It was 4 years after my first child was born before I began to realized that there was another way; a better way, for me, to bring my babies into the world. Before I was even pregnant with my second child I was lucky enough to meet a girl at work named Nadine. She was strong and confident and knew what she wanted….all things that I was not. She was less than a year older than me, but she knew things and had experienced things that I never had. Her first daughter had been born at home with a midwife. I thought she was crazy, but also, fascinating. We got to know each other well and I met her friend Johanna, who had had her first son at the birth center ran by the same midwife Nadine had used.
What was this? Of course I’d HEARD of natural birth. My Grandpa, when he was alive had teased me about having my first baby in a field, like our Native ancestors. I’d vaguely heard stories that my Aunt was a lay midwife in CA, but no one really talked about it too much. I had no details, just a vague idea that that was a hippy thing to do….. My mother had had a natural birth in the 70s in a hospital, but of course the story was always told in a very fear driven way. “Worst pain of your life” “Closest you come to dying” and many other things were thrown around while I was growing up.
All of a sudden I was meeting women my age who had not only had natural births, they had done it outside of a hospital and they had ENJOYED it! I was confused and afraid, but mostly, I was intrigued. The more I got to know these women the more I heard. Nadine’s sister had had home and birth center births. Their friends and friends of friends had had babies at home. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
Not long after I met Nadine, she got pregnant with her second daughter. I’m pretty sure I drove her crazy with questions. I went to one of her midwife appointments with her and asked even more questions. “Do you carry pain medications?” “What if the baby isn’t breathing when it’s born?” I don’t know how many questions I asked, or if they were even the questions I should have been asking, but the more I learned the more I knew in my soul that this is what I wanted for my next birth.
I wasn’t even yet married to my husband, but I couldn’t stop learning more. The day I flew out to prepare for my out-of-state wedding, my sweet niece Kayli was born. I cried all the way to the airport knowing I would miss her birth. She was born, precipitously, at the birth center, instead of at home as planned, but everyone was home and in their beds by the end of the night. Fascinating.
Turns out, I also got pregnant with my second son that same week. At this point I knew that I wanted to birth at home. I researched like crazy. I found a Bradley Method Class and drug my new husband to it for 12 weeks. He was NOT convinced of the home birth plan. After almost every class we argued about whatever the subject for the night was. Slowly, the fear turned to knowledge and the knowledge turned to empowerment. I learned that the cascade of interventions I received during my first birth led to the fear and the urgency and contributed to my baby not breathing when he was born. I learned that pain is subjective and that labor pain has a purpose. I learned to trust myself and my husband and nature to guide us in the right direction. I learned that birth was not a medical situation, but a physiological one in which mother and baby work TOGETHER to bring baby into the world.
My husband learned that the things he was afraid of were more likely to happen in a hospital setting than at home. He didn’t want anyone to “tell us what to do”. He didn’t want anyone telling him how to take care of me or interfering in our personal space. He didn’t want our baby to be treated in an unsafe manner. The more he learned, the more he was on board with birthing our baby at home, together, in our bed.
We decided to use the same midwife my friends had used and we planned our home birth. At the time, my reasons for having a home birth were to prevent myself from allowing interventions. I was not a confrontational person. I’m still not. I knew that my innate fear of authority would keep me from speaking up when the time came. I knew that I wasn’t quite strong enough to say no if a doctor told me I NEEDED this that or the other thing. I didn’t want to battle. I didn’t want my husband to have to stand up for me. I didn’t want to have a weak moment during transition (almost ALL women do) where I asked for pain relief, because I knew it would be too easy to get it.
I made the decision to remove those options from my birthing environment. I knew that while I might not be strong enough to refuse interventions at the hospital, I would also be too embarrassed to do a transfer in my weak moment. (The mind of an introvert) I knew that my midwife would not have interventions to offer me, no matter how weak I became. I knew that I would be forced to be strong. I wanted to force myself to work through it. The hospital where my first son was born was only a ten minute drive away. This was the perfect way for me to transition from a completely medicalized birth to a natural birth.
On July 26th my husband was set to go to work in the afternoon and our oldest was in NY visiting his Aunt. He was set to fly home that evening, 9 months and 15 days after 9/11. We ran errands during the day, enjoying our last few hours of alone time and I had what felt like contractions to me.
Because my first birth had been induced, I didn’t really know what contractions felt like. I only knew hard, pitocin induced contractions that scared me and were almost immediately dulled by drugs. I’d taken the classes, I’d studied a lot, but you never really know until it happens. Turns out, these were probably just Braxton Hicks contractions, but I did not know that at the time.
The “contractions” continued throughout the day. My husband called in to work just in case and we contacted my friend Nichole about potentially picking my son up from the airport. This was during that period of time after 9/11, but before flying restrictions got really tight and the airline agreed to let her pick him up for us. Lucky us, because that changed shortly after.
We went home and I continued to have “contractions”. I was excited to have the baby because my husband would be on a three-day weekend. What better way to start Paternity leave? My husband went to the store to get food for later and at some point I took castor oil in some orange juice to get things going. GROSS! This is NOT something I recommend, but it “seemed” to work for me. Things got stronger, my son came home and my friend stayed. We called the midwife and my parents and my Doula, Tonya . (I’d only met her a week before and she had been planning to come the very next day to do pregnancy photography for us)
When we called the midwife she originally asked me to come in to her office (a 45 minute drive) to get checked. I refused 1. because I didn’t want to get in a car, that was the point of homebirth, and 2. because my friend Nadine had gone to the birth center to ‘get checked’ and ended up birthing there and not making it home. I did not want the same thing to happen to me, so I convinced her to come. This was my mistake.
