Theodore Oberon Sumner breathed his first breath on March 29th, 2017 at 1:25am. It was the night of the New Moon in Aries. A part of me keeps thinking of the 28th as his birthday, also, because I labored that entire day. March 28th is a significant day in our family as it our Husky dog Katja’s birthday and also the anniversary of the day Jonathan and I started dating (after an 11 year friendship).
Let me begin by saying this: Theodore’s birth was the most perfectly beautiful experience. It went seamlessly and as perfectly as I had dreamed. I spent my entire pregnancy meditating and preparing mentally for his birth and what I hoped it would be like but I simultaneously made sure I kept an open mind and heart to the possibility of shifting away from my birth plan. I made sure to visit and imagine all possible circumstances (within my imagination) so that I could also be mentally prepared for that, whatever that may be. Because of all of this preparation I was not afraid of labor and delivery and I entered into it with an open mind. That said, the fact that it went so beautifully and perfectly with my birth plan was such a pleasant surprise.
My mother in law, Ana, arrived on Saturday, March 25th to help prepare for the birth, to act as our birth photographer, and to offer support to Jonathan and I after the birth. She is such a blessing and I definitely feel like I won the mother in law lottery with her.
I was hit with an awful flu the Tuesday prior to Ana’s arrival, my first in 7 years, so I told Theo, in my belly, to hang on until I kicked the flu to the curb. My last day at work was set for March 24th but due to the flu I wasn’t able to finish out work as I’d planned. Monday, March 27th, I went into work for a couple hours to tie up loose ends – with a fever and disgusting amount of snot. That evening I picked up a salad at Taos Pizza Outback with their homemade pesto dressing that has been rumored to induce labors. I ate the salad with the dressing just before going to bed, with a fever, and diffused some eucalyptus essential oil (as advised by my midwife) while I slept to try to dry up all the facial mucous. For the first time in a week I slept a solid 12 hours and when I woke up on Tuesday, March 28th, I felt totally healed…no more fever or mucous.
Around 9am I got up to pee and when I came back to sit on the edge of my bed I felt a weird, indescribable shift that had me wonder “could this be it?”
I laid in bed a few minutes looking up recipes for egg breakfast muffins (weird craving) then went out to the kitchen and started making them with Ana (Jonathan was at work). Almost as soon as we started prepping the muffins, however, I started to feel some cramping, like menstrual cramps, that wrapped around to my back and went down my thighs a bit. It hurt the most when I stood so I kept having to sit down to rebuild strength to stand back up. The pain consistently got worse and around 11am I got into the bathtub with epsom salt and decided to time it as a way to know whether what I was feeling was actually contractions or not. All this time I was in constant contact with my midwife and my doula. Sure enough my contractions were about 6 minutes apart and lasted 1.5 minutes. They were still tolerable so around 1pm I took my doula’s advice and tried to nap a bit. Of course I couldn’t sleep (because who can actually sleep when you’re in pain and excited because you could meet your baby soon!?). At around 3pm, though, the pain got considerably worse and I started texting Jonathan to please leave work early (he was off at 4 anyway…), that I needed him, that I was in tears, and that this was the real deal. By then it was getting to be excruciating so the lead midwife, Nicole, and my doula, Rachel, said they would come at 4 to check me. Everyone arrived at the same time – Nicole, Rachel, and Jonathan. When Nicole checked me to see how dilated and effaced I was she had a hard time getting a good reading. By her assumption it seemed like I was 8 cm dilated but she didn’t trust her reading and called her backup midwife, Michelle, to come and check me. Michelle has more experience checking dilations. When Michelle finally arrived and checked she also had a hard time at first. It turns out my cervical opening was still pointed toward my back instead of down which means I wasn’t very effaced just yet. She also said I was only around 3 cm dilated but could understand why Nicole thought I was 8 cm – what Nicole was feeling was Theodore’s giant head so low it was pushing hard on my cervix making it feel like the cervix was open further!
