Robin Thomas: A Birth Story

Our son Robin Thomas was born just after midnight on January 12– three days before his official “due date.” His birth was amazing: fast, scary, messy, strange, difficult, near-impossible and then suddenly possible, and then suddenly over. And then suddenly we have this beautiful baby boy!

Sky’s birth story is half-finished in my pregnancy journal, written in Lyle’s handwriting (which I love.) I remember we tried to tell each other the story, and he wrote it down while I nursed Sky. But we were also preparing to move into a new house, and somehow we never went back to finish filling in the rest. One day I’ll write her story here, too. This time, I don’t want to lose all the little details to the brain fog of these precious (but overwhelming) newborn days, so I’m writing this in installments, one-handed, while Robin sleeps in the sling on my chest.

The day before

Looking back, I can see how my body was preparing for labor beginning early in my 39th week. I just felt this intense need to stay home. I had things on the calendar like acupuncture, massage, and coffee with my pastor. Things that would ordinarily be restful and nourishing suddenly felt daunting. So I canceled as best I could, but was still planning on the coffee date. My priest walked with me through my miscarriage last year, printing out a special liturgy from the Episcopal BCP for pregnancy loss, and even officiating a little ceremony in the chapel. She is just so gentle and funny and real, and I wanted to talk to her about some big spiritual questions milling around in my heart as Robin’s birth day approached.

Instead, the day before our coffee date, I went for a long walk up Mt. Tabor. In Portland birth circles, it is often called Mt. Labor, because it’s a beautiful but hilly climb that often helps women encourage labor to start. Lyle and I walked it many times in the week leading up to Sky’s birth. I didn’t feel like I was in a hurry to have Robin, but I was feeling restless in my bones and thoughts, and it was a Wednesday, when the main roads are closed to traffic.

A light rain fell and it was wonderfully still. I walked slowly and stopped to listen to birds and watch raindrops bead on bare tree branches and green fir needles. I was wearing my poncho, so when I accidentally stepped in some slippery mud coming down a hill, my arms were tucked in along my sides and I didn’t catch myself easily. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and I remember thinking, “Don’t let me hit my belly, Lord, please.” But I think I did. I came down pretty hard on my left side, covered with mud and crying.

Fortunately, babies are resilient, and the womb is a heavily-padded, protected place. Plus, both my babies have preferred to camp out on my right side, so when I went in to the clinic for monitoring, everything looked just fine. Still, I felt bruised. For the rest of the day, I cried easily and kept dropping things. I was shaky and emotional.

Labor day

The next day, I was really sore. I texted my priest to let her know I wasn’t feeling like myself and needed to reschedule. Then I tucked myself into bed while Sky was at preschool, and just slept and read and listened to podcasts.

At around 4:00, I called my sister to talk and told her I was starting to feel some cramping, but it didn’t seem rhythmic or regular. I thought it might just be my body recovering from the fall the day before, or maybe just early pre-labor, like I had for a few days leading up to Sky’s birth.

At 5:30, we packed Sky into the stroller and headed up to the park for a “night walk” before dinner. Sky loves this. In September, when we visited Lyle’s parents in Truckee, we had taken a long walk from their house to a brewery downtown, using an unlit nature trail. In the early evening, it was dusky and beautiful, but by the time we headed back, it was pitch black. We all had flashlights, and Sky loved being cozy in blankets in her stroller, looking up at a sky full of more stars than she’s ever seen. We saw a snake in the path and a family of deer.

Our city park is well-lit, and it’s hard to see stars when the sky is socked in with rainclouds, but she still feels the same kind of excitement whenever we walk at night. We did two laps and I began noticing that the cramping was coming in waves and starting to feel more like contractions. I let Lyle know, but still felt like it couldn’t be the real thing yet, or even if it was, I thought it could be like this for hours, like it was with Sky. I started counting the duration and the time between, and was surprised to find that they were pretty regular, and starting to become a little more uncomfortable. “Hmmm…” we thought.

We went home and had dinner– a butternut squash curry over rice that Lyle had made. I still thought I’d be spending the night at home, and maaaaybe going into labor sometime the next day, so I went ahead and had a full dinner, feeling suddenly pretty hungry.

These pictures were taken around 7:30 pm, before Sky went to bed. I was having pretty regular, but manageable contractions at this point. We thought there was a good chance we’d be heading to the hospital that night. I just love these pictures. I knew my baby girl wasn’t going to be my baby for much longer, and I felt more than a little anxious about leaving her during the birth, and about how she would handle the big change of having a little brother.

After Sky went to bed, I lay down and texted our doula, Jennifer. She suggested I try taking a bath, to see if that lessened the contractions. Instead, they seemed to pick up speed and strength as soon as I got out. It was like my body had been waiting for Sky to be safely asleep before getting down to business. It started to get pretty painful, so I told Lyle to start packing the car. He ran around (only slightly panicked) while I breathed and vocalized through contractions. I timed them until I couldn’t keep focus any more. At that point Lyle called our doula and his brother, and they both got in their cars to head our way.

