The birth of Baby Jean Marjorie Joy
I had hoped that with a bit of distance and reflection, the story of Jean Marjorie Joy’s birth would make a little more sense to me. However, she will be four weeks tomorrow, and much of it feels as cloudy now as it did on June 25th, the day she was born.
For this birth, my sixth, and first home birth, I felt oddly disconnected, emotionally.
I think it started from… well, I had about eight days of pre-labor, prodromal labor. Eight solid days where contractions NEVER fully let up. Never. On about four or five occasions, they would increase in strength and frequency, until they were quite intense and about three minutes apart, and this would continue for 6, 8, 12 hours.
Normally, when one has contractions that are more than a minute long, three minutes apart, for a number of hours, one is in labor! Actual labor!! So, I would alert my husband, who invariably came home from work (or just didn’t depart for work). I’d call or text my midwife. I’d get other things prepared, including myself, emotionally and with focus, for me to have a baby.
And then… the contractions would disappear.
Or, they would almost disappear. They would slow back down to once every 20 minutes or so.
So, over the course of a week, I became emotionally engaged, multiple times, with the idea of having a baby… And I would prepare, mentally and logistically, to have a baby.
And then, the baby wouldn’t come.
I admit: I cried. I became discouraged more than once.
It’s difficult to explain… But after about the fourth time of this happening, it felt like The Baby Who Cried Wolf. And I stopped believing.
I didn’t stop believing that I would have a baby; I knew I actually would, eventually.
But, when the contractions would ramp up again, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah… whatever.”
That sounds awful, but it’s true.
I had visions of one of those births that just progress beautifully, undisturbed, where the midwife never checks my cervix, and I just listen to my body and tune into my baby, and birth a baby in peace and joy.
That didn’t quite happen.
Well, it didn’t happen at all.
After the first two days of contractions, on June 18, I caved and asked to come in to see my midwife and for her to check my cervix — the first vaginal exam of my entire pregnancy. I was only 38 weeks, 5 days, but I had had two of my babies earlier than that; it wasn’t inconceivable (ha!) that I was in labor.
She did, and I was dilated to 2 cm and about 75% effaced.
In a mom who has given birth previously, that really doesn’t mean ANYTHING. As my midwife had told me (and as I already knew), “I have had multip moms dilate to four and stay there for weeks.”
But, I just wanted to know if these contractions were progressing anything or not. The answer: Kind of. Not really.
On that first check, we also discovered that baby was engaged in my pelvis, but her head was tilted just slightly, and my cervix was still very posterior. Good news, bad news, bad news.
Not “bad news” as in dangerous — just “bad news” in that it meant that the birth likely wasn’t imminent. Babies can be birthed in a wide variety of imperfect positions, but I did know that the mama’s body will likely keep contracting to try to reposition the baby as long as possible. And I knew that my cervix needed to travel forward — anterior — before the baby could be born.
But… even with all of that, since this was my sixth baby, the midwife reminded me that even just a few really hard contractions could reposition her, bring my cervix forward, and cause me to dilate, all within a literal matter of minutes.
So, it was like I wasn’t in labor, but I was.
The 20th of June came: My 40th birthday. I went to see the midwife again, as I had continued to contract. I had an “official” appointment with her the next day, but as I had been contracting still, I asked to come in early. But… no dice. Nothing had significantly changed from two days previous, though I was dilated to three, instead of two centimeters. Everything else was the same.
At that point, I decided that I was going to stop going in to see the midwife until I was 100% certain I was in labor — and then she would come see me.
That was a Thursday. I continued to have “bouts” of strong contractions, close together, for multiple hours.
Monday was the worst, though.
By Monday the 24th, my uterus was officially sore, and I could feel like it was tired.
That was worrisome, because I didn’t want to go into real labor with a sore, tired uterus. That was actually my biggest concern about contracting so much: I needed a “fresh” uterus. It’s a muscle. I mean, imagine running 10 miles for eight consecutive days before you ran a marathon. You just wouldn’t do that, even if you could. When it comes to the real thing, you want muscles that are refreshed and ready, not ones that have been drained of their strength.
I contracted for 12 solid hours on Monday, from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
My husband, so dear, had come home from work around midday. He set up his Kindle in our bedroom, hooked up to speakers, with my favorite worship songs playing on YouTube. He was attentive to me, taking care of our children, checking in on me… It was just right, actually.
