(written by Michelle Harmon, about the birth of Maximilian, 11.09.04)
Saturday morning, the 6th of November, 2004, I got up around 11am, went to the bathroom, and noticed a jelly like, clear goop after wiping. It was my mucus plug! The little barrier covering my cervix fell out. Woo hoo! I called my midwife and birth team.
Hal was like, “Oh my god, should I go to work today?!”
This is when I consider the beginning of my labor to be. It’s when my body REALLY started getting ready to push Max out. We carried on as per usual.Hal went to work, after cleaning I took it easy for the rest of the day. I knew it could be a while before labor picked up – I mean, I’m talking a week or so. It was already six days past Max’s due date so we were doing what we could to facilitate the start of my contractions – sex, acupuncture, herbal teas. We weren’t worried. We knew it would happen when my body was ready for it to happen.
Sunday afternoon my long time close friend, Monica, stopped by to clean my car out (I told you we were serious about the cleaning). She drove into town from Gainesville for Max’s birth and was thrilled to be a part of the birth team.I was lucky to have her! Her excitement enhanced mine and her love was much needed. I think the reason it worked having so many people at Max’s birth was because I spent a lot of time talking with them about it. They knew what I needed from them and they all believed in themselves to give – and I believed in them. Labor is not a time when you can be concerned with stepping on another’s feelings. I shared every anxiety I had and we all one on one worked out our expectations. I had the best birth team any laboring mom could hope to have.
Sunday night rolled around and Hal and I went out to eat at the Olive Garden for the last time as a family of two. His brother met us up there and we ate, talked, laughed, and carried on all the while I was having mild contractions that almost stopped me from talking. But, it was my time to be alone with them, to have them without telling anyone.
It was as if my body was whispering, “get ready, their (the contractions) coming and there’s no turning back.”
The food tasted so rich. Everything I looked at was vibrant and strong. Colors on buildings and lights on signs magnified with deep intensity. My senses were heightened and getting ready to check out for the upcoming experience.We got home and the contractions teetered out.
I left a message on my midwife’s answering machine letting her know about the contractions, it was around 9pm, Sunday night. At this point, it wasn’t necessary for her to call me back or rush over. Hal and I talked and fell asleep. This was our last night alone together.
Monday morning we were trying to figure out if Hal should call off from work. His job was letting him take a week off vacation time starting when I went into labor. We went back and forth struggling to decide if we were starting labor today or tomorrow. Finally, he called into work and told them today was the day he needed to start his vacation (which, by the way, the time he took off was not really a vacation). Even if we didn’t start labor today, I thought, there was plenty to do around the house to get ready for it and besides, I wanted his company.
I had a little bloody show early in the afternoon but the day went on contraction free. I ate a lot, slept a lot, and just tried to relax when I was awake. Hal cleaned obsessively all day.
Even when I said to him, “Slow down and take a nap, we might be up all night.”
He would respond, “No, I can’t, must vacuum this dirty carpet!” It was funny to me even at the time but I was a little worried about how he would fair during labor at 3am with no rest during the previous day.
We had a 5pm prenatal visit at the birthing home with our midwife and she suggested coming in if we felt we could (it’s really important not to obsess over early labor – that is a good way to wear yourself out. So, Heidi really stressed carrying on as per usual). On our drive to the birthing home, I started having contractions. These contractions where pretty intense. It became necessary for me to arch my back and squeeze Hal’s hand during each one.
Ohhhh, this is it, I thought. So this is what it’s like to be in labor – one big menstrual cramp!
I had no idea it was going to get worse, nor did I think it was possible.
We’re in the parking lot when Heidi gets out of her car, walks over to us, and is cheerfully like, “So how ya feeling?” Face tense, I responded, “having strong contractions.”
While saying this, I was having one and started to bend over holding onto the nearby car.
“Ohhhh yeah, assuming strange positions. You’re starting to cook!” Heidi exclaimed with enthusiasm. Hal and I chuckled and I was reassured that all was normal.
I was one centimeter dilated at the appointment and was instructed to call Heidi when I was in active labor.
Now, I thought, “Active labor? Wasn’t I in active labor?” Felt pretty intense to me.
I was assured that I would know when active labor hit - that there was no mistaking it – it was so different and so much more intense than early labor. I got a little nervous at this point.
