I am so blessed with my children. They really have an amazing bond and as I try to tell Clara’s birth I realize that their bond started with the very first home they each occupied, my womb. I realize that much of what made Clara’s birth so amazing was what I learned from giving birth to Jesse, so I think I’ll start with that story.
While pregnant with Jesse, my husband and I lived with my parents. My mom used to be a lay midwife many years ago, so I was very blessed to be raised with a very healthy view of birth. Birth is wonderful, miraculous, amazing, intense, painful, life changing, empowering, and normal. God designed everything to work together, in an amazing way. Without interference it is perfect, most of the time. It is never something I grew up fearing, but rather, very much looked forward to the experience.
One of the many blessings my parents gave me was raising me around other families and lots of love. The midwife, who delivered me, Virginia, is a dear friend of my mom and, in fact, my mom delivered her son months before I was born while I was in utero. Her son, Isaiah, was present at my birth at a few months old. Birth, within our community, was much cherished and celebrated as a family event, not a medical event. When I thought about my upcoming birth, I knew I wanted to be surrounded by those I love and who love me. I thought of my ideal birth and pursued it as best I could. We called Virginia to see if it was possible for her to attend me even though she lived in Massachusetts.
Virginia was near the end of her journey of becoming licensed (even though she had been delivering babies for over 30 years) and was able to bless us, by attending me. She flew out to California a week before my due date (I received regular prenatal care through Kaiser to assure those in my life who were not so familiar with home birth, that my pregnancy was a very healthy pregnancy and a perfect candidate for home birth). Virginia stayed with us and was able to visit with her family who were local while we patiently waited for Jesse to decide he was ready to join us earth-side.
I very much enjoy being pregnant and was in no hurry to rush him out, however when those around you know you are “past your due date” they start getting impatient. 3 days “overdue” I had a little conversation with Jesse, where I told him how much I was enjoying being pregnant and that I knew he was cozy in there, but everyone really wanted to meet him and I was okay with sharing him now.
Every night while sleeping my cats surrounded me, my CC lay on my belly and Amber lay in the crook of my knees, while Lily (my formerly anti-social cat) joined us on the bed but as far away as she could be in a queen size bed with two adults and three cats. Four days postdates, the morning of February 17th at 5 AM, CC woke me up to ask me to let him out. As I walked to the front door I felt a trickle down my leg. I woke my mom to tell her that I thought my water had broke but I wasn’t sure. Now the excitement began, we were having a baby! So I thought… It was a Saturday and we called everyone up to tell them. Both sets of my in-laws were called. Mike, Tammy, and Alexis came out from Oakley to be there for the birth right away since we didn’t realize how long it would take and they were afraid traffic could be bad. Susan and Joe decided to wait to come since they were fairly close and I was still not having contractions.
All day we hung out “in labor” I couldn’t feel my contractions but when palpating my belly I felt it harden and release regularly. We decided to try a castor oil massage topically on my belly but it didn’t do much. We walked around the block quite a few times, but still, not much going on. Around lunchtime Mike and Tammy got us a sandwich tray and I had one, because I knew I should keep eating to keep up my strength. Finally, after all day of nothing, around 9 PM we decided to try a cocktail of castor oil in orange juice with a little baking soda to make it fizzy. It really wasn’t bad. By 10 PM I was on the toilet and not to get too graphic, but I stayed there for about an hour, rather than keep leaving and coming back. By 11 PM I had finally started active labor for real. I labored all night. I had been up all day and now I was tired, but since it was getting intense I didn’t get a chance to sleep. I did lay down for a little bit, but it didn’t help. In fact lying down was much worse. My favorite position for laboring was sitting on my birthing ball and rocking side to side. During each contraction I’d moan as my mamma had coached me and it helped so much. I had some wonderful, intimate time with my mom and my midwife. I’m not sure what time but at some point they sent everyone away for a while. My great-aunt, Evie, had lived next door but had passed away during my pregnancy, so her house was vacant. My in-laws went there to sleep so they weren’t far and my husband went to bed for a while.
Since my water had broken before contractions, we checked dilation as little as possible, but by 3 AM I had been going for 22 hours and wanted a number to quantify where I was. I was only at 3 cm. This was disappointing for me as I thought I would be further after all day, but looking back, I really had only been having strong contractions for about 4 hours.
I remember being in the living room for a while with just my mom and Virginia. The lights were off and the fireplace was going. They were such a wonderful support, these women who had been there for me since my very first breath, now helping me breath and bring my first baby into the world. Over the next few hours my contractions were getting stronger and I was getting more and more tired. By 6 AM I wanted to be checked again to make sure I was making progress. I had progressed and was now at 6 CM. This was good because it definitely felt like I was working hard. From 6-8 AM I labored more in various positions, walking, standing, squatting, my favorite was sitting on the birthing ball. I remember at one point leaning against the fireplace mantle and thinking that I now fully understood why women get epidurals. I hate to admit it but I had previously been one to tell the women through the TV (while watching A Baby Story) that they didn’t need those epidurals. How arrogant of me! I now knew exactly why they got those epidurals and vividly remember thinking that I was glad I wasn’t in a hospital with a choice for one because I probably have taken it right then. I even asked “how long is this going to go on?” as Virginia recalls in her birth note she told me it could be only a number of contractions if I really let it take me over.
