The house was cleaned and ready, our supplies had been purchased. I’d read the books, watched the DVDs. I was ready to meet her.
I’d been cramping for nearly three weeks. Less than a week before she was due I finally decided to have my midwife check to see how far dilated I was. I was only one centimeter.
Trying not to feel disappointed by this, I took a shower after our appointment and talked to my baby. Like a mantra, I told her over and over, “come when you are ready. I will be patiently awaiting your arrival. Although I cannot wait to hold you in my arms and I know you will like it here in this loving home, come when you are ready.”
Later the next evening, (this was Friday night) I started to lose some of my mucus plug. I felt a twinge of excitement. Through my childbirth preparation class and the books I had read, I knew the steps my body would take when labor began to delivery: mucus plug, bloody show, water breaks, baby is born.
Sleeping over the weekend came sporadically.
I was always half waiting for labor to begin, half talking myself down from that expectation. I was trying to stay emotionally balanced to conserve my energy in case labor did ensue.
Cramping continued, and in the wee hours of Monday morning, I started to lightly bleed. I couldn’t hold back my excitement at that point. I woke up Eric, told him what was happening and started a bath. Candles were placed around the rim of our claw foot tub, which I lit while sitting back to enjoy the glee of the moment. My stomach was pure butterflies.
Monday was full of last minute cleaning, organizing and journaling while listening to music. Contractions had not fully begun but I was definitely feeling tightening in my uterus. Later that day my good friend came over to burn a bunch of music onto my computer from hers. As the night progressed, so did my cramping, which we began timing in the middle of talking, laughter and tiny glasses of wine to celebrate.
There was one particular moment I remember so clearly during the beginning of early labor.
I was standing in the kitchen with my friend talking about something and a contraction came. I clutched the handle to the freezer door and stopped talking, with a look of concentration but smiling. It was over quickly and we laughed as she asked, “did you just have another contraction?” I thought I was handling it like a champ and wondered how painful it would get. Didn’t seem too bad at the time, and it wasn’t. But was I ever in for a surprise!
I couldn’t sleep Monday night. Maybe got a few hours total. I went downstairs and turned on the Christmas lights and lit a few candles. Turned on some soft music and began journaling.
Not much time passed before I woke up Eric and asked him to make pancakes, which he did. We sat together, enjoying the ambiance we had helped each other create and silence followed by giggles every time my uterus contracted. We talked about how fast my pregnancy went; that we were already here after waiting for what had seemed like such a long time. It was surreal and magical.
Tuesday morning we tried to go for a walk, but I didn’t make it one block before turning around.
Each contraction, becoming stronger and coming faster, made me want to squat. It was February in Michigan and there was heavily packed snow laced with ice which was also covering big ice patches. Needless to say, it wasn’t that safe for an unsteady laboring woman to be walking around on.
We went home and I called my doula. She suggested I try to keep my mind off the contractions and focus on something else to help me through them and relax. It seemed I had a ways to go before my labor was real, so sit back, and try to relax.
I then called my grandmother who came over with movies and food to prepare. Within an hour the house was filled with the wonderful smells of her cooking, but I wasn’t hungry. I sat rocking on the floor or lying on the couch watching movies and breathing through the uncomfortability. I was becoming irritated and wanted the evening to come again. Daylight, coupled with the hustle of my grandmother cooking and my mom coming over was too much stimulation.
One thing that helped me tremendously at that moment was the arrival of my mother’s exercise ball.
Man, I loved that thing during labor. I found immediate relief in my hips sitting on it and swaying side to side.
Tuesday evening came soon enough. We’d been in contact with our doula and midwife a few times throughout the day to let them know of my progress. Finally, at around 9:30, we decided it was time for them to come.
When my midwife and doula arrived, however, my labor had seemed to slow down. Good thing we had so many beds and couches available! Everyone took to a makeshift bed and napped. Everyone but me! I continued on, trying to remain relaxed to conserve energy.
About two hours went by and things started heating back up. Eric made me a protein shake at the suggestion of my midwife once she’d asked how much I’d eaten during the day. He made it extra icy and she popped in a bendy straw (I tell you, that straw helped me so much).
For a better part of the early morning, I walked around the house, climbed the stairs and got in and out of the bathtub several times.
Thank god for that tub. The warm water was so soothing and always made the contractions seem more manageable. I was even able to doze off lightly between contractions, it was that relaxing (which says a lot).
Around 4 in the morning I had my first cervical check since my midwife had arrived. I was 5 cm.
While checking up on me she realized my baby’s position had changed and she was tilted to one side. She then instructed me to assume a position called “open knee chest,” where I laid my head down with my arms laying against the bed as well, up on my knees with my bum in the air – like a triangle. It was SO hard keeping that position. And I had to do it for 45 minutes straight! I felt like I was going to pass out. But I made it, and as soon as they told me I could get up, I went straight to the tub.
