The verse John 16:21 accompanied me in the weeks leading up to it: “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” I was haunted by “my hour”. I knew it would be just a few hours of pain, but even one hour was enough to send me into a panic. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also accompanied me. Both Adelaide and Davy’s contractions started on a Friday and I thought this time would be the same. Davy was born on a Sunday and I have a feeling if I hadn’t had a caesarean (on a Saturday), Adelaide would have been born on a Sunday, too.
I had more signs of labor this time than last, such as spotting and painless contractions. I thought that would mean it would happen sooner, but my friend who had just had a third child said she had more preemptive contractions with her third. Adelaide was born at 41 weeks. Davy at 41 weeks and five days. Even though I was prepared to wait, it didn’t make it easier. The closer I got to 41 weeks, the harder I knew it would be to go unnoticed. The more they would want to “monitor”. The more complications could arise for them to have to intervene.
I knew my doctor would be calm until 41 weeks. The number 41 provokes various symptoms in doctors. At 40 weeks and 4 days (a Monday), my doctor said, “41 weeks is Thursday? We can still wait a bit after that if everything is okay.” I was relieved. I was supposed to go back Wednesday, but Adelaide got a fever. Thursday I had to go with Davy to get his shots. I had meticulously planned how we would adapt as a family post-partum (from lessons learned from the previous birth), but had not planned pre-birth. Those pre-birth days were a mess. My husband got stressed and suffered from insomnia. I thought no one had noticed or been influenced by my anxiety and obsessive organizing, but I suddenly understood we were all anxious as a family and as a unit. I was reminded of what I heard in these podcasts from Maria Montessori: “With the birth of a child, the whole family is reborn.”
I went to see my doctor Friday morning. “41 weeks plus 1 day?!” All had changed. She said she was going to do a membrane sweep, even though she had never done that before to me and had always said it had a risk of infection. I don’t like membrane sweeps and they aren’t in line with my gentle birth ideas, but I went along with it. Another doctor, who seemed higher in hierarchy and possibly her boss came in and my doctor asked her for an opinion. They got very serious and discussed what they could insert for induction with my previous C-section, all while I laid there with my legs open. I felt like a thanksgiving turkey they wanted to stuff. The doctor urged her to give me a strong membrane sweep and it hurt quite a bit. They suggested I walk during the afternoon and come back in the evening, and that maybe things would have started up. Not only did I know they wouldn’t, I didn’t want them to. My husband was not felling well that day and he needed at least one night to recover or I would have to go through labor without his help. I could think of nothing worse. I had never felt so lonely. I drove back home crying and yelling at God. I had some pain and contractions that afternoon so I consider labor started on a Friday too. I went back later and everything was still okay with the baby so my doctor said we’d wait and for me to come see her colleague the next morning. My husband and I sent the kids to my in-laws’ for the night, in hopes we could both rest and also thinking it could happen that night.
Miraculously we both slept and my husband was completely recovered the next morning. Everything was okay for me then. I just needed him by my side. We went to the hospital again and everything was still okay with the baby. The doctor gave me another membrane sweep, told me to walk, walk, walk and come back at night. Not exactly the gentle birth experience I was going for. I felt lots of painful contractions that afternoon so I knew it would be happening soon. We picked up my mom at the airport, had lunch at our favorite restaurant, went to a beautiful mass and I had painful contractions all the while. Then I walked for two hours at the Gulbenkian and the contractions stopped completely. And I was tired out. We went back to the hospital and I had zero contractions. The doctors said to come back Monday. It was then that I understood what was “saving” me was my previous caesarean. With Davy’s birth, I had thought it was divine intervention and my doctor’s intervention which had gone in favor of my birth preferences against induction and of waiting past 41 weeks. But really, it is dangerous to induce with a previous C-section so all doctors respect that. How funny that the one thing we had so wanted to avoid and had pained us so much (Adelaide’s caesarean) was what now saved us in Davy and Tomé’s births. “Deus escreve por linhas tortas” (“God writes straight with crooked lines”).
I was feeling a whirlwind of emotions, but mainly fear. I wanted so much for it to happen that night so I wouldn’t have to show up Monday to the hospital and leave the kids indefinitely at my in-laws’ (I was feeling such guilt), but I was also scared and didn’t want it to ever happen. I decided I needed to eat Indian food, partly because I was starving and craving spicy, partly because of the theory a spicy curry can induce labor. We looked up the nearest Indian restaurant and lucked out with a wonderful place. I tried to talk about things other than childbirth and my guilt for abandoning our kids, but it was nearly impossible. Even so, we had a wonderful, romantic time. How differently that day was going from the previous one. We went home and I hurriedly took a shower and went to bed a little after 10. My husband still wanted to watch a movie or have some sort of date, but I hurried us off to bed because I knew we needed to rest and I also had a feeling something would happen. I was feeling terrible.
