It’s been one week. Hard to believe that over 41 weeks of cell division and development culminated in 3 days of primal labor to bring my baby into this world. And now, looking back, I’m struggling to put words to any of it. The hormones have diluted the intensity of my experience and I’m left with a foggy timeline, second hand accounts and an overwhelming amount of emotions.
It all started the way natural births usually seem to - with mention of intervention. For many it takes induction, but for me the thought of a NST did the trick. My midwife appointment was on Wednesday afternoon, and she wanted a NST done Friday if nothing had changed just to make sure my placenta was still healthy and the baby was doing well. My husband and I enjoyed a date night after the appointment and when we got home that evening my mucus plug started to drain. After 3-4 weeks of ineffective contractions and several false starts, I was thrilled for something different to finally begin. I texted my midwife and headed to bed per her advice to get what sleep I could before labor began.
My contractions woke me early Thursday morning. It took me forever to convince my husband that this was finally it! He was planning on going to work! He had called in to work previously a couple times for what turned out to be false labor so was more than skeptical. I convinced him that he needed to be at home with me, and when he called his manager, she jokingly asked if this was a recording. I had to reassure him several times throughout the weekend that we would have a baby soon. Both his mother and my mother were also here to support us. Throughout Thursday my contractions were about 5-10 minutes apart, and mild. I cleaned and napped throughout the day, trying to stay active and encourage the contractions. Thursday evening for an hour they sped up to 3 minutes apart but didn’t really intensify, and after I had talked to my midwife, they slowed down again so I decided to continue laboring without her. I was able to sleep again that night, but the contractions continued to wake me keeping my husband and I both from getting any actual rest.
By Friday, the contractions had intensified, but still my water had not broken. Although I kept my midwife updated, I was hesitant for her to come because I didn’t feel like I was progressing since the mucus plug. My midwife suggested I take benedryl to get a nap since I had already labored actively for over a day, and see if that helped my body progress into a more active labor (keep my contractions under 5 minutes apart). My husband and I laid down and the benedryl totally knocked me out. Apparently, I was contracting just as frequently (keeping my husband awake), but I would get through one and immediately fall back to sleep - snoring! I woke up ravenous and ate a big meal, and then called my midwife. We had progressed to 2.5-3 minutes apart again, and I was sustaining there.
My midwife arrived around 11pm with my birth photographer in tow. We visited between contractions, and she did an assessment. I asked if she would check to see how far dilated I was, and she agreed to. Let me preface this by saying that my biggest fear for this labor was that I wouldn’t be able to progress and that I would be at 2 cm. My goal was to be at least 4 cm at this point, and when she checked me, I was dilated to 5 cm. I was ecstatic! Because I had been laboring on my ball, the toilet and sitting mainly, she convinced me to try the birth pool. I agreed and while my husband and I changed into our suits, the others prepared the pool.
Up to this point, I had been hesitant about using the pool despite initially wanting to labor through transition in the pool and have a water birth. Getting in certain positions was extremely uncomfortable during contractions, and when I would get in a position that would make the contraction unbearable, I was stuck until after it was over. This had already happened to me several times - especially in lying positions. I was nervous about getting into the pool and being unable to move fast enough into different positions or to be able to get out period if I needed to.
As I lowered myself into the water, I immediately exhaled in relief. It was WONDERFUL. I moved in the water frequently - so much so that my husband ended up sitting outside the pool stroking my hands on the handles during contractions as he talked me through them. I adopted most often a back bend, crab-walk like posture during contractions, and they continued to get stronger and stronger. My midwife had to continue to encourage me to get out of the water to go to the bathroom frequently because I didn’t want to leave the pool and would contract during the short distance to the toilet. I spent a few hours in the pool, but my husband - exhausted - took a break to nap leaving me with my mother. When he left, I got out shortly after and my midwife recommended I lay down for a little while as well - predicting I’d have the baby around sunrise.
