(written by Erin Ernst, about the births of Kalina Jade, 11.25.07 and Jasper Jolee, 07.05.11)
Labor & Birth of Kalina Jade Ernst
November 25, 2007, 11:31am
8lb 14oz ~ 22” long
Pregnant with our first child, my husband & I were so excited. Early on in my pregnancy, I knew I wanted the intimate & personal care of midwives for my pregnancy and birth. I had taken a Human Sexuality (or something along those lines) class in college and we had a lot of speakers come through. One was a group of midwives from a local birthing center. So much of what they said resonated with me, though I was nowhere near wanting kids yet, that I saved the brochure they’d given us comparing the midwives model of care to the typical hospital care of a birthing woman. Over four years after taking that class, it was time to share my wishes with Joe. I had already done some research and found the sweet little Rosemary Birthing Home. He wasn’t too keen on the idea, but agreed to at least do the tour with me. I also signed us up for a tour of the local hospital.
I was just shy of two months pregnant when we toured the birthing home and met the staff. They were all wonderful. There was another couple there who were back for their 2nd pregnancy. They labored there for their first child but ended up transferring to the hospital where she was given some Pitocin and birthed her baby shortly after. I found it reassuring that she was back again and planning on having her second baby with the midwife there. After we met the very knowledgeable and reassuring midwife Harmony, and asked many questions, Joe & I were both pretty sure we wanted to spend our pregnancy and birth with her. We still did our tour of the hospital the following week. After the loving, homey feel of the birthing home, the hospital felt so cold, impersonal and sterile. I’ve always felt nervous & tense just walking into hospitals, associating them with sickness & death, and this time wasn’t much different. I knew that a normal, easy birth was possible in a hospital as I had watched my mother give birth to my brother in that same one when I was just twelve years old, but I still couldn’t picture myself there after knowing there were other options.
So, we decided we would be giving birth at the birthing home. I had contemplated doing a home birth since it’s basically the same thing, but I figured the birthing home was a good “compromise” between home & hospital, and it seemed it would be easier for our families to understand – since they were already surprised we weren’t planning a hospital birth for our first.
From the beginning of my pregnancy, I was sure we were having a girl, though I wanted to wait until the birth to “officially” know. Joe really wanted to find out though, and since our 20 wk ultrasound was right after Father’s Day, I put in his card that we could find out the sex. He was thrilled. So, when the time came, we peeked up her skirt and let everyone know that we were indeed having a little girl! We were excited to meet our daughter one day soon. In the meantime, I read every pregnancy book I could get a hold of, from mainstream books like the What to Expect ones, to Ina May’s amazing books on pregnancy & birth, and I even read a book on the Bradley Method, and a Hypnobirthing book too.
I enjoyed a symptom-less, wonderfully easy pregnancy. I never felt a bit of nausea and was rarely tired. I was looking forward to my “birth day” and was sure it would be short and easy. Harmony even told us she saw us having a wonderful birth. I continued working and we went out with friends every weekend we could. My due date was Mon., November 19th, and I continued feeling great as it approached. I enjoyed my big belly, doing weekly photos, a belly cast, and then had my sister do henna on my belly when I hit 40 wks. Joe & I were both born 2+ wks past our “due” dates, so I figured I’d probably go late as well. As the date came and went though, all those who we shared that magical date with began asking about the baby, wondering if she was here yet… Even out shopping, people would ask when I was “due” and it went from answering “tomorrow” to “two days ago”, and people would look at me like the baby may fall out right there! Even though I knew that was completely normal, I got tired of telling people I was “late”.
I had Harmony “strip my membranes” when she checked me at my 40wk appointment, since it sometimes helps women go into labor if they are ready. I also found out that I was already 2cm dilated that day. That afternoon I began having period-like cramps for a couple hours. I lay on the couch, wondering if the baby may be coming that day, but they eventually stopped, and I realized labor would begin another time.
Thanksgiving fell on November 22nd that year, 3 days past my due date. We visited both sides of our family that day, and got to share what our baby’s name would be – we scrambled up the letters of the first, middle, & last name and wouldn’t tell them what it was until they got the whole thing right, which they eventually did. Surely, eating two huge meals would push that baby out of my belly! Joe took the next day off of work. We were hopeful that it would be our baby’s birth day. We went out Friday morning and did a little shopping, and stopped at a deli for lunch. I felt a little funny and didn’t have much appetite, so I just ate a little soup and some salad. We continued walking around and ran some errands. I started feeling rhythmic cramping, so I called Harmony to let her know. She told us to continue whatever we were doing and keep her posted. We were excited that things were finally beginning! When we got home early in the afternoon, we made sure all of our things were together that we’d be bringing to the birthing home with us. Then, I laid in bed and began keeping track of my contractions to see how far apart they were. I was too excited & nervous to rest. I called Joe to bed and we tried playing UNO, but the contractions started getting too distracting to pay attention to the game. They continued getting stronger all evening and we finally told Harmony around 11pm that we wanted to come down to the birthing home. We were thinking the baby may be born before the day was done!
