This is our birth story, as I remember it, of our beautiful homebirth and beautiful son.
Our original due date, according to my cycle, was May 10, 2008. We were given a later due date, May 14, based on an early ultrasound, which we jumped on. I had a feeling this baby would come late and long. It was about the only thing I predicted correctly. When I was 41 weeks, I began acupuncture and after 3 sessions, at around 3pm on Sunday, May 25, I finally started having contractions while at my acupuncturist’s (Momoko’s) apartment receiving a treatment. She called my midwife, Marcy, to give her a heads up, as Momoko had her first baby with Marcy.
After we finished, around 5:30pm, she suggested we go home and get some rest, so of course, we met our friends, AJ, Greg, and Baby Otto for dinner! We had to eat, right? I had contractions throughout dinner and Josh said I should probably let him know about them so he could time them. I didn’t know how strong they had to be to “count”. I let him know about a few. AJ saw a bunch of them too, and she let Josh know (she had her baby 3 weeks earlier).
On the way home, I had a contraction and Josh put his hand on my belly. To which I said, “You don’t have to touch me when I’m having one.” He knew this was the real thing.
We got home around 11pm. We went to bed and I woke up with every contraction. There I was, lying alone in the dark, facing the coming “pain of childbirth” with a sleeping husband. I was scared. At around 1am, I woke up Josh to let him know I couldn’t sleep and that I knew I needed to. We had to slow this thing down so I could sleep. I got in the bath and asked Josh for a glass of wine. I quit drinking over a year ago and he started telling me why I didn’t need the wine. I told him I needed him to just get what I asked for. He knew this was the real thing – again.
I slept for a couple of hours sitting backward on my dining room chair with my head on the table. Seemed to work at the time. Josh slept on the couch. Then I puttered about the apartment, getting my Bradley workbook ready and all the information I thought might help Josh when I was totally out of it. This is not to say that our Bradley class wasn’t an amazing preparation – it was. But we never even looked at all that stuff I pulled out.
In the morning, I had breakfast and called my midwife, Marcy. We were scheduled for a regular appointment at 10am, so I wanted to give her the heads up. My contractions were not too strong at this point, although I was dealing with each one, but I had to stop what I was doing to deal with it. By the time Marcy showed up at 10am, things spaced out to 15 minutes apart, to which she said, “If you want to slow down your labor, just call the midwife to come over!” She checked me and we were happy the contractions I’d been having all night were working. I was now 100% effaced and the baby was at 0 station, but I wasn’t dilated yet. She said I’d do that today. She also wrote me a prescription for Ambien, since I hadn’t slept.
I was unsure. As things were, I wasn’t a fan of waking up to a contraction. I felt like I couldn’t get on top of them. If I took the Ambien, would I be loopy? Would they be even harder to deal with? Marcy said it would take 5 or 6 hours before it would wear off. I called my doula, Elanna, to give her a heads up and ask her advice. She agreed with my concerns and although she’s seen it work well for some women, for others, it can be difficult. She also thought the trip to the drug store to pick it up might speed things up, which might make coping with the Ambien more difficult. I was not ready for Josh to go alone. So, I tried to sleep on my own, waking up in between contractions. By 5pm, my contractions were about 5 minutes apart and I was vocalizing while laboring on my side on the bed. This was supposed to be an ideal position in which to relax, but it made my contractions feel very strong.
Josh called Elanna, and she said she’d be over in a couple of hours. Then he called Marcy, and she said there was no point in taking the Ambien now, and to call if things become more intense and we need her. Who knew when that would be?
Elanna arrived around 8pm and encouraged me to get up and sit on the birth ball. This spaced out my contractions a little bit and made them seem less intense – just the reprieve I needed to eat some scrambled eggs. We continued to labor as my contractions got closer together again. I took a shower somewhere in there. Maybe two. Then I got in the birthing pool while we listened to music. I remember Josh and Elanna struggling to skip the fast songs on the mix on the ipod. They finally settled on Joni Mitchell “Shine”. That album always reminds me of this time in the pool now. I love that album.
I got out of the pool and labored in various places in the apartment. I was becoming more and more exhausted – Josh and I hadn’t slept any decent amount since Saturday night, and it was now early Tuesday morning. I should say that when I remember my labor, I remember the worst part being so tired. Wanting sleep so desperately.
Elanna asked, “What are you saying to yourself during these contractions?” I answered, “I’m counting my breaths. I know when I get to 10 or 11, the contraction starts to get easier.” I must have counted thousands of breaths up to that point. We set some pillows up on the bed and we both slept between contractions. I knew it would be tough waking up to these, but I was desperate. Elanna took some pictures as we slept. When I look at other people’s labor pictures, they are just like mine – sleeping, hanging over the pool, pushing out the baby. Just insert our faces. I’ve been told that all through this, my contractions, although seemingly stronger, were still 5 minutes apart. At one point, they were 4 minutes, then went back to 5 minutes.
