The Homebirth of Our Sixth Baby
The journey to the birth of our sixth baby was filled with indecision and fear. When I first found out I was pregnant again in early July of 2005, the birth of our fifth child, Sophie, was still very fresh in my mind, and as her birth was extremely painful, albeit rapid, my knee jerk reaction was to give birth in a hospital surrounded by doctors, and with the assistance of an epidural. Though I had never used any type of pain relief for any of my previous labors, the idea gave me some comfort in the first three months of pregnancy. However, once the morning sickness and first trimester fatigue began to fade, I found myself growing more and more dissatisfied with the care I was receiving from the obstetricians. It was very confining- I felt like I had lost control of 'my' care, and I slowly began to realize that I could never be happy choosing this option. I imagine the fact that I had delivered my previous two children out of the hospital had much to do with this as I loved the midwife who attended those births. Unfortunately though, going back to the same midwife was not an option as I had a bad experience with her office staff, so I found myself at a loss as what to do. The area I live in is a small one, and there just wasn't many options to choose from. So I began to do Internet searches, and I eventually found a birth center located about an hour away from me, run by midwives. After a tour of the facility, my husband, James, and I decided that it was a better alternative than the hospital, so we switched my care over to the birth center.
But not long after I began my visits to the birth center, I again began to feel 'stifled'. I felt like my decisions were being questioned, and their policies were just not what I was looking for anymore. And to add to it, I began to have a very strong desire to birth at home. The midwives at the birth center did do homebirths, but because my house was about an hour away from the center, it was not an option. So once again I began to search the Internet, though I came up empty handed for many weeks. Nothing felt 'right'. I seriously began to look into unassisted childbirth, figuring by my sixth child I knew what I was doing, and as all my labors were progressively faster than the one proceeding it, and Sophie was only 45 minutes long, I justified it by saying that more than likely I would never make it to any facility in time anyway.
My search finally came to an end about 3 months before my due date, when I stumbled upon the name of a midwife at a natural parenting forum. After speaking with her on the phone, and her reassuring me that the distance was no obstacle (she lived about an hour away), I quickly decided that she was 'the one'. Her views on childbirth mirrored my own, and she allowed me to make my own decisions with no judgment, only information. Sometimes people just 'click', and I like to think that is what Mary and I did.
A funny thing about my labors and births is that with my first five, not only had the labors increased in their speed and intensity, I began to deliver later and later. My first child was born at 38 weeks gestation with a labor of 8 hours, and by my fifth labor of 45 minutes, I was at 42+ weeks of gestation. So though my due date was March 6, I was expecting to deliver sometime in mid March. I found myself very laidback in getting ready for homebirth- the diapers I had purchased were only washed in my 37th week of pregnancy, and often times I would let the housework slide figuring I had plenty of time to prepare yet.
On February 16, the midwife visited me for my 37th week check up and we performed the Strep B test. Though I had previously decided against testing for it, the midwife, without judgment, told me that if I had to be transferred to the hospital during my labor, or if the baby had to be, the doctors would give us both IV antibiotics if they found out we had not been tested for it. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that to spare myself and my baby those procedures, I would go ahead and have the test done. After we preformed the test, we listened to the baby's heartbeat, and the midwife felt for the baby's position. Out of curiosity, I asked her what she though the baby weighed at this point, and to my surprise, she made the estimation of a good eight pounds already. Now, I had the feeling from the moment I found out I was pregnant that I would have a big baby, but it still took me by surprise to have that confirmed! Immediately I thought to myself, 'Well, it really won't be long now if he's already 8 pounds!', but I quickly pushed that thought out of my head as I still had nearly 3 weeks until my due date, and I just KNEW that I wouldn't deliver until well after my due date. The midwife and I made an appointment for the following week, and we both voiced our opinion that I wouldn't deliver before then.
