We decided fairly soon after I got pregnant that we would plan to birth this baby ourselves, without outside assistance unless complications arose. My first birth was a highly medical hospital birth, my second was a completely noninterventive hospital birth, and my third was an uncomplicated midwife-attended home waterbirth. We have a wonderful relationship with the midwife who attended Ellery’s birth, but she is two hours away, and my last two labors were unexpectedly quick so we figured she wouldn’t make it even if we called her. Sean was the one who suggested that we go unassisted from the start, and within about a week I also felt it was the right choice for us this time. Throughout my pregnancy I felt very intuitively connected to my body, and very confident in our combined ability to handle anything unusual that might present itself during the pregnancy and the birth. It was amazingly empowering to me to not have anyone but myself interpreting what was happening with my body. Throughout my pregnancy I repeatedly asked myself if our choice felt safe and right, and each time I affirmed that it did. Our midwife was supportive and willing to take over at a moment's notice if we had felt we needed her, but as we expected we were absolutely fine doing it ourselves.
According to my charting and calculations, our baby was due on May 15th, so I was surprised when I woke up around 4 am on the morning of May 4th to realize that I’d been feeling “leg” contractions for much of the night and that they were getting more and more uncomfortable. My past two labors had started in much the same way – once the contractions moved to my hips and thighs, it was a sign that labor was beginning. I was puzzled that they felt so strong already, particularly because my due date was still a week and a half away, but as I couldn’t sleep I decided to try to relax in a hot candlelit bath. I wasn’t going to wake Sean but he woke anyway and came in to keep me company. We talked through a couple of fears I had, primarily that if I really was about to give birth I hadn’t had time yet to finish my preparations. When I told him I was having a hard time believing I was in labor, he told me that he was sure in labor because he had noticed that I smelled like I do in labor! It was so nice to share a quiet moment with him and release my fears.
After relaxing in a hot bath, I decided to go back to bed and listen to my hypnobirthing tape as that seemed the best place for me to try and rest. My contractions were strong and painful but not frequent, and I alternated listening to my tape and sleeping between them. I could hear Sean downstairs, cleaning up and doing some of the things I regretted not having had time to finish, like scrubbing some critical stains off the living room carpet and cleaning up the kitchen where I would be giving birth. I stayed in bed until about 10 am and then made my way downstairs. Because my contractions were so uncomfortable, by 10:30 I decided to get in the birth tub.
Wonderfully for us, my sisters Samantha and Sarah were both able to come help us keep the kids happy and out from underfoot, and they both arrived around noontime. I was having excruciating back labor despite the fact that I was positive the baby was well-positioned (LOA). I have had painful back labor with all of my births and I think it may just be the way I’m built – it feels like my low back, pelvis, and hips need to open up quite tremendously to release a baby. I found the most comfortable position in the water to be a full squat, pressed against the side of the tub with my arms around Sean. He sat on a stool just outside the tub, with his hands around me pulling down and out on my lower back. It was a lovely, safe-feeling, intimate position to labor in, and I loved that it was just us. We stayed there for quite some time.
Based on my previous natural labors, which had been very quick after the point where contractions became painful, we expected our baby would be born within an hour of two of my entering the tub. But unlike those labors, this time I had a break between contractions...I was able to talk, and even look out the window at the beautiful mountains. But I didn’t seem to be progressing much and Sean gently suggested that I get out of the tub and walk around a bit. He helped me out of the water and into my robe, and I suddenly had the urge to walk around outside. It was a sunny, spring day, and we walked slowly together, round and round the front yard, stopping once or twice each time around for a contraction. I loved being barefoot in the soft grass and dandelions, dancing and swaying with my arms around Sean for support when we stopped, holding hands when we resumed walking again.
After a couple of contractions that sent me roaring to my knees on the grass, Sean coaxed me back inside and into the water where I checked my dilation and was absolutely devastated to find I was only about four centimeters and not yet fully effaced. I was extremely frustrated, but Sean reminded me that for my body, early dilation is the hardest part, and that my babies come down very quickly once I dilate partway. (He was right, of course). I really wanted to quit, right then and there, and said as much. I was sleepy and uncomfortable and frustrated that after hours of challenging labor nothing significant seemed to be happening, particularly since the early parts of my last two labors went by relatively pain-free and unnoticed.
