Why this story?
Birth stories are engraved in a woman’s memory like our name… in fact, I’d bet that even if I forgot my identity I’d still remember my birth stories. This is the story of the birth of my fourth child and first homebirth. I am purposely not telling the stories of the first three. Not that they are too painful or difficult to recall, not that there were any horrific turn of events, it was quite the contrary. In fact, they were beautiful experiences, I learned much from them, and I have no regrets. So why the withholding? This was not the shortest or easiest and not the least painful of my births, BUT it is the only birth which I approached from the perspective of trust rather than fear. The only birth in which I was truly empowered.
I have always liked the idea of homebirth and admired those who chose that option. Because of my ignorance of the facts, I believed that it was at some level more risky than a hospital or birth center. Living in Ohio, hospitals are the only option, other than home. During this pregnancy I had been reading a lot about Ina May Gaskin and the statistics of the births at The Farm. My husband and I were astounded by their overwhelming success and low C-section rates, including twin and breech births. Around the same time we watched the documentary The Business of Being Born. It was time to get down to the business of researching the real facts! I had found a Certified Nurse Midwife that seemed to share my feelings on having no interventions during labor and delivery. Although I knew, from past experiences, that I would still have to “fight” with hospital staff and that my midwife had no say so over the baby once it was born. This troubled me quite a bit, as I have a history of being late, having my water break a day or so before labor, and having somewhat larger babies. I started doing my homework and looking for a homebirth midwife. It didn’t take much to confirm what I already instinctively knew; God created my body to give birth naturally, and while there may be rare instances which require medical intervention, if you listen to your body it will tell you. My husband and I attended our first Homebirth Option of Cleveland meeting the January before my April due date. For me, that meeting was like coming home. Seriously, I wanted to hug every person sitting there and thank them. Finally! A group of like-minded women who knew and honored the normalcy of birth. My husband, ever the devil’s advocate, (God love him!) still did not fully appreciate all the aspects of why having a homebirth mattered so much to me. But as a scientist, he did appreciate the facts, and was convinced that the lack of interventions at a homebirth definitely contributed to an ultimately safer environment. We made our decision and met with the midwife at our home. I continued to see the CNM for prenatal check-ups and told her of my new plans to deliver at home. Thankfully, she was supportive and even familiar with my midwife and confirmed my confidence in her. The only doubts I had were regarding my mother. My mother and I have a remarkable relationship. I have always been able to talk to her about everything, and usually do on a daily basis! I really did not count on her response. My mother is the ultimate worrier, and when it comes to me and my family she takes it to a new level. When I told her my plans for a homebirth, she asked me not to tell my dad and said she did not want to talk about it with me anymore because it was too upsetting. WHAT? Don’t talk to my mom about the most important thing happening to me… this was unprecedented and it shook me up something fierce! To make matters worse, everyone else in the family had that same sort of “well as long as you have a healthy baby in the end” type of attitude. Was I being selfish making others worry? Then there was the subject of finances. A hospital birth would be covered with a $50 co-pay, homebirth was out of pocket. Money was tight and I thought maybe financial prudence should prevail after all. I called my mom and told her to rest easy; I’d be delivering at the hospital. Thankfully, this story is not over! My husband knew that I was not happy and told me that I was not selfish and that I deserved to give birth where and how I wanted. Hindsight never fails. All these things were meant to happen. I decided not to tell my mom we had changed our minds yet again until pretty much labor… why have her worry unnecessarily? I didn’t purposely deceive her and she really didn’t want to know anyway. But, the most important thing that happened, was knowing that my husband truly supported this decision, 110%. I love the stories of women laboring surrounded by lots other women, however, this was not my vision. My husband is the furthest thing from squeamish and I knew he was all the support I needed. Besides my midwife and her apprentice, the only other person I wanted there was my daughter. She was 12 when I delivered and had attended every single prenatal appointment, attended all the HBO meetings (in fact we both still go, more than a year later!), and watched more than her share of birth documentaries. More importantly, this was to be her first experience of birth and I wanted to give her the gift of seeing it as God had intended. It saddens me immensely to hear so many strong women talk about how they would “die” from natural childbirth. My own sister first gave me this gift when I was only 8, allowing me to be present at the unmedicated birth of my niece. I have never forgotten that.
Fast forward to 39 weeks.
I was at the CNMs office, measuring larger than my dates, of course. She had been mentioning at previous visits some concern over the size of my baby… “did you feel this big with the other pregnancies?” Uh, does anyone ever feel small??? Not sure how to respond, I blew it off, after all, I’d had a nine pounder with no issues. This time she shocked me and said that she would be documenting an offer for an induction and that I had refused. I left that office as fast as I could. This was crazy… an induction at 39 weeks? For absolutely no clinical reason what-so-ever… from the CNM who had promised me a hands-off delivery? I thanked God that this was not my only recourse. My last pregnancy went to 42 weeks, I could only imagine the ensuing hassle had I not been planning a homebirth. I decided to cancel my next appointment, what was the point? This was all happening the week before Easter. My last baby was born on Easter Sunday, so of course we talked about the possibility of another Easter baby. Although this seemed highly unlikely, given that my due date was two days after Easter and my history of being late. Even so, I kept having the feeling I would not be pregnant for another 2 weeks. All during Mass on Holy Thursday I was having contractions, but they went away by late night. This continued to happen for the next two nights. We hosted Easter at our house and by 5 PM as my parents were the last to leave, my mom commented that there wasn’t going to be another Easter baby. “It could still happen”, I said. My daughter jokingly said that she hoped not, cuz she was pretty tired and not ready for 24 hrs of labor. Yeah, real funny. Well, she got her wish. I did not have my usual round of evening contractions and everyone went to bed early.
