Leo's Home Birth Story (part one)
"After all of this, are we going to have a baby on the twenty-third?"
our midwife, Dawn, casually asked between pushes... knowing full well what she was doing. I felt a surge of indignant willpower flow through my exhausted body as I thought, "the hell we are!" I didn't labor all day to have our baby born a few minutes AFTER 2.22.22 had passed! But I'd been pushing for over five hours and he was still not coming. Was I going to be able to make my envisioned home birth a reality, and bring this baby into the world safely?
Previous days had me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, even disheartened that baby had yet to arrive. Prodromal contractions had been experienced on and off for weeks, but this night felt different. I was joyful within my body and soaking in quality time with our four year old daughter, Hallie, before we became a family of four. We decided since my husband was working late that it was a perfect night for a movie. The Latin tunes of Disney's "Encanto" had me up and moving, swaying my hips to the salsa and joking about dancing this baby out.
As I tucked our four year old daughter into bed for the night, I felt a shift. I texted Adam who was finishing up a project at his automotive repair shop, letting him know he might not be back to work the next day. Throughout the night I felt the contractions more intensely than the weeks prior and knew I was in the early labor stage. My excitement was growing with the awareness that I was finally going to be meeting our baby soon, yet I also knew I needed to rest up as much as I could for the work to come. I slept off and on between contractions and in the early morning hours, I split my waking time between journaling, watching old "Friends" episodes, and moving about on my yoga-turned-birthing ball. Feeling the contractions growing around 6:00am, I pulled up my contraction timer app to monitor when to tell our midwife Dawn and her assistant Emily to come. Giving them a little heads up text as the roads were icy, I let them know I was in active labor. In the hour from 6:00 and 7:00am the contractions jumped from being between eight and ten minutes apart to three minutes apart. I informed Dawn and Emily of this shift and they headed our way as I continued to labor on the ball.
"Doin' great.... you're doin' great," Hallie said softly.
Hearing these kind words touched my heart and I told her how sweet her encouragement was. She responded, "I was tellin' myself that!" I laughed at her unexpected response, and the blatant honesty of a four year old. She grinned and came over to hold my hand. Adam began pumping up our birth pool as Dawn arrived, checked my blood pressure and both mine and baby's heart rate, and began unpacking her gear. My mini-midwife was instantly by her side, asking questions and excitedly learning all about her equipment.
"This here is an oxygen tank... just in case Mom or baby need a little help breathing," Dawn told Hallie, making her feel included as she eyed it curiously. I recall dismissing this as a piece of equipment we certainly wouldn't be needing, but was glad she had anyway. Emily arrived soon after and together they began filling the pool with Adam's help. About an hour after Dawn came in, I was stripping down to get into the birth pool. The water instantly soothed me and I felt a refreshed sense of focus. This was exactly as I'd envisioned laboring and it felt like a dream come true. I was going to bring our child into the world on my own terms this time, as I'd felt led to do from the very beginning. In our own sunroom, the same place where I'd practiced yoga, performed healing sessions, meditated, and danced with my family. I was in the peaceful water lit with fairy lights and surrounded by my indoor jungle of houseplants with a beautiful snow falling all around. Our lively doula dog trying hard (and somewhat unsuccessfully) to maintain her composure amidst the excitement. I glanced up to the fireplace mantel, where I'd taped birthing affirmation cards I'd created.
"I trust my body. I trust my baby. I trust my birth."
said one of them. "Open and surrender" said another and between them all was an "affirmation card" Hallie had drawn me as I was making my own... a colorful and hopeful rainbow. Above the mantel played meditation nature videos with relaxing music, giving us all something to focus on when moments felt overwhelming. Whales and their soothing songs and time lapse of flowers opening up were two of my favorites, as they enabled me to go within and envision the natural opening my body was working hard to complete.
Time began to ebb and flow. I glanced up to realize I'd been laboring longer than I thought and was starting to feel my body begin amping things up as I grunted with the intensity of my contractions. It was nearing 1:00pm and I recall thinking,
"I'm going to have a baby in my arms by mid-afternoon!"
Yet I could feel that as much as I didn't want to, I needed to get out of the soothing water of my birthing pool. This feeling was mirrored in that moment by Dawn encouraging me to get out and pee and move around a bit. I threw on my robe and after laboring on the toilet for a short while, returned to the sunroom where we began doing the Mile's circuit (a series of three positions/movements to help move baby into a more ideal position for birth. I also accepted the offer to be checked, the first vaginal exam I'd accepted throughout pregnancy. We discovered that I was fully dilated, at zero station, and fully effaced. This was encouraging news, as it validated what I was already feeling... that my body was ready to push this baby out!
