Anneliese’s birth was good, by so many standards. Almost everything I had prioritized happened. I labored at home as long as possible with my husband and my doula, drank normally at the hospital and had no IV fluids, had no interventions like AROM/pitocin/epidural/other drugs, had intermittent (rather than constant) fetal monitoring, made use of the shower/birth ball/squat bar, and had a vaginal birth, delayed cord clamping, no vaccines/vitamin k/antibiotic eye drops for baby, healthy baby, healthy mama.
But those aren’t the only things that matter. And through the last 20 months, as I’ve reflected on her birth and my experience, certain things kept coming to the surface and really REALLY bothering me. The drive to the hospital was tense and uncomfortable. I couldn’t even sit in the car seat because of my back pain (it was all back labor), so I kneeled backwards, hugging the seat back, for the 25-minute drive. At the hospital, my hep lock was placed (the compromise to having no IV fluids) which took a lot of struggle and pain and a couple of “tries” before it was successful, all while I was having painful back contractions. I hurt myself due to the hospital room/equipment a few times — the shower seat fell on me, and during some monitoring while I sat on the ball I slipped and jammed my legs into the pointy junk under the bed.
While labor in general was pretty flexible, positioning-wise, it’s hard to get “comfortable” on a narrow awkward bed, and few other options (whereas at home, I could bury my face in the couch cushions, knees on the floor, which was the position that felt most “right” to me). And once the midwife determined it was time to have the baby, I was coerced into lying on my back, which was the most uncomfortable thing possible for me, and incidentally also makes the opening for the baby to come through the pelvis smaller, doesn’t allow baby to rotate into position as well, and allows gravity to help very little. After over four hours of unproductive pushing, while imagining surgeons outside my door with scalpels at the ready, dying to perform a C-section, I agreed to an episiotomy in my exhaustion. 55+ stitches later, the midwife was finished with her job…
And in my birth-hormone high, I didn’t care about any of that. I was just so happy to have my baby in my arms. But as the months ticked by, I realized I felt threatened, bullied, and disrespected in my birthing. It was not the peaceful blissful experience I had wanted, and even though I was extremely educated in my choices and had the support of my wonderful husband and my doula, I feel as if somewhere along the line, I completely lost control of the situation. And I needed to feel in control. I needed to feel safe.
I decided this time would be different.
From the beginning of this pregnancy, I knew I wanted a homebirth. My husband took a little bit of convincing, but since we now live on base so close to the hospital, he felt more comfortable with the idea than when we lived in town. He also agreed that the hospital didn’t feel like the most comfortable and safe place for me (which isn’t to say it isn’t the best thing for MANY other women), and supported me in my desire to take control of the situation and to choose care providers who were more aligned with my preferences and goals.
Thankfully, I have a great support network of “crunchy” mamas in the area, and before long, I had a short list of homebirth midwives to contact. Several people had glowing reviews of a particular midwife, and I met with her to see if we were a “match.” She seemed really nurturing and protective, hands-off, and experienced, plus I liked her personality from the beginning. So I didn’t bother meeting with the other midwives in the area.
I “signed up” with Detrah and saw her, along with the OBs at the hospital for concurrent care (base hospital care is covered by my insurance, including labs/tests/ultrasounds, but my midwifery care was not. I also wanted the hospital to be familiar with me and my pregnancy in case I needed to transfer for any reason during birth), for the rest of my pregnancy.
So our “homebirth team” would be me and my husband, my midwife Detrah, her midwife partner Alex, and our doula Coleen (who was with us for Anneliese’s birth). I didn’t worry much about Anneliese. The entire pregnancy, I had a feeling she would be asleep in her bed at night when it was time to have this baby, and that she would sleep through it. I also thought that if she were to be awake, she would probably go about her business, playing with toys, eating, wanting to be with me on and off, but not be bothered by birth. We watched some videos of homebirths and water births, and she was very interested in the mamas and babies, and not at all “freaked out” even by the moms who were more vocal during their labors. I also felt that Zora would sense the energy and be pretty calm, and although we planned to have someone to call in case she needed to go elsewhere, we didn’t have that plan in place before Joseph’s birth day.
