[Like Bram’s birth story, we wanted to tell this together. The italicized inserts are R’s thoughts.]
Since this sweet baby is already two weeks old today (I had forgotten how strangely time moves with a newborn in the house), it seems right that we should get his birth story posted already! Louis was born on Sunday, March 23rd. I had been having early labor contractions throughout Friday and Saturday night. They were pretty disruptive to my sleep, but I was able to manage them comfortably enough without feeling like we needed to call our doula or midwife. I had lost my mucous plug and was having light bloody show, but things still felt very early on in labor. R’s mom happened to be staying with us at the house throughout that weekend (she was in town for work, conveniently enough). Knowing that Carolynn and Bram were sleeping was really helpful to me in not getting too excited/worked up about early labor. I kept things as dark, quiet, and restful as possible.
On these nights, and through much of this labor, J reminded me of a wild animal giving birth. She barely needed support; she was silent and stoic and wanted to be alone. I would sleep on and off, waking to the sound of labored breathing. I would put my hands on her, but she didn’t need it. I held the space more than anything. It was hard to feel so unnecessary, but it was profoundly impressive to watch. She could have labored with and delivered this baby in a field all alone. Her instincts were flawless and she surrendered fully to the waves of contractions as they came. She was a strong, brave, confident island.
On Saturday, my contractions went away completely during daylight hours returning again around 11pm Saturday night. On Sunday, the contractions became more intermittent once morning came, but they never subsided completely. Still, we went for a family walk, ate lunch out, and had a pretty normal day. I fully expected that this pattern would continue through a period of days to come.
I love the memories I have of this day, the 23rd. It was the last day we spent together as a family of three and it was also, unexpectedly, the day we met Louis. Bram, on my back, laughed throughout the walk we took together. Everyone who passed us was a crocodile. We stopped for J’s contractions and then went on walking. We went out for tacos together, and J breathed silently through contractions as two mamas of about eighteen kids watched knowingly. We were a family on the precipice. It was a powerful day.
Early evening on Sunday, when Bram woke up from his nap, we had a long nursing session and my contractions picked up substantially within the span of about twenty minutes. We called our doula, “as a friend,” to drop in on us. My contractions at this point were intensifying, but I felt like I was starting to get into my head about their frequency/strength. Our doula, Jessica, joined us at the house at about 6pm. We also called Bram’s babysitter, Grace, who was going to be on with him (along with R’s mom) during the birth. R and I were laboring together upstairs with what seemed to be fairly intense contractions, 3-5 minutes apart. I was starting to feel a little “stuck” in this pattern and it was so helpful to have our doula’s energy there to help us refocus.
J had me call Jessica, but only because she wanted an hour or so of encouragement before facing another night of this (and because Jessica had already mentioned stopping by). Neither of us thought Jessica was coming to stay. And we only called Grace because I wanted some time to labor with J, and I couldn’t do that while also being on with Bram. This was not going to be it. This was just an intense moment. What sillies we were.
At about quarter to seven, I decided to take a shower. I tried to send our doula home with the promise that we would call as soon as we decided to head to the hospital. While I was in the shower, though, Jessica shared with R that we might want to keep her close by. My contractions were coming (audibly) every two minutes while I was in the shower and she didn’t want to be too far away (especially as she had agreed to be our ride to the hospital)! R came upstairs, pulled back the shower curtain, and told me that we should go to the hospital. I readily agreed.
Jessica definitely did not want to leave. She said that if we asked her to, she would only drive around the neighborhood. She was trying to be deferential, but our doula does not encourage people to go to the hospital too early. It was time. The shock of that was big to me. Jessica took about ten minutes to explain to me why we might want to go. I took about twenty seconds to ask J to get dressed. I wanted to catch the baby, but not alone from the backseat of our doula’s van.
One of the things that had been so hard about laboring at home is that my active labor contractions were scaring Bram. He was asking me not to have them and was visibly upset when they would come and I couldn’t hold him or control my voice or movements. Jessica had the great idea to introduce the notion that I was making elephant noises. He thought this was pretty funny and it allowed me the chance to say goodbye to him before we left for the hospital. I was feeling very emotional about leaving him. I was crying into one of his shirts that I pocketed and took with me.
Leaving Bram was really painful for me too. Really a whole whole lot. That Grace was there, and especially that my mom had just gotten back to the house for the night, were the only things that made it feel bearable. I wanted to put him in my pocket and sing to him the whole time. I wanted to have this new baby without having anything about my relationship with B change. It was a reckoning.
