“Feel how soft this blanket is,” I whisper, rubbing it against her chubby cheek. I lean back into the recliner—the leather stained with milk and my sweat. I pull her into my chest and gently rub her back. She yawns, her little nose scrunching up as the yawn takes over her whole face. “You could just take a short nap on me,” I say, rocking the chair back and forth, trying to coax her into sleep. The house is quiet, the snow gently falling outside. She nuzzles into my neck and I close my eyes.
I picture the last five and a half months, and I’m hit with the realization time has swept by in the blink of an eye yet again. In the first month, I was glued to this chair. The first weeks after Nora was born, I moved from my bed to the chair, then back to the bed again. She guzzled milk here, then fell into a milk-drunk state—my body was her bed. During the first month, she didn’t sleep anywhere but on me. Now she pushes away from me, the serene moment has passed.
I can’t remember the last time she napped on me.
An hour later, she naps in her crib, after refusing to nap on me—proof she’s not that tiny newborn anymore. Rich has taken the two big kids “on an adventure”, so I can have a few hours to myself at home. I putter around the house, stopping to pick up Legos, chunks of Play-Doh, and school papers while I wander. I think back over the last few months and the times I’ve wished for quiet space to read, write, or just be alone without interruption. But now, I don’t know where to start, and even though it’s only been 32 minutes, I’m grateful that, like clockwork, Nora wakes from her nap. Because I don’t remember the last time I was truly alone, and I’m not sure I’m ready to find out.
I can’t remember how to be alone.
The dryer kicks off, a load of towels slows to a halt. With Nora on my hip, I walk to the laundry room, where my laptop is propped open. The screen blares white: an empty Google Doc. The cursor blinks where my words are supposed to be. I sigh, shifting her up my side. I bend down and pull the hot towels from the dryer, sorting them by the bathroom and kitchen. She babbles and pushes against me. I bounce her and talk to her, knowing if I lay her down on her playmat she will cry.
I can’t remember the last time I did something with both hands.
Naptime rolls around again, and I place her in her crib. I grab her pacifier and put it in her mouth, and she immediately begins to suck. Both her hands go to the giraffe attached to the pacifier, and she holds onto it tenderly.
“Night, night, have a good nap,” I say, shutting the light off. I walk back to my office, the dryer now quiet. I watch her big eyes sparkle on the black and white monitor. Part of me wants to snuggle her, knowing she won’t be this little forever. The other part of me hopes she naps for longer than 32 minutes.
I can’t remember what it’s like to not live in 30-minute cycles.
She wakes again, and I know with certainty the time will come again when I’m completely alone in this house. My life won’t be in 30-minute intervals and my body won’t be feeding and nurturing a baby.
I walk to her crib and I wonder, Will she sleep on me again? Or did I miss the last time, without knowing it was the last time?
I pause beside her crib, simultaneously filled with sadness at the passing of time and wonder at the child growing in front of me. For the last six years, I’ve been immersed in babies and toddlers and big kids—and now back here again. While I’ve caught a few glimpses of life beyond the nap and nursing and then toddlers stage of life, it’s never been long enough to get comfortable there.
I pick Nora up from her crib and snuggle her soft, chubby cheek into mine.
In the past, I’ve gulped up the free time, not knowing when I would get it again. But now, as much as I want to be alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to find out what it’s like to really be alone.
Today, I’ll savor the snuggles when I can get them. And I’ll enjoy the minutes I have to myself—knowing there’s more to come later.
Today marks six months with our sweet Nora Kate. I don’t know what we would do without you, sweet girl. (Well, I would probably be getting more sleep, but that’s a story for another day.)
One of the hardest parts about writing this was trying to remember the timeline of events—a lot happened in a short amount of time. Using my phone call log and notes from my midwife, I was able to (mostly) piece together the final moments of labor and delivery.
Before I start, there are a couple things I think you should know. I planned to deliver at a Birth Center, not a hospital. When I use the name Birth Center, I’m not referring to the labor & delivery department of the hospital. Several people asked if we called an ambulance, but we did not. The Birth Center is not associated with a hospital, and we called my midwife’s cell phone.
