Autumn shares with us the birth story of her fifth child.
“Honey, we are pregnant!”
And just like that, baby number five was on the way. Actually, it had taken over a year of trying after number four, but once that test showed positive, I was ecstatic. I’m sort of a pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding junkie, and we always wanted a big family (but perhaps at some point I should get a new hobby or become a midwife – someday!).
All of my births were incredible journeys of learning, experiencing the power within myself, discovering strength I didn’t know I had, and wonder at meeting a new human. My first birth was a planned unmedicated hospital birth; but I was young, uneducated and I ended up falling prey to their cascade of interventions. So for number two I educated myself, hired a doula and had a textbook wonderful, unmedicated hospital birth.
For number three, I decided I wanted a home birth. At 32 weeks, I started having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions and went into labor at 36 weeks and two days. It was a beautiful, empowering and life-changing experience. At that moment, I decided I always wanted to birth my babies at home; but rarely does life go as planned. I went into preterm labor with number four at 32 weeks, and was admitted to the hospital. They were able to stop me from progressing with medication, but the contractions themselves wouldn’t stop. I was released from the hospital on medication and instructed to be on modified bed rest (Ha! I was a mother to three other children…but I did my best.) From 32 weeks until my water broke at 38 weeks I literally contracted every five minutes – even on medication. I think my body was exhausted.
My water broke spontaneously at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning with no contractions. My husband was only comfortable waiting for labor to begin for 24 hours. So when it didn’t, we headed to the hospital, got some Pitocin, and two hours later without any other medication, I was holding baby number four in my arms. I then proceeded to hemorrhage, and things got a little crazy. Number four’s birth was a little traumatic and went nothing like the plan, but it was still oh so worth it. So when I found out I was pregnant with number five (which is supposed to be our last), I was set on another home birth. I envisioned a perfect birth with a midwife and a photographer capturing all the intimate moments so I could treasure them for a lifetime. And this was my last shot at it!
First on my agenda was to locate a midwife, and then hire a birth photographer. Since we are a military family, all my babies have been born in different states; so I’ve never had the opportunity to have the same midwife with any of my babies. So I located a midwife and began seeing her. Through a misunderstanding on my part at thirty weeks, I realized that I needed a CNM for my insurance to help cover the home birth. So I contacted a different midwife, and she was willing to take me so late in my pregnancy. I loved her. I had never really “clicked” with my first midwife, but after the first time talking with our new midwife I loved her. She felt like the perfect match for our family. The only drawback in my mind was that she lived over an hour away; and we live in the Washington, DC area, so traffic can turn any drive into a much longer adventure.
At 32 weeks again, my Braxton Hicks contractions started in fierce. Given my history, we monitored them closely and I rested as much as possible. I tried all sorts of different strategies to try to keep the contractions down to a minimum. I absolutely did not want to go into preterm labor. I desperately wanted to make it to at least 36 weeks, if not longer; so I was willing to try anything that would help. My mom decided to come when I was 34 weeks to help with the other children and around the house. I homeschool my older kids, so “resting” during the day isn’t very easy. Once we made it to 36 weeks, my mother-in-law decided to go ahead and fly in so she could be at the birth as well.
Two days before my 37-week visit with the midwife, my contractions picked up in intensity and frequency. As the day progressed, they got closer and stronger. I tucked all my little ones in bed around 7 p.m. and then went to take a bath. By about 9 p.m. that night, my contractions were about three minutes apart and a little longer than a minute in duration, and I even a little bit of bloody show; so I called the midwife. In my mind I thought, “This is it!” (I should know what labor is, right? This is baby, number five after all).
My midwife checked back in about an hour later and the contractions were still going strong. She decided to go ahead and come over. Her assistant arrived first and started taking my vitals and helping me through the contractions. Shortly after the midwife arrived, the photographer arrived as well. The contractions were strong enough that it was difficult to talk through them. Then, about three hours after everyone arrived, they just stopped. We waited all night and nothing happened. So the next morning everyone left, thinking that my labor would probably start later that night again.
But nothing happened. My contractions just went back to their regular pattern. About a week later, this happened again. My 38-week appointment rolled around and everything looked great. Physically and emotionally, I was tired due to all the contractions, but baby was doing great. Then 39 weeks came and went as well. By this point, I was so ready to have this baby. I wasn’t sleeping well due to all the contractions, my hips were so sore, and I was tired of wondering, “Is this it?” My best friend had flown in for this week because we were sure baby would be here. But alas, my friend had to get back home to her family while there was still no baby.
At 40 weeks, my midwife arrived at my house for another weekly check. I had all my supplies ready, baby was doing well, and the grandmas were still at our house waiting for baby to arrive. At this point I was not feeling confident in my ability to be able to “know” when I was truly in labor. We had had several “this is it” calls, only to be disappointed… This was baby number five and I still couldn’t figure this out!
My midwife ad I had talked many times about what I envisioned the birth to be, what I wanted, and so forth. My biggest fear for the birth was that my midwife wouldn’t make it in time. I did not want to birth my baby without my midwife there. Especially since I had hemorrhaged after my fourth. We talked extensively about what to do if I had the baby before she got there. I felt so relieved; and for the first time, I felt at peace with the possibility of doing it without the midwife there. I still didn’t want it to happen that way, but I felt prepared in the event that it did. We parted ways with a hug, and a 41-week visit scheduled.
