Note: This is a long post, so if you plan on reading the whole thing, you might as well grab a glass of wine now and settle in. I would have posted more photos, but my photographer managed to get my boobs in pretty much every shot…that’s the price you pay for being naked throughout the whole experience. And finally, you’ll see that I am scared for most of this experience. Please don’t take it to mean that I wish I would have had this baby in the hospital. I would have been even more scared had I made it to the hospital, and even MORE scared had the baby been born on the 101. So just know that, through this entire experience, I never once doubted that the home birth was the right choice for us…well, except during transition, when every single mother out there (at least unmedicated) goes through the same self doubt.
* * * * * * * * * *
They say that if you want to make god laugh, then tell him your plans. If this is the truth, god must have found Avery’s birth absolutely knee-slapping hilarious.
I had painstakingly crafted a three-page birth plan highlighting every single aspect that I saw when I envisioned my perfect birth experience. I bought a birth pool, brand new candles, and found my lavendar oil for a little aromatherapy. I read the Hypnobirthing books and listened to the meditations for weeks. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I had gone over the birth plan in detail with Ronny, who managed to drink four beers while he listened intently. But he was on board with all of it.
In essence, I expected to experience the perfect birth, and I was confident that I would be able to use the techniques I’ve learned over the past year or so to ‘breathe the baby out’ without guided pushing and breathing. I expected to do it unruffled, humming in a low tone as I birthed our baby girl peacefully on my hands and knees in the water. I had even found my bikini to wear in the pool as I delivered, and had actually considered putting on a little makeup when I knew labor was coming so that I looked cute for pictures. Pshaw.
Ideally, the active labor and birth would happen after Maysen had gone to sleep for the night. We would fill the birth pool with warm, soothing water out in the candlelit sunroom, and I would go about my day during the early stages of labor, slowly warming up to the time when I would manage active labor like a focused yogini. Ronny would guide me through the comfort measures outlined in my birth plan, and he’d lead me through the Sun Salutation visualization and meditation that I use when I need to relax. I would successfully manage the ‘sensations’ with ujjayi breathing. The words ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’ and ‘contraction’ would not be used. Instead, everyone would use the words ‘intensity,’ ‘strength,’ ‘sensations,’ ‘surges,’ and ‘waves’. There would be no camera flashes, only photos taken by candlelight, and those photos would have a soft, sensual glow to them. Those present would speak in gentle, soothing voices. Basically, I planned a calm, comfortable, peaceful birth in a spa-like ambience. I expected a birth like those I had seen in birthing videos. You know, the videos that make birthing a baby look like a cake walk.
But that’s not how it happened…
I had been having contractions for a couple of weeks. Braxton-Hicks contractions had been happening since 20 weeks or so, but the ones that feel like menstrual cramps had come and gone irregularly for several days. My midwife, Diana, had come to check me a week or so earlier when I freaked out over a little bleeding. 2cm/50% effaced, but not much action. It was Ronny’s birthday and we had made plans to go over the bridge to a little beach town for lunch and a little strolling. Diana said it wasn’t a good idea and wouldn’t give me her blessing to go. When this baby decided to come, she could possibly come quickly. At my prenatal appointment a few days later, when I was convinced that labor was coming, I had progressed slightly to 4cm, 60% effaced, but she said there was some sort of hard ring in my cervix preventing dilation. She said to take it easy; I still had a little way to go.
The next day, July 25th, I felt no different, except that I woke up feeling depressed and like I wanted to be left alone. I lay in bed for a long time listening to all of the noise in the house, hoping everyone would find something to do and somewhere to go. All four grandparents had come into town, and everyone was just waiting for this baby to come, but nothing was happening. I felt this weird, nervous energy, and it was driving me nuts. Looking back, I realize I was creating the energy, but you know, hindsight really is 20/20. Technically, the baby wasn’t due until the 29th. My mom had been here for almost a month helping me with Maysen and work around the house, thank goodness. I just couldn’t keep up, and everything hurt so badly, especially with Maysen always wanting to play and climb all over me. I just couldn’t be the mommy that she needed me to be.
