I woke up on the morning of Friday, July 29th, 2005 and nursed my three year-old daughter. Nursing caused many Braxton Hicks contractions, but there was nothing unusual in that, as I’d been experiencing the same for over two months. I was 41 weeks that morning, one week past my estimated due date on the 22nd. I had plans to get up and complete my Shabbos preparations, although I had only a few tasks to complete, having done most of my cooking and cleaning the previous day. At around 9:00 AM, I got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom to relieve myself when my waters broke. I smiled, and said, “Something’s coming out of me!” and laughed as the fluid ran onto my bedroom floor. I wasn’t sure if my waters had broken at first, because I had read other mothers’ birth stories in which large amounts of mucous came out that resembled the waters. I was soon without doubt, however, that this was, in fact, my waters breaking. The fluid continued to come out in copious, clear gushes with flecks of vernix suspended in it. I found the gushes of fluid somehow so amusing. While the fluid ran out and puddled on the floor, I only looked down and laughed. Eventually my husband asked why I was just standing and letting the waters soak our floors. So I got out of my nightgown, which was soaked and took a shower with dd. After getting out, I changed into a clean Shabbos robe and put a toddler-sized prefold cloth diaper into my underwear to catch the amniotic fluid. I was not yet noticing any contractions, but I was very excited, because I knew it was likely labor would start any moment. Dh told me that he knew the previous night that today would be the day I would go into labor. Although I was not yet having noticeable contractions, we decided that he should stay home from work since things could pick up at any time. It was an interesting coincidence that I had also started labor with dd on a Friday morning, making me wonder how else this labor would resemble my first.
I eventually noticed some slight feelings of pressure followed by gushes of fluid, and I knew my body was starting its work, although I could not really feel much. I changed my prefold several times, and sometimes I soaked though them and puddled on the floor. Meanwhile, I had my breakfast of several whole-wheat sweet buns I had baked earlier in the week. I also got on the Internet and posted to my July due date board on Mothering.com and to the Alternative Baby pregnancy thread. I told dh get down my box of birth supplies and to put the waterproof sheets on our beds, so that we wouldn’t have to mess with that later. Dh and I thought he might like to do a few errands while I was still in early labor, but he wasn’t sure he should leave me. I encouraged him to go, telling him I had his cell phone number and that I would call if I needed him, but told him if he left he had to take dd out with him. After he davened the morning prayers, ate, and got dd ready, they left at around 11:00 am with instructions from me to mail a package of organic tampons I had sold someone over the Internet and to return a bottle of expired vitamins I had mistakenly bought. They also went to the fish store to buy salmon, the kosher butcher to buy various meats, the Judaica bookstore to buy tzitzits, and to the grocery to get other extras for Shabbos.
While they were gone, I enjoyed early labor while going about my normal household activities. I could tell Baby had moved down farther into my pelvis, as the gushes of fluid had all but stopped, making me think her head was sealing off the hindwaters. I also noticed that I was having some pink-colored mucousy show on my prefold when I went to the toilet. I made a big pot of creamy potato soup and steamed some corn on the cob for the Shabbos meals. I also washed a load of laundry and hung it out to dry. It was a beautiful sunny day and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my back as I hung the laundry. Before I went inside, I had a contraction that made me want to stop and pause. I put my hands on the side of our wooden back porch deck through the peak of the contraction, but was still able to think more of the wonderful sunshine warming my body than the contraction I was having. I also read posts on MDC and posted a few replies of my own. I didn’t really feel moved to time the interval between contractions, but I would guess my contractions were between 10-5 minutes apart at this point. Dh called me twice while he was out to check on me. He had told his mother that I was in labor and she was in shock that he could leave me and go shopping! I reassured him that I was fine and that I would call if I needed him or if I felt the intensity was picking up significantly.
Dh and dd got home around 1:30 pm or so. We chatted about his shopping trip and he told me he had been given some free meat at the butcher and that the health food store where I had bought the vitamins had given them to him after they refunded the purchase price. He started to prepare his fish for Shabbos. I started having to pay more attention to the contractions and I noticed that they were coming closer together, maybe 5-3 minutes apart. Yet, I was still feeling social enough to hang out with dh and dd in the kitchen. I talked with them and I found myself going to lean on the countertop during the contractions. I swayed my hips for a few moments, and then returned to our talk.
