Like all good stories, this one begins a long time ago; particularly, during my first pregnancy. I had heard enough advocacy for natural childbirth throughout my life to be slightly suspicious of the typical hospital method of birth. So before I delved into the experience myself, I spent a good amount of time researching birthing options. It started with watching the documentary The Business of Being Born and then borrowing from the library the book by the same authors, Your Best Birth. I also borrowed and read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Two other books that I bought and found very helpful were The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Active Birth. I realized a little too late that I probably read TOO much. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want but then it was a matter of what was actually plausible and possible for us to pursue. I was disappointed to find we had no local birthing centers. I was hesitant to deliver my first child at home, without any idea of what to expect. But most decidedly, our insurance wouldn’t cover any portion of a home birth, but – go figure – would almost completely cover a (much more expensive) hospital birth.
So I did what I had to do: wrote out a very thorough birth plan and labored at home as long as I could before heading to the hospital. Altogether I labored for 10 hours, six in the hospital. The on-call doctor was actually fairly supportive of my birth plan and the nurses were nice enough. The experience wasn’t horrible. I tried to move around and walk when I could but did spend most of the time in the hospital laboring (and pushing) on my back. I was about 90% sure I was going to die (or at least would prefer to die) during transition, all of which I spent curled up in fetal position myself. Even though I had requested to tear naturally instead of receive an episiotomy, my doctor talked me into one at the last minute, literally in-between pushes. I wasn’t quite in the position to resist. So instead of precious moments bonding with my baby right after birth, I had to cringe through who-knows-how-many stitches.
All in all, it was enough to make me want something different the second time around. And thankfully, my husband’s new job meant new insurance – one that would cover a portion of home birth! (Also one with a high deductible that we would have to pay anyway – might as well pay it to a model of care I felt supportive of!)
This change happened a third of the way through my pregnancy so I got in touch with LB, a local midwife who came highly recommended from a good friend, home birth advocate, and doula-in-training J (who will also come into the story later). Everything seemed to indicate I was a good candidate for homebirth. The only hesitation was that LB would be out of state for a training conference early in the month that I was due. Since I wasn’t due until the 18th and had that date fairly well confirmed by an early ultrasound, we thought we would be safe. My first baby came a day after her due date and LB was due to return with almost a week and a half to spare if this baby came on time. Just in case, another local midwife JB would be on call if anything happened while LB was gone. So we went ahead and pursued prenatal care with LB.
With all that prefacing, I’m sure you can imagine where this story is headed. I met with LB on a typical prenatal care schedule but the tone and atmosphere was completely different than the sterile, impersonal doctor’s office. She came to my home, often bringing along her own baby. The visits were warm and friendly, making it easy to ask plenty of questions and to feel well informed. Instead of getting curt, matter-of-fact answers that I often got from the medical system, LB gave thorough explanations, sharing her deep knowledge and understanding of the entire pregnancy and birth process. I met with LB a day before she left town and everything was progressing well. I promised, jokingly, that I wouldn’t take any long walks or do anything else that might spur on labor. I could tell my body was gradually progressing towards labor, with the usual surge in nesting and whatnot, but nothing told me it was urgently impending. I figured I still had a good week or two which would give LB plenty of time to return.
On Thursday (my 38 week point!) I entertained the idea of skipping the women’s Bible study I attend just because I was tired. But I knew it could be one of my last to attend, so I went and felt fine. Friday morning I woke up feeling mostly rested, until after breakfast at which point I crashed on the couch and didn’t move for the next hour. Thank goodness for Blue’s Clues to entertain my two year old until my husband conveniently had a mid-morning break from work. I even looked up if sudden exhaustion was a symptom of the onset of labor. Of course it was, but no more so than any of the other symptoms that could put you either hours or weeks away from baby. On Saturday I took another substantial nap within hours of waking up. It was refreshing so in the afternoon the husband took me and Cailyn out for frozen yogurt. We walked around a bit, including through the grocery store – I love that hunch that told me to go ahead and get two gallons of milk as well as a few other groceries we were low on. Throughout the day I had been feeling more Braxton Hicks than usual but I attributed that to the walking I had done. They weren’t necessarily more intense, just more frequent.
To switch to a slightly more graphic mode, on Saturday I had also noticed an increase in cervical mucus, including streaks of red. But again, I knew that didn’t guarantee anything immediate. By the end of the day I had lost several small pieces of what must have been my mucus plug. I got excited but still assumed labor was several days off. The several days it would take LB to return, of course.
