It’s taken me a bit of time to sit down and finally write out Clive’s birth story. Part of the reason is that he doesn’t let me put him down for more than a few minutes at a time, so blogging has been a challenge, but aside from that I was still just processing it all. After Fern’s birth I felt strong and empowered and this time I just felt relieved that it was over. It took me awhile to figure out why that was. I delivered healthy babies both times and did it drug-free, so why did one feel less “successful” than the other? After spending time thinking about it I’ve realized that it all boils down to expectations. Despite my best efforts to get rid of my expectations surrounding this birth, I still had them. My daughter arrived three days early and her birth was 12 hours, so I was totally certain that my son would be born more quickly and easily. Everyone swears up and down that second babies come with easier births because your body already knows what to do. This didn’t end up being the case for me (Hello 10 lb. 8 oz., 23″ long, posterior baby boy!) and I think that was why I felt disappointed in a weird way. So basically this story is also about me learning to let go of my expectations and realizing that my son is already very different than my daughter and I can’t expect them to do things the same way. Clive definitely has his own way of doing things already.
Here’s how it went…
I was four days past my “due date” when our little Clive decided to make his leisurely debut Earth side. My due date of June 4th came and went and every day beyond it felt excruciatingly long. I tried to keep myself (and my toddler) busy by making plenty of plans for us in those post due days. Play dates and donut outings and girly pampering nights with Fern. It was great, but I was still so impatient. Even though I knew in my head that a due date really just meant “guess date” it didn’t make the waiting any easier…especially since Fern was early.
That Saturday night, June 7th my friends Becca and Echo took me out for some girl time. We went to Bollywood Theater and had delicious Indian food followed by ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s (the line at Salt & Straw was way too ridiculous to even attempt…regardless of my pregnant cravings). I enjoyed some New York Super Fudge Chunk and we talked about babies and parenting fears until it was late and then I came home and headed to bed.
Sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 AM I thought I had started feeling contractions. Weirdly enough I had kind of forgotten what a contraction felt like since it had been nearly two-and-a-half years since I last had one, so I wasn’t totally convinced this was it. During my labor with Fern the contractions were immediately unmistakable and regular so I never really questioned it. These, while fairly regular, weren’t very intense.
After having a few I started tracking them in the Full Term app on my phone anyway and after about an hour I saw that they were about two minutes apart, lasting for about 40 seconds. That seemed pretty close so I texted my midwife. Because my labor with Fern progressed pretty quickly and was only 12 hours (despite her difficult brow presentation and the fact that I pushed for about three hours) we were all on alert that this birth would probably progress more quickly. Because my contractions weren’t super intense and I could talk through them, I was hesitant to have my midwife come over, but she decided to come check me out anyway.
At this point I woke Craig up and told him I had been having contractions for the past hour and a half and that he should probably start setting up the birth tub. He got up and set to work while I continued having contractions in bed. Fern was sleeping in the other room and I texted my parents to tell them they could probably come get her soon.
By the time my midwife Kristen arrived around 7:00 AM contractions had slowed to every 20-30 minutes. She checked Clive’s heart tones and hung out for awhile in case things picked back up. She had me get up and move a bit, so I went out to collect eggs from our chicken coop and did some laps in our backyard forest. Things picked up a bit, but not much so she left and told me to text her when things got going again.
At this point I texted my friend and photographer Caroline to let her know I was in labor. She had documented my pregnancy from the beginning, capturing our birth announcement photos and maternity shots and we had talked about her coming to document Clive’s birth story as well, but I didn’t really think it was going to work out. She lives near San Francisco and we live in Portland, so I figured there was a pretty slim chance she would actually make it in time, but after texting her that I was in labor she immediately texted back: “Can I book a flight?!” Since contractions had slowed down, I figured why not? So she booked a 12:30 flight and would be arriving around 3:00 PM.
My parents came to pick up Fern and then Craig and I just hung out. We started watching some dumb movie with Ryan Reynolds and my sweet neighbor popped by with lunch for us. Then Craig’s parents came by with Jamba Juice per my request and hung out for a bit. Around then my contractions started getting closer (about 5 minutes apart) and the intensity increased. I texted Kristen and she called the assisting midwife and her apprentice to head over.
