My sweet son was born into the water at our home on August 12th, 2014 at 3:10pm. I knew I wanted to have a homebirth with my second before we even got pregnant. My daughter Coralie, who is 23 months older than her brother, was born vaginally in the hospital with an epidural (and then pitocin when my labor stalled). Although it was a relatively easy birth I struggled for over 8 months to effectively breastfeed her, and a part of me will always wonder if the struggles were caused, in part, by the manner in which she entered the world. Because of this, I felt strongly that I wanted to have an unmedicated birth the second time around. This led me to wanting to labor in the water, which eventually led me to birthing at home. With encouragement from our friend and doula, my husband quickly got onboard and we interviewed midwives. We met with three women and instantly fell in love with the third, so at 19 weeks I transferred care from the OB to my midwife.
Other than issues with high blood pressure, which we controlled through a multitude of natural supplements, I had a pretty smooth pregnancy. I’m one of those crazy women who LOVE being pregnant, so despite caring for my (precocious) toddler and running a small in-home daycare by myself up until I was 8 months pregnant, I felt like I was really able to enjoy this pregnancy. I stayed more active this time around by walking and attending prenatal yoga twice a week, which is something I think helped me immensely when it came time to have my baby. For me, yoga was one of the few times when I felt completely calm and connected with the baby growing inside of me, and because of it I felt confident going into my birth that I knew how to breath and to use my body to effectively push out my baby without any drugs.
The other positive thing that I did differently with this pregnancy was to have a Blessingway ceremony when I was 39 weeks along. I had read about them and knew I wanted to have one (especially since I was having a homebirth!) so when my doula offered to organize one for me I jumped at the opportunity. I can honestly say that there has never been another time in my life when I have felt so supported and loved by other women than I was on that day. To sit in a circle and have these women tell you how strong you are and what an amazing mom you are, that is truly one of the best feelings in the world!
I was still riding on a high from my Blessingway when I started to feel occasional contractions a few days later. I got really excited thinking that, like my first time around, this meant that early labor was beginning. Unfortunately this was not going to be the case for me the second time around, so I was fighting defeat when my due date (August 5th) came and went. This period of time was difficult, but I tried to fill my days with fun activities with my daughter and as much calming yoga and birth-inducing activities as I could.
The morning of August 11th I woke up and realized that my previously clean house no longer felt homebirth-ready. Hearing the words of my midwife in my head telling me that baby was riding too far out in front and needed to be up and into my pelvis, I tightly wrapped my ring sling under and around my belly like my doula and I had done countless times before and then proceeded to clean my house. Every few minutes I would stop sweeping to check on my daughter and do a few sets of deep squats (thanks prenatal yoga!) and you can imagine my surprise when, about an hour into cleaning, at 10:30am, I started to feel my bag of waters leaking! I texted my doula and then my husband just to give them the heads up, then went into my midwife’s office to confirm that it was in fact amniotic fluid leaking out.
Despite my excitement, this early sign of labor did not mean that birth was quickly approaching for me. I was assured by my midwife that everything was fine as long as I was in active labor within 24 hours and birthed the baby within 48. With this in mind, we spent that night and the next morning preparing then resting, waiting for my labor to get more intense. Our water heater overflowed into our garage before bed and Coralie, knowing something big was afoot, insisted on sleeping on me all night so I woke up distracted and exhausted the next morning. By the time I checked in with my midwife around 8am, my contractions were starting to feel strong but still very sporadic (anywhere from 7-15 minutes apart). She suggested that we have my mom take Coralie somewhere away from the house, so we got them all set and sent them off with a tearful goodbye (side note: Although I was comforted at the thought of not having to go to the hospital and leave my daughter for a few days in order to give birth to our son, the transition period between one child and two is a complicated one characterized by feelings of both excitement and guilt. It can be tough!).
As sad as we were to see her go, after Coralie left I did finally feel like I was able to give all my attention to my body and this big job of birthing our new baby. I unearthed my breast pump and started pumping every 30 minutes or so in order to get the oxytocin flowing and jump-start my labor. This helped a little, and by 11:30am my amazing husband Jake was squeezing my hips to ease the pressure through every contraction. We then called my doula Brooke to come over as well. At this point my contractions were strong and lasting 60-90 seconds, but still fairly sporadic (anywhere from 6-10 minutes apart). At Brooke’s encouragement we went on one of the most grueling 1.5 mile walks of my life, stopping every few minutes for me to lean on Jake and for Brooke to squeeze my hips and put pressure on my lower back. At one point a neighbor down the street saw us while she was standing in her driveway and called her adult daughter out to watch us through one of my contractions. I wanted to kick her in the shin.
