When I became pregnant with Hunter in 2010, I was not only thrilled that we would be welcoming a new little one into our family, but also that I would have the chance to give birth differently than with my daughter. While her birth was wonderful (see my other blog posting “A Midwife’s Own Birth Story: Part One Keira Sage”), it felt like something was missing for me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew I wanted something different….something more empowering.
Since we weren’t living with my husband’s parents this time around, we were going to be having a home birth. I was so excited! I spent months before and during this pregnancy envisioning what I wanted to have happen, where I wanted the birthing tub set up, the music I would have playing, where my candles would go, etc. I wanted autonomy this time around, and the ability to listen to my body and trust my intuition. This “idea” of my dream birth and being able to welcome my little boy into the world in such a perfect way, was what kept me going when things were very difficult.
My pregnancy with Hunter was horrible. I was sick all day everyday for months, had severe heartburn, stomach ulcers, an ovarian cyst that ruptured, constant back pain and sciatica….all while taking care of a 3 year old, being a wife, studying and apprenticing full-time to be a midwife, and working as a birth doula. It was overwhelming!
I had a lot of “false alarms” toward the end. I would start having regular contractions for several hours and then they would just stop. This drove me crazy, of course! Here I am studying to be a midwife and I can’t even tell when I’m in real labor or not! I knew he was going to come when he was ready, but I thought he’d be coming earlier than his sister who was 8 days late. Sure enough though, 40 weeks came and went, followed by 41 weeks, and still no labor.
On the morning of December 23rd, at 41 weeks and 3 days, I woke up having mild contractions around 4:30am. I tried to sleep through them for a while, but around 6am, I couldn’t sleep anymore and got out of bed to go make some breakfast. The contractions were starting to get slightly more intense, but they were still spaced out to about 6-7 minutes apart, so I didn’t feel the need to wake up my husband Jeff or call my midwife. My 4 year old daughter Keira woke up around 6:30am and came out to check on me. She saw me swaying from side to side and leaning over the counter top gently moaning, all while making some scrambled eggs (home births are much more laid back ;-) ). She knew what was happening (we’d been preparing her for months on what to expect) and got really excited that today was the day her brother was coming! I asked her to go wake up Daddy shortly thereafter since the contractions were starting to come about every 4-5 minutes now, and I could hear her run into our bedroom excitedly shouting, “Hunter’s coming! Hunter’s coming!” Needless to say, my husband jumped out of bed very quickly to come check on me! I asked him to go ahead and call the midwife Kerin (who was one of my midwifery teachers), our doula CarolAnn (who was a dear friend), my mom, and my best friend Amy to let them know what was going on so they could start making their way over.
Once I knew everything had been taken care of, I just tuned the world out and got “into” my own body. Time stood still. I would alternate between leaning forward on the countertop while squatting my knees and actually getting on my hands and knees on the floor in the living room. I was able to hear what my body was telling me to do and that felt wonderful. My midwife and doula arrived very quickly it seemed, but they both entered my home with such a calm and gentle presence that I didn’t even notice they were there at first. They matched my energy perfectly and I knew they were there to support me in the way I wanted and needed them to.
During one of my contractions, I started praying to God, asking Him to give me what I needed to help this labor progress and for me to be able to cope with it. I was worried about having a long labor and with my constant back pain, I didn’t know how much of it I could take. Kerin suggested that Jeff and I go for a walk around the block to help kick my labor into the next level and get things moving more quickly for me (and luckily we were living in California at the time, so the weather wasn’t too cold!).
The three of us set out on a walk (Jeff, CarolAnn and I) while Kerin stayed at the house to play with Keira until my mom could get there to watch her. The walk definitely worked its magic and put me into a good active labor pattern, but the 45 minutes it took to get around my block were definitely interesting. Let me paint a picture for you…
-First, you should know that our house was situated at the top of a hill, and while the beginning of the walk was fairly easy since it was downhill, the end of the walk when I had to start walking back up the hill, while in active labor with contractions 3 minutes apart lasting 60 seconds, was not so easy. Luckily, I had my husband to lean on during every contraction and my doula to use a robozo (large piece of cloth) to help lift my belly and help with my pelvic and back pain.
-Second, you should know that when you’re in labor, you don’t care about what you’re wearing. Since it never entered my mind that I might want to change out of my pajamas before walking around my neighborhood, I ended up walking in my big, ugly, purple “purchased for pregnancy only” pajama bottoms, a big sweatshirt and house slippers.
-Third, you should know that things don’t always appear to others the way you think they do. During an especially hard contraction, I had to stop on the sidewalk in front of a neighbor’s house to lean forward on my husband and needed my doula to do a pelvic hip squeeze while standing behind me to help with back/hip pain. All of a sudden, an old lady opens up her front door and is watching us with confusion written all over her face. She calls out to us and asks if we needed an ambulance called. “Nope, just having a baby!” my husband replied, and we continued our trek back to the house. I’ve always thought back to that moment and wondered what she thought of all that!
Once we arrived back at the house around 9am, I greeted my mom and Amy who had arrived and then I sat on the floor next to my midwife. She listened to Hunter’s heartbeat and asked me if I’d like to be checked. I was curious so we went ahead and had her check. I was 5cm! Not too bad for only being in good, active labor for about an hour. I wanted to get in the tub so Jeff started filling it up for me. I had had it already inflated and ready to go in the dining room for weeks (much to Keira’s delight, “We have a pool in our house!!”), so all it needed was warm water.
