Well, it's long overdue being that our daughter is now over a year old, but I'm finally getting around to posting our home water-birth story. It's pretty long and I'm not necessarily a great writer, so you've been forewarned, but hopefully it's not too painful. (Also x-posted in the Dads forum, hope that's not a problem).
It begins on Sunday, March 11, 2007. Laura wanted to get out of the house and have a little outing but with her being nine months pregnant and quite uncomfortable our options were limited. We decided to do what any reasonable poor, geeky couple does – go treat a bookstore like a library. Off to Borders we went, Laura browsing some magazines while I flipped through a baby name book trying to get more ideas for a boy’s name – we knew what the name would be for a girl, we still hadn’t settled on one we were completely sure about for a boy. After a couple of hours Laura started feeling something a little strange, so we decided to head home. By the time we got there, she was pretty sure she was a bit “leaky.” We tried to contain our excitement and relax, still not sure anything was actually happening and knowing that if it was we needed to be calm and get as much rest as possible. At around 8:15, she had what she thought was a contraction. She’d been having various aches and pains for the last few days, but this one seemed different. She had a few more over the next hour, so we decided to start timing, and found that they were somewhat irregular but coming about once every ten minutes. By this point we were pretty sure this was the beginning of labor, so I called Lori, our midwife, to give her a heads-up and then my boss Sue to let her know I probably wouldn’t be in the following day. We continued to time the contractions over the next hour, then at around 11:00pm Laura dozed off on the couch. Not wanting to wake her I let her sleep while I, being the exciting, dynamic person I am, sat on the couch doing crossword puzzles.
At about 12:45am she woke suddenly and got up, hurrying to the bathroom mumbling something about “water” and “broke.” She emerged a few minutes later confirming that she was pretty sure her water had broken and was crystal clear, a good sign. We both knew we needed some sleep so she went right to bed and I took a few minutes to get ready. Unfortunately within about a couple of minutes she began having contractions again, and much more intense than before. I grabbed my watch and started timing them –they’re about five minutes apart – wow. We try to do our relaxation techniques during and between contractions, which Laura is great at, even able to catch a few snippets of sleep between contractions. By 3am they are only about 3 minutes apart, and I’m starting to get nervous. It’s the middle of the night, her contractions are close together, there’s no way she (or I) are going to get much sleep, yet I don’t want to call Lori yet because she’s only been in labor for a short time and I’m sure I’ll just look like a silly over-anxious first-time father. Laura is much more relaxed about it than I am, and her confidence that we should just wait helps me stay away from the phone. We do start trying to call her sister Erin, who is going to be our “assistant coach,” knowing she has about a 90-minute drive to get to us, but we get no answer. Finally at about 4:30am she calls back, we tell her what’s going on, and she tells us she’ll be here ASAP. Laura feels sick to her stomach and throws up at about 6am, and then at around 6:30am Erin arrives. Laura comes out to the living and room and they chat for a few minutes, pausing for Laura’s contractions of course, and Laura decides she wants to take a shower before we go back to bed. There’s not much we need from Erin at this point so she settles down to nap on the couch until we need her. Laura takes her shower and we head back to bed. She gets sick again not long after, but otherwise nothing eventful happens for the next hour or so. At sometime around 8am (times are starting to get a bit fuzzy to me at this point as I’m growing more tired and taking less time to make notes in our journal) I call Lori to let her know what’s going on. She, like Laura, seems fairly unconcerned, says it sounds like everything is going well and tells me to just check in with her every couple of hours for updates. She also says we should get Laura into the birth tub if she wants to, and she definitely does. Erin and I set to work filling the tub while I continue to help support Laura through her contractions. Before long the tub is full of nice warm water and Laura climbs in, and loves it. Her contractions space out and seem to become less intense, allowing her to relax even more and get more rest between them. Erin continues to be invaluable throughout the rest of the morning by getting snacks for me and drinks for Laura and I, plus keeping lots of hot water boiling on the stove to keep the bath nice and warm.
Sometime around 11am I call Lori back and once again she says it sounds like things are going well but it’s not urgent she be there yet, so says to again call her back in a few hours. Just talking to her is a big relief because I have no clue what to expect at this point, but Lori is so calm and matter-of-fact about it, it really helps put me at ease. Laura decides to get out of the tub around noon, afraid that it might be stalling her labor a bit, but the contractions definitely seem much more intense once she’s out. We lay on the bed together, working on relaxation and getting through her contractions. At about 2pm I call Lori back again just to check in. Again she says it doesn’t seem like she needs to be there yet, but it is getting closer, so to stay in touch. By 3pm Laura’s contractions are getting very intense and we’re both exhausted, so we decide to call Lori back. She hears Laura in the background as I speak to her and says it definitely sounds like she’s getting closer. She tells me she can come now if we want her to but thinks we could probably still wait awhile, so we agree that I’ll give it another half hour or so before I decide. Within about twenty minutes Laura and I decide we definitely would like to have her there because we can feel it’s getting closer (although I think we were both overestimating how far along she was at this point). I call Lori back and ask her to head over, and she assures me she’ll be there soon. By around 4pm Lori arrives with an assistant, Jenny. They come in, Lori gives Laura a quick exam (we don’t ask how dilated she is and Lori doesn’t tell us, which is good because we later find out she was only 5-6cm, which probably would have been disheartening to us at the time), and then she and Jenny start setting their things up. Jenny, who is a mother herself and also has doula training, helps me comfort Laura during her contractions, which by now are very intense. This was great for both of us; I was starting to feel a bit helpless and very tired so it was great to have someone who I felt actually knew what they were doing helping me out, and for Laura it was great because Jenny, in addition to offering words of encouragement, gives her massages with what Laura later describes as “magic hands.” We soon decide to get Laura back in the tub, so once again Erin, Jenny and I start refilling it with warm water.