Laying down was horrible and I quickly switched back to my birth ball, resting my head at the edge of the bed. I switched between that position and the toilet frequently, unable to find a position that felt effective. My contractions were intense and close, and while I continued to labor, everyone in the house had fallen asleep. I woke my husband around 8 am on Saturday to rub my back while I was on the ball. I had somehow maneuvered chuck pads over the floor because I felt so much pressure that I thought my water would break while I was on the ball. My midwife woke shortly after (around 9am) and came in to check on me - surprised at the time. I was growing increasingly restless, frustrated and tired. She offered to check me again to see where I had progressed; I was 10 cm. Unfortunately, the baby was still high in my pelvis and was not descending. She did not want to break my water due to the risk of cord prolapse so suggested I labor in lying positions despite the pain to move the baby down. Since I had mainly been laboring upright, the change might help progress things.
I labored first on my left side, then on my right. I labored on my hands and knees. The midwife assistant had arrived sometime after I had gotten out of the pool and came in at this point to massage my back with peppermint and lavender essential oils. They propped me with pillows, and turned me from one position to the next every 20 minutes or so. Finally around 11am, I had the urge to push while I stood at the edge of the bed - coming back from a trip to the bathroom. I was hesitant but as each contraction came it was harder and harder to resist. My midwife encouraged me to trust my body.
Pushing on my left side felt the most effective, and I pushed like that for awhile. My husband had been resting, and came in around this time to lay behind me. He put pressure on my lower back as I pushed, and I held up my right leg as I pushed through contractions. They were becoming grueling, but again, the excitement of progress helped to motivate me. After some time, my midwife encouraged me to go back to the toilet - this time sitting on it backwards with a pillow on the tank. I pushed like this for awhile as well, still making very little progress. She suggested walking the stairs, and I moved to doing some lunges using the toilet seat to no avail.
By this time, we were reaching the late afternoon on Saturday. I remember the frustration setting in, and the looming hopelessness that followed on its heels. My midwife offered to break my water, and although I refused at first because I felt the pressure, I eventually agreed after an hour of pushing fruitlessly. My bag had been bulging since my midwife had checked me earlier and the baby’s head had moved into a better position. She waited for a contraction and merely plucked the bag and guided the head into position. Because I had so much fluid, we were hoping that removing that cushion would move things along; but even with the bag out of the way, I still struggled to make progress pushing.
At some point in the early evening, our mothers left to get pizza for everyone and I had moved out to a chair in the livingroom. My midwife squatted in front of me and gave me the no-nonsense talk, which implied (or more accurately, stated) no more mrs. nice girl. She said she was going to help me push and get the baby down, but that it would be uncomfortable. We positioned me at the edge of the chair and with each contraction, she would press her fingers down inside me and coach me to focus my pushes in that spot. I remember her asking me if I could feel the difference in where I was pushing, but I couldn’t, which frustrated me more. The only thing that signaled to me I was pushing from the right place was a small gush of amniotic fluid sporadically, and my midwife’s encouraging words when I got it right (or her determined coaching when I didn’t).
I moved back to the bed, and my midwife continued to coach me where to push - using her fingers off and on to focus me. At one point I moved to my hands and knees, sitting back on my haunches during the contractions to push. This time my midwife inserted her fingers and started to massage the lip of cervix that the baby’s head was caught on out of the way. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. I remember just screaming, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” Even after the contraction subsided, the pain of the cervical manipulation and frustration of hours of pushing made me snap. I didn’t realize that the baby was posterior, that it was hung up on the cervix, what the midwife was doing or why it hurt so badly. I was furious.
It was at this point that we all began to talk about options. My contractions were less intense/effective and growing further apart. My body was exhausted and psychologically I was exhausted too. I could either transport to the hospital or try a tincture that would speed my contractions and allow my midwife to manipulate the cervix to help baby’s head enter the vaginal canal. She had already discussed with me the need for pitocin post-partum because of the long labor, and had started an IV with fluids. After 3 days of labor and almost 12 hours of pushing, my first thought was to transport, get an epidural and get some rest! I was exhausted to the point of tears and didn’t know how much longer I could keep going. The exhaustion fed my fear that I wasn’t capable of giving birth to this baby.
