After a long road of infertility and a high-tech conception, my first son Aidan was born in the hospital with a nurse midwife.
By all accounts, it was a smooth, beautiful natural birth. But the car ride during transition had been so hard, and I definitely felt the power shift when we arrived at the hospital. We had discussed a home birth during my pregnancy, but my husband Keith hadn’t felt comfortable with the idea and I didn’t fight too hard. But just a few minutes after Aidan was born, Keith said, “We totally could have done that at home!” I would hold him to that the next time around.
When I was pregnant again with our second son, I found myself longing for a provider who recognized birth as a sacred space. I wanted someone who would honor everything I wanted for my birth, and help ease the transition into motherhood. As a doula, natural childbirth instructor and now an experienced mom, I certainly trusted birth. And I definitely didn’t want to go through transition in the car again. Come to think of it, I really didn’t want nurses poking and prodding me us in the days after the birth either, when all I really wanted to was nestle in with my baby. By mid-pregnancy, we had settled on a home birth.
The day before Quinn was born, I was having a horrible day.
Keith didn’t understand how hard it was to chase a toddler while pregnant, I was assigned a nebulous work project that I couldn’t wrap my brain around, and I uncovered a misunderstanding that would leave my son without a support person if I birthed the following Tuesday. I felt like a whale, and nobody loved me. Yeah, one of those days. At the time I worked part-time at a massage and healing arts center, and they had taught me the Hoku pressure point to encourage labor. They all laughed at me walking around throughout the day squeezing that point between the thumb and index finger, with such desperation. Out baby, out baby, O-U-T.
The next morning, Friday, I started feeling a little crampy after my shower, around 7:30 a.m. I spent some time trying to figure out if it was the real thing, and calling my support people to let them know something might be brewing. I asked Keith to come home from work around 10 a.m., and was in touch with the midwives. I was sure by this time that it was the real thing. Around 10:45 a.m. I asked my doula to come, as she had an hour’s drive. She said she was going to run an errand and then head over, unless I wanted her right away. An errand sounded fine, and I said we were going for a walk.
I called the midwife again around 11, and told her my contractions were 5 minutes apart, at least a minute long and hard to concentrate through. She suggested that I wait for my doula to arrive, let her assess the situation, and call back if they got closer together. My gut said that she should come now, but her son was getting married on Saturday and it was the day of his rehearsal dinner – I didn’t want to bother her too early, and she sounded like she thought it was still early. I listened to my head instead of my heart, and squelched that voice inside that was telling me she should come now.
We took our walk, and I started having funny mini contractions between the big ones.
I had a few that were 2 or 3 minutes apart, but then they went back to 5 minutes. I’d stop to hold my knees and lean forward during each contraction. They were getting more and more powerful, and I can imagine my loud labor moans must have been quite a sight as we rambled through the neighborhood. Aidan would run ahead, and I could tell that Keith felt torn between protecting our toddler and nurturing his laboring wife. My husband told me later that during our walk, he kept thinking that we shouldn’t be out walking, we should be back in the house calling the midwife. But he never spoke that thought, reasoning that I was the childbirth educator and I would let him know if it was really time to call.
Aidan’s support person Beth arrived around 11:45 a.m., and my contractions took another leap forward in intensity (I think I was able to fully let go once I knew he was taken care of). I remember thinking that it was good timing, because two-and-a-half year olds take a lot of energy, and it was getting harder and harder for me to concentrate on being the mommy. I needed my full focus on my body, and I needed my husband’s full focus too.
Between contractions, I was still completely fine, though, which was deceptive to everyone. I was chatty, my personality was normal, doing busy work, eating some toast with peanut butter, etc. I’d lay down on a quilt on the floor for each contraction, then get back up and return to normalcy in between. Beth used to teach natural childbirth classes, and after watching a few contractions she asked if the midwife was on her way. Irrational laboring woman that I was, I remember being a little annoyed that she was offering an opinion on the labor, and I told her curtly that my midwife had said to wait for our doula.
My doula Kerry got to our house around noon. As soon as she walked in the door, I had my longest contraction yet, almost a minute and a half long. I think that was another big release point for me, to know that my trusted doula had arrived. She suggested that we call the midwife because of the length and intensity, even though I was still totally fine in between. After the next contraction I said, “This is harder than I remember,” and that cemented the decision to ask the midwife to come. Keith headed for the phone.
My back started hurting during contractions, and I asked for some light counter-pressure.
Kerry said, “I’m not sure what’s going on w/ your back, but in case it’s a positioning issue with the baby, let’s try some pelvic rocks.” I started doing pelvic rocks on my knees leaning into the couch. My water broke during the next contraction, around 12:15 p.m.
As soon as my water broke, I started crying. Keith got a towel (I had somehow found the presence of mind to worry out loud about the carpet), and then Kerry told him to call the midwives, tell them to hurry, that my water had broken and the fluid was nice and clear. The midwives had a drive, though, too, and there was construction on the highway. It wasn’t clear whether it would be my primary midwife or her back-up, but they said someone would be on her way.
After my water broke, I tumbled immediately into transition. Everything got foggy, and I couldn’t function at all between contractions. It was an instantaneous, dramatic change in my labor. They barely got me upstairs to the bathroom, where my doula helped me take off my wet clothes. She kept asking me if I wanted to put something else on, but I could only grunt. My body’s work was requiring total focus. Keith went in to our bedroom to get the bed ready, which basically meant laying down a waterproof dropcloth over the sheets, then putting another set of sheets over the top. I was straddling the toilet backward at this point, and having all the classic transition signs. I remember so clearly how birth just took over my body, and saying to my doula that I couldn’t do it. Looking back I have to laugh, thinking about how many times I’ve told my students that just when you feel like you truly can’t do it anymore, you know your baby is close.