We arrived at Rosemary Birthing Home close to midnight. The 30 minute drive down there while having contractions was awful, so I was so glad to get into that cozy house and fall onto the bed. Harmony checked me and found that I was 4 cm dilated. What!?? But I was already 2 cm before I ever had a contraction… She suggested that we could go back and labor some more in the comfort of our own home, but there was no way I was going to make that drive two more times – besides, I was sure the baby would still come soon. I wanted to get in the tub for some pain relief, so we filled it and I got in. It helped a bit, but I was getting tired, so we went back to the bed after a while. I used the heating pad on my back since the heat seemed to help. I was able to doze a bit between contractions, but it certainly didn’t feel like long enough! Harmony slept on the couch in the next room, but came in often to check on me and listen to the baby’s heart rate. “Active” labor seemed to kick in sometime before the sun came up. You mean, it gets even more intense?! Yep. No more sleeping. I labored more… lying/sitting/leaning on the bed, on the birth ball, and in the tub some more. I had Harmony check my dilation, but I wasn’t progressing very quickly and it bummed me out. I was getting tired. Sometime that day, our family’s came down to the birthing home. I had wanted everyone there when the baby arrived, but it was taking a long time, so they waited in the next room. Someone heated up one of the quiches I had made. Funny, being allowed to eat in labor was one of the reasons I wanted to give birth outside the hospital, but when I was offered food, I wanted nothing to do with it! I was feeling nauseous. I took a couple little sips of smoothie, and was able to drink small amounts of water, juice, & Emergen C, but that was about it. I vomited a few times. I’m not one to puke very often (I think I had a stomach bug in middle school the last time I remembered doing so, and I avoid doing it at all costs), but in this case it actually felt kind of nice – a bit of a distraction I suppose.
I had no sense of time throughout all of this, but I know it got dark again. I was checked and was still only 6-7 cm and had been that way for a while, despite regular contractions and all the positions I’d been in. Baby’s heart rate was great though. Joe and Harmony had been doing their best to help me be comfortable as possible. Joe pushed on my back and Harmony massaged my legs and feet. Harmony had also been giving me homeopathic medicines and herbs, to ease my back labor and to help make the contractions more effective. I remember her asking me if I wanted something that would help me rest/sleep or something to help the contractions get stronger. “Neither” and then “Both” was my response. I was a bit delirious and didn’t know what I wanted, except that I wanted to be done and have the baby out already. Around 8pm, I told Harmony she could break my water. We had hopes that it would get things going, as I was becoming quite exhausted. The last real food I had eaten was that soup & salad over 24 hours earlier.
When my water broke, there was a big gush of fluid that came out. It was all clear and the baby’s heart rate was great. My contractions felt much stronger at this point and sometimes felt like they were coming on top of each other. I felt cheated at those times because I didn’t get my “break” I was promised in between! I spent a lot of time in the tub, trying to relax, and moaning through the contractions. I think we thought I may be in transition, as our birth assistant, Jodi showed up. She sat calmly in the corner taking notes and smiling, taking pictures here & there.
When checked again, we found I had gotten to about 8cm, but was still dilating slowly which made me quite discouraged. I got out of the tub and bounced and rocked my hips on the birth ball hoping I could shake the baby down. I also tried squatting while hanging on the end of the bed.
Joe was with me most of the time, but left the room a few times to pee, eat, visit family, and/or nap. I was grateful that he was being so wonderful and supportive when he was with me, but when I knew he wasn’t with me, I was angry that he didn’t have to go through everything I was going through. I was jealous that he was getting a break and I wasn’t. At one point when it was just Harmony and I in the room, she said that maybe I just needed to spend some time alone with my body and figure out what I needed and she left the room. I was alone. I thought she was crazy for telling me that and I was still mad that I had to do this all by myself. I felt that I needed someone there to tell me exactly what I needed to do to make this work.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning Harmony offered some IV fluids to try and get my energy up. Someone suggested I try walking for a bit, so I donned a hospital type gown (since I had family in the waiting room and until then hadn’t had any clothing on since I arrived). My mom and sister helped me (and my IV pole) walk down the hallway and back a couple of times. I wanted to lie down on the floor every time a contraction came, but they kept me upright. I also tried sitting on the toilet a couple times, but that felt awful! When the IV bag was empty, I was able to get rid of the pole. But then, they wanted me to climb the stairs! Ugh. I was willing to do anything though, knowing that it may help get the baby out. The stairs were as bad as I had imagined. I wanted to quit, but they helped me along. I made it to the top though, and stopped for a couple contractions, and then back down. I remember feeling a bit self-conscious through all this because of everyone who was waiting there for baby and hearing me moaning and whining, and I knew I was probably waking those who were trying to sleep. I was wishing I had stayed home, but I was really too tired at this point to care. (I did finally make peace with those stairs that I once cursed, painting a mural on that wall when my daughter was just a few months old – hoping to make the trip up & down a little nicer for any mamas who would be following in my footsteps!)
