Baby girl is here! I’m typing this – in way too much detail because it’s still fresh in my mind (sorry not sorry!) – with her sleeping on my chest. The best.
Chiara’s birth was … so cool. Looking back at it – and telling the story to friends – I’ve realized it had this intuitive vibe from the start. And so much grace! And I think it starts on Saturday morning.
Saturday May 25
I had plans to go to confession, so just before 10am I got to campus and it was a gorgeous, sunny morning. As I’m walking up to the Basilica, a lady looks at me and says, “Wow, you look like you’re due any day now.” I think I said, “Yeah, just about,” and then thought, “That’s a bold thing to say to a stranger,” and also, “It’d be funny if I went into labor tonight, after she said that.” After confession, I had the idea to text friends to ask for prayer requests that I could offer up when labor did start, thinking I might as well do that now when I had some time. It was nice to get their responses and feel close to them throughout the day.
At home, I got a good nap, and then we all went to the baptism of our friends’ three week old baby. At the party afterward, as we were saying goodbye, my friend said, “See you at mass tomorrow!” And I had this split-second thought flit through my mind – “No, you won’t,” – before saying, “Oh, yes! See you tomorrow!”
We got home and immediately, before we changed out of our nice clothes or even went inside, I told Chris, “Let’s switch the car seats around right now.” It was so hot, but I couldn’t rest until the crumbs were shaken out, Evange’s new car seat was put in, her old one turned around for Zelie, and baby’s put in Chris’s car. Chris did it all, but he asked, “Why do you want this done right now?” And I said, “Well, you know, just in case I go into labor tonight.” He said, “You think you’ll go into labor tonight??” and I said, “I don’t know, maybe!!” Because it was starting to feel that the more last minute preparations we did, the closer she was to being born. And I wanted to be prepared!
Around 6:30, I noticed that the pressure I often felt was now feeling more like a cramp, and keeping an eye on the clock, I saw that it was happening about every 15 minutes. I didn’t say anything, but asked Chris to set up the co-sleeper and changing table in our room. Those were my last big nesting things to get done. I pulled out the newborn size diapers and clothes, and quietly started packing my hospital bag. I told Chris, “I think this is happening.” And based on how labor went with Zelie, I thought for sure I’d be having this baby by early the next morning. Only then did I realize – I have no plan in place for the girls if we need to go to the hospital tonight. I had been so sure that Chiara wouldn’t come until my mom arrived on May 29 that I hadn’t found anyone to be back up in case she came early. So I quickly texted two friends and got that sorted out.
After the girls were down, I watched Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals with Chris – which was actually a great game and a perfect distraction – and went to bed (too late) around midnight.
Sunday May 26
I woke up at 5:30am surprised that I was still at home, still having about the same mild contractions. My friend Annie was still on standby to take the girls if we needed to go, but by 8:30am they seemed to be slowing down, and I was really tired. It seemed like labor with Evangeline, except this time we had two kids. Chris asked if I wanted to try to get things moving, by taking a shower and walking around and I agreed, but when I went upstairs I ended up taking a bath and then napping for two hours, lol.
So it was turning out to be a slow Sunday at home. By noon I was feeling somewhat silly for having texted my friends to be on the alert, and a bit discouraged, and just confused – would contractions stop completely? I’d thought I’d already have a baby by now. After Evange’s quiet time, we had some good time together while Chris and Zelie napped, and every 20 minutes or so I’d pause and bend over and breathe through a contraction. (She wasn’t too bothered by this once I explained that it was called a contraction and that it was because the baby was going to come out soon. Zelie was more freaked out.) I started thinking that maybe we’d all go to a 5pm mass together and a friend’s Memorial Day BBQ after that.
By 4:30 though, the contractions picked back up and were coming every 10 minutes. We nixed the plan for mass and opted for frozen pizza, and Chris took the girls out to play in the backyard. Annie brought some groceries over for us around 5pm and offered to take the girls to her house for dinner. They were super excited about this so they all left and Chris and I sat in the backyard and ate together. Now contractions were getting more painful, 1 minute long, and 4-5 minutes apart. I found a ritual that was working well to get me through – I hummed a Taize song, Chris sang it, and he put counter pressure on my belly by pulling on a (mermaid princess) towel wrapped around my waist. The song gave me something to think about and kept me breathing, it was such a nice day, it felt good to be outside, and I felt calm and relaxed. I started to realize, though, that when Annie brought the girls back, I wasn’t going to be able to labor away by myself for an hour while Chris put them to bed. So I texted Annie and asked her if she could stay with me while Chris did bedtime.
