I laid in bed next to Brent, our feet finding each other under the sheets, and we watched Hulu in an attempt to coax ourselves to sleep. We laid in the dark of our room, facing one another, the artificial glow of light from our computer screen reflecting off his face and mine. We were on our third episode of The Office, minutes after midnight when out of nowhere I was hit with a strong contraction. I’d barely had any braxton hicks or really any labor signs at all and so beside grimacing a bit and taking a deep breath, I paid it very little mind.
Three minutes later, another contraction hit me. Just as intense as the first. I changed positions and tried to get comfortable but said nothing to Brent. After so many days of searching for any sign of labor, I’d grown tired of reading too much into every wave of pressure or tightening - so far, they’d amounted to nothing and this was probably more of the same. No need to get either of our hopes up. Three minutes later, bam. another.
This time, I rolled away from Brent and quietly said “I’ve had three contractions in a row. kinda strong ones” He sat up in the bed and closed the laptop. I could see the excitement in his eyes. The midwives had just about scared him to death with their instructions to “come to the birth center as soon as you have any signs of real labor.” They even went so far as to give him a “how to deliver a baby in an emergency situation” pamphlet. Everly’s birth had gone fairly quickly for a first birth and several midwives told us that Arlo’s positioning in my belly (Right Occiput Anterior) was most often the fastest presentation for delivery.
Another contraction. I sat up and swung my feet over the side of the bed. Brent hurriedly put on his pants and went to grab my cell phone of the charger “Call the birth center” he said. I didn’t want to react unnecessarily. It had been less than 15 minutes since the first, but I recognized that they felt different and could possibly be the start of something more, so I made the call. The contractions were like clockwork. I started to shake. Adrenaline pumped in my veins as I began to accept what lay ahead of me. My water had started to slowly leak (unlike the unmistakable gush I had with Everly) and I began to feel an intense pressure in my bottom. Anticipation had enveloped me and I was trying my hardest to center myself. I knew that the hours ahead were going to be some of the most intense and difficult of my life but I also knew that very soon, our long awaited baby boy would be finally making his way into our arms.
My mother had come down from Asheville to stay with us and Brent knocked on the guest bedroom door. “It’s go time” he said and after I dressed and collected a few last minute items, I found them both waiting for me in the living room. Mom hugged me tight “Everly and I will be waiting!” and with that we were out the door.
I crawled into the backseat of the car and reminded Brent to drive the speed limit “I’m still in early labor”. He called a few close relatives to let them know. I called my best friend Natasha “I love you! Good luck!” she said before we hung up. From that point on, I listened to my hypnobabies prompts. I’d been listening to them off and on for weeks leading up to Arlo’s birth as I had learned with Everly’s delivery that hypnobabies was a perfect tool for helping me focus and relax during labor.
One of my biggest concerns had been the drive to the birth center - it’s typically a 40 minute or so drive from our home and I worried how uncomfortable the ride would be for me if I was in active labor… but even with my contractions coming 3 minutes apart and intensifying quickly, I found myself very comfortable on the drive there. I noticed the pressure in my bottom was increasing and worried about back labor, but focused on my breathing and listened intently to the hypnobabies prompts for the entire drive. From my window I could see the bright, round moon shining down on the dark interstate. “Born under a full moon” I thought to myself, and smiled.
One of my dearest friends, Kate, had begun her doula training about a year earlier and I had asked her very early in my pregnancy if she would be open to attending Arlo’s birth. I could think of no one else who I would be more comfortable with being there to offer support to Brent and I during the experience. Kate met us at the birth center a little after 1am. I was the third laboring mother to have arrived that night (a full house for the birth center) and we joked with the midwife and nurse about the old superstition about mother’s delivering on nights with a full moon.