The following night after we put the kids to bed, James and I were sitting together on the couch watching television. I turned to him and remarked, "You know, with all of children, they somehow knew to come out when it would be a 'good ' time. For example, Avery (our fourth) was born during the one week in the summer when your whole plant is shut down for cleaning. And Sophie was born the day before Thanksgiving when not only you, but the kids had a four day vacation. Wouldn't it be funny if the baby came this weekend since the kids have a three day weekend due to teacher In-service?" We both laughed a little, neither of us expecting it to really happen any time soon, and we even joked that it was more likely that the baby wouldn't come out until Easter vacation, more than 2 months away.
On February 18, at 6:00 am in the morning, I woke up thinking I was 'wetting' the bed. This did not strike me as very unusual, though it had never happened before, because the baby would often perform what I called 'head butts' into my bladder making the urge to use the bathroom an urgent one. I just figured that because I was sleeping I didn't feel the urge soon enough. I got up out of bed and began to clean myself up and I felt just the slightest trickle of fluid leaking again. This time, it did make me raise my eyebrow. On one of her previous visits, the midwife left two strips of litmus paper to use if I ever thought my water might have broken. These work by changing color if it comes into contact with amniotic fluid. Knowing that I had a 'spare', I retrieved one of the strips and tested the fluid that had leaked out. To my utter shock, the paper turned blue. I stared at it for quite some time in disbelief. Adrenaline began to surge through me, and with my heart racing, I went downstairs to call the midwife. After all, if this was really 'it', the baby would probably be here in about an hour or so and I needed the reassurance of the midwife to help me (all my prior thoughts of an unassisted childbirth fled quickly- I think my body already knew that I would need to draw on the strength of others to help me through what was to come). After apologizing to Mary for calling so early on a Saturday morning, I told her what had happened. I voiced my concern that it was still just a false alarm, and that somehow the litmus paper was wrong. After saying this, I began to believe it. I truly felt like I was imagining all this- and that the midwife would come and check me only to find that my bag of waters was very much intact and she would soon go home again. Mary assured me not to worry about calling her for nothing, and that she would be at my home in about an hour.
The next phone call I made was to my Mother In Law. She was the one who would take care of the kids while I labored. I knew that she was due to work that day, an d I wanted to give her as much time as I could to make arrangements. I was still very careful in my wording- saying that I 'thought' my water had broken, but she should probably go into work anyway if possible, and I would call her if I needed to.
After hanging up, I looked around our home- it was a disaster. The floors desperately needed to be swept, the sink was full of dirty dishes waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher, and there were, of course, toys everywhere. I began to panic, and rushed back upstairs to wake James- not to support me, but to clean! Surprisingly, he woke very quickly (VERY unusual for my husband), and we both began to frantically clean. On and off, I began to have very mild contractions- perhaps one every 15-20 minutes, and after using the bathroom, I noticed that I had started to have a very slight bloody show. I still dismissed these things though- I could not comprehend that the baby was actually coming that day.
The kids slowly began to wake up in their usual pattern- one by one, stumbling downstairs in their pajamas, all of them a bit stupefied to find their parents cleaning so early. We calmly explained that the baby 'might' be coming soon, and that the midwife was going to there soon to find out for sure. This brought excitement to their eyes, and soon we were dealing with 4 very excited children (our oldest, Samantha, had spent the night at her friends house). By the time the midwife arrived, the kids were literally bouncing off the walls and the vision I once had of having my older 5 children watching me deliver this baby began to vanish- I just knew that I couldn't do it with them present. I found their noise distracting, and often times downright grating. But I still hung on to the hope that I would start to rejoice with them, and pushed down these feelings- I knew they were looking forward to the baby as much as I was.
