It’s amazing how the body works- knows just what you need and when. My fertility returned when Mae turned one and we felt ready to have another right away. One cycle and then another came and went, or so I thought. I brushed the lightness off as my hormones regulating and didn’t get too disappointed. A few days later I realized I’d only bled for two days and decided to take a test. I never planned to test without telling David but I was so sure I wasn’t pregnant that I went ahead and what?! Positive?! I was so excited and in disbelief.
I took another later in the day and took Mae to Kohl’s to buy a Big Sister shirt. I hoped to put it on her before David got home but we were leaving for out of town and I put Mae in the car so we were ready to go and left the shirt sitting out on the table instead. When he got home from work he was in such a hurry to get on the road, he ignored the shirt as well as three positive pregnancy tests on the bathroom counter.
He went to run out to the car and I stopped him and asked, “Did you see the shirt I got for Mae?”
“What shirt? Oh that? She’s not a big sister though..”
I just stared and smiled and it all clicked, “Wait- are you..?” We giggled and kissed and jumped up and down.
I was preparing for morning sickness and the nausea hit the day I’d planned a whole day of meal prep for the freezer. I was so sick for 7 weeks and not much helped. I had to eat something with protein every 30 minutes or less and even that only lessened it, never kept it away completely. Sweet Mae snuggled on the couch with me many mornings when I was so nauseated I couldn’t sit up. I craved Chipotle taco salads and lemons just like with Mae.
It’s crazy how different a second pregnancy is when you’ve got a toddler to chase around. No more sleeping in when you’re tired to the bone in the first trimester. Instead I napped when she napped- like my life depended on it.
I started feeling the baby move right at 18 weeks and the kicks, jabs, and whole-body rolls didn’t stop until birth. I was sure this baby would be a firecracker, never-sit-down, little ball of energy because at any given moment you could look at my belly and catch a whole show. Baby was transverse and facing outward for a long, long stretch which meant less pelvis and rib discomfort but so much worry about getting him or her head down as well as feeling very large early on.
My feet swelled before 20 weeks and those silly compression hose became my saving grace once again. I had a break down around week 26 that I couldn’t possibly survive another four months and that my skin would literally burst before stretching any more. A very similar break down followed at 39 weeks.
When the baby was still transverse at 32 weeks, I was feeling pretty anxious. My incredible midwives tried gently coaxing baby to turn head down and somewhere in the midst of their palpating they had a wide-eyed moment of, “Umm, I thought I felt a head down there, so what’s this head-like thing up here?” A few more minutes and they weren’t talking twins anymore and realized this crazy baby had done a 180 degree flip in seconds and was right where they wanted it- until it flipped back around before the end of the appointment.
We decided to do a brief ultrasound at 34 weeks to check in on positioning and see if there was some physiological reason baby hadn’t stayed head down. Before the ultrasound, baby was transverse; when the tech turned on the screen, baby had flipped to head down. We just laughed and smiled at getting to see our sweet baby’s face. By that afternoon we were back at transverse but over the next two weeks, location of hiccups in my belly showed that the baby’s head was making its way down the side of my belly a little lower each day.
I felt anxious about birth- very prepared for labor (often questioning if I should do more ‘studying’!) but very nervous about my third stage and hoping to avoid the placenta issues I had after Mae’s birth. We made a plan with my midwives to wait for the placenta to come on its own but to be prepared to use more aggressive approaches if any worrisome bleeding or delays seemed to be happening. I approached the end of pregnancy with anticipation and a great deal of trust in my care providers.
My due date was June 13- David’s birthday. It was nice to have a due date on an already significant date because when it passed, it felt like the birthday party was what we’d been waiting for and there was a little less disappointment. The next morning was a Saturday and David was planning to drop me off at a prenatal yoga class that came free with one of my prenatal massages. I had a huge breakdown in the parking lot about everything and nothing. He was gracious and gentle and instead we went to Wheeler Farm and walked around. That evening I made spaghetti and we decided last minute to invite some friends over for a game night.
