Ms. Ella is here! She made her entrance on Wednesday, October 14th at 1:45 in the afternoon. She was just over 8 pounds, and I don’t know how long she was because we still haven’t measured her! But she’s healthy and beautiful, and nursing like a champ.
I still feel like I’m processing things a little. The events of Wednesday get all swimmy in my head when I think about them.
I suppose the story of Ella’s birth really begins back in January of 2008 when I delivered Aiden. We had a typical hospital birth with him, complete with an epidural and Pitocin, and followed by a 5 hour NICU stay because of a quivery chin. Aiden was born at 6:55 in the morning. Because I had a bad reaction to the epidural, I was vomiting and fighting low blood pressure within seconds of him being born. I barely saw him before they whisked him away to the NICU, and within moments of him being born, the room had cleared, and I was sitting in the bed, still numb and unable to move from the epidural, intermittently vomiting and trying not to pass out, completely alone. I remember thinking in that moment that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I should be enjoying my newborn, and celebrating with my husband, and instead I was completely alone and my husband and the newborn I hadn’t even seen, were gone.
Five hours later, they finally brought me my son, and by that point I was so upset at how things had progressed, I just wanted to pack him up and go home. But instead, we stayed the 72 hours our insurance allowed, being poked and prodded by intrusive nurses who would barely let us fall asleep before they had some other test they needed to whisk him off to the nursery for.
In the months after Aiden was born, Shawn and I discussed at length if we were done having children, or if we thought we might want another one someday down the road. We were overwhelmed with a newborn, a 12 month old, and a four year old, but still weren’t completely convinced that our family was completely finished. We thought maybe when Aiden was two or three we might try just once more.
It took me several months to completely recover, emotionally, from Aiden’s birth. I struggled with feelings of guilt; the quivery chin that sent him to the NICU was caused by low blood sugar, which was caused by my decision to have an epidural. The epidural also caused my low blood pressure and my vomiting post-delivery, which led me to not be able to properly advocate for my son after he was born. I struggled with the thoughts of him having spent the first few hours of his life in a bassinet in the NICU being poked and prodded and given shots I didn’t consent to, instead of being held and snuggled and nursed by his mommy.
I spent the next months not only trying to make up for the critical bonding time I’d lost with my son, but also researching my options so that when we did decide to have another baby; what happened with Aiden wouldn’t happen again. And that is when I discovered homebirthing. And instinctually, it just felt so right. I could give birth in the comfort of my home, surrounded by my children and my husband, and have a peaceful, loving transition to life for my newborn.
So, in February, when we found out we were expecting again, it felt only natural that one of the first phone calls I would make was to a midwife.
When I first hired our midwife, I felt a little hesitant about her. Despite our shared views on birth and homeschooling and western medicine, our personalities never seemed to completely mesh. She was quiet and reserved, and I….well, am not. But, I felt at peace with her, and as time went on, we became friends with her and her family, and my faith in her to help me achieve the birth I was looking for was solidified. So, it hit me pretty hard when, in early September we had a falling out that caused Shawn and I to decide to end the relationship with her. Not only had we lost a woman who had become a family friend, but along with her, I seemed to have lost my ideal birthing situation.
Shawn and I spent a few days going over our options. Living in a small town, there weren’t any other midwives to turn to. I had seen one other midwife a few weeks earlier in Iowa City, when I had needed a prescription. I adored her…her energy was amazing, and every time I talked to her I walked away feeling like I could do anything. But sadly, she was too far away to attend my birth, and with less than six weeks before the baby was due, she was booked up for the month anyway. But we talked a couple of times in the days after I made the decision to let my midwife go, and between talking to her and talking to each other, and reading everything we could get our hands on, we decided we could do this on our own. We didn’t need to go to the hospital, we didn’t need a midwife. We could have the intimate homebirth we wanted, and we could do it ourselves.
The next few weeks were spent preparing. A friend of mine had just gone through Doula training, so we hired her to attend our birth. We ordered supplies, researched homeopathics to have on hand, and read countless books on what to do in the rare case of an emergency. I spent time mentally preparing for the birth; I focused on trusting my body to know what to do, and prepared myself to completely surrender to the experience I was about to have. Shawn and I spent time talking to each other; confronting our fears, laying out our expectations, and building up a trust that together, we were capable of doing this.
In the week before my due date, I spent several nights awake in the living room, listening to music and meditating while my body went through prodromal labor. I would have steady contractions for hours that would eventually fade to nothing. And while it was endlessly frustrating, I had a great support group of women who had also free-birthed, who reminded me that my body was preparing itself, and the more work it did now, the less work labor would be when the time came.
Wednesday morning, the fourteenth, I woke up having contractions. But given that I’d been having them for nearly a week solid, I didn’t give it much thought. By 9:30, I noticed that they were steadily three to four minutes apart, so I called Shawn at work to tell him that, while I was sure they would go nowhere, he should probably keep his cell phone close by, just in case. I also called my doula, Tabatha, to let her know. I went about the morning, cleaning, changing diapers, and chatting on the phone with my mom.
