This post is different than any other on this blog - rather than me rambling on and on, it is a wonderful (if I do say so myself) collaboration.
I absolutely love sharing birth stories (and reading birth stories, and writing birth stories, and all things birth stories...), but I will admit that I often have a lingering worry in the corner of my mind about telling others' stories - I worry about accuracy according to the family's recollections, about maybe revealing something about the birth the mama wasn't aware of, and in a general sense, stepping in on a story that isn't really mine. Though I'm verbose by nature, I try more and more to let the images tell the story of a birth rather than put my own words to it.
This is a glorious exception, however, because I didn't write this birth story!
When Robin hired me to photograph the birth of her fourth child and rainbow baby, she mentioned she has her own (rather lovely) blog, Grace Enough For Us. It immediately occurred to me that I might be able to pull her in on an idea I'd had for a while, which was to publish birth stories written in first-person by the mama to accompany my visual storytelling. The thing is, I do kind of feel like a heel asking the mother of a brand-spanking-new baby to write something! (Because we all know what a new mom needs is something else to add to their to-do list, right?) Lucky for me, Robin (almost) immediately agreed, and in record time emailed me the retelling of Lilly Mae's birth.
(Sidenote: past, future, and current clients - if writing up your birth story sounds like something you'd like to do, please please please give me a holler!)
Without further ado, here it is: The Birth of Lilly Mae, by Robin Chapman.
I'm so excited to get to share my birth story here! ...Also, a little nervous and starstruck to have my ramblings paired with Sarah's gorgeous photography. (You guys. It's THE Sarah Lewis.)
...okay, actually, my birth story is kinda boring.
That's a good thing. This one was (as mine tend to be) blessedly uncomplicated. Short version: I had a baby. First, I was pregnant for a long time. Then I had contractions. Eventually a small human came out of my body. It went about like I expected, based on the last three babies I had.
Let me back up a bit.
Wednesday morning, I woke up to painful contractions and no water coming from my faucets. (Sarah's note: literally. Literal plumbing.) The contractions were annoying, but not a problem. They'd been on and off since Sunday, when I'd decided to walk five and a half miles (because I'm insane) and I expected them to go for another two weeks. With my third baby, my body faked me out in ways that were increasingly convincing for a couple of weeks. The tap water, though? That was a problem. I had to pee every four seconds, so running water was important. (It turned out to be a brief planned outage, thank goodness.)
Anyway, it was a rough way to start the morning. And, as is frequently the case for me in late pregnancy, the day continued to be pretty hard to deal with. There were some bright spots, like a kids' music thing at the university. And then there were some... less bright spots. Like the harmonicas that my kids (ages 1, 4, and 5) acquired at the music thing. Um... yay?
I spent a lot of the afternoon locking the bigger two out on the deck with the harmonicas while I stayed inside feeling fairly lousy. (Still, those darned fake contractions!) I berated myself for being thoroughly unable to adult. (How are you going to make it through two more weeks of this?!?)
Happily, my husband (Andrew) and I had plans to get out of the house in the evening, which I hoped would keep my mind off the fact that I was very, very pregnant. One of those things was a music practice where I had a good view of a clock. Out of curiosity, I started timing them casually.
7:30 pm- Those fake contractions? Four to six minutes apart. And 20-30 seconds long. Predictably. Hmm. Still, I was reasonably certain this was NOT the real thing. But when, by the end of practice, they were closer and longer, I thought it prudent to alert my husband and the midwives... at least give them notice that it could be real.
8:45 pm- I texted Sarah: "Hey! Heads up, contractions every 3-5 min and 30s long. *THIS COULD STILL BE A FAKEOUT* (But it's getting to where if it IS a fake out, I will be heartily annoyed.)"
Andrew's mom, Bonnie, was already at the house watching the kids, so when we got home, she just went to get some clothes for the night and come back. Andrew had a work thing he needed to do (quickly) (remember, I still thought this was a drill) so I was on my own. Well, not really on my own. My oldest kept getting up and asking me questions during contractions. Usually accompanied by "MOM MOM MOM!!!" and insistent arm or belly patting.
10 pm- It swiftly became apparent that this WAS the real thing, prompting another round of calls to the midwives and Sarah... and to my mother-in-law and my husband, since I had honestly started to contemplate driving myself in. (Can we go back a sec and let it sink in that, during what ended up being early labor, somebody handed my children HARMONICAS? Thanks. Back to the story.)
