Christmas is over and is almost January! I’m on a mission to get ready for this baby. In fact, I was just nesting around in the nursery and ordering my home birth supplies when I got a little inspiration to write down my birth story for the blog. I’m honestly a little self-conscious to post this story, but I know there are so many moms out there with questions.
Many women are looking for an alternative to the hospital and medicated birth, but they are wondering if they are crazy to think they can do it without pain meds. For a healthy pregnancy, the comfort of home is an excellent environment for a drug-free birth. So you are wondering: “What does a home birth look like?” Well, here it is! This is the story of my first birth in May of 2011.
I was introduced to the idea of home birth as a six-year-old girl by my my mom, who birthed two of my brothers at home. My parents said the home births were by far the best birthing experiences they’d had out of all seven children. Then after David and I were married, my cousin who is a doula, talked to me about home birth. I was skeptical, but she recommended some great literature on the subject. I read the books and watched the films immediately (noted at the bottom of this post). That was it for me. Before ever becoming pregnant, I knew that home birth was what I wanted. When we moved to California and discovered we were pregnant, I found my midwife, Claudette, As soon as I met her, I knew that she was my midwife. Not only is she knowledgeable about birth, but she is extremely intuitive in a spiritual sense. She has an extraordinarily lengthy list of credentials, my favorite being having worked with the Amish (who always birth at home).
I really enjoyed my pre-natal care. My pre-natals were conducted in Claudette’s small office; complete with a comfy couch and a play corner for kids. She always offered me a cup of tea and took plenty of time to visit and answer questions. I never felt rushed; I was never weighed in front of anyone. I felt like I was her only patient, although I’m definitely not. Even still, she encouraged me to call her on her cell phone any time day or night. I was introduced to organic foods, herbs, and natural remedies. I received chiropractic care during my last trimester to make sure that the baby would be in a good position for birth. We also took a private home birth preparation class from a doula. She came to our house and answered all of our questions and even prepared us for the postpartum period (which is rare but so essential!) This was one of the best moves we made. She explained birth in a way that made so much sense. I actually saw the “light bulb” switch on over my husband’s head! Taking the class together helped him to be completely confident in my body’s ability.
5/21/11: Nine days overdue. Not much cause for concern in the world of midwifery, as the average delivery date for first-time mothers is 10 days past the estimated due date. I did get clearance from Claudette to take some gentle herbal remedies that would encourage the onset of labor, as my mom and sister were in from out of town and I didn’t want them to miss the birth! My sister Becca had already been with me for a week, and was scheduled to fly home that day. She managed to extend her flight by 24 hours. It was our last chance. We were hoping and praying for a baby.
2:45 am: I woke up miserable for no particular reason. I woke up David. I cried and told him I felt that I would be pregnant forever. Becca was leaving the day after tomorrow and would completely miss the birth. I was so depressed. I figured it was just hormones and pregnancy insomnia, so I moved into the nursery where I sat on the glider and listened to some music.
3:45 am: I noticed some menstrual-like cramping in my lower abdomen.
5:30 am: I came to the vague realization that these cramps were coming and going regularly. I stood up because it felt more comfortable than sitting. I didn’t wake anyone up because I so afraid it was false labor that would probably go away in a little bit. My mom and sister woke up anyways and seeing what was happening, brought me some breakfast.
6:45 am: Cramps were coming 5 minutes apart. This is when we decided to call Claudette. (I had been instructed to call as soon as contractions were 5 minutes apart so she would have plenty of time to get there). She said that she could tell by the way that I was talking that I wasn’t in hard labor yet. She responded casually that I should call her back when it got harder. (WHA? Of course, she was right.)
7:30 am: My sister Becca suggested I lie on the couch and try to doze between contractions. She massaged my legs while I slept on and off. She brought me a hot rice sock for my lower belly. The cramps slowly ramped up, so I decided to hum during each one. Vocalizing helped enormously. My mom hung out in the kitchen making breakfast. Despite the growing discomfort, I was excited when I slowly realized that this was not false labor.