Stephen and I moved back into the bathroom, and as I labored there, we discussed what to do. My mom talked to the midwives and they assured her that I had plenty of room for the baby to come down into my pelvis and be born naturally. She played mediator going back and forth between the midwife and myself, trying to help me get the information I needed to make a decision. Although I admit that my first thought was, “Oh God, get me an epidural,” I had some real concerns about continuing the labor at home. Because I was so exhausted, I was barely making it through three pushes per contraction, and I think I was most afraid that if we sped up the contractions or made them any stronger that I would completely shut down and be unable to do anything. This reduced my chances of having a vaginal birth at home or in the hospital. I knew if I showed up at the hospital completely exhausted that I would end up with a c-section. That was what I most wanted to avoid. Everyone verbalized that they would support me no matter what I decided, but after discussing the situation and getting all of the information, I just felt more frustrated because I didn’t know what to do.
I think it was a combination of things that made me decide not to transfer. The most obvious was that I was committed to having my home birth. I don’t want this misconstrued as a pride issue - that I had to have my home birth no matter the cost. Having a home birth was my dream since forever; like little girls who dream about their wedding days, I knew I wanted this if I ever had a child. Giving up and going to the hospital would’ve felt like walking down the aisle in the wrong dress. It’s all the same in the end - you’re still married - but it wouldn’t have felt right. I knew that going to the hospital meant me giving up a lot of control - not only through my birth but afterwards. There was no guarantee that I would show up to the hospital and get an epidural. However, there was definitely going to be manual manipulation of my cervix either way and likely pitocin and other interventions. At least with the midwife, I felt like when I needed her to stop for that contraction she would, and that she would be working with me instead of on me. At the hospital, much less likely. Then there’s the fight about interventions with the baby, bathing, vaccinations, delivery position, getting the first hour alone, nursing immediately, etc. However, even as all of this ran through my head, I was fairly committed to going to the hospital. In the end, I think it came down to the fact that I did not want to get into a car, my mom’s and midwife’s assurances that I could do it if I committed myself to it (and that I only had to try another hour to make progress), my mom telling me that my mother-in-law had been through a similar situation and had delivered vaginally, my husband’s unending support no matter what decision I made and downright anger.
When I marched out of the bathroom, I was full of anger. Anger at my birth for taking so long. Anger at myself for feeling like I couldn’t give birth naturally. Anger at everyone’s constant stream of suggestions (I felt like I would begin to try one thing and someone would be telling me to do something completely different). Anger at feeling like no one was listening to what I needed. Anger that I didn’t know what was the right decision.
I entered my bedroom where my midwife sat on the bed in what felt like a whirlwind, but what probably closer resembled a trembling summer breeze. I announced my decision to go forward, and everyone immediately went to work. My midwife helped me into a more favorable position for her to help manipulate my cervix. Unfortunately, that position was mostly on my back. My husband sat behind me in bed, and I laid back against him, legs splayed and bent at the knee, hands gripping my thighs. The IV fluids my midwife had started gave me a little boost of energy and I had largely breathed through the contractions in the bathroom. I took a dose of the foul tasting tincture and went to work with everything I had in me. My first contraction I pushed with all the energy I had recuperated from my break. My midwife manipulated the cervix and for the first time we were making real progress.
With each contraction, I pushed to the encouragement of my midwife with all the determination I had and yelled with all the anger I could muster. Sometimes my midwife manipulated the cervix. Other times, she coached me forward. Every so often I would get another (reluctantly accepted) dose of the cohosh tincture. My labia and clitoris ached and were swollen; during the short periods between contractions, I held cold washcloths to them to relieve the pain. During contractions, pain would shoot through my groin causing me to lose focus on my push and cry out. I just rallied and started another push when I could.