I said good night, turned off the light, my husband started snoring (he was really tired and instantly fell asleep) and at that exact moment I felt my first contraction. Boom. It was like a line of fire I felt go through my belly from top to bottom. I knew this was it. I waited in bed as long as I could bear it to make sure they weren’t going away. I was so tired I almost fell asleep between them, but when one would come it was so painful I would grip the pillow, cringe and try not to wake my husband. After possibly an hour I got up quietly and went into the living room. I was so thankful my husband was sleeping a little bit. I was thankful my house was impeccably clean, everything was ready and the kids were already at the in-laws’. I lit the candle in our prayer corner and packed up the last things, all between very painful, frequent contractions. I was surprised at how intense they already were. I already didn’t want to listen to music or take a shower. I just wanted to go to the hospital. I was scared of the process necessary to get into the birthing room. What if I got there and they said I wasn’t dilated enough and would have to wait to be admitted? What if they made me sit down with a fetal heart monitor with all the painful contractions?
My husband woke up and asked what I was doing. I said reluctantly, “I’m having contractions, but go back to sleep.” He said he wouldn’t be able to so I took that as a sign and said I wasn’t sure if I should take a shower or go to the hospital. He said it could take a long time and I should take a shower. I knew it wouldn’t take a long time judging from the contractions, but I took that as a sign too. Better too late to the hospital than too early. I took a shower, but it brought absolutely no relief, which I found odd and knew we’d better go. I went into bossy mode. When I’m in labor I get bossy (bossier I guess…), and yell at my husband if he talks too much or touches me. I barked out orders for him to get dressed then help me get dressed, which he promptly complied with. We drove to the hospital in the rain, a 40 minute drive across the bridge, and he stayed remarkably calm and silent. I didn’t want him to get scared, so I told him, “I know it looks like I’m in a lot of pain, but it’s tolerable.” Any time he’d try to talk or suggest music, I would rudely tell him to be quiet. When we got to the hospital, I barked out orders for him to leave me at the door and park the car. He opened the car door and I had to wait for a contraction to pass before getting out. I ran past the front desk (no one was there) and rang the doorbell to get into the emergency section as fast as I could before another contraction came. I explained the situation, practically threw my file at the man behind the desk and then leaned against the wall and breathed. It was around 3 am. Two very young and inexperienced-looking doctors came out and asked if I had gone through the screening and measured my blood pressure. I looked at them menacingly and said I was very far along and they should see how dilated I was. They laughed and said, “I don’t believe it! You and two other women who just came in! What is it, the moon?!” I didn’t laugh. One of them said, “ok, come in here and let me check.” When he did, he looked surprised and told the other doctor, “rebordo” (almost fully dilated), to which she replied, “I don’t believe it.” He said, “Prepare a room.” I felt relief and happiness. I had been asking God to get to the hospital and get a room right away. I just wanted the baby out now. The doctor warned me I wouldn’t be able to get an epidural. I answered, “I didn’t want one anyway”. He looked suspicious.
A nurse helped me change my clothes and go into the room. She talked too much and gave too much advice, so luckily she didn’t stay long. She started preparing a needle for my vein, saying it was to administer oxytocin. “I don’t want oxytocin!” “What do you mean you don’t want oxytocin?!” I knew she had already labeled me as crunchy, so I was careful with my words. My whole plan in the hospital is for my husband and I to be low-profile. I don’t reveal how crunchy I am and he doesn’t reveal he’s a doctor. I said it was because I had a previous caesarean. The doctor came in and she complained to him, “She said she doesn’t want oxytocin.” The doctor looked at me suspiciously, but seemed to be more obliging. “I have a previous c-section and I know contractions are more painful with oxytocin. If I’m not going to have an epidural…”. “You decide,” he answered and that pleased me very much, “but you’ll have to have some after the birth to help with hemorrhaging.” I was more than happy to agree. After the birth they could do anything, I didn’t care. Contractions were terribly painful and I kept wondering when would be time to push. I didn’t feel like I would be able to survive for long.
My main reference was Davy’s birth, when I laid on my side and breathed through the contractions, then felt my body pushing, a downward vomiting movement for a long time before I called the nurse and she said he was ready to come out. Then it was a pretty quick process. However, this time around, ever since I had been admitted to the hospital, the doctors and nurses kept asking if I felt the urge to push and telling me to push whenever I felt like it. I couldn’t feel that downward movement and was impatient to get to that point, because I felt the contractions were unbearable. My water hadn’t broken yet, so the doctors had warned that once it broke I might not be as dilated. They kept asking if I wanted them to break it or not. I had no idea. I knew contractions hurt more with the water bag broken, so I was wary, but I doubted it would make a difference since I was almost fully dilated. I decided to ask them to wait and not to break it and they looked skeptical, but left. For what seemed like an eternity, I tried to get through contractions and not despair that I wasn’t feeling the pushing sensation. I would tell myself, “Three more contractions, then ask the nurse if it’s time to push.” But every time a nurse or doctor would check, they would say the baby was too high and my heart would sink a little lower.