8:30 am: Contractions got harder, so I was no longer able to doze anymore between. During a contraction, I would stand up and lean back on my sister. She supported me from behind and reminded me to completely relax my entire body, so that the contraction could do its work. She took a long piece of stretchy fabric and wrapped the hot rice sock inside. When a contraction came, she would cinch the fabric around my waist. (We had seen this in Ina May’s book). Instead of tensing, I relaxed. The pressure and the warmth helped release the discomfort. We did each contraction that way for several hours. I would hum, and Becca would remind me to keep my sounds low and not to tense up. During the short breaks I had between, I would pace the living room laughing and joking with my mom and sister, but when the contraction came, it was all business! As Chrissy pointed out in my childbirth preparation class, I had breaks in between and a great coping mechanism. I was able to remain in my zone. Because I knew exactly what my body was doing, there was no fear, which really helped to mitigate pain. I knew that it was my uterus (a muscle) contracting to push a baby out and that I needed to work with it, not against it. Even on the hard contractions, I visualized my cervix opening up a little each time. My mom and my sister would cheer every time a hard contraction came. They would say things like “Good one!” and “That’s our baby coming!”
David woke up and wandered out into the living room to find out what was going on. Having been versed in the school of birth, what he saw didn’t shake him up. Becca informed him that the contractions were coming about three to four minutes apart. I realized I was in “real” labor, when I could no longer make it down the hallway to the bathroom without a contraction! They decided to call Claudette. She said she would be on her way.
10:30 am. The midwives arrived. I knew they were there, but I was in a zone. Knowing that, they sneaked in with their giant suitcases of equipment and faded into the background. At one point, Claudette called me into the bedroom to check me. She said “Wow, you are almost eight centimeters!” We were all surprised. I was utterly elated! Everyone started saying things like “Looks like we’ll be having a baby this afternoon!” All the joy and excitement in the air is what got me through transition (the most difficult period of labor, where the cervix completes dilation from 8-10 centimeters.) I knew I was almost done! I was in transition, and living to tell about it. I felt like a rock star. After I had been checked, the midwives suggested I labor on hands and knees in the living room so that the baby could move into a little better position. This was a very intense period of my labor, but that is normal. The contractions would bring a wave of hormones that made me want to cry. It was harder to keep my humming low, because my voice was getting very shaky. I was praying and asking Jesus to help me! I could hear my mom praying for me in the kitchen. During this time, David and the midwives filled up the birth tub with hot water.
12:00 pm: I asked if it would be okay to move to the tub. Claudette said “Absolutely!” As soon as I got into the water, I felt so relieved. I finished dilating in the tub. Nature’s epidural!
1:00 pm: I was fully dilated. David asked Claudette “What now?” Claudette said “We are waiting on Rachael.” She asked me if I could feel the baby moving down. I could not feel a thing. She said I could bear down during the contractions if it felt better. It didn’t really. Every once in a while she would pop her head in the door and ask if I felt ready to push. Nothing was happening and the tub was just making me hot, so we moved out of the tub to see if gravity would help.
The next several hours are a blur. There was no real sense of time. I moved all over the house in every position known to man to attempt pushing: hands and knees on the floor, on the bed, sitting on the toilet. I alternated pushing with resting on the bed lying on my side. Claudette slipped in and out, checking the baby’s heartbeat and making gentle suggestions. She coached me to push at the peak of each contraction. I felt like I was pushing air. Nothing seemed to be happening, except when I broke my water while pushing on the bed and almost hit Claudette in the face. (That is David’s favorite part). After the water breaking, the intensity ramped up even more. During this time, I was being brought ice water, juices and protein to drink.
