If anyone had asked me, prior to having my first child, if I thought I would prefer birth over pregnancy, I would have called them crazy. Now, after my second child and two completely different birth experiences, I have to say I would rather give birth than be pregnant any day. I never really enjoyed being pregnant. I envied the beautiful round bellies of my mama friends who never lost their lunch of crackers and water, or who wouldn’t know round ligament pain if it bit them in the bum.
I was looking forward to the birth of our first. It couldn’t be nearly as long and uncomfortable as pregnancy, right? Our son Maks was born in a women’s hospital, at 38 weeks and two days, after 35 hours of ruptured membranes. He was caught by a kind and caring, although completely overburdened, midwife. It was grueling. I never once got on top of it. Labor was on top of me the entire time. My husband did all he could to support me, but I was on a ledge, ready for the fall. So, when we found out we were pregnant with our second, it wasn’t a matter of whether we should have a home birth, but simply where we would put the birth pool.
When we moved near my hometown when our first was four months old, I dove headfirst into the natural birth community that, surprisingly, was alive and thriving in small town Ohio. I learned so much about how birth could be from ladies who not only did it themselves but now live it, teach it, and most importantly BELIEVE in it. My husband, always knowing that’s what he wanted for me, jumped on the home birth wagon with no hesitation when we found out I was pregnant again. I had met our midwife Delphine many months prior at a Birth Social, put on by a local childbirth educator, so I called her right away.
The months ahead involved lots of yoga, eating well, practicing The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, preparing our home for birth and loving my family of three for as long as I could. Since our first came early, I naturally assumed our second would also make an early entrance. Why I assumed this, I do not know. Week 38 came and went, as did 39 and 40. We started to try some natural induction techniques, but only because we were so very ready to meet our baby. Deep down, I knew that baby wasn’t coming until it was good and ready.
For some reason, week 41 was a breeze, and I wasn’t as miserable as everyone assumed. I was sleeping like the dead and lying on the couch for a large majority of my day. But Jordan and I were both just so excited for labor and delivery. We had spent so much time and energy making sure everything was ready. The house was clean, the birth box was stocked, and I was primed for birth. Since I hadn’t gotten an ultrasound or had the regular pelvic exams, we had no idea if it was a boy or girl or if I was effaced or dilated. But I knew we were healthy, so we just had to wait for the baby to give the go-ahead.
On Tuesday, July 24th, we went on a much needed date, hoping to get those love hormones flowing. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, I started contracting. Ten minutes apart and manageable. We thought for sure it would happen that night. We gave the birth team a heads-up, and I went to bed on a tummy full of filet mignon, still contracting. They woke me up a few times throughout the night, but in the morning they had basically stopped.
Our Assistant Midwife Holly called to tell me that she was going to take a friend to the airport and see her kids out of town the next day. She was going to stay overnight, but could come back if I called. She said if I went into labor that night or the next morning, she wouldn’t go. I told her that was fine, even though I didn’t mean it. I had a strong feeling that Holly would play a very important role in my labor and delivery, and the thought of her not being there made me want to barf. I knew I needed her energy in that room.
At ten minutes to six the next morning, I woke up to a strong contraction. I headed to the bathroom and felt that oh-so-familiar feeling of peeing my pants. Water broke. I woke Jordan and he immediately went to work to finish up some critical projects before we got on with the day. I went back to bed and sent some texts to the birth team. Another heads-up, but this time it was all systems go. Contractions came on pretty strong after that, but I stayed in bed, knowing that, if I got up, contractions would come on stronger.
I wanted to give our son and birth team more time to sleep, assuming we would all be in it for the long haul. I couldn’t sleep so I prepared for the day. Looking back, I think that time alone was critical. I breathed deeply and relaxed through each wave, visualizing how the contractions would grow more and more intense as my baby moved down. I wasn’t afraid. I was so very ready.
