Birth. It teaches you a lot about yourself. It also reminds you of things that you’re already pretty aware of. In my case, I’m a planner. I like predictability. I’m a goal setter, and once I get focused on something, it’s tunnel vision until I get to the finish line. That’s a more polished way of saying I’m a bit of a control freak.
I’d read the books. I’d taken the classes. I’d even been through it once before. In my head, I *knew* that birth was unpredictable and wild and that you couldn’t plan for it or control it; but, that certainly didn’t stop me from trying.
My first birth was a marathon. Days on days of prodromal labor, followed by a very long active labor, and a transfer from the birth center to the hospital after my water had been broken for 24 hours. It ended with an epidural and a very spunky little red headed boy that stole my whole heart. I’d made peace with my first birth outcome, and I actually thoroughly enjoyed that unplanned epidural, but there was a part of me that still wanted to “finish the job” of an unmedicated birth.
When I met with our doula, Julie, about half way through my pregnancy, I was still using the same midwifery group that I had been with during my first pregnancy. I was still tossing around the pros and cons of hospital vs birth center, and it seemed like I changed my mind daily. Part of me was wanting to just start at the hospital, lest I end up there again anyway. I kind of liked the idea of having an epidural available *if* I was in the mood for it. The biggest bummer to me about either option was the 40 minute drive, along with the “when should we leave” game during active labor. But during our meeting, Julie posed a question that I hadn’t really allowed myself to consider. “What about home birth?”
Home birth had always been in the back of my mind, but I honestly never thought my husband would go for it. Julie offered the most simple explanation I’d heard to describe a home birth. The standard of care and available options are exactly the same as you’d get at a birth center. The only difference is either you’re going to them, or they’re coming to you. I loved the idea of being in my own space. I happen to like being home more than anywhere else. It just made sense to me. I glanced at Adam, who said “If that’s what you want, then go for it!” His response shocked me and also delighted me a little. “Lets do it!” I said, and we were off! I’m an easy sell 😉 With a home birth plan in plan in place, it was time to set some (tongue-in-cheek) birth goals!
#1 – My baby would come early. Charlie came at 39 weeks. My mom was two and three weeks early with her babies. Early runs in the family. Have I mentioned I hate being pregnant? Surely this kid would be prompt.
#2 – My labor would be fast. Seriously. It would be. Because I was NOT about to play around with that prodromal labor, not sleeping for three days crap that I experienced during my first birth. Also, second babies come fast! And they come flying out! Since I labored so long with my first, my muscle memory was basically at Olympic athlete status. It’s science.
#3 – My labor would start and finish during normal waking hours. Ideally, I’d been trying to convince baby that things should kick in around 7am. I have a very rambunctious three year old that I’d never spent a night apart from. We decided to keep our home birth a secret from our parents so that they wouldn’t endlessly berate us (my mom) about how we were all going to die, or silently worry themselves into a panic (Adam’s parents) while respectfully trying not to question our choice *too* much. Just unnecessary stress for all parties involved. This secret home birth meant we had no where to send our three year old if things picked up in the middle of the night. So an all nighter simply wasn’t an option 😉
#4 – I would not tear. Because isn’t that every Mom’s goal??
Obviously I knew none of this was within my realm of control, but it was still fun to pretend and to attempt to speak them into existence.
Since pregnancy is considered “term” at 37 weeks, that’s when I was officially cleared to have a home birth. It helped me to breathe a little sigh of relief that things were in motion. Or, eventually would be in motion. Even though I’m fully aware that not many babies arrive spontaneously at 37 weeks, the waiting began. My due date was January 20th.
I’d been *trying* to stop, breathe, and realize the beauty in this season. Trying to mentally categorize every moment, and every little adorable thing my firstborn said to me. “Do you wanna snuggle in da bed, mommy??” I tried to stop whatever I was doing and cherish his last snuggles as an only child. I became more intentional during our (sometimes never ending) bedtime routine; staring at his face and stroking his hair a little longer once he fell asleep every night. I also tried to focus on Arthur. Knowing it was the closest that we would ever be; literally connected in a physical sense. A day would soon come, that I would no longer feel him moving and dancing inside of me. I really was trying to cherish the time; but to say I’d been “waiting patiently” would be a complete and total bold-faced lie.
