I don’t know when exactly I knew I wanted to give birth my second child at home, but it was definitely before I became pregnant with her.
I didn’t even understand what natural birth was or what the benefits of natural birth were when my first baby (my sweet Felix, now three years old) was born.
I viewed The Business of Being Born with some friends and that was my awakening to what natural birth was. As it played I found myself both excited about having a natural birth the next time, and also angry that no one had ever told me this “secret” when I was pregnant the first time! From that day I knew my next birth would be natural, but the idea of home birth was still too out there and sounded like something too risky and nuts.
Soon after viewing the movie I read Jennifer Block’s book Pushed, and that was what opened my mind to birthing at home as a valid and reasonable option.
Once I decided this was the best choice for our family, during pregnancy I read anything I could to fortify myself from letting in doubt about my body’s ability to give birth naturally, at home. I fed my analytical brain well with statistics and birth physiology: journal articles supporting the safety of home birth and blogs reviewing and discussing the latest findings. I read some home birth stories but never seemed to find time to read as many as I intended to.
As my pregnancy neared the end, Janice, our midwife asked me if I was feeling ready for the birth.
I realized all of my attention had been towards logistical stresses (getting our kitchen remodel finished, wrapping up work projects) and what life would be life after baby arrived (how I would handle tandem nursing, how my three-year-old would cope with not being the only center of our world, how I would cope with no longer giving him all of my attention). I had not spent much time pondering the process of labor and birth.
Lucky for a procrastinator like me, baby decided to take her time getting ready to come out and I was able to finally do some mental preparation for labor in the last few weeks before she was born.
I read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, and the explanation of physiological processes during labor was perfect for my scientist brain, and the positive natural birth stories inspiring. I had one vivid dream a few weeks before birth about giving birth (to a breech baby!) at home and feeling completely confident and able. After that point I felt ready to go!
My due date was August 9th, and as the day came and passed I was grateful for the extra time with Felix as the only child, time to finish gathering items on Janice’s supply list for the birth, more ends tied up at work, and time to get more cleaning and organizing done at home.
When I was “past due” and people at work started asking when this baby would get here, one of my answers was that the baby was waiting for me to clean the floors (and I do believe this was a factor!).
One night about two weeks before Eliza was born I am positive I actually felt my cervix dilating as I lay in bed.
The week before she arrived I had cramps on and off all day every day, especially when Felix was nursing. I spent the day at work on a Monday. Tuesday, August 17th, at 2:30 a.m. I woke up with the same level of cramping as I’d been feeling intermittently for days and was able to fall back asleep. At 5:30 a.m. I woke up with frequent, regular contractions, and knew it was the day and could no longer stay in bed. I paced the upstairs hallway for an hour, and made lots of stops to go pee.
On one of my trips past our bedroom, I went in to wake up my husband Tom (at 6:40 a.m.).
He was already awake and staring at me, and he just said “NO”. This may sound less then supportive but this is our humor and it really made me laugh. I think this is when I told him he wasn’t allowed to tell jokes during labor (but it may have been in the days before that, this part is a little foggy for me).
Then we were off!
We waited until 7:00 a.m. to call Aly, our sweet sister-in-law, who was coming from Okemos (an hour and a half away) to be with Felix during labor.
I wanted to let her sleep in a little and wake up at a more normal time before she had to get on the road for the day. Then I called Janice and told her this was the day but that I didn’t think I needed her to come over yet, I was still breathing through contractions and almost able to talk with her during them. I didn’t want to be to preemptive with having her come over only to have it be hours of just sitting and waiting. With Felix’s birth I had a couple of days of regular contractions and then was induced before he came out. Twenty minutes later after talking to Janice, I threw up.
Meanwhile, Tom began hustling around the house bringing up the birth boxes of supplies, getting the pool set up in the nursery, and getting our bed changed and ready.
I think I asked him to wash the sheets again that morning! He was scrambling AND taking care of Felix who woke up sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. If I could go back and change anything from the whole experience, it would be to have things more ready so Tom wouldn’t have been as busy as he was rushing around. Then again, maybe it was good for him to have tasks to keep him busy—he says it was perfect that it worked out that way.
Janice called back around 8:00 a.m. and asked how I was doing.
Tom said I was throwing up, she said was coming over. Janice arrived at about 8:20, as I was getting out of the shower. Not knowing how long labor would be, I wanted to be clean in case it was going to be a long time before I got another shower. Between contractions I shampooed hair…took a break to lean on the wall…then conditioner…then break…etc. I never would have guessed in about 2 hrs I’d be getting in the shower again already after meeting my daughter and having an egg breakfast.
I felt clammy after the shower, but never felt bad—just more intense and longer cramps.
I wanted to keep moving and paced in the hallway and bathroom a few times then sat in the glider and rocked in the nursery. Normally a quiet person, I was not at all self-conscious about my moans and hums because it helped so much. I didn’t have any “open sesame/cervix” mantras I was consciously thinking about, but humming helped so that I didn’t feel that I was fighting or guarding against the increasingly intense cramping I was feeling.
The amazing power of words and thought
I hadn’t kept any breakfast down and while I felt myself shaking, I was thinking of having low blood sugar, wondering if this was really bad to not have good food in me for energy this morning.
I told Janice I was shaking. All she said was “that’s because you have so much energy going through you,” and in an instant this deficit thinking turning into positive, and the shaking now felt powerful and energy giving rather than making me doubt myself. I felt it like a surge then, and after that I didn’t really think about or notice it until I was really shaking in the tub later, but even then I felt it as my energy flow.
“Why are your eyes closed, mama?”
I didn’t realize my labor was progressing so quickly because it felt so manageable.