When the contractions — yet again — petered out after the children were in bed for the night, I sobbed. I was so discouraged. My husband reassured me that the baby would actually come, and that he was not impatient with me. His words were soothing to me, but I couldn’t explain how it was such an emotional investment to think that I was in labor, and then find out that I wasn’t.
I came downstairs… We watched some TV. It felt like the baby flipped completely in the womb. I thought, “That’s either really good — she’s positioning herself correctly, finally — or that’s really bad — she’s turned breech or something like that.” I got down on the floor to palpate my belly, to see if I could tell where she was. I couldn’t. I could feel, though, something against my cervix. It felt like little fingers, wiggling around. “It feels like she’s trying to push her way out with her hand!” I exclaimed.
I thought for certain that such a feeling was a… sensation, not the actual truth.
Eventually, we went to bed, with me feeling… well, not quite as discouraged as I had, earlier in the day, but resigned… As in, “Whatever.” Ambivalent.
Around 12:30, I woke up, contracting pretty hard. That wasn’t new. The contractions I’d been having for more than a week were often hard enough to wake me from a deep sleep; and I’m a hard sleeper. However, it felt like I had wet the bed.
“That’s weird,” I thought.
It wasn’t enough liquid to be my water breaking, yet I don’t normally wet the bed! So, it just seemed weird to me.
I cleaned up and went back to bed.
I woke again at 1:30 with the same situation: A pad full of water and contracting.
I knew that when the membranes break, often they can do so by “leaking”, instead of popping. But, it didn’t smell like amniotic fluid. However… At 1:30, I had some bloody show. I knew that this meant that I was dilating — a good sign, indeed! — but that the mucous plug, once lost, can be re-formed, and just because I was dilating did not necessarily mean I was in “real” labor.
I continued to wake up every hour with the same “symptoms” — one strong contraction followed by lesser contractions, anywhere from 3-8 minutes apart; just enough liquid (I was still completely unsure if it was amniotic fluid, or if I was peeing) to fill a pad; and some bloody show.
The contractions didn’t seem any more significant than the ones I’d been having for the previous eight days. They didn’t feel any stronger, they weren’t any closer together… In fact, I was having times where they’d stretch to 10-12 minutes apart, then increase in frequency: sporadic, but consistent.
But, by 4:30, I had the most bloody show yet and some loose stools, and I had decided that the liquid was surely amniotic fluid, not urine.
That may be TMI for some (and if it is, you’d best stop reading now), but for me, I knew that loose stools is a very positive sign of labor. They’re caused by the presence of prostaglandins — hormones that are present during labor and that cause the cervix to soften and thin — efface. It has happened with all my babies, historically 3-12 hours before the baby is born.
So, at 4:38, I told my hubby, Martin, who had been sleepily aware of my restless night, that I was pretty sure this was real labor.
I decided to give it another hour, though, before alerting anyone, just to be sure.
For about 20 minutes, the contractions were sporadic: 3 minutes, 7 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes apart. Then, right at 5:00 a.m. on the 25th of June, the contractions started to intensify and they picked up to every 2-3 minutes apart and stayed there. I stopped timing them and told my husband, “Timing them is becoming distracting. They’re real. I would be shocked if we didn’t have a baby some time today, probably sooner than later.”
I called my midwife at 5:30 a.m. and went to take a shower.
Before showering, I sent a text to my friend Stephanie, who was coming as friend/doula. My husband is 46 and has known Stephanie since they were in junior high together. She has the PERFECT presence for a woman in labor: comforting, firm, determined, kind, gentle… She just knows what to do and what to say, with no error, ever. She is also a calming presence for my husband, who trusts her completely. (Martin lived with Stephanie and her husband and their son for two years, prior to our marriage.)
I found out about an hour and a half later that while I had composed the text to Stephanie, I hadn’t actually sent it, which explained why she wasn’t there. Just before 7:00 a.m., I asked Martin to call Stephanie. He got her voicemail. I was worried.
Back to 5:30-ish: Pam (the midwife) said that she would be to my home in 20-30 minutes. When I got out of the shower, she was there, in less-than 20 minutes.