Well, Hal and I, being the food centric folk that we are, decided that we should pick up a few more items at the grocery store to carry us through the next two weeks, at the least. We pulled into the nice grocery store that has the reserved for pregnant mom parking space - which we used for the last time.
One of the clerks walked by me and said with an uneasy look on her face, “giiiirl, I know you not in labor.” Half smiling at the absurdity of my – yes, I am – answer and half just wanting to be left alone, I kept walking.
Every contraction brought me to my elbows hunching over the cart for support. It wasn’t a dramatic scene, not a scene at all, but it was surreal to us. Poor Hal, he was becoming visibly concerned and nervous and just started chucking all the stuff he knew we liked in the cart without thought. The bill was around two hundred dollars – way more than the 50 bucks we planned on spending. The drive home was intense but the contractions were feeling the same.
When we got home, Hal put the groceries away while I took a shower and put my hair in barrettes to keep it out of my face. The whole time I was showering, I knew this was it. I knew this would be my last shower with my pregnant belly.
Hal needed to take the dogs to his parents house and I kinda went back and forth with, Could I stay by myself comfortably or did I need to call Liz to come over before H.G. leaves?
My extremely independent way of managing pain got in the way of reason and I called Liz to just give her the “heads up,” that I was in labor and may be calling back in an hour or so when active labor kicked in.
Hal started to get the dog’s food and before he left I stopped him, called Liz back in tears and cried, “Can you come over now? I don’t want to be alone.”
As soon as she got there Hal gave her the quick low-down on what was happening and bolted out the door with the dogs. She came into the room were I was laboring on the bed and I asked her to spoon me. I needed to feel flesh and warmth to feel safe. She crawled into bed and wrapped herself around my body, we talked a little (I don’t remember what was said), and we went through each contraction together. The fear was really beginning to build.
I needed to get up and move a bit so went out into the living room where I could hear Cerberus Shoal playing on the stereo. Liz and I held each other rocking back and forth, dancing to the soft music while I moaned through a couple more contractions.
I looked at her and said, “I’m so scared.”
“Me too.” She replied.
We cried into each other’s shoulder rocking side to side.
We went back into the bedroom and I screamed my way through a couple more contractions. This, anyone knowledgeable about natural childbirth will tell you, is not the best way to manage the pain. The intensity and pain was picking up. Liz called my midwife and at this point, I was still able to talk so I let Heidi know that I was in some serious pain. As soon as we got off the phone with her, my water broke. Liz called her back to let her know that the liquid was clear and Heidi was like, "I’m on my way – I’ll be there in 45mins."
"Good god!" I thought, I’m going to have this baby in 45 minutes (little did I know, I was just transitioning into active labor which means I had about 6-12 more hours to go)! Hal got back and as soon as he walked into the room I said to him, “I need the trash can, I’ve gotta throw up.” And then it began. Active labor.
I labored with Hal until Heidi got there. Once Heidi arrived and accessed the situation, I felt almost immediate relief and safety. She really calmed me down and helped me to find my center. Before she arrived I was scared and didn’t know if everything was okay. Even though I had intellectual knowledge that my body could birth my baby, I was still extremely dependent on a professional to tell me that I could do it – that everything was going normally. After all, I had never experienced birth before this in any capacity.All I knew was what I had been reading for the last nine months. Although not all of the info went out the window when active labor began, I still needed to be reminded of what I already knew.
As soon as Heidi walked in and began speaking to me, her calmness and certainty made me feel like, “yeah, okay, I can do this.”
I tested positive for Group B Strep, so needed an IV of antibiotics. Heidi was having a hard time finding a vein to cooperate and I was having a hard time sitting still, so we opted for the two shots – one in each hip.
She told me at this time, “If your blood pressure goes one point above normal we are transferring to the hospital.” My blood pressure had been riding a little on the high side throughout my pregnancy but never reached that dangerous point my OB was talking about: preeclamsia high. I was okay with transferring at any point for a medical reason. My decision to have a home birth was based solely on the fact that I wanted an honest opportunity to have a natural child birth. Meaning, no interventions unless medically necessary. I was comforted by Heidi’s stern words.
My friend, and one of four birth team members, Phil, arrived and was directed by Heidi to get the pool out of her car so Liz and him could start setting it up. Hal was by my side the entire time. The only two people I was tuned into were Heidi and Hal. I would even say that Heidi was my spiritual link to our world and Hal was my physical link and support. My eyes were pretty much closed from here on out only opening when I needed to see where I was stepping. I tried lying on the bed and relaxing while the pool was being filled with air and then water. I threw up again. Two garbage cans were required as part of my home birth supply list and a roll of garbage bags. While I was preparing for this, I remember thinking, what will this be used for? Or, why two?
