On Monday morning, around 4:00 a.m., Heather woke me up.
“This is it,” she said.
She had been having contractions through the night for eight hours. They had picked up from 10-15 minutes apart down to every five or seven minutes. With two pregnancies under our belts already, we had a pretty good sense of what to expect now. We called the birthing center and we were told a midwife could meet us there in about an hour. Heather labored at home a little while longer, enjoying a few cuddles with Blake and Floyd before we took off. Our kids were still in bed. We had a friend spending the night to watch them as we left.
Blake and Floyd could always sense when something is wrong with Heather. They watched us from the door as we loaded the van.
Special Beginnings Birthing Center is about 30 minutes from our house. Heather worked through the contractions like a champ as we drove.
The center has a staff of eight midwives. On any given night, you don’t know which one might be on call when it’s your turn to push the baby out. Ashley was light-hearted and sweet, talking gently to Heather as she checked the baby. We were grateful to have her. I immediately felt safe and reassured to have our baby in her hands.
Unfortunately, when Ashley checked Heather’s cervix, we discovered she was only 2 cm. dilated. We had a long while to go.
If a mother hasn’t progressed far enough in her labor, the center releases her back home to rest and continue laboring in a more comfortable environment. Disappointed, we returned to the van and drove home.
Our friend, Mary, from church kept the boys company in our absence.
Fortunately, we got home to two bright, joyful boys as the sunrise spilled through our kitchen window.
Phoenix (our older one) was so excited and happy to know that their little brother, Anakai, would be coming today.
Because Heather had been up all night with contractions, the midwife told her to take some benadryl and nap to regain her strength.
But when she woke up, the contractions had stopped. Labor had stalled. We called the birthing center to ask them what we could do to get things started again.
On Tuesday, I drove to an all-natural food market to pick up a small bottle of Clary Sage essential oil, known to help induce labor. I rubbed the oil on Heather’s feet and ankles, and massaged some lavender on her back.
Within a few hours, labor started up again.
Contractions came on steadily again, lasting about two hours.
But then they stalled once more. We went on a late-night walk in hope to get them going again.
We went to bed.
Then, sometime after midnight, contractions resumed. Hard and fast. They came about two-and-a-half to four minutes apart. We called the birthing center, and I talked with Ashley as Heather’s groans became more and more strained.
“She sounds like she’s in a lot of pain. Why don’t you come in?” she said.
But as soon as we hung up the phone, the contractions disappeared again.
Wednesday morning, Heather was so tired and defeated. These starts and stops were beating us down.
We waited around most of the day hoping labor would begin once more.
Later that day, Heather couldn’t feel the baby moving, so we returned to the birthing center for a checkup and to see what options we had to induce labor without going for the big guns: Pitocin. We knew that if we went with pitocin, there would be no hope for a natural birth without drugs.
There was one option left: a blue gel called Protaglandin, but we couldn’t schedule it until the next day, Thursday, at the hospital.
So in the meantime we went bowling at this old, little alley. There were no video screens or bowling pin sensors. After each bowl, we had to push a button to manually reset the pins for the next player.
Fortunately, Heather’s mom knew how to tally the points on a paper score sheet.
Also, the bowling balls were really tiny. Perfect for the kids.
Thursday, after work, I drove Heather to the Anne Arundel Medical Center for an appointment to apply the Prostaglandin gel, designed to ripen her cervix and induce labor without having to resort to pitocin.
The effects of the gel worked quickly. Within an hour, hard and heavy contractions began again. Harder than any she had all week.
This was it. This was it. We could feel it.
We drove directly to the birthing center from the hospital.
Already, two births were taking place in the other rooms. One woman was screaming so loudly we could hear her before we even entered the building. As soon as we walked through the door, it was madness.
About an hour into it, we heard the baby next room being born.
“One down, two to go,” I thought. Heather’s eyes filled with tears as the newborn cries reached us through the wall.
Thankfully, Ashley was with us again.
One beautiful thing about natural births is that as the husband, you serve an integral part to your wife’s labor. I was there for more than just taking pictures. I coached Heather through each contraction, massaging her arms and feet and bringing her juice, ice, water and whatever else she needed.
I carried all of our bags inside, set them by the wall. But unfortunately, that evening, we never got to unpack any of them. About four hours into her labor, the contractions stopped again, and we had to return home.
All that work, and nothing.
I played board games with the boys to pass the time on Friday morning. Heather and I were both spent.
It was in her frustration that Heather resorted to the mighty Google to figure out what was going on with her body. It’s then that we found out about Prodromal Labor, which is when labor starts and stops around the same time for several days.
And it can last weeks.
We drove back to the hospital for another dose of the blue gel. We hoped this would be our last drive on this back-and-forth commute.
Five days into labor, and Heather was getting pretty sick of my camera.
This time, Melissa was our midwife. I hadn’t met her before, but Heather said she was one of her favorites besides Ashley. I could see why. Melissa had a calm, reassuring strength about her.
Usually, the prostaglandin gel doesn’t induce labor until the third day of application, causing cramping for several hours each time. But for Heather, each dose brought on strong contractions and a ton of pressure in her lower body.
In less than an hour, Heather was in the midst of her heaviest and hardest contractions yet. We contemplated staying there at the hospital. She could barely walk, and now she was 7 cm dilated. Thanks to Melissa’s encouragement, we convinced Heather to drive to the birthing center.
Unlike the previous trips where Heather labored calmly and quietly on our drive, this time the van was full of screaming. I didn’t dare take any pictures of her.
When I took this photo, I was walking Heather from the van to the birthing center’s door. We saw a large group of parents taking a birthing class. They all stopped to look at us with cheers and smiles. In that awkward moment, I fired photos in their direction without looking.
Melissa filled the birthing pool. I took this as a good sign. She wouldn’t have set up the pool unless she thought the baby would come soon.
I remember looking at the time and thinking, “It’s been only an hour and a half. We might have three more hours of this and have to go home again. Don’t get too excited.” I felt very tired.
Two hours in, Heather begged for it to stop. She begged to return to the hospital.
“Get this baby out. Just get him out. I want to be done,” she asked.
Melissa checked Heather’s cervix.
“Don’t tell us,” I told Melissa. “Heather doesn’t want to know how far she is.” We made this rule out of fear of a slow progress. Heather was in so much pain that she would have been defeated by any bad news.
“Well, you can have the baby now, actually,” Melissa said.
We got Heather back in the water, and she pushed. And in 15 minutes, Anakai came out.
The umbilical cord was wrapped around Anakai’s neck. I didn’t even notice this in the moment as I shot frames rapidly, but Melissa and the nurse, also named Heather, acted quickly.
Only three hours had passed. We had a baby!
Heather lost almost a liter of blood, with many clots the nurse and midwife removed by hand and by pushing hard on her belly.
The one beautiful thing about birthing centers is that they don’t hold mothers and babies hostages like hospitals do. In less than six hours, we returned home. We surprised our older boys with their new baby brother. Phoenix was so happy, he cried.
Blake and Floyd were also curious about this new stranger.
Anakai Noo Sauret
March 10, 2017
9 pounds, 12 ounces
20.25 inches long