My contractions were continuing to grow in intensity and Leigh Ann, the midwife on duty needed to check me to ensure that Arlo was still head down (a breech presentation would require a transfer to the closest hospital for delivery) - upon checking me she told me I was right at 4cms. She also told me that he felt posterior - facing sunny side up - which could potentially cause a slower, more difficult labor. I confirmed with her that I had been having a lot of pressure and pain in my bottom which is a sign of back labor and a posterior presentation. We decided to try the belly lift technique that had also turned Everly into the correct positioning when I was in early labor with her. She folded a sheet and as I lifted my belly with both hands, tied it tightly under my belly with a knot in the back. I then spent the next thirty minutes laboring in bed on my hands and knees, rocking my hips while Kate and Brent massaged my back, shoulders and hips. Sometime during all of this, Arlo moved and was no longer posterior. The great pressure and pain in my lower back and bottom waned and I felt encouraged that he would be on his way to us sooner rather than later.
Eventually, the pain of contractions became too much physically for me to focus on the hypnobabies prompts any longer. Brent changed the ipod to my play list and I breathed my way through Bright Eyes singing “This is the first day or my life” and several songs by our son’s namesake, Otis Redding -his soulful voice wrapping around me there in the dim lit room. I asked Brent to pray out loud for the safe arrival of our son and I rode through another contraction with my face pushed hard against the pillow while my husband held my hand and asked God to be with us.
The nurse and midwife were in and out of our room checking in every so often as they had three laboring mothers to support at once. Usually, it was just Kate, Brent and I there listening to music, listening to me moan through contractions, and listening to the quiet in between. Eventually the nurse returned and encouraged me to get into the tub. As soon as I slipped into the warm water, I felt my entire body relax in a way I hadn’t been able to before. The water came all the way up to the top of my belly and the contour of the tub allowed me to stretch out my arms and legs and feel almost weightless.
The intensity of contractions was in stark contrast to those of my first labor and I realize now the difference was how I embraced it. When I was laboring with Everly, I was shocked by the depth of the pain. Absolutely bowled over by it - and despite the beauty and spirituality of the experience, for a great deal of it, I felt as if I was merely holding on for dear life while it consumed me. This time, I knew very much what was coming - what was already here - and instead of trying to fight it I opened up my entire being and just let it in. I wrap around it instead of letting it wrap around me. I moaned from the deepest place inside me. I roared. I bellowed. I was just as fierce as the pain that had seized me and this time, I owned it.
I write those words with a great sense of pride in myself because in general, I am not an exceptionally brave or courageous person. I am not known for having a high tolerance for pain or great strength but in birthing my son, I will openly admit that I was an indomitable force and unyielding in my desire to be the vessel that brought him into the world. In creating him, in growing him, in birthing him, I was fearless and that will forever be one of my greatest accomplishments.
My labor was moving fast and my body had to do a large amount of opening in a very short period of time. By 3am, my contractions were on top of each other. There were no breaks or chances to catch my breath and regroup. Kate kept a cool wet washcloth on my head and Brent kept me hydrated with sips of water. Leigh Ann stuck her head into the room and listened to me “You sound like you’ll be our first mom to deliver tonight” she said to me. It still amazes me the depth of experience that the midwives in my practice have - and how she knew what was happening inside me simply by listening to me vocalize.
"I need a break", I pleaded to Brent." I need a break". I felt the strength and control I had held for all of my active laboring faltering - how much longer would I have to endure this almost unbearable pain? What if I had hours and hours of this ahead of me without so much as a minutes rest? I asked someone - I don’t remember who - how close together my contractions were at this point. "Maybe 20 seconds?" was their guess. It felt like twenty seconds at the bottom of a roller coaster before my body began the steady, tick tick climb to the top of another contraction. And I’d fall over the over side, gripped by the intensity, the force - my mouth open - moaning loudly and pushing the sound down deep, deep through my body and out.
Leigh Ann was there listening again. “Do you feel like you could push yet?” she asked me. She hadn’t checked my dilation since I’d gotten in the tub but must have sensed I was in transition. “Not yet” I said - eating those words minutes later when my body pushed down hard without warning. A bottomless grunt escaped from my chest and I looked at Brent “Get in the tub” I begged him. Soon, he was there behind me - grounding me as the force of pushing unleashed itself in new ways on my body.
