Felix joined our family on Friday, September 4, 2020 as the last of the late summer evening sun danced through our bedroom window. After one final act of surrender and trust, Felix rocketed into the world two hours after labor started in earnest and seven minutes after Serena, our midwife, arrived by my side.
That’s the short story. Here is the long story.
For the majority of my pregnancy, I had been terrifically nonchalant about when and how Felix would arrive.
“He’ll come when he comes,” I told anyone who asked about his due date. “It could be anytime between now and mid-September.”
His due date, in actuality, was August 25th, and I was absolutely certain his birth day would be sometime in late August. Both girls had arrived promptly—four and three days after their due dates—so of course Felix would follow suit… right?
A wildly mystical midwife I admire believes that each birth teaches the mother what she needs to learn about herself so that she can be the mother her baby needs. It’s different for every birth, and each time it happens, it can feel like she, too, has been reborn. (Mystical!)
Felix’s timing was my greatest lesson.
At 33 weeks, I had a few scary bouts of strong, consistent Braxton Hicks contractions long before it was time, and I worried for four weeks straight that he would be preterm.
Serena wasn’t overly concerned. (She also wasn’t not concerned, which was concerning.) She gave me some herbs and prescribed nightly epsom salt baths. The herbs were gross, but the baths were so delicious I decided I'd like to give birth in that very tub. This would be my first water birth.
At 37 weeks, the point at which home birth becomes legal and a baby is considered full (but early) term, I relaxed a little. I told Felix he could come whenever he was ready… buuuuuuuuuuuut if he wanted to hold on for a few more weeks that’d be super chill because I had about a thousand things I wanted to get done before having a newborn in the house—with two other small children—in the middle of a global pandemic.
At 39 weeks, after knocking out a few of the more important pre-baby tasks (a mother’s work… et cetera et cetera), I gave Felix the go ahead—only to recall it when California caught fire just over the hill from our new home. We laughed (I cried) as we devised a home birth evacuation plan we thankfully never used.
The fires burned, the skies rained ash, and of course there was still a global pandemic too. Throughout it all, Felix stayed put. And stayed put. And stayed put some more (can you blame him?) until I found myself more pregnant than I'd ever been before.
I knew that home birth was only legal in California until 42 weeks, but it wasn't until my 41 week (+ 2 days) prenatal appointment that I learned just how swiftly my options were narrowing. Felix had four days to GTFO if I wanted Serena to catch him at home. If he stayed put past 42 weeks, I would have to either 1.) transfer to a hospital and give birth there, subject to all the (ridiculous) covid-related restrictions, 2.) drive up to Oregon where home birth is legal until 43 weeks, or 3.) have a free birth, unassisted by a midwife.
None of those options sounded like the easy breezy home birth I had been envisioning for us.
I wracked my brain for any last thing that needed to be done, any last piece of myself I needed to surrender so this birth would just happen already. I couldn't think of anything. Everything was done. Everything was ready.
His drawers were full of tiny, neatly KonMaried clothes and diapers. I had seen my chiropractor and acupuncturist on a regular basis throughout my entire pregnancy and my body felt awesome. Our postpartum support was lined up and the girls were as settled as they were ever going to be. Sue, my beloved midwife from Cora’s birth, had even agreed to be Serena’s assistant, pending my birth didn’t coincide with that of a client who was due around the same time. (I could swear Felix was holding out for the late night email that simply read, “She had her baby!” But that didn’t do it either.)
Serena and I made a loose plan. It was Thursday now, but if Sunday, 41 weeks + 5 days rolled around and there was still no baby, we would seriously consider trying a “home induction.” Serena’s tried and true method involved a breast pump and castor oil smoothies, the combination of which would basically provoke birth by violent cleanse. It would likely be fast, it would likely be messy, and it sounded fucking awful.
“Nah, I’ll just see you tomorrow,” I told Serena hopefully as Michael and I left the appointment.
I spent most of the rest of Thursday panicking and researching. Researching and panicking. If there was any clever alternative way to encourage Felix to come before I resorted to birth by violent cleanse or birth by pharmaceuticals, I needed to know about it. I also wanted to know more about how violent this cleanse would be if I decided to go for it.
The verdict on the interwebs was that castor oil would be as horrific as I’d assumed. Instead of reading more on the topic, I found myself attracted to story after story of women birthing babies on a variety of timelines, some before 42 weeks and some after.
“Your baby knows when he is ready to be born,” they all seemed to be saying.
Michael drove me up to San Francisco later that day for a massage with my Israeli wonder woman of a bodyworker.
“Zap away my stress,” I implored. “And give him a final eviction notice.”
