When we decided it was time to try for another baby, we knew we were gambling with time as we looked at our move to Norfolk, my desire to return to work, my husband Nick’s upcoming schedule, etc. There was a small window before he would deploy that I set as our deadline. In my mind, I figured weathering deployment with two littles and wine would be easier than enduring an entire pregnancy with a toddler while flying solo. It seemed to work perfectly — until we got pregnant and Nick’s schedule changed. While I’m a big proponent of not letting the Navy dictate your life’s decisions, I didn’t think it meant that I’d be birthing baby #2 while my husband was out to sea conducting pre-deployment work-ups. But alas, that’s exactly what happened and according to some friends, it earned me another notch in my Navy wife belt.
I’m not a huge fan of being pregnant, though with both my children, I had fairly easy, healthy pregnancies. I will admit, however, that being pregnant with a toddler is not for the faint of heart. Add in there working full-time and woof, you’ve got yourself a doozy. At one of my appointments in the fall, my midwife asked me how I was feeling.
I said, “Oh fine, except for the whole toddler at home, husband at sea, and pure exhaustion thing. I’m not a fan of being pregnant anymore.”
Her response, in the calmest and serene tone of voice: “I’ve found in my experience that the mothers who don’t fancy pregnancy often times are the best at giving birth.”
Whether or not it’s scientifically or medically true, her response is what I needed to hear at the time and I kept it tucked in the back of my head as an affirmation throughout the rest of my pregnancy and all the way through the moment they placed Emma on my chest. So, in the way that midwives have a knack of being more than just medical professionals who deliver babies, she gave me just what I needed.
Since my son, Connor was born at 34 weeks, my goal was to have everything packed, planned, and complete by then. However, planning for Emma’s birth required some of my expert logistical skills since 1.) we knew there was no way Nick would be present if she came after a certain point and 2.) we don’t have family in the immediate area. Hence, my birth plan wasn’t so much as how I envisioned Emma’s entrance into this world, but more of transportation, child care, household management, etc. Thankfully, we have some dear, dear members of our Navy village who all pitched in and were assigned critical roles to play.
I’m a planner. But even with all the planning and voluntary forces supporting us, I was petrified that she would come in the dead of night. It wouldn’t have been all too surprising, since many 2nd, 3rd, 4th, babies are known to arrive in the wee hours of the morning. However, with so many moving parts, I still went to bed nervous each night, especially on the evenings where I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions. I planned to start my maternity leave one week before my due date to allow me time to relax and get into the headspace necessary for this major life change. I joked that all I wanted to do for that week was nap and lay on the couch. Well, after a quick donut date and dropping Connor off at daycare, I ran an errand, assembled his class Valentines, took a nap on the couch, had a long phone conversation with a good friend, chatted updates with my doula and was diving into the final episode of “The Crown.” (OMG, if you haven’t seen it — add it to your Netflix queue).
However, planning for Emma’s birth required some of my expert logistical skills since 1.) we knew there was no way Nick would be present if she came after a certain point and 2.) we don’t have family in the immediate area.
I got up at one point to use the bathroom, as I was at the point where I could literally pee on cue every 2.5 minutes. That particular moment though, I heard a pop and felt a slight gush, but I was in the midst of peeing, so I thought to myself, “Did my water just break? No. I would know if my water broke.” I cleaned up, walked back to the sofa and felt another slight gush. “Nope,” I thought to myself. “My water is definitely breaking.” It was 2 pm on Monday afternoon and not literally 20 minutes earlier, I had a conversation with my doula about progression (I was already 4cm dilated), when the baby would come, how I was feeling, blah blah blah. But as I sat on the toilet, my water continuing to break, I called her and it went straight to voicemail. Left her a message, “Hey, it’s Ali. So, ummm, you know how we were just chatting? Yeah, my water just broke. So give me a call back, mk?”
At that point, I wasn’t experiencing contractions yet, so I started calling all the major players on our team. First on the list: The Midwifery Center to let them know my water had just broke. My midwife, Karen told me to come in ASAP since I was already 4cm dilated with my second baby. Little did we know then just how quickly Emma would arrive.
So, I flew into action — I called my mother-in-law and said get on the road, like now, (good thing she had packed her bag literally that morning). Called Connor’s daycare pick-up, of which I had forgotten to inform him of the name of Connor’s daycare — woops. Called the photographer. And oh yeah. Sent an email that said, “If Nick isn’t at a computer, please let him know my water broke and heading to the hospital. All plans in place!” Ah yes, Navy life.
