Last summer, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with our 3rd baby. We were floored at first (hadn't planned on having more children), but then, not only did we warm up to the idea, we started to get excited. Our first child was born at a local hospital and our second was a homebirth with the assistance of a midwife.
From a husband's perspective, the hospital was cold, contrived, mechanical and impersonal. I drove my wife to the hospital in the afternoon and the moment they put her in a wheelchair (talk about making someone feel powerless) she threw up. The hospital room was nice and the nurse let us know quickly that she had 26 years of experience. When they “checked” Heather, they were surprised at how dilated she was and scolded me for not having driven her to the hospital sooner. (Had I put my wife's life in danger?) So now we both felt more anxious. Immediately the nurse started having Heather push . . . even though she had NO urge to push. Of course, she was lying supine on the bed, the most unnatural position for giving birth. Apparently the nurse didn't know about gravity and at that time, we figured she knew best. After a few hours, Heather was exhausted and dehydrated. Resident doctors walked in and out inspecting my wife. Unfortunately Heather's OBGYN was not available. She became more and more fatigued. I got worried. Was it suppose to be like this? What was she doing wrong? What should I be doing? Late in the evening they offered her an epidural and we both felt like that was for the best. The anesthesiologist performed the epidural then proceeded to fall asleep by the window. Long story short, and an episiotomy later, our son was born. Heather and I were both crying. We were relieved and overjoyed.
When Heather became pregnant with our second child, she began reading books about homebirth and decided to work with a midwife. We learned that vomiting in labor can be a sign of good progress, that 10 cm dilation is not a magic number, and it's all about the woman letting her body lead and feeling when it's time to push. Her body knows best.
Fast-forward to the day my second child was born. The midwife arrived with two assistants. They monitored her closely but were there mainly for support. It was like watching a homebirth video. Everything seemed to go smoothly. After our son was born, I'll never forget when Heather said, “I did it. I did it myself.” I smiled and cried. She had felted nurtured, warm, comforted, secure, confident and empowered. Unfortunately our son had some breathing issues and the midwife made an executive decision to call an ambulance. I clearly remember two things: the EMT accidentally kicked over the bowl of placenta, and he couldn't figure out how to strap the car seat to the gurney. One of the midwife assistants came with me, and we waited in the back of the ambulance for a long time. Finally we were off to the hospital. The midwife assistant was extremely competent and gave the paramedics all the necessary information. When we arrived at the hospital, she repeated the info and stayed with us while my son was put into an incubator. Unfortunately I also remember how condescending the doctors and nurses were to the midwife assistant. They spoke to her and looked at her like she was some kind of witch doctor. In reality, she was in the process of getting her second PhD. Soon after arrival, my son's breathing and body temperature normalized. They found nothing wrong, thank goodness. After the first day, I asked when we could take my son home. They said it was “policy” for him to stay another day. My son is worth everything to me, but “policy” did not justify another $5000 to the hospital. People often ask me about the second homebirth and if we'd do it again. Yes. Being able to go to the hospital when your midwife detects - or suspects - any risk is what makes homebirth a safe option.
With Heather's third pregnancy, we learned that our previous midwife was no longer in the area. So I searched online for another midwife. I checked out various websites and eventually found Community Midwives. Ingrid Andersson's website was informative and totally transparent. It answered all of my questions, from birth experiences to fees. We set up our first appointment and immediately hit it off. Her demeanor was relaxed and calm. When we had questions or concerns, she validated us and gave thorough, educated answers. Her midwife assistant, Rachel Tybor, also attended the appointments. You could feel her positive energy and how much she cares. We also brought our second child to many of the appointments. He enjoyed playing in the kids' play room adjacent to Ingrid's office/meeting room.
On Saturday March 9 the excitement began. Heather had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a couple weeks, but that night they became stronger and longer. We were watching the movie The Black Stallion, and she later told me that during labor she thought about the horse's breathing and running. (I'm a personal trainer with a degree in biology and always find it interesting what we focus on.) Around 11pm, I called Ingrid to check in. I let her know how long and hard the contractions were. If I recall, she called a couple more times and eventually drove over with Rachel around 1am. At this point in the story, friends will often ask what Ingrid and Rachel bring with them, if anything. My answer is they bring years of experience and a couple bags of medical supplies. Heather labored in our bedroom and bathroom while our two sons slept in their bedroom. Around 3am things were getting louder. My 5-year-old son woke up, looked at me and asked “Dad, what is Ingrid doing here?” I told him that mom was having the baby. My other son followed behind him and was so excited. They ran downstairs and asked if they could play with their Legos and eat cereal, and that's what they did until the baby was born. The baby looked great and Heather did awesome. Ingrid and Rachel continued to monitor Heather and the baby until they were satisfied both were thriving and the baby was breastfeeding well. Before they left the house, I made them espressos for the road, as they were soon off to another birth. The following day, they came back for a follow-up visit. As I write this, they have come back twice and we have been in communication via email/phone. I could not be happier with Ingrid and Rachel. They are competent, caring, educated, organized and passionate about what they do.
I like to see people's reactions when I tell them that Heather gave birth at home . . . in our bedroom. The first concern most people have is, "Is it safe?" Humans have been having babies for a loooong time, and births in hospitals is a new idea. Friends call Heather a pioneer woman and I love it.