The moaning and grunting was replaced for the first time with a real scream. Leigh Ann and the nurse were there now- preparing for Arlo’s imminent arrival. I buried my shoulder into Brent’s chest, wrapped my arms through his and bared down hard. The pain from Arlo’s head pushing forward was excruciating. There is so much energy and electricity in the creation of life and its never more tangible than in the final moments before mother and child are forever made as two separate beings.
Leigh Ann instructed Brent to grab my leg - “Melissa, I think he’ll be born on this next push” she said to me. I doubted her as I had pushed for nearly an hour with Everly. I’d only pushed a few times at this point and in the midst of the fury overtaking me, I was trying to prepare myself for a lot of pushing. I was hit with a huge contraction - it felt as if it lasted for minutes on end and I pushed and pushed and anchored into my husband as if he was the only thing tying me to the world. The overwhelming pain came to a sudden peak and was over and I knew that his head was out. Seconds later I was hit with another huge contraction and I pushed my son from my body and into his first moment of individual life. Leigh Ann lifted him from the water and placed him on my belly at 3:59am.
He was quiet at first as his cord had been wrapped fairly tightly around his neck. We cheered his arrival, “He’s here!” was the first thing I remember saying - but very shortly there after we were all encouraging him to make a noise. “Come on Arlo! Let’s hear you, buddy!” Brent said to him with worry in his voice as he rubbed his little back with a warm towel. The nurse and midwife began to rub him too and suddenly he let out the most glorious cry. We all cheered and laughed! ”Welcome to the world, Arlo!” I said to him drunk on the euphoria of the moment.
We laid together there in the tub, delighting in the details of our son for a long while. Eventually, the cord was cut and soon after, Arlo was weighed and evaluated in our room (8 pounds, 5 ounces, 20.5 inches long and almost exactly the same size as his sister) while I made my way to the bed. I held Arlo in my arms and studied his small, perfect features in the lamp light. Brent raised the blinds in our room. It was still pitch black outside except for a brilliant, beaming full moon shining in through the window. “Born under a full moon” I thought again, holding his warm little body in my arms while he nursed.
Soon the midwife and nurse were off caring for another laboring mother, Kate had left to catch some sleep and I found myself in the quiet of the room with my husband and son laying next to me in bed. As they slept, I watched them and cried quietly at my good fortune. I thanked God for blessing us with another healthy, beautiful child. Over the course of those dark hours, I listened as both of the other laboring mothers at the birth center cried out in the final pushes of their labors and then heard the distinct high pitch wail of a newborn entering the world each time. My heart burst with joy for both of them in those moments - another new life, another family blessed - It was the most beautiful experience to share from the stillness of our room.
I watched the dawn creep through the windows and could hardly wait to gather our new arrival and take him home to meet his big sister and grandmother. Everly’s face lit up as we carried Arlo’s car seat into the house six and half hours after he was born. She greeted him as if he was brought for her and her alone. We had to hold her back from climbing into the carrier with him and helped her balance over top of him so that she could cover his small head with sticky kisses. There are times when it hits me that I am really, truly a mother to two - when I find myself holding Arlo against my chest and Everly is curled into my side as we all lay together on the couch. I can hardly contain the gratitude that flows forth every time I look at them together.
There are a few moments in my life that will forever be seared into my memory in exact detail. The moment I looped my arm through my best friend’s and walked out of the doors of our high school on the last day of my senior year. The way it felt to pull open the heavy metal door on the first day of my first “real” job after college. Taking my husband’s hands in the warm evening air of a September day to pledge our lives to one another, and the instant the weight of each of my children were laid wet and perfect down on my belly after their birth.
Arlo has proven that the greatness of our love is not divided among our children, but rather multiplied, indefinitely between them. Our hearts are as full as the big, bright moon that hung in the sky on the night he was born.