Back downstairs, I was able to fall onto the bed again. Harmony checked me and I was hopeful, but I was still just at 8cm. I started feeling like I’d be too tired to push even if I was fully dilated. My water had been broken almost 10 hours now. We started to talk about the possibility of going to the hospital. The plan would be to get some Pitocin to help with the contractions and an epidural to help me relax and finish dilating, and to help me rest before it came time to push. We thought we would be treated a little better and get what we wanted if we didn’t push it by waiting too long after my water broke, so the sooner we could go, the better. Harmony called ahead to find out who the on-call doctor was supposed to be that day, and it was someone she was comfortable with, so we decided to head over to the hospital. I honestly don’t remember much of the conversation or decision-making that lead us there, but I trusted that everyone was looking out for what was best for me. Luckily, it was a short drive, because riding in the car during contractions was no fun at all.
We arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital around 6am on Sunday, November 25th. I rode in a wheelchair up to labor & delivery. I felt like everyone was looking at me, pitying me, and talking about me. Honestly though, I’m sure I looked a mess! I had been in & out of the tub a dozen times and I hadn’t seen a mirror in days. Soon, I was placed in a little room. I could only have a few people with me, and Harmony had a call that another mom was in labor, so I told her to go – I would have Joe and some family members be with me when I gave birth.
Being in the hospital was SO much different than where I had just come from. Everyone was in a hurry. Sweet Harmony was able to painlessly slide an IV needle in me on her first try when she needed to. It took the hospital nurses (3 of them) numerous tries at jabbing me before they got it right. Then they finished strapping me up, with a blood pressure cuff and two monitors across my belly – one for me and one for baby. Every time I had a contraction, I needed to sit up to deal with the feeling, but every time I did that, the straps on my belly would move and they would come running and telling me to lay still. It was crazy. I had piles of papers I was supposed to be reading and signing… I got the signing down. They wheeled in a TV so I could watch a video about epidurals. I felt like an inconvenience to them. I can’t imagine going through an entire labor like that. Luckily, baby and I were both doing great. Even though, they started intravenous antibiotics because my water had been broken for a while. Now we just had to wait to see the on call OB.
Pretty soon, a nurse comes in and tells us that the Dr. (who we have not even seen yet) recommends a C-section, so they will begin to prep me for it. WHAT?! It seemed like a joke, and I’m pretty sure I laughed at the preposterousness of it all! When we realized she was serious, we told her we wanted to see the doctor himself, so she left. (By the way, the doctor who was supposed to be on call wasn’t there that day, so this other doctor happened to filling in for him.) Joe talks to Harmony on the phone, who is as shocked as us, and she tells us we can request a second opinion.
Finally, he came in. He told us, “All we ever get is problems” from the birthing home, or something along those lines. That should have been a warning. He seemed to be out for revenge against anyone wishing to give birth outside the hospital. He looked at me like I was someone who had come in off the street having no prenatal care. Though, I’m positive that the care I had received from my midwife was far superior to anything his clients had ever gotten. Anyway, we discuss his decision to do a cesarean. He says that because I hadn’t fully dilated yet, that I would not dilate, period. I disagreed. Then, he asks me why I haven’t followed the “1cm per hour” nonsense. I had read enough to know that most births don’t follow that logic, but since I was still strapped down to a bed laboring without any pain meds, I just responded with “Some people are just slower than others”. To which he replied, “Physically or mentally?” Wow. Honestly, that wasn’t the worst of his condescending remarks, but I’m going to try not to go into just how obnoxious he was. He makes it clear that we either go with a section, or we are "refusing care" and we can leave the hospital. We tell him we'd like a 2nd opinion. He tells us he is the only opinion available. After more arguing, he leaves.
We were shocked. We looked at our nurse, who seemed embarrassed, and only said, “I can’t say anything.” Nice. We contemplated leaving the hospital and going to another, but decided against it, figuring at that point that we’d probably get similar treatment elsewhere. Finally, he comes back in. He says he'd talked to the head of obstetrics as a second opinion and that he’d like to compromise. He says we can do an ultrasound, and if it looks like the baby it "too big" for me to deliver vaginally, we'd do a C-section. If not, we'd get to try the Pitocin. This sounded fair, so we agreed. After all, my petite mother birthed me at 9lb 10oz & Joe was over 9lbs as well. I was prepared for a decent size baby. The ultrasound tech came in and looked at the baby, did some measurements, and left again. Then, the Dr. came back in. He said the baby was 8lbs 14oz. I felt like celebrating! The baby wasn’t BIG after all – she’s even under 9lbs. Unfortunately, the Dr. has a different opinion. He tells us that the baby is definitely too big (something about it being in the 90th percentile for her weight at 41wks. gestation...blah blah blah). He says she is "macrosomic" (which I later find out describes a baby over 8lbs 13oz). I ask again to please just try the Pitocin and see what happens. He says even if I fully dilate and we "blow the baby's head out", there is always the risk of the shoulders getting stuck, and in that case we'd only have 4 mins. to do an emergency C-section, and why would I want to risk my baby's life to make me feel better?!! I wanted to ask him if he hasn’t ever heard of the Gaskin Maneuver for shoulder dystocia, but I was too overwhelmed by what was happening, and figured it wouldn’t help anyway. He was such a bully. I asked him to check me one more time, though I was feeling so stressed at this point that I think my contractions had spaced out a little bit. He checked and said that I was only 6-7cm now, and that my cervix was swollen and the baby would never come out that way. I’m pretty sure he said “Told ya so” to my husband at this point. Deep down I feel he is wrong, but we give in and proceed with the C-section. It was good to know at least, that I’d finally be meeting my baby girl within the hour.