Jenny stays with me for quite awhile helping to soothe Laura during her contractions while Lori, other than occasional quick checks on us, stays out of the room to let things progress naturally. At some point, after a few hours, Jenny has to leave, so Laura and I continue to deal with her contractions together, again with occasional visits from Lori to check on us. Finally at around 9pm (again, by this point my concept of time, and my mind, is very fuzzy) Lori can see signs of Laura heading into transition.
We had been prepared for transition in our Bradley class, but wow! It was much worse than I think either of us anticipated. Laura showed all the signs – self doubt, confusion, fear, seemingly never-ending contractions, burpiness (not sure if that one’s even a real word, but it fits), and all the other awful things we were (supposed to be) prepared for. Lori is now in the room with us thankfully, because without her experience and calming presence I’m not sure how either one of us would have made it through this. By this point Lori takes over with the “coaching” a bit, helping Laura focus her energy on allowing herself to open and the baby to descend while I sort of just sit by dumbfounded, trying to offer what support I can. After some indeterminate, ridiculously long amount of time (which in reality was probably “only” around 30-45 minutes), Lori senses that Laura is coming out of transition and should start pushing. Once again she guides and instructs her on how to focus her energies and the baby’s descent, using the contractions to help push, to keep her voice low and grunt it out and keep everything else relaxed. Laura responds excellently to this. I’ve always known Laura was strong and capable, but watching her during transition and pushing was really amazing – she became this powerful, ferocious, almost savage and, dare I say it, incredibly sexy and impressive creature, working so hard, enduring so much, and yet still capable of listening and responding physically and mentally (if not verbally) to Lori and I. I’ve heard people talk about how birth can be such a primitive, primeval event, and I can now definitely see what they mean.
Laura continued to push for about another hour, sitting in a modified squat position in the tub. Lori sat back, near at hand but not interfering in any way, offering verbal guidance, while I continued to comfort and support Laura as best I could. At some point during all of this Lori’s friend Colleen arrived (Lori had called her earlier at some point, sensing the time was drawing near) and continued to help get the room prepared for the birth while also offering some support to us. Although Laura seemed to be working harder than ever before, she seemed a bit less “out of it” between contractions. She was pretty freaked out by some of the entirely new sensations she was experiencing as the baby descended (she was especially freaked out by hearing her pelvis pop, creak and crack as the baby squeezed through), but Lori was there to assure her it was all completely normal and healthy. At close to 11pm the head crowned, and we all got our first glimpse of the baby and finally, at 11:06pm, Paisley Anne was born. Laura guided her out and caught her with her own hands but Lori immediately noticed she was tangled in her cord. She leapt to action and before I had really even had time to process what was happening, had the baby safely untangled and back in Laura’s hands. During the untangling I had caught a glimpse of the baby’s “bits” and knew it was a girl, but Laura still didn’t know. It was hard for me not to shout it out because I knew Laura really wanted a girl, but I wanted to let her discover it on her own. Moments later Laura pulled out beautiful baby out of the water and cradled her against her chest while I rubbed her back. The emotions really are impossible to express – joy and amazement just don’t suffice.
Lori and Colleen basically just sat back and busied themselves a bit for the next several minutes while Laura and I marveled at our new daughter, and Laura started to nurse her. After a few minutes Laura was starting to get cold (the water hadn’t been heated for quite awhile now) and the baby had seemed to have eaten a bit and was calm and alert, so Lori quickly clamped the cord and allowed me to cut it (it was a lot tougher than I thought!), then I took Paisley while they helped Laura out of the bath. At this point I wandered into a corner a bit with Paisley to allow them to deal with the placenta and such, and to be honest I don’t know exactly what mysterious and esoteric things took place, other than the placenta was eventually expelled and collected. Lori and Colleen took it into the bathroom and cleaned it up, then rubbed it with ink and made a couple of placenta prints of it for us (they’re really quite pretty), wrapped it in plastic, and stuck it in our freezer (by the way, for those who may not have experienced it, I’ve since found out that mentioning to people that you have a placenta in your freezer really tends to weird people out…who knew?). They came back in to examine Laura for any tearing, etc, then Lori set to work weighing and examining Paisley (7 lbs even, 20” long, with a really cool “lego” head – I don’t remember the exact term for it, though Lori told me at the time – by morning it was back to perfectly, beautifully round) and then she and Colleen cleaned up the room, drained the tub, etc, while Laura and I (along with her sister and mom who had arrived shortly after the birth) enjoyed the baby. Laura and I were obviously quite exhausted by this point and the high was starting to wane, so while we really enjoyed everyone’s company, we were glad when things were finally cleaned up and everyone headed home at about 1 AM. Laura and I took Paisley into our bedroom (about three steps from the “spare” room where the birth had taken place) , crawled into bed together, and all drifted off into a deep, happy, peaceful sleep together. All in all, an incredible experience, and exactly what we had wanted and hoped for.