My first baby, Isaac, was born in a hospital – vaginally. I was 4 cm when I was induced at only 38.5 weeks, but I was nervous about not feeling him move so much any more, which was the reason for the elective induction. I planned on a natural birth but it didn’t work out once I decided to induce, and got to the hospital. I had been dilating, though not feeling any contractions, for two weeks prior to the induction. I had lots of drugs (pitocin, epidural, IV with penicillin, epinephrine) and a large episiotomy that hurt for at least 6 weeks, a vacuum extraction, and a lot of complications (fetal distress, oxygen therapy because I couldn’t breathe), and postpartum issues (anxiety, panic attack, Zoloft-induced psychosis, postpartum thyroiditis). I found that I could not cope with the pitocin contractions as well as I hoped, and not knowing how much longer I would have had to go through them, I finally asked for an epidural after about 5 hours or so of really painful labor. After Isaac was born, nurses and doctors were interfering with breastfeeding and bonding, and sending us back to the hospital for jaundice checks, and Isaac nearly died from choking on formula that the hospital wanted me to feed him.
This baby was going to be different. I took no drugs during the pregnancy other than Synthroid for hypothyroidism (not even Tylenol), and I was not going to go within 10 feet of an OB/GYN or 100 feet of a hospital labor and delivery ward. I did go to the chiropractor regularly, and Dinah, and take lots of vitamins, and eat well and take a Bradley Childbirth Preparation class.
Near the end of my pregnancy, I had already been having contractions for several weeks, since at least 34 weeks. I would practice my HypnoBabies Self Hypnosis CDs every day from about 36 weeks on, but as the birth got closer, I got distracted and started procrastinating, by watching Lost every night on DVD with my husband while I nursed Isaac, my 2 year old, to sleep. I worried about whether this would cause me to be unprepared for birth. When I did get a chance to practice the CDs, I would occasionally have contractions and I would practice creating my own anesthesia. It seemed to work well. I was hopeful that I could have a painless birth when the time came, if I just did the self-hypnosis correctly.
Toward the end of the pregnancy I started to get sick of having contractions all the time (especially when I nursed Isaac – since nursing used to be relaxing!), but no labor and no baby. I was tired of being humongous, having swollen feet, getting up to go to the bathroom all the time, and having a hard time doing normal things physically because I was so big and uncomfortable. I also could not wait to lie on my back again!
The due date got ever-closer and my friends and family kept asking me when I was going to hurry up and have the baby. I kept telling them that nobody is pregnant forever, and I could be patient because I was not going to repeat the horrible process of induction unless I absolutely had to. I didn’t ask to be checked for dilation at my prenatal appointments because I thought it was pointless – the baby would come when he came. In fact I secretly hoped that I would dilate over several weeks, and then suddenly go into active labor and have the baby at home by myself with no hubby or midwife because it would be too fast for anyone to come in time.
It was funny how many women were feeling sorry for me that I was getting close to 40 weeks, and they kept thinking I should schedule something. Some people knew I was planning a home birth, others didn’t. Those who did might say things like, “Well we hope you don’t end up at the hospital,” or, “Are you nervous?” or, “Wow – you’re brave.” Those who didn’t know would say things like, “Call me when you get home from the hospital and I can bring you a meal.” Or perhaps they would laugh about how horrible it would be not to get to have an epidural, then, when they heard I was planning to go med-free they thought I was insane.
The week of my last prenatal appointment I had a bad dream about the baby – that I went in for my checkup and there was no heartbeat. I would get nervous if he didn’t kick me, but then when he did kick I was fine again. The heartbeat was harder to find at my last checkup, which for a moment I thought was my dream becoming reality. When Dinah finally found it she said it had been hard to find it because it was lower, and right in the mid-line of my belly, and she had been checking on the sides first, and he was in the right position for birth. I didn’t think much of it because he had been turned that way before, but later moved off to the side again. She had taught me how to feel for where his bottom was and where his head was, so I always could tell what his position was if I tried.
Finally at 3:45 am on September 16 (two days before the due date), I woke up to go to the bathroom. When I got back in bed, Isaac woke up enough to crawl next to me to nurse. He had been asleep on his crib mattress next to our bed, which is on the floor. As he started nursing I noticed contractions, and then a tiny gush of fluid leak out of me. It happened a couple of more times, so I unlatched Isaac, and he stayed asleep. I got up to go to the bathroom to see what was up. On the toilet I felt the gushing fluids a couple of more times, and my pajama pants were all wet in the crotch so I knew it was time. I started the bath water, got my special fragrant soaps for relaxing, and lit the candles on the sconces above my tub.