The next day.
I woke up around 4:30 AM having contractions. It was not unusual for me to have some false hope in the evenings, but I knew waking up to contractions in the morning was definitely the real deal. My stronger than usual contractions were accompanied by lots of bloody show. I spent this time in the bathroom practicing deep knee bends and praying. I had been learning about the concept of redemptive suffering, and offering up my pain to Jesus. I was determined not to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. An hour or so later, I woke up my husband telling him we were having a baby. Without opening his eyes he told me he knew. Ahem… excuse me sweetheart, I mean today! After I made myself clear he got up and got himself together. A little while later my daughter and teen-aged son woke up, my son high-tailing it downstairs. Needless to say he was not anxious to take part in this glorious event. I was unsure what we would do with my 4 year old son; I wasn’t opposed to him staying, but also didn’t want my husband or daughter to miss anything caring for him. Luckily, his best friend is the son of one of my best friends, so back-up was in place. He woke up crabby and needy and it took me about 30 seconds to say “Make the call!”. My usual labor progress is slow and insidious, always lasting greater than 24 hrs. More than once, I have showed up at the hospital convinced that I’m nearing transition, only to be told that I’m maybe 2 cm. It was unbelievably nice not to have that concern this time around. My contractions were feeling pretty strong and I started to worry a little that I would not have the stamina for another day of this. I had my husband call our midwife and ask her to come over. I really wanted to know where I was at, so I could mentally and spiritually prepare. She got there around 9 or so and checked me… I was 6 cm! Woo Hoo! Those endorphins were pumpin’ now baby! I felt like doing a cartwheel! I had never dilated so fast and instantly did the mental math (another hour or so until transition… ninety minutes tops after that… let’s see… a few pushes, we should have a baby by noon!). I should have known better than to be so overconfident. The contractions themselves were quite manageable, I hardly remember it even getting more intense at transition. I alternated standing at the sink and squatting, walking around the upstairs hallway, kneeling on my bed supported by pillows, and getting in and out of the shower. Around 11 I was sitting on the toilet and my water broke, it was slightly greenish, a sign of old meconium, but nothing to be concerned about. At this point I was 9 1/2 cm, just a lip of my cervix left. “Just a lip”, sounds sooo innocent. The exact time and order of events is a bit fuzzy after this. A little time passed and my midwife suggested I try pushing. I was definitely feeling ready, and pushing had always been a breeze for me in the past, so I gave it a shot. Yeah, right… nothin’. Now when I say I felt ready I mean ready in the sense to be done, to have this baby, I did not mean that I was feeling an urge to push. I tried a few different pushing positions and made no progress. She checked me again and that stubborn lip was still there. My contractions at this point were actually slowing down and getting further apart. I was feeling frustrated and tired. Everybody talks about managing the pain, for me it was the exhaustion. Again, hindsight. My body knew I needed to rest and my wise and experienced midwife recognized the signs. She turned off my bedroom lights, suggested I try to rest, and left me and my husband alone. Believe it or not I was able to sleep between the contractions that came about every 1-2 minutes. I breathed thru them and kept my eyes closed and my body supported by pillows. A couple of hours passed like this, around 3 they got stronger and I was feeling rejuvenated. Again, I stood up to push, again I had zero urge, and again no progress was made. That damn, God-forsaken lip held its ground. Although generally not recommended, I started pushing on my back with my legs supported. This position can be helpful when dealing with a lingering lip. My midwife hypothesized that because all my previous births had been “directed” that perhaps this is why I felt no urge, I had simply been told when to push in the past. For the next hour I pushed like I had never pushed before. Why was this so hard this time? Did I have the strength? I had to consciously drive these thoughts out of my mind. I turned my mind to prayer. I recalled a CD that talked about Christ’s suffering on the cross, how every breath was excruciating, and I knew that my eternal life was born of that suffering. It was my turn to birth life from suffering, but I was not alone. This was not excruciating but it was hard, and I was not alone. Over and over and over I asked Jesus to push with me. Little by little progress was made… another hour passed. I could see the confidence in my husband’s eyes as he persevered in cheering me on, the love I saw there was overwhelming. Finally, I was able to reach down and feel the head emerging. Although grunting and “vocalizing” on the outside, I continued my silent mantra for Jesus to push with me. Every inch of baby had to be forcibly pushed out; I never wanted to know the meaning of a “slow chest”. With the strength of Christ and the prayers of all the angels and saints interceding for me, Tristan Michael was born at 5:18 PM. He weighed in at a whopping 10 pounds even!
This was definitely one of the greatest events of my life; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually… It redefined “holistic” in my mind. It also was the greatest bonding experience between my husband and I. I could write several more blogs about each of these aspects, and perhaps I will.