Our Homebirth of our Second Son
Here are the highlights of our birth story. It was actually a rather “boring” birth. There isn’t much to tell. I suppose that is the best kind of birth. I prefer to think of it as The Perfect Birth.
Saturday, November 6th (39 1/2 weeks)
I woke up feeling crampy. I experienced mildly painful Braxton-Hicks all day. This was somewhat normal for me. I went to yoga and thought that if today was the day, yoga class would be a great way to start it off. At the end, my yoga friends and teacher hugged me as if they weren’t going to see me again. Afterward I went to the Downey Farmer’s Market and a stranger rubbed my belly for the first time. After lunch, I put 3-year-old Peer down for his nap, which always starts and ends with nursing. This caused a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions. Afterward, I really wanted to get out of the house. Andy suggested going to Seal Beach for dinner and a walk on the pier. After getting ready, I came down the stairs and announced these contractions were “starting to bother me.” We actually timed them in the car. They were irregular in span, duration, and intensity. Not rhythmic, regular, or increasing– they way you’d expect real labor to be. The walk along the pier was nice, I contracted a lot and got very tight, but it still didn’t feel like labor. The contractions weren’t going anywhere—although I noticed they weren’t stopping, either.
By the evening, I had decided that this wasn’t it. I had just had a bad day. I knew I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was probably exhausted. We put Peer to bed and I got really sleepy, even though I was still experiencing contractions. I napped for about an hour and a half while Andy finished putting Peer to sleep. I woke up and felt great, but the contractions returned before long. We watched some Hulu, then I went to bed. Andy hung out next to me, reading or something. Tomorrow would be the end of Daylight Savings Time.
Sunday, November 7th – 12:45 am
I was almost fully asleep when I awoke to the sensation of my water breaking. I was so surprised. After all I had convinced myself this wasn’t the night, now it was. As I sat on the toilet, I made sure the amniotic fluid was clean and odorless. It was. I got really nervous, and I asked Andy to pray for me. I was still sitting on the toilet. I thought that was funny.
Andy began to prepare our bedroom for the birth. The first thing this meant was cleaning up and folding laundry. Labor hadn’t really begun yet, and I began to feel very anxious. I knew this was going to be tonight, and this was going to be really hard. “I can’t believe I have to do this again,” I cried in anxiety. I had a lot of self-doubt and fear at the thought of doing this very, very hard thing again. I was very anxious. I told myself I needed to enjoy this time, because it’s the easiest it will be all night. But I was afraid.
Our roommate Ben came home (our other roomie David was out of town) and we could hear him downstairs in the kitchen, adjacent to where our birth supplies were. Andy wanted to go down and get them, so I made him promise not to say anything to Ben and try to be discreet. Nothing was really happening yet, and I didn’t want to feel watched. Ben totally didn’t notice. I think he even snuck out of the house for work the next morning after the birth without noticing.
I think contractions officially started around 1:30am, and sometime before then, I did the HiboCleanse Rinse, since I had tested positive for Group Beta Strep, but didn’t want antibiotics.
Our midwife Sue had told us that she would come when I couldn’t walk or talk through the contractions anymore, so Andy was watching for that. I was glad that it would be a little while. I wanted this private time to labor with just Andy and I also did not want to be checked for dilation yet. For my last birth I wasn’t checked until I was complete, which was perfect. I didn’t want the discouragement of not being as far dilated as I felt. Anytime I grew curious about dilation, I tried to tell myself that dilation didn’t matter, that length of labor didn’t matter. This baby will come out when it’s ready and God would give me the strength to do it, when the time was right. Reflecting on these truths helped me through the great fear I felt.
Now that the contractions had started, I went to work. I first laid down for a little while, then I started following Andy around like a puppy dog. The contractions were strong and mostly felt like intense pelvic pressure. I labored entirely in our bedroom. Often I would lean my head and arms against our tall chest of drawers and sway my pelvis to relax. Sometimes I would get on my knees and lean on the yoga ball and moan. I moaned a lot, and employed the toning practice from yoga. The only sound that worked for me was “HAAAAAAAA.” All these things really helped me relax through the intense pressure and pain of each contraction. I remembered how after my first birth, I was so amazed at the incredible way my body worked to get the baby out. But now that I was in the moment again, the reality of the overwhelming sensation was coming back to me as well. This was really, really hard! I remember crying out “God help me!” and thinking that I was way too early in the labor to be acting so desperate. At some point I thought, “I understand why women get epidurals!”
