Pregnancy, birth & baby Bowie is born: Laura’s birth story
This is a pretty special photo essay. And it’s perfect for this week, the week of the mama, as it encapsulates each stage of becoming a mother – even if it’s for the second time. Because mamas who are expecting your second little one, you’re about to become a mother all over again. Different than the first time, but truly just as big.
Laura is one of Kristina’s closest friends, which makes this even more special to post. And she was lucky to have Jamie Street capture each of the big moments: the end of her pregnancy, the birth of her little boy, and a peek at his first week here in the world. What a cherished collection of photos these will be for this family.
And Laura agreed to share her birth story here with these photos. Cause we know that any mama preparing to birth her baby is addicted to this kind of sharing.
Hello big brother, Judah.
Laura is a midwife too, which makes her birth story all the more detailed and reflective.
Then a few weeks later, in their home, with fires burning in the fire places and a warm bath drawn, Laura gave birth to their second little boy.
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“Its 3 pm. I am scurrying around the house, gathering Judah’s swim supplies and trying to push us out the door in wild hopes of being on time to swim lessons. I am stopped at the top of the stairs by a more than mild contraction of my uterus. I take a deep breath and wonder if this baby might be coming today.
Jason agrees to drive both Judah and I to swim lessons. We sit at the pool’s edge, Jason reading his ever-present fold of last week’s Sunday NYTimes while I pace back and forth slowly. I notice the color of the blue sky shouting from the pool’s clear roof. The breeze caresses my cheeks and the ground pushes up against my barefeet. Though not totally convinced that this is labor, I realize the vortex is more than opening.
Judah resists his swim teacher. For the past 3 months he has thrived in the water, joyfully splashing and swimming along with his classmates. This month – March – he hit a wall and all but refused to get in the water. In general, he has wanted to stay closer to home – matching his nesting instinct to mine and drawing pleasure from simple afternoons of Bingo, closet reorganization, and soccer on the gnarled yet functional lawn. Yesterday, we planted seeds for the garden. Judah was happy to lie in the cool dirt, occasionally pushing a tiny seed into wet soil.
I watch his stubborn refusal to work in the water. With that clear decisiveness that characterizes a laboring woman, I walk into the swim manager’s office and ask that we put a hold on this month’s lessons. The manager is kind and cooperative. perhaps he is intimated by my girth. He makes an exception and offers us a voucher to apply to another month’s lessons. Jason folds and unfolds his paper. I stop briefly and grip the metal railing he is leaning against while my body tightens against itself.
We scoop Judah out of the pool and explain to his teacher that we are done for the month but will return before summer. Judah insists I carry him. He is a toweled 35 lb burrito that I sling over my belly. We pile into our Eurovan and head directly home, promising Judah a break in swim lessons and a movie when we get home. Turns out we have dinner guests coming tonight. Oh yeah, and they are bringing their dog.
Jason is cooking. I am preparing for guests or birth or both. I am stopped in my tracks every 10-15 minutes by a contraction. I note more bloody show and more intense contractions as my body responds to the comforting smell of onions sauteeing. I call my midwife Susan and report the sensations to her as well as to my doula Jennifer. Susan is at home and not on call until the following evening. Jennifer, freshly returned from The Farm in Tennessee is also at home with no obligations. I am still not convinced this is labor and feel no need for either of them to come over yet but knowing that they are both available settles me. I promise to check in in a few hours.
Judah is on his Elmo potty on the landing. I peek down and notice his head bobbing, an open book across his small and sturdy lap. He is exhausted and actually falling asleep on the potty. I cannot believe this phenomenon and quickly grab my camera to video it. Poor guy, he is totally exhausted.
I gather Judah into a blanket and snuggle him on the deluxe bean bag chair. The doorbell rings. Our dinner guests have arrived early. And they have brought their dog.