There was no waste of time now. Around 10:30am, they wheeled me in and prepped me for surgery. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. It was so surreal. They gave me a spinal block which felt amazing at that point in labor. I got cold and tingly & then numb all over. It made me want to sleep. Then they put in a catheter. They lay me down and moved me onto the surgery table and put a big sheet in front of my face. I heard the nurses all running around getting things ready, talking to each other, but not to me. One of the nurses asked another what kind of “dressing” this doctor uses. I thought, “Well that’s lovely. They’re ordering the doctor a nice salad. It’s almost lunch time, after all.”, though I felt so unimportant at that point, that I wasn’t in the least surprised. Only later, while reading an online ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) message board, did I realize the “dressing” the nurse was talking about had to with the bandages that the Dr. uses after surgery. Ha! I suppose that knowledge made me feel a little better.
Joe came in and sat by my head. I still hadn't really slept in over 40hrs, so I nodded off a couple times, and Joe would shake me to wake up. I was supposed to be numb from the waist down, but I had a hard time even feeling my arms, and my face was tingly. It seemed like there were a million people in the room walking around doing things. I felt so distanced from the “birth” of my child that was happening that I may as well have been in another room. I could feel my body being jerked back and forth until they said the baby was here. They held her above my head quickly before taking her to weigh, clean & wrap her up like a burrito. Then, they brought her over one more time for me to catch a glimpse before they took her and my husband off to the nursery. I don’t really remember seeing her, but I remember hearing her cry.
Next, they took me to "recovery" for an hour where they monitored me and I waited to feel my legs again. I was in and out of sleep. A nurse sat quietly in there with me, taking my temperature, and asking me to wiggle my fingers and toes. I had a hard time believing that I had just had a baby. My belly was quite bloated from gases and felt bubbly like a baby was still moving in there. It was a strange state to be in.
Eventually, they take me to my room where I'm reunited with Joe and my new daughter! I remember unwrapping her from that silliness and holding her skin-to-skin on my chest. Finally.
They had a lot of drugs in me, so the next couple days were pretty blurry. As soon as I could, I tried nursing that darling girl, and she tried latching on, but I had been pumped so full of IV fluids that I was all puffy and my nipples were flat. She couldn’t get them in her mouth. The nurses, and lactation consultant too (when she finally came to my room hours later) tried mashing the baby’s mouth and my breast together, thinking that would help. It just made me more nervous and made her cry. And cry. And cry. They told me she was hungry and they wanted to give her formula. I refused. Then they wanted to put a drop of formula on my nipple so she would know that was where the food came from. Seriously?! That seemed ridiculous. Again, I refused. So, they told me I needed to pump and bottle-feed her. So, they wheeled in the pumps and I hobbled to the chair squeezing out every drop of colostrum I could to give her. She would drink it up, and then I would try and give her the breast afterward. It was quite an ordeal. Harmony came to see me and it was so nice to see a friendly face. She assured me the nursing was going to get easier at home and I didn’t really need to rent all the pumps to take home like they wanted me to.
The OB came to see us the next day. He was all smiles and cocky, and I think he expected me to thank him for saving me. He told me it was a good thing he did the cesarean because she was so big. It took a lot to not burst into tears. I only replied, “She is long & skinny”.
It seemed like nurses were in the room every 15 minutes needing to do something to me or her. It was impossible to get any rest. If I did fall asleep, I’d have to wake as soon as I’d hear them coming or I’d get yelled at again for falling asleep with the baby on my chest. They’d offer to take her off to the nursery, but there was no way I was letting her go again. Luckily, Joe was able to sleep on the chair next to me the first two nights, but on the third night, L&D was busy and I had a roommate. This meant my husband had to leave, and baby & I were on our own that night. The nurses tried to make cheerful conversation with me while checking my incisions, like, “Now you can schedule your next baby just like a hair appointment!” What?! “I’m not doing this ever again” I tell her, and for the first time, I think about what having a cesarean means to my future baby plans. “Well, I think there is one doctor who does VBACs… “ she replies.
I was so happy when we finally went home the next day. It was a big adjustment for baby though. She cried the entire first night, and it was a rough start. Once we had the peace and quiet of our own bed though, nursing started to become easier, and I felt like I could finally begin bonding with my daughter. I felt guilty for not being with her at the very beginning of her life like I should have. I still couldn’t look at the pictures or the videos of her crying right after birth, or of her in the nursery getting her first bath and first diaper. Now, I could at least spend all day in bed with her, just staring at her and nursing her. Moving (and laughing and coughing) was still pretty painful after surgery, but slowly I was able to get around again.
Unfortunately, we would go to the hospital one more time. A couple days after we were home, my incision began leaking clear fluid and blood. I called the birthing home and was told that I could just tape it up again. I tried that and went to bed, but it opened up again the next day and I bled all over the couch. It was a weekend and we were scared, so we went to the emergency room (at a different, closer hospital). The doctor there didn’t comment much on it, as if it was a fairly normal thing to happen. He just took all the existing tape off and redid it. He said we could go back to our doctor on Monday and have it checked out. So, we did.