Finally, the pool was filled and ready for me. I was a little leery about getting totally nude in front of Phil so slid into the pool with my undies and sports bra. When in the pool, I didn’t like the way the cotton felt on my skin, so took off my underwear.
Shortly after I got into the pool, the phone rang. I could hear Hal’s mom’s voice yelling for him to pick up the phone. She called like three times in a row – I wanted to rip the phone out of the wall.
Things started to really pick up after this, my contractions were closer together (we never timed them, not once), they were painful enough to cut off my use of words, and my memory at this point is encumbered by the power of the primitive spirit.
I fell into a place that didn’t allow for language to seep in. Any time I tried to think of something specific my mind just simply did not allow words to form, and I had to stop thinking. I just became what I was doing. I’ve never felt so one with spirit and body in my life as I did when I was in active labor. I could have been laboring a million and one years ago and it wouldn’t have felt any different. The connection to my primitive spirit was strong, beautiful, powerful, wild, and uninhibited. As labor progressed, I began to move on instinct alone.
I labored hard but more comfortably while in the water. I moaned, moved, and cried. I did this until I found my home within. I say, “Home within,” because at some point while in the water, I became pain. I was no longer afraid of it. I actually welcomed instead of dreaded each contraction. Before this point, I had moments of doubt, moments when I said out loud, I don’t think I can do this. Fortunately, Heidi knew I could and as Hal put it, she didn’t even entertain the thought of transferring to the hospital. It was her belief in me, her support alone that helped me find the way to that sacred place within that only I could travel. My friends and Hal were a big part of the support I needed, but it was Heidi that had the power to "make or break" my confidence.
I reached 10cm while in the pool – mind you, Heidi didn’t check me every hour. She ASKED if I wanted to be checked and I said yes. She told me to listen to my body and let it lead me into pushing. Some people say pushing is the best part for them. Well, for me, it was the hardest part. Before I started to push, I got to a point where I thought I could labor for hours. I even fell asleep between contractions (30seconds to a minute little sleepy-time). All I had to do was whisper, water or juice, and a straw was brought to my mouth. My other two friends arrived, I don’t know when, and just slipped right into the groove of serving the laboring women while being quieter than a mouse.
When I started to push, the part of labor Heidi kept referring to as “athletic” during our prenatal visits, became clear to me. I was pushing in the pool for a while when Heidi suggested sitting on the toilet to let gravity help bring Max down through the birth canal. Otherwise, she said, I could be laboring in the pool until the following day. I was nude except my black sports bra and didn’t even give getting out of the pool in front of all my friends a second thought.Modesty no-more.
While on the toilet I pushed and pushed and pooped and pooped. I actually got a little embarrassed and tried to clean my ass right there in the middle of laboring! Heidi said in a calm motherly voice, everybody poops, Michelle. I chuckled at her and thought of the children’s book. Okay, I had to surrender to the reality of pooping in front of people. I surrendered immediately.
After pushing on the toilet, I moved to the vanity area to get into a squatting position. As I was moving from one location to the other, a contraction came on bringing me to hands and knees. Moaning and pushing, it passed. After it passed, I got into position to squat and push through the next one. Heidi sat in front of me, the large pad underneath my body to catch liquid, blood, poop, baby - what-ever decided to come out. Hal on one side, Heidi’s birth assistant on the other.
I barely made it through the contraction before I started to say, "Hal can’t do this, his back!"
Hal has a herniated disk that he wasn’t thinking about, but I was. Shoot, I needed him to be strong after Max was born, too! For the next few contractions, Liz stepped in to support my 250lb. body into a squatting position. The two women holding me weighed half of what I did! But, their strength and desire to help combined was enough to support this big mamma’s weight.
We moved to the bed, next. This is where I started to feel sheer exhaustion kick in. To feel like I was making progress, Heidi asked me if I wanted her to keep her fingers inside of me during each contraction. YES! I said. I needed to feel like I was making steps forward because it was such hard work. I also didn’t want to feel like I was alone. I labored in this position the longest: on my back propped up by Hal who was sitting behind me. Liz was pushing my right leg back through each contraction; the birth assistant had the other leg.Heidi was in front of me, Monica behind her and Phil and Jenna alternated holding my right hand and giving me drinks. We were all getting tired and we all felt like Max would never come (except Heidi, of-course). My moaning turned into growling a deep throaty growl.