And to give context on where we live—we are 50 miles from town. Roughly half of those miles are gravel roads, the other half is highway—depending on which which road you take. The day of Nora’s birth we had to go the longer way, which is closer to 30 miles of gravel roads.
And now, the story . . .
“Feel my belly, the baby is kicking, or maybe he or she has hiccups,” I whispered in the dark. Rich rolled over in our bed and put his hand on my full belly. Within seconds he felt what I was feeling on the inside.
“Just think, this could be the last time I feel the baby in your belly,” he said.
I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me. I knew this wouldn’t be the last time he felt the baby in my belly. I was 38 weeks and 4 days—there was no way I would have the baby anytime soon. My second pregnancy with Allie had gone to 41 weeks, and I had been mentally preparing myself the last few weeks (months) that my actual due date didn’t mean much, and I should settle in for the long haul.
“I doubt that, I’m sure I’ll be pregnant for awhile,” I said.
“You never know. Night babe,” he said as he rolled back over.
As with every night in the last few months of pregnancy—I couldn’t sleep. I moved to the recliner in the living room where I mindlessly scrolled my phone until I felt tired. I had been having Braxton Hicks since around 30 weeks, so the twinges I was feeling as I sat in the chair didn’t concern me. Around midnight, I finally made my way back to bed.
At 5:30 a.m. I woke up and was immediately aware of the tightening in my belly. Although they weren’t painful, they seemed to be coming more often than normal. I kept turning over from side to side, but it didn’t make the contractions stop. I picked up my phone and found a contractions timer on my pregnancy app and started timing them. After about 20 minutes, I realized they were happening every 5-6 minutes, and were lasting between 30-45 seconds (some longer, some shorter). But I wasn’t in pain. I made my way to the kitchen, where I saw the wet grass outside.
Rich came into the kitchen with a big smile on his face, “I wasn’t expecting this rain.”
I smiled back and said, “I might be having contractions, but I’m really not sure.” Since this was my third pregnancy, I felt like I should really know if I was in labor. My due date was still over a week away, so surely this could not be real labor.
“Should I call my parents and give them a heads up they might need to take the kids?” he asked.
It was barely 6 a.m. and I didn’t want to get everyone excited when it could be a false alarm. “No. I still don’t know if I’m really in labor.”
I sat at the kitchen table and started to drink my hot cup of coffee while the kids were still sleeping. Every once in a while I stood up and paced around the kitchen, but I still wasn’t in pain. (I feel like I should make this part clear.) The kids eventually woke up and requested pancakes. As I was flipping the pancakes on the griddle, the twinges became more noticeable.
“Hey Rich, can you finish making the pancakes so I can take a shower?”
I made my way to the bathroom and decided if I really was in labor, I wanted to wash my hair. Who knew when I would feel up to doing that again?
Rich finished making breakfast and dressed the kids. Then he went out to his pickup to vacuum and get it ready to go. After my shower, I finished packing my bag for the Birth Center. (Hey, third pregnancy!)
Around 8 a.m., I began to feel more uncomfortable, and I had a flashback of being in the bathroom at the Birth Center when I was in labor with Allie. I then remembered from a previous appointment that my midwife told me, “When you feel like you need to sway back and forth, head to town. That likely means you’re dilated to around a 5.”
Knowing Rich was in the garage, I called from the bathroom, “Kids, can you go and get your dad?” They ignored me on the first ask, so I yelled again, “Rhett, go and get your dad!”
Rich immediately jumped to action and called his parents and told them we would be dropping the kids off. The kids were starting to get excited calling out, “We’re going to have a baby!”
“Is your bag ready to go?” Rich asked as I was getting dressed.
“Yes, I’m almost ready,” I said.
He grabbed my bag and loaded the kids into the pickup.
At 8:16 I called my midwife, Melissa. “Hey, this is Stacy, I think I’m in labor.”
She asked, “How far from town are you?”
At this point, I was kneeling on the floor of my bedroom, leaning up against the bed and I exhaled, “An hour.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the Birth Center. I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to take a shower first,” she said.