Everyone got the sense that I wanted to be left alone, but no one actually would leave me alone. Finally, Mom and Dad took Maysen to the local children’s museum, CuriOddessy, to get her out of the house and give me a little peace and quiet. Linda and Bill had made plans to go up to Ronny’s work for lunch. Ronny had gone to work for a while because he had a huge event coming up.
At one point earlier in the day, when I was talking to my dad and bent over to get something out of the fridge, I felt like I peed my pants a little. No different than any other day. No different than when I actually had peed my pants at Kohl’s, freaked out, and had Diana test me and tell me that I had, in fact, just peed my pants.
At about 12:30pm I got in the shower and sat down to relax by myself. I suddenly saw some yellow liquid and thought to myself, ‘man, I really can’t stop peeing my pants!’ But then I noticed it didn’t really look like pee. I sat down in the shower and every time I moved, a little more would come out. I was about 50/50 as to whether this was pee or amniotic fluid. When I got out of the shower, Linda told me they were going to leave for an hour or so to meet Ronny for lunch. ‘Um, maybe you could wait a few minutes? I think my water just broke.’ She calmly replied, ‘Oh yeah?’ and told me she’d stay with me.
I called Ronny first, and told him that I was going to call Diana. When I got her on the phone, my description of the fluid wasn’t enough to determine whether my water had broken or not. She said it sounded like it, but that she wanted to swing by to test it and that I should lie on the couch on my left side until she got here. She asked me to time the contractions just to see if there was any kind of pattern. They seemed to come every couple of minutes, but only last about 30-45 seconds, and they were so weak and irregular that half the time I forgot to time them because I didn’t really feel them and I was distracted by conversation in the room. It was just like little menstrual cramps coming and going. I remembered these contractions lasting a good six hours with my first labor, before the real deal started, and I knew that the contractions of active labor would keep me from walking and talking. These contractions were nothing compared to the real thing.
When Diana arrived at 1:30, I was on the couch, in relatively good spirits, feeling no different than I had the day before. I just let her know that I was feeling really moody and depressed. She came out of the bathroom after testing the fluid. ‘Well, your intuition was correct. Your water definitely broke.’ I was obviously not having strong contractions, and there were no signs of labor to speak of other than the amniotic fluid, so she didn’t see any real need to do an exam. She asked if I wanted one anyways, just to be sure. Usually she tries not to do too many exams so as to not introduce infection. After the water breaks, it can still be up to 72 hours before the baby comes…or up to 24 in a hospital before they induce labor.
But curiosity got the best of Ronny and me (he had come home from work shortly after Diana arrived), so off to my bedroom we went. I was still at 4cm, 60% effaced, but the little ring was gone and my cervix was really soft, she said. Basically, the assessment was that I wasn’t in real labor yet, but when it happened, she thought it was going to happen quickly. ‘Like, how quickly?’ I asked. ‘One hour? One day? 20 hours?’ I had expected about 7 hours, as Maysen’s labor was about 15 from start to finish and I had heard that the second labor is generally about half as long as the first.
‘I’d guess you’ll have this baby within the next 7 to 24 hours,’ she said. She told me to just take it easy, get some rest, and call her when I started feeling the contractions getting stronger and when they had begun to establish a pattern, coming regularly every 10 minutes or so. For the hospital, I know you’re supposed to head in when the contractions are 5 minutes apart, last for 1 minute, for 1 hour. If you go earlier than that, they’ll probably send you home.
I started feeling achy after the exam, but I chalked it up to her stirring things up a bit. It had happened with every other exam, so at 2:30 when she left I figured I’d just chill out and enjoy an afternoon to myself, monitoring my practice contractions just in case.
