looking good, you won’t have to go anywhere.”
Yes, please!!! Even though I had never previously had any interest in a home birth, now all I could think about was how amazing it was to be lying in my own bed, have Sam climb up to snuggle with us, for everyone to have enough space to be comfortable, and to send my mom down to my own kitchen to prepare exactly the meal that I suddenly felt like I needed desperately (blueberry greek yogurt, english muffin with honey & butter, coconut water). Jade was a bit concerned about my hydration and the first coconut water John brought me (pineapple) tasted like vomit to me for some reason. He found a chocolate flavored one that was SO SO GOOD and I slowly began to replenish my fluids. Ian was nursing tons and looking around very alertly. Sam was snoozy and cuddly and fascinated by the new little creature. It was infinitely preferable to the bright lights and chaos of a hospital. And so – we stayed!
All of our follow up checks were great, and Jade headed off to the other birth around 11 (where the woman was still not even close to delivering). We said our goodbyes, then she added, “So I guess it never was norovirus, was it?” I laughed and for the first time realized that it couldn’t have been norovirus that triggered labor since I felt 100% better the second he was born, so I guess I really did entirely miss that I was in labor!
After she left, John, Sam, my mom, & I all tried to wrap our minds around the fact that there was a whole new person now and we never even left the house!!!
A bit later in the morning, my mom took Sam out sledding on the hill beside our house (that people drive to from all around since it’s known to be the best sledding hill in the area) as John and I got to know our new little man.
All in all, it was clearly not the birth we were hoping for or expecting in any way, but it really was pretty incredible in retrospect. My relationship with my body had changed completely after Sam was born because I just had so much more respect for it knowing what it was able to do – and that feeling was magnified a thousand fold by Ian’s birth, where my body literally did everything completely on its own!!
My only regrets are that I didn’t realize I was in labor earlier (well, duh) because that really would have helped me cope with the pain better on an emotional level. With Sam, knowing it was “productive” pain made such a huge difference, and the fact that I felt like this was just sick pain that was potentially making everything worse was very very upsetting. If I’d known I was in labor, I could have tried some of the pain management techniques I so desperately wanted to try during my “illness” that I “knew” were pointless. I also had been really excited about laboring and delivering at the birthing center, with its cozy atmosphere and jacuzzi tub etc., and I had really really wanted our two doulas Kate & Anne to be there (long story – they offered to work together since one of them might not be available at the time of the birth and they were friends who had always wanted to attend a birth together). Kate & Anne also had a lot of positions and techniques that they had shown us that we were hoping to try out. It was just unfortunate that we had put so much planning and preparation into creating a certain type of atmosphere and experience with certain trusted people in attendance…and none of that happened.
As for the scariness aspect, there is one thing that I have heard repeatedly since then, both from my midwives and elsewhere, that has made me feel less like a crazy person for not being more scared. Apparently, if you have a very very quick labor and delivery, it almost always ends well, for both mother and baby. The majority of the time, either complications arise because of delays getting the baby out, or the complications cause a delay. So if everything progresses very quickly, generally that means there are no obstacles creating problems, and the baby and mother are also both subject to less trauma along the way. It makes sense when you think about it, even though I do have a number of friends who have had life or death scares during childbirth, so I definitely have a healthy dose of respect for the gravity of bringing another life into the world.
Regardless, now if we decide to have a third child, I was basically told that we need to plan on a home birth. If we think we have time to get to the birthing center/hospital, we are welcome to do so, but our midwives will not accept me as a patient unless we also make all of the appropriate home birth preparations to ensure that we’re not caught in the dark without the proper equipment if it were to happen again… since it’s likely that a future labor would be even SHORTER than this one!!
Anyway, here are a few pics of our perfect Boy#2!
Ian (in honor of my Scottish ancestors, although none of them were actually named Ian) Starling (my grandfather’s middle name)
*the one less-than-ideal postscript is that I did have a small piece of retained placenta which required surgical removal at 9 weeks postpartum. Apparently, it was just a fluke and unrelated to my precipitous labor, but I still felt it bore some mention since ultimately the entire birth experience was not technically without some complication. But it was an extremely minor and quick surgery and I was 100% back to normal virtually as soon as the anesthesia wore off!