At long last, I have an opportunity to sit down (well, I’m actually bouncing on my exercise ball while wearing Joseph in a wrap, but that counts as sitting these days) and write my first birth story! Fair warning: it’s long, and I don’t shy away from using words like “cervix.”
When I found out I was pregnant, in true Christina fashion, I did a LOT of research: I read books, watched documentaries, and talked to my mom friends about their experiences of childbirth. I knew that I wanted an unmedicated birth, but I wasn’t sure about where I would give birth: the hospital, a birth center, or at home. After my research, prayer, and discussion with my husband, we decided to go for a midwife-assisted home birth, and I’m *so* glad we did. I had a wonderful experience and hope to be able to give birth to my future children at home as well.
I’ve found that most people have one of three reactions when I tell them that Joseph was born at home:
The “you’re crazy” reaction: Isn’t that incredibly dangerous?! Why wouldn’t you give birth at the hospital?? (Or, as Jim Gaffigan--whose wife has had all of their kids at home-- joked, “We thought about home birth, but we wanted our baby to live.”)
The curious reaction: I’ve never heard of that! Tell me more.
The crunchy reaction: That’s so wonderful! I’ve had x number of home births/have always wanted to try home birth/am planning a home birth for my next baby/know someone who had a home birth and loved it.
In the circles I run in, reactions 1 and 3 were by far the most common. I come from a medical family, and knew that I would encounter some resistance when Kristian and I announced our birth plans. My Dad is a physician (not an OB/GYN) and until his oldest daughter (that’s me) informed him that his first grandson would be born, not in the apparent safety of a hospital environment, but in our house, he had never met anyone who purposefully planned a home birth. To say that he was a bit skeptical is an understatement, especially considering the number of doctor friends he has who are OBs. To his credit, once I shared with my dad the statistics on home birth for low-risk women, assured him of our back up plans for transport to the hospital should something go wrong, and convinced him that my midwife is actually a medical professional, he was actually fairly supportive. My mom was more intrigued than anything else, and they both promised lots of prayers during labor and delivery. Kristian’s family was 100% on board, considering that his mom and two of his sisters have all given birth at home multiple times.
Why did I choose home birth? The main reasons were comfort and convenience: I wanted to feel completely free to labor and give birth in any position(s) that felt comfortable and uninhibited in terms of vocalizing during contractions, to wear whatever I wanted to wear, to eat and drink whenever I felt like it, and to not have to worry about getting into the car during transition or receiving unnecessary interventions at the hospital. I also liked the idea of being home already and not having to make the transition from the hospital to home. I’m not anti-hospital birth/medicated birth/OB/GYN, and if I hadn’t found such an amazing home birth midwife, I probably would have gone to a birth center or unmedicated-delivery-friendly hospital. I know that some women, even those who would be ideal home birth candidates, just feel safer at the hospital, and I believe women should be able to give birth in whatever setting and in whatever way makes them feel most safe.
Now: onto the actual birth story.
Early labor can last for weeks, especially in a first-time mom, and that was my experience. I started having real contractions intermittently at the end of week 39. Braxton-Hicks contractions were familiar to me by this point, so I could tell the difference right away. During week 40, I was ravenously hungry, which can be another sign of impending labor. Week 41 began with more contractions, and by that point I was very ready for Joseph to be born, but thankful that his biophysical profile ultrasound (required because I went past 41 weeks) revealed a perfectly healthy baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid level, meaning I wouldn’t need to worry about induction. (If I had been with a traditional OB/GYN, or even a hospital midwife, I would have most likely been induced at week 39 due to Joseph’s potential size, or at week 41 because I was “overdue”. Yet another reason I’m thankful I went with a home birth midwife.)
Finally, at 41 weeks and 4 days, things started changing: I felt different. That’s the best way I can describe it. I was having more contractions, although without any discernible pattern. but I was still able to ignore them and walk/talk/dance (yes, Kristian and I did some merengue to encourage Joseph to move down...and I could feel it working!) through them, so I knew I wasn’t in active labor yet. But there was no way I was going to make the hour long drive to my midwife appointment that day--even with Kristian driving--so, after my doula and midwife conferred with each other, my midwife, Galyn, came to my house. And yes, I did feel like I was on Call the Midwife.
When she checked me, I was dilated 4 centimeters and everything looked good. She left, expecting that I would go into active labor relatively soon--and she was right! The night of Friday, November 17th, I attempted to go to sleep but wasn’t able to because of the intensity of contractions. I finally got out of bed and went to the living room to labor on my own for a bit. The only position that was remotely comfortable during contractions was hands and knees, and even then my back was absolutely killing me, due to Joseph’s posterior position. I called Shelby, my doula, at midnight and asked her to come so that she could use her rebozo to move Joseph to an anterior position. Shelby could tell by the sound of my voice and the pattern that my contractions had taken that things were moving along, so she and her apprentice doula Lauren packed their bags and headed to our home.
When she arrived, my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, lasting 45 seconds to a minute, and I couldn’t wait for her to turn Joseph. She did her rebozo magic and a few minutes later, my son was LOA (Left Occipital Anterior), the optimal position for birth. My contractions intensified for awhile and then calmed down a bit, and I was even able to sleep in between; it’s amazing what a three minute power nap can do for a laboring mama!