The theme of my pregnancy and birth became “different is good.” I didn’t want a repeat of Anneliese’s birth, even though so many parts of it went so well. I didn’t want so much back pain in pregnancy, so I saw a chiropractor every couple of weeks, and every week toward the end as prevention. I didn’t want 2 weeks of prodromal labor. I hoped the chiropractor would help with that too. I wanted to avoid back labor at all costs. So when I got Braxton-Hicks contractions that were “all belly” with zero back pain? I celebrated. I loved my Braxton-Hicks contractions. Because they were different.
Anneliese liked to hang out on the left side of my uterus through my entire pregnancy with her. Joseph was on the right, always. Detrah would shake her head and tell him to move to the left, because babies with their backs to the right end up with mamas having back labor. But to me, different was good, so I was happy to have him on the right side throughout the pregnancy. Anneliese was a gymnast in utero. Joseph was completely “chill.” Different. Good. It wasn’t about Anneliese’s birth being BAD, but I needed reassurance that this one wasn’t going to be hers, repeated. I needed reminders that every pregnancy and each birth is completely unique.
I listened to the Hypnobabies pregnancy affirmations track often in the last weeks. I also listened to other tracks about deep relaxation and creating anesthesia, and practiced the techniques, but not nearly as much as I “should have” if I really wanted to have a Hypnobabies birth. Still, some of the lessons were useful to me, and some of the phrases and imagery helped while I was in labor.
Me at 39 weeks pregnant (yes, in my underwear), the day before Joseph was born.
The day before Joseph was born, I woke up with horrible SI joint pain on one side. It hurt to walk, and I couldn’t pick Anneliese up without a lot of pain. My husband had the day off of work, and we took Anneliese to a class at the community center that morning. I spent most of the class sitting in the lobby area of the resource center, trying to get an appointment with a chiropractor. Mine had pneumonia, but I finally got squeezed in with another chiropractor in the area. After Anneliese’s class was over, Topher dropped me off at the chiro office and took Anneliese to get a small list of snacks for my friend Joni who had just had her baby, Max.
It wasn’t too long before I was seen, and the chiropractor was very thorough. I felt incredibly better as soon as I left his office. After that, we went to visit Joni and her new baby. We chatted for a while and I held Max some, and had a few contractions while we visited.
Throughout the day, Joseph moved a lot. Not little kicks like his normal movements, but rolling around. At one point, he felt like he was completely sideways in my body, then I felt that he had settled again, head down. I couldn’t tell exactly where his body was but it wasn’t on the right side as it had been for most of my pregnancy.
My contractions also began to change. They had been “belly only” but now I started to feel some start with uterine tightening, followed by a “belt” of …not exactly pain… but different feeling… under my belly, which I interpreted as possible cervical change happening. I was excited to see a little bit of bloody mucus (just slightly tinged pink) when I went to the bathroom, because that meant SOMEthing was changing.
Detrah was out of town, but I knew she would be back the next day because we had an appointment together. I just didn’t know what time she was coming home. So I sent her a text message, letting her know things were a little bit different (“Feels very different than pre/prodromal labor with A. This feels useful and good.”), and asking her when she would be home, just in case. She told me she was just getting back home and to let her know if I needed her.
The next morning, Friday, March 30th, I sent Detrah another text,
“Wasn’t 100% sure if I was having contractions all night and sleeping between/through them or if I was just dreaming about having them. Then this morning , a little more blood and a clump of mucus — part of mucus plug?? Whee! Also in my dream you called me on the phone to tell me to check on my chickens in the garage because you ‘had a feeling,’ so I went in the garage and I had like 10 chickens and 30 or so just-hatched baby chicks. Obvious birth reference. Dreams are funny. Chickens??”
Then, I cleaned. Last-minute nesting?