At 5:53, she checked me. I was dilated to a “stretchy” 5 cm; she could easily stretch me to 8 cm. My cervix was still quite posterior.
She had previously told me that she could manually pull the cervix forward, which would hasten labor, but that it would “hurt like hell”. I didn’t envision her ever doing this to me because I like to let labor progress naturally; I don’t want anything to speed it.
But, at this point, knowing that I was contracting every 2-3 minutes, knowing that I was well-dilated, but that my cervix was still too far back… I consented.
It didn’t actually hurt. It was uncomfortable.
At that point, it was about 6:00 a.m. Pam and the assistant midwife (Alicia) made themselves scarce. They disappeared downstairs. At some point, they came back upstairs and prepped some things in the room: hanging bags for trash and laundry, setting up a birthing stool over a new shower curtain tarp, setting out piles of chux pads and other supplies. I was only vaguely aware of this.
Some time close to 7:00, Stephanie arrived. She had gotten Martin’s voice mail.
Laura also arrived, perhaps a little earlier than Stephanie. Laura, a friend of mine, has been a long-time doula, now studying to be a midwife; mine would be her first “official” birth as a student.
Even after Stephanie was there, I was concerned that everyone was there much too early. The contractions weren’t terribly difficult and I had visions of everyone sitting around twiddling their thumbs and the baby being born 24 hrs later.
I don’t like putting people out. I really don’t. It makes me anxious, people sitting around, waiting on me. It’s the ultimate rudeness, in my perspective: Knowing that people are waiting on you, and you taking your sweet time… I kept thinking about how maybe Martin should be at work; Pam and Alicia having to reschedule clients’ appointments — or worse, missing another birth because they were at my not-real birth; Stephanie should be at home with her family, or at her daughter’s volleyball tournament… At one point, I asked the midwives and everyone else, “You bored yet?” They seemed surprised, and Alicia mentioned how my 7yo, Audrey, was keeping everyone entertained, downstairs, with her quips and antics. That wasn’t quite what I meant. I guess I asked that because I was worried about it being way too early, and here I was, keeping everyone waiting. I also started to question the wisdom of not really having anyone to watch the children. As my oldest child is 16, everyone is pretty well self-sustaining: They know what to do, what not to do, they can get breakfast and lunch for themselves, etc. I knew our home would be filled with adults, in case of some emergency… But, now, hearing about Audrey keeping everyone “entertained”, I worried.
In my previous births (all in the hospital, four with naturally-minded OBs, one with a Certified Nurse Midwife, all medication-free), one reason I never insisted on a home birth was because of the above: I could envision myself worrying about everyone else, worrying about what the children were doing.
So, I labored, mostly focused on the labor itself, but about 5% of my mind wondering about the children, the midwives, Stephanie, my husband…
Speaking of the children, the boys (ages 16, almost-14, and 11) would just check in with the midwives, asking about how mom was doing. Ethan (the oldest) didn’t come upstairs at all. Grant and Wes came up once, before everything got intense. Audrey came in and out frequently. Fiala, my 4yo, stayed with me, or at least in the room, for a good portion of labor.
That’s actually just what I thought it would be like, with the children. I was a little concerned about Audrey being too self-focused if she was in the room, but she wasn’t at all. She wasn’t as attentive as Fiala, but she wasn’t as mindless as I was afraid she’d be.
For much of my labor, it was just as above: Me standing in the bathroom, supporting myself on the sink. I like to feel grounded, my body supported.
Also, notice my tense shoulders and arms? Later, Pam (and everyone else) kept telling me to relax them. That made me a little upset. I couldn’t insist that, even though my shoulders were tense, the rest of my body was relaxed. I wasn’t fighting the contractions, even though my shoulders were tensed.
This picture kind of freaked me out. A) I look… old. B) I look like my mom.
Around 8:45, I was in the bathroom again, against the sink. Stephanie and Martin were just outside the open door, talking. The midwives weren’t in the room; I found out later that they were camped in the (very small) hall, just outside our closed bedroom door.
Around 8:45, that’s when it switched for me. It switched from, “This may take a really long time… these contractions aren’t really difficult… I wonder if I’ll have a baby by noon? Five p.m.? When??” to, “Holy cow, I’m going to have a baby, and sooner, rather than later.” I stopped worrying about everyone else; I didn’t have enough mental energy to, anyway.
