This is the story of the healthy and huge River Donovan. The little brother of Jude. The sweet one who is already such a light in our family. Our favorite tiny guy.
I feel like I am more aware now than I was when I was pregnant with Jude of how many folks don't get to realize this dream. As I age and more friends open up their stories for me to hear, I know that getting pregnant and staying pregnant are huge hurdles that Ben and I are incredibly lucky to jump over with ease. I felt a tenderness and deep gratitude to be the safe home for this little soul for nine months and tried to stand in that every day. Even when I was uncomfortable. Even when I was swollen and wanted a margarita and had the world's worst heartburn and I was waddling around with sore hips and gaining stretch marks I had never seen before. I was so grateful.
River has always just kind of known what to do. He has been steady and healthy since the beginning. Good heart rate, good position, just... good! I took all of my vitamins and supplements, passed my gestational diabetes test, and was thrilled to learn I was GBS negative and wouldn't need antibiotics during labor.
With Jude, we chose a birth center that we loved and we had a wonderful experience there. Since then, they have grown and I realized I was looking for a more personal approach (rather than seeing several midwives throughout my pregnancy and then having whoever was on call catch my baby). I looked into home birth options, but realized the idea of *hosting* a home birth wasn't really for me. I didn't feel like cleaning up my house to have people come over (this was actually insane because my nesting was so out of control that it would have been FINE), but was interested in the one-on-one relationship with a midwife nonetheless. Enter Denver Center for Birth and Wellness. A newer birth center that was the same driving distance as our original but with one midwife and a small client load. Perfect!
Shari, our midwife, was awesome. She is confident and grounded with the perfect amount of spirituality and edge. We trusted her completely. And really, I trusted myself after having successfully delivered Jude without medication. I had no doubts about my power as a mother. We were ready.
In fact, I was ready at about 37 weeks. Jude came at 39.5 and so many of my friends told me that their second (or third) babies came earlier than their first so I had my mom come out and wait right at 37 weeks just in case. And wait we did. And wait. And wait. All the way past 40 weeks. I just kept going to my weekly midwife visits and getting manicures and walking (waddling) everywhere and remembering to trust the process.
And then I came down with a cold. I felt awful. All of the sudden I *really* wanted Riv to stay inside for a bit longer. Yes, I trusted my body but could I push a baby out with congestion and a cough and a fever and body aches? That shook my confidence a little.
Friday morning, three days after my "due date," Ben kissed me goodbye and asked how I was feeling. I said "terrible, I barely got any sleep because I couldn't breathe or stop coughing." He told me to get some rest and he went to a coffeeshop nearby to work. Thirty minutes later I felt my first contraction. Of all days! C'mon!
My contractions were steady all day. I let Ben know I was feeling some things but I couldn't promise today would be the day (haha, I feel very "watched" and almost annoyed when I'm in labor. Like, "I don't know for sure, everyone just stay calm!"). I texted Shari and gave her a heads up. I asked my mom to watch Jude so I could wash my hair. Contractions just kept coming but I worked hard to not get myself too psyched about them.
With Jude, labor and contractions were the WORST. I vomited for like an hour, I writhed in pain, I had the worst 15 minute car ride of my life getting to the birth center, and then pushing was a relief. With River it was the opposite. I kept telling myself to stay calm during these early contractions because they were going to be getting so. much. worse. If I couldn't handle these contractions at home, I was going to be blown away by pain when I got to the birth center. So I just stayed calm.
In fact, when I told Ben at 4:30pm (when he was done working) that today was definitely the day and that they were something like six minutes apart, he was like "seriously??" because I just had sort of breathed through an entire work day of steady contractions on my own without making much of a big deal about it. I just wanted to keep my mind in the right spot to be able to handle what was to come! I've never run a marathon (or a half marathon... or a 5K...) but I liken this sort of to pacing oneself in a run. I didn't want to do all of my freaking out early on.
Ben went on to do Jude's regular nighttime routine as my contractions became more intense. They never really reached that 5-1-1 rule at home but I had a couple of intense ones while sitting on the toilet and then stood up and swore I could feel the water bag trying to come out of me! I texted Shari and interrupted Ben and Jude to tell them we needed to go now. Jude didn't want us to leave but quickly became very accommodating. Sweetest guy. My mom stayed back with Jude and Ben and I were off!
I think during the drive things picked up quite a bit, but I stopped timing contractions. I bet I had four or five contractions during our 15 minute drive, though. I *still* was telling myself to stay calm because I thought it'd get much worse. My water hadn't even broken yet! I hadn't thrown up yet! Turns out each birth is different, just like they say, but for some reason I wasn't buying it. :)
When we arrived at the birth center, I stood in the cold rain and had a contraction outside while holding onto the door of our car. We live in a desert climate. It hardly ever rains here. But rain is my favorite weather and both of my boys were born in the rain (Jude during a full moon, River during a new moon) and I feel like that is just so right. Even though I was in pain, the cool rain falling on me felt amazing. I loved that moment.
We headed inside and Shari checked me to find out that I was complete. I could go ahead and push my baby out whenever I felt like it! (...what? WHAT? I stayed cool through the entirety of the dilation process? Awesome!). I kept waiting for my water to break. I stood and swayed. I thought about getting into the tub but it felt way too hot and I was already a little overheated. I swayed. I waited. For some reason I really thought my water would break first, but I realized I was going to have to give a push to get things going.
