In June 2012 I'd had the bright idea of taking my Mirena out because it was giving me awful headaches. I never had a period after it came out and before a bout of persistent nausea in late July prompted me to take a pregnancy test. A very positive pregnancy test. An ultrasound would later tell me I was almost eight weeks pregnant and the due date was March 28.
Fast forward 30 weeks. It felt like the babe was imminent starting midway through my 37th week. I had strong, regular Braxton-Hicks every afternoon, lost little bits of plug, then bigger bits of plug, and felt the baby riding lowwwwww in my pelvis. Everyone thought I'd go early. But my due date came and went, and all I was left with was a gnarly cold that had settled deep in my sinuses. "Sick ladies don't have babies," said the midwives. I was walking around at 4cm dilated, but labor still felt very far away.
At 40 weeks, my midwives attempted a gentle induction with a cervical massage, herbs, and the breast pump - all of which had produced contractions, but nothing that developed into real labor. A full week after my due date, I acquiesced to castor oil. The midwives arrived at about 730p, we talked about what I could expect from the castor oil, and then I made a castor oil smoothie. It tasted like melted chapstick. I drank half at 8.15p, and the other half two hours later. Bret and I went to lay in bed and watch tv…not sure how long we'd be waiting for things to start happening. At 11p the intestinal floodgates opened, and I spent the next hour jumping up and down between bed and the bathroom. I was having strong intestinal cramps, and the line between those and genuine uterine contractions was getting finer and finer. A bit after midnight I had Bret go ask the midwives if we should start filling the birth tub.
Things kicked into gear immediately. The midwives came back to the bedroom, asked if I was having contractions (I finally admitted that I was), and then set immediately upon preparing the birth tub and their supplies. They dopplered the baby, took my blood pressure, and checked my temperature. Bret brought me a variety of beverage choices and then hopped around as I continued to have requests for him (could you find me a straw, would you dilute this juice, could you light the candles, are you still watching the tv?). The contractions were strong enough to make me moan and breathe through them, and while they were coming really quickly, they didn't seem to be lasting a full minute.
I was still running back and forth to the bathroom, and having a full blown contraction on the toilet in the middle of an explosive diarrhea event was just shy of excruciating. I asked one of the midwives how much longer I could expect the laxative effect of the castor oil to last, she said probably about two hours total. I wanted to get in the tub, but I didn't want to get out of the tub once I was in. Dashing between the tub and the tiled bathroom floor sounded dangerous in my lumbering, rotund state. After about two hours of class five diarrhea, I felt it was safe to say I was empty and climbed in the tub.
I know that at this point I was heavy into labor because I honestly have no memory of how it felt to get in the water. With my first birth I remember exclaiming loudly how good the water felt, but all I remember from this birth is continuing to face contraction after contraction. They were progressing in intensity and duration, and were still coming with almost no break between them. I never really found my "birth rhythm" - I just had to surrender completely to not knowing when the next would come or how long it would stay. I was making deep guttural, almost growling, sounds with each contraction, because it was the only thing that made the slightest impact on how they felt. When I labored with my daughter I felt the contractions from my sternum down to my knees, but these contractions were all very low - hipbones, lower abdomen, and lower back. They had the momentum of a freight train.
My entire pregnancy, everyone had assumed that I would have a quick labor. I'm not totally sure why - it was just what we planned for. While in a precious break between contractions, my rational self recalled a conversation I'd had with a friend (and midwife). She'd said that if things are happening quickly and intensely, I should trust that the intensity meant it will be over soon.
Some immeasurable amount of time later I heard one of the midwives tell Bret to turn the heat up. "This baby will be here soon." I had a moment to wonder if that were true before getting pulled away by another contraction. The next time I surfaced I was aware that my daughter was awake and crying down the hall. We had arranged for my dad to be at the house to support her, and I knew that he was with her. I tried to block out her crying and focus on contractions.
I noticed that the contractions had spaced out a bit, and that my body had begun to push very slightly at the peak of each contraction. I consciously gave a small push at the peak of the next couple of contractions to see how it felt, and it felt good. Slowly over the course of the next three or four contractions I begun to push in earnest. I had trouble finding a comfortable position for pushing in the tub - I tried squatting, lunging, hands and knees, and several other "graceful" poses that I don't have names for. I leaned my head back and pushed hard, willing the baby to descend. I felt like I was making no progress. I had a moment of panic wondering if I was going to be able to get this baby out. I still heard my daughter crying. My husband said he was going to make her a bottle, and he'd be right back. One of the midwives told him she thought he should stay put. "This baby is coming really soon." What makes you so sure, midwife? I thought. I felt like I couldn't get the kid to budge even a little.