But for some reason the ‘practice’ contractions didn’t let up. I sat on the couch for about three little contractions, thinking they’d go away any minute. Then, BAM! Suddenly I didn’t feel very good. Suddenly I got a contraction that laid me out…I gripped Ronny’s arm and pulled with all of my strength on the back of the couch. I straightened my leg, trying to push the pain through the balls of my feet. It only lasted about 30 seconds, but man, it hurt! About 30 seconds later, another one came, just as strong, but this time I got so hot that I broke out in a full-body sweat. I could feel my hair at the base of my neck get wet. I felt between my boobs and was drenched. I thought I was going to throw up, and told Ronny to get me a bucket. ‘No! Not the bathroom trash can it’ll make me barf! Get one of Maysen’s sand buckets from the yard!!’
Ronny tried comforting me, rubbing my back gently, as I had asked him to do in my birth plan. ‘Stop touching me!!! I’m so hot! Get this robe off of me!’ Ronny called Diana at 2:38pm, and asked her to come back. ‘No! Don’t ask her to come back! Just ask her what I should do!’ Diana had made it only about 10 miles south, but the 101 was so backed up that it took her until 3:08 to get here. I know this because she called as she drove onto our street and I later checked my phone record.
As I went through a couple more of these contractions by myself on the couch, I was vaguely aware of Ronny asking if he should go ahead and fill up the pool, calling my mom, setting up fans, and trying to comfort me. But I felt alone in a world of sudden unbearable pain that was so strong that nothing anyone did could help. I felt like I disappeared, focusing only on the gruelling sensations in my uterus, pulling on the back of the couch with all of my strength, through each contraction. But they were only about 30 seconds long. At some point my mom arrived and tried to comfort me, reminded me to breathe. Ronny’s mom was in the background, quietly getting things ready, helping me out of my sweaty clothes.
During the 25 minutes it took Diana to get here, I lost sense of time and place. I looked at Ronny, looked around the house, and felt a helpless sense of dread and regret. I panicked. ‘I don’t know what I was thinking,’ I said to Ronny, in the terribly brief moment between contractions, internally and silently pleading with him to take me to the hospital. Between what I had thought I could call ‘surges’ I begged Ronny to make it stop. ‘I don’t want to do this anymore…I can’t do this anymore…I can’t do this at home…This whole thing is a terrible idea…This was really stupid of me to think I could do this…Why would I try to have a baby AT HOME?!?!?…Forget about the pool…Leave me alone and don’t touch me…I have to pooooop!!!’ Suddenly all I could think about was pooping on the couch.
Somehow I made it to the bathroom and shut the door. I sat on the toilet, moaning desperately, and tried to go to the bathroom. Deep inside I feared that this was ‘the urge’, but I didn’t tell anyone that. It was this weird intuition that knew that the baby was coming but I couldn’t stop it, and I felt somehow like I had to hide it, to protect it. Like I could stop it if I pretended this wasn’t it. I was terrified, and honestly believed that I couldn’t take the pain. But I couldn’t stop trying to push out some poop. I felt inside my vagina and there was something weird there. Something squishy but hard, with a line, I thought, maybe the cord? ‘Oh, shit…I think the baby’s coming…’ I finally said aloud when I knew I couldn’t hide it anymore. I heard Ronny on the phone with Diana yelling to someone to ‘Get her off the toilet!!! She can’t be on the toilet!’
I don’t remember who it was…My mom? Linda? Ronny? But someone came in and tried to get me off the toilet. I refused adamantly, insisting that I had to stay there, on the toilet, bracing myself against the excrutiating pain by pressing with all of my strength against the walls. Then suddenly Diana was outside the door, or right in front of me, I have no idea who was where. Her normally calm and soothing voice directed me very sternly, though still calmly, off the toilet. She said that I had no choice. I could, and would, and had to, poop in the bed. I now know she was placating me, saying whatever she had to to work with my stubbornness. Ronny came in and lifted me off the toilet. I felt a little relief as he walked me to our bed. Suddenly our tacky wood-paneled walls were like a comfortable cabin, like a nest, and I felt at home. I was at home.