After hanging up, I texted my mom: “I might be in labor. But I’ll let you know if it’s a false alarm.”
Then I texted my birth photographer, “Hey, funny story—I might be in labor. I’ll text you when I get to town and let you know for sure.”
Ironically, she had texted me the day before to check in and I had immediately responded: “No signs of labor. I’ll still be pregnant for awhile.”
I went back into the bathroom to finish putting on my mascara (priorities, am I right?).
Rich called from the living room, “Honey, what are you doing? I think we need to go. The kids are in the pickup.”
The rain overnight made our gravel roads into muddy roads. I gripped the handle above my head as we bumped the three miles to my in-laws. Whether it was the bumps in the road, or just my body progressing naturally, there was no question at this point if I was really in labor. The contractions were becoming more intense. But with the kids in the backseat, I tried not to show I was in any pain. The kids chatted happily about getting to meet their new baby brother or sister and kept trying to talk to me.
“Mom, why aren’t you excited?” Allie asked.
Rich answered, “Mom’s excited. But it’s painful for her too.”
We pulled up in front of my in-laws’ house and Rich opened the back door and told the kids to go inside. It was still gently raining as the kids walked toward their grandpa standing on the front step.
I called out, “I love you!” as I sat on the edge of my seat, unable to get comfortable.
Rich glanced at the fuel gauge and said, “Should I put in a little gas?” (The bulk tanks for our farm are in my in-laws yard.)
I looked over at the gauge and saw that there was just barely enough to get to town and responded, “No. Just go.”
He hit the gas and we were on our way.
Around 8:36 I texted my sister, “I haven’t been able to get a hold of mom. I don’t have enough cell service to call her, can you tell her I’m in labor.” I put my phone down and hoped the text would eventually go through.
With each contraction I got onto my knees and faced the seat, wrapping my arms around the back of the seat and moaning.
Between contractions, I sat down and told Rich, “I can’t do this. It hurts so bad, I don’t think I can do it.”
With his hands gripped at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, he calmly told me, “You can do this. You’ve done it twice before. I know you can.”
The intensity of the contractions ramped up fast, and the thought of laboring for roughly 30 miles of gravel (plus the highway) felt like too much. I was already dreading the hardest part—pushing the baby out. Having had two unmedicated births prior to this, I knew what was coming.
Eventually I reached down and could feel the baby’s head, although it was still a few inches up the birth canal. Although the head wasn’t out, it was definitely coming.
After a few more contractions, I felt like I needed to push. It might have been during the first push or the second, (I can’t remember) my water broke—soaking me and the seat.
“My water just broke,” I panted.
I took off my romper (yes, I was wearing a romper—it was comfy and I fully expected to get to town and change into a gown) and threw it in the backseat.
At 8:47, Rich called Melissa to tell her my water broke. Instead of driving to the Birth Center, she headed out of town to meet us. Rich attempted to give her directions, repeating the road we were on, and he eventually hung up.
He turned to me and said, “Can you text her the name of the road?” Which I did. (She ended up missing the turn and was lost. But I don’t think she would have made it in time anyway.)
The final call to Melissa at 9:01 lasted seven minutes. With her on speakerphone, we kept driving and she told me, “Keep breathing.” To which I thought, “I am breathing.” But I didn’t have the energy to expend on speaking.
“Do I need to do anything with the cord?” Rich asked.
“No, just leave it,” Melissa replied.
It felt like they were talking about someone else. I was in my own world.
While leaning back in the front seat, I felt another contraction and I bared down to push again. Through gritted teeth, I closed my eyes, yelled, and pushed. I felt the ring of fire and knew what I would see when I looked down. I exhaled and opened my eyes—a head of dark hair was out and face down.
“The head’s out,” I breathed.
Rich hit the brakes and pulled over onto the side of the gravel road. He walked around the pickup and got into the passenger side. He then kneeled on the floor of the passenger seat to face me.
Melissa said, “Stacy, get up on your hands and knees and push.”
“I don’t think I can,” I said.
“Get up onto the console,” Rich told me.