I got the water nice and hot because I wanted to make the most of the comforting effects of heat. The lights were off and it was pretty laid-back. My cat, Oliver, was walking around watching me and meowing on the edge of the tub, checking things out. I was trying to figure out how fast things were going, because I didn’t want to take a chance on waking up Isaac if I had to yell to get Joel up, since it was still pretty early. The contractions were coming pretty close together and I had some more gushes in the tub, so I decided to go ahead and try to get Joel’s attention and wake him up.
Very quietly, I said his name over and over, first kind of soft, then a little louder. Finally I heard his voice, and I said “I’m in labor, come in here.”
Joel came in the bathroom and checked on me and said he wanted to time the contractions. I thought that seemed a little silly because they were coming so close together, and I was sure I was in labor and that things were going pretty fast. He timed them anyway and they were about 3 minutes apart. I told him to call the midwife and my mom. He did that, but had to leave messages for Dinah. When he called my mom, she was shocked that he wanted her to come so early in the morning, she said “Right now?” and he said “Amy’s in labor right now,” so she agreed to come, and he then went to get the camera from the kitchen, and to get me a snack to eat in between contractions. When he came back I asked him to get the baby oil and rub my back because the contractions were getting more intense. They hurt but not a lot. The rubbing actually seemed to help. They got more intense pretty quickly, and I had to change positions in the tub trying to get comfortable. Dinah called back and talked to Joel and then me. I had told her that I was sorry to wake her up, and she said she hated to tell me this but she had been up for a long time. Another mom was in labor and had been that way for 27 hours. I told her that I thought I needed her soon because I felt like things were going to go pretty quickly. She had to decide if she would come here or send her backup, so she would call us back. At this point Joel started to worry, but I told him it was OK because she had backup and that I didn’t care if I had to deliver the baby by myself or really who caught the baby for me. I was feeling very empowered like I could do this all by myself.
A few minutes later I had to get out of the tub because it wasn’t really comfortable any more. I got into the bed. I stayed there for a while and Joel was rubbing my back a little, but that actually started to make things worse so I asked him to stop. Dinah called back and said she was on her way over. I didn’t hear the details of who would cover the other mom but I was way too busy to have time to care. Surprisingly even though there was some noise and talking, Isaac stayed asleep in the bed right next to me during the whole thing.
I went to use the bathroom and Dinah appeared in front of me! I think after that I got back in the bed, but I’m not sure. At some point I got in the tub again. Dinah and Joel were basically just watching me as I moaned and groaned, telling me I was doing a good job. I started saying “Ow” a lot. Dinah tried to check me, but couldn’t because I started having another contraction, they were coming so fast. After that one was over she checked me and said I was already a 7 and she could hardly believe it. At some point in the tub I started having pushing urges and I began pushing in the bathtub.
Within another few contractions I wanted to get back in the bed. I think it was around 6 or 6:30 when Dinah had arrived. The contractions were so strong, all I could really do was breathe in and out as relaxed as possible, and make these groaning noises and screams, and in between, savor the temporary reprieve and relax to the max.
Dinah suggested I try the toilet for pushing, and I said ok but it contractions just kept coming and I didn’t feel able to get up. When I did make it to the toilet the pushing was just way too effective. It was really painful when I was pushing and I was slightly scared for my perineum but at the same time I was ready to get this all over with. I said that it felt like he was crowing, and Dinah said I needed to get off the toilet so he wouldn’t be born in it. I got back on the bed.
At some point I know that Monica showed up (she’s the assistant) and the hypnobabies CDs were turned on for me at my request. I remember listening to them and wanting to laugh when the lady’s voice said how wonderfully pleasant the “birth waves” were going to be. But I didn’t want to screw up my state of mind and my relaxation or undermine any of the potential help of the CDs. They were on super loud and sometimes I had to ask Dinah or Joel to repeat something they told me or asked me. I think that Isaac was awake and watching Dora or being rocked by my mom by this time but I was so busy I just don’t really remember the details. People did their part and I did mine. As the pushing was getting more intense and I was stretching very painfully I was so worried I would tear that I purposefully did not push until it became involuntary. I could feel Toby kicking the top of my uterus during some of the pushes, helping himself to come out and meet us. I do remember that Dinah told me to stop making screaming sounds and instead to turn it into a low grunting sound during pushing. I would grunt during some of it and other times I would say “Ow ow ow ow ow ow, No no no no no no no” etc.