At around 2am, Elanna and Josh asked if I could get up and try a few things to get things moving. I wanted this to be over. I was so tired. We did some lunges on the couch. I labored there for a while. I felt weak. Contractions seemed stronger there, but now they seemed stronger everywhere. All the places I went to get relief, the birth ball, the toilet, they all maintained strong contractions now. And I was getting hot during contractions – sweating. Josh came to the rescue with some cool washcloths – heaven! I remember laboring over my couch when Elanna came up to me holding the phone. She said, “It’s Marcy, and she wants to know if you’d like her to come over now.” I didn’t know when midwives were supposed to come over and didn’t want to make her sit around for hours. I asked Elanna what she thought and she said, “I think now is a good time.”
By 3:45am, my midwife had arrived! She checked me and said I was between 4-5cm. Elanna said, “That’s good – 1st half of dilation goes slower and you’re through that.” But I was disappointed. I felt I had been working very hard up until that point, and I was so tired. And I knew I had 5 more cm to go before I could push. And pushing sometimes takes hours!
I was in the bathroom and Marcy came in to talk to me. Only in labor do we have such conversations on the toilet and don’t even think twice about it. She said I was working too hard and needed to relax more. She said, “This is only early active labor and you’ve got a ways to go.” She said I wasn’t drinking or eating enough and she was worried I might be dehydrated soon and she might have to give me an IV. Then she left me to pee. I thought there was no way I could relax any more – the contractions were so strong and breathing was hard work. I knew I still had to go through transition and pushing and couldn’t imagine things getting any harder. At that moment, I started to doubt myself. I never thought I wanted to go to the hospital for drugs, but I thought my midwife might send me there. I didn’t think I would make it.
Although I knew in theory that I would go through a period of “self doubt”, that wasn’t going to happen until transition and I was only 5cm. So, I decided my thinking I wasn’t going to make it was because I actually wasn’t going to make it. It had nothing to do with the emotions of birth. That’s how powerful my self-doubt was, and eventually, how powerfully I overcame it.
I came out of the bathroom and announced that the only way I could relax would be in the pool. I needed permission to get in there and stay there as long as I needed. Marcy said I could if I stayed on my knees and hung over the side. She said this would help the baby move down and help the head to mold. I said I would do whatever she wanted and was so relieved. I got in around 4:30am.
I did as she said and labored over the side of the tub, counting my breaths. I was now counting up to 20, and the breaths were much faster. I slept between contractions and woke up to Elanna holding my hands with every contraction. What a Godsend she was. She sent Josh to the bedroom to sleep, as he even started sleeping through my contractions (which were quite loud at this point). I was relieved to know he was getting some rest and felt good knowing I had Elanna to help me through. (Well, “good” is kind of an overstatement. I felt reassured – let’s say that.) Sometimes, when a contraction began, I’d ask her to tell me I could do this. She’d say, “You are doing this. Your baby is moving down. Just get through this breath, this contraction.” It was just enough to fool me into getting through that one, though I didn’t think I could. How dilated was I now? Maybe 6 cm an hour later? I had no idea. I thought it would still get even harder.
At around 5:30am, Marcy went to move her car. By now, my contractions were so strong and so close together. I was so glad to be in the pool. I couldn’t imagine doing this on dry land. At the end of my contractions, I felt an uncontrollable bearing down – pushing. I told Elanna I thought I was pushing at the end of my contractions. With the next contraction, the bearing down was so powerful, and then I felt a huge relief. It felt like I’d had explosive diarrhea. Elanna said, “Tanya, there’s nothing in the water, you’re fine.” And then I realized – my water broke! I had completely forgotten that was supposed to happen. My eyes opened, and my head cleared. Marcy came back in and checked me. I was now 8cm. At that moment, I felt hope! A tiny light at the end of the path flickered.
I asked Elanna if things would get harder now that my water broke. She said, “Not necessarily. Just take it as it comes.” And with that, having been searching for a bucket with nearly every contraction for 18 hours, I finally threw up with the next contraction. All that coconut water. And I looked up and saw Marcy looking at me like nothing happened. I figured, I must be ok.
Around 7am, Marcy checked me and said I was 9 ½ cm and she would push my cervix out of the way with the next contraction. Didn’t really feel like having my cervix pushed out of the way, and I asked her to please hurry as she was doing it. I asked loudly. But it was mostly just my fear – I don’t remember it hurting more.
