“Have you ever considered a home birth?” my friend May asked.
I was 16 wks pregnant, and to be honest, the answer was no. She proceeded to tell me about all her experiences—both in the hospital and at home—and home birthing sounded amazing. Granted, that was 20-30 yrs ago, and hospitals have gotten better at making the environment more pleasant. But as I researched the whole home birth thing, it did strike me as odd that we, as a society, had made this natural process into a medical emergency…..and one that almost alwaysreceived the “benefit” of medical intervention. Being in the medical field, I appreciate modern medicine when it’s necessary, but the majority of births would be fine without it. So I knew my best shot at avoiding unnecessary interventions was to give birth at home (little did I know that would be especially true for me), and to my amazement, Craig was on board! From that point on, I prepared for a home birth and hoped and prayed for a healthy pregnancy that would allow us to at least give it a shot. Thankfully that was the case…
Remy’s labor story probably starts a couple nights before (Dec. 6th, his official due date), when I felt unusually energetic and decided to go for a short trot rather than my usual walk with Craig. (Craig said it was like jogging with Frosty the Snowman.) The following afternoon I had my 40 wk appointment with our midwife Toni. I was unusually tired that day (maybe from the trotting) but otherwise felt normal. Toni had birthed three babies that week and told me I was the next in line.
I guess Remy was listening, because a few hours later, I felt a little fluid leaking and had some noticeable, fairly regular contractions (that soon subsided). Toni advised that I eat some dinner and try to go to bed. She was worried that the fluid might be amniotic fluid, in which case I was on the clock, but we’d check it in the morning if things hadn’t progressed. During the night, I had several semi-strong contractions, and may have lost some of the mucus plug. At 3 a.m. I was hungry, so ate a little, took a shower, and started timing the contractions on Craig’s ipod app—8-10 min apart and 40-60 sec long. Nala (our cat) helped me through a couple. I called Toni in the morning to update her regarding the contractions. There had been some more fluid the previous evening but none overnight, so Toni thought it was probably cervical fluid or a leak that sealed over. She advised I eat some breakfast and take a nap.
Later that morning (~11) she came by to check on me. Contractions were averaging a little less than 10 min, but I was 5 cm dilated and nearly completely effaced, and the baby was at station 0. She said I was on the verge of active labor (contractions were still a little far apart) and set up camp at the house.
Over the next several hours, I did some light chores, ate lunch, and chatted with Craig and Toni. Toni’s assistant, Andrea and a midwifery student, Anne also joined the party. Everyone would be quiet during the contractions (which I was thankful for) and then we’d resume the conversation. I was amazed that the contractions really felt like a tugging/stretching in my pelvis—my cervix opening like a beautiful sunflower. 🙂 (I thought it would feel like a whole abdominal cramp.) They typically weren’t that painful, particularly when I was able to breathe deeply and relax, especially my abdomen. During my reading about stage 1, I thought it was weird they talked about floating over a contraction, but a couple times, that’s what naturally came to mind and it really did help! But mostly, I just sat in a chair and closed my eyes with my head in my hands during the contractions (now ~5 min apart).
Around 3 pm, Craig and I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. We were joined by our friend and neighbor Melissa. It was a slow walk (no trotting this time), and I had to stop and lean on Craig during contractions, but it was good to get out. We even saw a neighbor, who thought nothing must be happening because I was still out and about! After the walk, I felt a fair amount of fluid leak, but no “gush” (we still don’t know exactly when my water broke!), and contractions were a bit more intense, but still 4-5 minutes apart.
Around 4 pm (in fact, shortly after Craig came into the room and said “she’s still smiling”), I decided to lie down to rest a bit. That’s when things intensified. I felt very cold, especially my feet. And contractions–still ~4-5 min apart–became intense enough that moaning seemed appropriate. (Luckily, since watching those birthing videos, I’d been practicing my moaning technique.) Soon, I was crying for no reason and had some back pain (steady pressure on my lower back helped). This turned out to be transition, and during some of the next contractions, I felt the urge to push. I hadn’t been checked since the morning, so they checked me to make sure all was clear. There was a little lip of cervix present, but it went away with a contraction, so I was given the ok to push. Somehow I was in Stage 2!
