arlo's birth story
Arlo was born on a bright August day, blue skies and hot sunshine, at 2:02 p.m. after 12 hours of labor.
I had back pain and Braxton Hicks contractions the entire week before. With your second kid, you have a sense of what will happen in terms of the beginning of labor, but at the same time, you know nothing can be planned or controlled. At all. The fact that E’s labor and birth was so textbook actually made me more nervous with anticipation, because I knew it was a different baby and could go in a completely different direction. Still, I felt some comfort in at least having reference points, so while my back ached and my belly tightened, I didn’t think too much of it.
The Friday prior, my husband and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians with my sister and her husband, taking advantage of in-laws in town for a babysitter. After the movie, we walked to the car and all of a sudden, I felt a gush of fluid, not my water breaking, but not . . . nothing. All weekend, it kept happening, so on Monday morning, I called my midwife first thing and made an appointment to get checked. When I arrived, she said, “Ok: if it is your water slowly breaking, it’s baby day! And if not, it’s probably just very early labor.” Two extremes! After a couple quick tests they determined it was not my water breaking, and I felt extremely bummed out. Part of me was so, so ready to get this show on the road. I went back to work and mentally tried to prepare myself for another week or two of waiting. I even went to a sculpt yoga class later on, hoping maybe it would spur my body into action.
Tuesday felt normal, mostly. I was in a meeting at work and joked that I’d deliver on a project as long as I didn’t go into labor. I remember feeling kind of out of it - loopy, tired and unmotivated - but physically I felt fine. Just big.
That night, my sister and I texted about packing bags for the hospital, since we both had a baby coming. As we chatted back and forth, it occurred to me that I should probably make sure my own bag was all set. I also sent her this hilarious, heartfelt article I stumbled upon about what contractions felt like (perfect timing, in hindsight). She asked if I wanted to meet for coffee in the morning, and I said yeah probably, but I was having quite a bit of cramping and I’d let her know in the morning. Then I sent her a meme of someone shrugging, like, IDK man, we’ll see, and went to bed early.
Around 9:30, I felt a cramp that was more intense than usual. It passed, and I fell asleep, only to wake up at 11:30 to another one. Ow. I fell back asleep. Then I woke up at 2 a.m. to another cramp, and I immediately grabbed my phone to download a contraction timer. Contractions are so different for every woman, but during my first labor, it felt like a wave where the cramp or pain peaked and then slowly came back down. I instinctively knew this type of cramping was different than what I felt the entire past week; however, I didn’t want to wake Jared up for a false alarm. I just thought I’d time the contractions to see if they started to be consistent at all, just in case.
And they were. From 2 to 4 a.m., they came every ten minutes or so. I could breathe through them, but they didn’t go away if I walked around or laid down or drank water; they were uncomfortable, but not painful, and very, very consistent. During all this, Jared woke up and asked me what I was doing. I think I’m having real contractions, I said. He asked if he should get up. I said no, go back to sleep, I’ll wake you up in a little bit if it continues. Around 4, I called the midwife, who said it sounded like labor, so I could either monitor myself at home or come in. I wanted to wait a few more hours at home, because again, I wasn’t in a ton of pain. At 5 a.m., the contractions were closer to five minutes apart and a little more painful, so we decided it was better to be safe than sorry. Since E’s labor and delivery was so fast, I was nervous that this baby would arrive the same way. My water still hadn’t broken, though.
My sister came over shortly after to stay with E, and we made our way to the hospital. After getting checked in at triage, we mostly waited around and watched television, since I wasn’t too far along. Two hours later, the midwife said, “Look, here’s the deal: you’re not in active labor yet and we don’t have any rooms available. That means you can stay here and walk the halls, and be stuck in a triage room, or you can go home and see if things intensify and come back later.” She was really nice about and I knew she had our best interests at heart, but I was SO upset at the thought of going home. It felt like defeat and by this point the contractions were still 4-5 min apart and fairly painful, so I couldn’t imagine going home, plus I again felt worried that we’d go home and things would escalate quickly. She could tell I was upset. We walked around for another hour, up and down the halls, and then with no progress made, gave up.
I cried the entire way home. The nurse had told me to call back when my contractions were “more intense,” and all I could think was, HOW WILL I KNOW. Tired and overwhelmed, I took a bath and read a magazine, putting my head down with every contraction. Jared’s mom and dad arrived a little bit later, around 10 a.m. I tried to eat something, but didn’t have an appetite; I called my mom and cried more.
