My due date had come and gone. 40 weeks.** I had made it all the way to full term. I wondered if I would or not. I had a feeling that I would. My first two babies were born in the hospital, induced 9 and 7 days early, respectively, and I was barely dilated both times. This was going to be my first natural birth. I didn’t even know what it felt like to go into labor. I was so nervous with anticipation. Not scared, just anxious; but not anxious in a bad way, more like an “I can’t wait to meet this boy and experience birth the way it was meant to be” sort of way. Two days after my 40 weeks had passed, I was at church with my kids at our homeschool group classes. It was a Tuesday. I was pretty miserable! I was so worn out and tired, and struggling to help my oldest son with his classes. I’m sure all the other parents there could see my weariness and pain. They were so supportive and offered encouragement to me. That evening, something happened. Was that a contraction? It felt like a menstrual cramp. It radiated across my abdomen. Could this be it? Finally?! Oh, how I was so ready for it! But Joshua wasn’t ready to come earthside yet. I was having prodromal labor, something I had never heard of before. My doula was amazing throughout this process. She and I texted throughout this week as I kept her informed of my progress. I can’t tell you how invaluable she was for me, especially during this last week! Yes, you read that right, a week. A week of prodromal labor, usually starting up in the evening, but never getting into a good rhythm.
The next Tuesday we went back to our homeschool classes. I was even more exhausted than the week before. After I got home that afternoon, I became sick. I went to the restroom…I’ll spare you the details…but when I texted my doula, she said the body usually has a “clean out” in preparation for birth, and she really thought today was the day. Really? Could it be? I wasn’t so sure, but I would have loved for it to be so! My prodromal labor the night before had actually gotten to 5 minutes for a full hour, but they weren’t intense at all, so I didn’t call the midwife. I figured if they became “real” contractions, I wouldn’t possibly be able to sleep through them anyway, so I just fell asleep and by morning they were gone. So here I was, intermittent milk contractions throughout the day, sick, and tired. I went to the tub to take a bath as hot as was comfortable, hoping the warm water would relieve my sour stomach. It did. I probably stayed in for an hour, more or less. Then I got out and dressed in my nightgown and went to bed to lie down. It was around 6 pm.
Then it happened. I had a contraction! A real one! I called out to Colby that I had had a contraction that felt much stronger, like bad gas pangs. I texted my doula and told her, and she excitedly told me this had to be it! Oh my gosh, really? I still wasn’t sure. Nine minutes later I had another, just as strong if not a little stronger. Okay, okay, I’m convinced now! So I called my midwife to let her know this was it and guess where she was? Dallas. Over an hour away. That poor woman had stayed close to home this entire week or more because we just knew I was going to give birth soon, and as no sooner than she sits down at a restaurant with her daughter to celebrate her own birthday, she gets the call from me. I couldn’t help feeling a little badly about it for her. So she starts to drive toward Sherman, and Colby tells me he’s going to heat up some supper for me because I’ll need to keep up my strength for who knows how many hours of labor. I’d never labored on my own before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. As he was heating up some leftovers for me, I had another contraction. This one was stronger. I looked at the clock. Five minutes this time. No big deal, it’s supposed to be 5 minutes apart for an hour before you even call the midwife, typically. The next one was 7 minutes later. Great…we’re going to do that inconsistent stuff again, just like the prodromal? Colby was busy with food and trying to get the kids dressed. He had just brought me some food, and I kept having contractions, three more now, all 5 minutes apart. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, they say transition is the worst part. This is pretty bad, I don’t know how I’m going to handle transition.” I was starting to vocalize through each contraction, stopping to bend over a bit and hold onto the table. I think I scared the kids a little bit. I told them I was okay, that the baby was going to be born really soon. I went into their rooms to get some clothes for them, because Colby kept telling them to get dressed, but they can’t reach their clothes from the high bar in the closet.
And then, 2 minutes after the last contraction, I had another. Uh oh!!! We weren’t even out the door yet, and they’re coming at 2 minutes apart? What happened to 5 minutes apart for an hour? It had only been 38 minutes since my first contraction! The panic set in right about then. Colby’s yelling at the kids to get their shoes, I’m wondering where the bag is for the birth center. We finally get in the suburban and as we’re driving, they continue at 2 minutes apart. I decided to quit timing them, I was in labor of course, what was the point? I was really vocalizing through all the contractions, and I was so uncomfortable sitting in the front seat of the suburban. I grabbed the handle near the top of the window and my bottom involuntarily rose up off the seat as I held on through every contraction. Colby called his mom to let her know it was time because she was going to watch the kids. They were in Sherman and had just sat down to eat at Cheddar’s. I heard Colby tell her we would drop the kids off. WHAT?!?!?!?! DROP THE KIDS OFF?! I told him we don’t have time, call her back and tell her to meet us at the birth center? He said no, they can’t, they just sat down to order. So? Send one person to meet us and get the kids, they can let someone order for them and go back and eat, we were only 10 minutes away. But no, he said we had plenty of time. I begged to differ, but I finally relented. I didn’t have the energy to argue, and really didn’t want to lay into him in front of the kids! So when we got to Cheddar’s, his dad and brother were waiting for us outside. I remember the dominant thought in my head was to do whatever I had to do to cope with labor, but I have to admit there was a thought in the back of my head that was saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe my father-in-law and brother-in-law are going to see me like this, how embarrassing!” But oh well, it’s not like I could stop it! Colby later told me that he and his brother and dad didn’t realize until that moment how serious it really was!