The ride to the hospital was pretty uncomfortable. I was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure with each contraction. It felt like my water needed to break imminently. At the same time, I was still holding out hope that we’d have time to get two doses of IV antibiotics (a minimum of five more hours of labor), as I was GBS positive and didn’t want baby having to stay longer or get extra pokes postpartum. By 8:15pm, we were checked in with the baby looking good on the monitor, me at 6cm, 100% effaced, and Dragon at zero station. Things were progressing beautifully. After the nurse started my first does of antibiotics, I got into the bathtub in the room. We called our beloved friend-midwife who had agreed to special us, though things wound up going so quickly that she didn’t arrive until about fifteen minutes after Louis was born. We had one of her lovely colleagues with us, though, and it was still a great experience.
Trinie WAS amazing, but I was very sad that Christina wasn’t there. She knew our journey. She understood the complexity of watching my wife do something I desperately wanted to do. Without that context, things were different. But they were fine, in the end. It’s really an amazing hospital staff full of wise and competent caregivers who listen. They listen.
While in the water, I remember only wanting R’s voice and touch close by. She was so helpful in keeping me grounded and breathing through transition. We were going to meet our baby so soon! Within about ten minutes of laboring in the tub, my water broke forcibly and the baby began to crown. The midwife, Trinie, cheerfully announced, “J, you’re going to have your baby in the bathtub!” (which is very laid back of her considering that our hospital doesn’t do water birth). I groaned back “but I don’t want to have the baby in the water” and she quickly changed gears, “J let’s get you out of the bathtub!” :-) Everyone was extremely supportive. The medical team could tell that I had time to get from the bath to the bed. Still, my completely loving and shell-shocked wife walked behind me cupping my vagina the whole way, just in case the baby came hurtling out. Very funny. Very sweet.
It was sweet when J said to Jessica, “I want Renee.” But really: it was two contractions between that moment and her water breaking. She was an island. I was just a witness. A vagina-cupping witness.
Once I was on hands and knees on the bed, Louis was born in three pushes at 9:10pm. It was a whirlwind of labor and activity. R caught Louis with the help of our midwife and they passed him through my legs so that I could lay down on my back. R and I held him together on the bed until his cord stopped pulsing. R cut his cord (or “made his button” as we’re always telling Bram) and then took him into her arms for some much deserved skin-to-skin. Meanwhile, I was just so elated to be through such a fast labor and to have him on the outside. I kept saying, “I’m not pregnant anymore!” I birthed the placenta without complication and was able to do my whole third-stage (so: the whole labor) without any intervention, which was great. I only needed a small perineal repair and the midwives (Christina was there by this time) were thoughtful enough to wait for some time after the birth before stitching me up, which was a kindness.
As his face began to appear, I panicked. My hands were there to catch him, but I was suddenly terrified to look at him. Out of nowhere I had come to believe that something was profoundly wrong, that the moment I saw his face I would know that. But then I did see his face. And he was beautiful. His face was familiar, having spent so many hours staring into one that looks so much like it for over two years.
Having an uncomplicated natural vaginal birth was so easy by comparison to the ultra-marathon that we ran with Bram’s birth that I felt like a million bucks for the rest of the night. I was up bathing, walking, nursing, and cooing over the baby in no time. I think that R and I were both just stunned that everything had happened so quickly and smoothly!
I WAS stunned. How could we ALREADY have him in our arms?!? And though the skin-to-skin was lovely, and the catching him was lovely, I did not enjoy the immediate postpartum time. The room was filled with two doulas (J included), two nurses, two midwives, a newborn, and me. There was a lot of birthy talk, and Lou was already latched on, and everyone was an insider except me. Out of shock, and a sense of displacement, and sheer weirdness, I went alone and stood behind the hospital room bassinet. No one noticed. I felt like Scarlet Monster, if you’ve ever read that book. I finally asked if people could give us some space. It came from a place of confusion and panic, but I’m sure it sounded ungrateful and rude. I just could not find my footing. When everyone but J’s nurse left (and our doula went to get us some food), J got in the bath and I just held Lou and sat very still for a very long time. I was hoping this would be even more magical than it was after B’s birth, but instead, for me, it felt strange and disorienting and vaguely unfriendly. I was relieved when, a few hours later, I felt myself come back into myself, if that makes sense. Until then I half wanted to walk out the door and go home and hold Bram.
