It’s getting close to my daughter’s second birthday, and I’m only three short months away from having my third baby. I’ve been itching to get my mind back around all things birth to prepare myself for labor- and also because I really enjoy the topic.
Over the next week or two, I will share my son and daughter’s birth stories. While these were posted on my old blog, the content was written for us to remember the birth. I kept it PG, but remember, I’m a birth doula- so these things seem pretty normal to me. Read at your own risk. 😉
“Homebirth? That’s great for them, if they really want to do it- but not for me,” I thought. I had a friend who had birthed all three of her children at the time at home, and things always went well for her. I respected her decision, but I always assumed that when I was pregnant one day, I would just go to the hospital- it was the automatic thing to do.
On January 20th, 2010, two blue lines showed up on the stick I bought from Target. I stared at it in disbelief- even though I knew it was a strong possibility, I still had told myself it would probably come up negative. I told Tim on his two o’clock break at work, and over the next several days (and weeks) we flew through a whirlwind of emotions. We felt thrilled and incredibly blessed to have a child on the way, but also overwhelmed by the number of decisions to be made and the coming responsibility of parenthood.
The most immediate decision to be made was that of health care for the baby and me. We hadn’t had insurance since we were married, and we quickly discovered that most insurance companies wouldn’t pick us up because of my “pre-existing condition.” There was no way we could afford the monthly payments of private insurance, and we were told that we didn’t qualify for medical assistance. Thus, we began to search out our options. We started by looking at pricing alone, and we were floored by the cost of hospital births. An uncomplicated vaginal birth could easily cost over ten thousand dollars, and sometimes much more than that. This discouraging reality caused us to look into the possibility of other options. Birthing centers looked like a feasible option, and there was one in Wilkes Barre, not too far from us; but, what about homebirth?
We decided that homebirth was at least worth some research before we disregarded the option entirely. We talked to our friend who delivered all of her babies at home, and the more we discussed the matter, the less crazy it seemed. We began looking up information and various studies on homebirth. Surprisingly, we discovered that homebirth with qualified attendants was statistically just as safe as hospital births for low-risk women. Women planning a homebirth had a low transfer rate to the hospital, were much less likely to receive unnecessary interventions, and the rate of c-sections were significantly lower. There was no difference in the outcomes of the babies between home and hospital births. Also, it seemed that the consensus among the testimony of women who had homebirths was that they had a positive experience and wanted to have homebirths again in the future.
The research drove us forward- we would call Jen, the midwife our friend had birthed her last baby with. We had a free consultation visit with her, and she really impressed us with her knowledge, skill, and experience. She discussed the advantages and possible risks of homebirth with us, and was very honest and open. She did not try to sell herself- she told us that if we chose a homebirth, we had to really be comfortable with the decision. It was then that we confirmed two things: First, that homebirths really were safe for low-risk women. Jen was well prepared to deal with the majority of “what-ifs” of birth, and most “what-ifs” she couldn’t personally handle were things that could generally be caught well ahead of time. There were very few things that actually required emergency transfer to the hospital, to which we lived very close. Secondly, homebirths agreed with my own philosophy of birth. I wanted an all-natural birth where I could fully experience labor, be entirely mentally there for the birth of my child, and be free to make informed decisions regarding the birth. Once these two issues were settled in our minds, we decided to go ahead with homebirth and chose Jen as our midwife.
Over and over during my prenatal care we felt again and again that we had made the right decision. I was excited about homebirth, and the more reading and research we did, the more I felt prepared for the birth. Jen was always warm and welcoming, and we looked forward to every appointment. We also got to work with two wonderful assistants during this time- Monica, from whom we took childbirth classes, and Nicole, who attended our birth. We felt that each one of these qualified women cared for us personally and professionally, and we developed friendships with each of them over the course of our care. We discovered the value of having a supportive, loving relationship with our caregivers. We were going into one of the most personal events of our lives, and it only made sense to have people there who we trusted and felt comfortable with. We knew that we were in the best possible hands, and we could hardly wait for the day of our baby’s birth!
(Photo Credit- Sarah Mitchell)
At forty weeks and five days, I was having Braxton Hicks contractions all day. No big deal, I had been having them for probably a month already, and they never went anywhere. We had our weekly appointment at my home and Tim and I went out shopping at a local health food store that night and bought evening primrose oil in hopes that it might get things moving.
