I had planned this week to add a new post about my favorite diaper to my Simple Cloth series. Instead, I got inspired to write Liberty’s birth story after watching the new film “Birth Story” about Ina May Gaskin and the modern midwifery movement.
Birth is the most vulnerable and unpredictable event a woman will ever experience. Every woman’s story is precious and sacred, no matter how the baby comes out.
Despite what you hear, birth and postpartum do not have to be negative or fearful events! They can be positive and peaceful. Being mentally and emotionally prepared is one of the best ways to have a positive birth, so I left links to some of my favorite home birth resources below. (I left the also left the same resource list here, on my first birth story.)
Without further ado, Liberty Faye’s birth story:
I found out I was pregnant last June. It was unexpected because I was still recovering from a miscarriage a few months earlier. I was totally overjoyed to see those teeny letters spelling out that beautiful word: “pregnant.”
I have these ideals that I’ll reveal my carefully guarded secret to David over a candlelit dinner at our favorite restaurant. My record so far has been running out of the bathroom at some ungodly hour shouting something like “Holy crap, I’m pregnant!” Then I call everyone.
Having had such a positive experience with our first home birth, there was no question in our minds that we wanted the same with our second child. Pre-natals with my midwife were like having coffee with an old friend. I had just been pregnant only 13 months earlier, so I remembered almost everything and knew what I could expect.
The only thing we planned to do differently was hire a professional doula. Last time, my sister stepped in as my doula by default. I could not have done it without her. She reads my mind. The experience showed me how essential it was for me to have dedicated, female moral support during labor. (Midwives are very supportive, but their job is to be focused on the medical aspects of the birth). I knew I needed that again. Since my sister wouldn’t be able to make it, I casually asked (in other words, begged on bended knee) my very dear friend Chrissy of Eco Chic Baby to be my doula.
Throughout my pregnancy, Claudette (my midwife), told me over and over that my labor would be quick. At each appointment she would encourage me to call her at the first signs of labor, and not to wait until the contractions were five minutes apart. She explained how labor progresses much faster and with less intense contractions for subsequent births. I joked that she would show up, eat a sandwich and tell me to push. (As it turns out, that may not have been more real than joke after all…)
Just like last time, I went long past my estimated due date. I was tempted to take some herbal teas to jumpstart my labor like before, but we decided to see what would happen this time if I waited for my body to start 100% on it’s own.
So I ate a lot of ice cream and Trader Joe’s lemon cookies and re-watched all the Downton Abby and Parenthood seasons on Netflix with my mom for eleven long days. Though it felt miserable and never-ending at the time, I always look back on those final weeks of waiting as some of the most sweet and precious days that my mom and I have spent together.
2/12/13, 11:00 pm: After a Downton Abby/ice cream session I headed begrudgingly off to bed for another long night of waiting for the sun. When you are this pregnant, you tend to dread nighttime and attempt to avoid it with pleasant diversions such as cookies and British television.
There were zero signs of labor. My only symptom, which I didn’t realize was a symptom at the time, was a feeling that I needed to use the bathroom a lot but couldn’t go. (Pressure from the baby on my rectum and bladder). I chalked it up to pregnancy and off to bed I went. (So yes, overdue pregnant ladies, you can have absolutely no signs of labor and still give birth a few hours later!)
2/13/2013, 1:16 am: A searing contraction woke me up out of a dead sleep. I turned over to look at the clock. 1:16 am. I’d had lots of labor-like contractions during the past month, and had even put my doula on alert once. But this one…it was real. I woke David up and told him that I was pretty sure I’d just had a real contraction and that I didn’t want him to be alarmed but that I strongly felt he should fill up the birth tub as expeditiously as possible.
A couple more contractions went by and I found myself needing to use relaxation breathing through them as I laid in bed. They were six minutes apart.
“We should call Chrissy and Claudette,” he responded. (All rational and cool-headed. Sheesh.)
“No, no. Wait through few more contractions just to make sure. It could still be a while,” I waffled.
It just seemed too fast to be true. My previous labor had not started this suddenly and intensely. It had ramped up slowly and predictably. What if we called everyone to show up at my house at 1 a.m. and was just a big fluke? You wait and obsess about this moment for months (especially when you are 11 days overdue), so when it finally starts to happen, it seems like it just can’t be real!
The next hour was a blur of David setting up the birth tub. More contractions. David pacing with his cell phone. David asking me for the nth time if he should call people or not. Me telling him I didn’t know.
Though I was hesitant to officially call in Claudette and Chrissy, my instincts said that it was time. Between contractions I grabbed my comfiest yoga pants, brushed my teeth, and threw my hair into a messy bun. I dug my Aroma Home lavender body wraps out of my birth supplies and got my game face on.
2:18 am: I began pacing through contractions in my living room with a hot body wrap on my lower belly. My mom sat down at the kitchen table and started timing them with an app on my iPhone.
“Four minutes,” she reported.
And then three.
I couldn’t believe this was even possible. I was convinced it was nature playing a cruel joke on me. That, or certainly user error with the contraction app. We started timing them the old-fashioned way with a watch.
