This is a story of an amazing home birth I was at a few years ago. My client wrote her story and published it on her blog, so I asked if I could share an exerpt of it here. Please visit her website to view the full story and her insight into why birth is such a touchy subject and how different choices may, in their different ways, be best for different people.
I knew I was going into labour from the second I opened my eyes in the early morning of Thursday July 9th, 2015. Not because my water had broken, which it actually never did, or because I was having intense contractions, which didn’t happen until later, but because I felt nauseous. This was what I had been waiting for for days, it was something different. An overwhelming queasy feeling that told me things were finally happening. We had an appointment with our midwife that morning anyway and I knew things were in their earliest stages so we waited.
My primary care providers where two brilliant registered midwives. They are both passionate about birth and women’s health and I was so lucky to have found them. They would alternate appointments with me and the best part was they did home visits. I had a grand total of one visit to a doctor’s office when I first found out I was pregnant and one visit to the hospital for my twenty week ultrasound and that was it. Everything else happened in the comfort and convenience of my own home. I did everything women normally do during their prenatal appointments but it all felt so much more personal. Considering the kind of birth I was hoping to have it also made sense for my midwives to get to know Peter and I in our own space. All my checkups felt more like friendly chats where we happened to get to hear our baby’s heartbeat rather than clinical affairs.
At our appointment Carolyn agreed that I was in the early stages of labour. She told me to relax and go about my day as I normally would and call her when things progressed. With a home birth midwives don’t typically come to your home until you are around the point in your labour when you would normally be headed to the hospital, or when your contractions start to get strong and closer together. We also had a doula and we called her to let her know things were starting to happen.
My best friend, who was also pregnant, came to visit a few hours after Eleanor was born and she asked me if I had any advice for her while everything was still fresh in my mind. I told her two things that I would tell any woman having a baby. One, hire yourself a doula. If possible, hire mine because she is god’s gift to women in labour everywhere. Two, control everything about your labour and your space and do not apologize for it. Friends and family want to know the minute you go into labour, but the thought of all that added pressure makes you feel nervous? Someone insists on attending your birth even though you want it to be as private as possible? Their interest and excitement is sweet, but you need to do what’s right for you. The pressure not to offend anyone can be too much for a pregnant woman to handle so here is a little trick I learned, lie. Trust me everyone will forgive you the second they see that sweet little baby. If they don’t then they were always more interested in what was best for them, not for you, and that is a person you can do without.
Peter and I went through that first day of labour just the two of us. Yes, the first day. I already mentioned that I went into labour on July 9th. My daughter’s birthday is July 12, which means I was in labour for 72 hours. If you had told me this before I lived it I would be making the face you are probably making right now. It sounds horrible, and it’s true it wasn’t exactly a cake walk, but it is completely normal. My water never broke, or I should say it didn’t until Eleanor was actually born, which is one thing that can put a woman at increased risk for an infection during a long labour. My blood pressure was fine, and Eleanor was never in any distress, so there was no medical reason that a 72 hour labour was not perfectly safe.
My long labour only reinforces that my decision to stay home was the right one. A hospital would have never let me go so long, it’s just not something they feel comfortable with. For that matter I never would have lasted that long in a hospital because after about 48 hours if there had been an epidural, or morphine, or a horse tranquilizer available, I would have taken it in a second. I was exhausted, I was frustrated, I wanted it all to be over. The birth I had planned was a distant memory and all I wanted was to feel better. This is the brilliance of a home birth. When I was at my most vulnerable I would have had to get dressed, somehow get myself into a car, drive to the hospital, and sit through admitting before I would have gotten any pain killers. It was the logistics that saved my home birth. All those steps sounded as difficult as what I was going through and nothing short of a medical emergency was going to drag me out of that apartment.