I pulled myself up onto the console and leaned back against the driver’s seat. (I think we exchanged some other words, but I honestly don’t remember.) With one more push, Rich helped guide the baby out and brought it up onto my chest. Without any towels or blankets, we used our coats to cover the baby. Rich went back to the driver’s seat and cranked the heat up.
I sat back down in the seat, closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. I’ll never forget how the baby felt on my chest: the warm, squishy, wet skin on my skin. The pain was instantly gone from my body, replaced by the weight of a baby on my chest.
“Is it breathing?” he asked. The baby was quiet and I couldn’t see the face.
Melissa was still on the phone and said, “Take your knuckles and rub them vigorously along the baby’s back.”
I started rubbing and the baby fluttered its eyes open and we could tell he or she was breathing. Once we confirmed with Melissa the baby was breathing, we disconnected the call at 9:08.
“Take our picture,” I told Rich. “Use my phone, it takes better pictures.”
I smiled, relieved to be out of pain, as he snapped two photos. (The time stamp on this photo: 9:09 a.m.)
We kept driving and a few miles later we met Melissa on the gravel road (we still weren’t to the highway yet). We pulled over and she opened the passenger’s door. Once she saw that the baby was pinking up and my bleeding was stable, she instructed us to meet her at the Birth Center.
With the baby clenched tightly to my chest and the umbilical cord still attached, we continued our way to town.
“Should I see if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.
I gently tried to pick the baby up off my chest. But the baby was so slippery, I decided it wasn’t worth trying. We had already waited nine months, what was a few more minutes?
Around 9:25 (almost exactly one hour after we had left our house) we arrived at the Birth Center. Considering it takes over an hour to get to town (while driving at a normal speed), it was impressive we made it to town in an hour—stopping for only a few minutes to have a baby. Melissa met me outside with warm blankets to wrap myself and the baby in. Becky, my birth photographer, was there too. She was smiling and shaking her head at me as Melissa opened the door of the pickup.
“Oh my gosh, Stacy!” she said as she snapped photos of our arrival.
At this point, some of the initial shock had worn off and I was starting to cramp. I grimaced as I stepped out of the pickup, suddenly aware of the umbilical cord that was still between my legs.
We made our way inside and onto a bed, where I soon delivered the placenta. Shortly after, we found out we had a second daughter. The exact moment was a blur—the most important thing was that she was doing well.
Rich and I kept going over the events that had transpired in only a few hours. “You must have a really high pain tolerance,” he said. “To be that far along in labor all morning and you didn’t even really know.”
“If we had left an hour sooner, we would have made it,” I said.
“Yeah, but just barely,” he replied.
As I laid in bed holding my new baby, I kept thinking back on the morning. I began to question myself—how I had let it happen. How did I not realize I was really in labor? But it all happened so fast and hindsight is 20/20. Roughly 15 minutes after my water broke, she was born. With both of my previous births, Rhett and Allie were born hours after my water broke. As I counted her 10 toes and 10 fingers, I was thankful it was a relatively easy delivery with no complications. Rich and I both stayed calm. I was grateful she was healthy—regardless of where she was born.
Rich called his parents to tell them not only did I already have the baby, but we had her in the pickup. His mom passed along the news to the kids that they had a sister. She said they started hugging each other and then Rhett said, “A baby brother?” (I think he’s come to terms with having two sisters now.)
We stayed at the Birth Center for a few hours, making sure she nursed well and her temperature was stable. Becky stayed and talked to us, snapping photos of our baby’s first few hours of life. Melissa and her assistant made us breakfast and I took a shower.
We had picked out two names while I was pregnant: one boy and one girl name. But that day, the girl name we had picked didn’t feel right.
We left around noon with an unnamed baby girl—this time in a car seat, instead of on my chest.
That afternoon at home as I sat in the recliner rocking our baby, Rich started to take apart the seat in his pickup—and we agreed on a name.
Nora Kate Bronec Born May 21, 2020 7 pounds, 10.5 oz. 20 inches
“When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world.” John 16:21
What a joy you are, Nora. I would do it all over again.