Because I’m such a big fan of dates and timelines, I had carefully selected all kinds of dates throughout January that would have made the *perfect* potential birthdays for Arthur. The first of which was 1-8, Adam’s birthday. Surely, he wanted to share a birthday with Dad! I even got my L&D pedicure that day, because clearly he was coming. The day came and went. Grrrrr! Quite a few of these dates were less significant, but here is a glimpse into my internal thought reel and my particular brand of control-freak-ed-ness and impatience…
1-9-19 has a nice ring. I like even numbers, so today would be good. Ooh, it’s 1-11. That’s easy to remember. Sounds like a winner. I washed my hair today, so today would be a great day to have a baby. Dead serious about that last one. I believe I even texted that to Julie at one point. Facepalm.
The tip of the scale was my final “chosen” birthday. 1-16. Though I hadn’t wanted to wait it out quite that long, it was my ultimate favorite date choice. My sister’s birthday. I share a birthday with her son, so this just MADE SENSE. Again, the day came and went. I was losing hope. I was going to be pregnant forever. (Let me remind you, I was 39+3 at this point, and not even technically DUE! Ha! What a basket case)!
The days crept on. 1-19 was his great grandmother’s birthday. His last chance to come early! Or would he come on his due date during the exact moment of the super-wolf-blood-moon-lunar-eclipse?? Of course, he didn’t. The *only* silver lining I could find to going beyond his due date was that he would be an Aquarius instead of a Capricorn. I’m married to a Capricorn, and I’m pretty sure there’s only enough room for one under our roof. Ha!
Baby boy started toying with me on Monday night 1-21, the day after his due date, with a few contractions. It put me on alert, but was also light enough for me to know it was nothing serious and still sleep well. I mean, as well as you can at 40 + weeks pregnant. Tuesday was more of the same.
I woke up around 4:30am on Wednesday morning with what felt like very “real” contractions. They were strong and consistent enough to keep me awake, but by about 7am they had fizzled to 10-15 min apart. I sent Julie a text to give her an update, seriously *hoping* it was baby day, but also trying not to psyche myself out. I knew this pattern could go on for days and I needed to try to live my life (and more importantly SLEEP) while I still could. I had scheduled a last minute hair appointment for that afternoon. I debated if I should drive the hour to Greenville to make it happen, or if it was too risky with the on and off contractions. I pictured myself with 100 foils in my hair and my water breaking in the salon chair. I decided it was a worthwhile risk to avoid having terrible roots during my whole postpartum period. No one wants roots when their hair is already falling out in clumps! After my hair appointment, I treated myself (Actually, my dear friend Sarah Lynne treated me) to some amazing Indian food for lunch. I checked in with my midwife for one last “yep, you’re still pregnant” appointment, and headed home.
Wednesday night I started losing some mucus in the shower (yay, progress!) and decided to go to bed (err umm.. down for a nap?) at 9:30pm. I woke up at 11:30pm to more intense and consistent contractions. Sadly, that two hour nap would be the last I’d sleep for quite some time. I waited a couple hours, and text Julie around 1am or so that it *might* be baby time and I’d keep her posted. Sadly, it was not. My contractions were coming every 5-7 min, then I would get a 10 min break. I could breath through them but they were still intense. Just enough consistency and intensity to keep me awake the entire night. Oh, prodromal labor. You son of a bitch. I just don’t have another way to describe it. It’s not even the contractions that are a big deal. It’s the lack of sleep coupled with the inner monologue of “Yay! It’s almost time! Nevermind!” Enough to drive anyone to the brink of insanity.
By about 5am, Charlie had crawled into my bed. I spooned him through the waves and maybe shed a tear or two that it was probably (please, for the love, hopefully) the last early morning snuggle we would get to have without a new babe.
When Thursday morning rolled around, I let Julie know what was happening. She assured me that my body was working properly, and gave me some exercises and instructions on things to do throughout the day to help things pick up. I was very happy to at least have some tangible steps to take.
