Olivia's Home Birth Story
My daughter had been in the posterior position for several weeks, and was no different at my 41-week prenatal on Friday, Feb. 26. I was very discouraged. I went home and researched everything I could find on the Internet, and spent the entire next day, Saturday, doing stretches and positions trying to help the baby disengage, turn, and re-engage. That night I spent some time at my best friend's house, trying not to be depressed. Braxton-Hicks contractions were happening every other minute, and they were intense. We stayed up late, and only a few hours after I went to bed, I woke to a peculiar kind of pain. It happened 2 more times before I totally woke up. My earlier fears were totally unnecessary: somehow I just knew these pains were contractions. It was 3am, and they weren't very strong, just uncomfortable. I tend to be a baby about little things, but very calm and undramatic about major things, so I decided it was definitely unnecessary to wake anyone up immediately... even if I was in labor. I waited until 5am, watching the clock. The contractions were happening faithfully every 10 minutes and weren't very painful. I called my midwife at 5, who told me to eat something and try to go back to bed for a few more hours. When I woke up later, nothing had changed, so I decided to carry on like normal. Gradually, by 3pm that afternoon, the contractions faded. I tried not to think about it, lest I be too disappointed.
Several hours later, however, the contractions resumed and seemed to be much more intense and purposeful than earlier. I was "officially" in labor Sunday night, 2/28/10, at about 7pm. Because I am not married or still together with my baby's father, I'd asked my best friend if she'd stand in as my "husband" for the birth. She helped time my contractions at 7:00pm and they were approximately every 6 and a half to 7 minutes, lasting about a minute each. She went home to try to get some sleep before things got intense, since we'd both stayed up late the night before, and my midwife told me and my doula to start setting up. It didn't seem real to me at first. I think I was still expecting these new contractions to fizzle out like the earlier ones.
But by 10pm that night, they hadn't fizzled out; they'd gotten stronger. Everyone was busy setting up the birthing pool, arranging the midwives' supplies, preparing food for the birth team, and checking on me. Since first babies usually take their time, it was suggested that I go lay down in the double bed in the bedroom and try to rest up. My midwife wanted to check me at 11, to see where things were and to have a starting point to base things off of. When my best friend/substitute "husband" arrived, the midwife came to check me. Having heard horror stories about this, I asked my friend, "Is it going to hurt?" She winced and nodded. I said, "Ok." I just like to know these things ahead of time. I'm the kind of person who has to watch the needle go in when I get a shot or an IV; I have to know what's coming, I don't want any surprises. I braced myself, and it wasn't as bad as I expected. They seemed surprised - and pleased - that I could force myself to relax. At 11:15pm, I was 80% effaced and 2cm dilated. I guess they thought it was going to be a long time, because they wanted me to continue resting in the bed and preparing for the real work. My friend stayed with me. They also wanted me to eat, which was a problem. I'd been nauseous for weeks and that night was even more so. I warned them that if I ate, I'd throw up. They insisted that I try, and I threw up several times in the next few hours. I didn't really mind. They were just doing their job, and I was doing mine.
Labor was a very surreal experience for me. I don't know if it was because I spent almost all of mine in a bedroom with the lights turned off, clinging to my best friend's hand, or if it would have been that way anyway. I had the great fortune of reading a few chapters of a book by Ina Mays very early in my pregnancy (I think it was called Ina Mays' Spiritual Guide to Childbirth, or something? --can't remember) and for some reason, what I read went deep inside me and gave me a confidence and strength I might not have known I had otherwise, at least as it applies to having a baby. The book just talked about how women and their bodies are made to give birth, and to do it naturally and (for the most part) without unnecessary medical intervention, and other things about the birth experience and the power and wonder women can experience in themselves through giving birth. It might sound corny to describe it now, and it might even be corny if I went back and read it again, but it really imparted something to me at the time that I needed, and carried with me all the way to labor and beyond. I was nervous, of course, because I didn't know what to expect from labor, or from myself. But I'd determined beforehand in my mind that I was going to try my best to do the following: #1: not to complain, and #2: to do whatever they (the birth team) asked of me, provided I didn't have a specific reason against it, or found myself incapable of it. I knew somehow that trust was a major, major factor in the whole experience, and even before labor started, God had given me the capacity to trust the birth team utterly and unquestioningly. If you know me, that's a significant miracle in and of itself.
I progressed pretty quickly, which took everyone by surprise. I think part of it was the new homeopathic herbs they were giving me which were supposed to help open my cervix. I'd tried to warn one of the midwives early that morning; I'd said, "You won't be able to look at me and tell that I'm in pain," but I'm sure it's hard to take someone seriously for their first birth. There are probably a lot of people who think they're going to be tough--or that they're going to deal with the pain a certain way--and once labor hits, all of those ideas are blown out of the water and they react in ways they didn't anticipate. At any rate, I wasn't moaning or groaning or grunting or making any noise at all, other than breathing, so I guess they might have thought I was still in early laborâ¦not very far along. Someone said later that I never complained--which pleases me since that was one of my goals--but I'm actually pretty sure that I told my best friend, in a whisper, at least a few different times: "It hurts." I don't know if she remembers or not, but she always nodded very sympathetically.