I heard Diana giving directions, telling everyone what to do. Somehow between my mom, Linda, Ronny and Diana, they got my sheets changed, the bed lined with plastic. I could hear nervous panic in everyone’s voice but Diana’s. As Ronny helped me lie down, I could hear Diana calmly giving orders and asking for items from the birth kit that I had prepared. I moaned desperately, all the while feeling like I was going to defecate all over the bed. Diana told me to just poop; she would take care of it. She told me the baby would be here within 30 minutes, that if we wanted pictures it was time to get out the camera. I didn’t get it. I thought she meant someting besides that the baby was coming quickly. I told her what I felt in the bathroom, about the thing I could only describe as a line, ‘That was the baby’s head,’ she said. ‘She’s coming right now.’ She told me to lift my leg, but I couldn’t. I was lying on my side, but I didn’t have the strength to lift up my own leg. She directed Ronny to hold up my knee, and he had to lift it for me.
Everything was happening so quickly. Everyone seemed so nervous. I was scared. I felt like an animal, in my most savage state, like a birthing cow groaning and moaning gutterally from the deepest part of herself, completely overtaken by innate instinct. ‘Get the music!’ I whimpered. Ronny and my mom fumbled with my ipod to find my birth music playlist that I had made specifically to keep my labor calm. I fumbled with my ipod for a second between contractions until the pain forced me to drop it. ‘Forget the music!’ Somehow an Avett Brothers song started playing, on repeat, for the rest of the labor.
I told Ronny to make everyone stop talking. I could’t handle the stress that I thought I heard in peoples’ voices. This wasn’t the calm, candlelit water birth that I had had my heart set on. This was a hurricane of pain and suddenness. This was not what I had planned at all, and it was happening so quickly and uncontrollably that I flat out couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t actually understand the reality of the situation.
Ronny was in my face, returning the strong grip in one of my hands, and I noticed with pleasure that he had just used mouthwash. I found that detail particularly sweet. I felt him move my other hand, with which I had been digging my nails into my thighs, to his arm, where he let me transfer the pain to him. ‘Look in my eyes,’ he commanded. I couldn’t. The pain and intensity overtook every part of me, even my eyes. ‘Look at my eyes, look at my eyes, look at my eyes.’ I finally looked into his eyes, right in front of me, and that was the only connection to reality that I had. I heard my mom in the background saying, ‘breathe, breathe, breathe. Breathe in four, out eight,’ right out of my birth plan.
I could feel Diana’s hands on my bottom, gentle and cool, oiled, a reassuring touch, but I also felt a searing pain that terrified me. My only fear in this whole thing, prior to this actual day, was that of tearing. It had been so painful recovering after Maysen’s birth that I couldn’t get over it. ‘You’re not tearing,’ she said. I didn’t believe her. ‘I’m teeeaarrriiiinnnggg!!!!’ I whined like a baby. ‘You’re not tearing, Nikki. The baby is crowning. That’s her head.’ I still didn’t believe her. I still believed that I just had to go to the bathroom before I could have this baby. So I looked in the mirror and saw a black circle of hair coming out of me…it really was the head. It really wasn’t that I had to go to the bathroom. Oh…my…god…I was actually delivering my baby. Right then, right there. There was no turning back.
I don’t know what happened next. For the first time, I think, she told me I could push this baby out. Then the head came on its own accord and I felt a huge relief. The burning had slowed down, and I was ready to go pass out. But Diana told me I needed to try to push more. Her voice was calm. ‘I can’t,’ I said, looking at everyone around me, noticing that everyone was looking intently at my vagina. Ronny held my hand tightly and told me calmly that I needed to push. Then I heard Diana’s voice get serious. ‘Nikki, you need to push this baby now. You NEED to push her body out!’ I didn’t feel that I could do it. But Ronny again told me to look into his eyes. ‘You can do it,’ he said, but I didn’t believe him. Then the urge took over me in one non-negotiable and unmistakable wave, and I pushed with everything I had. I screamed and pressed my leg into Diana’s shoulder with all of my strength as I birthed the rest of the baby. I felt her slippery body slide out of mine, Diana’s one hand expertly guiding her out, the other expertly protecting my body from my biggest fear.