Today (January 30) the dear little child who first made me a mama is turning five! I've been so daunted by this threshold. It is an age when a lot of my own difficulties began, and also I sense my baby moving away from me (as she's supposed to). It is a powerful, poignant time. I want to honor Mayana by sharing her birth story.
So one cold, cloudy afternoon, I drove in to Madison listening to Thich Nhat Hahn's soothing voice. I tried to calm my jittery self, tried not to worry about the intensifying Braxton–Hicks contractions or the unfamiliar energy rising through me. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, a gush of fluid soaked my tights. Deciding my baby's head had pushed on my bladder and made me pee, I simply got back in the car and drove home to change before my appointment with Ingrid. I'd already been intending to tell her how terrified I was - labor might begin and I wouldn't know it until it was too late for her to drive out to my country home...my quirky body was surely not able to birth an actual baby, I probably wasn't up for this birth thing after all.....
When Jeff asked me why I'd come home so quickly, I started to explain and just sobbed. He calmly asked, “Um, don't you think your water may have broken?” I thought he was crazy, but he convinced me at least to call Ingrid, and tell her I'd be late. When I heard her voice, I wept, finally knowing I stood on the edge of my life with no choice but to leap into darkness.
I wasn't laboring yet, so Ingrid wasn't rushing over. She spoke the most transformative words I'd ever heard. She told me she'd check in with me every hour or so, but that she had complete confidence in me being alone because she knew I was in tune with my body and aware of what was going on. Magically, her observation pulled my own strengths and wisdom up out of the muck of my habitual self–doubt. By seeing and trusting in my intuitiveness, she helped me relax into the non–linear, non–intellectual realm of labor. I had an inkling that my decision to birth at home was a prayer to cultivate faith in my body and in life itself. Growing up trying to escape my body and hide the effects of my spina bifida, I felt crushed by the fear, shame, and doubt I carried. Some subterranean part of me knew that conscious birth offered a way to release all that weight, a way to contact and fly with the beauty and power which are every woman's birthright. Finally, I fully inhabited my body.
As snow began to fall, Jeff and I took a slow walk up our long driveway, pausing every few minutes for a contraction. When we stopped by the spring, I told the water that the next time we saw each other my baby would be in my arms.
Jeff cooked me some nutritious food, which I slowly ate, determined to have energy for the work ahead. I felt devastated when I threw it all up, not knowing that's a common sign labor is intensifying. We went to bed, determined to get some rest before the work ahead. By then, I was too caught up in the maelstrom of labor to worry I wasn't resting as I walked around every few minutes instead of sleeping.
Around 10pm or so, friends bearing cookies and offering massages started arriving. I wanted to sway alone by the wood stove, the fire's heat caressing my belly. Suddenly Ingrid was at my side, affirming that my water had indeed broken and in fact I was 7 cm. dilated. Kate (Ingrid's assistant) arrived sometime in the middle of the night. I remember looking up from where I'd draped myself over the side of the birth pool, smiling in her warmth, and just feeling so grateful that all these kind people had come to visit.
I'd wanted to give birth in the water, so I stayed in the tub as long as I could while my friends Jodi and Qui'tas sang me songs about flowers opening and sweet surrender. But the heat made me weak and sleepy, so I got out. The cool air perked me right up. I looked into the eyes of my friend whose daughter was born at home on my golden birthday. I could no longer speak, but needed to know if I could do this. Her eyes understood and responded with loving certainty.
Soon after that – o.k., let's be honest: I have no idea what was soon or drawn out, what was next or before or after. I know at some point Ingrid pronounced me complete, and I was so delighted finally to be recognized as such. I had no idea she was talking about my cervix. She told me I could push whenever I felt ready. I just felt like sleeping. Eventually there was nothing to do but flow with that phenomenal river and its current.
I was listening just yesterday to Alice Walker speaking of the bliss of coming to understand your life and feeling your heart break wide open, and the shock of finding that the heart also closes afterward. This is the way of humans, though, and it's alright, it's part of the spirit's path. I was reminded of Mayana's birth, the way I pushed, and pushed so that her head was beginning to emerge--and then she slipped back in. I was crushed, thinking I had to do all that work over again, being reminded of my doubt I could birth her anyway. But Ingrid encouraged me calmly. I hadn't shut down after all...and opened again. Soon enough (2–1/2 hrs later) my slippery little child was lying on my belly. At 8:38 in the morning the snow abated, the clouds parted for just a moment, and beautiful golden light poured over Mayana's fresh skin. My memory of the birth scene is of peacefulness and this lovely silent light. My memory includes the pain and arduous work, but not their sharpness. My memory is shaped by the love and gratitude deepening in my heart these five years.
Transformation Upon Transformation
Pregnancy renders me earth and water,
a canyon pulsing with torrents,
reminding me of my daughter’s birth —
the sun pushing through woolen clouds
to illumine her violet body
seeping like springwater
through the earth she opened,
both of us crying
as we burst through the membranes
between the worlds.
She flits from me now,
a toddler becoming a child,
singing and stringing new words
on filaments of light she weaves
around her like a chrysalis,
showing me what lifecanbe.
— Lailah —
Thursday was a beautiful day.