I never wanted to see that doctor again, but we went to his office to have the incision checked out. I felt bad for the pregnant women in his waiting room. I wanted to warn them or tell them to run. He saw us pretty quickly and we kept the small talk to a minimum. He basically told me that there was a lot of fluid behind the incision and it needed to drain out. He said it could continue to drain where it had opened up or he could open it up more to drain it. That all sounded awful. I asked him if my body wouldn’t just absorb the excess fluid. He said no, it wouldn’t. We left without having him do anything, and my body did just that.
We continued our post-partum care with our midwife, Harmony. I admit, I was a bit embarrassed going back to the birthing home for our 2 week appointment after I had “failed” at giving birth to my daughter. She was wonderful and supportive though, and never made me feel at all inadequate. She truly cared, and asked how we were doing after our plans didn’t go as we’d hoped. I told her what I though was expected of me, that we were so happy that our daughter was beautiful, happy, and healthy, and that was all that mattered. I remember her looking at me, serious and loving, and telling me that it was fabulous that our daughter was wonderful, but that was not ALL that mattered. My experience mattered too. It was good to hear that. Before that, I felt selfish and wrong for thinking of myself, for feeling sad and cheated, while holding such a perfect child. “A healthy baby is all that matters” was what everyone always says, and that is what people had told me to “comfort” me. And it really was true that our daughter’s health was our utmost concern, and I would totally have done it all over again if I had to.
Harmony referred me to the International Cesarean Awareness Network, where I was able to read online about others with similar experiences. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one. When we hear about some celebrities scheduling all their births by cesarean, it’s hard to imagine that someone else may be grieving the loss of their own birth experience due to a cesarean. I explained it to someone to imagine they spent 9 months fantasizing about what it would be like when they lost their virginity, and then when the time came, they were raped by someone else. That’s how I was feeling. I guess it’s all about your expectations.
Luckily, I was surrounded by many loving and supportive people who gave me the time & space to heal, physically and mentally. It took me some time, but I’m glad I had this experience. It left me wanting to help others, and so thankful for the midwives who are there to hold your hand through the ups and downs of it all. It also had me looking forward to my next birth, and having a new experience.
Labor & Birth of Jasper Jolee Ernst
July 5, 2011, 8:48pm
8lb 6oz ~ 21” long
I know that every labor & birth is different from the next, and everyone would remind me of this as I prepared for the birth of my second born. Since I was planning a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) this time, part of me figured people were just being nice & encouraging. I knew that this birth would be different – I was hoping for a shorter labor and a vaginal birth, or course, but my two pregnancies had been so similar so far that I figured my labor would have a lot of similarities too. I imagined I’d go into labor about a week after my due date and thought that I’d probably labor for quite some time before my water broke, if it did break before the baby came. That said, the way this labor began really threw me off.
I prepared for this birth differently than I had my last. I worked hard to let go of the negativity surrounding my last birth experience so that I wouldn’t bring it with me into this pregnancy. The past was just that. I surrounded myself with only positive, supportive people. I didn’t openly tell people of my VBAC/homebirth plans unless directly asked. I wanted to avoid any confrontation & I wanted privacy. My baby did too, so no peeking at the gender prior to birth. And my body needed to be left alone to do what only it knew how to do. I trusted my body this time. This would be my “selfish” birth, and I was looking forward it.
The end of this pregnancy did feel slightly different than my last one. I was more tired, and felt a lot more pressure on my cervix. I assumed it was just a 2nd pregnancy (and having a 3 year old already) thing. I was hopeful though that the pressure on my cervix was working to dilate it in advance, but I didn’t want it to be checked – I knew that would either get my hopes or disappoint me… and knowing that cervical dilation doesn’t mean a whole lot (you can be at 3cm for weeks or go straight to 10cm in an hour!), so I just opted out.
I decided that Mon, July 4th would be my last day working out of the house. I figured the rest of the week I’d spend at home nesting, shopping, and baking. I’d do a belly cast, and maybe I’d even start napping! My husband, daughter, & I went to see the fireworks together that evening. As we sat there waiting for the explosions in the sky and lighting sparklers, I wondered how many more times we’d be out, just the three of us. We talked about our plans to go out for our 11 year anniversary the following Friday – our last time out, we imagined. Little did we know that in 24 hours, we’d be holding our baby!
It had been a long day and a late night for us, and we all went right to bed when we got home. Kalina (our 3 ½ year old daughter) woke up twice that night which was unusual for her… at 2:30 & again at 3:30. She called my name and then went right back to sleep when I went in her room and put my hand on her back. Then, I woke up again at 4am when I felt like I had peed a little. I thought it was strange, but considering I was already getting up to pee like 5 times a night, anything was possible! I realized I was leaking a little more after I peed. I tried to ignore the thoughts that maybe my membranes had ruptured, and tried to go to sleep again. But, the leaking didn’t stop. I grabbed my phone and went to the bathroom to grab a towel and sat on the toilet again. A million thoughts were rushing through my head – mainly that this was the “wrong” way to start labor, since I wasn’t having contractions yet. I was nervous, excited, & scared. I was shaking when I texted my midwife, Harmony, and then I waited. She called me in a few minutes. Her voice was very calming. She congratulated me on my “birth” day, told me to get some rest, and we’d be in touch.