The midwives left with instructions to Rachel (my doula) to stay in touch with them. By now my contractions were getting to be unbearable. I tried a few different positions – sitting backwards on the open toilet and leaning over the back, sitting on the yoga ball leaning over the bed. Rachel then suggested that Jonathan and I have some romantic alone time in bed to try to speed things along. Of course Jonathan was exhausted and just passed out and my contractions were already so far along there was no way for me to relax. After about 30 mins of contractions coming every 2 mins and lasting for 2 mins I finally called Rachel back in to assist me. At this point the contractions were starting to be on top of each other. She sent Jonathan out to prepare the birthing tub with Ana which we knew would take a few hours due to our low water pressure.
(I have no idea what time this was because the only times I looked at the clock after my bath were when I went to lay down, woke up, 4pm when everyone arrived, and 9:15pm when I accidentally saw Rachel’s phone. This was deliberate because I knew if I had a concept of how long or short this labor was going it would disrupt my focus on just trying to breathe through it.)
Rachel suggested I try sitting in the shower with the water on my back. She helped me to the bathroom which took awhile because I kept collapsing from another contraction and I couldn’t stand up on my own so I had to lean over her while she walked backwards (this was the only way to move me from about 4pm until he was born). The shower was awful! The water on my back just intensified the pain and everywhere the water wasn’t hitting felt like ice which made it very hard to focus on breathing through it. Jonathan came in and helped me into my robe and shuffled me out to the living room where I spent, I believe, a couple hours sitting on the yoga ball and leaning over pillows we stacked on the couch while Jonathan and Rachel took turns sitting behind me and applying pressure to my low back.
Side note: as I reread this I’m realizing it reads very monotone without any emotion – this is because I was literally just spending the entire labor focusing on my breathing and meditating through the contractions. Anytime I let an inkling of emotion seep into my forethought it would intensify things so I had to deliberately separate myself from that (which I must say is pretty impressive because I am generally a very, very emotional person).
It was while I was laboring on the ball by the couch when I accidentally caught a glimpse of Rachel’s phone with the time saying it was 9:15 (or around then). At that time I asked her if she had heard from Nicole because I didn’t want to have the baby before they got there and I also really wanted get in the birth tub. I remember being very concerned that I wouldn’t get to have the baby in the tub. Rachel said she had just notified Nicole and that she was on her way. This next part is a wee bit foggy but I think it was after Nicole arrived that I got in the birth tub, finally. The water felt like heaven on earth. It was the most blissful feeling I have ever experienced. It made the contractions so much more bearable as I was able to grip the handles on the side and stretch out in the water. This is where I transitioned. I had a sudden urge to vomit and Jonathan ran to get a bucket for me. I vomited in the bucket and as he went to dump it in the toilet I projectile vomited all over the side of the tub, in the tub, on myself, on the floor, and onto Rachel. After that I sat in the tub a bit longer and started growling through the pain. I pictured myself a tiger in the jungle and kept roaring as loud as I could. I felt so strong and powerful and being able to imagine myself as a tiger is what really gave me the strength to push through. I remembered one of my first prenatal visits when Michelle told me that pregnancy is when women are their most primal and animalistic. All of our senses intensify to alert us to danger in order to protect our baby and all mammals essentially labor in the same way. This description of pregnancy really resonated with me and as I transitioned into the most intense part of labor and I felt so thankful for Michelle explaining it to me in that way. Nicole then suggested I move to the bed, I think she was concerned that too much time in the warm water would slow down labor as it sometimes does. I remember feeling very irritated at her for suggesting I go all the way to the bedroom so I compromised with her by asking if I could just move to the couch instead – the couch was right beside the tub and for the last few hours I deliberately did not let myself look beyond the couch, which acts as the edge of the living area, because when I did I would see a person or thing that would distract me from my focused breathing (the bedroom was well outside this barrier).