Saturday night I stayed up until 11pm. I had discovered during the last week that the later I stayed up, the easier it was to stay asleep through the night. Sam was still up in the living room. Soon after I lay down in bed, I felt a few Braxton Hicks. Or so I assumed. I felt them in my abdomen and not my back and didn’t feel the telltale rising and peaking of a real contraction. But after feeling a handful of them within 45 minutes, I thought it might be worth timing them. I was quickly surprised to find the contractions coming every five minutes or so. Then I got a handful of contractions coming every two minutes. By then they started feeling like real contractions, building in intensity before fading again. They were only lasting 20-30 seconds at that point, and weren’t quite stopping me in my tracks, but the fact that they were there still caught me by surprise. By 12:15am, I went and told Sam and as he got over the initial stun, I fumbled around about what to do next.
Part of me was still hesitant to believe that labor was starting. With Cailyn, I remember several nights of sporadic contractions before real labor started. I was hoping that could be the case here, but went ahead and called JB, our back-up midwife, to let her know what was going on and to hopefully get some feedback on what I should do next. I was immediately comforted by her warm, friendly voice. She carefully listened to me describe my contractions. And then with a slightly nervous chuckle she told me she was already on the way to another birth. Imagine both of our surprise! She still gave me 100% attention on the phone though, walking me through a number of questions and giving appropriate advice. Based on my descriptions of the contractions, she thought they were still sporadic enough that active labor may be a way off. She suggested several things to try to slow labor progress so she could hopefully attend her first birth and then make it to me in time, telling me to contact her in the meantime if anything changed.
I got off the phone with her around 12:30pm and I followed her first suggestions by filling up the bath tub with warm water while Sam made me a cup of hot tea. Sam then asked if he should start setting up the birth pool we had rented. My first reaction was that it was too soon to be bothering with that, but I then realized there was nothing we were waiting on. He left me in the bathroom to soak and time my contractions and went to work on the pool in the other room.
Starting to consider that it was quite possible JB might not make it in time, I called friend/doula J who had already offered/agreed to attend our birth. Thankfully she was already awake and functions well as a night owl. She talked to me for a few minutes and said she would come over when I wanted her to. Of course, still (wishfully) thinking I had plenty of time, I told her I would let her know when that was.
Soaking in the bath did help with relaxation. The contractions had begun to pick up intensity before I got in the tub but once in the water, it was easier to get through them. I continued to time the contractions. It gave me something to focus on to get through them. I tried to balance fighting off the creeping intimidation and fear of possibly giving birth without a midwife there, while also holding onto it somewhat, knowing (and hoping) that fear could slow and inhibit labor. But in my case, contractions kept coming consistently every two minutes, lasting about 30 to 40 seconds, gradually longer. JB had said that they should be hitting at least 40 seconds to make significant progress so I tried to hold off for 30 minutes of consistency at that level before updating her, but I caved just short of that and texted her around 1:30am. She asked if they felt strong. At 1:36am I replied saying yes, they were significantly painful. And painful they were.
Originally the water had helped toned down the pain but it had gotten to the point that the water didn’t seem to make a difference. I began feeling the contractions much more in my back to the point that I couldn’t just recline in the water. Also to the point that I couldn’t stay silent. What started as mild moaning to get through the peak of the contractions turned, within a few contractions, to not being able to hold back a yell. This was right after I had texted JB and it sent Sam running to the bathroom (yes, he had still been dutifully setting up and filling the pool for me; and yes, I had still been anticipating transferring from the cramped, shallow tub to a real soaker.) I couldn’t say much to Sam at that point, except that it hurt.
Based on the timeframe and the pace of my contractions, I had estimated I was maybe halfway progressed. And that thought was almost unbearable. The pain was coming in such strong waves that I couldn’t fathom bearing it for several more hours or even several more minutes. I started thinking that the only option might be to call 911 and maybe make it to the hospital where I could cave to an epidural. An intense pressure built up within me. It released suddenly with a BM and simultaneously a gush of fluid. The former was obvious and easy to acknowledge (sorry for the TMI, but this is a birth story), the latter took me a moment to process–my water had broken! Maybe I was closer to delivery than I thought! But a moment was all it took because within seconds of that I was crowning.