I needed a distraction, so I watched Waiting for Guffman. Andy pointed out how rapidly my labor had picked up during the movie. By the end of the movie, the tub was ready and I put my bathing suit on and got in. The water felt sooooo good. It didn’t take my pain away, but it definitely helped me cope with each contraction. Peer woke up once and Andy went in to comfort him. I got out of the tub to pee and my labor really picked up. I had several strong contractions that made me very emotional. When Andy came back I told him that I didn’t want to go through another contraction alone. We should probably call for help. After we called the midwife, I think he called my parents. I remember thinking that for every phone call, Andy sounded so business-like and calm.
In the tub, I pretty much stayed in one position– on my knees, with them spread in a V, with my upper body resting on the side of the tub, or on the yoga ball next to the tub. Before anyone even arrived, I started to grow “push-curious.” I suddenly wondered if applying gentle pressure would give me some relief. So I tried bearing down gently on each contraction. It felt so good. I pushed on every contraction since then. Our midwife Sue arrived with another midwife. They came in quietly and whispered whenever they spoke. I told her I was pushing gently and she nodded in approval. (I’m still amazed and so pleased at how I somehow knew exactly how and when to push– no one ever gave me permission or told me how to do it. So different from a hospital birth.) My mom arrived and asked how I was doing. I told her this was really hard! She helped me through a contraction and then went to talk to Andy. They were talking through a contraction and I snapped at them to be quiet!
At some point, Peer got up and came to give me a kiss. At another point, he gave me a cold wet washcloth (that was his designated job) and then went downstairs. I had wanted him to witness the birth, but in the moment his joyful energy was disrupting the quiet peacefulness I needed. So he played with his grandparents downstairs.
I kept pushing on every contraction, pushing harder and harder all the time. Maybe I pushed too hard, but it felt good. I noticed a drop of blood drip down from me and sink to the bottom of the tub. Suddenly I felt a pop! I still don’t know what that was. They checked the baby’s heart rate with the doppler a couple times. It was perfect. I was pushing harder and harder and the excitement in the room was growing. It was almost time. Leif’s destiny was at hand– the moment of his birth was immanent. Our baby was coming straight down, pulled by gravity, pushed by my body, and guided gently by God. I pushed hard and started to feel the ring of fire. That was an incredible sensation. It really hurt. The contraction ended and the baby retreated a little. I pushed again (by now my contractions came one on top of another without any breaks in between) and felt the ring of fire again, this time more intense, and longer. I roared like a lion out of pain and power. Sue asked if I wanted to reach down and touch the baby’s head. “No!” I shouted. But Andy did. He touched his little nose. Another contraction came and I pushed again, feeling the ring of fire one last time, and then feeling the baby slip out of me and the most incredible release imaginable.
I think Sue just nudged the baby in my direction because suddenly I saw my baby swimming in the water beneath me. Someone said to reach down and pick up my baby so I did. I was in such shock! I started screaming and crying and clutching the baby to my chest. I looked down and saw that it was a boy. The baby was just looking around, wide-eyed, without crying. I wondered if he was breathing. Sue said to give him a minute and then sure enough, he let out one big cry. Everybody cheered!
After a few more minutes, the placenta was born naturally. Sue showed it to us, explained its parts. It was gross, but really cool. The cord stopped pulsing and Sue helped Andy cut it while I was holding the baby. (I’m again so pleased about how all this went. In the hospital last time, I was given routine pitocin to prevent hemorrhaging, and the doc cut the cord early and yanked on it to get the placenta out)
I held that baby in my arms and didn’t let him go for probably a couple hours until they weighed him. Actually, Andy held him for a minute while I was helped out of the tub and into bed. Then I got him back and we spent the time staring into each other’s eyes, nursing, and getting to know each other for the first time. I had wanted Andy to catch this baby, but in the moment, I couldn’t let go of his hands. Andy said later he was glad to have been able to watch me. And I was glad for the protector and provider that he was for me. I certainly got a good one when I married him.
I was nervous about this birth because I knew it would be a very different experience from last time, even though I had given birth naturally before. I knew this time would be even more natural, and that no one would be telling me what to do or how to do this. I feared I wouldn’t be able to “listen to my body.” But somehow I did. I just did what felt good and that seemed to work. I’m so glad that God guided me to Sue Wolcott, my midwife and friend, who cared for me and watched over me during this pregnancy to make sure that me and the baby were healthy. But she never interfered with the natural process that was obviously working so well. The same is true for the birth. And after the birth, she cared for me in an equally loving and considerate manner. I was so lucky to have her, and all the rest of the support I had in my husband and my friends and family.