When I made it to the couch I got situated laying my head in Rachel’s lap and gripped her hand while Jonathan sat beside me. While laying there I was hit with an urgency to hold my son. To meet him. To kiss him. I felt the time was very soon and I was growing impatient. I kept saying I needed to push him out, I needed to hold him! Nicole eventually sat down beside me and told me not to push because my water needed to break first (she was very confident it would on its own and knew not to interfere with my body). Just having her tell me this gave me the strength to carry on and get through my contractions. At some point Michelle finally said it was time for her to check my cervix. She did so right there on the couch and told me my water was very close to breaking but the lip of the cervix was slightly in the way. She reached in and gently moved the lip over the cervix and boom! A wonderful rush of water released! In that moment I felt such a massive feeling of relief, that the time was finally here! I would finally get to hold my son! Michelle then instructed me on how to push with my contractions. I was still laying on my back on our sofa with my head in Rachel’s lap, holding her hand, and Jonathan kneeling on the floor beside me. I pushed a few times and then they instructed me to try to get in the tub to finish. I moved to the tub with a lot of help and sat on my hands and knees and pushed a few times. Nicole was checking me and came to the conclusion that I needed to stand up to push a few times to try to get him to rotate. I stood up in the tub and leaned with all my weight on Jonathan as I pushed a couple more times. They then told me to step out of the tub and lay down on the couch to push some more. I did as they said. And again, they told me to stand up and this time lean on Michelle to push. It’s around this time that they realized two things: If I continued to push standing up I would tear – badly. And that if I was in the tub to finish pushing I would also tear. They told me to lay on the couch on my side to finish while they coached my pushing and breathing and massaged my perineum – all of this to prevent tearing. I was so willing to do whatever they said because I was both terrified of tearing and eager to meet my son.
At one point, as Theodore’s head began to emerge they moved my hand to reach down and touch it but it didn’t feel like a head to me so I quickly snatched my hand back and resumed pushing. I was so, so eager to meet him at this point that I was pushing even between contractions! After his head finally emerged they said his shoulders were broad (sticky shoulders is the term) and got stuck so Michelle had to reach in and gently push on them. Suddenly he popped out! Oh what an amazing feeling! A feeling I never, ever want to forget for there’s nothing in the world like it. He was crying instantly and all I could see were his adorable feet with his big toes!
(All of the pushing only took 30 minutes.)
The umbilical cord was fat and strangely short so until I could birth the placenta he could only reach to lay on my belly. As soon as they laid him on my belly, the outside of where he had just emerged from, he stopped crying and relaxed. The first time I laid my hands on him was like coming through to the other side of a long, dark tunnel and entering into a euphoric paradise. There are moments I never want to forget and feeling him emerge and touching him for the first time are up there at the top of the list.
The placenta came out very easily with a light tug of the cord by Nicole. I didn’t even feel it. After that they moved him up to my chest for close skin to skin. While Jonathan and I absorbed the sweetness of our new love, family, the midwives checked me for any tears. I didn’t tear at all! But I did have some internal scratches and lots of blood clots coming out. They had Jonathan take Theo as Ana followed beside with the placenta in a bowl. They went to the bed and Michelle showed him some bonding techniques like skin to skin and letting Theo suck on Jonathan’s finger. Nicole helped me to the bathroom (a feeling I hope I forget!) and into the shower to try to clean me off. I was so weak and shaking uncontrollably they decided it was a bad idea putting me in the shower and instead just wiped me clean. They helped me to the bed and helped me begin nursing Theo. Once I had the hang of it they stepped out to clean up in the living room. We waited to cut the cord for a couple hours so he could get every drop of blood from it. After they cut the cord they weighed and measured him and we got ready for bed. It was 4am. Ana stayed in the bed with Theo and me while Jonathan slept on the couch (he moves too much in his sleep and Theo needed to stay in bed with me). I couldn’t sleep alone because I was very weak and needed monitoring and assistance to the bathroom. Of course Ana and I couldn’t sleep all night because we were so enamored by our little love bug.
The days and weeks since Theodore entered our life have been a whirlwind of ups and downs. The first couple weeks were especially challenging and I will be writing another post about that.
One thing is true and will remain so: I don’t ever want a life without Theodore in it. He is such a light to all of us and we are having so much fun watching him grow and learn and evolve.