When I got pregnant with my second baby, I wasn't really worried about anything.
I'd been so fortunate with my first baby―I had gotten pregnant quickly and without incident. My pregnancy was a dream (yes, I was one of those annoying women who loved being pregnant). And I'd gone into labor the day before my daughter's due date, and had an unmedicated midwife birth in a hospital after a steadily progressing 13-and-a-half hours of contractions and 20 minutes of pushing.
So when my second midwife asked if I had any questions or concerns going into my second pregnancy, I often just shrugged. Nope.
I didn't think I was being overconfident. I was still very aware of my pregnancy and watched for any signs of distress, but I wasn't scared. I wasn't worried. I trusted my body and the process, and I felt good.
My husband and I had decided to let this second baby's sex be a surprise. In all likelihood, it would be our last child, and I thought it would be fun (and provide good labor motivation) to have this different experience after finding out the sex of our first, Vivian, at around 20 weeks.
The pregnancy itself was fairly uneventful―I had more nausea this time around, and I felt more exhaustion, though that could probably be attributed to the fact that I was pregnant with a toddler this time. I was surprised to find that it did not drive me wild not knowing what I was having. (Who knew this Type-A planner could learn to let go a little?)
Then I hit my 36th week. I've often said that pregnancy would be great—if only it was a month shorter. I felt similarly this time around, but I was optimistic that this second baby might come early (as second-time moms are so often told), so I tried to keep my impatience in check.
Sure enough, I started to experience contractions a couple of weeks before my due date, and my husband, friends and family all started checking in regularly to see if it was time.
But something weird started happening. Every night, at around 9 or 10 pm, I would start getting contractions. And not just the odd Braxton Hicks contractions now and then, but real, consistent, every eight to ten minutes contractions. After the first half-hour, I would usually look at my husband and say, "This might be it."
While they came consistently, the contractions never built into anything. Eventually, we'd go to bed (me always with the lingering hope that I'd wake in a few hours in full-blown labor), only to open my eyes the next morning, the contractions gone, my baby firmly in my belly.
I did some research and learned that this was, in fact, a thing. It was called prodromal labor, a form of false labor that is essentially your body practicing―and that typically feels like the very real thing.
Each night of "useless contractions," as I started to call them, began to take a toll on me. I started to doubt myself―did I even know what labor actually felt like? Would I recognize the real thing if it were happening?
The next thing I knew, it was my due date. As my nightly contractions built into a steady rhythm, I thought, this has got to be the real thing. But, again, I awoke without having gone into labor. My midwives would check me (at my repeated request), but I hadn't dilated even a centimeter.
Going past my due date
Soon, I was a day overdue. Then two days. Then a week.
My mother had come into town for the birth a week before my due date, and she did her best to distract me from my discomfort and frustration. But every time her phone would ping, it was almost always a friend or family member with the same question: Did Justine have the baby yet?
My in-laws visited. My dad and sister flew in as planned, a week after my due date, only to spend the week with a very pregnant me.
I started to feel like a watched pot. #StillPregnant became my personal hashtag.
The truth is, I was scared. I was worried that something was wrong―that my body was broken. That I was failing at this thing I had felt so confident about in the beginning. I was worried I wouldn't have the labor and delivery I had wanted and prepared for (an unmedicated birth at a birth center with my midwife).
And because my first daughter's birth had gone so smoothly, I felt guilty at the thought that I would look back fondly on her birth and regret anything about my second child's.
And then I got scared.
If I went more than two weeks overdue, my midwives would need to send me to a nearby hospital for delivery. The thought terrified me―even though I firmly believe there is no wrong way to bring a baby into the world, I was scared. I was scared of getting pushed into an unneeded intervention. I was scared of major surgery. I was scared of complications. I was scared of regret.
"What is wrong with me?" I would wail to my husband.
A week before our deadline, my midwives and I started trying anything and everything to get labor started. I ate pineapple and spicy food, had sex (though I felt anything but sexy), walked for miles, and even drank castor oil. Two days before the deadline, I asked my midwife if she knew of a local acupuncturist who specialized in stimulating labor. She didn't know of anyone nearby, but she did have the number of an amazing chiropractor I could try. I hadn't heard of an adjustment helping kickstart labor, but clearly, I was ready to try anything. I made an appointment for later that afternoon.
