Clark’s Birth Story

Clark Francis is here!

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THIGH ROLLS!

Let’s start with the basics and work our way in, shall we?

Birthday: July 15

Weight: 8 lbs, 6 oz

Height: 21 inches

I felt really ready for this labor. It helps that everything about birth truly fascinates me; when I was pregnant with Finn, I read no less than thirteen books about pregnancy and childbirth, and probably would have read more if pregnancy lasted longer than 40 weeks. This time around, about five weeks before I went into labor, Ryan and I started a self-study class for hypnosis for childbirth called HypnoBabies. We read through the door-stopper manual and reeducated ourselves on the physiology of childbirth and the psychology of positive mindsets. The course came with audio tracks that I listened to every day; some were positive affirmations, like “pregnancy is natural, normal, healthy, and safe,” and others were guided meditations with suggestions on how to handle pain and discomfort.

So my mind and body were ready—but Clark was not. My body went through weeks of false labor (or, in HypnoBabies terms, “practice labor”) where I went through several long stretches of painless contractions with a steady pattern. Last Wednesday was the last of those. After five hours of escalating contractions, I called my midwife and my mom, who both came to my house immediately. Our midwife, Melan, checked my cervix and guessed I was in very early labor (2cm dialated, 50% effaced), so she left her bags in my living room to be ready in case the baby came later that night. My mom and dad came, but no baby.

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My bedroom, all decked out for birthing. My family and friends wrote encouraging messages on the flags for me to read during labor. 

My parents stayed for the weekend, and took our two-year-old to our friend Callie’s apartment. Callie was on vacation and generously offered use of her place just in case Clark decided he was ready to escape after all. On Friday night—my due date—after dropping some bedtime books over at her apartment for the three of them, Ryan and I decided to take a long walk in the park.

I stayed pretty active even in my last trimester with hikes, walks, and barre and yoga classes, so I knew that working up a sweat always caused some contractions. I wasn’t surprised at all when I had to stop a few times to let my stomach tighten and release. This time, as Ryan rubbed my back while a contraction subsided, a runner stopped, took out her headphones, and asked if there was anything she could do.

“No, we’re OK,” I said. “Might be in labor.”

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “Oh my god! I don’t even have a phone!”

We assured her that I was really fine, and, having nothing to do even if it wasn’t, she ran off, maybe a little faster than before.

We finished our walk and ordered saag paneer on the way home (“extra spicy, please” I specified on the phone. “Like a ten out of ten.”) and went home to enjoy a rare, blissful child-free evening.

The contractions were still coming, but hey, I’d been through this before. I’d wait to call Melan until I had more definitive proof, like my water breaking.

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I took this picture right before I went to bed, trying to see whether or not the baby had dropped. I decided he hadn’t. He had. 

I woke up at 1:33 am to some more intense contractions. I used the hypnobirthing techniques to try to get back to sleep, but although they were still painless, I found I was actually having to focus to remove the pain. I woke Ryan up and told him it was time to call Melan. He texted first and then called a few minutes later, but it went straight to voicemail.

No problem, I said. She’d said before that she wakes up every day at 3 a.m. and checks her phone.

But by the time 3 a.m. came, I was on my hands and knees working hard to stay calm. When a familiar thought drifted through my mind—that this was the LAST TIME I’d do this—I knew my labor was progressing much faster than it had with Finnegan. And Melan still wasn’t answering her phone. Ryan was scrambling now, attaching the hose to the shower, filling the birth pool, making sure it was the correct temperature and making a flurry of phone calls. He tried calling the back-up midwife. No answer. He tried calling the midwives at Vanderbilt to ask if someone could help us. No, they couldn’t—it was against policy to help non-patients.

I was in the pool at this point, feeling pushy but trying like hell to slow them down. I repeated a hypnosis affirmation over and over: “I am open to whatever path my baby’s birthing takes.” I would have been fine giving birth without her, but I’d tested positive for Group B Strep, a common bacteria that lives in the gut and sometimes migrates to the vagina. It sometimes causes problems for the baby, so the plan was to give me an IV with antibiotics as a precaution. We needed someone with antibiotics. It occurred to me that we should go to a hospital, but I realized the water was what was slowing the whole thing down—if I got out, I wouldn’t be able to stop pushing. There were two options: I could give birth here in the pool in an hour or so, or I could get out and give birth in the car now.

I stayed in the pool and heard myself ask, “911?”

Ryan answered right away. “Yep!” He told me later that he’d typed those three numbers into his phone and had hovered his thumb over the call button seconds before I spoke.

The paramedics arrived almost immediately. They shuffled into our bedroom and turned on the overhead light. Fine by me. I was really pulling out all of my self-hypnosis tricks out at this point, so the arrival of six new people didn’t bother me, nor did the light.