Jennifer arrived and came in to check on me, and said it was probably time to leave for the hospital. I really didn’t want to get in the car, and it was getting hard to change my position from lying on my side on the bed. I also threw up, which had all been signs it was time to go with Sky.

Bryce arrived a little before 10 and we left for the hospital right away. As before, oh how I hated the drive and the parking garage and the long, winding walk to Labor & Delivery. I hated arriving on the floor and seeing all the nurses behind the desk staring at me calmly, telling me coolly to “sign here” while I’m doubled over and moaning with contractions. I hated being directed to triage to be checked, even though with both kiddos I was at 7 or 8 cm by the time I arrived at the hospital– ready to just get the show on the road already. I am beyond grateful for access to good care and the support of a medical team: I’ve had two healthy, safe, low-intervention hospital births, and I know that being in the hospital has helped relieve my anxiety about something going wrong, allowing me to be fully present for labor. And yet. There’s a lot I really don’t love about hospital birth.

My doctor didn’t make it to the hospital in time to deliver Robin, so we had a room full of strangers who quickly scanned our birth plan and started trying to convince me to get hooked up to an IV or at least a port.  They also tried to overrule my request to avoid routine Pitocin postpartum unless necessary– both requests I had discussed and had approved with my doctor. I felt frustrated and scared. Jennifer helped advocate for us and we were able to delay both decisions while I focused on progressing.

Contractions became stronger and closer together, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was actually in labor. It had all happened so quickly, and by the time we headed to the hospital, I could only focus on getting through each contraction. Being suddenly in L & D, surrounded by strange faces, I began to feel some anxiety about the birth. I thought I had more time. My heart rate sped up and I started to lose focus, but Jennifer and Lyle brought me back to my breath and reminded me to just get through the next contraction.

At some point I threw up the rest of my dinner, and the force of that made my water break, which hadn’t happened with Sky. It was a big dramatic gush I could hear, which surprised me. Shortly after I started to feel like I wanted to push. The contractions were coming so quickly I barely had a chance to recover between each one. I wanted something to “do” with the pressure.

Then the baby’s vital signs started dipping: his oxygen levels were getting low each time I had a contraction, so they put an oxygen mask on me and told me they needed to give me fluids and would be putting in an IV port. Afraid for my baby, I became really focused and quiet. The doctor on call checked me and said I was fully dilated and could start pushing if I felt ready, and man did I feel ready. It took some time to find the right position. We tried using a rail in front with a sheet tied around it so I could pull on something, but I quickly became tired out. Finally I turned backward on the delivery table and got onto hands and knees, which is how I had labored with Sky. After that it felt like it was only a few pushes later that Robin was born.

The nurses told me to reach down and pick up my baby! “Where is he?” I kept asking. I was crying and shaking with happiness and exhaustion and I felt totally disoriented, but finally I saw their hands passing his little ruddy body up through my legs toward me. He was slippery and warm and they helped me bring him to my chest, turn around, and lean back so he could rest on my chest. He was still connected by the cord, and just blinking around at me, totally aware and breathing but just completely quiet! “Is he okay? Is he okay?” I asked. Everyone assured me he was fine. The nurses rubbed his body to warm him up after the shock of birth, and helped Lyle cut the cord. It was so incredible! I think I was just crying and saying all kinds of things, just, “Hi baby! Hi Robin! We’re so glad you’re here!” and “Oh my God, oh my God, he’s here!”

They took him over to weigh and make sure he was okay, while I gave one last push with the afterbirth. Everything was fine. After the baby was settled back in with me to nurse, the room emptied out and with the lights dim and the warmth of the baby and blankets, I relaxed. Lyle and I settled in to admire our new baby. A nurse came to ask if I wanted any snacks, and I had about eight teeny tiny boxes of cranberry juice, which tasted like the best thing in the world, and a generic granola bar which tasted equally amazing.

Robin nursed and we talked about the birth for a bit, which helped me process it and arrive in the present moment a little more. My head was just reeling with so much change, and I felt electric with adrenaline and all the feel-good post-birth emotions. I don’t think I slept much the rest of the night, which was how it was with Sky, too. I was just so excited and happy.

Sky visited the next day with her uncle, and met her baby brother. The following morning we headed home, where I promptly got into bed with the baby and did my best to stay there as much as possible for the next two weeks. We had help from Lyle’s parents, so I was able to get some real rest and focus on nursing Robin.

 

I’m so thankful Robin arrived safely and swiftly, that he is healthy and thriving at home with us. I am all too keenly aware that it all could have been otherwise. Just getting through pregnancy felt like a marathon, a constant exercise in being present and managing my anxiety about miscarrying, even when we were well past the mark of probability. Both my babies are “rainbow babies,” born after a previous loss, and maybe the challenge of that is not letting my worry overwhelm my love and enjoyment. I just feel so lucky to have two healthy children… sometimes I look at them with their daddy and wonder how we all got here. I love my little family so much.

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