They helped me into the bedroom, and there was basically no break between contractions.
I did a few contractions lying on my side in the bed, and I remember feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath. I must have started to sound pushy, because my doula said, “Oooooh, it’s been so long since I’ve been at a home birth, I just can’t wait to dig into your box of supplies!” She wasn’t fooling me, I thought, “Nooooooo, Kerry thinks this baby is coming soon!” So yeah, she started pulling out my birth supplies, just in case.
After just a few contractions, I flipped over on my hands and knees. Not like table hands and knees, more like a froggy hands and knees, with my chest to the bed. There was no stopping pushing! I made them call the midwives again, because I still didn’t know who was coming (could have been one of two), and I knew it wouldn’t be both of them because they had told Keith they also had another client in labor that day. I needed to wrap my brain around who would be there. So Keith called again to let them know that I was pushing. My midwife said that her back-up Kim was already on the road, and that she’d call her and tell her to hurry.
At that time, Keith also let Beth know that the baby was close. Not that they couldn’t guess from the intense birth noises emanating from the bedroom! Although we’d planned to have Aidan in the room for the birth, it was too intense for me without the midwife there. I was a little scared, and I decided that I didn’t want him in the room. Fortunately, Beth is a very calm personality and she was happy to just hang out with Aidan downstairs, exploring his new play dough (I’d bought a few new toys to keep him occupied during labor). Beth said they’d hear me vocalizing, and he’d say, “Mommy’s having a baby, Mommy’s working hard!” That was the language we’d used to prepare him for the birth, when we’d watch the occasional birth video together or talk about what labor would be like. Beth even took a few photos of him downstairs while I was laboring, which I’m so happy to have!
My doula was pretty nervous, which I didn’t notice, but Keith could really tell.
At one point she said, “We need to know how close the midwife is, because this baby is coming and I need to know if we’re going to call 911.” I remember being even more scared then, and thinking “No! Don’t call 911!” But I couldn’t find the words to say that (those of you who are mothers understand how your brain turns to mush in the heat of labor). Then Keith shook his head and said in his calm and decisive way, “We’re not calling 911.” Keith is a police office and firefighter, and he said he was envisioning what it would be like to have the paramedics there, barking orders and treating birth like it was an emergency. I’m so glad that he had the calm and presence of mind to say no way, and that he knew my heart enough to understand that is not what I would what. As a doula, I completely understand why Kerry suggested it, but calling 911 was not at all the right course for me. Kerry told me later that Keith’s calm made HER feel a lot calmer too.
So with the 911 issue off the table, I kept pushing, gently, at my own pace. I think that’s when Kerry took a minute to kneel down and offer a silent prayer that if this baby was going to be born before the midwife arrived, that it be a smooth and easy transition for both me and the baby. As I pushed, Kerry reminded me to go gently, and she put some olive oil on my perineum (part of my birth supplies). She also tried warm compresses, but the warmth felt TERRIBLE and I made her stop. I had a contraction that was really rough, and any remaining fear just left me.
I said, “I’m ready for this baby to be OUT!” At 12:58, next contraction, out Quinn came!
Keith caught him (which is actually just as we planned, he also caught Aidan). Quinn cried right away and he even peed, as if to reassure us that all was in working order. I flipped over from hands and knees and said, “Give me my baby!” He was so sweet, and covered in thick vernix (so surprising, because Aidan had virtually no vernix). I just held him against my chest, and they dried him off with the blankets that I’d had to put as part of my supplies. I kept asking if he was OK, if he was breathing, and Kerry and Keith both kept reassuring me that he was fine, yes, he looked great. We called Aidan up right after he was born, and he was very sweet and excited about the baby that came out of mommy’s belly!
My doula started to get a little worried because I was bleeding quite a bit, but the midwife arrived right about that time (1:07 p.m.). I did end up getting a shot of Pitocin after the birth to help stop the bleeding, but based on my good hemoglobin level a few days later the midwife said she didn’t think it was a “true” hemorrhage.
The midwife checked Quinn over, but actually didn’t take him away for quite a long time because he looked so perfect. About 45 minutes later, long after the placenta had come out and after his first nursing session, we finally cut the cord. I remember gasping when someone suggested clamping it, and asking if it had finished pulsing. They all laughed, and reassured me that Quinn had gotten all of his cord blood. We nestled in and had the sweetest, smoothest, most normal transition back into our everyday life. My mom arrived a few hours after he was born, and immediately set to making some comfort food.
I’m not a proponent of unassisted childbirth, but looking back, the birth unfolded exactly the way we had planned (spare that one important detail of a midwife in the room).
It was at home, a normal and natural process, and he was caught by daddy. No one coached me into a pushing position, there was no traumatic car ride, and it definitely felt sacred. I could have done without the extra anxiety during pushing, but in the end I suppose it was exactly the way he was meant to come into the world. And if it was destined to be a fast birth, I’m especially glad that we decided to birth at home—if we’d planned on the hospital, Quinn could have been born in the car, in the emergency room, or just inside labor and delivery. Yuck.
I certainly learned to trust my instincts, remembering that point at which my gut told me to insist that the midwife come now, but I squelched it. And my husband learned, too, that you can’t trust a laboring woman to make rational decisions. Ha!
And we all learned a little something about beautiful little Quinn as he made his way into this world. To this day, at three years old, when he makes up his mind to do something, he just barrels through, fast and furious. Welcome to the world, sweet boy, you are speedy and amazing.
Jessica English is an active Doula and natural childbirth instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. You can learn more about her passion and discover natural childbirth in Kalamazoo by visiting her website, Birth Kalamazoo.
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