And then everything got clear – very still. I had a break. My next contraction was wonderful. Just pushing. No nausea, no cramping, no weakness, just bearing down. Then, another break. This was incredible! Marcy asked if I felt weak and said I looked like I might feel that way. I told her I felt wonderful and wanted to push this baby out! After a few more contractions, Elanna said, “Tanya, reach inside and tell me what you feel.” Nothing. A few more contractions and we did it again. This time, way, way up, I felt a tiny bit of hair! I was ecstatic. By now, I was sitting up against the side of the pool and Josh was behind me, outside the pool, holding me up so I could be upright and pushing. Soon the head was at my fingertips. I made Josh feel.
I started to feel some pressure and some burning, but I was so excited at the prospect of ending the labor and meeting my baby, I put aside my fears. I pushed and I heard Elanna say, “The baby’s crowning – ring of fire.” It burned. I didn’t care. Then she said “The head is out”. I couldn’t believe it! The head was out! And I saw Marcy holding the head, waiting for it to turn.
Then Marcy said, “Ok, I need you to give me one big push.” I asked her to wait a few seconds. It was intense now. And she said, “I need you to push now.” That was the only time I remember ever being directed to do anything in my entire labor. I closed my eyes, turned my head and pushed through my teeth. The shoulders were very tough, the burning more intense, and I felt like I was tearing now but I didn’t care. And with my eyes still closed and my head turned, Marcy said, “Tanya, take your baby.”
I looked up, and my pain, all of it, the burning, the pressure, the nausea, the weakness, it all melted instantly as I took this blue baby, with its arms reaching up as if crossing the finish line. It was 8:36 a.m. The baby was covered in vernix and felt soft and slippery from the water, but was totally clean. Josh was crying, but all I could do was watch this baby, who had one eye open and one closed. It was moving, but blue. I examined this little person and noticed long nails, a beautiful face and chubby arms. After a few minutes, Marcy said, “Don’t you want to know what you got?”
I lifted my arm and saw. We have a boy. To which Josh said, “I was right!” and cried some more. But I couldn’t cry. I was euphoric. Joyous. I felt renewed – reborn myself. Marcy asked if we had a name. “I think his name has to be Milo.” Josh was thrilled, it was the name he picked out.
We sat in the pool for another 15 minutes or so. Then Josh cut the umbilical cord. He says now that, having been through all of that, cutting the cord seemed so totally inconsequential. But he was glad to do it. Josh took Milo and Elanna said, “Oh my God, he looks just like Tanya!” I delivered my placenta. I stood up, gave a little push, and out it came. Absolutely felt like nothing at all, except that my legs felt weak. It was actually a relief to know that I was truly no longer pregnant.
I headed over to the couch to be examined for tears. That hurt, especially since I truly believed I should get a reprieve from all pain down there for the rest of my life. I forgave Marcy when she said I didn’t need any stitches.
Next, it was time to breast feed, which we did. We were both learning at first, but got the hang of it with some patience. Then Marcy did Milo’s exam, right next to me on the couch. He was perfect, 9 lbs and 21 inches long. Beautiful. Josh was still crying now, I’m sure of it, nearly an hour later.
I asked, “Who ARE those women in the Business of Being Born”?? My labor was noisy. They just shut their eyes and birthed their babies! We laughed.
Marcy was bringing me to the bathroom to pee and I nearly fainted on the way. We stopped for some apple juice. I got into the bathroom and sat on the toilet alone and thought, “Wow. That was intense. There were parts I’d like to forget. But I’d totally do it again.” I’ve already forgotten those parts. Marcy and Elanna left about 1 ½ hours after the birth. And there we were, a family.
People say that you cannot describe the pain of childbirth. I think you can. At least for my birth. It was like bad cramps, exhaustion, diarrhea, exhaustion, nausea, flu-like weakness, shaking, and exhaustion. I didn’t want to be spoken to or touched during my contractions. Imagine the worst hangover in the world - when people talk to you it’s just sensory overload. Same reason I didn’t want anyone talking to me during contractions. There were no “indescribable” pains. Just an intense combination of things I had felt individually before.
I am eternally grateful for our homebirth. Everywhere I look, I am now reminded of the remarkable experience I had during Milo’s birth. He has never been away from either of us since he was born, is perfectly healthy, and breastfeeds like a champ. I only have wonderful feelings about his birth, and as hard as it was, I feel as though I kicked ass all over the place for my kid that day. Maybe a little bit for myself too – for a battle with my own mind was won. I wondered if I was made of the stuff it took, for 10 months I wondered. Certainly for those two days I seriously doubted. But Milo was good at getting born and I had the most amazing people around me that day. We are so blessed. I will never forget Milo’s birth. It was a day I went from being a crippled elephant, to being just showered with indescribable blessings. Showered.