Because some people love a good birth story …
It’s 2:28 a.m., and I wait, breathlessly, to see whether Mint Julep will actually remain asleep in his bassinet in a nearby room. Before his arrival, I never knew the grueling reality of sleepless newborn nights: From her first night at home to this one, Sweet Potato never slept fewer than four hours at a stretch. At six weeks, she reliably slept six to eight hours at a time. Mint Julep sleeps … with no very great predictability.
Needless to say, I’m exhausted and frustrated by this, but, as often as I’m exhausted and frustrated, I’m also happy, humbled and grateful for the arrival of our sweet son and for this precious postpartum period of awed adjustment. It helps that Mint Julep made his debut with genuine aplomb!
After about four weeks of prodromal labor, I awoke to a particularly painful contraction at 2:20 a.m. (about this time!) the morning of Dec. 30. I leaned over to wake the Oilman and whispered, “I think he’ll come today!” after which I went back to sleep.
We woke up around 6:00 a.m. Because it was a Wednesday and it’s my custom to go to morning Mass in the middle of the week, we readied ourselves for the liturgy — but we called my parents to ask them whether they would take Sweet Potato after Mass “just in case.”
Half expecting my steady contractions to stop and half expecting them to intensify, the Oilman and I spent a quiet morning in our dim, cool home, savoring the rare time alone together but missing Sweet Potato’s happy chatter. When the Oilman went to the gym (he never misses, I tell you!), I completed a Miles circuit, a recommendation from my beloved doula (more of whom later!).
Midmorning, my contractions slowed. Around noon, I texted my doula to say I didn’t think today would be the day, after all. I called my mom to tell her we’d pick up Sweet Potato — but then, as I was on the phone with her, a contraction quite literally took my breath away. Stronger, longer contractions came closer together. I texted my mom to revise plans yet again. I texted my doula the same.
Lauren — who was a dear friend before she was our dear doula — arrived at our house in the middle of the afternoon. Had we not known she was coming, we likely would have already headed to the hospital: I’d had contractions five minutes apart for more than an hour. Yet, in between them, I was happily and easily walking and talking. Because of the reassurance of Lauren’s presence and expertise, I was able to confidently remain at home, knowing she’d know when we needed to go, even if I didn’t.
The three of us — the Oilman, Lauren and I — chatted in between my contractions — about my last, lingering fears for Sweet Potato (whom I fretted wouldn’t understand or welcome the presence of a sibling) and about my anxiety at the idea of mothering a boy. When I’d have a contraction, I’d dart into the bedroom. The Oilman would follow, strongly supporting and quietly coaxing me through each one.
Occasionally, when Lauren would ask a particularly insightful or probing question, I’d become so caught up in our conversation that contractions would slow. Several times, the Oilman commented on the fact.
“It’s been seven minutes since your last contraction,” he said once.
“That’s OK,” Lauren said. “We’re just processing.”
Inevitably, though, his comment would seemingly conjure a contraction. As Lauren put it, I was powerfully “vulnerable to suggestion.”
Then, as Lauren and I lingered over Sweet Potato’s new Mass Missal (a Christmas present from her godmother that deserves its own post!), I felt a surge of water.
“I think my water is leaking,” I said.
“Oh, really?” Lauren asked matter-of-factly.
From that moment, the pain was oh-so-real. Again and again, I took refuge — if a place of pain can be called refuge — in the restroom, driven by a strong instinct not to be observed. Shaking, I sat in the dark.
Outside the door, the Oilman whispered: “Keep your composure. Remember, last time, how you said it was when you lost your composure that the pain became unbearable? Keep your composure.”
“Composure,” I whispered to myself and, oddly, the word comforted me — in part because it’s one of the Oilman’s signature words and reminded me of the stresses he bears on my behalf daily.
Those minutes in the bathroom — the most private of my entire labor — are the most precious in my memory because it was then that I actually remembered to offer up my labor, to unite it with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, to pray that I might somehow mysteriously, with Saint Paul, “rejoice in what I (was) suffering … and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s affliction” (Col 1:24).
“Our Lady, Star of the Sea, help and protect me. Sweet Mother, I place this cause in your hands.”
Eventually, Lauren suggested we go to the hospital and I had the overwhelming sense that we needed to leave now. The Oilman was already out the door when I stopped for one last contraction. Lauren knelt with me as I faced it.
I felt anxious, excited, heightened and oddly lucid in the car — but it seemed to me that I was no longer laboring as I clutched the door handle and the dashboard for the duration of the drive.
My memory goes hazy after our arrival at the hospital. I know I stopped to labor on the stairs and in the hallway. I know I didn’t care who saw me in pain or who saw what I needed to do to cope with it.
As I shivered from the bathroom of my birthing suite to the hospital bed, my midwife, Robin, wrapped me in warm blankets — a feeling I still remember as one of the most heavenly in my life!
The nurse attempted to attach the telemetry device as a particularly forceful contraction came.
“Do what you need to do!” Lauren enjoined. I moved to the only comfortable position (on my hands and knees), which made it impossible for the nurse to do her job.
“Was that a contraction?” the nurse asked me afterward. I just stared at her blankly.
At one point, I looked at Lauren and pouted, “I hate this.” I think I must also have said, “I can’t do this,” and I know for a fact that I was shaking my head quite vigorously because Robin took my head in her hands and manually moved it up and down so that instead of shaking “no,” I was nodding “yes.”
Lauren looked me in the eyes and said, “Do not give in to that despair. It is a lie –and you know who it’s from.” I nodded, clutched my scapular, buried my head in the pillows of the bed.
Lauren asked, “Are you feeling pressure?”
“So much pressure!” I gasped.
Robin checked me — and said I could push. I heard the Oilman’s expressions of shock and disbelief.
The next however-many minutes were both so primal and so spiritual until, at last, I heard Mint Julep’s bracing, vigorous cry and felt his little body against my own.
At 6:37 p.m., an hour and two minutes after we’d arrived at the hospital, he was here, all 8 lbs., 11 oz., 20.25″ of him!
“My baby!” I exclaimed.
“Of course!” I thought to myself. “This is you!”
It was he, and I found myself holding, to quote Carrie Underwood, “what I never knew I always wanted” — a son, a little brother for Sweet Potato, this baby, my baby.
We named him Louis James, in case you were wondering.