We headed out for a long bike ride to Lakefarm Park (the site of our marriage party) along the Capitol City Trail. I was excited to explore this new route from our new home and felt excited to be on my bicycle thinking about this new being growing inside of me… We arrived at the park, walked for a while, and sat down with a picnic blanket. I read Harry Potter to Brian as we enjoyed the sunshine, warmth, quiet, and serenity of nature. After a couple of hours we headed back to our bicycles and rode directly downtown and had a lovely dinner. We then went for a lovely walk, stopped at a café, and biked back home.
I woke up the next morning with what felt like menstrual cramps and when I went to the bathroom there was some bloody show. I had remembered from my sister’s experience that this was a sign of early labor.
Despite the rain, Brian and I headed out for a walk and I noticed that the “menstrual cramps” were now coming and going. On our walk I had to stop when the cramps came and Brian was wonderful at sticking with me. At that time the thought hadn’t occurred to me that this could actually be labor. I hadn’t experienced the Braxton–Hicks contractions yet so I thought I still had time.
We had a lovely walk. We explored territory we hadn’t been in before in our new neighborhood and enjoyed the smell of luscious white flowers on nearby trees. Brian even picked some and brought them home for my bedside.
Shortly after we arrived home the “menstrual cramps” were happening more frequently and got more uncomfortable. I got the birthing ball out and rolled on it when the pains came on. Brian suggested we have lunch at this time but I told him I had no appetite. We started to realize that this could be the real thing! Both of us got into our OKAY, LET’S GET DONE WHAT NEEDS TO GET DONE HERE mode! I wanted to accomplish a few things in my office and Brian was doing his own organizing.
I made a business call to Seattle and had one of the pains toward the end of the conversation. I told the woman there was a possibility that I might be in labor and thought to myself that it had been sort of crazy to make the call in the first place. I also wrote up a lease for a future tenant because that was something that NEEDED to be accomplished (or at least at the time it felt like it needed to be). A friend also called. We had a nice talk although I didn’t really hear the last part of what she said during one of the pains. By the time I closed my office door behind me the pains were getting more intense. Brian and I decided we needed to set up the pool to have it in time if this indeed was the real thing. This created a tense situation because by this point I needed to crawl down on the floor when the pains came up and Brian wanted to be with me, but he was also committed to getting the pool set up.
We were alone at this point. We called Ingrid and she suggested that we start timing the pains. She said she’d come over when we simply wanted her with us or when the pains came about every 5 minutes for about a minute each time. The pains quickly worked their way up to this. Brian called Ingrid back shortly to report that indeed they were that close together and lasted for that long. Ingrid said she’d be over soon.
Brian had also called his friend Tom to come over and help him with the pool. (We planned on Tom primarily assisting Brian during the birth). I made my way upstairs with Brian and managed to squeeze in a shower, which felt really good before the pain got too bad.
When Ingrid arrived the “contractions” (I could call them this by this time) were feeling pretty intense to the point where I was really vocal and had to get down on my hands and knees when they came up. Ingrid wanted to do an internal exam so I made my way up on the bed in between contractions. She reported that I was close to 8 centimeters dilated and that I was in advanced labor. I was pleased to hear that she was staying, and I accepted the fact that this was the real thing! I labored for a while up in the bedroom on the floor. I asked for the big green pillow, which helped support me when I got down on my hands and knees on the hard wood floor.
By this point I could feel myself turning more inward and going further away into my own world. I also had no sense of time throughout the rest of my labor. The pains came on harder, stronger, and were getting more frequent. It felt like a tidal wave was rolling through me. From this point on my memory is vague. I remember hearing the voices of my other two support people (a friend and a doula) who were to be at the birth, although I wasn’t sure when they showed up. I was so inward at the time though that I didn’t make any kind of outward connection with them, although I was comforted to know they were there. Brian was right by my side the whole time, too. I couldn’t imagine now having done it without him!
I made my way downstairs and into the pool. The warm water did offer some relief but I was still screaming and acting with animal-like instincts as my body jerked in all kinds of wild positions. I remember thinking that what was so hard about it was that no matter how I moved or what I did there was absolutely no way to control the pain. There were a few moments when I didn’t know if I could go any further, but deep down inside there was no doubt that I could do it! I kept screaming out, “It hurts so bad” and “How much longer do I need to do this?” Despite the pain, I remember thinking that I could definitely do this! I was especially confident when Ingrid listened to the baby’s heartbeat, and each time it was really strong. She kept reminding me that I was laboring beautifully and that there were no foreseen problems. She said my body was working beautifully to deliver this baby, and I believed her.
With the help of my support people (by this time a nurse-midwife assistant by the name of Cathy also came), I made my way to the bathroom very slowly with intense contractions the whole time. Before getting back in the pool, Ingrid did another internal exam. She said I was all the way dilated and whenever I wanted to start pushing I could. I managed to make my way back into the tub and I remember the warm water providing at least some relief.
Brian lay under me in the pool and did a dance with me. As I moved, so did he. As I groaned, he echoed my sound. I knew how completely connected we were throughout the labor and delivery.
By this point I wanted this baby OUT of me! Do you remember ever having to make a really big bowel movement but there was no bathroom in sight? The feeling of waiting is extremely uncomfortable, isn’t it? It felt like this to me but about 100 times magnified. And it only got MORE intense as it moved further down.