At forty weeks and six days, October 5th, 2010, I woke up having to use the bathroom- nothing unusual for a woman great with child. I laid back down, and after a few minutes I noticed a contraction that was accompanied by strong cramping this time. Hmmm…. 2:45 a.m. Maybe I would keep track. Another at 2:52. Another at 2:59. So it continued, six or seven minutes apart for an hour. I woke Tim. “It’s birth day,” I told him. We were both so excited, we couldn’t heed Jen’s advice to get some sleep in the early stages.
The contractions were about five minutes apart and lasting about a minute long for a little over an hour. I started having diarrhea and bloody show. We called Jen to let her know I was in labor, and she sent Nicole on her way to check me out. In the meantime, Tim called our parents to tell them things were finally cooking and ran around setting up our birthing pool and pulling out our birth kit. I, in the meantime, was having contractions in the bathroom and throwing up. Nicole arrived with the sunrise, with Jen following shortly after. They told me sometimes there was a mini-transition period between three and four centimeters dilated, and that may have caused the vomiting.
We drifted through the hours during early labor. I couldn’t sit or lay back, because the baby’s head was on my tailbone. I continued to lean forward over the couch, chairs, countertops, or whatever I could find. Going on hands and knees became a favorite during contractions. I tried to remember what a lady at church had told me- just keep breathing, no matter what. The contractions were definitely still manageable, but I was nervous about how bad they would get before it was over. Jen, Nicole, and I tried to nap and rest as the hours went on, since we knew that there would be no sleep later.
Tim, on the other hand, was working on filling the birthing pool. This turned into quite the event. He ran the water very hot so it would stay warm for when it was time for me to get in it in later labor. However, we ran into a problem- the house we live in had been vacant for three years before we moved in, and apparently the bottom of the hot water heater was rusty. We didn’t know because we had never tried to run such a large quantity of hot water before. When we saw the rusty water, we knew we didn’t want to birth our baby in that! First, Tim bucketed out the majority of water, then tried to use his drill pump to finish the job. In the end, he decided to drive to the farm’s annex to borrow a small pump, as that would be more efficient at emptying the pool. When he returned, we walked up to the barn together to get an appropriate length of hose to attach to the pump. When we returned, Tim hooked it up and immediately found that it was cracked. Nothing that duct-tape couldn’t fix! Tim was finally able to dutifully empty the pool.
We were still determined to have a water birth, so we thought that maybe we could try boiling clear, cool water to fill the pool. Jen and Nicole were doubtful, but we decided to give it a shot. I went to the shower upstairs for relief while the saga of the pool continued downstairs. The hot water running over my back felt so good to ease the pressure of contractions! After about an hour in the shower, we finally conceded that the pool would take way too much water to try and heat by boiling. Empty the pool went again, and we decided we would just have to have a “land birth” instead of our water birth.
Jen suggested I eat something light with protein, and then that we go take a walk to get the contractions longer and harder and closer together. She said that I needed to change the way I was thinking about the pain. Instead of tensing up and dreading each contraction, I needed to think, “Oh boy! Here comes a good one!” This sounded easier said than done, but I knew if we ever wanted to meet the baby we had to try to progress things a bit. They said the more I could move my hips, the better labor would progress and the more likelihood that the baby would get off my tailbone. We had to walk for at least twenty minutes. I had a few bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and then I put on my polka-dotted galoshes and green hoodie to go outside to the autumn rain with Tim.
