Hey guys. I thought Friday of Labor Day weekend would be a great day for a birth story!
Evelyn has just turned three months old and I am amazed at how great I feel after adding baby number three. I know a lot of it has to do with having a good support system and some wonderful women caring for me throughout my pregnancy and postpartum.
After a lot of internal debate about delivering this baby at a birth center or having another home birth, I decided once again on being home. Aside from the minor inconvenience of the extra prep work, I was very happy with the experience of my previous two births. (Read K.K.’s here and Libby’s here.) Being low-risk, having access to the care of established licensed midwives, and being part of a health share that pays for both home and hospital births gives me a lot of choices. We are close to a great birth center and I am within ten to thirty minutes of three different hospitals. But since in California independent midwives and home birth are both legal and government regulated, home birth once again presented itself as a really great option. At the end of the day, the decision boiled down to the fact that I’m spoiled on the midwifery model of care! I ended up choosing a team of midwives called Birthstream Midwifery located in Davis, just a little closer to my home as well as a doula that offered postpartum care. (I talked about that in this blog post.)
I also decided to have a professional photographer at this birth. Even though I look like a woman with mild water retention giving birth in every picture (I can’t imagine why), I love every single one of these photos. It’s like time was frozen for me that day. Seeing the photos was also special to my mom, who was not able to be there for the birth. I cannot wait to share them with Evy some day. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lynda! (See more of her work here!)
One of the great things about having a home birth is the first-class prenatal care. My midwives visited me at home for every appointment. They spent at least one hour with me every time; often more. Not only did they educate me, but they asked a lot of questions and did a lot of listening. They were insistent on self-care through nutrition and daily naps! And they were really gracious and let us take a bunch pictures so I could post them on the Internet for you guys.
Right off, I told my midwives that one of my concerns was that the birth would go really fast (my last one was three hours). My second concern was that I would need help getting the baby out. My last two babies both needed the assistance of a midwife once the head was born. The first was due to mal-positioning and the second was due to shoulder dystocia. The midwife who delivered my other two girls was very skilled and did an excellent job handling both of those situations. We were so happy that we were able to be at home with a professional midwife and avoid the unnecessary medical interventions we would have likely experienced in a hospital setting. It’s actually exactly why we chose to have home births. I do believe that the reason I was able to have a third vaginal birth at home is due to that midwife’s skill and wisdom.
My new group of midwives also assured me that they too were equipped to handle these scenarios. They helped me formulate my birth plan and patiently talked through every question I had. I never had the scrutinizing experience of stepping on the scale. Everyone’s body does something different in pregnancy and mine says, “HEY LET’S STORE ENOUGH FAT TO BREASTFEED QUADRUPLETS.” Which can be embarrassing. And also because the midwives said I didn’t have to. My midwives are some of the gentlest, non-judgemental women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I practically had separation anxiety when my six weeks of postpartum care was up!
I also talked about my delivery concerns to my doula. She showed me some different birthing positions and how we could use a piece of cloth called a rebozo for stabilization during pushing, which relieved some of my fears about not being able to push effectively. She suggested I began having weekly chiropractic adjustments as early as possible to make sure that my body was aligned and that the baby would be in a favorable heads-down position to be born. I read a lot about the benefits of squatting during labor. When I laid in bed at night, I visualized myself squatting for delivery and catching my baby. In my 36th week, I also tried to eat six dates a day for a smooth birth. Though in the past I was not able to have a full water delivery, we still decided to go ahead and reserve a birthing tub so I could at least have the option for laboring. (I labored and delivered in a hard-sided tub this time, which I liked A LOT better than the bouncy, inflatable ones I tried to use twice before. I feel more grounded on the harder surface.) My doula lent me tons of books in her library, helped me formulate a postpartum plan, and came over and deep cleaned my house when I was too pregnant and overwhelmed to care whether my toilet bowls were black.
About nine days before Evelyn’s birthday, David and I went to a birth class that my midwives hold every month. It’s affectionately known as “the baby catch class.” It is a course designed to educate parents about the details and logistics of what will be happening at the birth. Most importantly, it instructs parents what to do if the baby comes out before the midwives arrive! It’s especially helpful for the dads to know what it looks like when their wives begin to move into active labor.