The midwife finally arrived , to a house that was semi clean (though we won't mention the clogged drain in the upstairs bathroom sink), and we went up to my room to check my-if any- progress. After doing an internal, I was told I was only 1 ½ centimeters dilated, and a seed of self-doubt began to creep inside me. Never before, not even with my first, had I started labor at such a small amount of dilation. I asked her if she thought my water had indeed broken, and she said there was no obvious signs, but the bloody show and the litmus paper were very good indicators that it had. She then brought up the subject of the Strep B test. The results of the test were not in yet, and wouldn't be until Monday. The fact that my water had broken before my labor started was a warning sign that I might very well be positive for the virus. I had such a horrible experience with the IV antibiotics given the one time that I had tested positive for it that I was very hesitant to travel that route again, much preferring to wait and see if the baby developed any symptoms after birth as the virus is easily cured if caught in time. However, I then realized that I was now on a time table- I needed to get this baby out within 24 hours or I had to be transferred to the hospital to deliver. And once there, I knew that the Doctors would give both myself and the baby the IV antibiotics no matter my objections. Wouldn't I much rather the midwife do it in my home, with a much less harsh treatment? So I reluctantly agreed to the IV. I would be given one bag full of antibiotics every four hours until the baby was delivered, but the needle would be taken out after each treatment. I was content with this arrangement- it was already better than my previous experience of constant IV hookup and antibiotic infusion.
After we did one round of antibiotics, Mary thought it might be a good idea if she left for awhile, though she would stay in the area. Labor still had yet to start, and she theorized that her presence might be stressing me out, and maybe all I needed was to relax to get things going. I readily agreed, as I was feeling guilty for calling her when there wasn't much going on. I decided to take a shower while she was gone, knowing that hot water always had the power to relax me.
While in the shower, I did have one good, strong contraction, but after that, my body was very quiet. My self doubt again began to creep in, wondering how on earth I was going to get this baby out when I was only 1 ½ cm dilated, and contractions weren't even coming . I began to have visions of being sent to the hospital later that night, and laying on my back on a hard hospital bed with I.V.s and monitors strapped to me- and I began to find it incredibly ironic that the very visions that had sent me searching for a homebirth midwife were the ones I might very well end up experiencing under her care.
My Mother In Law picked up the children at eleven am, and though I missed them as soon as they left the house, I was glad to see them go. They were all so excited, my only son especially as he knew his only boy status was about to change, that I still to this day feel guilty about needing them to go, but I also know that I probably couldn't have handled what was to come if they had stayed.
Mary returned shortly after, to find myself and James cuddled up in bed together. The previous adrenaline surge I had experienced was spent, and I found myself only wanting to sleep. She quickly pointed out that labor was not going to start if I just laid around, and that the best thing I could do was to get moving, perhaps even go up and down the stairs numerous time. Though I knew she was right, it was still very hard for me to get out of my warm cocoon of a bed, but I found that once I did, my energy began to return. Mary and I quickly formed a plan- if labor didn't start by noon, we would have to start using other means to get it going. Neither of us wanted to end up in the hospital that night.
To help pass the next forty five minutes, I began to put away clean laundry, with Mary sporadically listening to the baby's heartbeat through the Doppler as I worked. Contractions were still extremely sporadic, coming perhaps every 15 minutes to 20- not nearly enough to get things going. At noon, Mary pulled out her bottle of Castor Oil and Black Cohosh. Before I took them, I explained to her that I was still very unsure if my water had indeed broken. Wanting to reassure me, Mary gave me a slide to place some of the fluid that was VERY slowly trickling out of my vagina. She then took the slide and looked at it under a microscope, explaining that if any 'ferning' of the fluid was present, it was another positive sign that my amniotic sack had ruptured. Sure enough, after some extensive searching, she found the ferning. There was no doubt, my water had broken.
So, we began the natural induction of my labor. I began to place a dropper full of Black Cohosh under my tongue every 15 minutes . This herb is extremely unpleasant- having a very sharp, bitter taste to it that would leave my mouth with a burning feeling. And into a large glass of orange juice I poured ¼ cup of castor oil, and drank it as quickly as I could. While the castor oil is not supposed to have any taste, I somehow doubt that anyone who has every tried it would agree with that statement. I to this day can not drink orange juice as that taste is still so vivid in my mind.