Finally, I noticed I would become annoyed if dd asked me a question as a contraction peaked. I decided to take a warm shower to be alone for a while. I felt relaxed in the warm shower, but I knew that the hot water would only last so long, so I fiddled with the shower knobs hoping to find a temperature that was sufficiently warm, but that would allow the hot water to last as long as possible. I wished my shower had a hand held showerhead, so I could aim the stream of soothing water to the area right under my belly. Putting my hands on the side of the shower stall and rocking my hips back and forth during the peaks of the contractions, I tried to think of the sensations of labor as pleasurable and, while the warm water ran over my body, I succeeded. The hot water did run out, and forced me to leave the shower. I redressed myself and went back out to my husband and daughter for a short time.
I was definitely feeling antisocial at this point (around 3:45 pm), however, so I went into the bedroom alone to labor. I got on my bed and tried the knees-chest position that I had loved so much my first labor, but it didn’t really do anything for me this time. I wanted to be near the toilet to relieve myself, so I decided to sequester myself in the bathroom again. I turned on the bathroom heater because I felt slightly cold and I wanted the bathroom to be warm when the baby was born. I paced the floor of the bathroom between the peaks of the contractions, and leaned over the bathroom sink, hips swaying, during them. Things were pretty intense at this point, which made me think that the birth might even be before Shabbos. I relieved myself on the toilet and decided to check my dilation. I wanted to see what my cervix was like out of curiosity more than to gauge my progress, but I guessed I was 3 centimeters or so dilated anyway. I could fit my fingers into the opening of my cervix and feel my baby’s head. I stroked it and baby responded by moving in the womb. Based on the amount of cervix I could still feel, I tried to psych myself up for several more hours of labor. I paced the floor of the bathroom, feeling sometimes cold and sometimes hot. I raised my robe over my belly to feel the air on my skin, but then I would shiver and lower it. I took my hat off, then, cold, I put it back on. I continued lean over the sink during the peaks of the contractions. I counted to ten while slowly swaying my hips side-to-side with each number. I tried to find something that felt good about the peaks. There was a place of pleasure-pain I could reach as each hip swayed as far as it could either left or right. Eventually, a count to ten could not bring me through the peaks, but I didn’t want to count any higher out loud. I thought, “Eleven…twelve...” in my head as I contemplated my reflection in the foggy chrome of the faucet.
I got on the toilet again, and had a small bowel movement. I stayed on the toilet through the peak of a contraction and felt an urge to push. I grunted and pushed tentatively. I checked my cervix again, and I could still feel more cervix than baby head. I put my fingers into the opening and hooked one finger under the rim of the cervix, stretching it out, because it felt good and satisfying. I stood up and prepared myself for more hours of labor. I started to wonder how I would do if I were in the hospital and what it would be like to have an epidural. I didn’t really want one, but keeping up with the intense contractions was hard and I realized that planning a UC with no backup homebirth plan meant that the hospital was my only other option. In retrospect, I recognize this as an emotional signpost of transition, but at the time, I had convinced myself on the basis of my self vaginal exam that I had hours to go. I returned to my ritual of leaning over the sink and swaying my hips. After a couple of these contractions, I tried to count to ten in time with my hip swaying, but found I could not stand. I involuntarily dropped into a low squat, hanging off the edge of the sink to support myself. I clenched my teeth and pushed. I couldn’t believe I was ready to push. I had just felt my cervix and I worried that I would only “swell” my undilated cervix. I worried that I must have at least a “lip” of cervix left, and that I should hold back, as I had read in so many birth stories. Still, I could not stop myself from pushing. I got on my knees in front of the shower stall on the towel I had used for the floor after taking a shower earlier. I pushed with all my might during each contraction. I could do nothing else, despite the fact that I had hoped to experience my body pushing my baby out without my conscious help. I hadn’t wanted to push much during dd’s birth, so I thought I would feel the same this time. Soon after I started pushing on the floor, dh called out to me to tell me that he would light the Shabbos candles for me, if that was okay with me. I had hoped to light during my labor, as I had during my first, but there was no way I could stop pushing and walk into the kitchen to light! He must have known I couldn’t be interrupted by the sounds I was making.
I put up one of my knees so that I was half-squatting, half-kneeling, one foot and one knee on the floor. I pushed during each contraction, each of which produced a small piece of poop. As the peak passed, I would reach underneath myself, pick up the poop, and fling it into the toilet. Then I would hurriedly stand up, wash my hands in the sink, and return to my spot on the floor to push through the next contraction. I had a pile of clean towels, but I couldn’t see the point in using them, when each push brought more poop with it. Eventually, I could no longer stand between the contractions and I just let the poop fall where it would. Dark red, bloody mucous flowed out of my vagina to join the feces on the floor, soaking into my pale yellow socks on its way. I put my hand on my vulva to direct my efforts and pushed with all my might with each peak. Finally, I could feel my baby’s head moving into my vagina. I was so relieved as I felt my perineum bulge with the round head inside, reassured that it was “okay” to be pushing. I could feel my tissues stretching and they began to burn as the baby crowned. I wouldn’t say I experienced “fire” at the time of crowning, but the burning was more than the mere sensation of stretching I had felt as dd crowned. I kept my hand on my vulva, and pushed my baby’s head out very slowly. I looked down and my baby’s head, covered with dark hair, was out. I breathed heavily as I tried to find the best position to push out her body. I got on both knees, but felt I didn’t have enough room. I put up one knee up again, and raised my bottom farther from the floor so the baby’s body had room to come out. I pushed and watched as my baby’s vernix covered body slid out.