The midwife arrived around 11PM and checked me…..I was only 1cm! As mentioned before, what I thought were “contractions” were probably only braxton hicks and then taking the castor oil just continued to irritate things which was most likely giving me stomach cramps, not contractions. I felt extremely guilty for dragging her out at night and a little dumb for thinking this was it. I was only 38 weeks along, but when I asked what to do next the midwife said “Well, I’m here now, we’re going to have a baby!” Because I felt guilty I consented to letting her stretch my cervix manually. THAT was painful, but didn’t take long because my cervix was super soft and effacement was already beginning. When she was done, I was 4cm.
While writing this I asked my husband if he remembered if my midwife broke my water right then after the stretching or if she let me go for a while. (This is 12 years ago, people, excuse my memory lapse.) He says she let me go for a while and that I got into our garden tub. I do not remember that at all. Interesting.
So about an hour later the midwife checked me again and I was still a 4. She asked if she could break my water and I consented; again, out of guilt. Everyone was here just waiting on me…… For me, things got extremely intense. All I could do was lay on my right side, in the side lying position we’d learned in Bradley. I remember laying there, overwhelmed at the intensity, visualizing Pioneer women birthing their babies in log cabins. All I could do was allow the energy to wash over me. I would pass out between contractions and moan at the peak. From the outside looking in, it looked like nothing was happening at all. I appeared to be resting. On the inside I was riding intense waves of energy, letting go of all control and experiencing the power of my own body to birth a baby naturally.
An hour after that, at 2AM I was still a 4. Nichole had to leave. She was 4 months pregnant herself and had to work the next day. We said goodbye between contractions and I went back to (what looked to everyone else) sleeping. Even the midwife tucked herself into a corner for a snooze.
At some point my moans must have turned to grunts because the midwife recognized the sound, woke up and discovered I was at 10cm. It had been less than 45 minutes since she last checked me.
Right around this same time my doula showed up. (In her defense, I didn’t truly understand the role of a doula and when we called her I was NOT actually in labor. She had gotten up right away, taken her kids where they needed to be and headed over to a house she’d never been to. She had no idea what had been taking place at the house.) When she arrived she noticed what looked like a full moon and took a quick picture. That’s when she heard me. “I knew that sound. You were pushing.”
She hurried to the front door and knocked. My dad answered it (He had been hanging out in the living room with my oldest) and pointed her to the back bedroom.
I don’t really remember pushing. I remember laying in my bed, overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. I remember the midwife asking my husband if he wanted to catch (he didn’t) and guiding his hands to help our baby out (he loved it) The pushing part is a blur. It happened quickly.
By the time Tonya made it to the bedroom, Ashton was already born.
We were ecstatic! I did it! I felt so happy and proud of myself and my husband. I had never felt more powerful or accomplished. I was HIGH on oxytocin, in awe of my body and in LOVE with this new little being.
My sweet little one, covered in vernix, was put on my chest immediately and after his initial cry, he was very very quiet and peaceful. He didn’t scream, he didn’t gasp, he just laid there, quietly in my arms with his little eyes closed. This was the first home birth my doula had attended and she told me much later that inside she was freaking out a little. She’d only attended hospital births where everything is rushed and so much emphasis is put on getting baby to yell like a banshee that she at first thought something was wrong. She didn’t understand why the midwife wasn’t rubbing him up and/or giving him oxygen to get him going.
The midwife knew though, that my baby was still attached to his placenta. He was still getting oxygen rich blood, just as he had been for the past nine months and breathing was not yet necessary. He did breathe on his own and it didn’t take long, probably less than a minute. My dad and oldest son had heard the initial cry and came into the room to meet him.
The midwife asked my husband if he wanted to cut the cord. He did, and he didn’t like it. He was surprised by how strong it was, and by the fact that it didn’t just snip with one cut the way he’d expected. It grossed him out a little, but then, he was holding our sweet baby boy for the first time.
The midwife checked our son out while my husband held him and the doula noticed indentations on both of his heels. She took a picture of it because she’d never seen it before, but I knew exactly what it was from. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy I kept saying that it felt like my son was pushing on my ribs, spreading them out, and he was. He had the heel indentations to prove it. They went away within a few hours after his birth.
After several minutes of baby meeting the family while the placenta was birthed, the midwife weighed him. 7lbs, 6 oz. Daddy got the honor of putting on his first diaper and the midwife showed him how to swaddle while I talked to my mom in Colorado. He then came back to me and she helped him to latch for the first time.
I got up to take a shower and everyone passed our new little bundle of joy around. His big brother was so proud!
Less than an hour after birthing my baby I was up and in the kitchen eating a big ‘ol sandwich prepared by my husband. I sat at the kitchen island holding my baby, surrounded by my family and my doula, snapping away the entire time.
After a wardrobe change when I realized I could not breastfeed in a full length t-shirt type nightgown, we settled on the couch and went over all the postpartum things with my midwife. She kissed me goodbye, my parents left and my doula put us all to bed to sleep for the night, er, early morning.
Our lives were transformed.
This little man is twelve today. Happy Birthday Ashton Tyler!
All photography courtesy of http://www.tonyagervacio.com/