My own dog Maiz follows me to the door. We are greeted by an excited Pit Bullish-looking animal in a double choke chain held by the wisp of a woman who is partner to Jason’s friend and colleague. The dogs immediately growl at each other. My adrenaline pumps up. Judah’s eyes open. The evening has begun.
We decide to put both dogs outside to get used to each other and possibly to entice our Great Pyrenees Oso, who is lazily spending his late afternoon in the cool dirt under the house, to greet our new guest on his own accord. I have learned my lessons painfully and traumatically when it comes to dogs. Better for them to figure it out themselves instead of us humans getting in the way.
We gather in the kitchen. Judah drags his tired body off the bean bag. His nap narrowly averted, he is now in full social mood. Judah loves people. Judah really loves people. I am working in one corner of the kitchen, silently cursing the canine situation while making bubbly water. Maiz comes in the back door quickly followed by Dog. Judah is standing near the dogs when Dog mounts Maiz and a scuffle breaks open. I turn to see our friend scoop Judah out of the fray and onto the landing. I don’t remember running to that corner of the kitchen yet I suddenly appear at the bottom of the stairs and scoop Judah into my arms, rushing upstairs yelling “this is not ok. not ok” as tears stream down my face and Judah’s. I am shaking with mama bear fury. I am scared furious. And my stomach is acid.
Judah and I plop down on the glider on our back porch. Maiz follows us up the stairs. Dog has been quarantined by his owners. I recognize no one has been hurt. Maiz is breathing heavy yet fine. Judah is whole and calming down as I stroke his head and repeat my mantra “it’s ok. we are ok”. Our friend appears in the bedroom. Her brow is wrinkled and she feels horrible. She makes sure we are ok and I manage to repeat “we are ok, just scared”. our friends leave for a walk with Dog. I figure the adrenaline rush may have stopped labor if in fact I was truly beginning labor. Judah and I rock and rock and rock. The wind chimes soothe. Evening gathers.
Our friends return for dinner. Dog stays in the car and growls at passerbys. I continue to have contractions while getting Judah into his bath and ready for bed. My appetite disappears. My body is slowly convincing me that this is, in fact, labor. It is Monday, March 11, 2013.
By the time dinner is served, I am sitting in front of a blaring fire rocking on hands and knees when a contraction hits. My contractions remain 10 minutes apart but are increasing in intensity. I call my dear friend and mother of two Kristina and in our 11 minute conversation I have 2 contractions. I tell her to light her candle and spread the word.
Jason, Michael, Stephanie, Judah and i sit around the coffee table. Even the gourmet wholesomeness in front of me cant convince my stomach to eat. Our friends are delightfully helpful and honest. We joke that this is a dinner party like no other they have attended. And these are some serious foodies. It’s 830pm. I start to feel a need to focus and the scene quickly becomes overwhelming. I call Susan. ‘I need you’, I say. ‘I know.’ she replies. ‘see you soon.’
I call Jennifer. Her bag is packed and she is heading up. I let the photographer Jamie know that my labor has begun. Serendipity gathers us all together on this night of the new moon. Or perhaps it’s Baby Bowie who did that.
I have put Judah to sleep and retreated to my birthing suite, aka our master bedroom with a separate tub room and fireplace. When we first looked at our soon-to-be-new-home in Cardiff California, I saw this tub and thought, ‘I can have my baby here’. I was 4 months pregnant.
Now, with belly swollen and low (oh so freakin low this time), I sway in time with the contractions. I uncover all my birthing supplies – towels and pads, rescue remedy and birthing skirt. I light candles. Susan’s sweet voice comes down the hall. I am soothed. Jason stokes the fire downstairs and finishes the evening’s clean up. Jennifer arrives. Jamie is on her way. Gather. Gather. Gather. I am finally convinced this is labor.