Later on, before our noon appointment, Detrah asked me for an update. I told her I was still contracting and they still felt “productive,” that I had had some more bloody show, but that I wasn’t having contractions as close together as I had been that morning. She decided not to bring all of her birth equipment to our appointment.
Anneliese’s nap time came and went without her sleeping at all… she would lie down in bed, but as soon as Topher or I would close the door, she would hop up and knock on the door for us. So after a while, we gave up on her napping and let her hang out with us.
Detrah arrived at noon and we had our regular appointment. Everything was good, and I asked Detrah if she could feel where Joseph was since he had been moving around so much and I felt like he was in a different place. She said his back was on the left side, slightly toward mine, which is optimal for the beginning of labor, so the baby can twist on the way out, without being spine-to-spine with me.
Detrah told me to clasp my hands under my belly, and gently lift at the peak of each contraction, in order to help Joseph settle into my pelvis for birth, so throughout the rest of the day, that’s what I did.
A while after Detrah left, I was super-sleepy, and Anneliese wanted to nurse non-stop, so I took her to bed with me. She nursed while I dozed and had contractions, and after a while, she fell asleep for a little bit on me. It was hard for me to lay there for very long though, because I really needed to use the bathroom (hello 39 weeks pregnant).
So we got up and went for a family walk. The walk wasn’t very long, because of the having-to-pee thing, so we changed mode and decided to sit in the yard on balls instead. That way I could run in and out of the house as much as I wanted.
Then it was time to start making dinner, so I made this delicious gluten-free chicken and dumplings.
Anneliese was crazy-tired from having no nap, so Topher ran her a bath while I was still eating my dinner (I guess I was eating slower than they were?). At 7:07pm, I finished my dish and stood up to clear the table, when a little trickle of fluid ran down my leg. I haven’t ever been one to accidentally pee myself, pregnant or not, so I knew for sure my water had broken. I waddled down the hall as quickly as I could, to sit on the toilet, and excitedly asked Topher to get the PH swab thingy Detrah had left with us. As soon as I touched it to the wetness on my clothes, it turned dark purple, indicating it was amniotic fluid.
While I sat on the toilet, I called Coleen, who said she was coming, then Detrah, who asked me if I’d like her to come. I know a lot of people have their water break and things still take hours to “pick up,” so I told her I really wasn’t sure yet. She told me to call her back in 15 minutes and let her know. After three far more intense contractions, I called her back and told her I needed her.
Meanwhile, Topher was trying to get Anneliese to settle for bed, but she definitely knew something was happening, and didn’t want to go to bed. It was the same story as naptime. She would seem to be ready to sleep, but as soon as the door closed, she would hop up and knock on the door for us. We both tried to help her relax, and I even nursed her a little bit while I sat on the toilet, but the contractions were too much and eventually we gave up … she was in her room with the door closed, but not in bed, but since she wasn’t upset, we felt okay letting her be up in her room. I figured after a while we could get her out to join us if she was still awake.
I went to the kitchen and called my oldest sister, Julie, to let her know it was “baby time” and to ask her to please call my other sisters and parents just to let them know, and to tell everyone we would call them the next day (it was already late on the East Coast where they all are). During the phone call, I had a contraction, and since they were getting more intense, I couldn’t talk to her through it. She seemed worried and was asking me questions like, “I don’t hear anything; is anyone there with you? Are you alone? Are you okay?” When the contraction was over, I told her everything was fine, Topher was here, and that my doula and midwife were on their way, but since I only had about 3-4 minutes to talk in between contractions, that’s why I needed her to be the “messenger.” She told me she would make the calls, and that she was excited for me, and we hung up.