The midwife asked if I would like her to come. I said no, and she asked that I call back at nine. We had a leisurely breakfast, and everyone got showered and dressed. I had two eggs over medium and millet toast. It felt like Saturday morning, with that slow, sleepy pace things have when you know you have nothing else to do. But you could feel the excitement brewing. I couldn’t stop smiling!
Maks and Jordan laid the tarp down and taped it to the floor, then brought in the birth pool and got it ready. Delphine wanted Holly to lay eyes on me and check the baby’s heartbeat, so she arrived at our place about 10:30. If everything looked good and contractions remained the same, she would check back at noon.
My best friend Julia pulled in right behind Holly to take over caring for Maks while Jordan and I labored together. Allie, our friend and birth photographer, was already there taking a few pictures. I was feeling pretty good at that point, still walking, talking and singing. Gillian Welch radio was playing on Pandora, and all of my favorite songs kept coming on. It was going to be a good day. A day that I assumed would be a long one. But a fun one, like a party (minus the booze!). But after Holly arrived, things really started to pick up.
We’d spent days prior getting everything ready so that the only thing that needed to be done was filling up the birth pool. I asked Holly if we should fill it up. She shrugged and suggested waiting. Holly listened to the baby’s heartbeat through some contractions and checked my blood pressure. Everything looked great. Jordan and I lit our candles from the Blessingway and spent a few moments in our room together. Contractions were getting heavy and fast. At 11:15, as I leaned over the EMPTY birth pool during a contraction, I felt a strong urge to vomit. I asked for a trash can, lost my breakfast, and said to Jordan, “Fill up the pool!” (insert expletive in there somewhere).
I was in transition. Wait, I was in transition? Not possible. I had just finished making breakfast and blow drying my hair. I couldn’t believe it. That’s when Holly called Delphine and told her she’d better get there fast. I managed to change clothes in between contractions and headed for the pool.
Meanwhile, Julia and Maks started to bake a birthday cake for the new baby. Maks was coming in and out of the room, asking me how I was doing and what was wrong. I told him that Mommy was just getting ready to have the baby and I reminded him about what we had talked about so many times in the months prior: that mommy would roar like a dinosaur to get his baby brother or sister out. He was doing great. I had clearly underestimated his ability to adapt. Or maybe just his ability to be distracted by macaroni and cheese.
I hit the water at about noon, and I knew I wasn’t leaving it until that baby was born. It felt amazing but it also really got things moving. Was that even possible?! I thought it was already going fast. During one of the first contractions in the water I told Holly I was feeling pushy. She called Delphine immediately for an ETA. Delphine was 40 minutes away, speeding with the radar detector on. Holly very quickly delivered her disclaimer that she had never attended a solo water birth, just in case it was go time and there was no midwife in site. I told her I didn’t care and that I trusted her.
Jordan was behind me applying counter-pressure to my backside during contractions. I received them on my hands and knees because that was the only position that made sense to me. In between each, I rolled over and floated weightlessly on my back, relaxing completely. It was quiet in my house. Everyone was talking softly, music was playing, and I was trying to stay focused and keep my breath down. I kept saying thing like, “I can do this. I was built for this.” It helped to hear it from my own lips. Jordan, my incredible, text book Bradley Method daddy, was amazing. I didn’t realize it until we saw the photos, but his hands never left me. They were on me the whole time. Maks came and went, spending a lot of this time playing with Julia outside. It was a solid 95 degrees that day so he was a sweaty mess. So much for that morning shower.
Delphine arrived at about 12:20. She stood there, just observing me and softly asking questions. She didn’t need to touch me to know where I was or how I was doing. She just observed and processed. In between contractions, she asked me to slip a finger in and see if I could feel a head. I felt SOMETHING but I wasn’t sure because it was so soft. She did a quick check and said I was ready to go except for a small lip. The soft thing I was feeling was the baby’s head molding through the cervix. So very cool.