Things are a little scattered in my memory, but sometime before 3am, I had to change positions in the bed. I'd been laying down until I was asked to eat; after that, I couldn't lay down because I threw up intermittently and was afraid of getting stuck in a contraction in the reclining position, and didn't want to choke if I had to throw up again. I could not get comfortable. I shook uncontrollably. People kept asking me if I was cold, and I shook my head no. "Are you ok? Why are you shaking?" they'd ask. "I don't know," I'd whisper back, and then they'd say, "Oh, ok. That's ok." I think they might have worried that I was scared, or distressed somehow, but I actually felt pretty calm inside. I was very focused. Anyway, in trying to find a more comfortable position, I ended up sitting on a birth ball, clutching my doula's legs (who was sitting on the bed), and leaning back into my friend's arms in between contractions. At one point I had to get up to use the bathroom. I can't remember exactly why, but my midwife came with me (or maybe I asked for her, I'm not sure). Right when I was getting up from the toilet, my water broke with a small popping sound and a large splash. I remember looking up at my midwife with wide eyes. She was calm and reassuring. I was grateful.
Not long after, at about 3:30 or 4am, the midwives (still not realizing how close I was) wanted me to get up, move around, and try to find something to distract me. They told me it would probably be at least another 12 hours or more before my baby would be born. They had no way of knowing how strong or close together my contractions were coming, since it had been just me and my friend in the bedroom the majority of the time before they came in. In the back of my mind, I thought, Surely I'm close to the end. I'd read all the info about labor. It seemed to me like I was surely very close to, or even in, transition...just based on the strength, frequency, and duration of contractions. But I still wasn't making any sound other than breathing very heavily. With everyone supporting me, I managed to walk out into the living room and sit in a chair next to the tv.
One thing that happened throughout my pregnancy was that my daughter liked to keep a foot firmly lodged in my ribs. It made breathing difficult. Sometimes it was downright painful. I'd expected labor to move her down far enough that this problem would be gone...but it wasn't so. About halfway through labor I'd begun keeping a hand pressed to the base of my ribcage, trying to pry her foot loose so I could get a decent breath. When I came out into the living room, I think the midwives realized I wasn't breathing deep enough, and they coached me to watch my best friend and breathe with her. I tried, but not before I attempted to explain, (gasping) "I can't breathe. Her foot is still in my ribs." They turned on some music, but my breathing only got louder and harder. They asked to check me again, and although I wanted them to, it was hard to move once I got in a certain place or position. It took some insisting on their part, and everyone's support, to get me to head back toward the bedroom. Right before I got to the door, an intense contraction hit. I looked at my best friend and said, "Something is burning." Her eyes got a little wider. I said, "I feel like I need to push...or something." They rushed me to the bed. It was around 4am, and I was fully effaced and fully dilated...only 5 hours after they'd first checked me! I remember everyone cheering and saying, "You did it! You did it!" Though I didn't say it out loud, I remember being slightly confused by the cheers and thinking, half sarcastically, half philosophically, "Did what? Where's the baby?!"
At that point the contractions were extremely powerful, and although they asked me, "Do you want to go get in the birthing tub? Are you ready?" I couldn't do it. Once I was at that point, I did not want to move. I couldn't. I remember saying, "No, no! Don't move me, please don't move me, I don't want to move!" There was a rush of people transferring all their supplies into the bedroom. At one point my midwife asked if I wanted to feel the baby's head. I nodded, and she guided my hand down to feel the little scalp. It felt like velvet. I think I smiled, although I can't remember.
Pushing was not the relief everyone had told me it would be. Maybe it was because I didn't push with abandon, but worked hard to do it slowly and with as much control as I could possibly have. Everyone was extremely encouraging, which I appreciated even though I could not acknowledge them at the time. Every comment they made helped me find the strength I needed. My best friend/ "husband" was amazing. She breathed with me the entire time, and let me squeeze her hand until I thought at one point I surely must be breaking it, although I could not divide my energy enough to stop. (I really did try once to stop, but gave up. Haha.) The midwives were working with hot compresses to try to help my perineum not to tear, and were encouraging me to push only when I really, really had to. It took about an hour and a half. Toward the end, I was getting very tired. My mind, having endured 10 hours of pain literally without making a sound, was starting to go to some other place. I remember asking God - calmly, not begging or demanding - if it could please soon be over. I was ready to be done with it and hold my baby. Within the next 2 pushes, she was out. I remember when her head came out, the whole scene sort of became fuzzy. I almost sat straight up in the bed, momentarily confused about what was happening. Luckily everyone was there to hold me in place and help reassure me. Her shoulders and the rest of her body came with the next push, and I was startled to hear such a loud splash accompany them. I remember just staring at my best friend for a minute, trying to comprehend what was going on while she reassured me that it was ok, I was ok. Then my baby was on my chest and everyone was cheering and very happy. The baby was rooting and smacking her lips immediately, and she did not cry. She was not blue or upset, but pink and calm, not even very bloody or gooey like they sometimes show newborns on tv. Her face wasn't squished, nor did she have a cone head. She was perfect.
I named her Olivia Paige, and she weighed 7 lbs, 13 oz. and was born at 5:31am on March 1st, 2010.
Even though I did not end up having a water birth, I am totally ok with that. My first birth experience was the best I could ever have asked for. My birth team and support system were amazing and exactly what I needed, and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change a single thing.