I labored the whole time with my eyes closed. The stimulation I was experiencing within felt like too much to me to open my eyes. Even though I knew the support people were around me, I didn’t see them and I didn’t hear them (I had requested that everyone be quiet), but I couldn’t have done it without them, especially Brian.
By the time I was pushing I at least felt more active, which was empowering. I felt like this was actually going somewhere and there was a reason I was doing this. It was by far the most incredible pain I’ve ever experienced though! At one point I asked Ingrid, “Can’t you just pull the baby out?” Her response was, “I’m sorry Kimberly, but the baby doesn’t have handles.” (I later realized how funny this was, but at the time I certainly didn’t laugh.)
Well, I pushed for less than an hour and her head emerged with the body passing through shortly there after. Wow! It’s so hard to describe in words. A baby had been born, at home, under water, completely naturally, with people around me who I love and completely trusted.
My one real regret of the birth is that I didn’t open my eyes. Even though I had a sense that the baby was coming out, the pain was so intense I was numb to what was actually going on. If I had my eyes open I may have been more aware of Lea’s arrival. Nonetheless, there she was! This tiny body lying on my chest! She cried right out of the womb, her skin was bright pink right away, and she couldn’t have been more perfect! I think we were all in such amazement simply with a newborn baby that it wasn’t until about 10 minutes later that I said “We don’t know her sex”, as I lifted her off my chest. I was SHOCKED! I had convinced myself it was going to be a boy. My intuition was so strong. (I had also thought that “Junior” would come right around my due date or late, so it was a real surprise when labor began 9 days before my anticipated due date.)
After Lea was born, we lay together in the tub and laughed, cried, and ooooo’ed and ahhhh’ed over our brand new miracle! We held her close and told her how absolutely perfect she was in every way! She made her way to my breast shortly after she was born. I absolutely loved that, even though it took a little while to get used to each other, and for Lea to latch on properly.
It was a while before we got out of the tub and I continued to hold Lea as we were wrapped together in towels and blankets. A turkey sandwich was brought down to me and boy, did it taste good! We hung out for a while — ate, talked, and continued to be amazed at our angel’s presence.
I noticed that my body hurt all over, but that didn’t seem to matter. I had a hard time walking but managed to make my way up the stairs and into bed with my new family.
By far, Lea’s birth was the most intense experience of my life. I’d also say the best. And now I have the rest of my life to watch this incredible being that we created grow and develop into her own person in the world….
Some important notes about Lea's birth:
Time of Birth: 6:53pm
Length of pushing: 53 minutes
Time of rupture of membranes: 4:55pm
Baby’s position at birth: occiput anterior
1-minute apgar score: 10
5-minute apgar score: 10
Baby’s weight: 6 lbs, 5 oz
Baby’s length: 18 inches
Baby’s head circumference: 33 cm
Time of first breastfeeding: 7:20pm
Bryan and Keegan were in NYC for the weekend and on Saturday night I went to the movies to see Let The Right One In. As I was watching the movie I started to have random contractions that would come and go and last a few seconds. I called Ingrid after the movie and she suggested going home, taking a bath, and drinking a little wine to relax, and then go to bed. It was three weeks before my due date so that is what I did and the contractions subsided. Sunday I felt fine and I went to work that night. I got home from work around 12:45 AM. Bryan and Keegan had returned home about 30 minutes earlier. Bryan and I went to bed around 2:30AM and at 5 AM I was awoken by contractions. I took a bath and drank a little wine again but that did not work. My contractions started getting closer together and lasting longer and becoming more intense. I called Ingrid and she said she would be on her way over soon. By 9 AM, my contractions were very intense and painful and lasting over a minute and happening every 2-3 minutes. I sent Bryan to the store to get ingredients for chocolate chip pancakes and Keegan (our 2 ½ year old son) helped me at home during my contractions. He rubbed my back and asked if I needed a Band-Aid. Ingrid and Emma (and her baby, Marianna) arrived around 10-10:30 AM. As I was working through my contractions with Bryan, Ingrid and Emma set the birthing tub up in the living room and entertained Keegan. My water broke around 11:45 AM and then I got into the tub with Bryan and Keegan. Keegan ran around in the tub and had a fun time. I started to push around 12:20 PM and soon after that the contractions started to really come one on top of the other. I had no breaks in between and they were extremely intense so I pushed for 15 minutes and Kevin was born at 12:37 PM. Keegan then asked Bryan to clean my blood out of the tub and he told me he’d give Kevin a kiss after he was cleaned up. Bryan made us all delicious chocolate chip pancakes after.
Since Kevin was three weeks early, he was quite small. He weighed 4 lbs,15 oz. He is the smallest baby that Ingrid has ever delivered at home. Other than his small size, he was perfectly healthy. Because of his size, I breastfed him but also supplemented with donated breast milk until my own came in. After breastfeeding him, I would syringe feed him so he would get the maximum amount of milk (nursing tires out the jaw so he would still eat a lot more after nursing since the syringe was a lot easier to suck milk out of). Ingrid left a scale with us so we could weigh him everyday and track his progress. He was up to 5 lbs 5 oz at 8 days old. She encouraged lots and lots of skin-to-skin contact with him to keep his body temperature up those first few days and we followed her advice and his temperature was always right in range of where it should be. He is now 2 months old and is already more than doubled his weight.