I am drawn to the huge fireplace downstairs in the great room. My contractions remain 5-10 minutes apart. Though i know the intensity is mounting, my mind is carefully calculating the distance between contractions. I wonder whether this pattern will be enough to bring baby down and out. down and out. I am not preoccupied in thought but i am aware of time’s continuim and my deep desire to birth this baby while Judah snores easily away. I use a TENS unit positioned on my lower back to ease the intensity of contractions. My bowels continue to empty. I tuck Jason into bed for a few hours and return to my womanly tribe and the fire. Jennifer shares anecdotes from her recent Farm stay while Susan dozes, and Jamie works. I feel warm and talkative between contractions. We are using the long, oxytocin-soaked intervals between contractions to reminesce, create, spin. I choose the record Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I pace by the fire. I lean into one bent leg. I rock on all fours.
I am ready to retreat upstairs to my birthing suite. I awaken Jason who stumbles downstairs to light the fireplace in the bathtub room. Jennifer begins the bath. I take my time finding the water. I recognize the contractions are coming closer together yet my mind is starting to let go. I no longer connect with what Nancy Barnacke, author of Mindful Birthing, calls Industrial Time. I am entering Horticultural Time. Susan calls it labor land – that blissful, cross-eyed, timeless, excruciating place. Its somewhere around 2 am.
Susan calls our other midwife Catherine, an extremely experienced homebirth midwife who will serve as Susan’s birth assistant. Susan and Catherine are long time friends. They have never served at a birth together. I am so blessed to have so much love and experience in the room with me. I feel completely supported and able to trust.
Jason and I work together. Pacing, swaying, soaking, sounding, leaning, crawling. Susan is my touchstone. She sits quietly in the corner chair. I go to her and kneel at her side and bury my head into her knees with a contraction. My body is telling her everything she needs to know. We listen to baby and he/she thrives along.
Catherine arrives. Jamie leaves. My focus narrows. I am no longer talking between contractions. I am counting my breathes and practicing a meditation I have adopted for this birthing time. ‘In, Out. Deep, Slow. Calm, Ease. Smile, Release. Present Moment. Wonderful Moment.’ My tailbone feels stretched to its max during contractions. I know this babe is not big but the pressure is intense and a bit frightening. The water soothes that pain between contractions, yet I am drawn back to the floor. I crawl along the floor imagining the small head of my child moving fluidily between my pelvic bones. My belly drops. I grasp harder to the tub’s side or Jason’s flesh or Jennifer’s soothing hands during contractions. Hot tears flow from nowhere. I am laughing and crying. I am deep deep in it. I don’t know how I arrived. All I know is the darkness outside, the searing pain in my tailbone with each contraction and the blissful relief between.
I am burning hot in the water. I open the window over the tub and a cool breeze rushes in. I sip at the air. It tastes sweet, like coconut water. It sounds like carefully placed windchimes on a breezy day. My contractions are coming 2-5 minutes apart. My midwives have set up all their supplies. The crinkling of plastic supplies and the strong sound of our baby’s heartbeat combine with woman’s voices coming from the stereo. I want to hear old timey folk guitar, a nod to our Southern experience.
With my first son, I labored mostly at home. When transition hit, I found myself once again in a tub of warm water. My doula made the call. We quickly gathered our supplies and loaded up for the 10 minute drive to the hospital. I remember the urge to push began in that ride, stuck at a train crossing, while our friend’s knuckles whitened against the steering wheel and my moans filled our car with the sound of wild woman birthing. We arrived at the hospital and Judah was born 30 minutes later. No one had checked my cervix prior to arriving at the hospital. I never resisted the urge to push. I just spread my knees on the hospital floor and allowed my body to push baby out.
The pushing phase of Bowie’s birth was much different. After checking myself, i asked Susan to confirm that I was indeed fully dilated. Yes, there is the baby, she says. Its ok to push if you want. I had already started grunting with contractions which drew the midwives tubside and encouraged them to set up supplies.
I felt a sense of relief knowing the last phase of labor was upon us, yet this was where i got caught in my head. in the fear of the unknown of how long the pushing would take. Would I be able to push past the pain in my tailbone? Would this baby be born while the darkness stayed thick? Before Judah awoke? I never doubted the health and strength of the baby during this time. The midwives checked heart tones with every contraction. All was well.