The Birth of our Firstborn, a Son
He came home. We relocated to the couches, and laid in the darkness. Waiting. Pretending to sleep. Trying to rest. Uncertain of what would lie ahead. Taking note of every sensation. The pain soon moved into my back. No relief was offered between surges. Intensity grew and pain remained constant. We got up and ate something.
As dawn broke, my body was filled with power and overwhelming movement. It was painful, it was intense, and it was all I could think about. We took a short walk, stopping every few moments to rest through the growing tidal waves that were enveloping me. We went home. We ate a real breakfast. We intended to go for another walk, but I said maybe later. I laid down to rest on my side on the couch.
I moaned and moaned with each passing surge. The music I had picked out was too distracting. Relaxing hymns on a solo piano were better. Soon the sensations overcame me and I became consumed in a sea of confusion. I was entering the Dark Forest of Uncertainty. I began to doubt everything– my body, my self, my husband, my faith, God, whether or not I was really in labor. Maybe I was just really sick…? Andy thought the contractions were still 15 minutes apart. I thought they were coming on top of each other. Every time he would ask me a question, I could only moan a mournful “I don’t knooooooooow…” At some point, amidst all this uncertainty I suddenly became staunchly determined of one thing. It was time to leave. I don’t care what anyone says, I don’t know what is going on, I just know we have to leave NOW. Get ready. Get the bags. Get the birth plan. And shut up.
As I waited, I bounced on the birth ball with my head on the back of the couch. While Andy was in the other room, I suddenly felt the first break I’d had in hours. For just a few minutes, peace swept over me like a warm blanket. I was thankful, but I knew what this meant– Transition. I didn’t dare speak this out loud or tell Andy. It was too intimidating to imagine being that close to the birth of our child.
We arrived in the parking lot at 7:00 in the morning. We knew this would be my last chance to eat, so I took a bite of a granola bar and immediately threw up all over the parking lot. Oh well.
The determination I felt ten minutes earlier had now turned into intimidation. I remember Andy’s voice telling people, “woman in labor here,” and I remember people pointing, always pointing, and we followed pointing fingers like roadsigns. The roadsigns eventually led to the overflow room– the only room in the ward that I had been in before, albeit only once.
After I undressed and put on a hospital gown, I laid on my side and let the surges come, still moaning, just riding each wave without regard to what was happening around me. Eventually a nurse came in to check my cervix. To my surprise and delight, her face went blank when she muttered, “you’re complete.” Joy filled my heart. I really was in labor and I had accomplished my first major goal– I had made it past the time when pain medication could be offered. Now I just had to push the baby out.
But that was too scary. I knew she was wrong to put my legs together and tell me not to push, but I was too timid to hear my body telling me that was just the thing to do. So I laid there and waited, moaning and enduring as I had for Godknowshowlong before then. The nurses scurried around the room, getting it ready for the impending birth that suddenly took priority over the others that had been in that hospital waiting for hours. Andy overheard them discussing who was best at catching babies, just in case the doctor didn’t make it.
Eventually, a kind and gentle soul came to me and told me to try practicing pushing. Practice pushes I could handle. So I started practicing. My mother arrived, floating in like a nervous butterfly, ready as always to help with eager excitement. Andy almost left to go get the camera, and I yelled at him the first unkind and panicked statement during whole ordeal. He sent someone else. Very early on, Andy said he could see our precious baby boy’s head making its way into this world.
The doctor made it in time. His cocky attitude and sharp metal instruments were a rude awakening from this world of gentle, caring women and family that loved me. I didn’t notice. He made a rude comment. I didn’t notice. I just kept pushing. There was a brief disagreement about the episiotomy. I shut them up. I had work to do. I had emerged from the Dark Forest, and was now as focused as a lioness on the hunt, as powerful as a tiger in battle. At some point the doctor told me to relax and not push. He made a little snip with his lethal scissors. He told me to push and I did, with all the force my body could muster. Then he panicked and raised his voice, telling me to stop pushing. Then in a surprising moment I heard Andy say, “that’s it! He’s out! You did it! He’s born!” I was confused. I thought it was supposed to be another half an hour. (why? I don’t know. I just thought that.)
I held my slimy, sticky, amazing baby boy in my arms for the first time. I cried and openly praised God for what He had done. Everyone asked what his name was and Andy said, “this is Peer.”
This is Peer. My best friend, my precious baby boy. My firstborn. The one who made me a mother. The one who, without knowing it, birthed me on that day into a new being that I didn’t know could exist. I will never forget that day as long as I live, and every year at this time I will relive it, and cherish it, with awe, gratitude, and love.