The four of us lay in bed. Sitting comfortably on a cloud of hormones and pure joy. We couldn’t stop smiling and staring at her, FaceTiming our families to share the happy news. I had thought a thousand times about what her birth day would be like. June 1st now held her story forever.
My water broke on May 31st at 10pm; 15 minutes before we finished the finale of The Americans and two hours after my ferocious need to wash all of the bath mats in the house. Ryan and I both leaped up from the couch, too distracted to continue watching, and began the final preparations for our planned home birth of baby girl number two.
Ryan kicked things into high gear. He pulled out the hose to begin filling the Aquadoula tub, put the plastic sheet on the bed, and gathered all of our prepared birth goodie bags full of things like towels, a baby hat, washcloths, a thermometer and a cookie sheet (who’s purpose still stumps me to this day).
I walked aimlessly around our bedroom, trying to combat my intense anxiety and excitement with meditation and deep breathing.
Our birth flags strung across the wall, illuminated by the bedside lamp. Positive affirmations from the strong women in my life decorated each flag.
“I am strength. A warrior. Courageous. Sunshine.”
“It’s Go Time!”
“I can do hard things.”
The bright, teal colored Aquadoula had been setup in the corner of our room now for two weeks, staring at me in anticipation every night before bed.
People kept telling me how quickly second babies tend to come, so when my water broke, my heart leaped out of my chest thinking I would go from zero to 10, fast. (Plus I had lost my mucus plug two days before and had been feeling “off” – extra emotional and crampy – since then).
The surges began around 10:30 pm, light at 10 minutes apart, then slowly building in intensity and closer together at eight minutes apart. We called our doula, Willow, to come over and my sister, Michelle, to watch our older daughter Maisley. All signs were pointing to baby launch 2018. She was coming!
And then after an hour, the surges started to slow down. 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes apart.
It was a sleepless night. The surges were just strong enough to keep me awake, not to mention my anxious mind begging unhelpful questions like: When will this labor get moving? Am I going to be pregnant forever? Can I even handle this again?
I laid in bed on my side, with a pillow between my legs, lightly clutching the rosary my grandma had given me when I was a little girl. Grandma Joan, our baby’s middle-name sake.
Ryan laid next to me, dosing out a unique level of comfort and encouragement that only he could provide.
Inhale calm, exhale surrender.
The sun came up on the first of a new month. It was a peaceful and warm morning, not the kind of day you imagine to match the intensity of labor. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, questioning my body and wondering when I would meet my baby girl.
Willow continued to reassure me that this off-and-on early labor was very common for second-time moms. “Nothing is wrong. Everything you are experiencing is normal. You are doing great,” she calmly reminded me. She massaged my shoulders and guided me through the Miles Circuit to help get things moving. Willow went home to recharge and told us to call her when things started to intensify.
I continued to rest in bed and then around 9:00 am I noticed a change in my body. One strong surge came and I knew it was the beginning of many more to come.
Between breaths I whispered to Ryan to call the midwife and have Willow come back as soon as possible, trying not waste any bit of energy on logistics. He was working so hard to not only help me through each surge with the support of his hands and shoulders to hang on, but managing all communications and making sure I had everything I needed; food, water, chapstick, cold towels, music, essential oils, etc.
At the peak of each surge, I felt like I had a choice; to let the pain consume me and take over, or to ride with it, be active in it, stay present and breathe deeply. Instead of being afraid of the intensity, I embraced it and welcomed it with every ounce of my mind and body (different than my mindset for my first labor and it made ALL the difference).
I was squatting next to the bed, breathing and making deep groaning noises. I moved to the toilet to labor and I could feel my body releasing her down with each surge.
The urge to push came on at around 10:15 am as I was laboring on the toilet. That undeniable and familiar deep pressure in my pelvis was here. I had been saving the water as my final comfort during transition and was now instinctively ready to move to the tub.
I hung over the soft edge of the warm tub, in an upright child’s pose position. It was here that I experienced the hardest moment of labor so far. The moment most laboring women talk about where they feel like they can’t do it. I wanted out. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. The pressure and burning was so intense, I felt like my body might break apart.
When Willow arrived she strung cold essential oil-infused towels over my neck, poured water on my back and took turns with Ryan holding my hands and guiding my breath through each surge.
The midwives arrived at 10:30 am. Thank you God, I thought. No unassisted home birth today. They took my blood pressure, monitored baby and as one of the assistants asked if it was okay to check my dilation, I just shook my head and said I’m ready. There was no need, I could feel her coming soon.
Ryan faced me, looking into my eyes with belief and whispering words of encouragement. He helped me to remain present and enjoy the peaceful moments between surges (which to my surprise was actually possible).
I began bearing down when the uncontrollable urge to push came over my body. On my third full body push, I groaned, “She’s coming!” and as her head emerged, I flipped over and reached down to feel her beautiful head. I was so shocked that she was here. There was no “ring of fire” feeling and I was only pushing for 15 minutes!
With one final push at 10:59 am her body was out and I felt the sweetest release. Ryan stood next to the midwife, delivering our baby girl and bringing her to my chest.
I yelled out sighs of relief and joy, in disbelief by the continual miracle of birth. We did it. Everyone was safe and healthy. Ryan and I held each other’s gaze, relishing in what we divinely created. She was so warm on my chest and was covered in thick, white vernix. She exuded a calm, peace and contentment I had never seen before.
I almost thought something might be wrong because she wasn’t crying, but the midwives reassured me that she was doing great.
I could feel deep in my heart that we were made for each other. That and so much gratitude for her life and the empowering experience we would forever share.
Coura Joan Nienhuis. Born 7 pounds 2 ounces in the water, at home. My courageous girl had forever changed our life.