She zapped, my monkey mind finally rested, and just after I put the girls to bed that night I had an epiphany I should have seen coming.
“He’ll come when he’s ready,” I said to myself aloud, a spark lighting in my heart. “He knows the perfect moment to be born.”
I decided then that I would not have a home induction on Sunday or ever. I also decided that, assuming baby and I remained as healthy as we had throughout the pregnancy, I wouldn't be going to the hospital either. Dammit I had birthed two babies on my own terms before and I would do the same with this one. If 42 weeks came and went, I would have an unassisted free birth, deliver the baby myself with Michael’s help, FaceTime a midwife if necessary, and head to the hospital if things got dicey.
I was going to do this on Felix’s schedule and I meant it. (When I nervously shared this revelation with Michael, he was surprisingly entirely on board.)
An hour later, as I tidied the kitchen and folded laundry before bed, I was in labor again with strong contractions every eight to ten minutes. I knew this could either last all night or happen quick, so I texted my midwives an update, let my parents know they might need to come get the girls, and headed to bed.
The surges spaced out a bit overnight, and when I woke up on Friday, September 4th, they spaced out some more, coming every half hour or so until they petered out into nothing again.
My parents came and picked up the girls anyway so Michael and I could have some time to ourselves. Whether or not baby decided to come that day, he was coming soon.
Michael became my self-care steward for the morning, ferrying me first to a chiropractic appointment with Mindy Pelz, a former vaulting mom turned motherhood mentor. At 42 weeks, she had given my best friend’s baby an eviction adjustment, and he was out within a few hours. I was hoping for a similar miracle.
Moments after my delicious adjustment, I had a few strong contractions right there in her office.
We headed to Whole Foods to pick up some groceries, and I bent over to breathe through a big surge right next to the bananas. Then another on the other side of the store next to the rotisserie chickens.
At home, blissfully alone just the two (three?) of us, things continued like this for a while. I did a few light chores without the girls around to make more messes while I tidied others (heaven!), took a shower, then cozied up with Netflix to pass some time.
Around noon, I realized things had stopped again. I texted my midwives, trying to mask my very obvious disappointment. They reassured me that this was so, so common, especially with third babies.
“It’s like having to run up the hill, slide back, and then run up again until you get the momentum to crest. And then the baby comes!” Sue said.
“Time for lots of oxytocin activities,” Serena reminded.
Guys… this is the part of the story where I remind you that “oxytocin activities” is the midwife codeword for sex.
“Not necessarily!” I can almost hear them saying. (Those midwives… always providing nuance and making sure we ladies know our options.) “You can also get a great oxytocin boost from hugging and cuddling and massage and meditating and nipple stimulation… but yes sex does seem to be exceptionally good at getting labor rolling.”
So yes, Michael and my 41.5 week pregnant self had ourselves a good time. Things rip-roared from that point on.
Note: I almost glossed over this entire part of the story because for some reason our society likes to pretend birthing mothers are virginal (?) and vaginas are taboo. We are not. They are not. What got baby in can get baby out. People should know this. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Within twenty minutes, I had lost my mucus plug. (More TMI but also what were you expecting at this point?)
A few minutes after that, I was having long, strong contractions every five minutes. Each minute-long surge was like a Tennessee thunderstorm—the sky quickly darkening, thunder booming, half a minute of overwhelming rain no windshield wipers are quick enough to wipe away, then another half minute of heavy rain, sprinkles, mist… and sunshine again.
I settled into a spot on the floor in the family room—“the red room” we call it for its red painted walls and red couch and red Persian rugs. Usually, this is my least favorite room in the house, but the couch was the perfect height to lean on during surges and the low ceiling, low light cave vibe felt intuitively right.
Michael joined me. We laughed and chatted between surges and sometimes as they were happening too.
I texted my midwives, and Serena told me to text her again if this continued for an hour. I was not entirely convinced it was a good idea wait an hour and was pretty sure this train had left the station… but then again, my labor had started and stopped several times already. Who was I to know what would happen? (As it turned out I was exactly the person to know exactly what would happen.)
Moments later the surges became so strong that I started moaning my way through them. Michael administered expert hip squeezes to ease my discomfort, until the surges somehow became even more intense and my body said, “nope nobody fucking touch me anymore.”
I very much did not want to give birth in the red room and decided it was time to relocate. We moved upstairs and Michael asked if I wanted him to fill the bathtub. It was a hard no. I needed terra firma to keep me grounded through these storms.
We went to our bedroom. It was bright. The bed was the wrong height and I couldn’t get comfortable. Michael grabbed an ottoman from downstairs and jerry rigged it at the steps by our window so that it was the same height as the couch downstairs.