I felt sweaty from the farm so I took a shower with Mae while dinner finished. I had had a cold for a couple of weeks and suspected a sinus infection was lingering. I couldn’t breathe from my nose and kept saying I hoped I didn’t have to labor with a stuffy nose. After my shower, I stayed in there using the Neti Pot to clear my sinuses. I heard a literal ‘pop’ sound and the baby lept and So. Much. Water. poured out of me.
I hollered to David in disbelief, “I think my water just broke!”
He laughed, “It either did or didn’t..”
I just couldn’t believe it! Never would I have imagined my labor starting like in the movies- a gush and a shriek and grabbing the belly, “Oh, my water!”. It felt like the baby had literally reached up and grabbed the amniotic sac and popped it open. I went through four Depends before I could even make it to the dinner table. The midwives had said they thought I had a lot of fluid and boy were they correct!
We called family and the midwives as we ate. We cancelled our game night and got Mae to bed, certain that my labor would get going soon. The contractions I had been having since 16 weeks or so- Braxton Hicks but very long and often painful- kept coming but were much more intense with less water to cushion. My in-laws stopped by to move furniture out of the living room to make room to set the tub up when the time came and bring me more Depends! We got a few things around the house ready and headed to bed to rest up before labor started. I was uncomfortable and got up every couple of hours to readjust and walk around a little. My sister and brother-in-law and parents headed over from Nevada and arrived early in the morning and slept for awhile.
The next morning, Mae woke up and nursed and the contractions got close, intense, and longer. For an hour or so, we were thinking things would be moving quickly. David blew up the tub and started filling it. Soon, though, they spread out and died down. The rest of the morning was uneventful and I was in good spirits but anxious- I’m such a planner! My midwife Melissa came by to encourage me and give me a hug. She suggested a brisk walk, some rebozo work to help with baby’s position, and a nap. I woke up from my nap still not in labor and we had a great Father’s Day barbecue with both sides of the family. We all laughed at the hurry up and wait feeling. After Mae went to bed, we decided I should also get some rest and trust that labor would be starting soon. I did a hibiclens rinse to stave off infection and continued taking my temperature to monitor for a fever because of the broken waters. I set my alarm to wake every few hours to check my temperature throughout the night.
At the 4am alarm, I had a contraction that lasted almost 3 minutes and knew this was it. I felt achey and shaky and had the chills. My temperature had only risen less than half a degree but I let Melissa know that perhaps she should come check on me. By the time she arrived at 6am, the insanely long multi-peak contractions had kept coming but only at every 20 minutes or so. She started me on some herbs to encourage labor to pick up and we decided antibiotics would be best because of the rising temps. I hate needles and antibiotics but knew it was best. Heidi came and did the IV and checked me to see where we were at. She didn’t give me a number because baby was still pretty high up. I had some juice and a piece of toast.
Mae woke up and nursed and my little oxytocin girl made those contractions close and hard. Things got intense from then on. I remember sitting on the ball with Heidi and David doing counterpressure on my back and knees and I was roaring as loudly as possible. I also felt a little lightheaded, maybe from not breathing deeply enough.
I got in the tub at 8:45 and it was chilly. We were out of hot water and my mom was boiling big pots of water to pour in. Each pot they poured in was a life-saver and I just curled into a ball against the side of the tub. With Mae’s birth, vocalizing and deep breathing made the contractions manageable. This time, they were merely survivable. I felt like I was a tiny sail boat in the middle of a tremendous storm, being thrown around in thrashing waves. Each time I had a rest and caught my breath, another wave smacked against my body. Each contraction might have been more manageable were it not for the lack of amniotic fluid. I felt each muscle pressing against the baby’s body and each of his or her bones grinding along my pelvis. One more, here we go, I thought. Open. Ohhhhhpen.