Once we hung up, I got my birth day cake recipe I had printed out, and started to gather ingredients. Except that I only had time to gather 2 ingredients before another contraction. And unlike when I was in labor with Anneliese, leaning forward on the counter wasn’t comfortable (well, I use the word “comfortable” liberally… it’s labor). Standing straight wasn’t comfortable either. I moved through this contraction, trying to find a position that worked, and to my surprise, the position my body wanted to be in was the exact position I thought I would avoid at all costs… semi-reclined (I leaned back against the cabinets as I sat on the floor, with my hips relaxed and legs out in front of me). Topher came into the room after calling his mother, and I stood up and told him I wanted to start making Joey’s birth day cake. But before I could even get out one more ingredient, another contraction arrived and I was back on the floor (this time, with my husband sitting behind me, supporting me, which was much nicer). After one more try to get cake ingredients out, and another contraction, I sadly admitted that a birth day cake wasn’t going to happen, and we moved to the living room where the carpeted floors were much more comfortable.
Topher ran back and forth between the kitchen, to straighten up from dinner and to clear a spot for the birth pool, and the living room to comfort me through my contractions. After a little while, Coleen arrived and joined me in the living room, where we chatted and caught up on the evening in between contractions. I also checked twitter a little bit, and tweeted “These are super intense. So glad I’m going into this ‘fresh’ without 2 weeks of prodromal labor this time.” Topher finished getting the kitchen ready for the birth pool, and made our bed (fitted sheet, then a vinyl waterproof sheet, then another fitted sheet, in case I wanted to labor or birth on the bed).
A bit later (8:35), Detrah arrived, followed by Alex, and after some hellos and catching up, the three of them (Detrah, Alex, and Topher) set up the birth pool while Coleen stayed with me. The last time we checked our video monitor, Anneliese was still awake, so I tweeted, “Toddler won’t go to bed so she will be joining us for a while. I think she will be ok with it.” but when we peeked again? “Anneliese put herself back to bed. Yay. and my doula is amazing.”
My contractions all had a bit of back pain involved by now, but they weren’t back labor like last time. Definitely “normal” and so coping techniques helped a lot more. Coleen or Topher pressing on my sacrum for counterpressure felt amazing. Other times, they would press the tops of my hips firmly inward (one of them on each side of me), which also helped a lot. I also used some of the hypnobabies visualization and relaxation techniques, which I think helped me keep my entire body looser. And deep slow breathing with some low vocalization during exhales helped me to focus. I also liked to have Topher’s and Coleen’s hands on me… just gently stroking or rubbing my belly or my legs, arms, back, anything… which I definitely would have hated during Anneliese’s labor when I had such intense pain. This time, those touches felt like support and encouragement.
Since my photographer-friend arrangement fell through (she never got her base pass, so it would’ve been pointless to call), Alex took a few pictures for me with my camera and with her phone. I’m so glad she did that, because I really wanted some visual keepsake of this labor and birth. We kept the lights very low, and it was dark outside, so the photos are a bit blurry (I think flash would have bothered me), but blurry is how I remember it, so I suppose it’s fitting.
After not too long (9:30), Detrah asked if I’d like to get into the birth pool. I asked if it was too early, and she assured me it was a great time if I’d like to try it. The water was warm but not hot, and while it took me a little while to figure out a good way to labor in the pool, it was very relaxing.
Coleen gave me a really nice massage with some lavender oil, which I’ve come to associate with Anneliese since I massage her with coconut oil mixed with lavender after her baths, so the scent of it was positive for me (more than it would’ve been 2 years ago with no personal association). I thought of Anneliese sleeping sweetly in her bed while we were all working so hard to bring her a brother, to make her a big sister, and the thought made me feel focused. I feel like this paragraph doesn’t do a good job explaining my thoughts, but in labor, the more “animal” thoughts don’t so much have words to go with them… I keep thinking of the word “safe” but that’s not quite right either.
Topher got into the pool with me, and rubbed my back, and put pressure on my sacrum during contractions.
In between contractions, at first we talked a little. I drank some water, and so forth.
But after a few, I feel like I went into myself. I didn’t want to deal with changing positions or even opening my eyes. I wanted to keep my entire body as relaxed as possible, so I just leaned into Topher and let my hips open, and rode a couple of them that way. Coleen told me later she thought I had gone to sleep, but I definitely hadn’t. Detrah later told me that I “faked her out” a bit because things seemed to space out a bit more and become less intense in the water. I think the water just helped me cope more.