For over an hour, I did not notice any difference in my contractions. We performed the next round of antibiotics, and I took another hot shower. I continued to clean, trying to keep my mind off things and not allowing myself to watch the clock. But around 2 o'clock, my contractions began to pick up in their intensity and frequency- coming every ten minutes or so, though still bearable. I stopped my cleaning efforts however, and sent James out to get himself something eat as I think he was looking worse than I was at that point, and I instinctively knew that I would need him in the hours to come.
By 4 o'clock, contractions were no longer easy, though thankfully never too close together. James would hold me through them, and we would often 'baby dance', swaying through the contractions as I wrapped my arms around his neck. I asked Mary what positions I could get into that would make the contractions more effective, and we tried a variety of them- with one leg propped up on a stair, then the other, and finally squatting. It was only as I squatted through a contraction that the labor really began to take it's toll on me- it definitely intensified then, and though Mary kept encouraging me to squat again as it was helping me move along, I never did- I was unable to handle it.
I was able to keep myself well hydrated during labor, going through a 12 pack of apple juice boxes- and I kept myself moving around the house as drinking that much inevitably led to me using the bathroom frequently. Mary was still checking the baby's heartbeat often, though I didn't need her reassurance on that end- he never stopped moving, not even during the peak of my labor. My mantra began to come all on it's own 'I can do this…I can do this…' I began to whisper to myself as the contractions began to pick up even more. Mary turned off the lights and lit the candles I had placed around the room- and it began to seem that I would indeed have the birth I had envisioned my entire pregnancy- a candlelit, intimate setting with me giving birth on the very bed that we had conceived in. Though I will say I had imagined soft, romantic music playing in the background…and instead I had the Winter Olympics.
As the sun continued to set, my contractions were quickly becoming more and more painful….as if a large fist was squeezing my abdomen harder and harder each time. Fatigue again began to plague me, and instead of saying to myself that I CAN do this, I began to beg my body for a break. It seemed as if all the excitement, fear and indecisiveness of the last 9 months, and especially of that day, was weighing down on my shoulders. I began to wonder if I could really find it within myself to push this baby out, if I could find the strength within to finish what we had started. I looked to James and Mary for support, and my mantra of moments before became my question- as contraction after contraction hit, I would ask them- 'I can do this, right?' They always nodded, and encouraged me with soft words and smiles.
By 6:30, transition was in full effect. I began to feel sick to my stomach, and was given a basin 'just in case'. Still needing to use the bathroom frequently, I could no longer walk up and down the stairs, so I crawled. Mary followed me around with her supplies in hand, ready for whatever was to come. I vividly remember at one point sitting on the edge of my bed, exhausted and full of self doubt, with James on one side and Mary on the other, each massaging my shoulders and arms as contractions hit. It was such a weird feeling- feeling so wonderful on the upper part of my body, and so awful on the lower half.
As if by request, I began to have the 'break' I had so wanted- the contractions began to space out, now coming every 10 minutes rather then every 3, though the intensity never let up. I looked over to the clock on our nightstand, and saw that it was now 6:45. I looked at James and asked "What time do you think he will be here?" Looking a little overwhelmed, he answered, "8:30." I made a face at him, and turned to Mary, hoping for a better answer. "7:30," was her reply. I shook my head. "No, it will be sooner." I told her, as I had already began to feel 'pushy', though I didn't mention it as I didn't want to admit it due to the fact that I detested the out of control feeling that pushing brought with it. "He'll be here by 7:18" I managed to get out as another contraction hit.
Knowing that it would be next to impossible for me to get out of bed again before the baby was born, and still having all that fatigue pressing down on me, I laid down on my side, pillows comforting me, and finally gave my body over to the work it was doing. The contractions washed over me in excruciating waves, one after another, the need to push gradually making itself more and more known, and by 7:00 pm I was giving small, guttural pushes through each of them, mostly to relieve the feeling, though not really trying to deliver at this point. But suddenly, the overwhelming need to PUSH was upon me, and my body once again took over, and I began to strain to get this child out of me. No longer did I care about how much I despised this part of labor, I was just ready to get it over with. I could feel the baby ferociously making his way out, quicker than he probably should have, and the midwife confirmed that for me. "Try to control your pushing,,' she urged, "so you won't tear." If I could have, I would have laughed because I could no more control my body's desire to birth this baby as I could my own heartbeat.