The catch class was held at the home of one of the midwives, Tosi. Her house is tucked away off of a country road in a wooded grove next to a creek. When we knocked on the door, she greeted us by name with a warm hug and ushered us into her living room where couches, chairs and coffee tables were arranged to accommodate the parents-to-be. Right way my nesting eye noticed artwork on the walls and the layers of beautiful rugs covering the floors. A side table near the doorway was laid out with educational children’s story books, which we were all invited to borrow for the older siblings. A little array of organic juices, dates, nuts and cloth napkins welcomed us. The walls were covered in art and big built-in shelves overflowed books onto tables and window sills. Is there more you could ask for in life than built-in book shelves overflowing books onto tables and window sills? I don’t think so.
Tosi is the type of woman who teaches classes kneeling on floor, passing around baby-en-utero coloring sheets for us to take home to the siblings. So of course I loved her and had to think for .8 seconds about the possibility of adopting her as my aunt. She demonstrated how the baby descends through the birth canal using a model of the human pelvis. She showed us a real placenta, and explained how the placenta and the umbilical cord are their own circulatory system. She even demonstrated how the cord blood could be used in neonatal resuciation. The contents of our birth kits were laid out and we were given explanations how each item would be used. We talked about how a woman in labor acts and sounds as she progresses through the various stages of birth. We also discussed shoulder dystocia, situations that would require hospital transfer or neonatal resuscitation, and how to determine if we were bleeding a normal amount. Tosi also told us tons of birth stories from her years of midwifery. (My favorite was the one about the opera singer who sang her way through labor!)
In that room, birth wasn’t gross. It wasn’t a scary emergency. The way we talked about birth in that class made me feel thankful and happy to be a woman. I left the class that night energized and excited to meet my baby. I ended up in labor five days before my estimated due date! (Which is like basically like, two weeks early for me.)
On Wednesday May 27th, I woke up at 5:30 am with contractions about 12 minutes apart. Nothing out of the ordinary because I’d been having inconsistent contractions for a few weeks. But these had a certain familiar feeling to them. Oh…like, someone politely poking at my uterus with a dull spoon. Just to make sure they were real, I got in a warm bath because my false labor would always stop when I did that. The contractions kept coming, picking up to 5-8 minutes apart. I (totally casually) hollered updates to David from the bathroom.
I knew that I would have my baby that day. I told David I was calling my mom to tell her that I was in labor. ‘Cause calling mom makes it official in my book. He responded “Why? She’s on the east coast. She can’t help you.” (Do we have to be so rational all the time??) He informed me that he was calling the midwives. Actually, he’d already been notifying a bunch of people for like an hour because he is an experienced ninja dad with nun chuck skills.
After about an hour, I got out of the tub, dressed in my best ripped yoga pants and started my essential oil diffuser with lavender. I put on a movie for the girls and called Yvonne. She had just finished mowing the lawn and was going to hop in the shower, pick me a bouquet of flowers, and come right over. (She’s the cheery 6 am gardener-type.) My contractions remained pretty much 5-8 minutes apart, so I was sure I would have a baby by lunch time.
I ate a piece of toast and some yogurt for sustenance while David brought the birth pool upstairs to our master bathroom. I got both girls dressed and fixed breakfast and announced that we were having our baby today. They thought that was nice, but were mostly excited about going to their Grammy’s house because of Target and unlimited animal cookies. By the time I had finished taking care of the girls, my contractions had slowed way down. Nobody was worried about this. My midwives had told me it is typical for a progressing early labor to slow when kids wake up.
At around 8 am, David’s mom picked up K.K. and Libby and Yvonne arrived. The rest of the day consisted of walking, breakfast burritos, Facetiming/texting my mom and sister, napping, pizza, sewing, and Netflix. My house was a peaceful, quiet cocoon all day. My contractions ebbed and flowed, coming anywhere from eight to twenty minutes apart. I kept the midwives updated throughout the day. I’ve never had such a long, relaxing early labor! In my prior births, I had moved right into active labor after the first few noticeable contractions. I’d heard of women who did jigsaw puzzles, folded laundry, or worked on quilts during labor, but I never imagined how that was even possible. Now I know…it’s pretty darn nice! (My labor was so slow and erratic that I think maybe people were secretly wondering if this was a false alarm. But I knew better.)