The chiropractor was wonderful. He listened to me complain, assessed my spine, and found that my pelvis was pretty significantly out of alignment. (I wasn't surprised―this pregnancy had come with a lot of sciatica, and I basically couldn't move without waddling uncomfortably.) He adjusted me, and I noticed immediately that I walked without the waddle. He had me walk around the block and then come back to check the adjustment.
"Did your water break?" he joked as I came back in the office. "It wouldn't be the first time!" I laughed wistfully and told him that if it had, I probably would have named the baby after him. We made an appointment for a couple of days later ("in case you don't have the baby tonight!"), and I started driving home.
Within minutes, I felt the contractions start up again.
By now, I felt like the pregnant lady who cried wolf. I was nervous to say anything to anyone because, well, hadn't I thought I was going into labor a dozen times before this? I was starting to seem ridiculous.
Within half an hour, though, I immediately recognized that these contractions felt different. They were much more intense than the prodromal contractions, and within an hour, I couldn't talk through them. I called my husband, who worked an hour away.
"Should I get in the car?" he asked.
"Let's wait another hour to make sure they keep progressing," I told him.
Within another half hour, I was bent over double with each contraction and texted him to get in the car. Next, I called my midwife and told her to meet me at the birth center, 20 minutes away from me.
The contractions were different from my first pregnancy in that I didn't get that pain-free break in between them. With my first, I had even been able to sleep a bit between contractions. This time around, my entire pelvis felt like it lit up during the contraction, and then just slowly burned in between. My midwife thought it might have to do with the adjustment, but there wasn't anything to be done about it now.
By the time I got to the birth center with my mom and two best friends, the contractions were coming fast and intense every four to five minutes, and I was almost six centimeters dilated. It was different from the slow, steady build of my first labor―it was much more sudden and painful, and I remember praying that it would be a fast labor because I wasn't sure I could get through it.
An hour later, my husband walked in the door, much to my relief. (I'm pretty sure I dilated a full centimeter when I saw him.)
I decided to get in the shower because that had brought me a lot of relief during my first pregnancy. But no matter how I tried to point it directly at my pelvis, there was still little to no break between the contractions. Eventually, I gave up and got out so I could move to a more comfortable position than sitting up.
Shortly after getting out of the shower, I felt the distinct urge to push. I laid back on the bed, and my midwife checked my cervix. Ten centimeters! I felt elated—and extremely relieved that the pain would end soon.
I waited for a contraction and then pushed tentatively once―and my water broke.
I pushed again―the baby's head popped out.
I pushed again―out came the shoulders, and I reached down and grabbed around the baby's middle and pulled it onto my chest.
Before anyone could do anything, the baby suddenly propped itself up on its arms and stared long and hard into my face while I gaped on. After about 10 seconds, it flopped back down, took its first breath, and let out its first cry. Apparently, I had been deemed worthy.
I felt my body flood with relief―relief that the baby was fine, that my body was fine, that labor had gone how I wanted, that I was finally #NOTPREGNANT. A full minute went by before someone said, "So...what is it??" I lifted up my tiny, perfect baby to check.
"It's a girl!" I cried happily. She had a head of jet-black hair and long, spidery fingers. We named her Juliette.
All in all, I was pregnant for 42 weeks―and in labor for four hours (including those five minutes of pushing).
Watch the moment I met my daughter:
Our perfect story
Going overdue was hard on me, mentally and emotionally, but it taught me important lessons. It meant relinquishing control, something I've always found challenging to do. It was a firm reminder that my baby was a person all her own―and sometimes that would mean coming with her own timetable.
It was a reminder that the "perfect" pregnancy doesn't exist―but no matter how difficult it can feel in the moment, any way you bring your baby into the world just becomes your story. The first story the two of you ever write together―and one you'll tell over and over again for a long time to come.
And when you get to the happy ending, you realize―nothing was ever really wrong. Not with her. Not with me. It was just ours — our frustrating, amazing, breathtaking story. And nothing is wrong with that at all.