And then I felt his head emerge- a huge Popping sensation that stole my breath away, and when I looked down, I could see the very tip of a wet, bald head between my legs. Mary told me to reach my hands down as he would be here with the next contraction, and I had expressed a very huge desire to catch the baby myself. So down my hands went, just in time, as the next contraction was building. With all my might, I pushed through the pain and stretching and burning, and somehow through all of it I caught a slippery, warm newborn with my bare hands, and was able to immediately bring him to my chest. The time was 7:13 pm.
Exhilaration surged through me as tears streamed down my face, and lovingly I stroked the baby's back and head, urging him to give a good cry. But he was very quiet, looking around his new surroundings, as if he too was baffled that we accomplished it all. I held him up to get a good look at him, and my first remark was that he had to have the biggest cheeks of any newborn I had ever before seen. A quick look a little lower and I confirmed what the ultrasound had shown- it was indeed a little boy, something I had doubted from the moment I was told the gender. Our family now consisted of 2 boys, and 4 girls- a wonderful six pack of blessings.
"Does he have a name?" Mary asked as she placed the baby on my bare breast, and I looked over at James quickly. "Gage," I murmured through the tears. James smiled at the rightness of it- it had been my favorite boy name for years, the name I had always dreamt of when I thought of my future son as a teenager, and then as an adult- the name whispered on many a secret wish. And in the quieted, candlelit room with the Olympics playing in the background- nothing else seemed right. "Gage," I said a little louder, more confident in the choice now, "If James lets me have Gage, he can choose the middle name." And later on, with a little discussion between us as James held his newly born son for the first time, the middle name of Kevin was decided on after James's father- a great man who was quickly becoming James's best friend as he grew older.
I was checked over thoroughly, the placenta delivered and examined, and was told that even though the pushing was so very fast I had only torn a tiny bit, and if I promised to take it easy, I could avoid stitches. We weighed and measured Gage- my biggest baby at 8 pounds, 3 oz and 20 ½ inches long, and bundled him up in warm clothing and blankets.
An ecstatic phone call was made to James's parents, with Jake the first to be told that his brother was here- and yes, it was still a boy. His excitement was easily heard even through the phone lines. The kids were promised that they would be brought over first thing in the morning for a visit, but that Mommy, Daddy and Gage were all pretty tired, and were going to bed now. Hanging up, I again began to get misty eyed as I longed to see them all with their baby brother, but the logical part of me said to enjoy this night with my baby as it would probably be the only time we had for just the two of us.
A phone call was made to the local pizza shop as the soup I had intended to prepare for this occasion lay in my fridge, uncooked as I had thought we had weeks to go yet, and the now four of us sat on the bed I had just given birth in, talking about all that had just occurred as we ate fresh pizza on paper plates.
Soon enough, it was time for Mary to go home, and James helped her bring all of her supplies out to the car. She gave us each a hug, and we thanked her profusely for the gift she had just given us, and then we were left alone, the Olympics still playing, the candles still flickering.
I cuddled down deep into the covers, staring at the still very quiet Gage who had only given a few good cries thus far, most likely just to reassure me that all was well rather than any discontentment on his part. I pulled him closer to me, kissing the top of his hatted head, breathing in the smell that only babies can produce, reveling in this moment and wishing for it to last just a *bit* longer.
As I slowly fell asleep, Gage still safely nestled in my arms, the candles began to die out, and the TV was finally turned off. Now it was his soft breathing that lulled me to sleep rather than his kicking. And instead of a name whispered on a wish as I slid into oblivion, it was the picture of all six of my children with me in the morning that I dreamt of.