Hallie was now somewhat bored of this endeavor as there was still no baby, and she was really in this for the grand finale. Lucy (our family pup) was feeling the energy amping up and became a distracting rather than comforting presence. Adam took the girls (both human and canine) into Hallie's room to relax, snack, and enjoy a show as things continued to amp up. I felt peace with this, that we'd labored together as I'd hoped but now it was time to focus even more deeply than I had before.
The afternoon was a blur of changing positions and the deeply intense pain of contractions as I was continuously supported and encouraged by Dawn and Emily. Emily had a beautiful way of easing in and out of my frame of awareness, making her presence known to support or check baby's heart rate and allowing me to labor in the ways I needed. Dawn's knowledgeable and kind, but no BS way of being kept me focused, and the positions she led me through had me feeling pushed to the limit in the best way... as I could feel progress happening. After laboring side-lying on the couch, standing leaning on a chair, squatting on a stool, sitting on the toilet, leaning over the ball, the list goes on... Dawn let me know that she felt the baby was stuck on my pubic bone and that there was one position we could do to help, but I certainly wasn't going to like it. I was supported in getting to the bed, where I was asked to lay on my back with my bum near the edge of the bed and my legs hanging down off of it.
"Two contractions here, that's all," Dawn said as I felt the most intense thus far, yet satisfying contraction roar through my body. I knew it was effective and was creating space for baby to continue their journey south so I gripped the sheets as I felt another wave crash over me. After some more laboring on the toilet and being given arnica tablets and motherwort tincture, I was encouraged to try to pee... which for some reason felt like an impossible task. Dawn explained that a full bladder may get in the way of baby's head continuing to move down as I attempted. We then transitioned to laboring on the floor of our bedroom and I noticed for the first time that it was now dark outside. I was now fully pushing, given directed pushing support from Emily. My water broke around 6:30pm with a slight amount of meconium. I felt the urge to return to water and got in the bathroom shower. The warm water felt so soothing on my tired body, and I quickly lowered to a deep squat as the water poured over me. I enjoyed this for what felt like only a matter of minutes before the hot water ran out... but I knew this position was good. I asked Adam to throw a towel over me, which he did and then held my hand as I powered through wave after wave. I felt I just HAD to be close. After laboring in the tub for nearly an hour, I was encouraged once again to get out and move and I noticed a slight shift in energy. I could feel a simultaneous concern for whether I'd be able to successfully complete this VBAC from my midwife and assistant, paired with the first and only wave of doubt and fear I felt during this experience. I suddenly didn't know if I could do it.
My body was exhausted and I was working so hard... why wasn't he coming out?!
Then I had an envisioning, of how it would feel to give up and to accept less than I knew I was capable of. I've done it time and time again in my life, allowing myself to take the easier route out of fear or doubt. THIS was not going to be one of those times. I knew I could do it and that I'd be meeting my baby soon, I just had to find it within myself to finish what we'd begun.
We returned to the bedroom floor, where I followed my body's request to be seated in a deep squat. I had one arm braced against the door frame and the other hand gripping the bedframe as I surrendered to some of the most intense but somehow satisfying pressure and pain I've ever experienced. I groaned, grunted, and roared with each contraction. Again and again I pushed until FINALLY they could see my baby's head, with a little tuft of hair, emerge and go back in.
I summoned every ounce of strength and power I didn't know I had and pushed.
"That's it! Now stay with it... stay with that," Dawn directed as she could sense how much I needed the encouragement. She and Emily kept the positive talk flowing as I was almost there. I reached down to feel a head full of hair begin to emerge, followed by the "ring of fire" burning as our baby finally crowned. I was in disbelief of the intensity of this feeling, and knew the body should follow with the next contraction or two. But why wasn't it? I felt our baby's movement as they tried to maneuver the birth canal. Dawn brought my awareness back to my breath, telling me to breathe deeply down to baby and again I pushed. Nothing.
"Okay mama, we've gotta get baby out of there," she said quickly, as she and Emily helped me move into a runners lunge and push again. I was supported in moving positions again as Dawn quickly explained that baby's shoulders were stuck and she'd need to help them out. With the next contraction I felt another wave of the most intense feeling I'd ever felt, followed by the relief of baby sliding out of me and being instantly placed on my chest.
11:40PM on 2.22.22.
He was beautiful, absolutely perfect, but he was completely limp in my arms.
"Come on baby, let's hear a cry," Dawn pep-talked him. "Is it ok if I give him breaths, mama?" I instantly gave her consent and gently rubbed his little body as she gave him breaths of life... and we waited...