By the time Kristen arrived my contractions had gotten stronger and closer together (about 3 minutes apart). I was still handling them really well. I mostly stood and leaned over at the kitchen counter during them so I could focus my breathing through them. In between I put on some lipstick and earrings (because priorities) and around 4:00 my mom dropped Caroline off, fresh from the airport and ready to snap birth photos. She arrived at a good time, because a couple of hours later things got much more intense, so I was glad she was able to capture some calm and smiling moments from the birth.
Shortly after Caroline’s arrival my contractions grew more challenging and I knew I wanted to get in the tub so Craig started filling it up. While I waited I tried some other positions to get comfortable, including a yoga ball dropped off by a neighbor, but it wasn’t helping much. I decided to get in the shower for a bit while the tub finished filling which was a little better, but I was definitely relieved to finally get in the tub.
Once I was in the tub I never wanted to leave. I really enjoyed the water during my labor with Fern in the big birthing center tubs, but the inflatable tub was way better. The bottom of the tub was and inflated cushion and so much more comfortable for my legs. It was small enough to offer me support to lean into as well. I can’t remember what time my water broke, but I think it was sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 PM. Up until that point I didn’t really need much support and handled the contractions on my own, but after my water broke things got intense.
The next 4-5 hours ish got real. After my water broke I felt the urge to push, so with almost every contraction there was a push. The only problem with this was that Clive wasn’t down far enough to actually make much pushing progress…he was sort of stuck. Well…maybe “stuck” is the wrong word since he eventually came out…just a big baby trying to make his way out of a not so big space. As I’m writing this I keep imagining that scene in the movie Tommy Boy where Chris Farley puts on David Spade’s coat and starts singing “Fat guy in a little coat”. In our scenario Clive would be Chris Farley and my vagine would be David Spade’s coat. A weird analogy, but weirdly accurate.
Anyway, aside from all of my not-so-productive pushing, Clive was also so big that he pretty much filled up every square inch of me which meant that part of him was pressed up against my sacrum during the pfushing stage. Baby pushed up against a sacrum = back labor = me yelling/grunting/moaning/screaming through the vast majority of my contractions for the remaining hours of labor. I’m not gonna lie…it was pretty un-zen. I know that some people have super peaceful birthing experiences, but in my experiences birth is far more primal. On some level it makes me feel like I’m “doing it wrong”, but birth is so different for everyone, so I guess a little yelling doesn’t make it less of a success, right?
After the first couple of hours my midwives checked my progress to make sure I was dilated all the way and didn’t have any cervical lip still hanging out or something. I didn’t. But that was when they told me he was still a good ways up there and suggested that I try some different positions to encourage him to come down. I tried the bed. No way. Wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced. Not pretty. So, I ended up on the toilet like last time. It was way less comfortable, but I tried to hang out for as many contractions as I could before it was unbearable and I had to get back in the tub.
I did this back and forth from the toilet to the tub for the rest of my labor and during that time I had moments of strength and moments of defeat. I begged Clive to please just come out. We prayed. I told Craig I couldn’t do it anymore…that I was too tired. I fell asleep in between every push and during each contraction I squeezed Craig’s hand (and sometimes Caroline or my midwives’ hands if he needed a bathroom break) with white knuckles. I lost track of time for the most part since there were no clocks and all of the curtains were drawn, but then my nightly “take your iron” reminder alarm went off on my phone and I cried because then I knew it was 9:30 PM and I still had no baby to show for all of my discomfort.I was beginning to feel like I was going to be in labor for the rest of my life. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but I just kept trying to find my center and bring myself back in even though every part of me was looking for a way to escape my body. Eventually I could feel that my baby really was “right there” and ready to be pushed out…and then came the worst part.