So just what did three days of labour look like? Most of it is pretty boring to hear me tell it. My contractions started in the late morning of July 9th. They weren’t so bad for a few hours and I was mostly just enjoying the perks of natural labour at this point. There are perks, and I don’t know why more people don’t talk about them. You can find little mentions of them if you read books about natural birth. Women talk about how they went for a walk in the early stages to help things along and they felt that everything looked brighter and more colourful than normal. They noticed things like the breeze and the sound of birds in sharper detail than normal. This was because they were high. Your body does a wonderful thing for you when you are getting ready to have a baby. It pumps you full of every feel good hormone your brain has to offer and gets you high as your hippy parents were at Woodstock. Ok, maybe not that high, but it is still really nice.
So on that first day I went for a lovely walk just like my beloved Ina May would have wanted. Peter had a grocery list of things to stock up on so I took my first canine baby Olive and headed for the park. Standing in the middle of an empty field on a sunny but cool July day having my first little contractions will always be one of my treasured memories. It was such a peaceful way to begin this crazy journey and I will always be grateful for it.
I lasted through that first night with intense but manageable contractions. The biggest worry I had was that they didn’t feel like the waves I had practiced visualizing. My contractions were rooted in my lower back and felt more like horrible spasms. I knew I had to relax for them to do their work, but relaxing into pain is not an easy thing. At around five in the afternoon on July 10th things were intense enough that we called our doula to come and help us.
Every woman hoping to have a natural birth should hire a doula. They offer emotional support, instead of the medical support a midwife offers. Doulas can be harder to hire than midwives because the are not as closely regulated and it really only takes a weekend to be certified as one. Find one whose experience and knowledge you feel comfortable with, or ask your midwife to recommend someone they have worked with and trust.
Our doula could not have been better. She talked me through every single contraction. She gave us the confidence of her experience and reassured us that everything we were going through was normal. She knew to feed me rice soup (literally rice and water) when I couldn’t keep down my very poorly chosen bagel with roasted garlic cream cheese. That rice soup will probably forever stand as the best meal I have every eaten because I have never needed one more. She stayed with us for days and slept on our horrible little couch and knew exactly what to do to help me at every turn. She knew what positions to try, where to massage me, and just what to say. I could not be more grateful to her.
We made it through this way until late afternoon on July 11th. The hardest thing about my labour was that my contractions were all happening in my lower back. The most painful position for me to be in was laying down, and I was so desperate at this point for some sleep. I hadn’t been able to manage more than a few minutes in days. Every time I tried to lay down I would have a contraction and have to flip my poor pregnant body onto my hand and knees to get through it. Even with all the adrenaline and endorphins in my body keeping me going I was exhausted. We decided it was time to call in my midwife to check up on me and the baby and see how she could help. She suggested I get in the shower. I had already been in a few times and the water had helped relax me a little but this time it was a revelation. I turned the water to scalding hot and let it pound down on my back and I stayed there for over nine hours.
I call this the miraculous shower. From time to time Peter would check on me and I would assure him not to worry because I live here now. I was never getting out. All my problems were solved. I had finally found the thing that was going to save me. I do feel slightly guilty that this took place in the middle of July during a drought, but only slightly. Surly my need was greater than our neighbour who somehow still had a lush green lawn. Thanks god the hot water in our crappy apartment building held out or I’m not sure what I would have done. In that shower I did every exercise I could think of to convince this baby to get the hell out. I imagined this being our first stubborn confrontation and I was not about to let my daughter beat me. I did of course eventually get out of the shower, but not before our apartment had been transformed into a steamy bog. Even with the windows open water drops streamed down the walls and dripped from the ceiling. It was so worth it.
When I did get out, at around five in the morning on July 12th it was clear to me we needed a new plan. We waited until a somewhat decent hour and called Andrea to come back and talk about my options. I was so tired and Andrea must have seen that I was on the verge of throwing in the towel so she was brutally honest with me. She explained to me what I already knew but needed to hear. I had declined to be examined while in labour so we didn’t know exactly how dilated I was but if she had to guess I was maybe one centimeter. That’s right. Almost three days of of labour and I was maybe one of the ten necessary centimeters along. If we were to disrupt everything and go to the hospital for an epidural now, I would probably end up no centimeters dilated. If I did have an epidural at this point I would probably end up with a c section, the thing I wanted to avoid at all reasonable costs. This was not easy to hear but I am so glad she told it to me straight because it gave me the information I needed to stick it out.