Delphine was concerned the pool wasn’t warm enough for a baby, so everyone grabbed a pot and started to bail. I, of course, being the hot box that I am, didn’t want it hotter, but I was in no position to complain. At some point, they convinced me to get out of the water and go to the bathroom. It was the fastest bathroom break ever because I didn’t want to have even one contraction out of that tub. I came flying back into the living room, turned around, and just fell into the pool, sending a wave of water all over the floor!
The plan was that Jordan would catch the baby, but by then I knew I needed him at my head. I wanted to smell him, feel his breath on my face, and kiss him. At one point, in between contractions, he looked in my eyes and kissed me so passionately. It made my belly flip over just like our first kiss. Since that day, I haven’t been able to kiss him without remembering how that felt – how much he loved me at that moment, and every moment since.
I knew we were close. Holly applied pressure to my back and bottom as Delphine observed the signs of my labor. I remember only positive, encouraging words coming my way. No directions, no commands or fears being voiced. Just the growling sounds of me moving my baby down. I remember feeling every movement, every contraction felt so productive. I felt on TOP. I didn’t know what I was on top of … just above it all. That imagery helped me through each contraction. I knew I could handle it, I knew it would be over soon and we would meet our baby.
I felt the baby move past my tailbone, and the burn began. Delphine suggested I support my perineum with my hand, pushing the head away, to help me stretch gradually. This helped tremendously. Jordan wanted to feel what was going on down there, so he put his hand on the head for a couple contractions. Delphine explained how the tailbone raised and then flattened as the baby passed through and pointed out the purple lines that appeared on my backside. There was no impatience, no pressure. Everyone was calm and quiet as they quietly waited for my body to do its thing.
The pain intensified as contractions started stacking one on top of the other. I knew I needed to go slow but my body wasn’t in agreement. I was reminded by my team that my body needed time to stretch, but I simply couldn’t stop. I tried. A few grunts later, the head was out. Holly asked me to reach down and catch my baby. At 1:12pm, a little over seven hours in, I pulled this warm, pasty purple baby up through my legs to my chest.
I relaxed back on my back in the pool in complete disbelief. While Maks was being fetched from the yard, Jordan and I looked down below. A girl. A GIRL! I couldn’t believe it. She was absolutely perfect. Maks came in with a huge smile on his face. We said our hellos to her, smooched, and fell in love. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
The ladies couldn’t see through the water, so they asked me to move to the couch. I made it shakily to the couch and delivered the placenta while she nursed. Daddy and Maks cut the cord after it stopped pulsing. After some bonding time, I wanted my soft bed. Although it was only about 20 feet away it was a LONG trip. The baby was given a once-over and weighed by Holly: 8lbs, 10 oz. She was a big girl.
We cuddled in bed while the ladies got to work cleaning up, and Holly started the process of drying the placenta for encapsulation. I was brought some rice pudding and peanut butter crackers to get my energy up. I felt on top of the world. I was in disbelief but completely elated. I’d done it. I’d birthed my baby peacefully, in my home, with my family and close friends, into a state of grace. And she was perfect. IT was perfect.
We all cuddled in bed while baby girl nursed and got her first diaper. After, of course, she pooped all over me. I needed two stitches so she spent some time on Jordan’s bare chest while Holly and Delphine tended to my perineum. Soon we were all back in bed, basking in the afterglow of an amazing morning.
When I was pregnant and planning Edie’s birth, I remember thinking that I would feel like part of some elite club if I had an amazing home birth. That I would want to tell everyone I came across. But after it happened I felt a little bit selfish about it. It was so personal, so private. It was my daughter’s birth that I shared with my two boys and a very carefully selected group of women. What if telling everyone, making it public, somehow took away a bit of that special? But then I remembered one of the many reasons I wanted to have a home birth; so I could live it, teach it, and be that example to someone of how normal birth at home can not only happen but be absolutely beautiful.