I texted my doula, my friend who would be watching Kalina, and my birth photographer to give them a heads up, even though I had no idea what was happening. I lay back down, but couldn’t relax. I wondered why my membranes had ruptured, but labor hadn’t started – did I not drink enough pregnancy tea? Or maybe I used too much evening primrose oil? I put my Hypnobabies cd on my headphones – it always seemed to put me to sleep in the past! Not this time… I was still worrying. I knew that I was now on “the clock” – which could mean a hospital transfer eventually if contractions didn’t kick in. I felt confused. My 40 wk appointment was supposed to be the following morning. At my last visit, the baby had turned posterior. I had been working to turn baby back, but wasn’t positive that it had happened yet. And now that my water was broken, I was concerned that the baby may not be able to get in the optimal position… I believe head position was one factor that kept our daughter Kalina from descending into the birth canal. I occasionally felt a contraction, but nothing strong or regular, and I wasn’t sure if it was a “real” one or not. I finally woke my husband since I wasn’t sleeping to let him know what was going on. He’d be getting up for work soon anyway, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him an hour away just in case things kicked in fast & hard. He decided to call into work and stay near. Around 6:30am, our daughter woke and climbed into our bed. She snuggled up close to me and I was finally able to go back to sleep! I woke up again around 8:30am (and she slept til 10am! Must have known it was going to be a long day…).
I spoke to Harmony again. Since I was having occasional contractions, she suggested that I could just wait and see if they pick up, or I could go get some acupuncture which generally helps to get things going. I called Deanine and she said she could get me in for acupuncture at 1pm. I had Joe bring me a big breakfast and decided to get some important things taken care of – I washed my hair, shaved my legs, trimmed my nails & painted my toes! Ha! I knew these things wouldn’t be priorities again for a while.
Then, I did some rocking on my hands and knees to get baby in the perfect position, and I sat on my birth ball for a bit, reading my birth affirmations & looking at all the beautiful beads I was given on my birth table that I’d set up in the bathroom. The birth art I did of a labyrinth reminded me of an Indian birth ritual I’d read about in The Labyrinth of Birth, where the women in early labor would draw a labyrinth in saffron on a metal plate, and then rinse it off and drink the water. The idea was that drinking the labyrinth helped the body to know the path and they also believed it would ease labor pains. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I drew my labyrinth on a plate covered in Emergen-C, rinsed it off & drank it down. The image of a labyrinth is very symbolic to birth and used in many cultures. When you first enter a labyrinth (labor), you seem to be heading straight to the center (the goal, the baby), but the labyrinth twists and turns and takes you away from the center and back a few times before you actually get there. There are no wrong turns or dead ends. You just have to keep going, and know that you are headed in the right direction, one step at a time, even though it sometimes seems you’re going backwards. This was something I wanted to keep in mind for my labor this time, as I thought it would have helped me mentally get through my first labor.
I went downstairs and made a strong batch of red raspberry leaf tea, brought it back to bed with me and decided to rest for a bit. I talked to the baby, prayed, tried to release any fears I had that were holding me back and then dozed for a little bit.
Joe woke me and it was time to head down to Deanine’s. As I was moving around getting ready and going up & down the stairs I realized the contractions I was having were getting a bit stronger. I wondered if maybe I should just stay home and keep moving, but didn’t want to miss my appointment if I ended up needing it later. I grabbed a banana, piece of cheese & a hard-boiled egg as we ran out the door – glad I did as it would be the last thing I ate before meeting my baby! The ride down there wasn’t comfortable. Every time we hit a bump, I’d have a contraction (and yell at Joe!), though I could still talk through them. I spoke to Harmony again and she said she’d meet us down there and check on me when finished with my acupuncture session.
When I finally lay down on Deanine’s table, we realized the contractions were coming about 5 minutes apart. They still weren’t really strong, but I wanted to sit up with each one to feel more comfortable. She decided not to pin me down with needles since I was needing to move, and instead she massaged all my pressure points to make the contractions work more efficiently. It was really great because Joe was there and she was able to show him where on my hand to rub, and how to press on my back to relieve some pressure, along with mixing up some smell-good, relaxing massage oil for us to take home. Her magic was working and contractions were getting intense. I was getting scared of having to drive the 30 mins back home, so we told Harmony to hurry over which she did. She listened to me and to the baby and everything seemed perfect. She told us to head back home and to call her when we needed her. I ran out the back door in a borrowed robe, and a pillow & blanket for the back seat – trying to make it to the truck before another contraction knocked me over.
The ride home was a long one. I stretched out in the back, trying to be as comfortable as possible, moaning through each contraction. With every turn and bump, I tried to picture where we were – hoping we were close! When we got home, I bolted for the door. I ran like a wild woman past Kalina and my friend who were trying to greet me inside the door. I only made it a couple steps up the stairs before I was brought to my knees. As soon as that contraction passed, I hurried upstairs and dove into bed where I cozied up to some big pillows with my hypnobirthing cd again.