This is the moment where I felt the most connected to Heidi. At one point during my pushing when she needed to leave me to use the bathroom, I felt connected to her in a weird I can see you even with my eyes closedkinda way.
She made a little joke, “If you have a contraction, you know what to do!” Everyone kinda giggled languidly and she walked away.
"Okay," I thought, "I’ll just wait for you to get back before I have another one."
I listened to her pee, the toilet flushed, she washed her hands, went into the living room, started walking back towards the bedroom, in the hall way – okay contraction, you can come now. She was back in time to put her fingers inside of me to guide Max down. That was the longest pause between contractions that I had since starting to push.
Then, Heidi said, “Look, Monica, can you see that, that is Max’s head! Your baby is coming soon, Michelle. Push for your baby.” I got excited knowing that the head was finally visible.
I heard Monica in a child-like excited voice, “oh my gosh, I see it! I see the head!” I was like, YES! Finally!
Again, Heidi suggested changing positions. Man, was this getting annoying. When the heck was I going to get to see my baby?! I tried going through a contraction while lying over the birth ball, nope, didn’t work. I threw the ball accidentally hitting Phil with it while saying, “I don’t like this!”
I heard him respond, “Umph, okay,” before my next contraction came.
And then, all of a sudden, I was like, I need to get back in the water. I need to get back in the pool right now.
I was helped back into the pool. As I began to sit down in it, a contraction came on so I fell down in a squatting position.
“Yes!” Heidi yelled. “That’s it, Michelle! Do that again!”
Now, when I say "yelled," let me tell you, she didn’t yell like in a high pitch loud voice. It was more a tone of excitement than loudness. It was a tone that really motivated me to keep going - to keep pushing. A few more pushes, one right after another, I was holding on to the tub and to my friend Monica and I heard Heidi asking her birth assistant to watch the time. I looked at Monica, remembering she has scoliosis and not wanting to hurt her, and asked if she was alright. She said yes and before she got to the “s” part of yes, I was pushing again.
“Okay, now Michelle - little pushes. Cough him out, now. He’s crowning.”
*cough, cough* I pulled my black bra off wanting, anticipating, his skin on my breast.
“Do you want to feel his head?”
“No, I’m scared.” I cried.
Hal and Monica, with my permission, touched his head while he was crowning.
“Okay, his head is out. Now gentle but good push and he’ll be out. Hal, hold your hands like this to catch him.” Push.
I felt his whole body slide out of me. I fell back with relief and desire to hold him. I saw Hal’s face while he held him and looked at him – big smile and teary eyed. He put him on my chest immediately.
I lay there with baby on chest waiting for that sweet first cry. Exhausted. Blissful. Proud. There was commotion around me but all I cared about was Max and Hal.
Heidi gently rubbed his feet and he let out a cry. The most beautiful cry he will ever let out.
Heidi didn't forget about the placenta, like I did, and said, “With your next contraction, you’ll birth the placenta.” A few moments passed, I contracted lightly and she said, “Give a push - it will be easy and painless because there are no bones in this.” I birthed the placenta. It was perfect and healthy.
Hal and I crawled into our bed with Max and gazed at him. Hal held him while I was being checked. I didn’t tear at all but had a mean looking hemorrhoid. After being checked and having my tummy massaged to help the uterus detract, I took a shower.
Jenna made me some food, which I hardly ate, Heidi took care of the medical stuff with Max, and Hal passed out on the bed for about an hour. Max took a bowel movement on his way out so Heidi had to put a tube down his nose and suck out the meconium that was in his lungs. He was breathing kinda funny but eventually started breathing normal after Heidi cleared his lungs. There wasn’t a lot of meconium so she wasn’t worried. After all was “Okayed” with Max, I tried to nurse him. It wasn’t easy but we (me with Heidi’s help) got him to successfully latch on. Everyone left. Hal fell into a deep sleep and I snoozed with Max on my chest. It was 6am. We took him to the pediatrician’s for a 2pm appointment that Tuesday afternoon and got the second, “he’s perfectly healthy,” stamp of approval and started our new life. In a daze, but we made it.