Charlie went off to school and Adam decided that he would pack him an overnight bag and have his parents do pick up that afternoon. Even if this prodromal pattern kept on for another day or so, I officially couldn’t “mom” anymore between the contractions and the lack of sleep. My first night away from my baby boy! Oh, my heart!
The consistently inconsistent pattern continued all day. Adam and I hung out in bed watching movies and trying to relax. I’d been wanting to see the Amy Schumer movie “I Feel Pretty.” Laughing is good medicine for early labor. I checked in on my first baby boy after school, and we talked to our parents, assuring them all was well and that it wasn’t quite time to head to the birth center yet. Wink, wink.
By about 7pm, my contractions started getting more active and picking up in intensity. I had started to request counter pressure on my back from Adam (this is *my thing* in labor) so we called Julie to have her listen to a few contractions. She told us to keep her posted as things progressed. By about 10pm, they were really coming back to back. I took a shower, and we asked Julie to come over. It was game on! Finally!
Julie got there at about 11pm, and after hanging out and watching me for a bit decided it was probably best to call the team. I was beyond excited to hear that news! I think what made my labor seem so difficult, is that I was heading into this active phase already very
tired. My darling little boy had not heeded my request for a daytime labor experience! At this point I’d been awake (sans my two hour nap) for over 40 hours. I was just running on fumes and hormones. I made it clear that my goal was a baby, and sooner rather than later. Skip the zen and the candles. I wanted all the tricks to speed things up and get it done.
The team arrived somewhere around midnight. It was just so surreal watching all of the supplies come out and the tub be blown up. It was like they were little birth fairies that swooped in and transformed our house into a birth center. I spent the next couple of hours shuffling around the house and dancing through contractions to my birth playlist, which mostly consisted of The Greatest Showman soundtrack and Backstreet Boys. I love the part of labor where the breaks are still long enough to socialize in between. I mean, who doesn’t love a good break? I see no reason that birth can’t also be a fun hangout with people you like.
By 2am they asked if I wanted to be checked for progress. During my first birth, I remember not wanting to know how dilated I was because I didn’t want to get in my head about it. For some reason, this time I just wanted to know. I felt like I’d been working so damn hard that *surely* I’d be pretty far along. I was… three centimeters. I died a thousand deaths. For about eight seconds I allowed myself to fall apart inside and think ALL the negative thoughts. I’d never finish. I couldn’t do this. My body couldn’t do this. Three centimeters. THREE CENTIMETERS!?? But then I told myself to stop that nonsense and carry on. Because that’s literally all I could do.
The next few hours are kind of a blur. I was in the tub, out of the tub, dancing, squatting, swaying, and begging my husband not to move more than six feet away from me so that he could put pressure on my back. We discovered the counter pressure trick during my first birth. But I’m not talking about a regular double hip squeeze. I needed him to put the full weight of his 220 lbs of downward pressure on my sacrum. And I needed it for every single contraction. I cannot emphasize what a rockstar birth partner he was (again). I had the marks on my lower back to prove it.
At one point during this period I got really nauseous out of nowhere and threw up. I remember feeling really excited thinking that maybe it meant baby was near since that’s one of the signs of being in transition. I was also excited that maybe it was the last time I would throw up during this pregnancy. Ha!
I continued to labor in the tub for a while. This stands out as one of the most difficult parts of labor. It just felt like the contractions were getting SO intense and LONG and my beloved breaks had all but vanished. I just felt so tired and SO done and I started thinking all of the cliche things about not being able do it anymore. I kept saying that I just really wanted a baby by the morning. I also REALLY wanted to sleep. Like, I wanted to sleep almost as much as I wanted to meet my baby. In fact, I’m pretty sure I vocalized that at some point. Labor is such a weird physical experience in that you *can’t* quit. Running a marathon and feel like you can’t go on? Stop running. Having a baby and feel like you can’t go on? Suck it up, buttercup. Time to push a watermelon out of a donut hole! Hooray!
About the time that I was getting pretty unhappy/done in the tub, my midwives started to suspect a cervical lip. It was kind of like I was in endless transition but not feeling “pushy” yet. Unfortunately, their fabulous intuition was correct. My options were to keep trying different positions to see if it would move, or to have my midwife try to manually move it during a contraction. Option two would be faster but she warned me that I would hate her. Faster was my goal. Bring on the pain! I won’t say it was a pleasant experience, but knowing that it was a step towards baby made it manageable.