After working so hard and intensely for the past hour, I was able to fall asleep between contractions while in the water.
I am so grateful I was able to do that. Having not slept in two days, I needed that rest in order to accomplish the next phase of my labor which would be by far the hardest – transition and delivery. I attribute much of my success giving birth naturally at home to resting between contractions and in the tub.
Roughly two hours later, I came down from the bathroom, groggy and a little disappointed that my water hadn’t broken yet. The pain was very intense at this point, and my doula suggested I down. Lying on my side was almost intolerable, but she told me sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do that gets the results that we need. I trusted her and followed her advice by turning slightly and slowly onto my right side.
One contraction later and my water broke! Finally!
I was elated. I got up on shaky legs and walked to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Once I got there, I didn’t feel like walking back in the living room, so my doula suggested I sit backwards on the toilet and gave me a pillow to lay my head on. I was there, by myself for about an hour, sleeping, moaning, swearing and grunting, working my way through intense back labor.
The light of morning came and I found myself back in the living room, squatting over waterproof pads that my midwife was placing under me as needed.
It was time for her to check me again. Still only 7 cm and very tight at the front of my cervix. That was a difficult moment for me emotionally. I was hoping to be much farther along.
Dealing with that feeling of discouragement, I wondered if I could really do it. I was SO tired.
It was then that I thought about what a transfer to the hospital would entail…
I imagined the scene – arriving from an attempted home birth, “not progressing” fast enough. Tired and completely worn out. Strangers. Hectic. Hospital gown. Would they want to get me in the operating room? Would I accept pain medication? Would they suggest pitocin?
My answer was one big NO. No, no, no to any and all interventions. I could do this! It’s what my body was designed to do!
As soon as I realized I was staying home, that I was going to do this no matter what, I fully relaxed and surrendered to the process.
It wasn’t until that moment that I could breakthrough. I didn’t even realize I had an emotional hump to get over!
I slowly got up from my position on the floor and walked, with the help of my doula and Eric, to the birth room where I lay down. My midwife brought in yogurt and I had a few bites. The image of this scene in my mind is soft and fuzzy around the edges. Very dreamlike. I think it was in that half hour that I was going through transition.
Then, at around 9 o’clock Wednesday morning, I got the overwhelming urge to push.
From one contraction to the next, my body knew just what to do. That still amazes me.
I was lying on my side in the birth room. My midwife was quick to check my cervix to make sure it was okay that I start pushing, and I was fully dilated. My doula, who had been rubbing oils on my stomach and lower back, stopped what she was doing and started talking me through the process.
Eric was behind me so my upper back and head were resting on his chest. He spoke in my ear, “you can do this, remember, you’re in control.” When I heard him say that, I shouted back at him, “I am NOT in control! Stop saying that!”
I didn’t feel like I was in control at all.
In that moment, my body and Ella were the ones in control. No willing of my mind was going to get her out any faster. What I had to do was relinquish control and let the process happen.
My midwife did a beautiful job coaching me through my daughter’s birth. She took a long time to crown. The burning sensation was insane. I kept telling everyone how badly I wanted her born.
Near tears, my voice raised to a high pitched scream with every contraction.
Patience was crucial.
I listened to my midwife as she guided me through this very uncharted territory. In order not to tear, I was instructed to grunt, “haaaaa” and simply to breathe out. Those tiny pushes got Ella through; it was a slow production, not what you see on TV when everyone in the room is yelling, “PUSH!”
Feeling her head come out was amazing but it wasn’t the end. Her body slid through on the next contraction so simply it felt like water. No episiotomy necessary. No tearing either. All thanks to a very slow chaperoned delivery.
I was speechless, myself. Our daughter was handed up to me and I almost didn’t know what to do with her. In pictures, my cheeks were flushed and full from my smile, eyes wide in surprise and joy, and my forehead layered with a soft sweat.
Ella started crying – a loud, strong and healthy cry that lasted almost 5 full minutes. Then we initiated breastfeeding. She was hungry.
It only took a few contractions for my placenta to come. The burning sensation of delivering it was very easy compared to what I’d just done.
Eric started making phone calls and my doula fixed me emergen-c mixed with orange juice. Soon, eggs were sizzling on the stove and I had a full plate of breakfast in front of me. Ella Rose at my side getting her feet printed, measured and weighed.
The sunlight was shining so brightly in through the front windows of our living room onto the wood floor.
My grandmother said hello to her first great granddaughter – four generations now under one roof for the first time.
My daughter got wrapped up and placed in Eric’s arms while I was escorted to the shower, my midwife asking me to let her know right away if I felt dizzy.
If anything, I was dizzy with euphoria. I had done it. With shaking knees, I rinsed off the blood down my inner thighs and breathed out a giant sigh of relief that I was at home with my new family. I thought about the day ahead and couldn’t wait to take a nap with my little love in my arms.
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