Before too long, I finally managed to push out Toby’s head, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t torn because all I ever felt was a lot of pressure and stretching pain but no sharp pains or rips. Dinah told me to get on my hands and knees, and within a few moments his shoulders came out and before I knew it Dinah told me to reach down and hold my baby, someone handed him to me through my legs and I was holding him against my body. He was out! I was so relieved. I cuddled up with him and he nursed, and I let people take care of me and him and I pretty much ignored whatever else went on. He was born at 8:16 am, after just a little more than 4 hours of labor since my water had broken.
The placenta was much easier to push out!
After the fact, I would not wish to give birth alone anymore- I was so glad to have Dinah, Monica, and Joel there to help me and comfort me. Not to mention to take care of the mess. Even though there wasn’t a lot they could do for me (to stop the pain or give birth to the baby for me would have been nice), they were there to make sure we were both ok, and to reassure me that I was doing a great job. But if I had to give birth alone, if it was just too fast, I would be ok because I know how the body takes over and does its job so well. I only had a couple of labial tears that did not require any stitches. They burned when I went to the bathroom and hurt for a week or so, and within a couple of weeks I was almost able to forget I had had a baby so recently because I felt so good. I wasn’t bleeding much anymore and the tiny tears had pretty much healed. I have been a bit sore from pushing the baby out, but that gets better a little every day and it is so much easier than the episiotomy recovery was with Isaac.
Giving birth at home is so nice. I would never choose a hospital birth again. When they finally weighed Toby we found out he was 9 lbs 15 oz and 21.25 inches long. Dinah had said at my last prenatal checkup that she thought he was around 9 pounds, and he was even bigger. I couldn’t believe I had such a huge baby, but to me he still seemed tiny.
This really was an empowering experience. As someone who hadn’t actually had an unmedicated birth before this one, I had my doubts about what might go wrong, and I anxiously awaited the birth and hoped for no hospital transfer and no complications. During the birth there was really nothing to do but to go with my body. I didn’t have to think through anything or wonder what to do, I just pushed with the urges and coped with the pain minute by minute. My body basically took over and I let it do its thing.
Knowing what a woman is capable of, and thinking about the amazing miracle of the process of pregnancy, growing a life inside of you, letting that life be born naturally, and nourishing the baby from the breast, it now seems so foreign and odd to even consider having anyone but a midwife care for me during pregnancy and birth. If there were complications that required medical care in a hospital setting, I would gladly submit for my baby’s sake and my own. But the entire process is profoundly normal and natural if you allow it to be. A woman’s body is a wonder all its own, and our babies deserve the peacefulness of a home birth without interference.
Bonding with your baby and your family in your own home is a true blessing. I wish for other women to make the same choice I did, to have a home birth, so they too can experience the empowerment, the peace, and the restfulness that go along with letting things happen naturally and recuperating at home from the very first moment they are holding their precious babies. I wish them luck and peace whatever they choose.
Incidentally, I have had no postpartum anxiety, panic attacks, or depression this time around. It is true what they say about out-of-hospital births being better for women emotionally and mentally. I don’t really know if it’s all the drugs in hospitals, or the peacefulness of a home birth, the way they take away your power and your role as the one birthing and delivering the baby in a hospital – where they say that a doctor delivers the baby – or some sort of cosmic force behind it all, but to me a home birth feels like the right thing, like the universe is happy or something!
I also feel like Toby is happy and peaceful, like he doesn’t know how great he has it, like everything is normal, even though in our society he is somewhat of an aberration to have such a gentle start to life. When I look in his eyes I see a completely innocent creature and I feel wonderful about the way we have started out our time together during his baby-hood. It’s kind of neat to know that he has never been within 10 feet of a hospital or stuck with needles or needlessly separated from his mommy. He has only been cared for and held by people I trust and know, and only long enough for me to take a shower or do a few things for Isaac or around the house. You can’t say that for most babies who start out life being taken away by strangers in a cold, rigid hospital with all their routines and rules and procedures.