Max is snug on my chest as I write this. He is a whole 84 hours old. It’s funny how 84 hours can pass like minutes. It seems like he’s been with our family three days and yet forever. I’ve been waiting to write his story.. Waiting until the words would flow like melted butter from my fingers to the keys, waiting for inspiration that would allow me to convey how this experience made me feel. The moment eludes me and I don’t want to wait. Each passing hour the details become more foggy, the emotion less raw. And so here it is.
The story of how a baby gets here is so much more than just the labor that pushes them from their mother to the earth. It’s about the way they were made, the way they grew, the way we grew with them. It’s about how those moments change us as women and mothers, about how those moments MAKE us. Max is my sixth baby. The fifth one to lie breathing in my arms. And the first one to teach me things about myself I might never have learned. His story is unique. Joyful. Painful. And His only.
Max’s story starts with his sister’s. Ella’s beautiful labor and complicated arrival left me with feelings of betrayal and confusion. How could my body let me down? Did I let her down? Could I trust myself again? My body again? I brought these emotions to my pregnancy with Max and worked hard to let them go. To trust. To let Max’s story unfold for him. And to grow into a woman of strength and courage during the 10 months Max was growing within me.
I envisioned Max’s arrival as an opportunity for healing. A chance for growth. Redemption. Peace. I envisioned a birth that was ideal, perfect. But in my desire for perfection I left little room for the imperfection that is birth. I forgot to leave myself space to surrender control.
The weeks before Max arrived were punctuated by contractions, unrelenting pelvic pain, consuming exhaustion, difficult sleepless nights, painful emotional days. I would pace and squat. Rock and sway. Many nights, all night. On Saturday before Max came I did just that. On Sunday, with concern and question, we saw our backup midwife for reassurance. Was this normal still? Was Max too big? We were met with her optimism that Max wasn’t “that” big. But that he was high. Very high still. My cervix closed (a change from the previous 3 cm and 90% effaced) but soft. The clock would continue to tick the minutes away, no end in sight. I should rest when I could she said. Exercise patience. Enjoy a glass of wine and the moments left in my last pregnancy. Try to forget about contractions until they wouldn’t be ignored.
I was 40 weeks and 1 day pregnant.
That afternoon I struggled through contractions to nap. That evening we went out to our usual Sunday dinner with the kids. I eventually lost my mucus plug. The same contractions chased me all night. Three minutes. Five. Seven. Four. Eight. Never consistent but never spaced enough to rest. Sway. Stand. Lay. Rock. Try, fruitlessly, to sleep. At 3:58 am Monday, March 26th, my water broke with one small gush of clear fluid. We woke Kelsey to help and she occupied Ella, who had been awake since 3:30, while Matt pumped and filled the tub and I changed the sheets, brushed my hair and teeth, put on my labor clothes, and baked a birth day cake.
In the 5 o’clock hour the team arrived. Our friend and photographer Staci, our Doula Megan, and Jacque, our midwife and mother hen. We timed contractions and then didn’t. Chatted. Played our birth playlist. James Taylor, Jack Johnson. Joni. Marley. We laughed. The mood was light and easy. I knit an i-cord to tie Max’s umbilical cord with. I rocked. Sat on the ball. Swayed with Matt. Listened to my birthing affirmations. We had pancakes and bacon. We walked. I nursed Ella several times, embracing the sudden increase in intensity with each session. We laid, the three of us, in our family bed and dozed for an hour. At some point we all acknowledged that things were slowing to a stop. The contractions were more than bearable, spacing out, allowing for rest. At 10:30 we decided to start a black and blue cohosh regimen. I was grateful to have the tinctures even if they weren’t particularly flavorful and took them straight from the bottle. Jacque left to see some other patients. We walked more. Kelsey went for sandwiches. I was admittedly getting anxious. My membranes had been ruptured since 4 am. I felt the clock ticking knowing each passing hour increased risk for infection and knowing 24 hours was as long as I’d feel comfortable being in labor under those circumstances. We started using the breast pump to stimulate contractions. This was remarkably effective so we continued. Fifteen minutes on. Fifteen off. During the off time I’d walk the stairs and lunged hoping to help Max find his way. This intensified the contractions quite a bit. Megan and Matt would work on the Spleen 6 acupressure point. I was encouraged as they became closer and more painful. Excited. Anxious. Ready.
In the 3-4 o’clock hour the contractions became more intense and I asked that someone call Jacque. Things seemed to be moving along. When she returned I asked her for an exam. I was just 5 cm at this point but actively laboring. It seemed like things might move quickly. We ate soup and hot french bread. Matt and I showered. He put Ella to bed around 7:45 and I got in the tub. My friend Emily arrived quietly and Kelsey talked with my sister Raegan, filling her in on the details. We had a second midwife arrive to be another set of hands. Things started to feel busy. Noisy. I was struggling to maintain focus. The contractions were quite painful at this point, more so than my previous births. The pain in my pelvic bone was excruciating. Far more than the pain of just the contractions alone. I couldn’t get comfortable. No position would alleviate the pain. I was beginning to get panicky and hoping this was transition coming. Perhaps things were moving quickly?