I’m not sure quite my words or tone, but I immediately let Sam know and he dialed JB right away. Before he could even get her on the line and before I could get beyond the quick thought that I needed to try to push slowly so I could avoid tearing, her head was out. Her head was OUT. Suddenly all the pain and intensity was gone. Time seemed to freeze. I suddenly couldn’t remember what I should do next. I knew I had to wait for the next contraction to deliver her shoulders but the minute that it took for that contraction to come seemed to last forever. During that time JB was on the phone talking Sam through what to do. I remember asking Sam to ask JB if it was okay that the baby’s head was under water. Of course I knew it was safe for a baby to be born in water; I had even planned for it. But something about the suddenness of her arrival and the reality of it happening here and now threw me off guard. But then that one quick push came and she came all the way out. It was 1:40am: two and a half hours since my first contractions and two and half minutes since the contractions reached such intensity I thought I wouldn’t make it (which should’ve told me that it was time to deliver).
I pulled her up to my chest, just like that. I held her tight for just a moment before pulling her back to look at her face and to check that she was breathing. (She was!) In the meantime, JB had told Sam to call a third local midwife, LC, who could come quicker than she would be able to. But because of the suddenness of it all, she also suggested we call 911 as they could arrive faster to make sure everything was ok.
Sam did call 911 and the dispatcher walked him through a few more steps to make sure the baby was breathing clearly and such. The firemen arrived pretty quickly and before they did I had delivered the placenta and Sam had clamped the umbilical cord. I had also managed to send a text to J and my MIL to come because the baby was here. J arrived soon after the firemen and was a perfect balance of calming and controlling presence, especially in contrast to the firemen (God bless their souls) whose big, burly presence didn’t quite fit the atmosphere. They did provide Sam with a scalpel so he could cut the cord. Then the EMT arrived and asked what hospital I wanted to be taken to. When I said I planned to give birth at home and didn’t want to be taken to the hospital if I didn’t need to be, she gave me a blank stare before saying she needed to check what to do because she had never responded to a home delivery that didn’t want to be taken to the hospital. (All we had to do was sign a waiver). Another nice EMT checked my vitals.
In the midst of this, Juniper latched on and started her first feeding. I also remembered to check to make sure she really was a girl and in-between various interruptions to look over and discover that she had all her fingers and toes and that she really was quite perfect. She had surprisingly thick, dark hair (I was expecting another baldy), dark blue eyes, a clear complexion, and a round little head. Debates are still out on who she most resembles.
In the hustle and bustle, Cailyn had also woken up and got to come in and see me and meet Juniper (after we had gotten cleaned up a little bit). She was half asleep and as stunned as the rest of it, but handled it impressively, catching on right away that her new baby sister had finally come and being sincerely happy about it. My in laws also arrived and took part in the excitement before taking Cailyn home to stay the rest of the night with them. And pretty soon the emergency responders all trickled out while J stayed to help Sam take care of baby and me.
J and Sam helped me back to bed and by that time LC, the third (and final!) midwife arrived. Even though I hadn’t met her before and my first contact with her was a middle-of -the-night phone call (after she had just attended two births in the past day), she was as sweet and as helpful as could be. She checked me over, especially because the walk back to bed had caused me to get light headed and almost pass out. She was a little concerned about my blood pressure and pulse but after having me recline and breathe deeply, they improved. She did conclude that I had lost a good amount of blood but nothing that bed rest and some chlorophyll couldn’t fix. I had also torn but mildly compared to before and not enough to warrant stitches (yay!).
LC also examined Juniper and found her to be in great shape. She weighed in at seven pounds, five ounces (compared to Cailyn’s eight pounds eleven ounces!) and 20 inches long. J stuck around to help her and was so dear to make sure everything got cleaned up. Sometime after 4am everyone had left and Sam and I settled into bed (our own cozy bed!) with the sweetest little baby in-between us and just stared at each other in disbelief.
All the times and all the ways I had imagined our birth possibly going, I had never imagined anything like this. And as shocking and almost traumatic as it was, I really don’t know if I would have it any other way. I was SO thankful for the midwives’ help, even if from afar or after awhile. LC came back and checked in on us the next day. And LM visited and checked in on us upon her return from out of state and again a few days after that. I can only imagine how great it would’ve been to have one of them, especially our original midwife LM, present during the labor and delivery but there was also something empowering about getting through it with just Sam by my side. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would plan for my next birth alone! But experiencing first hand that “birth works” is something else. Between instinct and education I had become convinced that natural birth was the way to go. But knowing it is nothing compared to doing it. And ultimately I am so thankful to God that I was able to do it, have my husband by my side, and most of all able to come out of it holding a healthy, beautiful little girl and having health myself.
First Family Picture, a couple hours after birth.