I visualized my cervix peeling back and rolling up and out of the way. My eyes were closed the whole time and I focused all my energy down and out. David and my mom and sister were all there supporting me, giving me drinks and damp cloths on my forehead. Mae was there and came in and out, sometimes playing outside and sometimes wanting to be in the room with me to make sure I was okay. I was burping like crazy and heard Heidi say that was a good sign of transition.
Another wave slammed me hard and I asked Heidi, “Do you think I’m almost done?”
She said yes and that she could check if I thought that would be helpful. I said sure, that I felt like it was more painful in the front. I’m not sure how many clear words came out because speaking was quite a challenge. I was so desperate to be almost done that I spent every ounce of my concentration on opening and it was then that I had noticed that the pressure was more intense toward the front. She confirmed that there was an anterior lip but that it seemed flexible and that it would be gone soon. She commented that most women aren’t usually so aware of their cervixes. I was amazed at how much detail I could feel and how focusing on my cervix helped cope with the pressure.
I felt a little pressure in my bum but wasn’t feeling ‘pushy’ quite yet. I needed relief and the midwives suggested that I try grunting a little at the peak of the contractions to help. I tried letting my voice catch in my throat at the top of contractions and it seemed really effective. The difference in pushing between this and my first labor were very apparent. I was actually getting somewhere! It was so relieving to have the goal of making it to the peak to give a grunt or two.
Meanwhile, Melissa made a spot on the floor for me as we had discussed the option of getting out of the tub to push to reduce bleeding and make it easier to monitor blood loss. She came over to the tub and asked if I wanted to get out to push. I don’t know if I said anything, but I reached down to check where my progress was and WHOAH there’s the head. I said No! and pushed a little more and just like that baby was crowning. I think it’s the only time in the last two hours of my labor that I opened my eyes- wide open in shock at how quickly the descent went and also at the burning.
I noted that my friend Holly and her sweet son were there and also my mother in law- they’d been there for hours but I hadn’t realized it. I really think I could have dozens of people at my births because I am just so oblivious to my surroundings, but alas, I had to pick just a few.
Heidi and Melissa reminded me to breathe the baby out and I mirrored their examples as I gave quick nudges instead of long pushes. I wanted to take it slowly and let my mind try to wrap around the fact I was about to meet my baby, let alone avoid tearing. The baby wasn’t even out yet and I felt like I’d almost forgotten the intensity and couldn’t believe how quickly the last part had gone. It had only been ten minutes since I’d asked Heidi if I’d be done soon! I kept repeating in my mind, This is it. This is really happening.
I kept my hands down and felt as the head came closer and closer then pop!- the forehead was out and then the chin and Heidi and David helped me lift that slippery squishy body up out of the water. I started crying out of relief from the pain.
Joy washed over me and I couldn’t stop thinking how beautiful this baby was. It was 10:47 am and we all rubbed and rubbed and soon a gurgly cry left the whole room in tears. I repositioned to get a look at the gender and before I could I looked into those beady eyes that looked just like Mae’s and lost it.
beautiful!” I cried and fell instantly in love as I kissed wet, wrinkly lips. A quick peak confirmed what I thought by looking at that face- a masculine version of his sister- “It’s a BOY!”
The tears kept coming as I realized for truly the first time how desperately I had wanted a son. My mom sent Mae over- “Go meet your brother! Happy birthday, Arlo!” and we confirmed that his name was to be Arlo Collyer- my maiden name as his middle name. My dad and brother in law Greg came in to see him for a minute.
After-birth contractions started back up and I had to get back into the management mode- this time my face was less relaxed and my sounds weren’t as low- now my baby was in my arms and UGH why do these still hurt so badly?!
I noticed the tub getting cloudy with blood and tried to latch him on to work on getting the placenta out. It wasn’t working well in the water and the midwives suggested I get out. I stood up shakily and laid down on the floor.