I stood leaning against the doorjamb of the bathroom, laboring hard. It took a few minutes, I think, for Martin and Stephanie to notice that something had switched… I couldn’t tell them, though. All I could think was that I wanted to lie down and that the carpet next to the bed looked good. I think I kind of motioned in that direction and finally made it there, with effort.
At this point in labor… It’s funny, because everyone started to be very concerned about my comfort and well-being, and kept asking me questions. I couldn’t answer, and I didn’t want them to ask me questions, but I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t talk. I just wanted to lie down. It seemed like that would make the pain of the contractions — which had very suddenly become very intense and strong — lessen.
So, I stretched out on my right side, on the carpet on the floor next to the bed.
Almost immediately, I thought, “This was a very bad idea.”
My contractions absolutely gripped my body. It was so painful.
I thought, “Either this is the world’s worst laboring position for me, or I am in transition.”
It’s odd, because in births #2-5, I knew exactly when transition hit. There was no question in my mind. But for this one, I just didn’t know.
It seems like, for the whole birth, almost everything solid… wasn’t. Everything reliable, wasn’t.
Not that my people weren’t reliable. Everyone who was there was wonderful.
But, prior to this birth, I can’t tell you how solid I felt about birth, how confident, how expectant.
But for baby Jean’s birth… No, I didn’t feel like that at all. The whole thing seemed fraught with questions and a lack of confidence.
I still don’t know why that was. I keep waiting for some revelation, some insight, which is why I haven’t written this down until now.
I still have no deep insight about why this was. Why did God see a need to put me in a place of insecurity? I don’t know.
But, I can say that, for me feeling insecure, this was the best place, with the best people, to be.
I don’t think in “what ifs”.
A number of people, who have either been at the birth, or who heard about it, have questioned with wide eyes, “What if you had been in the hospital with that?”
And I don’t know. I don’t think about that, at all. I wasn’t at the hospital… I was in my bedroom, with my husband and some incredibly skilled, caring women.
So, there I was on the floor, and I kept thinking, “I have to get off the floor.” But I couldn’t move. The contractions were right on top of each other, and each one made me freeze and melt simultaneously. I couldn’t speak or move or think, other than in the back of my mind, thinking that again, “I have to get off the floor.”
It was just hurting so badly while on the floor, something made me feel that if I was not on the floor, I would feel better, labor better, with less pain.
It took a while… about 15 minutes, to be able to get into a not-lying-down position. While I was getting up, at one point, I was on my hands and knees. While there, I had the thought, “OK, this doesn’t suck as badly as being on the floor.”
It was still completely miserable, but it wasn’t as awful as lying down.
As I picked my hands up off the floor and rocked back to a sort-of kneeling position, I started to feel pushy.
Ah ha! It was transition.
Oddly, this didn’t make me feel any better. I was still feeling very insecure, very befuddled…
I know that when women labor naturally, the best place to be is in that… irrational, deep place of instinct. However, even though in my previous births, especially with Audrey and Fiala, when I reached a place of transition and starting to feel pushy, I was so elated. Even though I was deep in myself, drowning — in a good way — in labor itself, there was an underlying joy and expectation.
This time, not so much. It just stunk. I just kept thinking, “I have to get to this next point, because then it will feel not-as-awful.”
Never, except perhaps with my first birth, when I was altogether inexperienced, had I ever felt like that while birthing.
At that point, Pam stuck her head in. She said later that she could hear that something had changed. Stephanie said, “She’s feeling pushy.”
I somehow communicated that I wanted to get up on the bed, on all fours. Someone put a pile of pillows at my head, I don’t know who. That was perfect. My head against the headboard, resting on my arms, which were on the pile of pillows. Just right.
I remember thinking, “This is just right.”
Funny enough… when I was discussing, in a previous prenatal appointment, how I envisioned myself giving birth, I said something like, “Well, not on my hands and knees. I don’t see that at all. I don’t think that would be comfortable at all.”
And I can’t say that I was comfortable, but for one reason or another, it was just right, it was where I needed to be for that birth, for this baby.
I started pushing at 9:25. My water had not broken, which I found very odd, given the fact that it surely had leaked earlier in the morning.