When we tell people how Kevin was born a little early and only weighed about 5 lbs, they often ask how long he was in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. We tell them we had him at home and he never saw a doctor until he was 1 week old and that was just to meet his pediatrician and check in to make sure all was well (which it was). I am so glad we had him at home and were able to avoid all of that hoopla at the hospital where they would have probably separated him from me at times and would have wanted to run a bunch of unnecessary tests on him. We plan on having our next child with Ingrid at home as well.
After having our first son with a midwife at a birth center and having our second son at home, I highly recommend giving birth at home. Our experience at the birth center was wonderful as well, but when you have your baby at home, you can avoid that car ride over while you are in painful active labor. Who wants to get into a car and go for a ride at that point? All I wanted to do was get on my hands and knees. After having the baby, it’s great to just stay where you are at home and relax and recover. It’s a wonderful calm and natural environment and it’s nice if you have small children that want to be a part of the birthing process.
I started laboring once everyone was sleeping. It was around 10pm. At 11:30pm, I called Alla (my neighbor and doula). I was tired, shaky and scared. Alla gave me some rescue remedy and valerian. I climbed into my bath tub, and she told me how strong and capable I am. (The rescue remedy helped a lot. I took it all through my labor.) Shortly after I got out of the tub Sarai (my youngest) woke up. I needed someone to rub my back, I was feeling very anxious. JB (my husband) rubbed my back, while Alla hung out with Sarai and settled her back to sleep. I slept until around 1:30am. Everyone was sleeping.
My contractions were getting stronger, and I knew I was having a baby soon. I was still anxious about my strength though. I called Ingrid, and she said I should get out of the bath tub and start walking. I knew she was right, but I was scared. I told Ingrid I needed her to come, and I called Alla again. I prepared myself to get started laboring.
Alla came down and helped me out of the tub. I woke JB and asked him to set up the tub. I walked for about an hour. My contractions got stronger. Ingrid arrived around 2 or 2:30am (it's kind of a blur). I was lying in child's pose now, starting to feel tired again. I took some ginseng. I don't remember when. But I took it a few times throughout the labor. I also sipped raspberry and squawvine tea. I drank a lot of water and tea. I was soooooooooooooo thirsty through the labor.
Ingrid reminded me that gravity would help the baby's head come down, and I might want to be upright. Around this time she checked me. I was 9 cm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I knew I could do it now. Just hearing that gave me a big boost of confidence. The contractions did not feel as overwhelming as I remembered them with Sarai, when I had been at 8–9 cm.
So now I sat on my birthing ball. I bounced and talked. I had some back labor, I got in the shower and sat on my ball. When the water started to make me sleepy, I got out. I lay in child's pose again. There was some talk of maybe not using the tub. I waited a while and knew I needed to be in the water.
Kim (Ingrid's assistant) arrived. She helped prepare the blankets and fill the tub. I remember asking for JB, and Alla took over helping with the tub The contractions were at the point now where all you can do is surrender your body to them. Nothing "helps" but total relaxation and succumbing to them. It felt good inside to give in to them. To let them have me, so to speak. Inside I felt quietly proud of myself.
I got in the water. JB held my hand, rubbed my back, and everyone poured water over me. I reached inside and could feel my water bag, but I could not feel the baby's head. I didn't want to rupture the sac. It wasn't quite time to start pushing. I think I got out of the tub maybe a couple times and got back in. Now everything is really a blur, but I know in a short time I decided to start pushing. My contractions were just on the verge of pushing contractions, so I gently started to push with them.
A few minutes and the water broke. I could feel his head coming down. I was yelling, “O my god this hurts!” With my other two births the pushing stage had not been painful.
I was very aware of his head descending. Ingrid reminded me that nothing would feel good now, until he was out. She was right. I decided to go with it. I started to pound the wall in front of me and curse and yell. It felt GOOD.... I had been so quiet with my other two births. Oh, it felt good to scream.
I was pushing harder now. With each push I could feel him get closer to his entry into the world. I reached down and supported my perineum with my hands. A few more pushes, and his head was out. With the next big contraction I pushed the rest of his body out. At 4:58am my baby boy was born.
I was gasping. I DID IT. My back was to everyone, so everyone else had seen him first. I heard JB mutter, in quiet excitement and wonder, “It's a little boy.” Ooohhh!, I thought. I was excited to have a son. I remember rubbing him and trying to stimulate him. I kept asking if he was ok, if he was breathing. Ingrid told me he was fine, to just keep talking to him and stimulating him. I did. His face was blue. Ingrid said it was bruising, because he came so quickly.
I rested for a few minutes in the tub. And then while dad held his new baby, I got on the futon and was shaky all over. I couldn't stop shaking. Ingrid immediately went to work on my uterus. She must have pushed about 5 or 6 clots out. It hurt so bad, but I am thankful for it now. Ingrid and Kim helped us to the bedroom.
I should add that Sarai had woken up while I was pushing, and Alla held her. Zakia awoke very soon after. Sarai walked up to the tub, and said, “Baby” and rubbed his head. Zakia came in a little cranky, and I remember seeing the expression on her face change immediately, once she was told that her baby brother had just been born. “But mommy,” she said to me, “I didn't get to see him come out.” I wish she had seen it also.