The next while is a blur. I wasn’t sure how much time was passing but I knew I was bleeding. The midwives were calmly asking me questions and trying different things. I laid there thanking God- over the moon for this baby nursing on my chest, in shock from the intensity of the labor, and afraid of a repeat experience of too much blood loss, a shot, and ultimately an incomplete placenta. The placenta came but I continued bleeding. They asked if I felt pressure in my bum and I said that I did, and some large clots followed. Melissa gave me a shot in my thigh- pitocin I believe. At some point I blacked out for a moment and opened my eyes to Melissa’s face. She and David cut the cord around 11:45 and somehow moved me to a bed they’d made out of couch cushions to get a little more comfortable.
Each time I tried to sit up, my ears would ring and my vision would close in and I’d have to lay back down. I felt as if my whole insides would fall out if I sat up. They decided to give me some fluids in an IV but they’d taken the hep lock out late in my labor to give me more mobility in my arm. Heidi poked me just about everywhere possible and so sweetly apologized for having to bully me. My mind was on Arlo, though, and on feeling better. She got it in to my left wrist and I’ve still got a scar to show for it! Two more bags of fluid in addition to the IV antibiotic from earlier that morning and my whole body felt stiff and swollen. Even my eyebrows felt swollen.
I ate some lunch and had some placenta in a smoothie and kept trying to stand up to no avail. Around 2pm, they did Arlo’s newborn exam on the couch and he was 8 pounds, 3 ounces, and 21.5 inches tall. His hair was so fuzzy and made me swoon! He nursed so well and even relatched himself back on when he came off. I was so in love with him and couldn’t get over what we’d just made it through.
The midwives sat beside my couch-cushion bed and examined the placenta. Melissa named me the most creative placenta-maker she’d ever met. It was creative, alright, with many lobes branching off and vessels spreading all across the sac. She said she realized then that the very faint pink tint I’d noticed in my amniotic fluid was likely blood from some of the very small vessels that had broken with my waters. I’m so thankful to God that my sac hadn’t broken over one of the bigger vessels. It seems that the placenta had just kept sprouting new lobes to get better blood-flow in my uterus, though we aren’t sure why. I was likely bleeding a lot because one lobe detached ahead of the others. They spent a long time looking at it to see if it was complete but just couldn’t be conclusive. We resolved to speak to the ultrasound tech about when he could see me and to be careful to watch for symptoms of another retained placenta.
Heidi told me I really should use the bathroom but I just couldn’t get myself up. With the threat of a catheter looming overhead I used a bedpan- what a crazy mind game- trying to pee yourself- and Heidi and David carried me to my bed. It felt so nice to finally be in my own bed. Heidi headed out around 6pm. I slept awhile and had a steak salad and more smoothie and the lifesaver that is cramp bark.
I was able to get up and use the bathroom by the next morning and the midwives came to check on me and suggested I lay low and start taking some blood-building supplements as soon as possible. A week later, I was still dizzy every time I stood or walked. Heidi drew my blood and my hemoglobin was pretty low. We decided to wait a few days and see if it was coming up before discussing a transfusion. Thankfully, it had, and phone calls to some hospitals confirmed that I didn’t need blood and the midwives prescribed rest, vitamins, and good food.
We went in at two weeks for an ultrasound to check for retained placenta. While the tech couldn’t be sure, he said it looked clear and Melissa was so excited she kissed me! We were all so relieved.
I spent the next month resting and building my blood back up. Arlo was and is the sweetest baby and Mae fell into big sisterhood flawlessly. We’re certain she felt competition and jealousy at times but never once took it out on the baby. Balancing two was challenging but fun- the hardest part was lunchtime, when Arlo wanted to nurse and I was hungry and Mae was both hungry and ready for her nap. It was exhausting!