I stayed in the water and attempted to push with the contractions, but i felt like i got no love from gravity in the buoyant waters. So I climbed out and restlessy attempted to find a better spot. Still, no traction. I felt the contractions in my butt and just above my pubic bone. While trying to find a way to push into these points, I had a revelation. I don’t need to push, i thought. Not yet. The baby is not ready. As low as this baby had been all through my pregnancy and labor, he or she wasn’t low enough. The push sensors in my birth canal had not yet been activated by the pressure of his her head. Once that happened, I would not have to think about pushing. My body would do it for me.
I climbed back in the tub and tried to relax and breath through a few more contractions. ‘Laboring down’ is what we midwives call this process between full dilation and the urge to push. Some women experience a full hour of rest during this period. Others, only a few minutes. Either way, it is extremely important to respect this sacred time as the mother’s body is refueling for the task of pushing out her baby.
My laboring down period lasted maybe ten minutes. The water helped soothe the pain in my tailbone which continued to scream at me with each contraction. I looked to my husband for support. I stared at the mantras that decorated the tub room. ‘In, Out.’ i remembered. ‘Calm, Ease. Deep, Slow. Smile, Release.’ I allowed myself an internal celebration that we had come this far. ‘Present Moment. Wonderful Moment’. I talked to my baby. I encouraged him her to come down and to be born. Together, we could do this.
I looked up at Susan who perched at the edge of the tub, ready with doppler to listen to baby. The steam from the bathtub rose between she and I, her curly hair frizzing in the moist heat. I had been here before, in a dream, yet shocklingly here. as clear and measured as any past moment. Here. Now it was time to meet my baby.
With the next contraction, I pushed. I pushed and I pooped into the water sending Jennifer and Jason scrambling to retrieve my excrement. I pushed some more. I pooped some more. I didn’t care. ‘I am going to poop this baby out’ I said. My midwives agreed. ‘Yes Laura, that’s what it feels like. Push way down into your rectum.’
I pushed past the pain in my tailbone, roaring like a mother bear as I did. I practically jumped out of the bathtub and pushed and pooped on the layers of towels and chux pads underneath me. My waters exploded onto the mess of towels and pads beneath me. The storm of bodily fluids did not phase me. I only cared for one thing in this moment… getting this baby’s head past my tailbone and out into my arms.
I pushed leaning forward on my knees like I had birthed Judah, but the midwives had trouble finding baby’s heartbeat in that position. I looked straight at Susan and told her I would birth in any position she told me to. I was done directing this birth. I was ready to be led.
Catherine slid her birthing stool under me. Jason was behind me and between the stool and the tub. I leaned into him. A deep searing roar came out of me and with it my baby’s head was born and then the rest of the slippery body. it was 545 am. The relief was instantaneous. A wave of calm permeated the room sweeping away the hot flurry of the past moments. I held this tiny new life against my sweaty body. A short cord prevented me from raising him her to my chest so i quickly felt down around his bottom. A boy, I said as my fingers felt swollen boy parts and the sensation of hot urine streamed over my belly.
With another push, I birthed the placenta and lifted the baby up to eye level. I felt more than saw Jason’s proud tears as the shock of new life penetrated the moment. This moment, a timeless space that appears after the birth of a baby. The doors to 2 worlds remain open. We are completely alert and present to the miracle of life. Or, at the very least, we can be should we choose to honor this transformation of woman and child and family. In our moment, we are completely honored, left to cuddle in bed, watched yet not observed. Sniffing, kissing, staring into wide open slate-blue eyes, praising the miracle of my body. Life giving life.
Our new little buddy has arrived. His big brother will awake in a few hours and get to meet his baby bro in the warm comforts of our home.
The sun begins to rise.
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Thank you so much for sharing, Laura and Jamie. The whole story is right here in these photos.
All photos by Jamie Street.