Then the water started to cool off too much, and suddenly my legs were cramping. The pool seemed far too small at this point, because I couldn’t get comfortable with my legs cramping so much… I took some calcium-magnesium to try to help with the cramps, and ate half of a popsicle to see if the sugar would help, and Detrah massaged my legs to try to get them to relax.
I really didn’t want to get out, but the water needed to be warmer, and I needed to stretch my legs. So, one more contraction…
…and then I got out. I had only been in the pool for less than an hour, but it felt like longer to me. The water was cold but the air outside of the pool seemed colder, and with my legs still cramping, I was unsteady on my feet. Shivering. Another contraction came, and I held onto Coleen for support. Standing and otherwise vertical positions were much harder to cope with, so it was a hard one.
(10:21) Topher and I moved to the bathroom while Detrah, Alex, and Coleen heated up some more water for the pool and bailed some out to make room for it.
I had tried to pee in the pool (don’t say that’s gross… you can hurt yourself — bruised urethra anyone? — if you don’t pee in labor. And a full bladder will make it harder for the baby to come out) but apparently I didn’t/couldn’t, because as soon as I sat on the toilet, my bladder completely relaxed and released. It’s a mental thing. The toilet is where we’re used to letting go of everything “down there” and this is why a lot of people like to labor on the toilet… things happen faster. There’s less inhibition.
I was planning to sit through a few contractions on the toilet, and then return to the pool and its newly-reheated water to continue laboring. After the second contraction on the toilet, I said something to Topher… I’m not sure what, and he doesn’t remember either, but I think it was along the lines of how I didn’t want to labor forever, and I wanted the baby to come out, and I was feeling a bit anxious about the pushing part (remember, it was over 4 hours and mostly unproductive last time), and I didn’t want to tear.
Then? Another contraction. (10:28) It started normally, but then had a second peak where BAM, baby wanted to come out and I was pushing involuntarily. Detrah heard my “pushy sounds” and everyone hurried to me. Detrah came into the bathroom and took a look to see if any baby head was showing yet (no), and I told her, “I don’t want to have my baby on the toilet!” She assured me that she didn’t want that either, and that I wouldn’t have him there. I don’t remember this, but she said I asked to go back to the pool and get in the water, but there definitely wasn’t time, and Detrah said it was still cold anyway. I wouldn’t have made it down the hall. Alex and Coleen got the bed ready (the bathroom we were in is right off of the master bedroom) with chux pads and pulled the blanket and top sheet off.
I got onto the bed, and wasn’t sure what to do but I knew the next contraction was coming soon. Someone told me to lie on my side, and as I got into that position, the next contraction came. Joseph’s head was right there. I reached down to feel him. I could feel his hair, and knew I would meet him soon. Detrah reminded me to pant “as if you’re blowing out candles” through the next contraction so that I could push more slowly. I thought of the page I had read in Birthing From Within that described slow controlled pushing, and feeling the baby’s eyes , then nose, then mouth and chin… then pushing out baby’s body. I was aiming for that. I wanted to make this part go slowly so that I would have time to stretch and not tear.
The next contraction came, and I took little breaths, “panting,” and Joseph was crowning. I was still touching his head. (10:31)
I was going to take the next one slowly too, but as soon as the urge to push again hit me, the rest of Joseph was born, all of him, in one contraction, along with a huge gush of amniotic fluid. (10:33) I brought him up to my chest, covered in sticky beautiful vernix, and so tiny. Coleen later joked, saying that even though I didn’t birth in the water, Joseph still had a waterbirth because of the wave he rode out on.
The next few hours were full of “wrapping things up,” which is a little bit funny, because that took as much time as the “hard labor” part of the day did. A few minutes after Joseph was born, the placenta still hadn’t been expelled yet, so Detrah gave me a tincture of cotton root bark. I had to hold it under my tongue for 30 seconds, then swallow it. It wasn’t delicious. But my contractions strengthened, and I was able to push the placenta out.