Once the lip was moved I was out of the tub and they were having me try some different positions to bring baby down. I was dilated and ready to push. The weird part though, is that I never got a super strong urge to push like I expected. In fact, I think at one point I said “wait.. am I pushing? Is this pushing??” With an affirmative yes, we were on our way. First I was on the toilet and hating it, so I moved to my hands and knees on the bed, using a birth ball to support my upper body. I remember feeling like my upper body was just so weak at that point. Julie convinced me to do the captain morgan pose while I was on my hands and knees. Lord, I hated that from my first birth and I hated it again this time. Things weren’t moving very quickly on the ball, so the team urged me to go back to the toilet. I had envisioned myself giving birth in the water, but in the moment, it just wasn’t happening.
Pushing on the toilet was rough. I mean, phew! It was just WORK! I was sweating like an animal, screaming like an animal, and I remember feeling like my butt was actually going to split open and explode. I was so close to being done, but I don’t think I realized it. It felt like I might continue doing this forever and I also might pop a vein in my neck from screaming so hard. A special shoutout to the zen, hypno-mamas who breathe their babies out with a soft moan and a sentimental word of affirmation. I am not that mama. Thanks to my awesome photographer who shot some video, I can look (and listen) back forever on me screaming “SHIIIIIITTTT!!!” during a final push. Once he was crowning, I gripped Adam’s arms and stood up from the toilet, mustered up the last bit of energy I had, literally thought “I absolutely can’t get out of this at this point,” and pushed out his head. The ring of fire is real, y’all! So there I was. Standing in my master bath, baby head hanging out of my lady bits and waiting for ONE MORE contraction to push out his shoulders. “Is he cute??” I asked. Who asks that?? Someone assured me that the back of his head was very cute. Then, with one final push he came GUSHING out in a wave of water. Arthur James entered the world, just as the sun was coming up, at 7:22am. Shout out to the midwife for catching that extra fast and slippery babe!
They lifted him into my arms as I sat back down onto the toilet and uttered my first words to my baby. “You’re here! You’re here! We did this together and it was so freaking terrible!” Ha!! Again, special thanks to Ashlie for capturing that audio, as I would have never remembered saying that.
They shuffled me over to *my very own bed* (swoon) as I snuggled my precious new baby. My placenta was being a little uncooperative, so I had to move back to the toilet to push it out. Talk about PTSD. I just remember thinking.. WHY am I back here pushing something else out of me?? The injustice!
It did allow some time for Adam and baby to snuggle, which was very sweet. After I was placenta free, we took an herbal bath, had a little champagne toast, and curled back up into bed. Someone asked me what I wanted to eat, and I remembered the half eaten pint of Ben and Jerry’s Tonight Dough in my freezer. So perfect! The postpartum bliss had begun.
Watching everyone pack up the birth supplies was surreal. We just had a baby… IN OUR HOUSE. All of these wonderful people drove here in the middle of the night to support us and help us welcome our baby into the world. Totally wild!
We waited for the official baby exam to call our parents and let them know. Arthur James was here! 8 LB 8 oz and 21 inches long, born at 7:22am… at home! Surprise!
He made sure to shatter all four of my birth goals… Five days late, kept me awake for days, labored all night, and left me a small parting gift of a light tear. Yet somehow, it was still all perfect, exactly how it should’ve been, and as cliche as it sounds, totally worth it.
I was so curious leading up to this experience how I would reflect on an unmedicated home birth in retrospect. Would I be 100% all in to do it again? Or would it be like that time I ran a half marathon and then literally hung up my running shoes and *never* ran again? A been there, done that, got the t-shirt type event, if you will. After all, I am a box-checking goal setter. I will admit that in the days following, visions of epidurals for baby #3 danced in my head. I questioned why I would ever put myself through that again. Drugs are so lovely. But, women are also bad asses; and reflecting back on Arthur’s birth makes me feel like one bad ass, warrior mama. So much so, that yes, I would definitely do it again.