The Birth of Brooks Manuel

Because of the change in our due date, the last few weeks of my pregnancy were long and drawn out. Every new cramp or twinge was worth jumping for – Could this be it?! Was that a contraction? What is that downward pressure?! We were waiting not-so-patiently as the final weeks came and went. Then the new, earlier due date, July 8, came and went. And we were finally approaching our original due date of July 20.

On the Wednesday before Brooks was born, July 14, we had our routine weekly appointment with our midwife, Carlene. She checked my cervix and I was dilated to 2 centimeters. I had been having irregular small contractions – really they barely qualified as cramps – for a few days, as well as having lost my mucus plug. We decided to do a membrane sweep – where the midwife sweeps a gloved finger around the base of my cervix to signal to my body that labor can start – which was a little uncomfortable but I was able to breathe and relax through it. Carlene said that labor was likely to start in the next few days, based on the pliability of my cervix, which was dilated to 4 centimeters and thinned/effaced to 90% by the end of our visit.

That night, I woke up to a very active baby and a few contractions – they were short, only 30 – 40 seconds long and came about 8 minutes apart. I got excited and calm, knowing that we were finally getting somewhere after so many weeks of waiting to see when this baby would arrive.

Thursday morning, my mom and doula, Abiola, arrived. While they settled in, Jamie and I drove to Macon for another visit with Carlene at 2:00 pm. Upon arriving, I was at 3-4 centimeters. We did another membrane sweep and contractions really started up. We stayed there and I kept active to keep contractions coming every 5 minutes to get the rhythm started. After about 30 minutes, I was at 5 centimeters and 90-95% effaced. We went home and kept the contractions coming, though they weren’t really intensifying. We ate dinner and then Abiola and Jamie suggested that I go to bed and try to get some sleep. I didn’t want to give up the progress we had made so I was hesitant to go to sleep. Everyone convinced me that it was for the best that we all get some sleep before the hard part sets in.

I woke up to contractions on Friday morning, July 16, around 3:15 am. I went to the bathroom and tried to lay back down, but ended up waking Jamie because I couldn’t sleep through them anymore. We kept a calm energy and I rocked in the recliner through contractions as Jamie set up the room (low light with twinkle lights and candles, soft and relaxing music). Around 4 am, we woke up Abiola and my mom to help support us. My mom kept the dog in the other room and Abiola settled into her doula role by assessing when to call Carlene and reminding us of the different techniques that we had practiced. By about 5 am, contractions were consistently 1 minute long and coming every 4 minutes.

When Carlene arrived around 6 am, she did a cervical check to find that I was still at 5 centimeters. Though slightly disappointed that I hadn’t progressed since our check the day before, we took the opportunity to eat a little breakfast. Around 8 am, I left the bedroom to walk around the house for some contractions. It was funny how I had lost all sense of time; I walked out of the cocoon of a bedroom and found it was a bright morning and everyone was drinking coffee. We all chatted and I did lunges for some contractions. Then, I got a wave of impatience – how long is this going to take? Jamie took me to the living room and swayed with me for a while. Around 8:40 am, Carlene offered some different positions to try through contractions and then offered another cervical check. When she checked me at 9 am, I was still at 5 centimeters – that was wildly disappointing! I couldn’t believe it – all this work and almost 20 hours later, no change at all! Carlene asked if I wanted to have her break my waters. She said that she believed that because I had a lot of amniotic fluid, that baby wasn’t able to deeply engage my cervix and keep it dilating. I practically shouted YES, eager to meet baby. She warned that contractions were likely to get much more intense… and she was right! She broke my waters at just after 9 am and I was met with the most intense contraction that I had had up to that point. The coolest part, though, was that with each contraction, amniotic fluid would gush out of me, warm and flowing down my legs. It was something to concentrate on when the contractions were getting more intense. I sat on the edge of the bed for a long time – breathing through contractions with Jamie or Abiola holding my hand and talking me through my breath. Between contractions, it took everything in me to relax and stay calm. The contractions continued to get intense; I could physically feel the difference in my body when I was contracting and tense, versus contracting and relaxed.

At a certain point, baby moved into a spot in my pelvis that sent intense pain into my lower back – it wasn’t just during contractions either! It was in every position we tried, during contractions and during rest; I couldn’t get the sharpness to go away. That lasted 15 minutes or so and then he had moved down enough that I could breathe a little easier. Around 11:30 am, Carlene came and had me lie on my left side to help baby continue down and let the contractions help progress labor. These were the most intense contractions ever – so intense that I felt like I was going to throw up during contractions, though I never did. I remember whimpering in between contractions and pleading (with who?!) to not let another one start. I said fuck like it was my mantra. I practically breathed the word. fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. I relied entirely on Jamie and Abiola to get through this part. Abiola reminded me to loosen my jaw and breathe into deep guttural tones, which helped my brain stay relaxed.

Then, rather suddenly in the middle of a contraction, the urge to push hit me! It took me by surprise – the sensation was everything in my body aching to push downward. Carlene noted that I had a full bladder and had me waddle to the bathroom to go pee before we could start pushing. When I came back into the bedroom, the bed had been covered with a drop tarp and there was Jamie sitting with a throne of pillows. I climbed onto the bed and leaned back into him and pulled my legs up. My mom helped to brace my left leg while Abiola braced my right leg. Jamie was behind me, holding my hands and whispering in my ear.

These contractions were different now. Between them, I could rest completely. I was in another world as I rested; I could see and hear everyone but they felt far away. I felt safe and calm. Then, when a contraction started, I would bear down and push – harder than I think I’ve ever worked my muscles – holding the push for longer than I thought imaginable. I could get 3 good pushes in each contraction and then would rest. I pushed for about 10 contractions and everyone was saying “He’s right there!” I reached down and felt the firmness of his head, on the brink of being earthside. During a rest, Carlene said to me, “When his head comes out, you’re going to reach down and grab your baby.” Then, after the final push, she said, “There he is! Reach down and grab him!” And I did just that: completely awash in awe, I reached down, grabbed this little baby, and pulled him up to my chest. “Hi baby” was all I could say, on repeat. Carlene rubbed his back a few times and he let out the most beautiful cry, letting us all know that he was here and he was breathing. I looked up to see Jamie, tears rolling down his face, and looked down again at our baby boy.

After the baby had latched and the cord had finished pulsating, Jamie cut the umbilical cord and held Brooks on his chest. I stood to birth the placenta and received a shot of Pitocin to get my uterus to contract back down and close off the bleeding. Brooks was born at 12:18 pm on July 16th. He weighed in at 9 pounds even, was 22 inches long, and had a head circumference of 14 inches. And just like that, we settled into being a family of three.