Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jem's birth story

We are so thrilled to tell the world that Jem Cady Bywater has joined our family!

Here's the full story:

My water broke Friday evening, walking home from a delicious and apparently fortifying meal at Chase's Daily with Rob's mom Margy, who was in town for a B&B weekend we got her for Christmas (lucky timing!). We got about a block when I said, "Oh!" and went into the library to check that indeed, as I suspected, my water had broken. Willa said, "I'm a little bit worried about you, Mama" and Margy offered to go get the car, but I felt totally fine and we walked the lovely, short walk home in beautiful spring weather with my water breaking all along the way. I explained to Willa that our baby might be coming in April instead of May as we'd thought, and Willa said, "I hope this baby keeps swimming, Mama"--a reference to her stillborn brother--and commanded, "Keep swimming, baby!" as she has many times before.

We arrived home, and Rob and I put Willa to bed, sent Margy up to Searsport and stared at one another in amazement. Were we really in labor?! It didn't seem possible! Two and a half weeks early! And we were not ready!

So we called the midwives, who said it seemed pretty likely we would have our baby in the next few days, if not that night, and said they'd go to bed and wait to hear further. (They also reminded me that I was sneaking ahead of three mamas actually due in April!) We also called Ava, our doula, to let her know what was happening. I caught my dad and sister Ravit before shabbat started to let them know. And then we hustled around cleaning the house, ordering a car seat online, and various other things we had yet to take care of. My water kept breaking throughout the evening, but I felt totally fine and relaxed. I was having some bloody show, too, which was thrilling since it took days of labor before I had any with Willa, and seemed like a sign things were actually closer than they felt. We watched 10 ceremonial minutes of A Room with a View, since it's the movie we were watching when my water broke at the beginning of Willa's labor, and then went to bed. Rob fell fast asleep but though I felt calm and wasn't having any real contractions yet, I sort of lay there restfully waiting for what might happen next.

By 12:30 AM or so, I was having contractions that were getting a bit hard--not terrible, but not so fun to lie down through. I waited to see if I had a few in a row, and when I did, I woke Rob up and we started keeping track of them while reading in bed. We did that for about an hour, then called the midwives to tell them what was up. Since my contractions were still really manageable, we said we'd check in with them again in a little while and Rob started getting the tub set up. About an hour later, the contractions were getting a bit more difficult, and we realized our tub liner had ripped and Rob couldn't get the hose hooked up, so we called them back and told them we were ready for them to come, and Ava, too. (Ava was also going to be Willa's birth buddy, and we were a little worried Willa might wake up in the night, so we wanted Ava there as soon as possible.) My contractions were between 4-7 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds: a textbook early-active labor for me, for once!

By the time everyone arrived--my midwives Donna, Ellie and Anna, and Ava--it was probably 3:15 AM and I could not talk through my contractions, though I have to say they still did not feel so horrible to me and I didn't believe I was particularly close to having a baby. During each contraction I wanted to moan, lean on someone and have someone else press on my tailbone. I went around everyone in turn. In between contractions I felt FINE and we were all having fun, telling stories and joking around. They also kept checking the baby's heartbeat, which was perfect every time. At one point I asked, "Do you think I'll have this baby before it's time for me to go back to sleep?" because I wanted to put my contact lenses in to see the birth but not if I was going to be told to go back to sleep first! And after Willa's incredibly long labor, it seemed possible this kind of labor could last for days. But everyone looked at me like I was crazy.

Pretty soon after that the contractions were hard enough that I decided I wanted to get in the tub, even though I was worried it was still too early since I'd have so long to go (it was probably about 4:45 AM by this time). I called my friend Rachel in NYC and told her she should take the first morning flight from NYC if she wanted to come, even though she'd "probably" miss the birth.

The tub felt great, though they had to keep filling it with pots of hot water from the stove because our water heater kept running out. The baby was moving throughout labor, jumping and twitching, which was very reassuring though strange! (I don't remember noticing whether or not Willa moved during labor.) My contractions, which had been getting more intense and closer together, slowed down a bit when I first got in but then picked up again. Then they started getting harder, and I started feeling "pushy." I was making a lot of noise: calling the baby "down down down," growling like a warrior, moaning "yes yes yes." I saw that Ellie was taking a stethoscope out and asking for a baby hat which seemed to mean they thought I was close but I still couldn't believe it, even though at this point the contractions were quite hard to bear. In between I still felt totally normal and lucid and was keeping track of everything going on--Ava giving me wonderful counterpressure during every contraction, the morning light coming in, with an incredible sunrise over the bay right outside the double doors where the tub was set up, birds chirping, the conversations everyone was having. I even made a joke about Maisie, our dog, who slept in a corner in her bed the whole time. I said, "She's thinking, I had SIX at once. What are you complaining about?"

