For my Father’s Day, I was given the gift of a fourth girl. At home. Part of that gift was being the first person she looked at and providing the hands that caught her and gave her to her mother. Father’s Day 2013 will be one that I always remember.
Even though Delaney is our fourth child, she is our first experience in home birth. After three children born in the conventional hospital manner my wife, Heather, was looking for a more satisfying and pleasant experience. Being a man, and an engineer to boot, I wasn’t much into unconventional birth methods. My questions were typical of the questions that I would soon be tired of hearing. “What if something happens?”, “How fast can you get to a hospital?”, “Are you going to start wearing tie-dye shirts and advocating hemp products?”
Research was helpful and knowing people who sat firmly on both sides of the birthing “fence” was helpful too. In fact, I found that the only unhelpful opinions were the ones formed without experience of any kind. Infection rates, C-Section rates, complications, standard treatments. All interesting statistics with most of them not leaning in the direction I thought they would. So with some gentle prodding from Heather and knowing I wouldn’t win the fight anyway I agreed to being open to a home birth.
We interviewed and selected a mid-wife (Hi Kate!). We read about all the various birthing philosophies; Hypno-Birthing (strange but probably effective), some kind of naked Russian/snow environment with long haired five year olds swimming in icy streams (just plain weird), channeling energies methods (I put this around astrology but perception is often reality), and the Bradley Method (the most normal to my engineer brain). We chose Bradley.
Then we chose some other things; birthing pool, hose accessories, a boy and a girl outfit for the surprise reveal. All we had to do for about the last month was wait. We cleaned the house daily because three girls under the age of six are not able to maintain a sterile environment with a floor free from lego’s and plastic horses.
On Tuesday before the birth labor pains began. They were frequent and increasing in intensity. In fact, we almost called the mid-wife. I called in sick to work because I thought we were on the way to having the baby. Then the contractions slowed down, then sped up, then went away, then came back. For about five days. We knew it was Heather’s body getting ready and that the baby wasn’t in the right position but part of you screams, “Come on already!” We gave up on estimating when it could happen and pretty much stopped updating everyone. On Saturday evening as we were going to bed the labor pains slowed to a near stop. Five days of on and off run-ups and contractions had tortured my wife with the belief that soon she wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. Defeated we went to sleep. Well, I went to sleep.
At 3:30 I was awakened and we timed a couple of contractions and decided it was time to call the mid-wife. While we waited on Kate to arrive I hooked up the hose to the sink and filled the birth pool. We found out from an earlier test run that the water needs to be at the comfortable temperature to begin with. I thought the pool might work like a bathtub that cools off in thirty minutes. Not so. The heat from the birth pool will hang around for several hours.
At 3:45 Heathers contractions are steady and about four to five minutes apart. She lays on the bed and rests. At 4:00 the mid-wife arrived and set up shop. She had the emergency kit, oxygen tanks, scales and paperwork that everyone was so concerned that we should have. A quick check verified labor was for real at this point and so I contacted my sister, the photographer. Our boxer, Biscuit, was very concerned and lay by the pool fretting and losing hair.
Heather and I sat side by side and she concentrated on relaxing through her contractions. There was no music or coaching. Just back rubs and a gentle reminder to relax. Sometimes we seem to be one mind between two bodies. For instance some days I want to eat Mexican food and before I can say anything she suggests Mexican for dinner. This was one of those days but not food related.
At 4:30 Heather decided to get in the pool and see how laboring in the water would feel. True labor had been progressing for about an hour and we were a little worried to get in the pool too early. That worry proved to be unfounded. At 5:30 she was ready to push. The quiet labor breathing had increased slightly to something between a hum and a moan. Nothing like Hollywood; screams and hateful looks at the father for causing all this “misery”. I know we had three children already but being previous epidural births we still didn’t know what to expect going the natural route.
After a few of the intense contractions there was a thump sound under the water and I thought Heather’s hip had come out of socket or something like that. It was her water breaking. She leaned on the side of the tub and said she felt some pressure and an urge to push. I checked and sure enough there was a head starting to crown. There was about 45 seconds where doubt started in and Heather thought she couldn’t do it. In a very sensitive way, I reminded her that quitting wasn’t really an option at that point. The next push and the head came out. Baby Delaney turned slowly in the water as the shoulders came out and a minute later she came out into my hands. I handed her to Heather not knowing at the time if we had a boy or girl. Heather was the first to look and at 5:42 she announced a new daughter. Two hours and twelve minutes, not bad.
Baby Delaney lay on her mother in the warm water for several minutes. At about six o’clock my mother and oldest daughter arrived, still sleepy and in pajamas. Aubrey, my oldest, was amazed at her new sister and helped me cut the cord. I can tell she has a closer connection because she was part of bringing her sister into the family.
Kate helped clamp off the cord and weigh the baby. Nine pounds and five ounces, twenty one inches long. It was all very relaxed and peaceful.
My favorite part was that Kate was there to help but let me do as much as I wanted. I feel like Heather and I brought our baby into the world as a team and it really is one of those shared experiences that bond you together. At 6:30 Heather had gotten up and taken a shower. At 7:30 we were served breakfast while Kate and her assistant washed the linens. (Side note: We didn’t have much “linens” so really they just did some laundry = Awesome) At 8:00 they were loaded up to leave and we were sitting at home with a baby, chit chatting in the living room like it was Sunday brunch. At 10:00 a.m. Heather, Delaney and I took a nap. No hourly nurse checks. No one took our baby away for hours at a time. No waiting on doctors to make more rounds before the baby could be returned.
This was the calmest birth process we had experienced out of the four. With only a little early morning sunlight peeking into the windows and the white noise of the bathroom fan in the background, everyone was relaxed and focused on helping mom. She settled into a rhythm and there was no ticker-tape printout, no IV’s, no back piercing needles, no alarms when the baby sensor we didn’t use fell off the baby’s head, and most importantly there was no fear. The funny part to me is that Heather says overall the births in the hospital were more painful. As a society we get mothers so panicked about pain of birth that they trade it voluntarily for two to six weeks of painful recovery from a C-Section.
Now that it’s over I understand what Birth Without Fear really meant for us. We had a lot of emotions; Happiness, Determination, Love, Exhaustion, momentary self-Doubt (an emotional signpost), Awe, Accomplishment. I don’t recall Fear at any point.
I’m proud of my wife for pursuing this experience for us. I’m thankful for all our friends and family who supported us and even for the ones who questioned us. Thanks to our mid-wives for the calm and steady support. Home birth may not be the best option for everyone but for our low-risk, high-reward situation – It Rocked!!!