We arrived back at my house and I resumed pumping. The student midwife Emily called around 1:30pm to check in and, after telling her my contractions were very strong but still fairly irregular, she advised that I start their “strict induction protocol” (because we were now 27 hours after my water started leaking) which included castor oil, a castor oil and hot pack on my belly, and 15 minutes of pumping, all to be repeated until my contractions became more regular. Brooke immediately left to get the castor oil at the store and I had to hand the phone over to Jake in order to get through the next contraction that came. Emily commented that that was a long contraction and Jake told her yeah, that’s how they had been for awhile!
Brooke got back about 15 minutes later with the castor oil, and almost immediately upon her return the feelings of frustration and despair that I was trying so hard to put out of my head finally overcame me. I started sobbing and saying that I didn’t know if I could keep doing this. In my head I felt sure that I was going to have to go to the hospital to get on pitocin and then I would surely need an epidural, if they didn’t decide to just do a c-section first!!!
This should have been a sign to me that the end was near. Brooke and Jake gently calmed me down and we agreed that I would take my first dose of castor oil (in the form of a small chocolate shake) and then head upstairs to rest for a bit. Before going upstairs I had another strong contraction, and I told Brooke that it just felt like I had to poop and/or pee. She told me not to work against that feeling and that she would put me in a pair of Depends if she had to, to which I said “Then I need to get on the toilet!”. With that I headed upstairs, and sometime between the poop revelation and the time it took me to climb the short flight of stairs to our room my body decided it was go time. All of a sudden the intensity hit another level. So Jake filled up the birth tub and I spent a few contractions on the toilet and a few contractions on the rocking chair. Through all of this I was focused on my breathing: a deep inhale like I had practiced in yoga and then a long, low moan as I exhaled.
This whole time Jake was anxiously asking if it was time to call the midwife, to which I told him I didn’t know and he needed to ask Brooke. She kept assuring him that everything was going well, and then, a few contractions later, they made the call to our midwife Michelle (which is good, because then I DID start to know that she should be there and was insisting “She should be here! She should be here!” after each contraction). The midwife sent her student Emily to the house with the idea that she would follow after Emily assessed the situation. Emily arrived right as I moved from the rocking chair to the bed, during which I suddenly had two very STRONG contractions right on top of each other. I quickly decided that the bed was actually a terrible idea. I sat up and immediately threw up, then asked if I could get into the birth tub. I’m pretty sure poor Emily wasn’t expecting me to be this far along, so she called Michelle to give her an update and tell her she needed to get to the house. Jake helped me into the birth tub that we had set up in our daughter’s room across the hall, and I was thankful for the small amount of relief that the warm water provided. Though it didn’t help to ease the intensity much, it did help to kind of “dull” the sensations a bit and, more importantly, made me feel more calm.
It is at this point that things start to get a bit fuzzy to me, and time is measured more in contractions than in minutes. As I worked through each contraction I noticed the arrival of Michelle and the second student midwife Rachel, but I was too much in my zone to give them more than a nod in acknowledgement. Someone checked my son’s heart beat with the doppler and asked me to move from my reclined position to lay over the side of the tub on my knees. I started to feel the urge to push, and so gave a few pushes on my knees. They checked him again, and after a few contractions had me return to my original position. Somewhere in the back of my brain I knew that they were keeping quiet, but something wasn’t quite right. I figured it had something to do with his heart rate but the only thing I could do about it was to have my baby. So I focused on that fact and centered my mind on the sensations I was having and what my body was telling me to do. At one point Michelle had the blood pressure cuff on me to make sure it wasn’t going too high, and as she was taking my blood pressure I could feel a contraction building so I loudly commanded her to “get that thing OFF!!!”. She told me afterwards that she was never able to get a full reading, but she just saw it dip below the dangerous level and then obliged me by quickly ripping it off (I do remember politely saying thank you after she freed my arm though!).
