(cross-posted on The Napping House)
You know what you’re getting into, reading a birth story, right? Good. You know that it can get long, right? With lots of pictures (trust me, they're safe)? Good. Read on, then.
The average length of a human pregnancy is 40 weeks. This means that you can give birth anytime from 37 – 42 weeks. I’m one of those who skews the average to the (very) long side. This picture was taken at 40 weeks – well before I gave birth.
On Sunday, May 29, about 6:30 in the evening, I felt a contraction. It wasn’t bad and I’d gone through a two day period two weeks before with steady contractions that were stronger, so I didn’t get excited. Two hours later, with the contractions coming ten minutes apart I still wasn’t convinced they meant anything. I went out to milk the goats and the contractions stopped. When I came back in, Matt had dinner ready and as I stood at the kitchen counter making a taco I was in the middle of saying something along the lines of “Oh, well. Another false start.” when my water broke. THEN I started feeling the contractions. You forget what a cushion that water is for the contractions until it’s not there anymore.
Throughout the last four months of my pregnancy, I’d been talking to the girls about labor and delivery and what to expect if they were awake for it. Both of them very much wanted to be there and I didn’t want the experience to freak either of them out. For Hannah I was worried about the emotional aspect – Mother groaning, maybe crying. For Ainsley I was worried about the physical aspect – the baby comes out of *where*on Mommy? Still, I must have missed explaining how long it could take because when my water broke and I looked up with a shocked laugh and said “My water just broke!”, Hannah started jumping up and down yelling “The baby’s coming NOW! The baby’s coming NOW!” and Ainsley came running over, put her hands in a catching position between my legs with her body in a full baseball catcher position and said in a very excited but serious I-got-this-covered voice “I’ll catch the baby! I’ll catch it.” That may be the hardest that child has ever made me laugh, and that’s saying something folks.
Then labor got started in earnest. The girls were so excited to be awake for it.
We hadn’t planned on calling the midwives until I’d been laboring for a few hours, but it felt right to call them right away, so we did and they said they’d be there in a few hours. Then I called my doula.
My doula showed up about 30 minutes after I called her – fast for how far out we live – and people, if I can give you one piece of advice to make labor easier it is this – find a good doula that you mesh well with. This was my best labor and I feel confident in saying that it is mostly due to this woman - not just what she did for me in labor, but for the influence she was on all of us.
How did we not get a better picture of her? Oh, yeah – she was the one taking most of the pictures.
We’re friends, but we’d met before the birth to discuss her job as doula and what we each expected. I’ve always thought of a doula as a ‘mini midwife’ and wondered what the point was. The point - at least it worked this way for me - is that you have somebody at your birth who is focused on you and what you need – it sounds selfish, but is so, so nice in labor, and what better time to be selfish than in labor? The midwives (or doctors) are focused on safety and health. Your partner may or may not be focused completely on you. In my experience, my partner wasn’t sure what to do to help me, so he pretty much just did what the midwives told him they needed him to do and I was left to labor alone. I thought I preferred that because it’s been my reality for the last three labors, so I asked Alicia to basically keep the midwives away from me unless it was something that absolutely necessary and to make sure that nothing scary was discussed around me – I had had a not-so-pleasant experience with the midwife’s assistant and Matt discussing a worst case scenario right beside me when I was in transition with Grayson and I didn’t want a repeat of that. She said that her job was to be ‘the most helpful ghost’. I liked the sound of that.
We went over the list of visualizations that I had ready. We laughed about the fact that I had included a visualization that wasn’t helpful to me at all – it had annoyed me to no end in my last two labors and irritated me when I wasn’t in labor – but every time I deleted it from my list, I’d find myself typing it back on. My doula’s job was going to be to suggest different visualizations if I appeared to need them. In the past, if I’d had to switch visualizations, I’d have a hard contraction as I either tried to wrack my brain for a good one or broke concentration to look at my list. She was ok with not focusing on me being ‘in control’ as my midwives pushed, but flowing with the contractions.
It was a bonus that she is very experienced with essential oils and massage in case I ended up with back labor. I walked away from our meeting feeling like the last piece had fallen into place and I was ready to give birth.
All of that to tell you … Oh, it was so worth it, having her there – for all of us. She walked in as I was still getting into the groove of labor. Wandering around, pausing for a contraction, wandering a bit more. Within ten minutes of her arriving, I’d found my ‘place’, right beside the desk, and I wasn’t comfortable laboring anywhere else. She set about making it more comfortable for me between contractions - arranging chairs for balance and for resting on - and being there for me in contractions. Funny how labor can be different than you expected. I thought I wouldn’t want to be touched at all – and had prepared my Hannah for that possibility – but found that I flowed into the contractions and out of them much easier if my hand was resting in somebody else’s hand. Between Matt, Ainsley, Hannah and Alicia, I had a hand to hold in every contraction for the next four hours.
Alicia also kept reminding me to relax muscles that she could see me tensing up – my face, my hands, she even caught me out on tensing my toes one time, I think – and that made the contractions easier. She would suggest different visualizations when I needed it. I still don't know how she knew when I needed it. Physical clues? Intuition? Whatever it was, her timing was impeccable and guess what visualization carried me through labor? The one that annoyed me terribly the last two labors. The one that I couldn't seem to delete from my paper.