Three minutes apart, again.
Somewhere in there, David made an executive decision to call Chrissy and Claudette. (Thank God this man had sense enough not listen to a word I said.)
2:24 am: The contractions were intensifying as I continued pacing the hall. The miraculous energy of birth was giving me rushes of adrenaline. As strange as it sounds, I just had to walk during a contraction. Whenever one started, I would head down the hallway towards David’s office. When it was over, I would walk back and recover on a chair in my living room.
K.K.’s pink tea pot was sitting on a side table in David’s office. I could see it from my living room As I walked during the contraction I told myself, “If I can make it to the pink tea pot, the contraction will be over.”
These are the kind of weird fixations that keep you sane during labor. The pink tea pot and I are forever bonded.
During this labor, the most uncomfortable part was not the contraction itself, but the growing pressure of something pushing down on my pelvis, rectum and bladder. It was an growing, achy tension in my lower regions; a sensation I did not experience at K.K’s birth.
2:43 am: At about this time, I decided it was time to vocalize. I added what my mom graciously notes as “light” humming to my pacing ritual.
During early labor, the plan was for David to drive K.K. to his mom’s house about 15 minutes away in Winters.
That plan was cute.
An hour and fifteen minutes in and I was already in active labor. There was no doula our midwife on the scene yet (thanks to me waffling). David made another executive decision and called his mom to come and pick up K.K.
Contractions and downward pressure were intensifying. My mom had roused a sleeping K.K., put shoes on her, and handed her off to David’s mom. (We decided not to have K.K. present at the birth since she was having wild meltdowns whenever Claudette would touch my belly during pre-natals).
3:04 am: David began filling the birth tub when a beautiful, winged epidural angel walked through my front door.
Just kidding, it was my friend Chrissy.
She would chop my arm off before letting me have an epidural (only because we are friends and I said). So no, I cannot exactly categorize this woman as an epidural angel.
But I have never been so relieved to see a person in my life. I’ll never forget what she was wearing: purple velour yoga pants, a hoodie and her long hair in a side braid. (I keep a Rolodex of people’s outfits in my head. This useless skill is apparently still functional during active labor.) She started humming and pacing the hallway with me in her beaded moccasins.
3:18 am: Chrissy stopped to pray for me between contractions and asked me what kind of music I wanted. I hadn’t prepared for music, but the first thing that came to me was Cory Asbury, “Always Faithful.”
It was probably around this time that I switched from active labor into transition. I stopped pacing and used rocking for a little while before I started going into deep squats next to the couch during each contraction. It just felt like the natural thing to do. It was somewhat of a relief to move downward with the contractions.
Eventually, I ended up kneeling next to the couch with my face buried in a pillow.
I had been vocalizing for a while, but by this time, I was totally just yelling, you guys (in low tones, of course). I can’t figure out how some women give birth in total silence. The only way for me to process the immense tension of those back-to-back contractions was to moo like a mother cow into that pillow.
Mooing is amazing, you guys. Just saying.
They say that in times of trial, whatever is inside of you comes out. Aside from a nine pound baby, the thing that came out of me in those moments was this:
I was not swearing, promise. Jesus is my homie, guys.
While I’m admitting all of the most vulnerable details of my birth, I guess I should also mention I was sing-prayer-yelling in tongues. I’m kind of one of those baptized-by-fire evangelicals. So… it’s just what came out.
And plus, birth is spiritual.
During this time, Chrissy was being magic and using her secret doula powers to read my mind by saying soothing things and lightly massaging the tops of my legs during contractions. (THANK YOU, GOD.)
One thing I will never, ever forget about this birth was these words:
“One moment for a lifetime of moments.”
Chrissy repeated this to me in those final minutes of desperation. It was a phrase that my mind was able process during the intensity of transition.
My subconscious could also hear Cory Asbury singing these words on repeat:
“I sought the Lord and He heard me I sought the Lord and He heard my cry I sought the Lord and He heard me I sought the Lord and He heard my cry And He answered me
Though weeping endures for the night Your joy comes in the morning Though sorrow may last for a time Your joy comes in the morning
Faithful, You’re always faithful True, You’re always true You’ll never leave me, You’re always with me You’re good, You’re good
You bring joy, You bring joy You bring joy, You bring joy You bring joy, You bring joy You bring joy, You bring joy”
I clung on to those words during a time where every minute of labor felt like it would never end, “You’ll never leave me, You’re always with me, You’re good.”
3:30 am: Claudette came whirl-winding through my front door with giant suitcases of equipment.
4:02 am: I asked if I could get into the tub.
Someone said yes, so I stripped off my clothing between a contraction and made a bee-line towards that blessed tub. I distinctly remember Chrissy making me stop and rinse off my feet in a bowl of water.
I wanted to say “OH HANG THE BOWL, I’M ABOUT TO HAVE A BABY.” (That was too much work, so I just thought it in my mind.)
Sinking into that water was sweet relief for a few seconds. In these situations, you relish any kind of relief, even seconds worth.
