My maternity self-education and preparation focused on anything written by Ina May Gaskin and as much as I could read about the midwives and birth stories from women on The Farm. These stories prepared me for real labor, but cast in a positive light. I felt healthy, empowered and ready. The best advice I received from the midwives at JFHBC was to throw away the classic “What to Expect” text. While I didn’t do that, I occasionally read passages and was immediately aware of the negative tone throughout. It’s not a joke, that book is a bummer and I’d recommend burning it!
I was awakened Friday morning at 3am by dull cramping. Not that I was sleeping much anyway, my hips ached if I spent any time at all in any one position. I excitedly asked my husband, Jake, “Do you think this is it? Is this labor? Is our baby coming?” We were both thrilled to become a family of three, which is saying something because I was pretty sure I never wanted kids. Somehow, intentionally becoming pregnant overwhelmed me with the maternal feelings I never felt toward children.
We both tried to sleep some, the cramping sensations did not prevent me from dozing. Around 7am, we got out of bed, the dull cramping was becoming more like actual cramping. Although it was rhythmic, it was not something we could ever figure out how to time. At 8am, I sent the following email to my office:
Subject: Not coming in today!
Baby is coming
To which my 67 year old, co-worker responded that he *might* stop by to drop off some fresh crab. At a home birth. He obviously never thought twice about how stinky crab might sit with a laboring pregnant woman, or whether or not I included a co-worker-voyeur in my birth plan. I was laboring in the living room with one eye on the street for his car. It was both hilariously distracting and somewhat disturbing. Despite the potential for an unexpected guest, the labor progressed well. I was able to keep on top of the pain mentally and work my way through the contractions one at a time. My husband worked hard to feed and hydrate us throughout the day. He also walked the dog and generally stayed pretty busy. I’m not sure if this was his coping mechanism, or if there was really that much to do. My co-worker, thankfully, decided not to pay us a visit.
We called the Birth Center at around 10am to tell them know we were in labor. I tried my best to rest between contractions. At one point, my husband suggested we all go for a walk but I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about how I was actually in labor. The friendly inquires of the last month were enough to put me over the edge. Let’s stop talking about this baby and have it already! I’m sure most women feel this way.
We had a birth tub ready and inflated in the dining room and at around 7pm we decided we should fill it up. We lit some candles we were given for our wedding and kept the atmosphere relaxed. Johanna had checked in on us via text to Jake periodically. Since we couldn’t figure out how to time the contractions, we thought we were a long way off. Johanna decided she would come on by and drop off some things and see how things were progressing. We were pretty casual about the labor, as everything so far had been pretty easy. She asked if she could check dilation and I was a little hesitant. What if I was only dilated 2cm? That would be a nightmare! But we went ahead and had her check, by that time it had been 17 hours of labor. To our surprise we were at 8cm. Johanna said, “I think we will see this baby soon.” She quickly called the other midwife, Chelsea, and intern, Jess, to join us at the house. Jake poured a glass of wine to try to relax.
A few more hours passed (I think, I’m not sure) and my water still had not broken. Baby’s heart rate was periodically checked, still sounding good. During this time I was in and out of the birth tub, trying to pee on the toilet, not happening. Ended up peeing in the shower, squatting with hot water on my back to try to relax. Pro tip: never hold your pee when laboring.
I was vaguely aware of Chelsea and Jess trying to nap in our living room during this time. Burdened by the slower than expected progress, Johanna checked my cervix again. A portion had not completely retracted and was beginning to swell from the pressure of the baby. We tried different positions in the tub to keep things moving along, and perhaps to get that pesky cervix to open completely. Contractions were getting much more intense. I was working through them by saying “O-p-e-n” like a mantra, a tip I learned from the women on The Farm.
Johanna fixed me a glass of water with arnica to reduce the swelling homeopathically. It was difficult for me to drink or eat anything. Our dog, who never drinks water from a glass, somehow managed to drink the entire contents when no one was looking. Too bad it was the last arnica tablet she had! Time for another plan.
Still in the tub, a big contraction lasted longer than normal and Pow! I felt something big release. Was it the baby? No! It was my waters and, yikes, some green stuff. After some inspection and deliberation, I was reassured that the baby was fine and this was an acceptable amount of meconium and not worth worrying too much about. At some point within this timeframe, I vomited, half in the tub, and we decided it was time to get out.
With no more arnica and contractions becoming more and more intense, Johanna told me she needed to try to push the swollen edge of the cervix back with her hand.
I reluctantly told her, “okay,” and she set to work with me crouching on the kitchen floor. Immediately, though, I told her to stop. Pushing on a swollen edge of cervix took my intensity level from about a 7 to a 10. I said we could do it, I just needed a minute to mentally build up to that level. During this time I also said something like, “this is way harder than I expected. I felt really on top of it and now I am so… tired.” I also said, “I can do this.”
After a few more contractions, I told Johanna to give it another go. We needed to get the baby out. So she did it. She pushed the cervix back with her hand. It was like an electric charge in my body, but this time I was ready for it. It lasted only a second and now the baby could move out.