While I was busy laboring and Alicia was busy keeping me comfortable and focused, Hannah was busy keeping me hydrated (I think Matt counted 9 cups of juice and water with straws in them scattered around the living room the next morning – Hannah did a very good job), and Matt and Ainsley were busy filling the birth pool.
Oh, she was so proud to be given a real job that she knew was important.
When the midwives showed up, labor was clipping along really well, with contractions long and close together, but I was convinced I was still a long way off from delivery because I was able to laugh and communicate coherently between contractions.
Not long after they got there, it got even faster. Several contractions right on top of each other. A sudden hatred of clothes. An intense need to be in the birth pool. Then out. Then in. Then never wanting to leave it.
This was when Matt said he realized how grateful he was to have Alicia there. The midwives appropriated him for little things they needed, the girls needed help with things, and he didn’t have to worry about me. I heard him checking on things with Alicia and then going back to helping others which is a good thing for a man to be doing in labor. I vaguely remember her running interference with the midwives also - making sure my labor was uninterrupted, making sure the water was high enough and the right temperature.
It was 12:30 in the morning by this point and the girls were fading. Ainsley distracted herself by cutting and taping paper into projects and making ‘cafes’ (special fancy drinks that the girls make) for everybody. Hannah would come help me through a contraction and then curl up on the couch for awhile begging anyone who would listen not to let her fall asleep.
That girl is a born nurturer.
I was moving well into transition by this point, but could tell only by the need to focus on resting between contractions. All of the sudden, I wanted to hold only Matt’s hand in contractions and I wouldn’t let him go between. I noticed a few flashes sometimes, but couldn’t process what they meant because I was so deep inside myself. The next day, I was looking through the pictures on the camera and came across this one.
This picture stopped my heart. Alicia captured such a perfect ‘labor moment’. Right between contractions, completely in laborland, leaning on my main support.
Not long after this picture was taken, I hit the contraction that tells every woman she’s almost there. I said, through the first tears of the night, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m scared.” And was met with “You ARE doing this. You’re almost there.” from Matt and “You are so, so strong.” from Alicia and I had my focus back for the next contraction. Two contractions later, I was pushing. Three or four after that, and his head was out.
Have I mentioned on this blog how much this baby moved while inside me? More than all three of my other babies put together. It was nearly constant it seemed. He’d wake me up in the middle of the night kicking. Baby movement is my favorite part of being pregnant, so I felt so lucky that this last child was giving me so much of it. He was moving throughout labor, even with all of the work he was doing in there. You’d think that when he was actually halfway out, he’d take a rest, but he didn’t.
In between pushes, with his head out and his body in, that baby kicked me so hard that I burst into laughter and said The baby just KICKED me!” It was ridiculously funny to me at the time because it seemed that the baby was saying “Why did we stop!? We were almost there! Get me out!” One more push and he was out.
And I cried for the second time that night. Hannah says that I kept saying "We did it, baby, we did it!"
We had told the girls that if they were up for the birth, they would get to tell us if it was a boy or a girl, that not even the midwives would see before them. I wasn’t sure the midwives would listen to me, so I’d told Alicia to please make sure that the baby got its genitals covered as it was pulled out of the water and sure enough, she did. I heard her say ‘oh, just a minute’ as the midwives were pulling him out but before they could see, and putting the towel corner over him. Hannah looked and then Ainsley did and they told us we had a boy. We were *so* surprised. We expected a girl!
One of the things that Matt loves about homebirths is that we get to pick when anybody else gets to hold our baby, they don’t tell us when we’re able to or when the baby needs to be taken away to be weighed and measured and everything else that takes precedence in the hospital.
Ainsley was our first homebirth and the experience of being handed the baby immediately and getting to hold her for so long was so great that he says he can’t imagine doing it any other way as long as we’re lucky enough to have healthy pregnancies and labors.
I was so happy that the girls were able to stay up until 1:30 to see him born. I was also happy that they were prepared for the birth so that it didn’t freak them out but was exciting. And they got to hold him before they went to sleep.
Which for Ainsley, was about five minutes after she held him. Hannah lasted until the placenta was birthed, looked at it, then went to sleep.
Then I curled up on the bed, they laid the baby beside me, and we went to sleep.
We woke up thirty minutes later because he was hungry and I remember thinking “I am so glad that I did this at home.” I was able to wander downstairs and get something to eat. A few hours later, when the afterpains hit, I was able to soak in the tub. A few hours later, I was able to introduce him to Grayson when Gray woke up and his sisters were able to hold him when they woke up many many hours later. I am sold on homebirth for our family. Bliss.
So that's Zander's birth story. I can say that his labor and delivery wasn't painful for me. It was hard work, don't get me wrong, but the focus and visualizations kept me moving through the contractions and not losing myself in physical sensation. The amount of support I had in this birth, from my partner, my children, my doula, my midwives, from the invisible-but-oh-so-tangible group of women around the world who knew I was in labor and were sending me strength, made it such an amazing experience.
Which I won't be repeating anytime soon.