The new family piled into bed. As Ingrid did the newborn exam, Kim made me breakfast. We cuddled, and mommy went to sleep soon thereafter. When I awoke, there was no sign that there had been a birth in the house — except for the baby in my arms!! The room that was previously covered with plastic and towels and candles and a birthing tub was completely cleaned up, and it was quiet. A friend came over that morning and played with the girls and made snacks, while mom and dad and babe slept. It was a beautiful birth and experience. Our family is very grateful to have had such loving women at our birth.
Ultimately, my son didn't come to us at home as we'd hoped. And I did have to face up to my worst fear to get him here. Our story isn't a cautionary tale. Rather, it is a lesson and a reminder that birth is a wild, unpredictable thing, like any creative act. And sometimes, you have to be willing to go where it takes you, even if that is to a place you had hoped to avoid.
My pregnancy was relatively carefree, and I was sure that I would have a dream homebirth. I had made all the "right" moves, I believed in my body, and I was sure that's all it took to avoid hospital interventions or, my worst fear, a c-section. I actually believed I could will myself into having a “perfect” birth. Life was poised to teach me otherwise.
My water broke May 23 in the wee hours while I was reading in bed wondering if this kid would EVER come. I was about 10 days “overdue” at that point. We called Ingrid, who advised we just go back to bed since contractions hadn't begun.
The next morning, Ingrid called us while walking her son to school, and we made plans for her to come over and check up on me. She arrived, and I was so excited for her to be there. She checked me over and listened for the babe, then left since labor was still not starting. It was that night that things really got going.
Over the course of the next three days, labor would get going, contractions would get really close together, then suddenly things would stall out. This just kept being our labor pattern. We tried it all. Castor oil, all kinds of laboring positions, nipple stimulation, walking around the block. At one point, Ingrid had me running up the back stairs two at a time during a contraction to try to get them to come closer together.
I had so many moments of self-doubt. I couldn't understand why labor kept stalling out. I kept blaming myself and apologizing to everyone. Ingrid and her student midwives were wonderful. They labored with us every step of the way, reassuring me, standing by me. I don't know how they managed to stay by our side for so very long. I kept thinking, 'They haven't slept or gone home in what? Hours? Days?' But it didn't seem to matter. They said they would be with my during my birth, whatever it looked like, and when the time came, that is exactly what they did. I remember thinking, 'If we split out what I paid these people by how many hours they've been with me, there is no way they are making even close to minimum wage!'
Ingrid and her students attended to me not just physically, but emotionally, embracing me as an entire person. At one point we had a long talk about my parents, how the shadow of their disapproval was too long and had too much influence over my new family. They encouraged me to let go of the past and embrace my present.
An early blow in labor was that I had studied a hypnosis-based method, and it didn't end up working for me at all. I was unable to deal with the pain of contractions for the first day or so, and felt wild and desperate when they came on. My husband saw me through all that. He would tell me to stare at his eyes every time one came on, and would repeat to me how much he loved me, and how proud he was of me and the baby, while I moaned my way through each one.
We labored at home this way for a long long time. By the 60 hour mark or so, contractions were still nearly 10 minutes apart, but lasted so so long — nearly 4 minutes long each. We began to talk about a hospital transfer. It seemed clear that there was something more we needed to know that was going on here. I was heartbroken and didn't want to go. But Ingrid and her students talked to me about the difference between pain with a purpose and cruelty. I remember them saying, “Ann, at this point, you're coming up on three days of labor, and we've done all we can to get this baby out. At this point, this is feeling cruel. We must do something different.”
Off to the hospital we went at midnight. I had a contraction on the street corner in my husband's arms. I remember being grateful it was the middle of the night so that there were no passersby to see me moaning and groaning in his ear.
The birth ended in a c-section. To make a long story short, we discovered several things at the hospital. First, that our baby had his head turned to the side and was OP. This in and of itself, our Ingrid said, wouldn't prevent a homebirth necessarily, but it would make it harder for baby to come out. He also had the cord wrapped around his neck several times. Our thinking is that the combination of these two things made it such that our babe wouldn't have been able to shoot out of the birth canal fast enough to NOT choke on his cords. Ingrid said typically one of these problems alone isn't a big deal, but together, they make it difficult for babes to find their way out.
My body and the baby somehow knew this. That's why labor would get going then suddenly back off. It's as though our baby knew oh....this isn't going to work, time to slow it down, slow it down. At the hospital, they tried giving us a little pitocin, and each time, baby's heart rate decelerated alarmingly.
Ingrid and her students never left my side at the hospital. I have a photo of me lying in the hospital bed, tearful, the very last place I ever wanted to be. But I am surrounded by my husband, our doula, and Ingrid and her students. It is like a fortress of love that followed us wherever we needed to go for this birth.
Once we were in the OR, I was very scared. The doctors initially only wanted to allow one person in there with me. I was devastated because I couldn't imagine my husband going off with our baby while I would be left alone, with no support, while they attended to our child. One of Ingrid's students stood up to a very intimidating anesthesiologist and finally got our doula access to the OR too. I don't know what I would've done without her there.
I was scared in the OR, not to mention exhausted and bewildered. But the moment my baby was out in the world was absolutely magical. I remember my husband cried out, “It's a boy! It's our Desmond!!” (That was the boy name we had chosen.) We were both sobbing harder than we ever have in our lives. He was pink and crying lustily. Our doula was crying and texting. I asked her who she was talking to, and she said that Ingrid and her students were very anxiously waiting for news in the waiting room. I remember thinking, 'My god. They are still here, waiting, after all this time. This isn't just my birth, this has become a group effort. This baby belongs to this whole team.'