Soon, I noticed my doula had arrived. She and Joe rolled in a couple of birth balls and suggested some positions I could try. I made a trip to the bathroom and then tried sitting on a ball. First was too soft, next was too hard…not easy getting comfortable in labor. I finally found a combination of bed/pillows/ball that worked for me. The two of them were great support during labor, rubbing my back and verbally helping me get through.
I decided water would feel nice, so Joe began filling the birth pool. It did feel good. I have no concept of time at this point, but I labored in there for a while. Contractions were strong, but I was able to completely relax, and occasionally drift off to sleep, between them. I thought maybe I had to poop at one point, so got out to sit on the toilet, but couldn’t sit there long enough to do anything – a contraction came on and I was on the floor! Then back into the tub where I got a little relief. At some point I started feeling more pressure, and it felt good to bear down a bit at the end of a contraction.
My midwife Harmony arrived around 5:30pm (or so I’m told!) along with her birth assistant and our photographer. They all slid in silently, and I’d occasionally open my eyes from my dreamy world of labor and catch glimpses of them. Contractions continued washing over me like waves. I really looked forward to the rest time in between. When they came closer together without giving me a break, I felt angry and cheated - I had whole conversations going on inside my head, though I didn’t manage to get many words out! I felt nauseous off & on and would ask for a bowl, but I never did vomit. Joe joined me in the pool so I could lean against him. The contractions were changing – they’d start out feeling like the contractions I’d been having, but then my body would take over and began pushing down on its own. This went on for long time. My sacrum and hips were so sore. I could tell the baby was moving down.
Joe tried pushing on my back, and I hoped it would help, but it didn’t seem to make it better. I continued this crazy pushing… on one side, and then the next. I kept thinking that I wanted to get into a squatting position to make things happen faster, but couldn’t fathom a way to make that comfortable, so I continued with what I was doing.
My doula would occasionally remind, me with her own sounds, to keep my moans low when I would begin to get high-pitched. It was helpful. I tried to remember to keep my face and hands relaxed too. She held my ice water for me and gave me sips with a straw between the hard work of pushing.
Eventually I reached in and felt a fuzzy little baby head. It was just a few inches in, but seemed so far away still – considering that I was pushing and pushing, and it wasn’t out yet! It was encouraging though, even if I didn’t let on to anyone outside my head, so I continued. I was a bit worried that I was pushing “wrong” though, since I felt like I may push the baby out my butt! That’s what my body was doing though, so I kept at it. My support team was so encouraging. I was feeling tired, sad, & whiney. I would look up at them hoping someone would feel sorry for me (and maybe let me quit?!) and they would just smile and tell me how great I was doing, and how my baby would be here so soon. At one point, I looked at all the women in the room – all of whom had children and two of them who were pregnant again. I questioned their desire to ever do this again. They all said they’d do it again without hesitation. I told them they were crazy…
I decided to check on where the head was during a contraction, and was surprised at how close it was – just a fingertip inside. Of course, after the contraction, it would slide right back. After being at quite a few births as a birth assistant, I knew that this was completely normal, and that it was a good thing – letting your body stretch, blah, blah… but it’s so different being on the other side of it! I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. Soon, the baby was beginning to spread me open during a contraction. I had Joe reach down to feel his baby’s head. By his surprised reaction, it seemed like he thought I had been making all this fuss over nothing! He was excited to know we were so close though. And then… it would slide back in. This kept up until we could feel more & more head. I was feeling the burn of my perineum & labia stretching for the baby’s head. “Ring of Fire” is right! My body was still pushing on its own, and I’m lucky it was, because I had no desire to continue! I just couldn’t fathom that it could stretch even more – it felt so tight! I kept my hand down there to make sure I wasn’t splitting in half. This whole time, the Hypnobabies “pushing time” script cd was playing in the room, talking about letting my baby gently “slide” down the birth canal… ha! Part of me was laughing at and cursing the words I was hearing and the other part of me was really wishing that I had actually done the Hypnobabies practice – and not just fallen asleep to the cds at night, hoping it would still be effective! It was good to have something positive to focus on though, so I let it be. I wasn’t sure I could handle a quiet room. I thought about putting Pandora on, and then I thought I’d like the ocean waves sounds cd that was in Kalina’s room, but I couldn’t put enough words together to say any of this. I really just wanted to enjoy the time between contractions and not talk. Pretty soon, a contraction ended and the baby’s head didn’t go back in! I was excited, but it stung so! I complained to Joe that maybe if I had done the perineal massage like I was supposed to, that the baby would be out by now. Who knows if that was true!
Kalina & my friend had been peeking into the bathroom off & on for a while. I had been worried that my noises would scare her, and told them I didn’t want her in until the baby’s head was actually on the way out, so at this point they called them in. She was so calm and excited about meeting the baby. She came over and gave us hugs and kisses and greeted everyone in the room. We told her she could touch the baby’s head and she did. Harmony held a flashlight under the water so she could see. It was so cool that she was able to touch her new sibling before we even knew if it would be a brother or a sister!