I rocked in the baby glider a little as the tub filled, and watched my little Felix be a firefighter holding the hose helping to fill it. My sweet little boy kept wanting to talk to me excitedly and Janice and Tom were reminding him to whisper because mama was working hard. I wasn’t sure in planning for birth how it would go with Felix being there. There were so many unknowns, like what time of day labor would start, how long it would go on, whether I wouldn’t want him there distracting me, whether it would be best to have him there to see his little brother or sister be born.
It turned out that he was there until just before I started pushing, which was good since any extra conversation in the room would have thrown me out of the zone I had entered at that point. Aunt Aly arrived with perfect timing to take him to a playdate at a friend’s house (by the time they arrived at the friend’s house—about 8 minutes away—Tom was on the phone telling them that the baby was born).
Warm water & my water baby
I must have stepped into the warm pool mid-contraction because I remember feeling the intense cramping and pressure instantly lift from the bottom of my belly up as I went into the water.
I had hoped that water would be key in helping me relax for pain management, but I can’t say enough about how immediately it made a difference. Within moments of sitting down in the pool, I felt the urge to push and told Janice. She told me to do whatever I felt like doing, and to push if I felt like it!
When I first decided on birthing at home with a midwife, I thought I would want coaching & “help.”
In fact when we first met with Janice and she asked what we were looking for in a midwife, I said I wanted someone who would tell me what to do and give me ideas (meaning positions to be in).
I remember at the time she didn’t agree to this, but said something about women knowing what to do and we went on to talk about something else. Turned out during labor there really was no choice and I don’t think if someone had told me to do something differently that I would have been willing to, especially with pushing. Janice gave me only two suggestions throughout—once as I started pushing and was sitting tilted over on one hip she pointed out that I was sitting kind of crooked so I moved to my knees and leaned against the other side of the tub, then a little while later she pointed out that my new position was slowing me down and asked if I wanted to move into another position (at this point I was pushing and slowing down did not sound so good, so I was happy to shift again back more onto my knees which immediately felt more comfortable and productive). Otherwise, pushing couldn’t have been more automatic.
The whole room seemed to get more dimly lit while I was pushing, like the curtains were closing in my eyes.
Although my eyes were mostly closed, when they were open I remember just seeing a narrow view with everything dark around me. My water broke during pushing and I thought there was a loud popping sound but it was only in my head. I wish I could put into words how it felt as Eliza moved down and I pushed her out, but I know I will never forget this amazing feeling. I didn’t ever feel like I reached that wall that I read and heard about repeatedly that “every woman comes to”, like I was on the verge of giving up but then had to find the resolve to go forward. The whole labor and pushing and birth just progressed so simply and smoothly from one step to the next, and was even enjoyable.
When Eliza came out (9:43 a.m.) and I turned around to
take her from Janice, I mostly just saw her intense little gray eyes, and her surprised expression.
I heard Tom say “it’s a girl!” and I was the surprised one.
I hadn’t thought I felt strongly one way or another whether we were having a boy or girl, but from my reaction when I heard “girl” apparently I was pretty sure we were having another boy. It took a while longer (I have no concept of time from here) to deliver the placenta, so we stayed in the water as it began to drain and I held her on my belly.
Rather than putting her right to my breast or holding her up to look in my eyes as I had thought I would, she felt so slippery I just clung to her and tried to keep her covered up to stay warm for a while until the placenta was delivered and I felt like I could maneuver her a little better. When I did move her up to my breast she latched on immediately with perfect little nursing lips, and began nursing. It was awesome.
Eventually we made it out of the tub and the next bit is somewhat foggy to me.
There was weighing and examining (8 lbs 10 oz, 22 inches long) and eggs for me and a shower. Finally we were all cleaned up, fed and dressed and I got to nurse and snuggle Eliza Jane in our own bed. (With no pokes or prods for her or anyone coming in telling me I had to put her in the bassinet if I was going to nap!) We waited a few hours to have Felix come back from his friends’ house, and I believe being able to come meet his sister at home rather than in a hospital must have been lower stress for my three-year old more than the alternative would have been.
Healing and family
I never wrote my son’s birth story down and I’m feeling teary about this as I type.
Although his coming into the world was no less miraculous to me, I didn’t feel that my part in bringing him here was worthy of a tale. In preparation for Eliza’s birth, I kept reading how an empowering birth was healing for past traumatic births. While I didn’t think of Felix’s birth as traumatic, now I see from the guilt I had been carrying that on some level it was.
More importantly though, I also now see that what I felt physically with his birth was completely different (past scar tissue possibly which after his birth was freed up and no longer an issue with Eliza’s labor?).
And I no longer feel like I took the easy way with having pain medication with him. The healing is in knowing that I did what was probably for the best with his labor and birth, and that without that experience I might not have been so comfortable throughout labor with Eliza. I had mentally prepared to feel the same shooting pains with this labor and was planning to use the warm water in the pool to get through it. Instead, this pain never started and I was able to ease through the cramping feelings which were way less intense than what I had experienced with Felix’s labor.
But after birthing at home so smoothly, this changed and now he is in agreement that we’ll have three (or four!) if we are fortunate enough to do so. I am looking forward to birthing at home again in a few years, and the only things I would do differently would be to have the children stay home with us for the birth (with the help of some Curious George or Dora at key times during labor) and also to sit on a towel if I’m going to sit on my upholstered furniture during labor (looking back I was lucky not to have a lot of clean-up to do from my water breaking!). Otherwise we wouldn’t change a thing, it was life changing and more incredible than words can express.
And yes, healthy baby, healthy mother, and healthy family!