About 20 minutes later, I was sinking into a tub of blissfully warm water, with candlelight and my favorite music around me. For this birth, I had a new favorite song that I considered to be the theme-song for my birth: “Amazing” (listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qezpzQWtheU). When that song started playing, every emotion I had came to the surface and I began crying. I felt intense joy, pain, excitement, self-doubt, and peace all at the same time. It was so cathartic for me to hear the song that had been my “birth anthem” for the past few months and it really allowed me to open up and let go. After the fact, my husband told me that Keira and my mom were crying along with me as they sat near the tub where I was sitting. It was a moment where all 3 generations were just allowing our feelings to flow without censure or embarrassment. Even though I had people all around me, I didn’t feel on display or under a microscope as everyone was very conscientious about their words and actions, and I had picked all of them to be there with me. Most of the time, the room was silent except for the sounds of my music and my loud moans during contractions (I’m not a quiet birther).
It was important for me to have Jeff get into the tub with me again as he had with my first birth. He became my rock and anchor in that water. I had room to move away from him if I needed space, but he was right there close by for those times when I needed to lay my head on his shoulder and feel his arms around me. He and CarolAnn would alternate putting pressure on my back to help with the pain, while I remained on my hands and knees with my forehead resting on the tub walls the whole time. I couldn’t imagine getting into any other position as every cell in my body was telling me this is what I needed to be doing. I remember feeling as though I’d reached my limit at one point (the place everyone gets to when they think they can’t keep going) and with my eyes closed, quietly said out loud to the room, “I think I’m about to lose it”. I was immediately and gently reassured by everyone that I was doing great, just had a little more to go. (They told me afterwards that when I said that, it took them by surprise since I was so calm between contractions they would have never guessed I was feeling that way) I remember feeling my strength and resolve renewed by their support. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, didn’t want pain meds, didn’t need anything….just the support and strength from those around me and their belief that I could do it.
My midwife Kerin was very sweet to me during my birth. She knew that I didn’t want my birth to be “medicalized” and that I wanted to be able to do my own thing, and she respected that. Of course she monitored Hunter’s heartbeat intermittently to make sure he was doing well, but otherwise, she was just sitting in the corner, watching and waiting for when I would need her. Another friend of mine, Laura, showed up to assist Kerin with my birth (births are always safest when there are two trained professionals in attendance) and I was so entrenched in my own world that it took me a while before I even knew she was there.
Around 12pm, I began feeling an urge to push. Pushing felt amazing and really helped to take my mind off of the contractions, but after a bit, I became frustrated because I didn’t feel any progression of his head within my body. It felt like my pushing efforts weren’t having any effect. I asked Kerin to check me while I was still in the tub and make sure I was fully dilated. When she told me I was 7-8cm, I was depressed and frustrated! Why wasn’t my body doing what it was supposed to? Why was I feeling an urge to push when I wasn’t 10cm yet? How much longer was this going to take? She told me that my water bag was bulging out in front of the baby’s head making me feel like there was pressure and giving me the urge to push, but that’s why I wasn’t making any progress—his head was being cushioned by the water bag and wasn’t putting pressure on the cervix to open. I told her I wanted her to break my water because I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going with my back and hips hurting as much as they were, and I wanted things sped up.
So she broke my water and I got back into my hands and knees position. With the next contraction, I felt Hunter’s head drop onto my perineum, ready to come out. “His head’s right here” I said as I reached down and felt his soft little head starting to emerge. I took a deep breath and was getting ready to push with all of my might when Laura leaned down and whispered into my ear, “Remember what you wanted….don’t push…..just let him come on his own”. Her reminding me of what I wanted triggered the HypnoBirthing I’d been practicing and my body and mind went into a deep state of relaxation.
I don’t remember much of the next ten minutes, only that I didn’t feel as much pain as I previously had been, and that I felt deeply relaxed. I was still aware of my surroundings, but it was as if I was in a peaceful fog. With each of the next few contractions, my body spontaneously pushed his head down further and further, with no help from me. I could feel myself stretching, and since my hand remained on his head, could feel him coming closer and closer. When I calmly announced to the room that his head was out, it shocked my husband because he didn’t even know that my body had been pushing! My brain seemed to re-engage at this point, and my midwifery training kicked in. I felt for a cord around his neck and told the midwife there was none. His shoulders felt like they were both trying to come at the same time instead of one in the front of the other though, and I remember having a moment of panic thinking, “How’s he ever going to come out of me?!”. Kerin helped one shoulder come through, then the other. I had my hands on him the whole time, reaching through my legs as I was kneeling in the tub. Once the shoulders were out, she took her hands away and let me do the rest. I gave a gentle push and out he came into my hands.
At 12:43pm on December 23, 2010, I brought Hunter Jackson up out of the water and laid him in my arms. My husband was sitting in front of me looking in awe and wonder at our new little son, and my daughter was standing next to me outside of the tub, smiling over the edge at her baby brother. All around us, there were happy tears and joyous smiles. A moment in time where the birth of one of God’s miracles was witnessed by all and we would be forever joined together by that moment.
I loved not having to go anywhere after giving birth! With my first being at a birth center, within a few hours of giving birth, I had to get into a car and sit on my sore bottom the whole way home...this time was amazing. My midwife just tucked me into my own bed with my new baby and I didn't have to do anything. When Kerin did Hunter's newborn exam on the bed right next to me (she didn't take my son away from me or out of my sight), she had Keira help her listen to his heartbeat to have my little girl continue feeling involved in the process of her brother's birth.
Hunter’s birth gave me back the power I felt I’d lost at Keira’s, and it filled me with such a sense of pride in myself and what I had accomplished. While my second birth was more intense than my first, it was also the way I’d always pictured my perfect birth. I felt reborn and healed, and will be forever grateful to those who helped me achieve it.