I was leaning back against Joe, feeling more & more baby head on the outside. In a couple of contractions, the head was out! I could feel the baby moving between my legs under the water - on the outside for the first time – it was thrilling! I knew the shoulders would be born with the next contraction. I waited, a bit worried that pushing the shoulders out would either hurt the baby or hurt me, and was trying to picture which way the shoulders were supposed to turn to come out. When the next contraction came, my body pushed and she slid right out! I reached down to grab her, while Harmony untangled the cord that was wrapped around her body. I picked her up out of the water, amazed, and feeling SO much better! You could hardly see her blue skin under all the thick white vernix that covered her! She was quite alert with her eyes wide open and her arms & legs flexed. I rubbed her back and talked to her, still in amazement. She began to pink up and make a couple little sounds, but no crying. She just took it all in. Someone finally asked about the sex, so I took a little peek. It’s a GIRL! Just as I thought. Kalina’s sister had arrived! I kissed her forehead and my lips got coated with vernix – best chapstick around, I suppose! I offered her my breast and she latched right on like she’d done this before. She had a cone head from molding in the birth canal (thank God she did!) and her right eye looked a bit swollen and squished, but she was the most beautiful thing. I could feel all those love hormones flooding my body. I asked the time she’d been born, and was told 8:48pm – she waited till sunset to make her grand entrance into the world. I had thought that I would probably labor at night while Kalina slept, as many moms tend to do, and then give birth in the morning. But evening turned out to be such a perfect time to have the baby since we’d all get tucked into bed together and get a full nights rest.
Joe got out of the tub and went to phone our families to let them know that she’d been born. As much as we wanted our family to be a part of this, we knew we wanted a much more intimate experience this time, so we kept everything from our estimated due date to the time I went into labor a bit of a mystery. I wanted to fully relax and not feel any pressure if I went past my “due” date, or feel that people were worrying about me if I ended up laboring for a long time again. So, we decided to just let everyone know when the baby had arrived. And that miraculous time had come!
I was starting to feel uncomfortable sitting in the tub, and nursing was causing painful uterine contractions – as it should, helping to release the placenta. I checked to find that the cord was no longer pulsing, so baby had gotten all that she had needed. I wanted Joe to come cut the cord and take the baby so I could work on delivering the placenta. I thought the baby would be upset when unlatched and taken away, but she was quite content, skin to skin with daddy in the rocking chair. I had someone get Kalina’s new baby doll out of the closet. I was hoping she’d adopt this baby and name it “Lucy” so she would stop insisting that we name our new baby that! She liked the new doll, but she was still pretty disappointed that she couldn’t hold the real baby right then.
I tugged the cord a little to see if it would come, and then Harmony tried, but I ended up needing to change positions – I got on my knees and gave it a push to help it come out. I was really not looking forward to pushing anything else, but the placenta was easy like they said. It came out like a blob – yay for no bones! We put the placenta in a bowl and Kalina came in to see it. We had read some books about new babies & home birth, so she knew about the baby’s umbilical cord and what the placenta’s job was in utero. I gave her a little tour of it and showed her the sack that was her sister’s home for 9 months.
I got out of the birth tub and into some clean water in the bath tub to rinse off before I headed to bed. I then got to join my family of 4 in our very own bed to cuddle and bond. Kalina was pretty excited and had to be reminded not to jump around or climb on me. I propped myself up on pillows to nurse the baby. Everyone went downstairs to give us some alone time and to eat some of the yummy food my friend had been busy cooking all day.
When they came back, they brought me a big plate of food. I was so excited – I couldn’t believe how hungry I was! Harmony & Heidi got the things together to do the newborn exam at the end of our bed. Kalina brought her new baby doll over and got to examine her – listened to her with the stethoscope weighed her, etc. I loved how involved Kalina got to be in this experience. It was the same in all my prenatal appointments. She always had a turn to listen to my baby, take my blood pressure, and to have her belly listened to, whenever she came with me. She’s a real pro now!
The lovely Rosemary Birthing Home ladies did baby girl’s exam while Joe & I ate dinner and watched. From the amount of sticky vernix that covered our little girl, her soft ears, and lack of deep lines on her feet, Harmony estimated that she was possibly a younger baby – she could have been a week early, not just a day early like we had thought. Still though, she weighed in at 8lb 6 oz and was 21” long with a 14 1/4 “ head. They looked her over and she was perfect. After having her on the outside, I couldn’t imagine if I had to wait another week to meet her!
Our birth assistant busied herself emptying the birthing pool and doing laundry. When she was done, our bathroom looked better than it had before she came! Harmony accompanied me to the bathroom so I could pee. My peri bottle full of herbs was ready and waiting for me, along with an ice pack and some pads. My friend was downstairs with Kalina, and my mom was on her way over to take over for her so she could head back to her family after a long day. We were given our post-partum instructions and vitals were taken on both the baby & I. Then we were tucked into bed and told to get some rest since this was the longest stretch the baby would sleep for a long time.
Joe passed out before the birth team even left, close to midnight, but I was so in awe of it all, I just laid there and stared at our precious new being for a long time. I did manage to sleep for quite a bit. Every time I woke, I was so grateful to be in my own home, in my own bed this time around. No one coming in disturbing us every hour, or telling us what we should be doing. There were no roommates, and we had our own bathroom and food. It was bliss. It was just our sweet family and our instincts (and our midwife’s instructions) to guide us. This is what made it all worth it. This is what makes me think I could do it again.