Once on my back I felt a new resolve to get my baby out, so I took a deep breath, curled slightly over my baby bump, and beared down. Every time I moaned it was a fight to keep it low and not let it turn into a scream. Emily kept telling me that I needed to stay in front of that feeling and not let it overtake me, which helped to keep me centered and in control. With each strong push I felt my son’s head get closer and closer to coming out, and I felt a burning sensation that would slowly subside when the contraction stopped and I stopped pushing. I remember being right on the edge of losing control, just feeling this carnal need to get my son OUT and make these sensations STOP.
It must have only been a few minutes that I was pushing and in between contractions someone told me to just breathe and rest. After a few more pushes my son’s head came out and I felt a HUGE relief, then one more quick push and his body followed. Emily told me to reach down and take my baby. I reached between my legs and gently pulled my newborn son onto my chest. My relief and joy at having my son quickly ended when we realized he hadn’t yet started to breath. Michelle calmly encouraged me to hold him close and rub him, which I did while constantly checking his sweet little face. He let out a few coughs, but was still not breathing regularly or crying after a minute or so. I heard someone say to get the oxygen ready and Michelle gently took him out of my arms, flipped him upside-down, and started to rub him more vigorously.
This quick act from the midwife was the thing that startled him into breathing, and he took his first big earth-side screams almost immediately and started pinking up. We all breathed a sigh of relief and he was returned to my chest, where it was decided that the oxygen was unnecessary. As Michelle started to gently inspect him she found a knot in his cord, which was the reason why his heart rate was dropping during labor. I have since researched this phenomena a bit more and learned that this is something that could lead to scary complications during pregnancy and birth. I feel lucky that my strong boy was born relatively easily and came out healthy (despite the rocky start, he had a 5 minute APGAR score of 9!). It also makes me that much more thankful for my strong body. Once I decided that my baby needed to come out I was able to focus and work with my contractions to make it happen as quickly as possible.
About 10 minutes after my son was born Emily drew my attention back to the placenta, and told me to gently push when I felt a contraction. I was on such a high that I didn’t feel any sort of contractions, but remembering a friend who was tired after her birth and didn’t want to push out her placenta and the subsequent threat from her midwife that she needed to get it out or they would have to go to the hospital. I gave a few arbitrary pushes and easily birthed my placenta. I looked around at my birth team, all of whom were congratulating me and admiring my beautiful new baby, and my husband who had tears running down his face and couldn’t stop patting me and staring at our son, and it suddenly hit me that I had done it!!! I had successfully had the birth that we had planned for 9 months: I pushed a baby out of my vagina in my own home without any drugs or medical intervention!!! I couldn’t help but pump my fist in the air and loudly exclaim “I am a fucking ROCKSTAR!”.
After this empowering revelation I handed our son off to my bare-chested husband and was helped out of the birth tub. I wobbled my way to my bed and laid back, where I watched as my husband cut the umbilical cord. He then brought our son over to me and I was able to put him to breast and joyfully watch as he latched on and nursed for the first time. It was such a relief to me that the birth had gone well and (despite a very obvious tongue and lip tie) my son was nursing well. I instantly knew that my choice to birth at home was the best decision we could have made for both myself and our son.
My mom arrived back home a little later with our daughter, who was a little overwhelmed at all the activity but very excited to meet her brother. We sang “Happy Birthday” to the baby and Coralie gave him 100 kisses on his head before being ushered out of the room because she was jumping all over the place.
I took a shower and got a few stitches, then we all watched from bed as the midwives did the newborn exam on Baby Boy. He was proclaimed healthy, weighing in at 8lbs 2oz and a whopping 22 inches long. Equally impressive was his long umbilical cord (36 inches!) which, in combination with the gymnastics he was doing in my uterus during my pregnancy, was probably why his cord was in a knot when he came out. Baby Boy remained nameless for a few days while Jake and I went back and forth about what we liked, but ultimately we decided on a name: Merrick Robert.
When I think back to my birth now, it all seems like it was a dream. I had always looked up to women who were able to give birth naturally and drug-free, and can’t believe that I am now able to count myself as one of them. If you were to tell me 3 years ago that I was going to have my second child at home, I probably would have laughed in your face. It is funny to me that after all the research and soul-searching THIS is the option that felt the best for our family. The birth of my son has been the single most empowering experience of my life, from which I have a new love and appreciation for my strong body (and mind!). I now know that I am capable of so much more than I had ever imagined, and there is no doubt in my mind that when we have a third we will have him/her at home as well! 🙂