And then I felt the length of the cord slither out like a rubbery snake, and the intense pain was suddenly gone. I think I looked down to see her come out, but I can’t really remember that. I know I screamed like a beast. I know my hamstring cramped up at the most inopportune moment. I know Ronny weathered the strength of my grip and kept me anchored. I know that I had spent every last bit of energy I had, and I paused out of pure exhaustion. Diana handed the baby to Ronny and I looked her (the baby, not Diana) in disbelief. He looked at her in disbelief. We looked at each other in disbelief. It was all over as quickly as it had begun.
It was 3:34pm. And then I heard the baby cry.
The next hour or so was a blur. I wish my memory were better than it is, but in times of stress I forget things. Sometime in the blur I heard Diana calling Lisa, the backup midwife who was supposed to have been here for the birth. Diana had called her to tell her to come up, but she, too, had been stuck in traffic on the 101. She let Lisa know that the baby had been born, but Lisa was almost to the house. Sometime in the blur Lisa came into my bedroom with another girl named Erica, apparently my doula, who had also arrived after the birth. I didn’t even know she would be there. Somewhere in the blur I heard Diana and Ronny talking. Somewhere in the blur I heard that she had an Apgar score of 9 and noted that that’s pretty darned good. Somewhere in the blur I heard Diana reading a bunch of numbers to Erica who recorded them. I heard Diana instructing me to birth the placenta, and I felt the contractions as my body expelled it. As if through a cloud, I saw Ronny sitting next to me as I watched Diana clamp the beautiful, pearly, translucent umbilical cord. A cord which she found fascinating with its extra Warner’s jelly. I watched as Ronny cut the cord, a proud daddy, and I held the baby in my arms.
But then, somewhere in the blur, I could hear that I was bleeding, and that Diana needed to either give me something homeopathic or give me pitocin to stop the bleeding. She placed three white tablets under my tongue, which seemed to do the trick.
But then, somewhere in the blur, I could hear that the baby was having respiratory problems. Something about the baby coming so quickly that the fluid couldn’t all get squeezed out naturally (?). Did we want to use oxygen or something homeopathic? Ronny answered for us. ‘Both.’ Somewhere in the blur I heard murmers that we might have to do a transfer, that we may have to go in an ambulance. I heard Diana take the baby to the bathroom to get her into steam and try to get her to cough up the fluid in her lungs. All this time Lisa was tending to me, trying to clean me up, giving me something to eat and drink, taking my vitals. I could hear concern in Ronny’s voice, and a matter-of-factness in Diana’s. I could hear that something serious was going on with the baby’s lungs, but I was in a fog, feeling disconnected. I don’t know where anyone was or what they were doing…I didn’t know where I was. I don’t know what our moms were doing, or if we were going to the hospital, or if the baby was ok. I was just so tired.
After a while I heard that the baby was breathing better, that they were feeling more hopeful, that it looked like everything was going to be ok. After a while they handed her to me again and I held her close to me. I was still in utter amazement and disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I had just become a mother again. I couldn’t believe how quickly and strongly this had happened. I couldn’t believe that I had managed to birth this baby after what appeared to be maybe 45 minutes to an hour of torture.
Nothing felt real. Not even Ronny. Not even the baby. Not even the pain. It all felt like a strange dream.
And then I fell in love. And then suddenly everything was ok. And then suddenly the baby was pink enough. Healthy enough. Suddenly she was on my chest, in my arms, and everyone left Ronny an me alone with our new daughter. We spent some time getting to know one another. She was so tiny, so sleepy, so beautiful. She looked just like her daddy. Then and there we decided for sure that we had chosen the right name for her.