My surprise doula
From 6:30 to 7:30, Annie stepped in to help, and I quickly lost any feelings of self-consciousness and got back into my groove of humming my Taize song and letting her pull on the towel. And I discovered that Annie was exactly the person I needed to help me. She asked if I’d like to be massaged, and started massaging my arms and legs between contractions, and hips and back during them, and it was AMAZING. She was the doula I didn’t know I needed. In my bedroom, with sunshine pouring through the open window, we chatted away until I would groan, signaling the next contraction was starting, and we’d get in position, and then carry on talking when it was over. I was still so relaxed, and I realized, “This is my Ina May moment!” LOL.
By the time Chris came and found us, we were walking around the backyard – me leaning/hanging on Annie’s shoulders during contractions – and he asked if I was ready to go to the hospital. I was starting to think we should go soon-ish, but wasn’t feeling rushed, even though they were coming every 3 minutes or so. I was like, “I don’t know, what do you think?” And Chris was like YUP.
What I did know was that I wanted Annie to come with us. At that point, I didn’t think I could have this baby without her so I called an audible – sorry, Chris. (He was fine with it). So she called another friend to come stay with the girls, and Kate was here by 8pm. Chris got our bags in the car, and only then did I realize, “Oh shoot, can I even get in the car??” L-O-L.
Finally going to the hospital
I had two contractions in the car on the 10 minute drive to the hospital that were TERRIBLE because I was sitting down. Then one in the parking lot, two in the ER lobby, and then we were up in triage. I was humming away, and the humming was starting to turn into moaning/yelling but I did not care anymore. And, lo and behold, I was at 8cm!! Chris and I couldn’t believe it. I think we’d been so chill because we thought maybe I was at 5 or 6cm. But this was HAPPENING.
In the delivery room, I leaned on the couch by the window for a while because it was still sunny and there was a pretty view from the fourth floor, but that soon became uncomfortable and I didn’t care about the view anymore. The midwife raised the bed and I stood and leaned on it, with Chris behind me with the towel, and Annie massaging my hips and legs, and neck and head, once she arrived. (The midwife couldn’t believe she wasn’t a doula, btw.) They put an IV in my arm – I think in case I needed fluids? – and said I could keep an epidural open as an option, if I wanted. I said, sure. I had a moment of slight panic thinking, “I’m at 8cm – wow – but how much longer is there? Can I make it to the end without the epidural?” But mostly I felt confident and not afraid and just good. I stopped thinking about the epidural and just focused on doing my ritual and really, not thinking. (I think I ended up ripping the IV out accidentally and not even noticing.)
Then, during a really big contraction, my water broke, which had never happened to me before. It felt to me like a huge gush and splash all over the floor – I thought it had soaked Chris’s jeans and shoes (it had not). After that my midwife suggested I try getting on hands and knees on the bed, which sounded good to me because my legs felt like they were about to give out. She had asked me a couple times if I felt like pushing, and I had said, “I don’t know,” but once I got on the bed a contraction came pretty quickly and I think I yelled, “I want to push!” and I pushed a few times through that one. I thought she would move Chris out of the way immediately, but he stayed behind me until right before the next contraction, and on that one, I pushed baby out. CRAZY TOWN.
Chiara Julie was born at 9:40pm on Sunday May 26. Chiara is for some inspiring Italian women – Blessed Chiara Badano, Chiara Corbella Petrillo, and Saint Clare of Assisi – and Julie for my mother-in-law. She was 7 pounds 11 ounces (same as me and her aunt Megan) and I never heard how long she was. She looks exactly like Evangeline as a baby, and maybe Chris too. She’s gonna lose all that hair on the top of her head and be a lil monk baby, and I’m wondering if she’ll be our first blue eyed girl.
She was my unexpected natural birth. Slow and fast. Peaceful and intense. Surprising and amazing. What a gift, so much grace.