So the menfolk got the car seats switched over and we were on our way to the birth center, which was only 5 more minutes down the road. It was about this time that I told Colby I felt the urge to push. I don’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was just going to have to wait! Every turn and bump was excruciating. I kept thinking I wish I was at home, because laboring in a moving vehicle is NOT fun! It’s not that labor was horrible really, it was that every single coping method I had practiced or read about had flown out the window since I was in the suburban and not in my house or the birth center. Honestly, once we got we got there and I got out, even though the contractions were strengthening, it was much better to manage them out of the vehicle. When we did finally arrive after what seemed like an eternity, the midwife was not there yet. Colby called her and asked where she was, and she was in Howe, at least 10 minutes away. I got out and stood beside the suburban and leaned over my seat through the next contraction. Colby relayed the midwife’s instructions to me. She said try to get on my hands and knees. I looked down at the asphalt and thought, “no way, that’ll hurt.” So I told Colby let’s try the back of the suburban. (*Note to self, that was a horrible idea. Had I actually given birth there, the mess to clean up out of the carpet would have been ridiculous!)
Colby opened the back door and I was dismayed when I saw it was full of the things we had brought to the birth center, like the car seat that hadn’t been installed yet, my suitcase with extra clothes, a diaper bag, cloth diapers, etc. He quickly threw everything in the back seat and was just about to help me up when another contraction came on. All I could do was hold onto the bumper and squat down. I still needed to push, and truth be told my body actually was pushing involuntarily. He was still on the phone with my midwife, and I was breathing in exhaust fumes. I told him, but he didn’t hear me. When the contraction was over, I tried to stand up, but another one came on with no break in between. This time I yelled at him about the exhaust and he turned off the suburban. Then I heard him say something I can’t remember to the midwife, followed by, “…because I don’t know how to deliver a baby!” She later told me she told Colby just don’t drop him! In that moment after the contraction passed, I was determined. I could hear the panic in Colby’s voice, and I was actually afraid he was mad at this whole situation. You see, I had wanted a home birth and he didn’t like that idea, but he was so amazing to compromise with me and use a midwife with a planned birth center birth. But right now, none of that mattered, and I was actually excited that I was about to catch my baby, which is something I had dreamed about. Colby had already told me he had no interest in catching the baby, let the midwife do it, so I’d been planning to do it myself anyway.
So I briskly walked up to the front porch and got down on my hands and knees just in time for the next contraction. I let myself push, and oh did it feel so great! With that push, my waters broke. And I don’t mean just broke, I mean gushed! Joshua’s head had crowned, I could feel it. So I put my hand on his head, just to confirm, and I could feel his head and hair. By this time, Colby had put the phone on speaker and placed it near my head so I could communicate with the midwife. I was calm, but I wanted to tell her what was going on. I was trying not to shout, although it felt like I was screaming since I was trying to talk through the pain. I told her I felt the “ring of fire”, the notorious burning sensation felt around your perineum as the baby’s head crowns. As I told her this and that he had crowned, I felt Colby’s hand on top of mine. But I didn’t move mine, because in my own head I thought I was catching, and I wasn’t about to move. Then Colby snapped at me with an authority in his voice that I hadn’t heard until then. He said, “Move, I’ve got it!” Honestly, I was happy. He was there for me, and he was so brave! One more push, and Joshua’s head was out. I had to wait for the next contraction, and when it came I pushed one last time and Joshua’s body slid right out. Oh my gosh! We did it! I couldn’t wait to see him! As soon as he was out, all the discomfort subsided instantly. Colby was just standing behind me holding him, and he was telling the midwife that he had been born. She was almost here. She said to wrap him up and wait for her. Actually, I’m pretty sure there was more to the conversation, but I can’t remember…I was kind of preoccupied, if you know what I mean!
I told Colby to bend down and get Joshua close to the ground so I could swing my leg over the umbilical cord as I turned around to sit down. He handed him to me, and the first thing I noticed was that he was covered in the thickest vernix I’d ever seen. Everyone had prepared me for him to have little to none since he had gone past his due date, but Joshua surprised us all. He wasn’t crying at first, and I think it worried Colby just a bit. I was a tiny bit nervous, but I also remember thinking, “I know what to do, just give him a minute.” He was moving and trying to breath, so I wasn’t very worried. I patted his back as I held him against me, and in just a few seconds, he started crying. That was a relief! Colby had taken off his t-shirt after my water broke, and now I could see why. When I started pushing and my water broke, apparently I sprayed him pretty good! It was funny now. He handed it to me and I wrapped Joshua up in it. I think the first thing I said to him was, “Are you mad?” And he was asking me the same thing. I thought he’d be upset and make me go back to the hospital for the next pregnancy, and I had just had the most awesome experience of my life. But guess what? He wasn’t mad at all. I told him, “Colby, we just had an unassisted birth! You caught our baby! This is the most awesome thing ever!” I was just so ecstatic in that moment, I couldn’t stop smiling. And neither could Colby. The midwife arrived just a couple minutes later and unlocked the door. Another midwife, who would assist, had also been coming along, and pulled up right behind her. Of course, she knew we had a baby already because we were on the phone with her, but the other one got quite the surprise when she walked up!
The midwife brought out a huge disposable pad, she and Colby helped me up as I held Joshua, and with the pad under me, I shuffled to the bed. She made sure we were okay. She knew I wanted as little intervention as possible right after Joshua was born, so she gave me a towel to wrap him in instead of the shirt, and just let me hold him and massage the vernix in. We all talked and oohed and ahhed over Joshua and what had just happened. What was most amazing is that when we recorded the time of birth at 7:52, we realized that it had only been a 91 minute labor! None of us could ever have anticipated such a quick labor. And that fear I had about transitional labor being worse than pre-labor earlier? I was already in transition and didn’t even know it. It didn’t get worse than what I had been experiencing at home. Lucky me! Don’t get me wrong, childbirth can be painful, I’m not saying it wasn’t. I’m saying that it was manageable and temporary, and not as bad as I thought it might be. It was less “pain” and more “intense”. The midwife knew I wanted delayed cord clamping, and at about 7 minutes after birth, she said the cord had stopped pulsing and asked if I wanted to try and deliver the placenta now. I said sure. A gentle push got it out easily. Colby cut the cord. We probably had lain there together for about an hour or so before we did anything else. I think around the 30 minute mark, I put him to my breast to see if he would latch on. I had waited to see if he would do it on his own, but he hadn’t. He was content to just be held, and I was happy, but I really wanted him to breastfeed. He didn’t really take to it right away. I tried again later, and he latched like a pro! I’m pretty sure he ate within the first hour of birth, but time didn’t really exist for me in those first few hours after he was born.
Colby had been speaking to his parents throughout this time off and on, figuring out details, such as if we wanted the kids to come see their new baby brother, and if they needed to bring us anything. I hadn’t eaten the supper Colby was fixing for me earlier, so I asked for some soup and a chicken salad sandwich from Chick-fil-A. And I also was feeling great and did want the kids to come see us. Plus Colby asked for them to run by a store and buy him a new t-shirt! When my in-laws came with the kids, everybody came in to say hi and see Joshua for a few moments.
The midwife suggested if I wanted a private moment to attend to my bottom, I could send the family out to pass around the baby. That suited me just fine, and Colby took Joshua out while she stitched me up. Afterwards, everyone came back into my room and we weighed Joshua. She asked for guesses since everyone had had a chance to hold him. I guessed he’d be over 10 pounds, for sure. I believe Colby said he’d be in between the birth weights of our other two boys – 8 lbs. 5 oz. and 9 lbs. 8 oz. Someone guessed 7, someone guessed 8. As she weighed him, her eyes became big with surprised. “Mom’s right! 10 pounds 4 ounces!” Oh my! My biggest baby yet! I knew he had to be over 10 pounds. I knew it while he was still in my womb.
After 3 hours at the birth center, and after all check ups had been done, we finally took our little boy home with us. We heard some labored breathing, and long story short, we ended up in the ER and the NICU for fluid on the lungs. Caleb, our first, had the same thing happen to him after our induced hospital birth. The theory is that I have babies so fast, that the pushing stage doesn’t last long enough to really squeeze all the fluid out. I’m not really sure if that’s it or not, I just know that it’s happened to us twice. All three babies were born with about 3-5 pushes. Over the next 5 days, we stayed at Denton Presbyterian while Joshua healed. Then we took him home on Sunday, and our new normal began. I love this boy so much, as I love all my boys.
Caleb and Jacob love their little brother so much, and they are the best big brothers in the world! I can’t believe how blessed I am, not only to have these amazing children and husband, but that God allowed me to experience childbirth in a way that was so spectacular. It was actually healing. My first two births were less than ideal, but I don’t want to go into those details here. I just want to say that I felt redeemed, and I thank God for allowing me to have this beautiful experience with my husband and baby boy!
**Technically I was 41 weeks at this point, not 40. We used a later date on purpose to avoid unnecessary interventions if I went past 42 weeks. Also, I knew my conception date, which is why we could use the later due date. Going by conventional methods, which is LMP (last menstrual period), I gave birth at 42 weeks and 2 days. Using the adjusted due date, I was only 41 weeks and 2 days.
Joshua Alexander Meals, born Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 7:52 PM on the front porch of House of Birth in Sherman, TX, weighing 10 pounds 4 ounces, and measuring 21.5 inches long.