A Healing Home Birth

by Birth Without Fear on February 6, 2013

I had a traumatic hospital birth with my son Isaac, so before I even got pregnant again, my husband Chad and I had decided we wanted a home birth for our next child.  Miriam’s birth was amazing and perfect. I could not have asked for a better experience and feel so blessed to have had the birth I did. What a redemptive experience after Isaac’s birth!

The Friday before Miriam was born, Joann (my midwife) brought over some homeopathics for me to try to start labour. I was to take them two evenings in a row – Friday night and Saturday night. Sunday, I woke up having contractions. I noticed as the day wore on that they were pretty regular, and anywhere from 4-7 minutes apart. Joann text to ask if I’d noticed any changes since taking the homeopathics and I told her I’d been having regular contractions all day. They weren’t getting closer together or more intense though, so Isaac and I went on a walk to see if that would change anything. Contractions did pick up the pace during that walk, so I started thinking I might actually be in labour. I texted both Chad (who was watching football with a friend) and Brandi (the birth photographer) to give them a heads up. It was getting close to Isaac’s bedtime and I really didn’t want him disturbed in the middle of the night if we could avoid it, so I also called my mom to come get him so he could spend the night with her.

Right about the time my mom picked up Isaac, the contractions slowed back down and I had a gut feeling it was just false labour. I was SO disappointed and hated texting Brandi and Chad to say that it was a false alarm. After conversation back and forth with both of them about how pissy and disappointed I was, I went to bed.

The next morning was Monday, September 24. Chad picked Isaac up from my mom’s and then Isaac and I got ready to meet a friend for a walk. That walk was totally a God thing. My friend Beth was in town with her little boy and had asked a few days before if I’d want to meet up and walk with our kiddos. We made plans, but joked that I might have to cancel, depending on when the baby decided to arrive. We were meeting at 9:30am and at about 9am, I noticed that I was having regular contractions again and they were actually feeling a bit more intense. I figured it was more false labour and tried to ignore them.

Beth and I talked about all kinds of things on our hour and a half long walk, but a lot of our conversation revolved around giving birth. Beth has had two natural births, and it was so enjoyable for me talk and laugh with someone who “got” the natural birth thing. Near the end of our walk she said something that was huge for me in the upcoming hours: she talked about how she knew I felt like knowing what was coming in labour made it scarier, but that she felt like it gave her an advantage. She said that she knew better what to expect pain-wise and that mentally, she was way more prepared the second time as a result.

I know that seems small, but I’m seriously tearing up writing that out because I needed to hear that so badly. And not just that, but our whole conversation, talking about some of what went wrong with Isaac’s birth and what her experience was like…the whole thing could not have been more perfectly planned. When I saw Beth a couple days later and told her how much the conversation helped me, she said “God knew we needed to have that walk!” So true!!

Right after our walk, I met up with my mom and brother for lunch. By this point, contractions were uncomfortable enough that I was losing my patience a bit with Isaac if he would “bother” me during one. My mom and brother both knew I was having contractions, but I was really trying to play it cool because I was very hesitant after all the false labour I’d had so far. However, about 3/4 of the way into lunch, I text both Chad and Brandi to say I was pretty sure I was legitimately in labour and would keep them updated. Joann also text me to check in on me and I updated her as well. I told her I was a little unsure if it was labour or not and she suggested taking the homeopathics again to see if that would do anything. When I responded that I was a little hesitant to do that because contractions were hurting enough already, she laughed and said she was pretty sure that meant I really was in labour.

After lunch, I met Chad at home. He laid down with Isaac for a nap while I took a bath and shaved my legs. By now, I was confident enough that I was actually in labour that I text my friend Ashley, who was coming for the birth. At this point, it was about 1pm.

After my bath, I headed downstairs to sit on the birth ball and listen to music. Contractions were getting stronger, but were still very easy for me to manage. This was nice because I felt like it was good practice for me to work out some ways to manage them well when they got more difficult.

Around 2:30pm, I text my mom to say she would need to get Isaac once he was up from his nap and after a bit of conversation with Joann, she decided to go ahead and come over to listen to baby. I continued to just hang out on the birth ball and listen to music until Isaac woke up at 3:30pm.

Joann and my mom arrived at about the same time, with Brandi and Ashley close behind. When Joann arrived, she offered to check my dilation, but I turned her down. Based on what my contractions were feeling like, I thought I was probably at a 5 and I was afraid that if I heard a smaller number than that, I’d get discouraged. Without me offering up that info, Joann said that based on the way I was acting and the frequency of my contractions, she’d guess I was a 5 or 6. To me, that was enough confirmation, regardless of the internal.

Joann knitting a hat for the baby

For about the next hour, I kept my earbuds in while the rest of the house got ready for the birth. I know my brother stopped by at one point to wish me luck, but I was in the middle of a contraction when he came in and he left right away, after giving me a quick hug (and requesting a baby boy, haha), so I didn’t even talk to him. I also know there was a bit of drama with the birth pool and Chad ended up leaving for a bit to get the right adapter for our faucet, but I was pretty tuned out during that time.