Somewhere between 8 and 9 AM I asked to be checked again. I was at 6 cm. Yes, that’s right exactly where I was last time I was checked. I was so tired! I think I started crying at some point and told my mom, I know that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength and I know He won’t give me more than I could handle, but I was so tired! Finally I reached that point. The one where I realized, that instead of handling each contraction as it came I could look forward to each one. Not because it was easy now, but because there was a finite number of contractions I’d experience. I didn’t know that very number but God did and each contraction I had was one less than before. Each contraction I’d say a prayer of thanks that I was one contraction closer. Finally 28 hours in I was surrendering. I was too exhausted to fight them, or even bear them, and instead I welcomed each contraction. Each contraction I got to, was one closer to Jesse being here. One closer… one closer… one closer. As I was in this zone my mom offered me something to eat. I didn’t feel hungry but knew it had been a while since I had eaten so I agreed, thinking she knew best. Little did I know this was one of her ways of gauging if I was near the end. Apparently women in transition usually turn down food. She thought my behavior looked close to being done, but since I accepted the food, she figured I still had a while left.
By the time she served me malt-o-meal it was about 9:40 and after a nibble or so I felt the need to push. I went to change position and had a gush of amniotic fluid. I knew a little about birth, and when I saw the fluid had meconium I worried. The first thought in my head was that I knew it could be a sign of a problem and thought that I’d HAVE to transfer. I even asked out loud if I had to transfer. Virginia just calmly told me she would check me first and we’d see from there. I had been at 6cm for at least 3 hours but suddenly with a change of outlook, I went from 6 to complete in less than an hour. After being checked and told I was fully dilated and we would monitor baby but that we didn’t have to transfer at this point just because of meconium alone. We called everyone to come back from where they had all been resting for the night. Most important in my mind was my sister. We called Shannon, and she and Steph had just ordered breakfast at one of our favorite diners. Shannon and I had met there for pancakes for lunch almost every week while I was pregnant. She stood up and announced to them that they HAD to go because I was about to have the baby! Meanwhile, I was fully dilated and being told I could push anytime. I calmly (at least in my recollection of it) explained that if my body needed to push I would let it, otherwise I’d wait for Shannon to get there. Finally she arrived about 10:15 and I started pushing. We had an air mattress inflated in the living room and I was laying on that to begin with. My sister was behind me, my mom at my perineum, my dad on a chair to my side praying over us and one mother-in-law at my feet while the other one was taking photos, per my request. I pushed some this way laying down but as I was pushing and while he started to crown Virginia checked Jesse’s heart tones and found that they were dropping with my pushing so I was given some oxygen which helped. I then got in a standing supported squat with Shannon holding me under my right arm and Ryan holding me under my left arm. This was much better for both me and Jesse. I pushed and out came his head into my mom’s waiting hands. She checked for his cord and found it around his neck so, calmly, without even saying anything, she looped it back over his head and I pushed him out the rest of the way.
He was handed straight to me and I unwrapped the cord from where it was loosely around his neck (a second loop) and around his arm too. They put a chair under me now so I could sit and I was able to see his tiny face. He was so beautiful! One of the stories my mom tells of me as a small child is that I used to nurse my babydolls. I guess it came back to me pretty quickly because Jesse latched on to nurse within 10 minutes of being born. The placenta came out a minute later on its own.
We had my two father in laws, and two sister-in-laws outside and once I was presentable they were invited in to meet Jesse.
It was determined previously that I had some tearing due to Jesse’s swift arrival, as we didn’t hold back to allow for stretching due to his heart tones and nucal cord. Virginia had brought with her many supplies for emergency situations but one thing she wasn’t able to bring with on the plane was lidocaine for sutures and since they had given us so much time for bonding, my natural pain relieving hormones were no longer sufficient for sutures. Luckily, in addition to Virginia and my mom attending me, they had decided to call an old friend to be with us who was a local practicing midwife, Susanna Napierala who also brought a colleague, Claudette Coughenour. When she got there we learned that she was a Christian and had been praying in church during the worship that morning, “where you send me, Lord, I’ll go.” I ended up with 4 of the best midwives out there! When they were ready to suture me, I was asked to get up and use the bathroom first. As I stood up, my mom tells me, “If you feel like…too late” The end of that sentence was going to be “passing out, let me know.” But instead I fainted before she could tell me. This was a bit of a scare, as they all worried about blood loss, but my blood pressure was fine. It turned out I had low blood sugar from being in labor so very long and forgetting to eat. I hadn’t eaten anything since the sandwich for lunch the day before. I had a wonderful beautiful natural home birth but man was it a lot of work! Jesse weighed 7 lbs 3oz and was born at 10:42 AM Sunday, Feb 18, 2007.
Note from Ruthie: You may remember this mama’s face from her role as a doula (along with her previously mentioned second child, Clara) at this birth.