Shelby and Lauren took turns applying counter-pressure to my back to relieve the (less intense) pain that I was still experiencing, they made sure I drank water, and ate something every once in awhile. I was amazed at how smoothly everything was going and that I was actually doing it. All of the things I learned in my doula’s childbirth classabout coping with the pain, breathing through the contractions, vocalizing, etc, was so useful and made labor bearable.
At 1:45 AM I woke Kristian. He wasn’t happy that I had let him sleep for a couple of hours while I was
laboring, but I knew he would need at least some good sleep in order to stick with me for the entirety of labor and delivery. He immediately snapped into super-husband mode, and in addition to affirming me with each contraction, he prayed over me, and read off the list of intentions I had written and posted on the wall, so that I would know who to offer each contraction for. I also posted affirmations around the living room and in our bedroom, and he would occasionally read them to me. In between contractions, my body temperature would shift, and he was there to cover me with a blanket. He held my hand, wiped my brow, and told me how amazed he was at my strength. To say that our son’s birth brought us closer together is an understatement.
After a few more hours of laboring (which flew by--I only noticed the passage of time because it began to get lighter outside), both on my hands and knees and in the side-lying position on my yoga mat, the intensity of my contractions began to increase. I didn’t realize it, but I was approaching transition. My doula, having done this for 20+ years, could tell by the sounds I was making that I was getting close to 10 cm, and called my midwife, Galyn, who gave the okay for the birth pool to be filled (yay!) and made her way to the house. I started to feel pushy, and once the pool was ready, I practically jumped in and felt instant relief. My arms and legs were exhausted from being on my hands and knees so much, so it was such a gift to be able to rest them for awhile in the water. Galyn arrived at 7 AM and checked Joseph’s heartbeat, which was galloping right along. I still didn’t realize that I was in transition, because I expected to be super nauseated and/or to feel as if I couldn’t go on, neither of which happened.
Around 7:30, I began to push. It was hard work, and it was tough for me to feel like I was accomplishing anything, because pushing as a first time mom is very much two steps forward, one step back as baby descends into the birth canal. But Galyn, Shelby, Lauren, and Kristian cheered me on every step of the way, and Joseph began to really move.
Unfortunately, my entire womb and cervix were moving with him, meaning that there was the potential for a cervical prolapse, which is no good. Galyn told me I had to get out of the water and lay on my back while she moved my cervix behind Joseph’s head. It only took 20 minutes for Galyn to do this, but it felt like hours; this was by far the most uncomfortable and painful part of my labor (it was also when my water broke). At one point, all I could do was say “Jesus” over and over again to cope, and Kristian prayed with me.
At 8:45 AM, I moved to the bedroom so I could recline a bit on my bed. Sadly, the pool wasn’t an option at that point because we couldn’t get the water warm enough to be safe for Joseph. I continued to push (holding onto my doula and husband’s arms for dear life) for another hour and my BIG baby boy was born--into Kristian’s waiting arms--at 9:39 AM.
The relief was immediate and overwhelming; Kristian and I both laughed and cried and I was in disbelief that I actually did it! I was also in disbelief at how huge he was--I was expecting him to be at least 8 lbs, but when he weighed in at 9 lbs 12 oz, everyone in the room gasped. He also still had some vernix, meaning that he was not “past due.” We didn’t clamp the cord until it stopped pulsing, because we wanted Joseph to get the remainder of the blood and oxygen from the placenta. My midwife instructed me to blow into Joseph’s mouth to get his breathing going and soon after he began to cry; it was such a gift to be able to help him breathe his first breath!
We had some good skin-to-skin time while I delivered the placenta (a cakewalk compared to everything else), which was also surprisingly large, and then Kristian got some skin-to-skin with Joseph while I rested, got a bath, and ate like I hadn’t eaten before in my life. I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine the exhaustion that a mom has after birth (or any mom who has a long labor) is even more intense than a marathoner’s. I lost a good bit of blood and my blood pressure dropped to the point where I fainted, but considering that I’ve fainted before just by getting up out of a chair too fast, this wasn’t a huge surprise. My midwife made me eat a bunch of chocolate and fruit, Kristian made me a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs, and I started to feel back to normal. After a shot of pitocin to stop the bleeding, Galyn massaged my uterus to get it to start contracting, and gave Joseph back to me to attempt breastfeeding. Let’s just say that his latch was tentative at best, and it wasn’t until day 3 when a lactation consultant came to the house that breastfeeding began to improve (and it’s still a work in progress!).
After a couple of hours of monitoring my vitals, cleaning the house, and doing all of Joseph’s newborn checks, my midwife, doula, and doula’s apprentice left us alone to enjoy the peace and quiet of Joseph’s first post-birth sleep. Kristian passed out pretty quickly, but all I could do was stare at this little soul, the fruit of our love. I still love staring at him while he sleeps.
I went into Joseph’s birth with the expectation that birth rarely ever goes as well as one hopes it will, but I was surprised by a birth experience that exceeded my hopes. Labor was relatively short and manageable (10 hours, including pushing) pushing was difficult but doable (2 hours), I never once felt as if I couldn’t go on anymore, and Joseph was born completely healthy. It was a true gift from God, as all good things are, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you how I prepared for birth, because I know that the preparation I did made a huge difference in my birth experience, and I would love for more women to have the kind of experience I had--especially with their first baby. More on that in another post.
Before I close, I want to say thank you: to my husband, my birth team, to all of you who have prayed for me and accompanied me throughout this pregnancy, and to Our Lady and her Son, who were the real MVPs on November 18th. Deo gratias.