10:30 pm- Bonnie came back. Andrew came back. I bossed them both around between contractions (while scrambling myself) to grab the last minute things. (Except my camera battery. I definitely missed that.) Also, I wrote a medical release for my kids, because the oldest needed a TB test read the next day. For the love. Never, ever, ever has writing a couple lines taken so much time or energy.
11:15 pm- We arrived at the birth center, met by three women I trust implicitly, one of whom delivered two other babies of mine and also delivered my baby brother in my parents' bedroom when I was 10. Dana's basically the patron (matron?) saint of childbirth in my head. I was 6cm. (Not a fakeout! Hooray!) My thighs were cramping, so I got into the tub. I told Andrew to go find us a name for this little girl. (We've never named our babies any sooner than active labor. Our second was named after she was born, which felt SUPER stressful. The late naming isn't out of a deep-seated conviction to wait, but rather comes from procrastination and denial.)
11:45 pm- Sarah arrived (after dropping her smallish infant off). About this time, it all starts to blur. Things got more difficult for me and Andrew made it through the names and we settled on Lilly Mae, which we'd had toward the top since we named the last baby girl. He held my hand and was generally awesome. Andrew and Kate rubbed my legs, because the cramping continued despite the tub.
At one point, when the contractions were long and the time between them was awfully short, I looked to my sweet husband, holding my left hand, and told him, "This can be our last one. We can be done."
He looked at me with his dreamy, kind, smiling eyes and replied, "Nah. We gotta have at least one or two more so we have an excuse to buy a passenger van."
I looked at my right hand, resting on the side of the tub. I tried to will it to move. Nope. So I just said, "I wanna punch you so bad right now. I just... can't."
He chuckled. "I knew you would. And I knew you wouldn't be able to. I also know you won't remember this at all in the morning."
(Goodness, I love him. Also? What a punk.)
12:45 am- I checked in at 8cm. (Or 7? It's as much guess as memory. Because labor.) Then it got pretty hairy. I remember feeling a pain low in my belly that registered as abnormal and my brain panicked. "I'm a little worried that her shoulder is stuck," I said, rather rationally. Dana assured me that it was probably just the part of dilation. In retrospect, it was perhaps less rational than I thought to assume her shoulder was stuck when 100% of her was still solidly in my uterus, but whatever. I was in labor.
12: 51 am- Then it was pushing time and two minutes later (for a total of less than ten minutes after that check happened) (don't hate me), she was out.
12:53 am. I reached for her immediately.
She was wearing part of her amniotic sac as a hat and she was the scary grey-purple shade that they always come out. She was perfect. There was no crying, just a lot of quiet looking around.
I checked to make sure she was, indeed, a little girl (she was), and we just looked at eac...
OH, CRAP! I FORGOT ABOUT THE PLACENTA!
No, really. I shouted that, because another contraction hit me out of nowhere. My husband laughed. (I didn't know that part then, because FREAKING OW, I THOUGHT I WAS DONE, but pictures help.) It was fine, of course... just a rude surprise as I was blissed out and staring at this perfect (if goopy) baby.
We got out of the tub and into the bed and moved on to all the other things that happen after a baby is born... We were mostly enjoying her and eating ice cream. (Pro tip: Ice cream is an awesome post-labor food if you can bring it.) I was trying to feed her; the midwives were taking vitals and listening to breath sounds... a lot of breath sounds.
Know what's cool? The pushing part of labor is when the baby gets all the fluid squeezed out of her lungs.
Apparently, two minutes of pushing isn't always quite sufficient to accomplish that.
So... the next three or four hours were filled with trying to improve her breathing rate and breath sounds and pulse ox. Toward the end, there was talk of needing to take her in, but they tried one more thing (positive pressure air) and it worked like a miracle. (I sound really laid back about this now, but internally there was ZERO chill then... This little girl is my only rainbow baby, so to have her not breathing correctly was pretty terrifying... Just when I was done fighting through all the fear that comes with pregnancy after miscarriage.)
5 am: Finally, she was breathing, settled, nursing.We needed sleep. (So did Julie and Kate, but another mama came in just as as things were settling with Lilly, so... no sleep for them!) We dozed on and off for several hours, then went through checking out and headed home.
4 pm: At home, Sarah rejoined us to capture my three bigger kids meeting Lilly. It was lovely. They adore her. They welcomed us with earrings they made for me and a necklace they made for Lilly (which is being saved for a time she won't choke on it.) One of them piled ALL her stuffed buddies on top of the new baby as gifts.
There were pokes, smooches, and eye-prying. There were lots of squeals and crowding and so much love. Basically, day one as a family of six.
Oh, and harmonicas. No newborn homecoming is complete without harmonicas. (Clearly.)