Around 10:30, I was having to stop and breathe through a contraction occasionally, so I called Shawn again. He timed contractions for a few minutes while we talked, and decided they were steady enough that he’d come home for lunch. If it turned out to be real labor he’d stay home, and if not, he’d head back to the office after lunch. While I waited for him to get home, I fixed the kids lunches and put them in baggies in the fridge. I cleaned up the last minute toys, finished up some things I didn’t want to have to do later on if this turned out to be real labor.
Shawn got home around 11:30, and by 11:45 I was having to hold on to the counter during contractions, and I told him I didn’t think he would be going back to work. By 12:15, I was on all fours over the end of the couch, and he was putting Aiden down for his nap. At 12:30, I told him I thought he should call Tabatha. He finished his lunch, laid Aiden down and called her. After he hung up with her, I needed to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t get there alone. He walked beside me, and by the time we reached the hallway, we had to stop for the second time so I could breathe through another contraction. At that point, I braced my back against the wall, and leaned my head into Shawn’s chest. And, at the height of the contraction, in the middle of my breathing and moaning, I started laughing, and managed to say to Shawn “Oh my god, you smell like potato chips so bad!!” He laughed and promised to brush his teeth as soon as he helped me back to the couch.
I was having insanely strong contractions at that point, and despite my visions of having a quiet labor where I breathed silently through each new contraction, I was moaning loudly through the pain, into my pillow. Mentally, I kept thinking about how ridiculous I must have sounded, but each time I’d try and fight making noise, it would intensify the contraction, and send me into a panic. Being on all fours was the only position that would accomodate the pain of labor and the pain of my SPD.
Tabatha was here by 1:15, and she arrived just as I was having this mental debate with myself about being quiet during contractions, and doing so had left me bent over the end of the couch sobbing into my pillow. I was pretty sure I was going to scare her away from doula-ing forever! Once she arrived, I needed to use the bathroom again, and she and Shawn helped me to the bathroom. Tabatha waited for me, while Shawn got the birth pool and began filling it with air. He was on the floor filling it up when I got back to the couch.
Shawn and I had talked in the days before labor about how when I got to the point that I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, I wanted him to remind me that this probably meant that I was in transition, and that things were almost over.
By the time I got back to the couch, I had reached that point. I was practically screaming through each contraction, and there was no way I could imagine getting off the couch and into the pool. I kept trying to vocalize this, but my contractions were so strong, all I could say was, “I can’t, I can’t” which left Tabatha and Shawn saying, “But you are! You are doing it!” Shawn reminded me that I was probably in transition, and while I certainly felt that way, my labors have been historically SO LONG, I couldn’t even begin to fathom we might be near the end.
But, two contractions later, I felt my water break. Tabatha got a bunch of towels, and put them underneath me. One contraction later, I suddenly felt the need to push. I told them I thought I needed to, and since I was still wearing my pants, Shawn came over and tried to help me get them off. Except he tried to take them off while I was in the middle of a contraction, screaming into my pillow, and I begged him to wait. Finally, the contraction ended and he and Tabatha were able to get my pants off. The whole time, I kept thinking, “I’m going to ruin the couch!” But there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go, even if I could have moved, which at this point I couldn’t.
It didn’t matter though, because one contraction after they got my pants off, I had pushed her head out. Shawn reminded me to stop pushing and “breathe the baby out,” something we had talked about doing before she was born. But the desire to push was so strong, I thought I would give one small push, and then breathe her out. But that one small push was enough, and I felt her body slide out of me and into her Daddy’s waiting hands. She was pink and perfect, and she let out a tiny cry almost immediately. Fifteen minutes later, I delivered the placenta, and Shawn cut the cord.
The kids are doing really well. Connor was a little unsure if he wanted to be there for the birth, or if he would be too nervous, but he ended up watching her be born from about three feet away! Afterwards he told me he was glad he had stayed, and that now, he thinks he wants to be a doctor! Autumn…well….Autumn did pretty good. She handled my moaning and screaming like a trooper, but was less thrilled when the baby actually came out. She ended up running into the hallway crying and saying she was scared over and over again. Afterwards, she said about a hundred times, “I was scared, I was crying. That baby was gross. That baby was dirty!!” Screaming and moaning didn’t phase her, but a little meconium really freaked her out! I have also heard about ten times in the past few days, “Mommy, that baby fell out of your butt!” And, Aiden slept through the entire thing! When he woke up about an hour after the birth, I had already showered and was sitting on the couch nursing Ella. He walked out and was totally oblivious to the fact that I had a baby on my lap, but was more excited that the birth pool was in the living room! When he finally realized the baby was with me, he ran over screaming, “BABY!! BABY!” and kissed her about fifty times. All of them are completely in love with her, and are falling all over each other trying to be the one that gets to hold her next!
Four days later…Physically I’m doing amazing. I felt better half an hour after giving birth than I felt two weeks afterwards with my hospital births. Emotionally…I’m still a little shocked that things progressed as quickly as they did. I’m still on a bit of an adrenaline high from the whole thing, that is only recharged each time someone asks me about the birth. I can honestly say that having a free-birth has changed who I am as a mother and who I am as a woman. It has changed the way I view what I am capable of, and has increased the trust I have in myself. Despite the chaos and the fast-pace, it was an amazingly intimate experience between Shawn and me. It left me feeling as if together, he and I can do anything.
Overall, the birth was nothing like I planned for. It was nothing like what I was expecting. But it was everything I hoped it would be.