About this time, everyone was up and the midwives suggested we move to the bedroom to rest before the arrival. Jake and I laid down on the bed, I could tell he was exhausted. It was dark in the room, except for a few candles the midwives had brought in and the light from the bathroom.
Steadily the contractions were ramping up and I could feel the baby moving now. We were in the pushing phase but I almost didn’t realize it, because my body was taking over and my mind hadn’t caught up. When it did catch up, I had a surge of decisiveness, got up and grabbed the high birthing stool. This was the tool I needed. My body was in control. I’m in the doorway of the bedroom, squatting and gripping the stool hard but, uh oh, now what? More meconium. This time, the midwives are worried. Now I’m sitting on the birth stool, the waves of contractions coming at me, and I am full on grunting (loud) with no ability to stop any of it. It was completely primal. The baby was coming down the canal like a freight train.
“The baby could aspirate the meconium and become very sick.” Johanna is telling me I have to decide whether or not to go to the hospital. I’m thinking, “Wait, what? The hospital? How in the hell am I going to get from this position, naked, uncontrollably pushing, to the car?”
By this time it was a little before 5am. I had been at it for almost 26 hours. I told Jake to make the call to go or not go. I had no idea how to make sense of the situation. Really, I was just hoping he would stall so I could get this baby out. Jake said, “okay, we can try to get her to the hospital, but we are taking our Subaru. No ambulance.” Organized chaos ensued. Chelsea and Jess were digging through my closet looking for something I can throw on to get to the car, meanwhile I am still pushing on the birth stool in the doorway of our bedroom, covered in an array of bodily fluids.
They grab a dress and hold it out, “Here! How about this one?”
“No, that’s my best dress!” I yell. Everyone cracks up. They have no idea.
Jake is warming up the car, it’s pouring outside. I’m still pushing as if my life depends upon it, thinking, “I am going to have my baby right here. It will be healthy.” As soon as the car is packed, everyone gathers back around to check me once more before we go and… they can see the baby’s head! It’s a miracle. We will stay.
As Johanna coached me through the delivery, Chelsea and Jess readied the Nose Frida and suction bulb. The baby would need to be immediately suctioned to prevent meconium aspiration. As he was crowning I asked for oil, I had a burning sensation toward the front, which was a somewhat unexpected place to tear. The baby’s head crowned with one push and out with the next. I tried to remember to slow down. Another push and the body was out – a boy – and he looked nothing like I expected! He looked big, but was a healthy average 7lb. 11oz. Born on his due date. He was covered in meconium and was immediately suctioned by Chelsea and Jess, then handed to me. His eyes were open, he was wailing and I was elated. He looked so healthy. I did not feel the placenta delivery, it just came right out, then I was given an herbal tincture to promote clotting.
We spent the rest of the morning and day cuddling with our new boy, working at breastfeeding and deciding on a name. I remember Johanna told me, “Just like birth was harder than you expected, so is breastfeeding. You can do it. Just trust the process.” The midwives showed us the basics, cleaned and tidied our home, packed their things and planned to visit us the next day. I soaked in a sitz bath for a bit and relaxed in bed. I didn’t experience much pain after the birth, did not tear and did not need or take any medication.
When Johanna arrived for the home visit the day after, she told us our son was looking pretty yellow. We hadn’t even noticed. She said was concerned about his bilirubin levels, explained that bilirubin is toxic at high levels, and recommended we have him tested at the hospital. Walking into the hospital was a surreal experience. Neither of us had been there before, and here we were with this tiny human for whom we were suddenly responsible. It was very emotional.
We met with the lactation consultant first for a heel prick. His levels were elevated, but just below the level requiring treatment. Here was our first big decision as parents. As much as we did not want to stay at the hospital, we decided to have him admitted for phototherapy. It was beautiful and clear outside but too cold for him to be remedied by the sun. This next phase of the birth was very stressful for us: normal breastfeeding troubles complicated by a sleepy jaundiced baby, opinions and prodding by doctors, nurses and lactation consultants, recycled hospital air. Everything we wanted to avoid was somehow unavoidable. We just wanted to be at home, snuggling with our new little baby, and dog.
During the weeks after our his birth, Nels was admitted to the hospital twice for phototherapy. At one point, his bilirubin levels were high and not coming down as quickly as expected. The attending pediatrician was discussing options to travel to Seattle for higher level care. Things seemed to be spinning out of control. Fortunately, Nels never allowed us to put him down, so we kept a light paddle on him and held him the entire time he was admitted, never losing out on bonding time. Another upside was that I was able to capitalize on the icy maxi pads available in the maternity ward.
My husband said, “Nels is a healthy baby and he will get better. I know it.” I trusted him, and he did eventually get better. His bilirubin levels came down to an acceptable level though he remained bronzy for almost 3 months. Our time in the hospital was sleepless, scared, and we were heartbroken that our boy needed so much medical attention. But with perspective, we realize we had it much easier than many families and for that we are grateful. We had an ideal home birth and a beautiful healthy boy.