But finally, at the very end, I was serious even in between contractions. I felt very much in charge of what was happening--my midwives mostly stood back and let me do what I was doing, though at one point I asked Donna to check me, because I still did not believe I was very close. She told me I was pretty much fully effaced and the baby was at +2 station, and that I would be having my baby very soon, but I remained unconvinced, even as I started working on visualizing my baby descending and summoning all the power of my contractions to go low and out. I felt like I had a choice: I could either fight the pain and pressure and energy and tighten up, or I could surrender to them and bring my baby out sooner. I chose the latter. I both tried to push and release as much as I could and do it gently. I screamed--really screamed!--through several contractions, calling out "I love you, baby!" Later Donna told me I pushed for about 40 minutes.

Finally I felt the head and said, "It's coming!" It was really painful but also so exciting. I told Ava to go wake Willa up and they came back in (about 6 AM, her normal waking time, and she actually slept through the night and all our company and noise, which was a blessing!). Then I pushed the head out which was a huge relief and then waited a contraction and birthed the rest of my baby. Donna and Rob had their hands in the tub to catch him, but ultimately we think it was me who gently brought him to the surface. He was born at 6:12 AM.

Once again I had a baby with a strong but uncommonly short cord (this has been true for all three of my kids, and we don't know why!). It was maybe a foot in all. He was crying a bit off and on but not as much as Donna and Ellie would have liked, so Ellie suctioned him a bunch of times with the DeLee and an aspirator. This went on for a few minutes, which was a little nerve-wracking: I kept asking if he'd be ok, even though it also seemed like he was definitely fine, since he was moving around and squeaking. My contractions came back and I birthed the placenta really easily very shortly thereafter. Because of the short cord we clamped and cut pretty soon--Willa did the cutting--and then we asked Willa to announce the gender once we flipped the cord back. "It's a boy!" she said. Wow. We couldn't believe it.

The midwives checked me out--I was fine--and then turned to him. He did look like a baby due May 12--he was covered in vernix and fur and had floppy ears and smooth feet and was a little small at 18 3/4 inches long. But when they weighed him we saw that he was 6 lbs. 12 oz.: not bad! The midwives cleaned up the house, made me tea, made sure everything was in order and went on their way. Rachel and Margy both arrived shortly thereafter.

It took us most of the day to decide that the name we'd picked out awhile back--Jem Cady--would work for this surprising, early arrival. I think Rob and I were both still in a bit of denial and also were not actually anticipating a boy! But finally we knew we didn't like any other name as well and it was bothering me not to call him anything. Willa said, "He's Jem Cady!" and so he is. "Jem" is from To Kill a Mockingbird, a book (and film) Rob and I both love and which I reread in the days just before Willa was born: Jem is the name of Scout Finch's older brother, a boy who grows to care deeply about social justice. It's short for Jeremy, though Harper Lee (and we) don't use the long version. Cady is from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a social activist in abolition, suffrage, feminism and mothering. We felt that if we had a boy it was important to link him to issues of gender equality. Plus we like the name. Jem Cady: a little bit farmer, a little bit cowboy.

Anyway, he's here; everything's going well; he seems to have a real knack for nursing, much to his mother's relief; today (his first full day of life) was unbelievably gorgeous here in Maine and we're looking forward to adjusting to our new life as a family. We are extremely grateful to our midwives and doula and friends and family near and far who have supported us and "held the space" for us during a sometimes anxious time of it after our last son, Day, died at 31 weeks in utero. We think Jem looks quite a bit like what Day would have looked like. We feel so blessed to have this new boy with us.