Toni made sure I went to the restroom to empty my bladder, so it wouldn’t be in the way, and she told me “Let’s have a baby!” I asked what time it was…almost 6:00. Less than 2 hrs earlier I had been just barely starting the 2nd emotional signpost! That seemed way too short of a “serious 1st-stage labor” so I said to Toni, “but it’s too soon—I haven’t been in serious 1st stage labor long enough.” Toni replied, “Do you want to keep him in there longer?” I said “Well, no.”
So, I started pushing. We started with me on the birthing stool for probably around 45 minutes. At one point, I was pushing my feet against Toni’s and Andrea’s legs during the contractions–I’m sure they were sore the next day too! They thought maybe switching positions would help things move along (although it was not fun to change positions, and it often spurred a contraction), so I tried semi-recline on the bed (with Craig supporting me from behind), squatting on the bed, standing…ironically, they thought I was making the most progress when I was lying flat on my back! Whether it was coincidence or real, that’s how I spent the rest of 2nd stage labor. And, it’s probably at least partly why I didn’t experience much tearing, as they were able to help support me really well.
I pushed for 3.5 hours (this wouldn’t have been allowed in our BCS hospitals), and all the while, three things they did really helped:
1) They never told me how long I’d been pushing (although I suspected it had been a while once Toni started saying “Thank you, Jesus” every time they verified the baby’s steady heartbeat).
2) They cheered me on with each contraction, saying “that was the best one yet!” or “you’re almost there!” (Although after a while, I was pretty sure they were lying to me. Sensing I was on to them, they started insisting they were telling the truth. But when I started making good progress, Melissa came clean with “We were lying to you before, but now we really mean it!”)
3) They reminded me to take slow deep breaths between contractions, for both my and the baby’s sake
I continued to drink between each contraction, and they added electrolytes to my water after a while. At one point, Andrea gave me a yummy-tasting herbal tincture to help my pushing. Thankfully she warned me to have the water ready! As you might imagine, I was starting to get very discouraged and I even gave up during a few contractions, certain that I wasn’t getting anywhere. With each contraction, I would envision it being the one to make his head pop out, just like we saw in all the videos. But it just didn’t want to happen. It was very physically and emotionally draining. And Toni was starting to get worried.
Thankfully, Toni maintained a sense of control in the room and was very patient with me. I really was making progress, albeit very slowly, with most of the contractions. And both baby and I were doing fine. When things were obviously not going very quickly, she did coach me a bit differently than we’d learned in Bradley class……she encouraged me to push through the entire contraction, rather than waiting to take a couple of breaths first, and to just take a quick breath in between pushes so as not to lose any traction. I also felt like grunting through the contractions, but she encouraged me to try to not make any sound and hold my breath so that I was more effectively pushing. (So much for my grunting practice!)
As we heard in class, these contractions weren’t too painful once I started pushing. But once the baby’s head was in the birth canal, it was a lot of pressure, and it became hard to tell the difference between the urge to push from a contraction, and the urge to push simply because there was a ton of pressure there. And of course, it was painful as he passed down the birth canal, and also when his head started to emerge. But I guess who wouldn’t be in pain when trying to pass a coconut!
We had just decided to try another position when I had several very close, strong contractions that prevented me from going anywhere. Shortly after, around 9:30 p.m, I heard Toni say that this contraction wanted to push out the baby. It was a contraction that never seemed to end…I just kept pushing and pushing. But before I knew it, I had a quite large baby boy on my abdomen (8lb 3oz).
He was perfect and surprisingly clean! They commented on how thick the umbilical cord was (maybe it was all the running early in the pregnancy?). Despite the amount of time he spent in the birth canal, he essentially scored 10 on the APGAR. We waited 10 minutes to cut the cord (the maximum time before collecting cord blood for stem cells). Craig bit through the cord (ok, not really….but Craig made me write that), and then I put Remy on my chest to nurse. He knew exactly what to do and has been nursing like a champ since. After he nursed, Toni helped me walk to the restroom and shower and drew up a sitz bath for me. Remy joined me shortly after for his first bath, which he seemed to enjoy, while Craig went out to bury the placenta in our front yard. (He burned the bag it was in afterwards.)
The following day I was brutally sore from head to toe. I had tensed my whole body during each pushing contraction, which was a mistake, both because it probably made my pushing less effective and because I felt like I’d run a marathon! It took a couple of days before I could walk reasonably well. But, we’re all doing quite well and are extremely thankful to have been able to stay at home—Toni and Andrea were great, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way!