I was still managing contractions fine on my own as long as I had my music. Music is so cathartic to me and having a beat in my ears and listening to musicians like Bon Iver, Mumford &Sons, and Birdy was so relaxing. I found it gave me something to concentrate on other than the contraction. Another thing that helped me was imagining my contractions as a hill. I’ve often read them likened to a wave, but for some reason, mine seemed more like a hill. They would start slowly, build to a peak, then taper down. In my head, I would imagine myself climbing a hill, knowing that once I hit the peak, it was easy from there. Staying relaxed was another big help. I read a lot about the pain/tension cycle and about the relation of the dilation of the cervix to the rest of the muscles in one’s body, so I made a conscious effort to stay relaxed during contractions. Heat was another help. I’d remembered this from Isaac’s birth and had put a few rice and corn bags in our birth basket. I have a lot of back labour, which I found out from Joann is due to my posterior cervix, and heat on my back helped that a lot. And really, it helped on my lower stomach as well, so I usually had two on me at any given time – one was tucked into my shirt against my back and I held the other against my belly. The last thing that I remember doing to help manage contractions is a lot of self talk. Dorky, yes, but effective for me. I tend to do the same during a hard workout, haha. I would remind myself to stay relaxed, that I could handle the contractions, and I said “it’s a hill” to myself a lot.

Around 5:00pm (I think… I’m kind of making that up…) I know I asked Chad to sit behind me and put counter pressure on my hips during contractions. I consciously made an effort to put that off as long as I could because I remember thinking that I didn’t want to use all my comfort measures too early. But at that point, contractions, and specifically the back labour, were getting a bit too much to handle by myself.

This was also the point that I started taking my earbuds out in between contractions and chatting with everyone. I felt like I’d found a good groove, plus I felt absolutely fine when I wasn’t contracting, so I just wanted some interaction rather than “holing up” in my own little world. That ended up being a great (unconscious) decision, because it kept me relaxed, made time pass quickly, and made the time actually enjoyable and fun. I remember one of the first things I said to Ashley and Brandi was, “This is so bizarre.” It was just so crazy and surreal to actually be in labour, in my house, with my midwife, husband, and friends patiently hanging out. But it was also incredibly comfortable and actually a lot of fun!

I remember at some point telling Chad I was having a hard time staying relaxed during the contractions, that I could feel my shoulders tensing up a lot. I had him lightly massage my back and shoulders in between contractions and that was a lot of help.

That pattern continued for the next almost two hours. We’d chat while Chad rubbed my back, then I’d slip in my earbuds, have a contraction while Chad offered counter pressure, then the whole cycle would start again. During this time, the girls were just available for whatever might come up. Brandi was taking pictures and they both made sure I had fresh water and juice, plus kept my corn and rice bags heated.

Around 6:45pm, I asked Joann when I should get in the water. She said that decision was really up to me, and I said I felt like it was time, but that I wanted to be checked for dilation first. In my mind, I needed to hit 7 cm before getting in the water. That was a key point in Isaac’s birth – really when things headed south – and for some reason, I just felt the need to get there before using the water as a source of comfort. After a trip to the bathroom, Joann checked me and I was 7-8cm: what music to my ears!! I felt so good about that and really confident over how well I was handling labour thus far. So after the team added some hot water to the pool, I climbed in right at 7pm.

Before this point, I’m not sure Chad realized that he would actually be getting in the pool with me. The look on his face when I told him to go put on his swim trunks was priceless. And imagine his reaction when, shortly upon us both getting in, Joann told me to pee anytime I felt like it, because a full bladder could prevent my cervix from dilating. Lucky for Chad, I never could pee once I was in the pool.

For the next half hour, things went on much as they had when I wasn’t in the pool, but I felt the contractions ramping up significantly. At about 7:30pm, things got serious enough that I was no longer taking my earbuds out between contractions and I started moaning during contractions. The latter part is so funny to me – I’ve seen enough labour videos to know that’s really common, but I never had a conscious thought to use the technique myself. It was truly something that just happened. It made sense at the time and I just went with it. I also remember clinging to the dining room chair in front of me for dear life during contractions. At one point, Ashley offered her hand rather than the chair and I turned her down, knowing I’d crush her poor hand! Somewhere in all this, I also requested a cold rag. Someone thought to fill a bowl with ice water and rags, so I constantly had a cold rag on my forehead and another on my neck. That was incredible. The cold on my face combined with the warmth of the water on my body was perfect. I mean, contractions were seriously sucking now and nothing was going to make that go away, but it definitely did help.

Shortly after contractions got serious, I had a contraction that came with a lot of pressure. I’d gotten into the pool with underwear on, but immediately felt the need to get them off and told everyone that my water was close to breaking based on the pressure I was feeling.