  1. Arielle, Congratulations! What a beautiful birth story -- and what a first day of life for Jem! We would like to make your family a meal and drop it off for you. Ethan said you are on Bay View -- so when you see this please email me your house number. I promise we will do nothing more than ring the bell and drop it off, sneaking away like elves. I remember well the first weeks with a second one, and it would feel good if I could do this for you.

    peggyandrews at mac dot com

  2. Whee! He's here and he's beautiful. Congratulations to you all. xoxo

  3. I am so blessed to have just read that beautiful account of the birth of this wonderful new boy, Jem! Yay! You will certainly be in our blessings from Chi, and we will look forward to reading and seeing much more of this new Bywater family. Thank you so much for sharing! I'm so happy! What a beautiful place you are all in together as a new family (literally and figuratively!)!

  4. Arielle, what a gorgeous birth story, I love the name "Jem" and all it means. Thank you for writing this so quickly. So very happy for you!

    (And love that you broke your water after eating at Chase's. Classic Belfast!)

  5. Oh, how funny, I'm glad to see Jennifer above me, glad you two have a connection....

    My heart is so full of joy for you and Rob, I so see Rob in his face where Willa was like clouds moving and looking like both of you. It's cool to know that you think he resembles what Day would have looked like at term as well, I love seeing everyone in my mind as I miss you all so much : )

    I was with Susan Hodges this weekend and LOVED breaking the news, and bragging about my awesome former clients. ( another one Stephanie Beck Borden who is doing great things like you was with us as well)

    Revel in your Babymoon and all the love and abundance that is yours and your families.

    You know you have my love always.


  6. Arielle and family, congratulations! What a wonderful birth story - peaceful and just the way it should be. Pretty cool name too - I like it (not that my opinion really matters on this *lol*).
    I am glad to read that he is nursing well - Ester was just 10 days early, but she weighed much less the Jem did, and she had lots and lots of troubles. He will figure out the body temperature very quickly as he puts on some more weight; and it sounds like the rest is going well.
    Wishing you all health and happiness as a new family.

    Valeria, Ross and Ester

  7. Beautiful name, beautiful fam. Enjoy.

  8. How wonderful! Congratulations Arielle and family! Welcome to the world little Jem!


  9. I'm so glad you were able to have the birth you were hoping for. Big hugs to you and Rob and Willa and a gentle little one to Jem!

  10. congratulations to you all. i've cried with happiness just to read about your birth and see your gorgeous new son.

  11. What a great, seemingly effortless birth! Hopefully he'll be big enought by Labor Day to pick blackberries! Congratulations on the big slash!

  12. Hurray! I love the level of disbelief you experienced during your labor. "Surely I must have many days of labor ahead of me!" I'm so happy for you all! In a few days, when you have the energy, please send me some "go early" vibes. 2.5 weeks early sounds really nice right now!

  13. Dear Arielle, Rob, Willa, Jem and Maisie,

    Many congratulations to you all! And welcome Jem Cady! You've got a great name, there. And you look like a very peaceful lad.

    Let's see, from whom does this well-wishing issue? I am some distant second or something-removed cousin of Rob's, which is to say I am Eva, niece of Rob's aunt Anita (Dick's sister Laura's child).

    What a wonderful birth story. That tub experience at dawn in your own home surrounded by all your loved ones sounds incomparable. And the dog joke had me laughing. What an auspicious beginning for Jem! With my first, I went down the Bradley path and was hoping for a natural birth, but in the end, my best friend was an epidural.

    Like Jem, my little boy, Kieran, was also about 2 and a half weeks early and he came out purplish and furry. In those first weeks of his life, he was such a sleepy little bundle and yet, a shockingly avid nurser. He made me laugh a lot. Those are some of my fondest memories.

    I wish you much joy and peace and REST in the coming months. Put little Willa to work! I'm sure she's game . . . .

    I also look forward to stopping by your blog again and reading updates. I also perused your first 100 days poetry site. Great idea! I'm following Robert Brewer's April Poem-A-Day challenge at in honor of National Poetry month and am loving it (but can't wait for the end -- it's exhausting).

    Good luck to you all! Maybe one day our paths will cross! We're in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and always love visitors!

    All the best,

  14. Hi Arielle & Rob!

    This is Heidi Florussen...we met you last year when I was first pregnant. All our love and congratulations to your family. We are so happy for you. What an amazing birth story- it brought me to tears. We are so happy that Jem Cady is doing so well. Our little guy Noah is 13 weeks old now and such a big boy at 17 pounds already! I remember all of the good advice you guys gave us and it meant so mich to us!

    We'll have to take a trip up to Maine this summer to see you. I also have a friend in Portland who is 6 months pregnant.

    All our love to you!

    Heidi, John & Noah!