At about 5:30 pm, I lifted her from my body into my arms and stood up. I saw that I had a second daughter and that she was quite “floppy”. Her body seemed to have good color, but her neck was limp and her head rolled back and to the side before I had a chance to support it. Her eyes were open, but they seemed to look somewhere far away. I knew she was still attached inside, but I urgently clutched her to my body and rubbed her back. I rubbed for what seemed like a minute or two, but may have only been a few seconds, until she started to make small sounds and, finally, cry. Her cry brought my husband to the bathroom, as I stood clutching my new daughter, who was still attached to me by the umbilical cord, which held up the edge of my gown as it stretched from between my legs to my baby's belly. I can’t remember what he said at first, but we were all thrilled and relieved. Then he told me that he shouldn’t see me without my head covered, and I apologized. He left me alone in the bathroom for a minute or two. I put my hat on, and then squatted down to push out the placenta. It came out easily with one push. I held my baby to my chest with one hand and grabbed the placenta with the other. I pulled on it very gently to remove it and the membranes from my vagina. I wrapped my baby in one towel, the placenta in a second, and left the bathroom, dripping blood in a trail behind me. Heedlessly, I sat down on my upholstered kitchen chair with baby and placenta. I realized I was making a blood spot on the chair and put another towel beneath myself. I was so dirty and bloody all I could think of was taking a shower. I nursed my daughter for a few minutes, but she was not too interested in the breast.
So I gave her to my husband and went to take a shower. It was huge relief to rip off my amniotic fluid-, blood-, and poop-stained gown and step into the warm shower. I scrubbed myself with my husband’s shower gel, relaxed for a moment in the warm spray, toweled off, and redressed in clean clothes. Ah! I took my daughter back from my husband and cuddled with her at the kitchen table. She latched on and nursed for some time before I decided it was time to dress her. I found a small prefold and a newborn gown and dressed her tiny body. I estimated that she was about the same size as dd1 was at birth (6lb 13oz), or maybe even a little smaller.
I left the placenta attached and rewrapped it in a clean prefold and towel, then wrapped baby and placenta together in a blanket. Unfortunately, I got blood from the placenta on our couch while I did this, but the prefold and towel were absorbent enough to catch the blood for the rest of the night. We made Kiddush and enjoyed an extra tasty Shabbos meal together as a newly enlarged family. Thanks to the attached placenta, I got to hold my new daughter most of the next 24 hours. When I cut the cord, after Shabbos was over at about 6:30 pm Saturday evening, it was already dry and shriveled, making clamping unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was happy to see the placenta detached, as I was able to more easily make baby and myself comfortable. I worried each time baby fussed that her cord was being irritated or tugged, so I am not sure I will delay cord-cutting so long in the future.
On Monday, the third day after the birth, I decided it was time to get my Rhogam shot and the letter from a midwife or doctor that I would need to register my birth in Victoria, Australia. I called the hospital birth center where I had had two prenatal appointments early in my pregnancy, but they refused to see me. I then called my general practitioner, who had treated my hyperemesis earlier in the pregnancy, to make an appointment. He saw me at 3:30 pm and told me to simply present myself on the labor floor at the hospital I had been booked into through the birth center. He also wrote me a letter to give to the staff when I arrived there. The staff in the delivery suite also refused to see me, so I was sent down to the emergency room for my Rhogam and a newborn screen. They typed my baby’s blood and did the newborn screen using blood from a single heel prick. I arrived there at about 5 pm, but I didn’t get my Rhogam until 11:30 pm. It certainly wasn’t the most pleasant way I could imagine to spend my third day post partum; I felt guilty dragging my family (my husband, mother, and two young daughters) around trying to get Rhogam without real food or diversion for most of the day. The only pleasant thing I can remember about it was the midwife who finally administered the Rhogam shot. She asked, “Did you and your husband decide to deliver the baby yourselves at home on purpose?” I answered that we had, and she replied, “I’m proud of you,” and went on to say that there was no reason why we shouldn’t. I told her that was a nice response, and my spirits were lifted after hearing negative reactions from others in the hospital.