I moved to the bathroom to sit on the toilet, but that turned out to be a horrendous position. I know I must have looked like hell on wheels. To put it nicely, sitting was NOT my favorite birth position. I was having intense “leg labor” and sitting was making it worse. I remember this as being the “between a rock and a hard place” of my birth. I was fully dilated and my water had broken. There was nothing left to be done at that point but to push a baby out. Contractions were non-stop. I asked my mom to come pray for me. I talked to the baby. I called for David. Claudette popped by to check on me and I said “Don’t give up on me! I’m going to have this baby and I DO NOT want to go to the hospital.” She smiled said “I know you can do it!” I knew that there was nothing even a hospital would have been able to do for me at that point! My sister came in and gave me a pep talk. She said “You can do this, your body is doing exactly what it is supposed to. This is your first baby, and it is going to take some time for it to come down the birth canal.” I needed that vote of confidence. I made up my mind to try some more.
4:00 pm: I moved into the bedroom. My sister suggested that I kneel on the floor next to the bed. David sat on the bed and I held on to his hands. Suddenly, a miracle happened! My body was ready to push. I could feel a baby moving down! It was a pressure down low and a weird sensation in my pelvis, like bones moving apart. (I actually learned later that squatting or kneeling during birth can open up the pelvic area by up to 30%). The realization came to me of “how” to push. I told the midwives “The baby is coming!” Then, I imagined myself as a mama bear. I looked at David and thought “Well, we got ourselves into this. It is up to me to get us out, and there is only one way to do it.” I didn’t care what happened or what I looked like after that, I only cared that a baby came out. The world could have been spiraling down into an apocalypse around my house and I wouldn’t have known or cared. I don’t even remember any painful sensations at this point. I was just hot! (My sister reports she was vigorously fanning me with the lid of a plastic tub.) The midwives in their infinite wisdom gave me a shot of B vitamins in my hip. It was exactly what I needed! I got an awesome surge of energy to push the baby’s head out.
4:53 pm: The baby’s head was born. At that moment, I thought “The rest of the body will slide right out by itself!” It did not, but Claudette was already down on the ground beside me. She said “One, two three, PUSH!” I pushed with all the strength I had left and Claudette pulled her out. Being the wiggly child that she is, she not only had her hand up next to her face as she descended, but she also had managed to get the cord wrapped around her middle. Now that we know Michaiah and how active (and dramatic) she is, we have to laugh. Claudette patted her and gave her some oxygen and she began screaming her lungs out. She handed the baby to me and I asked “What is it?” She said “It’s a baby!” As promised, I got to be the first person to hold her and announce her gender. A girl! We named her “Michaiah” which is Hebrew for “Who is like the Lord?” After this, I was on the high of a lifetime. They wrapped her in a hot towel while she was in my arms. She was bawling her little head off. I was moved to the bed where able to cradle her for as long as I wanted without anyone taking her away from me. Everyone was ushered out of the room, and David and I had private bonding time all alone with our baby. It felt like a few minutes, but it was actually a whole hour.
After the cord was cut the midwives washed her off and weighed and measured her right there on my bed. She was perfect. 7 pounds, 5 ounces. I had a minor tear which Claudette sewed up. I was brought herbal teas to drink, a protein shake, and a plate of food. It was the most surreal day of my life. My sister noticed that Michaiah was rooting around like she wanted to nurse. Immediately she latched on!
In a couple of days, Claudette came back to my house to check on me. I healed up in record time after birth with the comfort of herbal remedies and without the use of medications. I was totally ecstatic for days. Both David and I were so happy with our home birth experience. There was no fear or trauma. My needs and wants were respected. Never at any point was I “told” what to do. Even with the delay between dilation and pushing, everyone around me remained positive, believed in my body, and supported me. I knew I could do it and I am so thankful that I had a midwife and a birth team who believed right along with me.
If you are interested in home birth (or natural birth) for yourself, here are the resources I highly recommend:
The Business of Being Born (film available on the website, at the library or on Netflix)
More Business of Being Born (the sequel)
Pregnant in America (film on Amazon Prime or Netflix)