After what I was certain was 40 minutes of ineffective pushing, I felt inside my vagina and felt my bag of water in front of the head, just less than a finger deep. I told the midwives what I'd felt, and they encouraged me to keep pushing. After the next contraction they used the Doppler to listen to the baby, and I heard slow heart tones. I wasn't concerned, because I knew baby was deep in my pelvis, and the stress and pressure of the position can cause a drop in heart rate (and the same thing had happened with my daughter). One of the midwives reached inside me to massage the baby's head, and in doing so broke my water, which was clear with lots of vernix. I was still pushing hard with each contraction. An eternity later, my perineum went up in flames and I felt the baby crowing. The midwife told me to go easy, so I stopped pushing. "Well don't stop pushing, just don't blast your baby out." Oh, oh, right, back to it then.
I was squatting, leaning my back against the tub wall, when the baby's head and a nuchal hand came out. The midwife told me the head and a hand were out. I couldn't see for myself, and sort of didn't believe her, so I asked my husband if that was true. He answered with a very animated yes. I was still pushing hard, waiting for the rush of relief as the rest of the baby was born, but it wasn't coming. The midwife giving me the play-by-play then told me the shoulders seemed to be a little stuck. A huge SHOULDER DYSTOCIA alarm went off in my head, and all the Ina May Gaskin I'd read came back to me as a voice shouting "HANDS AND KNEES!" I asked her if I should flip over, and before she'd finish saying "yes" I'd turned onto my hands and knees (thanks to the buoyancy of the water). I immediately felt the difference in positioning - I had a much better "angle" on him for the next push. Three monstrous pushes later, the shoulders came loose. The midwife told me to reach down and grab my baby, and from between my legs I brought up to the surface of the water the scrunched, sleepy face of my brand new baby.
I sat back against the tub. One of the midwives threw a warm towel over the baby as I brought it to my chest. No cries, just a perfectly calm pink face taking in me and the world. I heard my husband ask why it wasn't crying, and one of the midwives answered that it was breathing, so it just hadn't occurred to the baby to cry yet. The other midwife stood next to me and took the baby briefly to clear its nose. My husband asked who it was, so I lifted the towel to see the baby's gender. It was a boy - I looked at my husband and told him he had a son, just as the baby started to wail in earnest. Then I told the midwife it felt like I'd been sodomized by a professional football team. It was no surprise that I'd torn.
They helped me out of the tub and onto the bed, where we clamped and cut the cord after it had finished pulsing. Baby boy latched on perfectly and nursed for the next hour as I delivered the placenta and got stitched up. My husband went and got my daughter from her room and introduced her to her baby brother. She was startled at first by all the activity in the room, but the tears quickly subsided as she saw the baby. She fell in love as hard as the rest of us. My incredibly wonderful and open-minded dad got to meet his minutes-old grandson too.
Baby boy weighed in at a surprise 9 lbs 2 oz, a full two pounds bigger than my daughter. I'd gained less weight with his pregnancy than hers, and the last guess of the midwives had been in the 8 lb range, so we were all surprised by his girth. His chest measured bigger than his head (and all of sudden the sticky shoulders made sense). We were all happy he had come when he did, instead of staying in longer and just getting bigger. The placenta was huge, and gave me a full pint of placenta pills once dehydrated and encapsulated.
I'd labored for just over two hours, and had pushed for six minutes. My guess would have been more like four hours in labor total, three hours of which were pushing.
When recapping the birth with midwife, she told me that I had spent more time contracting than resting between contractions - from the beginning of labor, the contractions had come with less than 90 seconds between them. I love that I never once had a dilation check, and even when his heart slowed down and his shoulders got stuck, no one panicked. And my absolute favorite part about home birth is that afterwards I got to cuddle up with my family in my very own bed. I feel as though my son's birth was birth on my terms, and I am so very grateful for that.
I think it's safe to say my birthing days are over, and I'm so thankful that my two babies were born at home, and for the lessons the place of their birth will teach my children. My daughter will know she has a choice, and my son will know that birth is a normal, natural, not scary part of life.