At 10:30 I was 7 cm. Max was still quite high. There was a bulging bag of fluid in front of him. We talked about how to get him down. I’d been doing it all without result. Stairs. Squats. Sways. Lunges. Jacque suggested Matt and I go upstairs and rest and talk with one another and Max. We did. The contractions spaced out a bit and I dozed. Periodically I’d open my eyes and see Matt watching me, his face awash with love and concern. We talked about how much longer we’d go on if there was no change in his position. I’d been up for more than 30 hours that point with no rest, and really days with only an hour of sleep here and there. I was exhausted and becoming fearful and irrational. Matt was worried about my safety and Max’s. I wondered if Max was so large that his size was preventing his descent. I considered another Dystocia. We laid that way, just us and Max until 12:00. At 12:30 I asked Jacque to check me again. I was making deals with myself in my mind, hoping there was some change, any change. There was a moment where Matt met my gaze and we both knew the line in the sand would soon be drawn.
My cervix was unchanged. Max was still just as high. My contraction pattern was ineffective. Incredibly painful and not producing change. I had some bloody discharge that was concerning to Jacque. The bag of water in front of Max’s head was full enough that it was impossible to tell if the cord was present in it. She felt it might be. Breaking the bag to help him settle was a risky option with the possibility of cord prolapse. His head was virtually unreachable.
We decided to transfer to the hospital.
There was a flurry of activity. I was being sucked into a vortex of worst cases and what ifs. Exhaustion was making me fearful and irrational. We called our backup midwife Rita and she agreed to meet us at the hospital. I sobbed as I packed a bag, gathered Max’s things, grabbed a toothbrush, searched for peace I couldn’t find. I sobbed and pleaded with my body to work. I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom, looking at the reflection of a woman I didn’t recognize, desperate, exhausted, frightened. I cried and begged for the homebirth I wanted. The one that would heal me of the betrayal I felt after Ella. The birth that would make me feel confident and whole, sure of myself. Proud. Strong. I cried because that birth wasn’t the birth I was getting. Matt hugged and kissed me again and again saying it would be ok. Telling me that our family was the only thing that had any meaning in his life. Reassuring me and encouraging me.
Jacque and Megan followed us. The 25 minute drive to the hospital was an eternity. I had contractions every 4 minutes. I was sealtbelted, writhing and crying in pain, physical, emotional. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to. I just want my BODY TO WORK,” I plead. I was afraid. Afraid of judgment. Afraid of the stares I’d get from my previous co-workers (as I had worked there as a RN myself). I was terrified that the only option left was a c-section that I desperately didn’t want. We bypassed the ER quickly and walked straight onto the labor floor and were met with the necessary paperwork all ready for us. The triage RN, a friend, took me straight to a room. Another friend, met us there and quickly admitted me. Rita was already there too, waiting. I climbed onto the so familiar bed. The bed I’d knelt against so many times as a nurse. The bed where I’d caught the babies who couldn’t wait for the doctor, the bed where I’d delivered both good and bad news so many times to other frightened parents. This time the bed was an unfamiliar though, hard, cold, unforgiving against contractions that continued to come wave after wave. This time I was the patient.
We looked to Rita for guidance. I was too tired to know what to do. My instincts were shutting down. I couldn’t tune into myself. Matt was only worried about Max and I and our safety. Rita did an exam. I was 8 cm. Same. Max was high. Very high. Same. There was a full bag of water. Same. All the same. She offered us a c-section, as expected. She told me she knew how exhausted I was and wanted me to know that I didn’t have to endure anymore. I could be holding my baby in 15 minutes. But Rita knows me. And so in the same breath she said, “I know you don’t want that so let me think about what we can do.” She walked out for a minute while the RN started my IV and did the admission paperwork. And I contracted. Still. Crying.
When she came back in the room it was with a burst and a triumphant smile. “I KNOW what to do!” It was the first moment I’d felt encouraged in a day. She suggested a few things. #1 that we should let Max continue to try to come down. She ignored the clock and the fact my water had been broken 21 hours. She reiterated that he didn’t feel huge. She thought he was acynclitic (crooked) . #2 She felt that the best chance to allow him to come down was for me to get an epidural so that my pelvis would have the ability to relax and the contractions and Max to do their work. #3 She felt that the water would eventually break on it’s own but not until he was low enough for it to be safe. She felt like time was our best ally.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want pain relief. I didn’t want a c-section. I didn’t want a stuck baby or a sick baby. I just wanted him to be born. Peacefully. Quietly. Into my hands. Desperately, I asked Matt what to do.
