I should have known that Stephen would create his own story. From the very beginning, he has fiercely been his own being. He was conceived the month following our D&E, perhaps before Ben and I could even wrap our heads around being pregnant again [which is a story for another day]. His ultrasounds made me nervous [we didn’t have a single ultrasound with Isaac], his heartbeat was always difficult to find, and he presented breech in the third trimester – sending me on a whirlwind of interventions to try to get him to flip.
While I tried hard to stay present and not get caught up in expectations surrounding the birth of my second child, it was tough. Everyone I knew told me how much easier and quicker their second labors were, so I also began to expect that my second would be somehow less intense than my first – which was 8 hours and really not too bad for a first timer. With Isaac’s birth, I had no idea what to expect aside from the fact that it was going to be intense and that eventually it would have to end. It was. And it did. But then four years went by. And during that time, all the physical and emotional turmoil of labor began to fade as my bond with Isaac grew and my experience as a mother became much more broad and encompassing.
Although I had long prodromal labor with Isaac, I never experienced Braxton Hicks. So I was pretty surprised when I started getting Braxton Hicks contractions at around 37 weeks pregnant with Stephen. I was grateful to be feeling the comings on of labor, but I knew they were nothing like the real thing, and I wasn’t sure what this meant as far as a timeline.
As 39 weeks gestation came and went, I started getting antsy. Isaac came at 39 weeks and I thought this baby would come around then, too. I was still walking a lot and swimming daily, knowing that labor would be another marathon and I needed to train.
Then I woke up 40 weeks pregnant–a point I thought I’d never see–and saw that two friends (both due after me) had already had their babies. To reconnect with myself and baby, I asked Ben and Isaac to come on a hike with me, and we spent the day exploring as a family of three.
That night, July 16th, I lost my mucous plug. I did my best to sleep that night but was restless as my contractions started picking up at around 2am.
On the morning of Sunday the 17th I knew that my surges (contractions) had picked up, and I had the feeling that it was my last day as a Mom of one. We had a lazy morning. I wrote in my journal, took silly photos of my family of three, and made pancakes with Isaac.
While we were making pancakes I kept getting surges, but nothing I thought worth timing. Then, at around 10:30am, I called Ben into the kitchen.
“Umm… did I just pee myself?”
We both looked down at a little puddle of blood-tinged liquid. Then Ben calmly said, “I’m pretty sure that’s part of your mucous plug, or your waters. I’ll clean it up.”
After breakfast we decided to head to Kula playground so that I could walk some hills and stairs while the boys played at the playground. As I walked hills I felt more liquid gush, and then my surges started to actually slow me down. I walked the stairs and squatted at each level, talking to baby and telling my body to open wide.
Around noon, as we were leaving to head home, I told Ben to update the birth team–Kristina my midwife and Sonya my doula–and let them know that I was feeling things more intensely. Then, just as I was getting into the car, I felt another big gush of water. This was going nothing like my first labor, so I just told my team that I was going to try to nap just in case. We called my brother to pick up Isaac and told my mom she might think about coming home soon, too.
It only took about ten minutes to get home, but my brother beat us there. He and Isaac were heading for an adventure and then Isaac would “camp out” at Uncle Darren’s house if labor went into the night. I packed Isaac’s bags for his first sleepover and sobbed as he excitedly gave me a hug and hopped into his car seat. I knew it would be the last time he and I had each other solely to ourselves, and my heart was so full of gratitude for the little boy who made me a mother and took this crazy journey with me. But now it was time to put all my energy into birthing this baby.
Once we were home I laid down for a nap [mine was pretty restless, as the surges were semi-regular and about 5 minutes apart now], and then it was all I could do to walk and try to move through them.
At around 6:00pm, I asked Ben to call the team and let them know I was feeling a shift in energy and that I wanted them to at least come check on me. Based on my first labor, we all thought my second was going to be super fast, so the team was at our house by 6:30.
And then the hours and the minutes just kept ticking by.
The funny thing about subsequent labors is that there is a point where – suddenly – the intensity from your first experience comes back to you. With a vengeance. I simply tried to stay in my body and with my baby. With Isaac I was able to sink into a trance to make it through one surge at a time. With Stephen, I was having such a hard time getting into my zone. All the tactics I used with Isaac [visualization, meditation, repeating phrases] weren’t working this time around. I felt everything, and I felt it strongly. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to be wrong with this baby.
Which is probably where I stalled. The fear that comes from having a late miscarriage (and reading the medical report of the parts of baby that were evacuated from your womb) can have a pretty profound effect on your psyche, and it definitely had an effect on mine. I was scared and nervous. In the depths of my conscious I imagined that I’d birth this baby and s/he would be born either in separated body parts or completely limp and still. I was terrified, but I wasn’t willing to voice any of that, for fear that it might come to fruition.
So I kept it to myself and kept replaying scenarios in my head. I wanted to be alone and separate from even my Mom, for fear that I’d disappoint everyone by birthing ‘incorrectly’. It was bizarre and so much more isolating than I had remembered Isaac’s birth to be.