Besides the tough love that I needed, Andrea offered me something that could help me with my back labour. She could inject sterile water just under the skin to numb the area, but it was going to hurt. This seemed hilarious to me at the time. I had been going through contractions for days and here she was worried about a little pain? I quickly understood what she meant. It burned like one million bee stings and I remember screaming out every four letter word under the sun, but it also worked.
We were planning a water birth and I had so far been very stubborn about getting into the four foot tall, bright green, inflatable pool our doula had set up in the living room. I think this is because in my prenatal classes, which were also taught by our doula, she said that you should save the pool until the very end because the pressure of the water gives women some relief from the pain and helps them get through that last stretch. I did not seem to be progressing at all and I wanted to save that treat for the end. This was of course ridiculous at my stage. I needed all the help I could get.
Peter finally talked me into the pool and it was such a relief. Birthing pools are wonderful. I want one for my back yard. They have inflatable padding on the bottom and sides so you can drape yourself over the edge and kneeling on the bottom is totally comfortable. It felt so good on my poor body. It might have been this relief from the water, or that the wrenching muscle pain in my back was finally numb, but this was the point when thing started to move very quickly.
Everything had taken so long up until this point that when Andrea got a call from another client who lived a few minutes away, and was premature, no one thought anything of her popping over to check on her. A few minutes after she left I felt my body bear down to push. When you get to the final stages of labour you become your most primal self. Light hurts your eyes, even the slightest smell is nauseating, and you are basically non verbal. I had trouble at first communicating to our doula that my contractions were suddenly different but if she didn’t know right away it was soon obvious to both her and Peter, who was in the pool with me. I wasn’t aware of much outside of myself at this point but I remember having some sense of a phone call to Andrea telling her to hurry back because things were happening. All I remember clearly is being so happy that something was finally different that I was not going to wait another second. I seized every single contraction and went for broke. I never even imagined there could be anything as intense as those final moments but Eleanor and I were finally in agreement and this was going to happen right now.
They say that a baby born on the way to the hospital really didn’t need to go in the first place. Any baby born in a hurry is doing just fine thank you and doesn’t need any help. That is exactly how it worked out for Eleanor and I, which is funny if you think about my long labour. These final moments are why it was so important to me to tell this story. Modern medicine would have written me off. They would have told me my body was not able to have this baby. They would have told me that I should be dilating one centimeter each hour and that taking so long just isn’t normal. That could not have been farther from the truth. Some women will dilate steadily and have measured progress. Some women do it all at once. For me having a baby was slowly pushing a boulder up a hill for three crazy days, only to see it go flying down the other side at breakneck speed. My wish is that no woman ever be told her body can not give birth to the baby it made unless there is a hard and fast medical reason.
When it finally happened, it happened exactly as it was always supposed to. Our beautiful baby girl was born at 10:51 am on Sunday July 12th, 2015. Her daddy caught her and our doula held my hands through it all. Peter picked Eleanor up and put her right on my chest and she looked up at me with the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. It will always be the defining moment of my life. She barely made a sound, just proceeded to look around the room and take it all in. She then moved right down to nurse where she stayed for the next ten months.
The last thing I saw before Eleanor was born was our dog Olive, and cats Fitz and Anouk, sitting in a row watching me from the living room. It was so perfect and so typical of our life. The scene was only completed when our poor midwife came rushing in the door about one minute and thirty seconds after Eleanor was born looking like she had run the whole way.
In the end this long labour was incredibly gentle on my body and Eleanor. I suffered no complications and my recovery was quick. I think the best way I can explain it is I did all the work up front and the rest was easy.
There is a second reason I felt I had to tell this story. So much of what you hear about birth is negative. I think if you have a positive experience it feels almost disrespectful to talk about it, like you’re gloating. As a result most of what women hear before they have a baby scares the shit out of them. I wanted to put my story out there. Not because it is better than any other but because it is just as important. I want women to keep hope that this crazy thing they have to do might work out just fine after all.