by Toni, USA
When I first got pregnant I was sure I was going to end up having a fully-medicated hospital birth, just like everyone else. After all the horror stories and the media representations of childbirth, it seemed like begging for an epidural the moment you were wheeled into the hospital was the only was to survive.
But then I started researching… and decided I wanted a natural childbirth. We took classes in the Bradley method and through those classes, research, and some very haunting dreams, we came to an even bigger decision. As I read about all the interventions pushed in hospitals, which certainly can be life-saving in cases when they are warranted, but can also lead to more interventions and complications when applied without discrimination… I came to realize I was more afraid of giving birth in the hospital than at home.
I'd gone full-circle. I was ready to commit to something I never thought I would do in my life. When I first got pregnant I had read some birth stories about home births, and I had thought, “Those people are really brave… or else they must be crazy. That's something I would never do.” But I was starting to see childbirth as a natural process, and home birth was suddenly becoming an attractive option.
It took some more convincing for my husband. But eventually we had a class on interventions that smacked him in the face. Our instructor handed us a purple sheet listing, from top to bottom, all the possible interventions the hospital might push for. We were to fill in when they were necessary, and if they weren't what we could do to say “no” or stall them. By the time we were half-way down the sheet, he leaned over to me and said, “We have to do a home birth. I don't know how, but we have to make it work.”
And that night he had a dream, where were in class and it was a demonstration day. He saw a double sink all by itself. One side said “Hospital” and the other said “Home.” The Hospital side was being filled to the brim with all manner of disgusting muck and mire that was clearly representing everything on that purple list. We stepped up to the double-sink, hand-in-hand, and looked down into the Hospital sink. Our baby was there in the bottom, waiting for us to pull her out.
But the barrier of smell and horrible muck was almost unbearable. We both threw up in the sink, it was so disgusting. Then, as if by instinct, we stepped up to the sink labeled “Home,” and we saw a shining crystal pool of clear, refreshing water. Our baby was there, waiting for us as well. She had not moved, but was available via both sinks. But it was up to us to choose which path we would take. It was clear in that moment what we needed to do.
So, 7 months or so into the pregnancy, we decided to leave our unsupportive OB for a midwife and home birth. It was the right decision for us.
The Thursday, just over a week before my due date, a peace came over me. Up until that time, I had been in such a frenzy to try and get everything ready. That weekend, I told my husband, “I'm ready to have the baby this weekend.” He freaked out a little bit. He tried to remind me of all the things we still had to do, but I wasn't to be swayed. I was ready.
Saturday night, I woke up a few times to contractions, which wasn't a surprise. The “practice” contractions did that sometimes. But one of the times when I woke up, around 3:30 am, I felt something oozing. I wondered, with bated breath, if it was my water breaking. I sat up, and the oozing was stronger. “Oh, boy!” I thought, “This must be it!”
I ran/waddled to the bathroom down the hall, and made it to the toilet just in time for a big gush of fluid. Even with a full bladder (and with a baby taking up so much space in my belly my bladder never got very full anymore) I could never force that much pee out, and besides, I wasn't pushing. It was definitely my water breaking! I sat there with a huge grin on my face, breathing excitedly. This was it. There was no turning back now.
Later, I would marvel at how I the baby was ready to come just when I thought she would. In fact, all throughout the labor I felt very in-tune with my body. In some cases it seemed as though my body was responding to my thoughts and desires (like giving me a break from contractions just when I felt I needed it), and in other cases I was responding to my body. It was like a dance, and I rejoiced in the beauty and power.
I went in to wake-up my husband. It felt a lot like the morning I woke him up at 6 am to tell him “I think you're going to be a daddy.” He was groggy and confused, and asked me “Are you sure?” Giving me a look that suggested he thought I had merely wet myself. I convinced him it was really my water breaking.
We called the midwife, and she said she was on her way (she lived about 4 hours away), and advised that we get some rest while we could. We got back to bed by around 4 am, and our plan was to sleep until 7 am, so we could have a rushed hour to try and get a few things done before the midwife showed up. Astonishingly, I was able to sleep. All those hours in class and practicing paid off. I was on a mission, and knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it.
The only tough thing about sleeping through contractions I found, was that I tended to not wake-up until they reached the wave reached its peak and forced me rudely into consciousness. It was something like waking up to a kick in the stomach. By about 6:45 am I got tired of waking to contractions and also started to get restless. I let my husband sleep until 7 am, and took those 15 minutes to enjoy the preparations on my own and to clear my head.