I will always remember that walk as a sacred time together before the birth of our baby. It was 12:50 pm when we went out. He took my hand and around the yard we went, up the hill, down the hill, around the back, circle the fire pit, around the side, up the steps, through the barn, down the hill… During pregnancy we had taken walks together, and Tim would always sing songs and say that we had to “keep the pace” by stepping to the beat. Now during this final walk as a solitary couple, Tim was still encouraging me to keep the pace. He sang old gospel hymns, cheery marches, and even “Jingle Bells” with enthusiasm. The contractions, however, were now coming on in waves that rocked my whole body. Every time they came, all I could do was lean my weight onto Tim’s forearms and breathe- hard. Keeping the pace seemed next to impossible now, but Tim would slow down his songs to my pace. We gently rocked our hips back and forth together. Occasionally as a contraction came on, Tim would ask quietly, “Is this a good one coming?” I would force myself to try to relax my eyebrows, fake smile, and say, “Oh yeah, really good!” while I just kept inhaling and exhaling. It’s true what they say about “zoning in” during labor. I remember now the wet leaves, the cool air, the steady drips coming down onto us, Tim’s strong arms that I squeezed, the smell of dirt and trees and grass brought out by the rain, how my body heated during each contraction, how tired I was, how I told Tim that we would have the rest of our children by adoption, how I didn’t think I could stand having the contractions any longer and harder and closer together…
It took us thirty minutes to go around the house three times. We decided we could go inside.
Bathroom time again. I kept feeling like I had to have a bowel movement, but it wasn’t coming. It occurred to me that this was something I should tell Jen. When I reported the sensation, she stopped and said, “Hmmm… let’s check you. We might be pleasantly surprised.” Tim put on some tea while Jen, Nicole, and I transported everything to the bedroom upstairs. Jen did an internal examination and happily announced, “You’re a ten. You’ve got no cervix at all- you’re ready to push!” Tim came up the stairs with two mugs of tea just in time to hear this delightful news. Apparently our walking and dancing outside had gotten me through transition without us knowing it.
I didn’t feel that uncontrollable urge to push that some women describe- in fact, I wasn’t even sure exactly what to do at first. Jen let me try for a little while I was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning forward onto the birth ball. Contractions made me warm, but my feet were very cold. Nicole got me some funny knitted socks with character faces on them out of my drawer to warm my feet. After a bit, Jen suggested I empty my bladder and try pushing on the toilet, because the association helps some women get the appropriate sensation. Tim and I went into the bathroom and I tried pushing through a contraction. The position did help me start to get the idea, but as I didn’t want to deliver my baby on the toilet, we returned to the bedroom. We asked Jen to try her birth stool since it put me in the same position.
After a little while of trying to push on the birth stool, Jen asked me if I would like for her to put her fingers where I needed to push to help give me some direction. I told her yes, seeing as I wasn’t making much progress on my own. Once I felt her fingers, I felt that I knew much better where to direct my pushing energy. She put a mirror underneath of me so I could watch my progress. She began to help me push for longer stretches by counting to ten and asking me to push for the duration. At some point a low yell traveled up from my chest and came out of my mouth. It surprised me to hear it coming out so involuntarily, but it felt right, so I let it come. At some point during this process, there was a sudden pop! My water burst in a startling gush and made us all jump. Wow, that was a change in pressure! It took me a few contractions to gather myself to approach pushing again.
We continued to try other things, as the baby wasn’t coming down too quickly. I stood up a few times, hanging on to Tim and pushing, sometimes semi-squatting. The intensity was almost too much, so I returned to sitting on the stool. I was extremely hot, so Nicole kept bringing me cool washcloths for my neck. I would heat them up within minutes and she would refresh them. Jen encouraged me to reach up and feel the baby’s head inside of me. I tried it- my goodness! There really was a baby in there that was on his way out! This was my first physical contact with the little person that God had been faithfully growing inside of me for nine months. I could hardly believe it. Feeling his head also finally made something click with the pushing. Now I could tell when a push was effective and when it wasn’t, because I could feel when his head moved down. I discovered that when I thought I had been pushing as hard as I could, I had to plow past that threshold to really get him to move.
The birth stool started to get uncomfortable. To the bed we went again, waddling on the way. (It’s hard to walk with a baby on his way out!) Hands and knees still felt best, so I returned to that position while Tim sat in front of me stabilizing the birth ball, letting me lean over onto him as I needed. Things really began to get intense at this point. With each contraction, I pushed and let the yelling propel my energy forward. Each bellow seemed to give me a little more physical strength. The baby was coming closer ever so slowly. I was opening up, little by little, and Jen was steadily encouraging me from behind. Tim remembered last minute that his private music students were supposed to come to the house at 5:00, and it was 4:30 already. Thankfully, Nicole took his phone and called them to tell them not to come.