I was starting to panic. I didn’t know if I should stay comfortable and let my body do the work, on my side or back as I was, or if I should walk around. A nurse came in and when he again saw the baby was too high asked what the estimated weight of the baby was. “I don’t know”, I answered. “An estimate?” he insisted. “He was in the 50th percentile at his last ultrasound”, I said and he was satisfied and left. What I said was true, I had just omitted the fact that the last ultrasound had been over a month ago and his older brother was 4 kilos (8.8 lbs) when he was born. Three doctors came in and looked like they meant business. “It’s time to rupture your membranes (break your water bag).” I readily agreed. I think I would’ve accepted a caesarean at that point. She broke it easily with her hand and then said something about the head and it being big. “But is it impeditive?” another doctor asked. I held my breath. “No, I don’t think so.” They also left and I breathed a sigh of relief, but was now seriously worried the baby could be stuck or I was doing something wrong and it wasn’t progressing.
Finally I got tired of laying on my side and thought I couldn’t take even one more contraction. I got up on my hands and knees, grabbed on to the head of the chair and stayed in that kneeling position for a while, swiveling my hips. It brought some relief and a lot of emotion. I was frenzied and scared and thought the baby would never, ever come out. I just wanted a nurse to say I was ready. My husband tried talking to me and yelled for him to be quiet. I just needed to concentrate. The fetal heart monitor fell off so I decided I would call the nurse to tell her and ask her to check again. If she said I wasn’t ready I thought I would die. The second the nurse walked in I felt the scariest pushing sensation of my life. It was uncontrollable and way too intense. I completely forgot about the fetal heart monitor and yelled at her, “The baby is coming out!” She just nodded calmly in reply, with zero emotion, and walked calmly to set up her table.
My husband and I both really appreciated this nurse and her obvious psychological tactics for keeping me calm. She was a little older and probably more experienced. She started calmly setting up things and putting on gloves while I was in a state of disarray asking her to help get the baby out. She finally asked calmly, “Do you want to deliver in that position?” While I appreciated that very much and thought it was very respectful of her to be willing to deliver on hands and knees, I went into more of a panic and yelled no. I felt like I needed her help, like the nurse had done in Davy’s birth. She asked me calmly to sit down then. When a pushing sensation would come again, I would panic. It was so uncontrollable and so intense and I didn’t know how to handle it. She purposely took a long time “setting up her table” and telling me everything was okay. “I don’t know why bags don’t open up when you need them to.” I just wanted her to pull out the baby and was terrified of the pushing and it not working. There was a particularly touching moment when she looked me in the eyes and said my name, “Julie, you are doing a great job. Everything is okay and you just need to take a deep breath and keep pushing all in one breath.” She really did manage to calm me down. She coached me through some pushing and breathing which also seemed like an eternity. My husband was ecstatic and said he could already see the baby. Finally the big moment of relief for me came: the head was out. She told me to relax while she helped the body out. For me, the worst was over. He was born at 6:07 am, so about three hours after getting to the hospital. He was born at 41 weeks and 3 days, weighed 3,860 kg (8.3 lbs) and was 52 cm long.
I had never had a “dirty” baby on me before. Adelaide was a caesarean so she was cleaned first, and Davy had meconium on him so he was cleaned too. It was a special experience to have that dirty, crying, huge (how was that inside of me?!) baby on top of me and an immense flood of relief. The second half of the Bible verse, “the joy that a child has been born into the world” was completely true. I was eager to have the nurse stitch me up (first degree tears) and she finally did. My husband and I had those sacred moments of “pinch me, we did it! Everything went well!” and of staring at the baby, wondering who he was and what he was like. He was beautiful.
Post-partum recovery has been hard, but better and more organized than the first two births. Childbirth, however, I think is just as scary, painful and new every time. I am grateful for the people who dedicate themselves to this cause and aren’t scared of it. I am grateful for Rute and Serge, our childbirth gurus from afar. For doulas like Sandra Oliveira, with whom we did a course before Davy’s birth. It would’ve been helpful to have a doula or someone experienced and trusted to help me decide about the water bag and position to help the baby lower. I am grateful for Julie Dubrouillet’s book Deliver!, which is succinct and easy to review again before each birth. I want to buy it for every pregnant woman. I am grateful, of course, for our OB-GYN, who with her work and service has influenced our lives and future in a profound and spiritual way. I am grateful for our family and friends who prayed for us and gave us support through our whatsapp group and outside of it too.
Birth affirmations and “brain training” help me a lot the weeks and days leading up to birth. Here were some of my favorites this time:
I also really love NieNie’sbirth story here. My two favorite quotes:
“Since my birth experience to Mr. Nicholas Jones Nielson was a rather spiritual and personal experience, I thought I'd share only a few highlights."
“Having a natural childbirth is not just for the brave, but for every woman searching for confidence she didn't even know she possessed.”
Link to all birth stories here: