My son, Milo, was born on December 13, 2011, at 12:16 am. This is the story of my birthing experience.
My birth team consisted of my midwives, Sarafina and Jessica; my doula, Catherine; my partner, Peter; and my sister, Susan.
Friday, December 9, 2011: 41 weeks, 3 days.
This was a very full day. I began with an acupuncture appointment. I wasn’t trying to induce labor, per se, but did want some bioenergetic support around it. I was feeling energetically a bit off, and wanted some realignment and support for my system before birth. As my acupuncturist was putting in the needles, she seemed to focus on the immediate symptoms that were causing me issues (intense lower back pain on the right side, and something else I can’t quite remember now), rather than the points for supporting labor and birth.
We then had a biometric profile ultrasound, which my midwives had ordered because I was past date. They checked out the state of my womb, including the placenta; measured the baby’s bones; and just checked around to make sure that everything was okay. My midwife had told me that this exam would yield a score out of a possible 8. Sometimes it happened that they would take off a point or two based on their assessment of the amniotic fluid. My baby was apparently not in a great position for them to accurately determine the amount of fluid, so she told me to be prepared for the possibility that they might deduct those points, but she had no concerns about my fluid. After the ultrasound was conducted, we waited for the doctor to give us her assessment. She said that everything looked great, and she estimated that the baby would be in the realm of the high 7s to 8 pounds. I took that with a grain of salt ~ I knew that those reports were often inaccurate, and I figured that there was no way that my baby was going to be that big. (Little did I know . . . !) The full written report estimated the baby’s gestational age at 39 weeks, and revised the “due date” to December 15. We also scored an 8 out of 8 on the test!
We had some lunch and then went back home for our appointment with the midwives. Sarafina was surprised that we had gotten a perfect score ~ she said that they “always say something” about the fluid! At this point, she said, “well, you’re just going to be pregnant until you’re not anymore.” I figured I still had until at least next week. Since I was three weeks past my due date with coming into this world, I was quite prepared for the eventuality that I would give birth on the later side of things. I had been a stress case in the weeks preceding my due date, nervous that the baby would come early. Once the due date came and went, I was able to relax a bit ~ contrary to well-meaning family and friends, who took the due date to heart.
I asked Sarafina about what might alleviate the lower back pain I had been experiencing for the past days, as the acupuncture had only helped for a short time, and I was very uncomfortably hobbling around. Plus, I wanted to be in the best physical condition possible for the birth. She recommended chiropractic treatment and gave me the name of a family chiropractor. I called the chiropractor late Friday afternoon, with the intention of trying to make an appointment for the following Monday, but when I mentioned that I was 41-and-a-half weeks pregnant, the chiropractor decided to see me practically on the spot!
Saturday, December 10: 41 weeks, 4 days.
I was tired from such a full day the day before, so I didn’t really feel like leaving the house all day. I was feeling contractions on and off throughout day, but didn’t take them seriously. Peter & Susan were remarking that the baby’s birth felt imminent; however, I felt that things could still take much longer. They noted changes that they observed with my belly, and just had a feeling that things were going to progress. Not me!
That night we stayed in and watched movies. I was feeling regular contractions throughout, but they weren’t strong enough to make me think that they would progress. Still, Susan and Peter thought that the time was near.
That night I took a hot bath, since I had been experiencing intense lower back pain that hadn’t abated much even after the visits to the acupuncturist and chiropractor the day before. I was a little disappointed that the acupuncturist hadn’t worked on any induction points, but in retrospect, I wonder if she actually did!
I got out of the bath, took a cool shower, and went to the bathroom. While finishing up on the toilet, I saw bloody show and the partial loss of the mucus plug. It was about 2:15 am Sunday morning. I was still feeling very mild, regular contractions, and it seemed now that they actually were building into something!
I went to the bedroom and notified Peter. We timed the contractions for a while before calling it a night at 4:30am and tried to get some sleep.
Sunday, December 11: 41 weeks, 5 days.
I awoke at 7:30 am. I was still having regular contractions, bloody show, and I also felt some fluid. I figured that my water had broken while I was asleep.
Peter still wanted to get some sleep, but I was too excited. I texted my sister that today looked like the big day. After a short time I notified the midwives. I labored for a while on my own. When Peter woke up, we began timing the contractions. They were about 2-3 minutes apart. My sister came by to help out. After a little while, Sarafina showed up and assessed the situation. She determined that I was probably at the end of early labor and that things would be shifting into more active labor soon. She said that my uterus had been very efficient so far and that things would probably progress quickly. I was pretty surprised, at it seemed that not that much had happened already!
Sarafina left me to do my thing. A couple of hours or so later, things did begin to shift. The contractions were feeling more intense, my legs were shaking uncontrollably, and I burst into tears. I was present enough to tell Peter and Susan, “I’m not in pain, I’m not sad, it’s just a hormonal thing,” as I stood there, shaking and sobbing. At this point we notified the midwives and began filling the tub.
Sarafina & Catherine came over. They asked if I was ready to get in the tub, but I didn’t feel ready yet. Then the contractions began to space out and feel less intense. Sarafina assured me that it was part of the normal ebb & flow of labor.
However, things remained in the “ebb” for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Finally, at around 11 pm, Sarafina suggested that we all get some sleep. The plan was to try to sleep, with the idea that things might intensify during the night and we would all be woken up, so it would be prudent to sleep while we could. The whole crew settled down to sleep: my midwife, doula, partner, sister, and me.
It was the longest night of my life. I was still having contractions, though they weren’t that close together. I don’t remember sleeping too much, but those within earshot reported the next day that they would hear me snoring, then breathing through a contraction, and then snoring again a few minutes later. I would wake up about every hour to use the bathroom, and the midwives would take the opportunity to check my vitals. But I would take the opportunity to check the clock as I walked by. The hours were going by slowly. Daybreak couldn’t come fast enough. I have never been so glad to see the light of day.
Monday, December 12: 41 weeks, 6 days.
Throughout the morning, things were still going at a mellow pace. Everything was checking out to be just fine, though, with both baby and me. With most of my trips to the bathroom, there was blood as well as fluid, so we knew that there was continued cervical change (I never once had a vaginal exam, so I never knew how dilated or effaced I was at any given point). Sarafina assured me that this was a normal labor, that she had seen this labor many times before. I asked her if she thought that there was anything going on with me, physically or psychologically. She said, no, that things seemed fine, and would just progress as they would.
At some point in the morning, Jessica showed up. It was her birthday! I told her, “I’m going to give you a birth for your birthday.”
Towards late morning/early afternoon, the midwives began to discuss a plan. They suggested that showering and changing my clothes would help me to feel more renewed, and that we should take advantage of the energy of day time. At some point, Sarafina and Catherine would go home and take a shower, since they both lived close by, and Peter & I would go for a walk. Being outside in the sunshine, and also the physical act of walking, might help to move things along.
So, I showered and got dressed, and waited for my hair to dry before going outside. While I was waiting, and as Sarafina and Catherine were preparing to go home, my contractions began to intensify. I also began to experience pain in my right lower back. They thought it might be the baby adjusting its head position. I had to really focus on these contractions, and it also helped to have someone rubbing my back. The intensity of these contractions delayed our trip outside, and Sarafina & Catherine’s trip home.
Eventually, Peter & I were able to make our way outside and walked down the street. We got as far as my car (about 5 car lengths away from the front walkway) and I had to pause to have a strong contraction while leaning with my arms against the car. It was pretty intense, and I felt that that might have been about all I could handle. We turned and walked back toward the house, but before walking down the walkway, I said, “let’s try to walk some more.” We turned around to walk back down the street, but the same thing happened: we got as far as my car, I paused to have a contraction on the car, and then we turned back around again.
Heading inside, I had a few more of these more intense contractions. Jessica asked if I might be ready to get into the tub. After some time, not very long, I also had another emotional release, like the one I’d had the day before. Sobbing, I walked to the tub, with Peter & Susan supporting me on either side. I stripped down and got in. Though the word was never used, it struck me that these episodes were “transitions.” Neither time had I been in active labor for very long, and I never felt then, or at any point, that I couldn’t go on any more; but these were definitely episodes of intensity triggered by hormonal changes.
The water was still quite hot, despite the fact that we’d filled it the day before. After being in the tub for some time, I started to feel like I was overheating. I don’t know why I didn’t just get out, and why no one else seemed concerned, but I was too hot. Eventually Sarafina came to check my heart rate and temperature, as well as the baby’s heart rate. The water in the tub was 103 degrees, my body temp was high (though the number was not disclosed to me) and the baby’s heart rate was fast.
Catherine brought some cool water to add to the tub. My bathrobe was brought to me and I dried off and was helped to the bathroom so I could take a cool shower. After getting out, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe how flushed my face was!
After I had cooled down a bit, the midwives asked if I was ready to get back into the tub. I was ready! Back in the birthing room, I noticed that they had opened the birthing kit and had begun to prepare the room in earnest, putting pads on the bed and arranging various things from the birth kit on a table. They said that I might feel the contractions getting stronger, and might feel the need to bear down. I was definitely already feeling pressure and needing to bear down, but for some reason, since the word “pushing” was not used, I thought that I was in some stage before pushing. In retrospect, I was pushing for longer than I realized.
The midwives told me to keep everything open while I pushed. I realized that I had been clenching the muscles of my pelvic floor to keep them closed. In the tub, it was far easier for me to keep everything open. I commented on this to the midwives, and asked them also if being in the tub was slowing things down, since things also seemed less intense. They replied that being in the tub was probably taking the edge off, but that things were definitely still progressing well. Sarafina told me, even if all I did was breathe, my body would still birth my baby. Catherine told me several times to “breathe my baby down.”
Back in the tub this time, Jessica suggested that I try a low hum with each push instead of just a breath. I began to experience a bit of what others have described as an ecstatic or orgasmic birth. The birthing room was dark and candlelit, I was in a tub of warm water with ecstatic devotional music on the stereo, and this setting allowed my body to relax and open, allowing me to experience the sensations as pleasurable. Various people took turns massaging my neck and shoulders, applying cold compresses to my forehead, giving me spoonfuls of lavender honey and sips of cold water and juice. It was quite a lovely experience.
Sarafina asked if I was able to feel the baby. I was excited! I could feel the baby’s head as far in as my second knuckle. That wasn’t far!
After a point, Jessica suggested that I try another position. I had mostly been propping myself up so that I was belly-up and enjoying the weightlessness of being in the water, but was probably not making the best use of gravity. Since positioning was difficult for me in the tub, I got out and went onto the bed. The most instinctual position for me was to get on my hands and knees, which I did. I was in that position for quite a while. This part was less ecstatic, and more intense, but still not painful. It felt a bit more primal. I released a low growl with each push. The contractions weren’t that close together, which allowed me to rest in between each one. My sister got some oil and began rubbing my lower back, while Peter rubbed my neck and shoulders from the other side. The room was completely dark, except for the candles and a pink salt lamp, and the midwives were using flashlights to see!
I pushed for about 30-40 minutes like this. With one push, I felt a big pop and heard a splash! It startled me out of my concentration a bit, but not for long. I heard someone in the background saying that my water had broken, but was too focused on the pushing to follow up on that.
I continued to push for a while in this position, but it was really hard work, and I needed a break. Jessica suggested that I try side lying, but that didn’t feel right to me. From all my research and education, I had thought that the best way to push was to squat, and so I suggested squatting at this time. Catherine had brought a birthing stool, and it was suggested that I sit on it while being supported by Peter. I tried squatting this way, but it felt really uncomfortable so I quickly got up.
The baby and I were being monitored every few minutes or so of this more intense period of labor. Every time I got into a new position, the baby’s heart rate was checked. I’m not sure which position it was, but with one position we tried, the baby’s heart rate changed, so the midwife had me get out of it right away.
I ended up going back on my hands and knees, because that was just what my body wanted to do. Catherine arranged some pillows under me to take some of the pressure off my upper body. I could feel the baby really low down in my body, though it seemed that after each push that moved the baby out, like a wave, the baby would be pulled back in. I hoped that the baby was coming out and that those undertow sensations weren’t pulling the baby back into the womb!
Well, luckily, it wasn’t long before Sarafina announced that she saw a head, with a lot of dark hair, emerging! I reached back and felt it. It was exciting!
With the next push . . . I thought I felt the head come out, but wasn’t sure. There was a reaction in the room. Peter said, “Rach, you’ve got to see this!” I couldn’t, of course, so Peter took photos. The baby’s head had emerged completely and the face was visible for all others present to see!
One more push . . . and the baby was out completely!
It was Tuesday, December 13, 12:16 am.
Things moved really quickly so this moment was a bit of a blur. I remember Jessica announcing quickly and loudly that the baby had a short cord. I had flipped myself over to receive the baby so I could put it on my chest right away. When the baby was handed to me, I was told not to hold it too high up on my body because the umbilical cord was short, and we were waiting until the cord stopped pulsing to clamp and cut it.
There was meconium, which got on me as well. Catherine joked to the baby, “you pooped on mama!”
That first moment of seeing my baby for the first time was one of the most potent moments of my life. I was completely astonished to see this little being! Nothing could have possibly prepared me for this moment of total awe, beholding the person that I’d carried inside me for 10 months, now on the outside, taking the first breaths of air. Absolute amazement . . . and a bit of shock!
I held the baby close to me, and we all admired this creature for about 30 minutes or so before someone asked about the gender. I looked, and announced that it was a boy!
After that, Peter cut the cord. It turned out that the short umbilical cord was probably the reason for the long labor, as the cord needed to stretch and lengthen for the baby to come out.
I’m so grateful that my labor and birth were allowed to progress this way, on its own rhythm. I hadn’t anticipated the birth taking so long, so it was a bit unsettling to me at times, but the midwives’ calm reassurance that I was having a normal labor was what kept me going. I knew that if they were at all concerned, they would take the appropriate action. I’m so grateful for their faith in me and my body, and their patience and trust in the process.
My doula, sister, and of course Peter, were also all fantastic supports! I felt so held and loved, and loved that all these people had come together around this process of birth.
Since we’d declined all the standard newborn procedures, we got to enjoy our baby for a while, as well as the first attempts of breast feeding. After about an hour or so, I still hadn’t delivered the placenta, despite being given herbal tinctures and sitting on the birthing stool. The baby was given to Peter to hold (he was instructed to offer his pinky for the baby to suck on) while I was taken to the bathroom to deliver the placenta on the toilet. It took a while, but once that happened, I went to the bedroom to be examined by the midwives. After I was taken care of, the baby was brought in, where he was weighed and examined. He was 9 lbs 4 ounces, 20 inches long, and his head’s circumference was nearly 14 cm!
I couldn’t be happier about my birth experience. I am so grateful for my and the baby’s good health, and for having such a wonderful support team. I am so grateful that I was able to birth at home, free from any medical interventions. My experience was so gentle. I was surrounded and supported as much as I wanted to be at any given time by absolutely phenomenal folks. And things just unfolded as they did, naturally, with grace.