When Arlo was 6 weeks old, we went to McCall, Idaho for a family reunion. I came down with mastitis on the trip up from the seatbelt on my breast the whole time. My fever soared and I stayed in bed the first two days of the trip. On Thursday, two days before we were to leave, we all went out to dinner. I’d been visiting with my grandma and there was a lull in the conversation and my nightmare came true- I felt blood pouring out of me. I waddled to the bathroom with my legs squeezed together, grabbing David as I passed him. I sat on the toilet and sobbed. I knew exactly what was happening. He ran to get my mom and my cousin Jenn, a midwife, who’d attended my first birth. Jenn looked at the blood in the toilet and suggested I put a pad on and stand to see how much I was passing. It soaked through in seconds.
We stuffed a burp cloth in my panties and David, Jenn, and I left for the emergency room with baby Arlo in tow. We waited a long time to be seen and by the time the doctor came in, my bleeding had slowed significantly. They drew my blood to see where my hemoglobin was at compared to a month prior, I suppose to see how much would be safe to lose. They did a vaginal exam which didn’t tell them much. The doctor asked me to come back the next day when an ultrasound tech would be in. It was a very small hospital and the doctor was clearly unexperienced with obstetrics.
Friday morning I had an ultrasound and returned that afternoon to see a general practitioner to get the results. They didn’t even have an OB on staff! The doctor said the ultrasound was inconclusive and that perhaps I had passed what placental pieces I needed to pass. I requested that he at least write me a prescription for methergine so if the bleeding began again on the trip home I could have something to help until we got to the city.
Monday, back in Salt Lake, I spoke to my midwives and planned to come in for a follow up ultrasound to see if it really was clear of retained products as I didn’t want to have yet another hemorrhage happen and lose even more blood. I had the Idaho hospital fax the medical records to the midwives to show their ultrasound tech before I came in. Melissa called as she read the report- she was so sorry but the same report the doctor had told me was inconclusive stated that the appearance of my uterus was consistent with retained particles of conception. She suggested I call an OB as soon as possible and get an ultrasound.
I called around and found one that would see me that night. He was a jerk but told me what I needed to hear, and this time the ultrasound was so obvious even I could see the piece of placenta still in me, likely loosened toward the cervix by the dose of methergine I took. He scheduled a dilation and curettage surgery for the next morning. I mourned, fumed, got angry, and felt sad, all at the same time. The worst part was the doctor telling me that had I been his patient he would have “taken care of this” right away after birth and that some people’s bodies “just don’t do what they’re supposed to.” He made comments insinuating that it was my midwives’ fault and even joked that the anesthesia they’d be using was what killed Michael Jackson. I hated him and what was happening to me.
The surgery went fine and I felt much better physically afterward. I got a lot more energy and felt like I was finally able to get adjusted to being a mother of two and enjoy the end of the summer. Emotionally, I was upset and disappointed and fearful. Our culture puts an emphasis on a healthy baby and suggests that as long as you have your baby in your arms at the end of the day, your birth doesn’t matter much. While my baby was perfectly healthy, I had a lot of healing to do after both an extremely intense labor and a frustrating postpartum experience. Even though it was a scary experience, I am grateful for my midwives and their wisdom and attention to detail, as well as their overall trust in the birth process. I am confident that had I been in a hospital, I wouldn’t have even been allowed to labor because of the arbitrary 24 hour limit they put on ruptured membranes. I also wonder what they would have done with my third stage of labor. Would I have been taken in for surgery minutes after birth? Given stronger drugs to interfere even more with the process of detachment? Hard to say. I’m still processing it a year later and have so many questions that might never get answered. What is causing these strange placentas that spread out and don’t detach well? Will this happen again if I have more babies? If my body makes strange placentas, are my future babies at risk of being unhealthy? Should I birth in a hospital? Should I have my placenta manually removed right after birth? Is this an indication that I shouldn’t be having more biological children? Only time, research and faith in my own body and my care providers will be able to tell.
As for Arlo, he’s a dream baby. He sleeps well and smiles so big. He is a lover and a charmer and many people comment that he gives off an angelic touch. He brings so much joy to our family and we are so loving getting to know this little man. He is tall and thin and army crawls all over the house and yard. We love our little Arlo buddy.