All I could think of was how I thought it would never end. I kept asking if I was getting anywhere and my midwife would answer with vague, “You are further than where you were” responses. This frustrated me even further, and I just fed it into the anger that was fueling my pushing. I couldn’t afford to waste any bit of energy. They moved my husband out from behind me and laid me flat to facilitate progress. I kept thinking that this was the worst way to give birth - on my back. My midwife would ask if I could feel the baby move down, but like before, I couldn’t feel the difference in the push. I was still dependent on her to tell me if I was pushing in the right place and if I was making any progress. I remember focusing on my push willing the small gush of amniotic fluid that signaled I was pushing correctly and the assistant urging me to tuck my chin. She said it would help, but her coaching just frustrated me. Everything outside of my midwife’s voice annoyed me. The doppler and cool gel to hear the baby’s heartbeat was especially annoying. I just wanted to focus on one thing and push, push, push.
Eventually, I demanded a change in position and moved to my left side. I remembered this position feeling really good earlier when I had started pushing. My mom was at my side and I latched onto her as I pushed. It only took a contraction, maybe two before I felt the baby begin to move into the canal. The rush of that feeling and the change in quality of pain fed the force of my pushes, and my body began to take over the process. I remember a contraction coming, and I would barely begin to push and my body would grab that meager force and amplify it tenfold. It was painful, but felt so good - relieving somehow. During every contraction, I was so focused on my mom - now in front of me. I held onto her as if she was the only thing holding me to the earth and pushed. I remember the heat of my mom’s body, the strength in her grasp, our sweat mingling and the steady rhythm of her breaths. I remember hearing my midwife exclaim over my progress and try to show me the distance between the baby’s head and the opening with the tips of her fingers, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be done. I just wanted it to be over.
As the baby crowned, they encouraged me to reach down and touch - to feel how far I had come. I responded with a yell to “Get it out of me.” They wanted to take my blood pressure, and I yelled that it wasn’t the time for that. I couldn’t focus on anything else but the contraction, and the push, and the relief. I remember looking up and asking for Stephen, worried he would miss the birth after all of the work we had been through together. I was largely unaware of anyone but my mom, midwife and midwife assistant in the room, but I know my birth photographer and mother-in-law were there as well. The anticipation was electric. As the head emerged, my midwife encouraged me to slow my pushing, but I felt like my body wasn’t having any of it. In my head, I knew what I needed to do, and tried to make myself do the tiny pushes to prevent from tearing; but my body took over and pushed with an even greater vengeance.
As the baby fell out of me and into my husband’s hands, I only remember feeling relief. I don’t remember hearing his cry though it’s there on the fuzzy edge of my memory. I think he even sneezed a few times. I don’t remember the shot of pitocin in my thigh for my tired uterus. I don’t even remember my husband moving to where my mom stood only moments before to set the baby on my chest. I don’t remember the mothers joyfully embracing in exhausted and relieved tears. I just remember the weight of the slippery body on my chest, and the realization that it was over. It took a minute before I even realized I was holding my baby, and began to cry. It was minutes after that even before I realized I didn’t even know if it was a girl or a boy. They moved me onto my back, and I just clutched the baby to me and sobbed for a little while. Stephen cut the cord, and my placenta passed without incident a few moments later.
My beautiful son was born at 12:19 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012 after 3 days of active labor and almost 14 hours of pushing. His APGAR was 9/9 and he came into the world with a strong cry at home in my bed to the faces of his family. I ended up with a small first degree tear and some shearing, but had no issue with bleeding or vitals. Everyone was healthy and doing well.
When the midwife and assistant were assured that everyone was stable, my husband, and I were left alone to bond with the baby. We did a lot of skin to skin holding and I put the baby to my breast. After about an hour, my midwife came in to re-assess me and stitch my laceration. The baby was cleaned off, assessed, weighed and measured. He was a healthy eight pounds and two ounces, twenty-one inches long. My midwife helped me to the bathroom to clean up. It didn’t seem long before everyone left for the night, but it was already around 3 am. We were made comfortable, and the mothers went to bed for some much deserved sleep.
Even looking back and knowing that my birth experience was traumatic and discouraging at times - exhausting to say the least, having a homebirth is a decision I celebrate every day that I look at my son. My midwife and her assistant were excellent and I could not have asked for more excellent care pre, ante and post-partum. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to give birth naturally and offer my son a peaceful start to life amongst those who love him so dearly. We are truly so blessed…