Ingrid met us in the recovery room and helped me position Desmond so I could get a good start with breastfeeding. She hugged me and was telling me she was proud of me, that I had worked so hard to get this child here. I was crying from relief, from joy, from exhaustion. I remember, more than anything, feeling Ingrid's long blond hair brush on my shoulder as she embraced me. It felt as warm and comforting as any blanket.
For days after the birth I was mourning the loss of my homebirth while at the same time lovin' all over my baby boy. I think there is a space where you can feel the greatest joy you've ever felt, while still honoring the sense of loss you feel over the loss of a cherished dream - a vaginal delivery and a homebirth.
Ingrid was so sensitive to my heartbreak. She came to our house for postpartum checkups, and spent time with me, patiently talking through the birth, discussing why it went as it did, helping me process it. She had endless compassion. Though my own personal journey of healing would take a long time, I believe Ingrid was key in helping me make a start of that journey.
Desmond and I did a beautiful dance together for three days. We labored together, and he experienced the physical benefit of that labor. He had great lungs when he was born and was healthy. It wasn't for nothing. But Ingrid says that babies talk to us, even in utero, in many different ways. And I believe that Desmond was telling us all that time, “Mom, I can't come to you. I need you to please come and pick me up.”
And so we did.
And when we announced our birth to friends and family, this is what we wrote: Desmond Philip O'Neill had his mom and dad come pick him up on May 26 at 8:27 am. He was glad to be welcomed into a wide circle of loving arms.
Michelle's HBAC story
I'm happy to report that our lovely girl arrived at home, as I had so hoped she would, on a rainy Wednesday. It was a very different experience than I had with Kei and also very different than I expected.
Contractions started at 6 am on Wednesday, April 25th. They were stronger than I had experienced, but because I had thought I was in labor a week previously, I was reluctant to call it labor. After 4 fairly strong contractions 30 minutes apart, I called my midwife to just check-in. I then had another even stronger one 15 minutes later. I called her again and now being sure I was in labor, she said that it was not uncommon to have contractions 10-15 minutes apart throughout the day and that active labor may not begin until evening. After having such a long labor with Kei, I fully expected it to go on throughout the day. Ha! Ten minutes, then 6 minutes, then 3 minutes…it went fast with each contraction getting closer and stronger. Midwives were called, the birth team was put into action — picking up Kei so he would be present, a friend driving up from Chicago, and midwives arriving. What do I want to share with you about the next few hours? I am such an advocate for natural and home birth, and I remain rooted in that. I hope you can hear that as I tell you what this amazing birth really looked like as it has changed my image of what a “beautiful birth” is all about.
It really… really hurt. However, it hurt due to the fact that I was in transition for over 2 hours, which is not common. I was ready to push but there was a centimeter left — I have a new respect for a centimeter. My body was pushing but because I wasn't fully dilated, I experienced consuming pain that is like nothing I could have imagined. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do but face it. To cope I vocalized a lot and apparently made some pretty impressive and animal-like sounds during this period. I also trusted my body and my midwife, Ingrid, who told me that this was normal and that both baby and I were safe. That was what I tried to focus on throughout this time. Ingrid would check my cervix and eventually she helped it a little by pushing it away gently. That and some more contractions seemed to do the trick. Sweeter words have never been said: “You are fully dilated.” The pain ceased and I was ready to go. The payoff of that labor and transition was that pushing was like… a walk in the park. I would describe it as minor pain at most. I'm sure this was due to the relativity of what I had been experiencing, but nonetheless, I was joyful at how easy it seemed to be.
Now, the other thing that women do not talk about enough is poop. Apparently almost all women will poop during a vaginal birth. It is simply the physiology of a baby passing through the canal. I have watched a lot of home birth videos and they never show the poop, nor have I heard women talk about poop. We gotta talk about the poop so women know that it is okay to just go for it and not feel ashamed. So, yes, I pooped in my bed and that certainly didn't fit my image of a beautiful home birth. Also, my water broke during a strong contraction and it was like a geyser in my bedroom for a minute with my midwives jumping out of the way of this spray (I am not exaggerating). It probably shot up a good 3 feet. Again, not an image I had for my homebirth.
Once the poop was cleared away and I was ready to push, I pushed out her head out in about 5 minutes. I'm not sure how many contractions, as I was just pushing through. But then her little hand started coming out next to her head, which is what caused the obscenely long transition. Her little head was not fully flexed, because her hand was up and keeping her from doing the job of opening that last centimeter of cervix. My midwife had me turn to hands and knees, and after trying to get her arm to go back down, she gently pulled her arm out beside her head, and I pushed out the rest of her for a total of about 15 minutes of pushing. She was a healthy 8lbs. 14oz, 22 inches long and had a head full of black hair. As she was pushed out quickly, there was a lot of mucus remaining in her lungs, but Ingrid held her slightly head-down for a moment, and most of it all ran out so no suction had to be used. She was laid on my chest and all the room was in awe, as was I. It was over, and she was here and healthy.