Around 1 pm, Yvonne went home to get some rest. We were all of the mind that labor would pick up come evening. Yvonne’s husband dropped by a salad and our favorite pizza, so David and I ate some lunch and decided to take a nap.
Although my contractions were still only 10-15 minutes apart, I could feel that things were progressing. They had lengthened to over a minute and were becoming harder. I was dozing in between, but they were becoming a little too disruptive to really sleep. Around 4 pm, I was getting anxious and bored so I texted my sister. She suggested I distract myself with a chick flick. (Did you guys know Netflix has Legally Blonde? Yessss. Best chick flick of all times.)
In my other two labors, it felt great to stand up and walk around my living room. So that was my plan. Walk the living room and watch Legally Blonde. Somewhere right around the “bend and snap,” I finally got a contraction that rocked my world a little bit. Standing and walking started to become less of a comfort. I became overwhelmed with emotion and weepiness…I needed everything. I needed Yvonne to come back. I needed the birth ball to sit on. I needed Reese Witherspoon to shut up so I could sit down and sob for no apparent reason. The shift in my demeanor was a labor progression sign we had learned about in our catch class, so David wasted no time calling the midwives.
Comfort was suddenly all about sitting with my pelvis tipped forward. I instinctively felt that I needed the birthing ball to sit on. (Something I loathed in my other two labors!) It’s amazing what a shift in position can do for comfort in labor. And how every labor is so different!
When Yvonne arrived, we moved upstairs where I labored sitting on the birth ball in my bedroom. The contractions picked up to about four minutes apart. I was able to work through them with just breathing. I decided to challenge myself NOT to vocalize (a coping method I used a lot in my other two labors) for as long as I possibly could. I wanted to see if I could channel 100% of my energy into moving the baby down.
At 5:30 Rachel, my midwife arrived. We decided to check my dilation, but I told her I did not want to know the number. She agreed that was a good idea and reminded me that numbers really are not all they’re cracked up to be. (I was actually only 5 cm dilated). I have found this to be one of the most fascinating characteristics of midwives…they seem to get the wisdom of not disclosing information that will cause unnecessary anxiety. After she checked me I asked if I could get in the birth tub. She smiled and said “You can do anything you want.” Just another reason why I love my home births!
I got in the warm tub and Facetimed my mom and sister for a minute while David turned on Kari Jobe, the music I had picked for labor. (Because every Kari Jobe song is my LIFE’S ANTHEM.) I reclined in the tub with Yvonne next to me. The music carried me away while evening sun streamed in my bathroom window. For me, birth is an extremely spiritual experience. I mentally exited the room to my happy place. Normally this is a pebbly beach spot I made up which is located just outside the garden of Longbourne. (Oh what, you don’t have one of these?) But this time, my happy mental place ended up being Tosi’s living room. The place with books and layered rugs, where all parts of birth are joyful everyone is excited to meet their babies. I breathed and prayed through each contraction. I thanked God for this baby and welcomed her down. I thought about how ready we were to have her with us.
My photographer Lynda slipped in around the same time as the student midwife, Martine. I was still able to breathe peacefully through the contractions, but I was fighting the overwhelming urge to sob, a reflex that seemed to be coming from outside of me. The midwives gave me some homeopathic tablets to dissolve under my tongue. The weepiness went away almost immediately.
Finally, I felt like I needed to quietly vocalize. Yvonne brought a cool cloth for my neck. We were rolling, people.
Since this was my third birth, I had a good sense of what was to come. Because of this, I was in a small mental battle not to give into anxiety about what the next contractions might feel like. There comes a point of surrender in every labor, where I have to let every inhibition go and give in to the process. As soon as that very first feeling of anxiety came, I decided I would not waste any energy fighting the uncomfortable sensations. My body had to do what it had to do. I surrendered to them right then, placing my hands gently on my belly as each contraction came. Yvonne encouraged me to do one contraction at a time. I prayed and practiced thankfulness in my meditations. My mantra became “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Thank you, Missionettes, for burning that scripture into my head at age 14!)
During one particular contraction I felt an urge to pee. I ran to the toilet between contractions. When I got back into the tub, something felt different. My instinct was to move on to my hands and knees. Yvonne poured cups of water onto my lower back while I made low vocalizations during what felt like long, back-to-back contractions. At this point things become very blurry and not as calm. I thiiiiiink you would call this part transition. There was probably more that happened here, but I’m only telling the parts I remember!