I kept trying different tactics. Sitting on the toilet. Getting in the shower. Going outside and looking at the stars. Being with just my husband. Being alone. Surrounding myself with women. Silence. Music. Being in the birth pool. More coconut water.
At around 10:30pm I hit a wall. I was so exhausted from the regular surges that I turned to Ben and said, “I totally get why women get epidurals now. I just feel like I need something to help me sleep. I need to relax so I can do this for as long as I have to.” In my head, I thought about transferring to the hospital. These two things – drugs and the hospital – never crossed my mind with Isaac’s birth.
Around 11:00pm, we tried taking a nap in our room and I slept in tiny increments between surges for about half an hour before coming out and telling my birth team that I was losing it and that I couldn’t do this for much longer.
We talked as a birth team and I decided that I wanted to be checked for dilation, so that at least I would know where I stood. Around midnight, Kris checked me and said that my cervix was very stretchy, that baby was at about a 0 station, and showed me with her fingers where my dilation was. At that point it looked like I was just at about 7cms. I wanted to curl up and cry. I told everyone but Ben to go away, and then broke down as all the fears and doubts I held inside came pouring out in one long, incomprehensible sob.
Ben was amazing – again. He held me and reminded me that this was my journey, and that I could choose to do it however I wanted. He told me that he supported anything I chose, and that he knew I was strong and that I could do this. I promised him I’d try my very best.
After that meltdown/pep talk with Ben, I got back on the birth stool and writhed through the sensations with a renewed sense of determination. But a few surges upright knocked me on my ass again – it was just SO, SO intense. I told everyone I couldn’t labor squatting on the birth stool anymore and started unraveling, crying in front of everyone.
My birth team was beyond amazing. They kept encouraging me to take it one surge at a time and gave me options. Kris said it seemed like squatting was working best to bring baby down, so I could either squat on the birth stool or squat in the birth tub.
This is the moment where I felt everything shift for me mentally. Having an option and feeling in control of something was huge. I chose the birth pool, and I squatted through my crashing waves while holding on to the edge. When the sensations subsided, I dropped into the pool, sweaty and spent. A minute later, I did it again. And then again.
At some point, someone said I could try to bear down and see if I could encourage baby to move down further. With Isaac, the urge to push was innate and came with a vengeance. I couldn’t stop myself. I expected it would be similar with Stephen. But that urge wasn’t coming, and I was so exhausted and desperate to get through it that I agreed.
The first time I tried to push while squatting felt intense yet ineffective, but at least I could focus my energy on something. The second time was more of the same. I remember how quiet and dark the house was, and saw my team speaking in hushed tones [I later found out that they were discussing how to heat up more hot water, as it seemed like I’d be at this for a long time more].
Then, during that third bearing down surge, I decided to just push through my fear and give it all I had. I thought, I am too fucking tired to keep doing this all night. Whether there is something wrong with my baby or not, I’ve got to find out eventually.
I beared down and squatted and suddenly my tone shifted from low to high and uncontrollable. I heard my doula say, “Low tones, Haley,” while I felt something shift within me (I believe it was baby pushing through my coccyx). A split-second later, I felt baby’s head move down the birth canal, and with my next breath, his head was out.
I felt his incredible velvet hair between my legs and was amazed that he came down through the birth canal and with his head out in a single surge. I kept saying–softly, and mostly to myself and my son, “My baby. My baby. My baby.”
And then I felt another surge coming on and yelled to my birth team,
“Is somebody gonna CATCH the baby??!”
Ben threw off his shirt while he scrambled into the tub. Kris was right beside him, and Sonya and my Mom never left my side. I was nervous that I wouldn’t feel the urge to push again, so with the next surge I bore down more than necessary. I was surprised by how much more strength it took for me to push his body out. But with that next surge, Stephen was born into Ben’s hands.
As he was placed on my chest, I cried tears of joy as well as sheer, powerful relief. My tears fell for both this perfect little healthy baby, and for the one I lost less than a year ago and will never get to meet. Finally, the long and emotional chapter of our second (third?) baby was complete.
It was wild. To go from a labor that seemed like it would go on forever to a four-push labor was… intense. It took everyone – including me – by surprise.
Once he was out and crying, I decided to move out of the tub to birth my placenta. The water in the birth tub was still crystal clear–a huge difference from Isaac’s birth water–and I wasn’t in any discomfort at all.
Stephen latched on and I birthed my placenta shortly after. I had very little bleeding (thanks stinging nettle and red raspberry leaf infusions!) and felt bonded to this little being immediately–another huge difference from Isaac’s birth.
As it turned out, the reason I felt like it was harder to push his body out was because Stephen was a whole whopping POUND heavier than his brother, but an inch shorter! I healed quickly and with ease, with no tearing.
Stephen Kamaluikamakapueo was born at 12:48 am on July 18th, 2016. He weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 20 inches long. He is perfection, and I have been filled with gratitude to be doing this whole Mama thing again–this time with a bit more grace.