A quick note on the post-vaginal-birth vagina. Goodness bloody gracious. I did not have sutures but did have some tears and splits and as it turns out, they really hurt. But by one week later, I was feeling much better. Nobody had really prepared me and I wish they had. Have plenty of folks to help you get through two weeks of just sitting and nursing, a good book or two and patience as your body heals.
My beautiful birth. It was not what TV or the movies portray, with perfectly groomed women moaning and cursing those around them. It was also not like birth in "“he Business of Being Born” with slight grunts and a smooth, gentle entry into the world, birds chirping in the background. My girl's birth was painful, messy, bloody, raw and animal-like. I now call this beautiful. My girl had a gentle birth. She didn't experience the pain I experienced or the negative effects of drugs. I did this for her. We all are doing this thing called labor and birth for our babes. That's what it's all about, and I call that beautiful.
A Letter to the Midwife
Well, our precious baby is here and my pregnancy is over. I want to take the opportunity to thank you so much for your involvement in this special time in our family's life. I specifically want to share with you some special moments that Todd and I will always remember.
First, when I interviewed you last summer, I was a little bit nervous. I remember telling you that I would need to bring my daughter with me, if I couldn't find a babysitter. (What I didn't tell you is that Avery went everywhere with me, and I hated leaving her.) I didn't know that bringing her with to appointments would be considered “acceptable.” You were so nonchalant about telling me to bring her along. At the end of our meeting, I remember you were sitting on the stairs nursing your son, and I was sitting in the playroom door nursing Avery. I thought, “This is the woman I want to support me through this pregnancy.”
Since I had previously given birth in the hospital, I was also worried that I would be viewed as too “mainstream” to have a homebirth. I felt very emotional telling you my experience with Avery's birth, since I somehow felt that I deprived her of the birth experience I had hoped for. Your warm, non-judgmental demeanor meant so much to me.
My prenatal visits were always so great. With Avery, I had come to my prenatals armed with all the knowledge about pregnancy from the many books I read. I had felt prepared to defend any decision I made about my pregnancy and future child. And I had looked forward to hearing my doctor say that my measurements were right on, my urine didn't have any protein in it, and that the baby's heartbeat was strong.... I looked forward to my visits with you in a very different way. I came to my appointments relaxed and confidant. I didn't read all the pregnancy books this time around, because I knew that all the knowledge in the world wasn't going to make me trust my body more than I did. I also trusted you as my Midwife. I knew that you had knowledge and expertise and would tell me if there was something I should be concerned about. I allowed myself to relax, trust my body, and accept support and advice from you. When it came to making informed choices, you presented me with excellent and concise written materials to help me make the right choice for my family.
Todd and I looked forward to my visits with you, because they were always so relaxed and pleasant. Todd said to me on more than one occasion, “I just feel so much more relaxed after we leave Ingrid's house,” and I always agreed. I also remember one time after you had checked the baby's position, you forgot to listen to his heart. You looked at me surprised and said something like, “Here I was feeling this connection with the baby and I forgot to check his heart rate.” I was really moved by you saying that you felt a connection with my baby. Of course, I felt a strong connection and love for the baby growing inside me, but the way you said it was as though you had a respect for him. I always loved it when you listened to his heart and would gently say, “Hi baby,” to my belly. I also loved your son's involvement in my visits. My visits with you helped me slow down and enjoy the miracle growing inside me.
The other special thing about our visits was the way you treated Avery in such a special way. Although she won't consciously remember the visits as she grows older, I believe that they still had an impact on her. She still talks about “In-gird” listening to her heart. She also frequently pretends that she is having a baby, and then says, “In-gird, where are you?”
I won't repeat what I already wrote in my birth story, but I did want to share some special memories. One moment that I clearly remember is when I hit transition (and suddenly felt afraid and panicked) and you looked right in my eyes and said something reassuring.... What's funny is that I can't even remember what you said! But I do remember it gave me the strength to enter the pushing stage.
When Drew was born, I will always remember the moment he came out and saying, “Is it a boy or a girl?” and you said, “Oh, I'm not telling, I'll pass the baby up and you can see for yourself.” You gave that moment to me! It is something that I will never forget. Everyone hears, “It's a boy!” or “It's a girl!” I looked down and saw for myself...I have a son!
After Drew was born, it was so wonderful to lie with my family and sit with you and Kim during his newborn checks. Only days after did I realize all the “behind-the-scenes” stuff that you and Kim did, such as completely cleaning me up! I didn't even feel the need to shower until the next day. I also loved that you came to our house for our follow-up visits. I can't tell you how nice it was not to have to leave the house.
Lastly, I wanted to thank you for all your support and words of wisdom while Drew was in the hospital a couple weeks later with RSV. Your support made all the difference to us! I trusted your opinion and expertise and thought of you as a trusted confidant who was looking out for my baby's best interest. I truly believe that you have followed your calling by becoming a Midwife. You have a unique gift and I am so glad you have chosen the path that you did.
I will always be proud that I gave birth to Drew at home. I think about how people are always fascinated to hear the story of their own birth.... I am so glad that I will be able to tell Drew about his peaceful and gentle entrance into the world, surrounded by loved ones!
I feel empowered as a woman to have given birth naturally in my home. His birth also empowered Todd and me as parents and strengthened our love for each other even more. You will always hold a special place in our hearts, Ingrid. I want to sincerely thank you for everything that you have done for our family! We will miss you!!