Before bed that night, my contractions had moved a little closer together, but I was not concerned since this had happened many times before. I honestly didn’t even give it a second thought. At 4:30 a.m. on March 23, 2016, I woke up to a contraction. I also needed to go pee, so I decided to get out of bed. While going to the bathroom, I noticed a little bit of bloody show. But again, this had all happened before in the few weeks prior. So I decided to lie back down. I lay down for about 20 minutes and had a couple more contractions, but I just couldn’t get comfortable due to my hips hurting. They had been bothering me so much over the course of the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Most mornings, I had been getting up at around 5 a.m. because it hurt too much to lie in bed any longer. So I slipped out of bed without waking my husband up, and decided to go downstairs and eat something. I made myself some eggs; and while doing that, I had a few more contractions. These contractions maybe felt a little stronger than my normal everyday Braxton Hicks contractions, but were nothing close to being painful. I went upstairs and decided to read. After about 30 minutes I decided to give the midwife a call; it was about 5:30 a.m., since the contractions were coming about every 5 minutes now. They still were not painful or unbearable, but I was still having a little bloody show. I figured we would have the baby sometime that day, perhaps around noonish.
I unlocked the front door and made my way upstairs to get in the bath to see if that would slow the contractions down. Before I got in, I thought I should wake my husband up, just to let him know what was going on. He immediately sat up and was ready to go. I reassured him he should just get more sleep as I didn’t need anything at this point, and told him I just wanted to let him know the front door was open and that the midwife would be there in about an hour. He insisted he wanted to get up, and I finally agreed.
Before I had gone downstairs to eat, I had set up the video camera just in case this was it. This was my last baby, and I did not want to miss getting it on camera. It was about 6 a.m. now and my tub was full of warm water. I put my sports bra on and got in to relax. A few minutes after I got in the tub, I had a contraction and I felt my water break. I immediately knew this was REAL labor and that this baby was coming fast. As soon as my water broke, I felt like I needed to push and I knew she was really close to being born. Mind you, less than five minutes before this I was reassuring my husband he could stay in bed because I didn’t even know if I was really in labor.
As soon as my water broke, I felt intense pressure. I screamed for my husband to get back in the bathroom, call the midwife, and press record on the camera. In my mind I knew the midwife wasn’t going to make it, but I was hoping she had somehow miraculously covered a large distance and was about ready to turn onto our street. But that wasn’t the case. She was still a little over thirty minutes away. We decided she would stay on the phone with us. As we were waiting for another contraction, she asked if I had called the photographer. SHOOT! Given the fact that I wasn’t sure this was it and then now the craziness, it hadn’t even crossed my mind. I texted the photographer to tell her that I was in labor and that she should get there fast. She texted back saying she was on her way.
I had another contraction, and it was all I could do to keep from pushing. The contractions were so strong and powerful all of a sudden. My husband was a nervous wreck. He kept pacing; and all I wanted was for him to hold my hand. I did not want to have this baby by myself. The midwife wanted him to go get a few things ready, but I did not want him to leave me. At around this time, another powerful contraction began. The midwife was talking me through it, but about halfway through I could no longer hold off on pushing. My body just took over; and my daughter’s head was born. The midwife continued calmly talking with us, and I just patiently waited in the water for the next contraction. Even over the phone, our midwife was calm, collected, confident, and reassuring and a source of comfort for me. Her confidence and reassurance translated to a level of peace and confidence in my heart and mind.
The next contraction came at 6:15 a.m. and our fifth baby – our second daughter – joined us earth side just 15 minutes after my water had broken and I realized I really was in labor. She slid into my arms, and I immediately brought her to my chest. It was the most surreal moment. She snuggled in, and within a few moments let out her first cry. What a relief. I had done it. Selah Grace was here, and we were now a family of seven. Just my husband and I were at her birth. My mom, his mom, and our four older children had no idea the baby had been born.
Since the midwife was still about 30 minutes away, we decided to go get my husband’s mom to come assess my bleeding since she was a labor and delivery nurse. She told us she was in shock when he came back downstairs and told him the baby was here. She made her way up the stairs and monitored the situation until the midwife arrived. While we waited for the midwife I tried to get my new little one to nurse, but she was happy to just stare at me and listen to me talk to her.
The midwife arrived, the placenta was born, and everyone finally made it in our room to meet the new addition to the family. The photographer had also arrived so she was able to at least capture these moments. It was so beautiful to have all my children in bed with me marveling at our newest baby. She finally decided it was time to eat and she was a champ from the get go at breastfeeding. It was magical. Everyone enjoyed the next few hours of skin-to-skin, weighing baby, looking her over, and taking her in for the first time.
Her birth happened so quickly that it took me several weeks – maybe even a few months – to come to terms with it. In some ways, I felt like I couldn’t even process it because it had felt like such a whirlwind. It was peaceful and awe-inspiring, but it was just difficult to wrap my mind around. Now, eight months later, I feel empowered. It was a magical moment being the only ones there, and I realize there was no way for me to guess that it would have happened that quickly.
Photographs by Alhalia Photography.