There was an amount of blood, within the range of normal, but on the high side of normal, so Detrah gave me another tincture mixture, Hem Halt, which was supposed to stop the bleeding.
(10:45) Joseph’s umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, and Detrah clamped it so Topher could cut it.
After a few more minutes, and some more blood, Detrah didn’t want to wait longer to see if it would stop, and gave me a shot of pitocin. Blood loss normalized after that.
Joseph latched on and began to nurse, and Alex and Detrah began cleaning up the pool while he and I had some quiet moments together.
I couldn’t stop marveling over how tiny he was!
Once Joseph was finished nursing, Topher got a turn to snuggle with him, and Alex and Detrah helped me to use the toilet. I wanted to shower, and I did, but I think I stayed in a bit too long and/or the water was too warm, because I felt very dizzy once I got out. My ears were ringing and my vision was spotty. So I sat on the toilet with Detrah beside me until I felt more steady, and got back into bed.
I munched on some carrot sticks and sipped water after my shower. Meanwhile, Detrah and Alex checked me for tears, and discovered a couple of “skid marks” (think of a wound similar to rug burn) and a tiny tear. They numbed the area and Detrah sutured me (2 stitches — a breeze!) After that, she did Joseph’s newborn exam (everything was great, and he was 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and 21 inches long).
Alex and Detrah finished cleaning up and left around 1:30am. Topher washed the dishes, and then came to bed with me and Joseph.
The next morning, when Anneliese woke up, Topher brought her into our bedroom. She came over to the bed and said, “My baby!” She didn’t act surprised at all that there was a whole new person in the room. It was as if she had been waiting for him, and she expected him to be there.
Topher lifted her onto the bed so she could come closer, and she pointed to his ear, and said “err,” then to his hair, and said, “hair!”
She gave me a kiss and then kissed Joseph’s head. After that, she sat back and just grinned at HER new baby. If there were ever a perfect first-meeting of new siblings, this was it. My heart pretty much exploded.
Our first time tandem nursing. Anneliese was very excited. This was way cooler for her than tandem nursing with a doll (new baby preparation haha)! She kept reaching over to touch him and sitting up to look at him.
I am so thankful for Joseph’s birth going the way it did. There was so much that was different about this labor and birth than my first one, and being at home surrounded by only 100% positive people was a huge comfort.
I was able to completely let go and focus on my work, rather than focusing on “procedures” and defensively protecting myself and my baby from what is normal in hospitals. I followed what my body wanted and needed to do. I had no time constraints, and no limits on what I was “allowed” to do. I got to experience being in water in labor, and the relaxing effect it can have. I feel that since Topher wasn’t already exhausted (prodromal labor was hard on him too) he was able to be more “present” this time, and that since I wasn’t having back labor, he was able to help support me in more ways.
I loved that the three of us were able to go to bed together that first night — much nicer than me in a skinny awkward hospital bed, Topher on a fold-out chair in the hospital room, and baby in a plastic “bassinet.” The night was peaceful, no one coming in to check my blood pressure or ask me when the baby nursed the last time. And in the morning, all four of us cuddled in our pajamas in bed before having a normal breakfast of real food, not hospital food.
To me, this is what birth should be. To me, this is the way a new family member should arrive. I would have another home birth in a heartbeat. It isn’t for everyone. As I said before, some women would feel safer and more comfortable in a hospital. They should absolutely go to a hospital to have their babies. For me, the hospital made me defensive (against interventions) and physically uncomfortable. But if you think you’d like to have a home birth, you probably should.
Thank you, Joseph, for giving me the chance to heal. Thank you, Detrah, Alex, and Coleen, for respecting me and protecting me. Thank you, Topher, for supporting me through everything. And thank you, Anneliese, for stepping up to the role of Big Sister so gracefully, but also for still being my baby girl.