But I reaffirmed for myself that everything still felt intuitively healthy and uncomplicated, and I wondered out loud if maybe there was some quirk to the baby’s position. At one point it seemed I could feel the baby’s head close to my pubic bone, and I could feel what seemed like little hand movements, so I wondered if there might be hands to get out of the way before the baby could come down. (After the baby was born, we discovered that she is already quite accomplished at sucking on her hands, which would makes this seem even more likely now.) I decided to go upstairs to the bathroom -an old midwife trick to help with positioning - to see if using the toilet would help speed things up. For whatever reason, the toilet, which is similar in shape to a birth stool, did speed things along, and labor was now the roaring, nonstop, spontaneously ejective pushing experience I had experienced during my previous natural births.
Sean suggested that we move back downstairs to avoid having the baby on the toilet. I checked myself again and could still feel a bulge of cervix and no additional dilation, so I thought he was crazy for even suggesting I might birth this baby soon, but my contractions were such that I decided once again that the water would be a good place to be. Back in the tub, I think it was maybe just a few minutes before it became clear to me that the baby’s head was descending, I felt my water pop, and then in not more than another few minutes, I felt the head crowning.
At that point, my body decided it wanted to rest, but I would not have it. I think of this moment in my labors as the get-this-baby-out-of-me-NOW!-or-else moment. I asked myself if we should call the kids in, but decided against it as I just wanted done. I started pushing voluntarily and quite forcefully to birth the head, while Sean suggested instead that I rest and wait for a contraction. I just couldn’t – I felt like I was splitting in two, and I could not wait to relieve that sensation, so I pushed with all my might. The head came out, in a moment that seemed like an eternity, and then I was so frantic to be done that Sean had to stop me from actively pulling the baby’s body out with my two hands. He saw that the cord was looped around and behind the shoulders, and that was enough to scare me into taking my hands off and not tugging the body out. That moment also seemed to take forever, but I pushed for another eternal moment, out came the body, and I brought the baby up to my chest. It was 4:10 pm, about twelve hours after I first woke knowing I was in labor. It was finally over.
I sat back in the tub, shaking, and we called my sisters and the kids in to greet the new baby. I had been absolutely positive this entire pregnancy that this baby was a boy, and when I checked to confirm, I had to laugh, because it was most definitely a GIRL. My sisters and the boys (5-1/2 and 4) were excited to greet our new daughter, and they asked if they should wake Ellery (20 months) and bring her in as well. I said yes because she had been fascinated by the idea of the birth tub and I felt she should see me in the water with the baby to have a full understanding of what had happened.
After I rested in the water for a brief time, Sean and my sisters helped me out of the tub and onto a stool. Baby Avery latched on and began nursing right away, and as with my previous births, I did not feel any need to rush the placenta. We sat and talked and made a few excited phone calls while waiting. Avery’s uncut cord seemed much softer and flimsier than my other babies’ cords did, and because of this we incorrectly surmised that it had only two vessels. After maybe 20 minutes or so, I remembered the placenta. I asked to be pulled into a supported squat position over the big steel bowl. That did the trick, and the placenta fell right out while I was talking with my sister. We were intrigued by how small this placenta was compared to my last one, which was probably close to twice its size. The cord had not only stopped pulsing, several areas were even cleared of blood, so Sean clamped and cut the baby’s end, and we saw that it did indeed have three vessels.
I sat on the stool in the kitchen for awhile as Avery nursed and we made more phone calls. I was still quite weak and shaky, and needed help moving into the living room, where my sisters had prepared a nest of pillows for me on my favorite chair. Avery nursed nearly nonstop for about the first four hours of her life. Sean went out and brought back pizza and champagne, and we had a little celebration before the aunties left and the rest of us went to bed. We weighed the baby during dinner – 7-1/2 lbs. Two days later, when we measured her, she was 20-1/2 inches long with a 14” head circumference.
Although I felt and still feel that this birth was longer, slower, and far more painful I expected, and I wish it had been different in that way, I have to agree with Sean that this was truly the perfect birth for us. Other than the pain of labor, I would not change a single thing about the circumstances or how we handled things. (Although were I to do it again I would like to try and overcome the get-this-baby-out franticness I always seem to experience at crowning.) It was a tremendously empowering experience for me, giving birth unaided by anyone but Sean. I will always remember the beautiful simplicity of laboring in the kitchen with him, walking barefoot in the dandelions, and knowing deep inside that all was exactly as it was meant to be during Avery’s birth.
Amanda, mom to Everest (12), Alden (10-1/2), Ellery (7-1/2), & Avery (6)