From this point on, everything is sort of a blur. I know Joann was keeping close tabs on baby’s heart rate (which was fabulous throughout all of labour) and she also checked me a few times, saying at one point that my bag of waters was bulging and at another point that all that was left of my cervix was an anterior lip. Chad was still offering counter pressure on my hips during contractions – poor guy was spent the next day! At some point, I remember saying “This sucks and I’m so over it.” Ha! Classic transition comment, no? I even knew it when I said it, but I needed to verbalize it. I found out later that when I said that, Ashley made a post on Facebook requesting prayers of strength for me – it was so cool to find out that people were praying for my specific needs as I was labouring! I also remember thinking to myself several times that an epidural sure would be nice. It was like knowing that wasn’t even an option for me gave me the freedom to pretend I’d actually get one, given the opportunity. I also remember Ashley putting her hands in the ice water and rubbing them over my back and arms during contractions. I don’t know what made her think to do that, but it was a huge help.

A little before 8:15pm, I felt a gush and a small release in pressure. Joann thought that my water had either broken or my cervix had opened up completely and encouraged me to get on my hands and knees for the pushing phase of labour. Moving felt almost impossible, but I managed and with the next contraction, my body was pushing.

A bit earlier, I had asked that everyone help me remember to breathe through pushing contractions, rather than scream through them or bear down. I had awful tearing with Isaac, due in large part to the fact that I pushed way too hard, I pushed even when I wasn’t contracting with him and he was out in less than 5 minutes. I really wanted to avoid that this time and knew a little control on my part would help that. So when it came time to push, it seemed like the whole room was either humming or shallow breathing along with me.

Now, I know lots of people like the pushing phase because of the relief of pressure, but I do not. I think pushing is way worse than contractions…it’s only saving grace is that it means you are almost done!

I pushed for maybe 9 or 10 minutes, feeling the baby move down the birth canal. At one point, Joann said something about the bag of waters emerging, and I asked (very desperately), “That’s not the baby’s head??” She assured me that it was, indeed, the head and that my bag of waters seemed to be coming down at the same time, still intact. We think it broke twice – a small bubble at first and a larger bubble with the baby’s head.

Very soon came the ring of fire (oh dear Lord, the burning!) and suddenly, the head was out! Joann said baby’s head was born in the caul (so stinking cool!!!) and I reached down to feel it. I remember saying “Hi baby!” a few times before the next contraction came. A good push more, and baby was out all the way!

I immediately tried to flip to my back to hold baby, but there was a minute of confusion because the umbilical cord is only so long and I needed to swing my foot over baby’s head and back! Too much to coordinate! But in a short minute, we got it figured out and then baby was on my chest. My first words after “Hi!” and “You’re so cute!” were “Oh thank God it’s done!” Ha! Baby was pink, cheesy, and let out a little yelp right away. Almost immediately, I asked Chad to check gender. He and Joann both looked and he said, “It’s a girl.” I elatedly said “It’s a girl?!” then asked him to check again. I knew what words were about to fly out of my mouth, but didn’t want to say them until I was positive it was a girl. Chad confirmed, and then I said, “I really wanted it to be a girl!”

The next 30ish minutes are a blur. I lay in the pool with Miriam on my chest, talking, nursing, and saying, “I’m so glad it’s over” repeatedly. My mom came over almost immediately with Isaac. Isaac was so cute when he came in the door. He wanted to get in the pool with me (ha! No, sorry kiddo, that water is a little gross…) and didn’t even bat an eye that mommy was swimming in the middle of the dining room. As soon as he saw Miriam, he said, “The baby came out!!”, then proceeded to pat her head and hand and say, “I so happy!” They didn’t stay long at all, maybe 15 minutes, because it was getting late and I needed to deliver the placenta and get out of the water.

Once they left, Joann wrapped Miriam up and handed her off to Chad while I delivered the placenta. I was a little nervous about this part – I don’t remember delivering Isaac’s placenta at all, so I was just worried it would hurt. Joann assured me it wouldn’t and sure enough, I didn’t even feel it come out. I did get to examine it once it was out and even had Brandi take pictures of it…a little weird, I guess, but it was so cool looking!

Once the placenta was delivered, I got out of the pool and sat on the couch to nurse more and eat some dinner. Then Joann and I made our way to the bathroom where I got cleaned up. Somewhere in all this, Brandi and Ashley slipped out and Joann examined me to check for tearing. I did have one small tear – Miriam was born with her hand by her face and that caused a tiny bit of damage – but it was nothing that required stitches (yay!).

By this time, it was almost 10:30pm and I was crashing hard. I got dressed and laid down with Miriam while Joann gave me a few last instructions, then I cuddled with my new baby and my husband for our first night together!

Welcome to the world, Miriam Leigh!

Photography by BrandiTribout Photography

More photos here: mama at home

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