The girls, Audrey and Fiala, were still in the room. I was proud of them — for being involved, for caring, for not freaking out…
They were on my right, on the side of the bed. Martin was on my left. Pam was at the foot of the bed. Where everyone else was, I don’t know. I had my eyes clamped shut, and it took all my concentration just to be.
Even with the first push, it didn’t feel quite right.
I wasn’t concentrating on pushing crazy-hard, though.
Knowing from my previous births, I get into robot-birthing-woman mode during the pushing phase: My tendency is to push too much, too hard, not judiciously. I hate the “ring of fire”, which is aptly named for me. I just want to get past that, past it, past it. So, I push like crazy. I have since learned that the ring of fire is when the perineum is stretching, and if I don’t want to tear, that I must be patient, let it stretch, hold it right there, even as it burns, wait, wait…
But after — I think it was — two pushes, my water broke.
The energy in the room shifted.
I can’t describe it any other way. The energy changed. Alicia came over on my right and took hold of my leg to angle it just so, underneath me… I didn’t know what she was doing, and frankly, I didn’t like it.
Pam was still at the foot of the bed, and I could hear her giving instructions, but I have no idea what they were.
She was supporting me. She was there, working, doing something. She was using both hands. She was directing me when to push, which was 100% OK. I had told her in a prenatal appointment that I don’t completely trust my instinct, because my instinct wants me to over-push, and that I would be listening to her and trusting her.
I could hear her voice, calm but firm, raised but not loud.
I was pushing, but it still didn’t feel right; it didn’t feel powerful.
I found out later that my baby had a nuchal hand, and that became apparent after my water broke.
That sensation I had experienced, the previous night, about baby Jean trying to push her way out with her hand?? It was true. It really was her hand, right at the mouth of the uterus, right at the cervix.
That is probably why I was contracting for eight days — my uterus was trying to get her positioned correctly, get her hand out of the way… It didn’t work.
I didn’t know all this was happening — oddly, I couldn’t feel it at all. Pushing was very painful, the ring of fire was very painful… but Pam manipulating the baby’s arm while I was pushing?? I had no idea. I didn’t know there was a hand/arm issue at all, until afterwards.
But, when baby Jean presented with her hand right next to her temple, Pam said that she first tried to push the hand back down. She could get it to the collar bone, but Jean kept sticking it back up. Then, Pam showed me how, when a baby is birthed, if her arm is bent, the elbow sticking out can be problematic. So, she had to pull the arm all the way out, first.
And this is why pushing didn’t feel right to me; it is why it felt ineffective — because of the malposition.
Pushing hurt. Even when I wasn’t pushing, it hurt… Looking back, there was no respite — from about 8:45 to 9:45, when baby Jean Marjorie Joy was born. Only one hour. But it was a very long hour. It was all pain, all the time.
I wasn’t fighting it. It wasn’t that I wasn’t relaxed. I wasn’t fearful. But, I was definitely in pain.
I’ve heard that the difference between pain (or even agony) and misery is one’s emotional state. I did feel befuddled and unsure of myself. But, I also felt cared-for, loved. I felt assured that I was in very competent hands. I just had to trust everyone… and I did.
At some point in the pushing, I became pretty loud. The girls left the room.
I asked them later if they were scared by me… being loud. (It wasn’t screaming, it wasn’t yelling… I don’t know what you’d call it. It was just loud.) And Audrey said, “No… It was just too loud, so I left.”
I think there was something in her that said, “This is too intense,” and she took her exit, with Fiala following. Even that, I think is just right. They weren’t frightened. They had just had enough and could probably sense that they were no longer of any help. Prior to that, they’d often kiss my cheek, or put their hands on my belly… At one point, Pam said, “Do you see when her eyes are closed? That is when her belly hurts and you can’t put your hands on her belly because that hurts her more.” And they didn’t.
I pushed for a total of 20 minutes. That felt like a really long time to me, as all my previous babies were between 4-7 minutes each.
But she came out… with me being loud…
And you know that amazing emotional high — just absolutely saturated with JOY and love after a baby is born naturally? I have experienced that five times. I’ve studied that phenomenon, and in the birth classes that I (intermittently) teach, I describe the hormonal process that leads to that awesome feeling, and how it’s designed by God… And, amazingly… the process that gets the baby OUT is very similar to the hormonal process that got the baby IN. That feeling after a baby is born is remarkably similar to an orgasm. I am 100% convinced that it’s part of God the Father’s plan for birth to culminate in a feeling, and experience that is BEYOND WORDS, both to help the mom and baby bond, to assist in the mother forgetting the pain of birthing, and so that there is… and emotional reward in doing a job well done. Among other good things. It really is a complicated an amazing hormonal process.