Time flew from this point forward, in a different way than it had flown during the birth. Grandmas and grandpas came in to meet the newest addition to the family. I think they all fell in love at first sight. Then, the moment Ronny and I had been waiting for. Maysen came in to meet her baby sister. She hadn’t had a nap all day, so I could hear that she wasn’t in the prime state for this. I was nervous, fearing that she’d come into the room all wild and jump up on the bed, screaming.
But she came into the room quietly, tentatively, and came up to the bed where we were sitting. She climbed up to meet her sister, and my heart just melted when I saw how sweet and gentle Maysen was. She understood what was happening. For the next few minutes, the four of us sat together, looking into each others’ eyes, and soaked in the idea that we were now a family of four.
So now, everyone was in the room at the same time. Ronny, Me, Maysen, Baby, Nana, Baba, Grammy and Papa. Ronny had the honor of introducing the baby to the whole family and announcing her name: Avery Kaylin.
We both just loved the name Avery, and we decided on Kaylin to name her after our mothers. My mom’s middle name is Kay and Ronny’s mom’s name is Linda. We think it’s perfect.
After all of the family bonding time, Diana, Lisa and Erica all came back in the room. Diana gave us all a full tutorial on the ins and outs of the placenta. With Maysen’s birth it had simply been birthed, swept away, and forgotten. But with Avery’s birth, I had commissioned Bill to encapsulate the placenta, so it was a keeper. (That will be a whole different post.)
Plus, Diana had to run some tests on it, and draw a little cord blood, so they had taken it into the kitchen for a while. Erica had come back in to see if I wanted to see it, and I said yes, so Diana brought it in and held it up for us, showing us what it looked like from different angles, pointing out that the cord was long and had a fascinating amount of the jelly, which, apparently, served to protect Avery throughout the course of the pregnancy since I had somehow been dehydrated the whole time. I don’t get it…I drink more water than anyone I’ve ever known, but whatever. She pointed out how it looks like Tinkerbell’s home from one side, then if you turn it over you can see the Tree of Life. It truly was fascinating to see this miraculous organ.
Then we measured and weighed the baby. She weighed in at 8 pounds, 2 ounces and 21 inches, but then we later figured out that both the scale and the measurement were off a little. I think the conclusion we came to was that Avery was actually 7 pounds, 2 ounces and 20 inches. I guess we’ll never really know for sure. (Update: after my 2-week appointment, we came to the conclusion that the original weight was accurate. Diana’s confident that 8lbs. 2 oz. is correct, but as far as I’m concerned the jury’s still out. Final Update: I went back to compare newborn pics of Avery with newborn pics of Maysen. I definitely think Avery looks bigger, so I’m going to confidently believe that the actual birth weight was 8 lbs, 2oz. Always trust your midwife!)
What I do know for sure is that we experienced a fast and furious, miraculous birth which ended up being nothing like we expected. And from it we have the most beautiful little baby girl. If I had the choice, I might have stretched the labor out a little longer so as to have been a little more in control of what happened, and maybe to have had the pain be not so overwhelming. But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m so grateful that we planned the home birth, and not just because we would have had to deliver the baby on the freeway if we had had to drive to the hospital. The whole experience — from when Diana first knocked on our front door for her interview, to when Maysen tried on the fetoscope and listened for the baby’s heartbeat, to the fact that I could ask a million questions and always be in touch with Diana at any given time, to Ronny and I sharing in the excitement of planning the birth, to all of the grandparents being able to listen to the heartbeat at their own times because my exams happened at home on the couch, to establishing a relationship with my midwife rather than just being another number, to actually birthing the baby in our own bed with no pressure of intervention of any sort, to holding the baby in our arms as a family of four and sleeping together in our own bed on that special first night — was absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’m thinking, though, that if we ever decide to do it again, I’d better have Diana sleeping at our house from the time we first start showing ANY signs of labor. I can’t imagine a labor happening faster or harder than this one. Next time, we’re just not going to let god in on our plans.
Now, it’s two weeks later and I still can’t believe we have this beautiful little girl. These TWO beautiful girls…Sisters.