We decided that we’d take her advice.
I cried. Sobbed. I looked to Matt for reassurance. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to leave my home. I didn’t want the lights of a hospital. I didn’t want a cold, hard bed. I didn’t want an IV. Monitors. Tubes. Wires. Strangers. All things I did not want. I wanted Max to be greeted in his first moments by the people who love him. I wanted peace. Power. Love. Not this.
But more than any of that? I wanted our son. Here. Safe.
I laid writhing with contractions that the epidural couldn’t dull. Side to side I’d turn. Matt would snuggle behind me. Then stand beside me, telling me always he loved me, telling me our choice was sound. Two hours later my water broke with a flood and I felt Max’s head, then shoulders, slip into my pelvis. Just like that. His head was as crooked as Rita thought. She maneuvered it this way and that during an exam. I turned from side to side. The pressure of his head was remarkable. At 4 am I was 9 cm. At 6 am I was 9.5. It was a slow slow process as Max and I worked together to get him engaged and moving down. By 6:40 the pressure was unbearable and I begged to push, grunting through contractions, trying to let my pelvis relax so Max could carve out his space. Jacque was there, encouraging me, helping me focus on the task at hand. Matt was there, saying it wouldn’t be long, telling me I was doing it. We were going to meet our boy. It was dim, quiet, reverent, a hospital, but also not at all like a hospital. I asked for a mirror. I grunted through two contractions. Allowing my body to stretch and finish the work of opening the rest of way gently and allowing Max to find his way. On the third contraction I pushed harder. His head sat on my perineum stretching the tissue gently. And on the fourth contraction he was born. In a gush of fluid Max was out and on my breast. It was March 27th, 6:55 am. I rubbed and dried him and Matt and I cried and kissed each other and our boy.
Eventually his umbilical cord was cut. The bloody sheets were replaced by clean ones. I was examined and found unscathed. My uterus did it’s work. My bleeding slowed. The placenta came. Max nursed and cried. Cried and nursed. I cried. Matt cried. We rejoiced in his safe arrival. And cried the fear and worry away. It had been a hard time. For him. And us.
He was weighed and measured, 10 pounds 2 ounces, 21 inches, and a huge 16 inch head. I put on the hat I’d knit for him.
Two and a half hours later we were on our way home. We were met by our four children and Staci who were anxiously waiting for us. We hugged. Cried. Laughed. It was a joyous reunion. The nine hours we were apart became zero. The exhaustion of days without sleep faded into the background. We were a family of seven.
Things quickly went back to normal. The pool was drained and put away. The traces of the birth that wasn’t meant to be were packed into a plastic tub. The champagne remained corked, the cake uncut. And I was left to sort through my feelings.
There is no video of his birth. There are no photos of those precious minutes. Those moments are imprinted only in our minds. It was not the birth we envisioned. It was not the birth I wanted. At first I felt selfish to say that, but in the end we recognize it’s not just a healthy mom and baby that matter, the journey matters too. Having a birth that goes differently than you expect is jarring to your mind, your heart, your soul. It’s an earthquake that rocks your foundation. I am giving myself time and space to grieve what I lost.
But in that space I also acknowledge that we made the best decision we could with the information we had. I labored for countless hours and I was strong and powerful. I pushed my 10 pound 2 ounce son out of my body, into the world, under my own power. It wasn’t in my kitchen. It wasn’t surrounded by my children and friends. Instead it was in a hospital with my husband quietly cheering me on, patting my head, kissing me sweetly. It was with my midwives telling me I was amazing, and a nurse I used to work with supporting me. It wasn’t in my bedroom but instead in a strange room where I’d caught many babies not my own. And I am proud of myself and of us. Proud that we knew when to say when. Proud that we didn’t commit so strong to something that we wanted for us that we couldn’t see where the line had to be drawn for Max. Proud that even under circumstances that weren’t ideal, my husband and I came together to welcome our son into this world the way he needed to come into it. And he did. On his terms.
I will mourn the birth I didn’t get. But I will celebrate the one I did get. I will cry seeing those around me have the chance to birth peacefully at home. But I will be still and know that Max had much to teach me about where peace can be found. I will grieve the loss of my power. But I will also acknowledge the power that is in making an educated, safe decision. I will allow the sadness of not sharing that moment with my children wash over me. But I will celebrate that we are a family of seven now, however we became that way. I will be quiet, and accept with grace what Max has taught me… not all things are meant to be under your control, and ultimately, sometimes giving up control is actually gaining it.
Maxwell Rocket Edelman, we welcome you son, into our family. We are grateful to you for what you’ve taught us about you and ourselves. We are grateful to you for the journey you took us on in the time and space of your birth and for the journey that lies ahead of us now. We are grateful Max for the end, for in the end, it is the beginning.