By 11 a.m., though, each contraction brought me to my knees and zapped my ability to speak, and they were around three minutes apart. (So much for worrying about how I’d “know,” right?) And after thirty minutes of that, we went back to the hospital. All I remember of the drive is holding onto the side armrest and closing my eyes. It felt like the longest 15 minutes ever. Once there, the same nurse checked me again and immediately said, “Okay! Let’s get you into a room,” since I was completely effaced and 5 cm dilated. I almost burst into tears.
We were staying, and that meant we were having this baby.
I received a little pain management to help take the edge off. (Side note: I didn’t get an epidural, but I think I would’ve if things hadn’t progressed upon our return to the hospital. Epidurals are amazing and know so many women who had wonderful experiences with them! But for me, I knew my body well enough to know that things were moving quickly, just like last time, and if I could hold out, we’d probably have a baby soon, so that’s why I declined getting one.) The contractions were still coming quickly and rocking my body. The nurse checked me again, probably around 12:30 or 12:45 or so, and I was at an 8, which made sense, because I felt like things were really moving fast in my body. I remember just wanting to lay on my back and hold still, totally opposite of my experience with E.
About 30 minutes later, my water still hadn’t broken. I remember the nurse and the midwife kind of looking at each other and talking about how they probably needed to break it soon. The nurse said, “Ok, once we break your water, things are going to happen very fast. It’s going to be painful and you’ll be pushing after that.” I told her I needed five more minutes, took a deep breath, and then said, “No, let’s just go.” I was over it and ready to be done.
Once they broke my water, it was like the pain volume knob turned up from a five to a fifteen. Holy shit. This was probably around 1:15? I don’t even know. The next 45 minutes are a complete blur. I remember the nurse saying, “Tell us when you feel like you have to push.” I remember Jared holding my hands and smoothing my hair. I remember my mom, who had arrived earlier, putting cold towels on my legs since I was sweating so much and rubbing my arms and my legs. At some point, the midwife said I needed to turn onto my side to stabilize the baby’s heart rate. I did, and clutched the bed railing. I started to sob during every contraction because it hurt so much. I had honestly felt pretty calm all the way up until this point, but after they broke my water, I couldn’t help but cry out from the pain.
Then, the feeling of needing to push overwhelmed my body. When it hit me, I basically yelled that I had to push. I heard someone describe that end-of-labor feeling as reverse throwing up, and it’s so true. The midwife checked me and said you’re a 10, a few more contractions and then it’s time. Staff started coming into the room, they shortened the bed, and Jared said, “We’re going to meet our baby! You can do this!” I rolled onto my back. Our midwife told me to let go of the guard rail and channel my breathing. I remember putting my feet up and bending my knees, and then she said, “With the next contraction, I want you to give me your all, and push.” I did. Then, she said in the calmest, nicest, but most serious voice ever, “Hold on, wait. Okay, do exactly what I say going forward.”
Deep breath in. Hold it. Now push. Keep pushing. Keep pushing. Keep pushing. Hold it, stay there. Hold. Hold. Release.
Let’s do it again.
Baby’s head is out. Wait for the next contraction.
One more time. Breathe in. Hold. Push. Push. Push. Give me everything you’ve got. Keep pushing.
From far away, I could hear Jared saying in my ear, the baby is almost here, we’re going to meet our baby. My mom kept saying you can do this, you can do this. I dug deep, found my breath, pushed with all my might (yelling the entire time, might I add), and then felt that final swoop of the baby’s body leaving my body in one slippery slide. And then I cried, thinking, it’s out, the baby is out, I’m done, thank God.
They put the baby on my chest immediately. With E, I felt like I was in complete shock, an out-of-body experience. This time, I looked at the little baby, still connected to me through the umbilical cord, and just stared at it as it cried.
“Does he have a name?”
Arlo, we said.
It felt right, like he was always going to be the next little person in our family.
He cried and snuggled, a semi-bruised little red thing. Seven pounds, one ounce.
I found out later that the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck, which had been causing his heart rate to drop (hence our midwife asking me to lay on my side and being so detailed and specific about the pushing). I’m so unbelievably grateful that our care team handled it so smoothly, obviously for our baby’s safety and health, to the extent that none of us even knew it had happened until way after.
Post-delivery went by in a flash, and endorphins plus utter relief kept me on a high staring at our little one. I didn’t cry anymore; I just laughed: happy to be done being pregnant, happy he was finally here, happy the day ended with his entry into the world.