Thankfully, my bag had been packed for weeks. But after all that water breaking, the outfit I thought would be cute to get to the hospital in was the last thing on my mind, and I threw on a pair of sweats. Nick called, and for the first time, I allowed myself to process what was about to happen. It was exciting and incredibly scary. He gave me the pep talk I needed, and I popped in my earbuds to get some adrenaline pumping. At this point, contractions had started and were picking up; they progressively got stronger but weren’t unbearable. We got in the card and zipped away.
We arrived at the hospital just before 3:30pm, checked in smoothly, and got settled. When Karen conducted my initial check, I was already 6cm. The 20 minutes of monitoring passed quickly with no issues and my contractions had picked up to about every three minutes. I chatted with my team, had some laughs and changed into my bathing suit top.
Nick called, and for the first time, I allowed myself to process what was about to happen. It was exciting and incredibly scary. He gave me the pep talk I needed, and I popped in my earbuds to get some adrenaline pumping.
I chose the Midwifery Center at DePaul Hospital because a dear, dear friend had such fantastic, natural experiences there with her first two children. I knew once we were pregnant that I wanted to have this baby 1) naturally and 2) at the Midwifery Center. It is attached to a hospital, so should any complications arise during the labor or delivery, it’s a quick zip through some doors to labor and delivery. There are a lot of things that the MC offer for your birth experience that don’t usually come with a typical hospital delivery — one of those is a whirlpool tub. Having a deep love for the water and knowing its relaxing capabilities, I knew I wanted to labor in the tub.
I started in the shower alternating the water streaming on my lower back and my belly. Once the heat started to get to me, I came out and just did some walking and was shown some squat techniques that really helped. Things were picking up quickly and I knew that we were making significant progress. I needed to change things up and was recommended a birthing ball. I hadn’t ever looked into one and as I positioned my body around it, my contractions picked up quickly and became really uncomfortable. At this point it was 4:45 pm and in my mind, I was thinking we had several hours still to go. Connor’s birth was about 15 hours long with about 2-3 hours of pushing, so I had mentally prepared for something similar.
After a few contractions on the birthing ball, I just wanted to lie down on the bed. At 5 pm, I moved to the bed and labored on my side. After a few minutes, Karen and the nurse swooped in with all sorts of official birth-looking things. At first, I thought something was wrong. But they quickly said, “No dear, you’re having this baby.” After laboring for only approximately 2 hours, this baby was ready. “Holy cow!” I thought. “That was fast!”
After pushing for 15 minutes, Emma Elizabeth came out and they placed her on my chest. Not having had that experience with my first child, I’ll admit it was pretty cool.
Since my husband wasn’t there, I got to cut the cord, which was pretty cool, too. However, had he been there, I still probably would have been the one to cut the cord.
The after-birth was pretty typical — I’ll spare the details, but there was stitching involved. Strangely enough, I find that part to be more painful and annoying than the actual laboring and birthing part. Throughout the entire labor and delivery, my husband was sent photos and updates, and once Emma finally arrived, she gave him the clear and final photo. I knew that not having him there would mean I needed more support. I love my husband dearly — he’s a great man, husband, and father. But childbirth just isn’t his jam. I knew that whether or not he was going to be present, I needed to hire a doula. Mine was exactly what I needed. She talked me through everything, provided the right support for me and was — in part — a huge reason why I feel this birth was so easy. Being surrounded by a team of exceptional women was just how I envisioned bringing my daughter into this world.
While Emma laid on my chest for “magic hour” she immediately took to nursing, Nick called and I rode that post-birth high wanting to call and text everyone.
Once everyone left and things quieted down, Emma and I snuggled in for some movies and Taste Unlimited. I know I needed to sleep because this ain’t my first rodeo, but my adrenaline was still pumping and I felt like I needed to go run three miles (except for the whole “I just had a baby” thing). I eventually got some on-and-off sleep through the night, had a great breakfast, and was able to shower before being moved to the postpartum wing for the rest of my stay.
I’ll admit that the idea of having a baby without my husband didn’t frighten me – what petrified me was coming home to an already highly active toddler. But thanks to our family and friends, we were covered with support till the ship came home. It was another 10 days before Nick returned and we “officially” became a family of four — and it’s been absolute craziness ever since.
But here’s the thing — we can all do hard things. You do what you have to when you need to.
When non-military friends hear of Emma’s story they look at me in disbelief, and usually a response that sounds something like, “I could never do that.” But here’s the thing — we can all do hard things. You do what you have to when you need to. Unfortunately, in our military lifestyle, that means we often endure hardships that “normal” families don’t have to experience — like deployment, flying solo, missed birthdays and holidays, inconsistent schedules and so, so much more. And although Nick’s absence will forever be something I hold over his head (”remember that time I had a baby and you were AT SEA?!”) we honestly couldn’t have imagined a better entrance to this world for our little girl.