Our postpartum stay in the hospital was less than thrilling (as I think they always are). We had to stay 48 hours for the baby because we only got half of the first dose of GBS antibiotics. The beds were extremely uncomfortable, folks kept coming into the room every thirty minutes or so, and the baby had to have three separate blood draws. Still, we had good visitors (including a very excited big brother Bram first thing Monday morning), free hospital food, and lots of time to spend with just Louis getting to know him a little bit. Still, it was hard to be away from Bram. And I was still kind of a health mess. I had a terrible case of bronchitis the week before Lou was born and had bruised some ribs coughing. I reinjured them during pushing (and even today they are still so super sore that I can’t lay on either side, just flat on my back). So between the ribs, the coughing, and the hospital bed, I was hurting in that arena pretty badly.
Seeing Bram meet his brother for this first time was one of the best moments of my life. The rest of the hospital stay was a painful drag. Being away from Bram that long was HORRIBLE. Gods. And I took it personally as hell, them making us stay. Didn’t they know my little boy needed me? This baby was fine for fuck’s sake. I needed to go home. I mean, Bram was with his Bubbie, and with Grace, and with our friends Dan and Amy, and then Katie and Eliza. But: he needed me. Looking back, I wish I’d just surrendered to this sweet, quiet time with Lou. He deserved it, and I deserved it too, as his mama. I realized that when I finally did come home, the afternoon before the night L was discharged. I came back for three hours to do B’s nap and to get things around at the house, and right away I wanted to go back. It was a hard, divided time. I like it when we’re all together.
Coming home has been a physical and emotional roller coaster with some high highs (getting to see the sweet interactions between Bram and Louis, watching Louis’ floppy newborn self stretch and yawn and come into itself, smelling that newborn baby smell, being on leave from work) and some low lows (postpartum hormonal mood swings, near-constant requests for nursing from our insecure toddler in addition to normal newborn nursing on demand, and the inability to put the sleeping baby down on his back during nighttime hours without him waking within 5-10 minutes). And mostly there’s been a lot of in between times of learning to navigate everyone’s needs during this time of great transition. I think we’re doing a pretty good job considering. I am hopeful that the sleep situation will improve drastically before I have to go back to work in a month. Otherwise, I think we’re figuring it out as we go along…
Newborns are tricky for me, especially with, like, a real person (toddler) around to parent. And toddlers are tricky for J. So we’re having to fight against falling into the habit of dividing and conquering, so to speak. Of J being with the baby and me being with Bram. Of playing to our strengths. Pushing against that tendency is my main goal for this next week. Because I miss hearing J and B having fun together. And I’ve really fallen for this little fella and I want more time with him. He does LOVE to be worn, so I feel important to him. That is sweet.
I would love to hear from anyone who has tandem nursing experience. Bram has surprised us with his desperation for nursing throughout the day. We’ve tried to be accommodating, but I also feel like I need to protect the milk supply for Louis and my own sanity in not having a baby on both breasts throughout the day. We’ve been saying “Yes, but…” a lot to his requests (as in, “Yes, you can nurse, but you need to eat lunch first.”). Any experience or tips would be greatly appreciated.
Oh, little milk-fiend toddler. It’s just a phase, I know, but it’s not a fun one.
And as an interesting, and sad, sidenote, R and I keep accidentally calling Louis “Saul.” I think it makes sense since Saul was the last newborn we cared for in this way. And he was also a peanut, so there’s a physical resemblance too. Plus, I think we stopped short of some of the grief work that we needed to do in the aftermath of Saul being taken. And, as with all things in life, if you don’t deal with it in the immediacy, something will come up that will make you deal with it in the long run. This has certainly been true here. It’s hard to imagine that Saul was with us twice as long as Louis has been so far. The depth of my love for Louis shows me the depth of my loss with Saul given how in love with him I had fallen during our time together. Obviously, we wouldn’t change the paths that have led our family to these boys we now have (wouldn’t trade it for the world), but it still gives me pause to think of the losses we’ve endured to this point.
“Sauly, no Dragon, no Louis.” We’re assholes. This poor perfect baby.
On a closing note, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of my spiritual life during this postpartum period. I’ve really abandoned all practices of faith and spirituality in my life over the last three and a half years. I think I’m ready to start bringing that part of my life back into focus, as I think it could be a really meaningful tool for finding balance and purpose through these joyous, but difficult, years of early parenting. I’m not saying I’m going to get religion. Just that I can turn my anxieties and vulnerabilities over to the idea of something much larger than myself. I’m trying to find that point of surrender again, it’s just tricky to let go of my illusions of control and autonomy.
Lordy, I have a whole blog post on this. I have a religious personality and no religion. It’s a source of great discomfort, but I’m not sure it can be fixed. In the meantime, there are these boys. These boysies. These things of deep wonder.