What bothered me was the first paramedics’s question. As I moaned through a long contraction, one of them, not even waiting for it to end, asked. “So, how are your contractions? About four minutes apart? About thirty seconds each?”

Oh crap, I thought.

We’re screwed.

See, when your contractions are about four minutes apart, about thirty seconds each, that’s when most people go to the hospital. That’s early labor. Most women even get sent home because their labors aren’t progressing fast enough to warrant admittance. I was hours and hours past that point.

After that one ended, I had just a couple of precious seconds to tell her, “I’m in transition, honey!” but even that wasn’t true. I was past transition. It was taking everything in me to stop from pushing the baby out. It was only at this point when I got scared, and only when I got scared did I feel pain. My stomach hardened with enough power to crush a car.

Ryan came in and announced that he’d JUST heard from our midwife. She’d finally responded at 4:34 a.m with an acronym that brought waves of relief:

“OTW.”

Ryan talked to her on the phone and she said she’d be at our house in five minutes. He asked the paramedics if they could stay until she arrived. Over my moans, I could hear them say no, and then something about policy…and Ryan just asked them again. This time, they said yes.

Melan did arrive five minutes later, mercifully turned out the lights, and apologized again and again for not seeing the messages on her phone. She’d just come from the hospital, where she’d delivered her one other baby due this month just an hour and a half earlier. She gave me a topical antibiotic solution, and then waited as I struggled through another contraction. HypnoBabies was now a distant memory; I was relieved and comforted that Melan was here, but it wasn’t enough to mask the pain. When the contraction ended, she said, “Good job.” It was the first time anyone had said that to me, and I felt its effect throughout my entire body.

I finally did feel secure enough to really push. I felt the baby move past my bones, then go back inside. Then again, two steps forward and one step back. Maddening. With Finn, I just powered through this part, but I told myself I’d take it slow with this one so I wouldn’t tear. I only pushed a handful of times—the baby was basically falling out, and my body was (wisely) keeping him from doing a straight nose-dive into the water.

His arm was born, followed by his head, and, one push later, his body. It was 5:15 a.m. Melan caught him and put him on my chest. He looked up at me immediately, brow furrowed and nose wrinkled like he was looking for an answer to the question. “What just happened?” I looked back at him a while, then asked Melan if she could take a picture. When she pointed my phone’s camera at us, some 21st-century instagram instinct took over, and I looked up at it. As I did, I heard Ryan over my left shoulder, sobbing, allowing himself to feel the full intensity of this joy and relief. Within a second, tears rolled down my face, too. We basked in the euphoria together with our wet little baby boy, who craned his neck and looked up to see who was making all this noise.

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Ryan lifted us out of the water and I walked over to my bed. I didn’t tear (yay!) and the placenta came right out. Within an hour, Clark nursed, and then Ryan helped me walk to the bathroom and held me as I got myself cleaned up. It occurred to me that a nurse would do this in another context, saving the poor husband from the trauma of seeing the full vulnerability of his wife. But I have to say that I’ve never been as in love with him as I was then—with a broken body and a true need to lean on him, physically and otherwise. He never thought to grimace or leave or ask Melan if she could be the one to help me. He was just there, ready to give me whatever I needed.

Melan left when we were all situated in bed. She insisted she wasn’t going to cry when she walked out the door, but don’t believe that for a second. She has such a gift for reading the personalities of her moms—in my case, she’s mostly all business, but I know she’s as soft-hearted as they come. Being a midwife seems more like a calling than a job, and she’s answered hers.

After she left, we listened to a Sound Birthing playlist as we soaked in our little addition. We cried, we recapped, we marveled over his tiny toes and the dimple on his chin. The sun had risen behind gray clouds, and heavy rain poured straight down, drenching the plants directly outside my bedroom window. Between John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, the rain, and our own beautiful boy cooing between us, the impossible joy of the morning overwhelmed me.

Not long afterwards, my parents arrived with Finnegan. At first, he was more interested in the birthing pool (“Ooh! Wawa!”) but when he saw his baby brother, he cooed himself and said, “Hi, baby. Hi, Dahk.”

It’s been almost a week now since our beautiful, scary, and immensely spiritual experience and we’re adjusting to being a family of four. It helps that my parents and Ryan’s mom have both come in to help us out as I heal. Our home is still glowing, sometimes literally. Two days later, during a candlelit herbal bath, I sat in the water with green herbs swirling around my legs, bathing in a garden. The soft glow brightened Clark’s tiny face as he slept in the bassinet beside the tub, and my heart swelled to match our growing family.

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