During my previous birth I was yelling prayers…and things like “HELP ME.” This time I challenged myself to channel that word-forming energy for moving baby down.
Very soon I started to feel like was going to EXPLODE from the pressure. I had no idea how I was going to do this for ONE MORE MINUTE. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I wanted to yank David down into the tub and make him suffer! I wanted to run away to the hospital and get FREAKING DRUGGED.
Also, WHY IS EVERYONE STILL BEING SO CALM.
Well, that’s because it is almost time to push. Desperate for some kind of relief, I tried bearing down a little bit. It wasn’t quite time. I needed a few more contractions to come.
Finally, there was no more holding back. I HAD to do something. Just ANYTHING.
I yelled “JESUS HELP!” And then without even thinking, I braced my feet against the sides of the tub and went into a squat just like I had visualized doing. (I didn’t know I did this. Yvonne told me later). I had the urge to do the loudest, longest Tarzan yell of my entire life. It was a crazy birthing warrior yell.
And just like that, I was reaching down with my hand to feel my baby’s head come out!
Then came the moment of truth. (Flashback to my other two births when the baby’s head was out, but the body wasn’t.) Would I be able to birth the rest of her by myself or would the midwife have to step in? I did one last powerful push.
A second later I heard Rachel say, “Reach down and get your baby!” And David and I pulled our baby girl up together out of the water.
WAIT…THAT IS ALL? It’s over? All I could do was look at her and say “I did it! I did it!” She was all pink and cried vigorously right away. It was everything that I had hoped for and visualized over the past nine months. From 5 centimeters dilated to screaming baby in 90 minutes. The midwives were right…birth is not linear.
I had imagined she would be at least nine pounds…but she seemed extra tiny. (That is because she was six pounds nine ounces! My little June Bug!)
The midwives pointed out that she actually had a knotted cord!
After a little bit, we needed to get out of the water. Yvonne and the midwives helped me waddle my Jello-y self over a path of towels and chucks pads to my bed while I clutched that warm, slippery baby girl to my chest.
I’ll tell you. The people that help you climb out of a tub after giving birth will be your people forever. (So will those who assist you in climbing out of a tub with with a baby’s head coming out of you…but that’s another story for another time). No humans on earth have or ever will see my body in a more glorious state. (That was sarcasm. Though thank you, body for being AWESOME.)
After that, everything was a blurry hum of clean-up, nursing, warm towels and people coming and going. I delivered the placenta and Martine helped me into the bathroom where I donned my Mesh Panties of Victory. (You know what I’m talkin’ about, ladies.) David’s mom and sister came up with the girls, who were gleefully be-decked with toys and Disney apparel from a Target spree.
Rachel H. whipped up some herbal peri wash in the kitchen and brought up a plate with fruits and cheese and a little candle. The midwives came marching in singing happy birthday to Evelyn.
David and the girls piled on the bed to eat snacks and Skype my parents and my sister in Georgia, who had been standing by all day waiting for news.
After leaving me with necessities and lots of special instructions, the midwives went home for a well-deserved rest and promised to be back the next day. (Or so I imagine they rested. They may have gone to another birth!) The girls finally got tucked into bed at about 10pm when everyone left and my doula prepared to stay the night to help us with the baby. That feather-light little bundle ended up sleeping swaddled on our chests all night. There’s nothing more surreal in the world than that first night trying to sleep snuggled next to your new baby. Birth aura to the max.
Guys, I never imagined the joy that a third baby would bring to us. She’s the perfect addition to our family. God knew what he was doing when he made me the mom of these three lovely girls.
I can’t wait to start telling you about my postpartum experience this time around. But that’s another post for another time! Thank you Lynda for your photos, Yvonne for your support, and midwives (Rachel F.T., Rachel, H., Martine, Leslie and Tosi) for your wisdom, skill and belief in women!
And just to give you all some perspective here, after I wrote these last lines, I caught throw-up in towels for the third time this week while Evy cried in the swing and the other kid screamed for me to turn on Little Bear. The manic usually breaks out for about 10 minutes at a time, but it’s usually over pretty quick.
Definitely worth it.