“You need to call Serena,” Michael told me.
I weighed his words. It hadn’t been an hour yet, and I was still entirely lucid between surges. My water hadn’t broken.
After another big contraction, I decided it couldn't hurt to call and I dialed. I joked on the phone with her. She asked if she should leave now and I hesitated but Michael said, “yes absolutely” without missing a beat. She left immediately and would be at our house within thirty minutes.
Michael also called Julia, our birth photographer, and Serena called Sue so they could make their way down to us from San Francisco.
Shortly after rallying the troops, my water broke in a giant cinematic gush. It was a tremendous relief, until the next contraction came strong and fast and I realized Sue and Julia were definitely not going to make it here in time… and Serena might not make it either.
Michael went to grab towels from the bathroom and after another contraction my body started pushing instinctively.
“Fuck! Am I pushing??” I yelled down the hall. (“Sounds like it,” he tossed back casually.)
Serena was still at least ten minutes away. I had plenty of experience controlling my urge to push, since I had done it as part of both girls’ births, but I didn’t want to play that game this time.
I reasoned with myself, “Serena might not make it for the birth but she’ll be here for the placenta and that’s the sketchy bit anyway.” Then I let my body go for it, neither aiding nor hindering my body’s work, riding each instinctual push and injecting exactly zero extra effort to speed things along or slow things down. (Honestly it was the laziest I’ve been in birth to date and I highly recommend it.)
At some point, Serena arrived. She and Michael had a quick exchange as she calmly and swiftly made her way in from the foyer. I felt her arrive by my side. I heard her unzip a bag and unpack some essentials. My eyes couldn’t see her, too focused on nothing in particular to see much of anything, but her presence was immediately calming.
With each of the next few surges, Felix moved swiftly down. My body did all the work for me, and without adding an ounce of effort, I could feel his head within a few minutes.
“Is this okay?” I remember asking Serena. “I’m pretty sure this is happening.”
She reassured me that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing.
With the next surge, the top of Felix’s head was born to his eyes. Serena asked if I wanted to give him a push so he could be a little more comfortable. I momentarily overrode my zero-effort birth experience until his head was almost born, this time to his chin. I genuinely couldn't be bothered to inject more effort than that.
A few more surges and then his whole head, his shoulders, and the rest of him came. Felix seemed to go on for miles—he was a lengthy 23 inches—but then he was here! My goopy, scrunch-faced, dark-haired alien of a brand spankin' newborn was finally here, squirming in Michael’s hands.
Michael met my eye and we telepathed all the things that didn’t need saying.
I did it! You did it! We did it! Look what we made!
And then Michael being Michael said the other thing we were both thinking.
“He’s really ugly, Megs.” (Guys… it’s fine! He’s cute now.)
Michael tried to pass him to me and we fumbled more than you’d expect third time parents would, tangled in umbilical cord and a bra I couldn’t quite figure out how to get off.
Felix cried. I held him close. I loved him immediately. (I’d loved him since he was a tiny ball of cells.)
I couldn’t believe how fast everything had gone—that it was over already. (“What just happened?” I kept asking no one in particular.)
I couldn’t believe Sue and Julia were still somewhere on 280 and had missed the whole thing.
Julia then Sue arrived shortly after my placenta.
After an hour of nursing and cuddles and clean up and snacks, Serena asked if we were ready to cut the cord. I hadn’t noticed until that point, but I had very much been putting this moment off. Cutting the cord hadn’t meant much to me after the girls’ births—more of a novelty than a moment of any significance—but this time it felt different.
In birth, I had surrendered completely. I had let go of timelines and expectations. Most importantly, I had let go of myself, making space for a new little life (and a new me too).
But in motherhood, I needed to lead again. Cutting the cord was the symbolic beginning of a new dance with a new partner, and it was my job to cue the music.
We asked Sue to do the honors. She hesitated, sharing that traditionally s/he who cuts the cord is the one who will feed and sustain the child, as the placenta had done before. (Insert magical fairy dust!) We insisted with no strings attached, and she acquiesced.
I loved that moment. My newest baby in my husband’s arms. Sue, my midwife-for-life, softly singing to Felix while expertly clamping and cutting his cord. He no longer needed the home that had warmed him and nourished him for nine long months. Now he just needed me. (He had no idea how much I also needed him.)
We had done it, Felix and I. We had entered a new era on our own terms (if not partially on my own schedule.) He was finally here, and I already couldn’t imagine life being any other way.
Felix, my sweet boy, I look forward to learning from you endlessly. I'll celebrate September 4th as long as I live.
All photos courtesy of the talented Julia Lorraine Peterson, who missed the main event, but captured the birth of our family.