I’m not telling you this to make anyone fearful of birth, because it is not a fearful experience. It is natural and beautiful and our bodies know what to do. That said, it’s not a walk in the park. Birth is no joke and pushing is my least favorite part. I think it’s probably because I’ve had to challenging babies…a brow presentation and a massive linebacker posterior baby, but for some reason pushing is just really long and difficult for me. In many of my birthing books the women sharing birth stories always talk about how wonderful pushing was and how it felt so good to actually be able to do something productive, but I do not share this sentiment. In my experience, pushing blows.
I felt the “ring of fire” multiple times before Clive finally came out…like he was right there, but then my contraction would end and he’d get sucked back up. I kinda freaked out at that point and started saying “I don’t want him to come out! I’m not ready! I can’t do it!” That’s how I knew he was about to be born…because I had reached the “panic stage”. Orgasmic birthers: I am jealous of you, because this was nothing like that.
After awhile and with one strong contraction, Clive’s head came out. It freaked me out a little to just have a baby head hanging out there, since I never experienced that with Fern. When I had her she came out in one single push like a torpedo, so this was a very different experience. After his head came out I closed my eyes and rested. I was exhausted at this point and my body must’ve known because it decided to give me a break from all the contractions. That would’ve been all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that my baby was already halfway out and needed to hurry up and be born. The midwives were timing everything in between checking Clive’s heart tones (they sounded great the entire time) and I could hear them whispering to each other and could tell it was taking longer than they wanted. After close to five minutes they said we needed to get this baby out and that they wanted Craig to try some nipple stimulation to get a contraction going.
If you know me, you probably know that my first thought (despite my exhaustion) was “Hell no!” I’m a pretty modest person so the idea of my husband performing nipple stimulation on me in front of anyone else…ummm no. Obviously I would do anything for the safety of our baby, but I wasn’t stoked about it. Apparently my body knew and as they were hurrying Craig over to get things going I had another contraction.
The force of Clive exiting my body pretty much felt like crapping a bowling ball…not even kidding…and my knee-jerk reaction was to stand up out of the tub. Then everyone started shouting, “Don’t sit down!” because he had already taken a breath out of the water so technically I didn’t have him via water birth. I’m not actually sure who caught him because pretty much all hands were on deck at that point, but the point is someone caught him and handed him to me and he was chubby and perfect.
Clive Clarke Hartmann
Born, June 8th 2014 at 10:43 PM
Weight: 10 lbs. 8 oz., Length: 23″, Head: 15″
The first thing I said was, “Does he have all his fingers and toes?” I didn’t cry, but I was happy to have him in my arms and to be done with labor. All in all it was about 19 hours of labor…7 hours longer than my labor with Fern. I had 3 hours of pushing with her and around 4.5 hours of pushing with Clive. He weighed just over two pounds more than she did and he was two inches longer. Oh…and did I mention he was posterior? Ummm…yeah. Apparently my babies like to throw me curve balls with their tricky positioning (Fern was a brow presentation birth). Overall it was way more challenging, but I did it.
I still maintain that I am not a “tough girl” or a “hippie” or really anyone who you would even remotely consider to have a natural birth, much less a home birth. But challenges aside, I still believe that if I can do it then anyone can. I know it’s not easy and that sometimes natural birth just isn’t an option, but our bodies are far more capable than we give them credit for. If you would’ve asked me a few years ago if I thought I could deliver a 10 & 1/2 pound baby at home without drugs I would’ve laughed in your face, but I did it.
I also want to say that I loved the experience of being at home in my own environment way more than I ever thought I would and I adored my team of midwives (here is a link to my midwife Kristen Downer who I highly recommend if you’re looking for one!). They each had unique strengths that helped to make my experience wonderful and safe.
So basically birth is rad…no matter how it turns out. And sometimes the best things in life come when we learn to let go and just let them happen. I’m still learning this lesson!
Love and birth,
P.S. All of these lovely photos were taken by Caroline Dahlberg of Coeur de La Photography and she’s fantastic! I’ll be sharing the rest of the photos she took of Clive’s birth and his first days of life later this week once I get them resized and watermarked, but I had to share a couple. I can’t even begin to say how amazing it was to have her capture our story and what a beautiful job she did and I can’t wait to show you the rest of the photos!
P.P.S. If you want to listen to my birth story, check out my interview over at The Birth Hour podcast series!