But this baby?? Um, no. I didn’t feel that.
I was just flat-out relieved.
That’s it: Relief.
I was just relieved that she was out, that my baby was earth-side, that she was here.
But after that point, my memory is very fuzzy.
I was talking with my husband about the birth, two days after Jean was born, and he mentioned catching the baby.
“What?” I was incredulous. “You caught the baby? I didn’t know you caught her. How could I not know that? How could I not know that you caught our baby??”
Pam was at the foot of the bed, tending to me, and Martin was still at my side, and she told him where to put his hands, as when the mom pushes out the baby, she kind of curls below the mom when she’s on all fours.
I didn’t know this happened. I literally had no idea.
He continued, “Yes, and I held her as you turned over, and it was sort of awkward because she was still attached to the umbilical cord.”
How could I not remember this? I don’t think I remember rolling over. I don’t remember seeing my husband with our brand-new baby.
I don’t even remember anyone placing her in my arms.
I do remember seeing both Pam and Alicia rub baby Jean all over… she was fairly blue after birth. I remember them exclaiming about how huge she was. As they were doing this, I remember taking off my tank top so that the baby and I could be skin-to-skin.
Baby Jean pinked-up, and someone placed her in my arms. She had a lot of hair, for one of my babies. She was really, really chubby. Right after, someone else reached over and put one of those stretchy baby hats on her head. I buried my face in her neck…
Some short time after that, I birthed the giant placenta. We took a good look at it… And Laura took it home, which kind of freaked out Martin and Stephanie. I wasn’t freaked out. Folks do all sorts of stuff with their placentas. I kind of considered it, but after experiencing no PPD with my previous five, I sort of figured that having it encapsulated was an expensive novelty and I decided to pass. We could have kept it and planted a tree over it, buried in our yard. “A tree???” Martin asked. I knew he would be a tough sell on alternate uses for placentas, and that he would feel zero attachment to it. So, I hadn’t even brought it up, prior to birth. I figured I was just doing well, getting a home birth, and that the whole placenta thing wasn’t a hill worth fighting over.
Pam and Martin weighed our little chub.
Ten pounds, seven ounces.
My biggest yet.
My sister Robin arrived…
That is Fiala, Pam, Robin, Audrey, Martin, and Stephanie, all looking on to measure her head. Her head was 14.5″ (that’s big) and her chest was 15¼” (that’s really big). She was 22-ish inches long. I think Pam measured her at 22, but at Jean’s first pediatric appointment, when she was one week old, she was 21½”. And then the following week, she was 21¼”. Jean didn’t shrink… so, we can call her 22″, but who knows?
And this is the team (minus my other daughters)…
And now, quite apropos, my baby is crying… Sweet girl.
She’s just a baby.
Martin and I keep saying that to each other, “She’s just a baby.”
Even with the unusual-for-me birth, and even with a horrific event where my nipple detached about 40% due to a bad latch (yes, it was as awful as it sounds), this has been a stress-free month. There is peace and joy and the absolute delight of infancy, and the acute awareness of how quickly it passes… My husband and I have been in glorious enjoyment of baby Jean Marjorie Joy. There is a sense of completeness, of finality; we both know she is our last, and we are going to enjoy every last second of her being “just a baby.”
With my first birth, at age 24, I was younger and more physically resilient. However, I’ll trade NOW for then, any day. I was so stressed out with Ethan, sure that each cry of his was an indictment against my mothering. Now, Jean cries, and I laugh at her sweet, cute, sad, squishy face, and her baby-ness where she is just absolutely sure the world is going to end… I don’t laugh in a mocking way. She’s just so sweet. She’s just a baby. She doesn’t know.
But this time, I do. I know to treasure it.
Older women tell younger mothers that all the time, “Treasure it. It passes so quickly.” I was SO TIRED of hearing that continually. But, now I’m an older mother, and I know… I know… But, I treasure it all the more, because I do know, now.
She’s just a baby.