It turned out the phone call was just in time- suddenly, there came upon me the most extraordinary burning sensation as the baby’s head started to crown. Out, out, out, I thought! But at the end of each contraction, he would pop back in, jarring my insides. Each searing stretch caused my yell to rise in pitch as the pain became more overwhelming. Nicole reminded me to try to keep my vocalizing low, as it would help me to stay grounded and in control. Every time we thought the baby was about to crown, he would slide back inside again. I would touch him each time he came close. I was getting disheartened, thinking he would never come out, but Jen was my cheerleader. With each contraction, she would enthusiastically cry, “Good, Abi, good! Big breath, right back at it! Yes, yes, yes! Push, momma, push, keep going!” Tim was rooted and steady in front of me. I remember most his warmth and the scruff on his face and eyes looking at mine and him saying I was doing so well, even though I didn’t feel like it then. He was my strong pillar.
Then, it happened. I was absolutely on fire, a surreal and agonizing and excruciating stretch… I was as open as I could be, my vocalization lost control, and his crowning head finally pushed out. Time stood still. I was panting, looking down at my round belly for the last time. “Let’s see… eyes, and a nose, and a mouth…” murmured Jen. Tim was under me, my chest leaning over his back, his arms outstretched to catch our baby, tears streaming down his face. I don’t even know if I waited for another contraction. With a final great push, our little one slid out into Tim’s hands, slimy and slippery and covered in water and blood.
His spirited cries filled the air, and I looked down and exclaimed, “We have a boy!” Suddenly, the fact that I had been pregnant all this time, the knowledge that we were going to have a child, the understanding that I was carrying another soul made sense when I saw him. Finally, our long anticipated blessing was here. I cannot describe the love and wonder and absolute amazement of seeing this little one for the first time. He truly was a bundle of joy, and I truly did forget the pain as soon as I set eyes on him. We had a son, born at 4:55 p.m. He was finally here, and we finally got to meet him after all this time.
I laid back on the bed and they laid our baby on my abdomen. His cord was short, so he couldn’t reach me to nurse just yet. I was bleeding quite a bit. Normally, the nursing helps the uterus contract, stop the bleeding, and release the placenta. Since I couldn’t yet nurse, Nicole gave me an herbal remedy to try first for the bleeding. Shortly after, Jen gave me a shot of Pitocin to help. A few minutes later, our baby’s cord stopped pulsing, and it was time to cut it. Tim got to do the honors, and our baby was physically separated from me for the first time. Jen gently pushed on my tummy to help the placenta come out, and with a little push, it slid right out with little effort. The bleeding did slow down enough, and everyone was doing just fine.
Our little son could now reach the breast, and we pulled him up and let him try nursing. It was completely new for both of us. I had to really focus on finally relaxing my muscles after the labor- I didn’t want any tension for our first bonding. He had a couple good latches after a while of trying, and we knew we would both do fine with some practice. Tim and I laid there for probably about an hour, marveling at our son and praising God that all went well.
Nicole helped me take a shower and Jen and Tim gave our baby his first sponge bath over the sink. Jen and Nicole cleaned everything up for us. I got checked, and I had no tears- only a few skid marks and some swelling. Our little boy had his first tests, which he passed with flying colors, and his first measurements- he was twenty-one inches long. He took a ride in Jen’s sling-scale, and he weighed in at nine pounds, four ounces! We could hardly believe he was that big! Our family came about two and a half hours after he was born- everyone oohed and ahhed, and we made sure to get a picture with Jen and Nicole before they left.
From when I felt the first contraction to when our son was born, I was in labor just over fourteen hours and pushed for about three and a half. It was definitely the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but also the single best experience of my life. I am so grateful to God for the blessing of the birth of our son. It was He who provided the strength and courage I needed. All three of the caregivers we worked with over the course of my pregnancy were absolutely priceless and I am very thankful to them. As long as I am in good health, I have the choice, and God is willing, I hope to always be able to give birth in this way at home. Would I have another? Although I’m not thinking about it right now, absolutely I would. But as for now, my wonderful husband and I are enjoying the amazing blessing of having a son. Each day we are learning more how to be parents, discovering more of our son’s wonderful tiny traits, and falling more and more in love with this precious little one. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! His gifts are truly good.