We hadn't told anyone the name, but Ben got my playlist going on shuffle and "Down to the River to Pray" by Allison Kraus came on and Shari even laughed and sang "come on down" to our baby. I smiled, knowing just how appropriate that was.
I ended up on the edge of the bed. First standing, then on my knees. I pushed for ten or fifteen minutes. Ben decided he was interested in catching the baby so he was behind me when things got really real.
I should say now that we have taken a lot of long road trips with Jude during his short life, many of them when he was tiny. We have driven all over this country with a baby in the backseat and whenever it's time for Jude to fall asleep, we have played the album "The Weatherman" by Gregory Alan Isakov. It has been our calm open road music for years and especially connected to our parenthood in some way, too.
Well I didn't know it but the song that was playing when I was pushing was the first song from that album, "Amsterdam." It has this moving, beautiful crescendo and River came out JUST THEN during the song. I couldn't have told you that. I was focused and groaning in pain as I pushed an enormous baby out, but Ben! Ben heard it and reached his hands down to catch his son (an experience he didn't get to have the first time around) and at that moment the crescendo of the music of our family played and he was, of course, all waterworks. My emotional love. The best dad. I love that he recognized that and told me after. That is so incredibly special to me.
Oh man... but on my end? I thought I was honestly being ripped in half. It was quick and empowering and beautiful but the actual pushing him out part did hurt this time. I didn't know if it was my position or that I wasn't in the water this time or what, but after he came out all of the lovely birth workers were like, "Wow, what a big baby! I wonder if he'll break our birth center record!" and then it all made sense. I had grown a huge and healthy baby and that just hurts a bit (ha, to say the least).
Ben passed him through my legs and we just hung out in that position for a minute or two. I was absolutely amazed I had just done that. While sick! Turns out you sort of forget about whatever illness you may be dealing with when labor gets going. Our bodies are wise.
I LOVE this photo of me looking at Ben with pure love and endorphins. I'm sure I was saying "Holy shit, babe! Look at this baby! I love you so much! He's here!" and a million other things. All the talking I don't do during labor seems to come out right after, I think.
I was helped onto the bed where we all cuddled and fell in love. The room marveled at River's super spiral umbilical cord. In fact, after I shared a photo of it online I received messages from other birth worker friends like "I have seen a TON of umbilical cords in my life and I have never seen one like his! That is amazing!" I felt pretty cool but have no idea how it happened. Just one of those beautiful quirks, I guess.
Okay, so that birth playlist I made? I put exactly three "river" themed songs on it. We only got to hear maybe half an hour of music because we weren't at the birth center long before the baby arrived. But as we hung out on the side of the bed and I was saying all of those euphoric things to Ben, "Rivers and Roads" by The Head and the Heart played. And then once we cuddled up together in bed? The third river-themed song, "River" by Leon Bridges, played overhead. I kept saying "Babe, do you hear what is playing? I can't believe this is playing right now!" And then we were happy to announce our little baby's name to the room of people who helped welcome him Earthside. I still get goosebumps just thinking about how music played such a role in his arrival.
River's name was chosen long ago. Ben's father, Don, passed away when Jude was a baby, and when Jude turned one year old we decided to take an incredible two-week long road trip through the Pacific Northwest. We saw the most beautiful country we had ever seen and we were moved by it each day of our trip. One day, as we stood on the edge of the great Columbia River, outside of a brewery we adored, we were grieving Ben's dad. There's something about experiencing beautiful surroundings and falling so in love with being a parent all while grieving your own parent. It's one of the hardest and most beautiful years we've ever had, and we were just having a tearful moment on the edge of the water there when Ben (who has basically never come up with a baby name suggestion in his life) quietly said he liked the name River for a baby. I turned to him and said, "yeah, actually, I agree." And since that point, it's almost like our next child was making their way to us.
No matter what the sex of this baby was, their has always been River. It's like it was spiritually handed to us in nature during this beautiful and tender moment where our sweet baby Jude was putting his toes in the water and we were for once in agreement about a name (which is super rare). And to honor Ben's dad with the middle name of Donovan makes it all the more special. It feels like he is all wrapped up in this little one's name and that feels just right.
You are loved, River Donovan. Your big brother is your favorite person to watch and he absolutely loves you. Jude stops people in public to have a look at "his baby." He smiles and coos at you and you do the same right back. Watching you two together could make my heart just burst. You love it when your dad puts you in the crook of his arm and walks around the house to calm you down. We play your special songs for you often. You have stayed healthy while others in the house were sick, you just had your tongue and lip ties clipped and were so brave, and you are starting to smile more and more every day. You are still big and long. You are a great nurser, you would stay in the bathtub all day if we let you, and you sleep pretty well, too. We can't believe two months have already passed but we are so glad you're here. Thank you for joining our family. We promise to take good care of you.
River Donovan — 9lbs 5oz — 21.5 in long — November 17, 2017 — 8:48pm
Special thanks to my friends Monet Nicole and Jennifer Mason for these photos that we will treasure always. Your presence in the room was also one of my favorite and most comforting things. You love the world through this important work you do. Thank you.