At this time I thought to myself, “It would be divine if I could get some more of this warm water on my back.”
Chrissy employed her enchanted, mind-reading doula powers and returned milliseconds later with a plastic cup which she use to pour warm water down my back. That was followed up with a damp, cool cloth around my neck. Heavens, yes.
This, friends, is why you hire a doula.
The intense pressure in my lower regions was A LOT. I responded by groaning from deep in my belly and pushing down with the pressure. It was a natural physical response that seemed to be happening on it’s own.
Apparently, this was the elusive “urge to push” that I struggled to feel in during my first birth.
No one ever had any time to “check” me, and I dare you to have tried. There was nothing anyone could have said or done to prevent me from doing precisely what I wanted, which was to groan from my belly and push down.
I heard Claudette call from the bedroom “IS SHE PUSHING?”
Everyone gathered around the tub with great expectation in the air.
I leaned over the side of tub, clenched David’s t-shirt in my fists, buried my face in him and yelled the following phrases a bunch of times:
“PRAY FOR MEEEE.”
“COME OUT, BABY.”
That moment when you find out you can do more than you think you can. Because, well, you have to.
Somewhere in the pushing, heaven sent me a break. The eye of the storm. It was just a few moments of sweet, sweet peace.
Claudette was leaned over the tub, half of her body in the water, giving me support by holding a compress on my perineum.
And then, oh glorious day of days, I became vaguely aware that a head was born!
I continued pushing, but without much progress. Like last time, I expected her body to slide right out, but it did not. Claudette, Chrissy and Dana acted quickly, instructing me to move into different positions in the tub, including a forward lunge.
I was unaware of this at the time, but the baby’s shoulder was stuck on my pubic bone. This is called “shoulder dystocia.” It happens sometimes with bigger babies. My birth team felt it best not to mention it. Instead, they tried not to disturb me and simply guided me into different positions while I continued to labor.
4:14 am: The midwives quickly helped me out of the tub. Yes, I did this with a baby’s head between my legs. (It was a really weird feeling, I won’t lie. And it’s okay, you don’t have to say it. I’m amazing.)
I laid on my back on the floor, where Claudette reached in, unhooked her shoulder and pulled her out.
(She told me that these maneuvers are called a “McRobertson” and a “Corkscrew.” In the hospital, they use forceps or a vacuum.)
IT WAS OUT.
How can I describe this to you? Let’s see: RELIEF. Pure relief. OH, GLORY. (We actually almost named her Glory.)
They laid her on my chest, patted her, and a few seconds later, she was crying a nice healthy cry. Her cord was short, so I could not move her up to nurse yet, but it was such a glorious sensation to have that warm, slippery baby in my arms!
And then THIS:
The Aura of Birth.
AKA, the best feeling of your entire life. AKA, that massive flood of the greatest hormonal cocktail nature has ever concocted.
And you feel like Wonder Woman. It blows my mind that the most common and natural event in the world is also the greatest and most sacred one. For weeks after this I wanted to run up and place a gold medal around the neck of every mother I saw, and whisper “I am in awe of you. How did you do it?” (No, really. I would be like “Honey, look at her, she has three children! She’s my hero.” and start bawling.)
I know it was intense, guys, but it was only three hours start to finish with twelve minutes of pushing. Twelve minutes! And so worth every one.
I didn’t know what gender this child was, but I didn’t care. I was relishing the beautiful cap of dark brown hair resting on my chest. It was a full five minutes after that before I turned her over to see that K.K. got the sister I’d been praying for. Imagine my surprise, since we all just “knew” this one would be a boy.
After this, the cord was cut, the placenta was delivered and I was brought herbal teas to drink. Right there on my living room floor. After this, you don’t care what happens, since you are basically high as a kite. One part oxytocin and ten parts relief.
An hour or so later, Claudette weighed her: Nine pounds! Oh, that explains my life the last three hours.
I could write a whole other post about the surreal “after” part:
Cuddling with my family and my new baby under a pile of covers in my bed, the smell of lavender and fenugreek tea wafting through my house, everyone doting on us, nursing for the first time, laughing, eating a big plate of food, the gratifying tranquility that fell over the house when everyone left us to rest, and being too excited to sleep for watching that sweet little creature snuggled under the crook of my arm.
Afterwards as Claudette helped me walk with shaky legs into my bathroom, I thought to myself, “How can I ever do this again?” But it wasn’t a day later that I thought to myself, “No, I will most certainly do this again. This simply cannot be the last time I feel this.”
It’s six months later and tonight I finally felt ready to crack open the vault of birth pictures on our digital camera. Can I tell you something? I was afraid to look!
When I finally did, so many beautiful feelings come flooding back to me. I look at those photos of our little Libby being born and my heart is filled with so much peace and joy. These words of praise resonated in my heart:
“Faithful, You’re always faithful True, You’re always true You’ll never leave me, You’re always with me You’re good.”
The Business of Being Born and the sequel More Business of Being Born
Pregnant in America
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin