Stephanie was pregnant with her second child, and it had been a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy. Just one day before she reached 42 weeks of pregnancy, Stephanie started having mild contractions shortly after midnight. At around 3:30 am, they became regular and consistently 5 minutes apart. Stephanie’s husband, Bret, called to let me know and ask me to come to their house. They live about an hour away, so I quickly gathered my bags and equipment, called my assistant Megan, and began the drive through the dark, quiet streets up to McGraw.
Stephanie was walking around the house when I arrived at about 5:00 am, and contractions seemed moderate at about 5-6 minutes apart. The baby’s heart rate and Stephanie’s vitals were stable. Stephanie was calm and relaxed, chatting and smiling during contractions. Megan arrived shortly before 6:00 am, and I quickly updated her on the course of events. Stephanie’s friends, Lauren and Becca, also arrived with smiles, food, and excitement. Megan and I listened to the baby’s heart rate every half hour and checked Stephanie’s vitals periodically as the wee hours slowly became a bright, sunny day.
A phone call from another client interrupted our tranquil early labor routine. This was another mom who was due in a few days. She had been having mild, irregular contractions for several days, with nothing coalescing into a firm labor pattern. She called that morning to say she had a small trickle of fluid with some some stronger contractions a little more closely together. A brief moment of panic as my mind tried to absorb this news and run through various different scenarios and solutions! I conferred with Megan and we decided that she would drive back to Ithaca to check on this other mom, evaluate her labor and the baby’s status, and then update me. Megan said her goodbyes to Stephanie and Bret and began the long drive back to Ithaca.
Stephanie’s contractions continued to be moderately intense and about 5-6 minutes apart. Her daughter, Hazel, woke up and gazed around sleepily at all the extra people in the house and the strange goings on. Stephanie asked me to check her cervix at about 7:30 am. She was 4 cm dilated, and I could feel a firm, round head nice and low in her pelvis. She resumed walking, leaning over the kitchen counter, and sitting on the birth ball. The pace and intensity of contractions remained mellow as the morning hours passed.
At 10:30, Stephanie, Bret, Hazel, Becca, and Lauren decided to take a walk outside. They have a farm with lots of land, a barn, and animals, and it was a lovely, bright, and cold day. They bundled up and headed outside as I laid down in the spare bedroom for a quick nap. I could hear them laughing and calling to each other through the window as I dozed on and off. When they came back in with red cheeks and bright eyes, I listened again to the baby and was reassured by the steady, quick rhythm of the baby’s heartbeat. Shortly before noon Stephanie asked me to check her cervix again, and it was almost completely dilated, with just a small lip of cervix covering the front of the baby’s head.
I called Megan who had been at the other mom’s house for most of the morning. She said that everything was going well with her, but that contractions had slowed back down again and were irregular and not very strong. The baby was doing well, and there had been no further trickling of fluid. I told Megan that Stephanie was almost ready to start pushing and she should come back to be present at the birth. We both felt comfortable with this decision, as the mom that she was with seemed to be doing fine and she was not progressing in labor.
At this time, Stephanie’s contractions were a bit stronger and she was having some low pelvic pressure. Bret would stand with her as she breathed slowly through contractions, rubbing her back and lower belly with firm strokes. For some contractions, she would kneel by the birth tub or sit on the birth ball and sway back and forth. Megan arrived and was happy to see that the baby hadn’t been born yet! Shortly after 1:00 pm, Stephanie went to the bathroom and felt a pop and gush of fluid. She came out of the bathroom and climbed into the birth tub to begin pushing. Several minutes later, I began to see a head encased in the amniotic sac peeking out with each push. With Hazel looking over one shoulder and Bret by her other side, Stephanie calmly pushed out her daughter fully enclosed within the amniotic sac. As I helped float Sydney up to her mother’s chest, I gently peeled away the amniotic sac from her face and body. This is called being born “in the caul.” It doesn’t happen very often even in natural births (fewer than 1 in 80,000 births), and is even more rare in hospitals where the bag of waters is broken artificially at almost every birth. It is thought to be a special blessing that confers magical or special abilities on the child, some of which include never being lost at sea, having psychic powers, and being able to find underground water sources. My own son was born in the caul, so I have a special love for this rare event :).
The bright afternoon became early evening as we helped Stephanie deliver the placenta, get washed up, and nestle into bed with her family and friends. Sydney nursed right away with determination as Hazel looked on in wonder at her new tiny sister.
Welcome to the world Sydney! Congratulations Stephanie, Bret, and big sister Hazel!
For more photos of Stephanie and her family, check out the Photo Gallery of BirthRoot Families.
Afterward: As I was driving home that evening, the mom that Megan had visited earlier called to say that she had a definite large gush of fluid, followed by strong, regular contractions. So, I was off to another birth straight away! Stay tuned for that story . . .