I knew I was in early labor, so I had no problem at all sending my husband out to get groceries and last minute items we needed. And I was convinced he would still get to go to lead the youth band and choir in worship at church that morning and drop my step-daughter off at her mom's house. If he was back a little before noon, things would likely just be starting to pick up, and it would be perfect.
But the midwife and her assistant showed up (around 8 am) while my husband was still out running errands, and immediately things became more intense. It was like my body had been waiting for her to show up to get things rolling, because I wasn't ready to go it without her there. I had a harder time relaxing than before. I think it was partly because my husband was gone and I wanted him near. He was my coach and had this amazing ability to make me relax even when I was tense, and that was something I really needed.
When he got home, I wondered if I should ask him to stay. He took one look at me and said, “I'm not going anywhere.” I really needed to hear that! Eventually, we had our doula show up, and then he didn't need to bother with anything but being at my side, which was exactly what I needed.
We'd set up the birthing pool in the dining room, that I called the “sun room,” a nicely sized addition on the south side of the house with lots of windows. With the curtains shut, the lighting was dim, but allowed us to go with only natural lighting. The birthing pool was amazing. It cut the pressure in half and helped me relax.
My roughest moments were around transition. I got sick on the toilet. But our Bradley instructor had told us to be excited if we threw up, because it meant we were progressing, and so I tried to keep things in perspective. My husband remembered later that I said, “Tell me I can do this.” That was my not-so-big “freak-out” moment. I needed just a little reassurance here and there…
Otherwise, the labor progressed well. I was free to try out lots of positions in the birthing pool. Standing, squatting, all fours, leaning against the side of the pool… My husband offered counter pressure on my back through the contractions, and everyone was very supportive. The midwife noticed I was in and out of transition, and when she checked me found I was almost fully dilated, but had a small cervical lip. She gave me a tincture to decrease the swelling, and held the lip back through a few contractions so we could get past the lip. That was one of the most painful parts of the entire labor. And yet it worked. Later I wondered what measures would have been taken in the hospital…
After that, I had a strong urge to push, and second stage came on with full force.
I liked pushing in that when I was pushing I didn't feel hardly any of the uncomfortable pressure from the contraction, and yet, much like waking up to the peak of a contraction was annoying, taking a breath in between pushes was really tough, because the second I would stop pushing I would get hit with the full force of a contraction. It was enough to take my breath away, and made it hard to take the deep breath I needed for the next push.
At first, I didn't really know how to push, where to focus my efforts. The midwife put her finger to where I should concentrate the force of my pushes and that helped a lot. But it took me awhile to get into it and really give strong pushes.
I pushed for nearly two hours. By the end, I needed a little encouragement, and the midwife told me to stick my hand down to feel the baby's head with the next push. I wasn't so excited about the idea at first. I had made up my mind beforehand that I didn't want a mirror to see what was going on down there, because I was afraid it would make me woozy. And the pushing took so much of my concentration, I didn't know if I could spare an arm just to feel the baby's head. But I'm glad I did. It was encouraging to feel that squished, wrinkled scalp, and gave me hope I could get the baby out after all.
There were a few more big pushes and we were really close. Then there was the “ring of fire.” It was quite intense, and yet it was a huge relief, because I knew I was almost there. I eased through the last contraction to slowly push her out. It was 3:43 pm on Sunday, almost exactly 12 hours after my water broke. My husband caught her, and she was on my chest within seconds. The midwife, her assistant, and our doula were witnesses. Soft music was playing in the background and the afternoon sunlight was filtered in dimly through the curtains. She couldn't have asked for a more beautiful birth.
I remember the moment when I finally pushed her head out, it felt like I was falling down a tunnel myself. Except instead of falling out of a birth canal, I felt like I was falling into realization that I was now a mother. I had been waiting the entire pregnancy for it to hit me, and it never did until she was born.
I held her at my chest, so very satisfied. They put a towel over her, over us.
Later, we had our first meal together, peacefully in our own home.
It was so wonderful and beautiful. And I remember relishing the day. Not just getting through it, but relishing it. It was intense and challenging, don't get me wrong, but never more than I could handle. In fact, I remember thinking one point after a particularly hard contraction, “This isn't so bad. I would do this again.” I only had a couple of skids and no real tears, thanks to the warm water and the skillful midwife. I lost very little blood, something akin to a heavy day of a menstruation…
And it strikes me. When I listen to the horror stories my coworkers tell about childbirth, how my fully natural home birth sounds like a party compared to what they experienced. And then I think that what I originally thought about home birth was all wrong. It isn't the brave/crazy people who choose a natural home birth. A medicated hospital birth is what is really terrifying! Natural, home birth is the easy way out.