In honor of my daughter’s 3rd birthday (whaaaat), I thought I’d share her home birth story. I wrote most of this shortly after it happened so I wouldn’t forget the details.
Happy Birthday, sweet girl! You are our sunshine!
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While I was pregnant, one thing I enjoyed doing the most was reading others’ accounts of their deliveries, particularly the home-birthers. I wanted to be educated and emotionally prepared. I wanted to learn how the mothers’ emotional states affected their birthing. I wanted to see how they prepared before and after conception. I wanted to be armed with knowledge.
It made all the difference in the world. I went in with no fear. It was physically the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, and it lasted much longer than I thought it would. But God knew what He was doing when He designed women for delivering babies. I had to trust Him and trust the process. I KNEW that I could do it, that it was “good” pain, that it was temporary. Holding on to that got me through it.
Hopefully some nervous, curious, first-time pregnant mama like me is out there and will read this and find knowledge and comfort.
Hubby convinced me to “stop being careful” in July 2011. We had been married a little over two years and didn’t want to wait all the way until I was done with school to start having kids. I ended up conceiving exactly one year later in July 2012. My first trimester wasn’t terrible (maybe because I slept through most of it), but it definitely threw us for a loop.
I suspected pregnancy just a day or two before my period was due, as it was unlike me to suddenly completely depend on a good, long, midday nap. My period never came, but thanks to a couple flukes I’d experienced that previous year, I waited until I was allegedly 6 weeks along to take a test. We were thrilled when it came back positive. After spending the day on a hike, dreaming about parenthood, and grabbing burgers, we called our families that night with the news and told them to keep it secret; they could barely contain themselves.
I went to the doctor’s office the next day for a blood test, which also positively confirmed pregnancy. The tiredness increased, and other symptoms set in within the next few days. I got through the whole pregnancy without puking, but I was still super sleepy, queasy, averse to most foods and the whole kitchen (especially ground beef… ugh), bloated, and moody. I felt best on the days I made myself break a sweat exercising, but it was difficult not only because of my fatigue, but also because of the mid-summer heat while we lived in Las Vegas. I craved sushi like crazy — raw salmon and avocado, specifically — and definitely indulged a few times.
The ickiness began clearing up around 10 weeks. At 11 weeks we went in for the first ultrasound. It was amazing! The reality of a little growing baby set in a little more, and we couldn’t wait to publicly announce the news. That day we got some ice cream and checked out an exotic-pet store. Hubby was relieved that I could stand to be in the kitchen again. By 13 weeks I felt normal and just continued with my busy daily routine, incorporating more physical activity wherever I could.
My second trimester was a breeze — definitely a blessing because there was a lot else going on in life that kept me busy and demanded a lot of energy. This was such a special time, though. I really enjoyed my daily walking and working out in our pretty neighborhood. There was a nice park right up the street, and I spent a lot of time there as the weather cooled down for fall. Want to know what’s good for pregnancy? Stairs. Our apartment was three flights up, and I hiked those suckers every day, huffing and puffing by the end every time. I also never had to buy bigger pants. Blueberries were my primary craving at this time, especially if they were cooked, like in muffins.
I felt Baby’s first movement at the end of 16 weeks, which was incredible. My mom said I’d never ever get tired of that, and she was right. Doubly incredible was seeing movement on the outside the first time. Please grow, little one! We went in for ultrasound number two at 20 weeks and found out that Baby was a girl! The only name we had agreed on so far was a girl’s name, conveniently, and it was put to good use. We had a simple Thanksgiving together by ourselves and soon after, at the beginning of December, said goodbye to Vegas forever and moved back to California.
Life was a blur at this time while we uprooted amid work and school. Once winter break started for me, however, I was able to rest a bit and catch up after the craziness. We made the transition and eventually settled in to our cozy, sturdy, one-bedroom apartment in SoCal. It was now that I sought out my midwife for the rest of my prenatal care and planned to give birth at home. After plenty of research in preceding months, I had already decided that is what I wanted so long as our health continued so well. I began meeting with my midwife, and honestly I can’t say enough good things about her and her team. The level of care in a doctor’s office doesn’t even compare (in a normal situation, of course!). I have an interesting story about my results from refusing or finding alternatives for all the prenatal tests and vaccines that will be in another post.
The beginning of the third trimester was just like the second: fairly easy and uneventful, except my belly was definitely growing and making it harder to move around. I was still busy with work and school and getting used to life here in California. I craved butter and ate plenty of it. I continued exercising when I could, mostly walking (up steep hills whenever I could), some easy yoga, and lots of squats. When I hit 37 weeks, however, I was a little afraid of extensive physical activity in case labor would be induced. I wanted to reach my due date (April 2) so I could finish the full school term (ending March 29) and so I could use a little of my spare time to finish preparing our home for a new baby. I hadn’t done much so far.
Once my temporary leave from school began, I took a few days to come up for air and then got busy with the final details of cleaning, cooking, and stocking up on supplies for the postpartum days. When the house was prepared (I never pinpointed a distinct nesting phase), I felt ready to have the baby and spent my time relaxing, exercising, working on small projects, and waiting… and waiting… and waiting more. My due date came and went, and still not a single sign of true labor.
Another week passed, and I started getting irrationally emotional. I was so uncomfortable, done with pregnancy, and ready to move forward. On the other hand, I also wanted nothing to do with an artificial induction. The mere thought of resisting a doctor’s pressure to induce compelled me to further withdraw from the world. All I wanted to do was hide at home, away from “You’re still pregnant?” comments, and be surrounded by quietness and privacy. Yes, I was thankful that our health was stellar, as far as I could tell; but it was a daily battle to surrender to God’s timing, especially when feeling so emotionally out of control.
They really get to you, the thoughts and doubts and fears looming over you as the clock ticks by. Unknown life changes will take place in a matter of hours under the height of human physical pain. Will I survive? Will my baby survive? Do I have enough courage? What is my story? And when will it start?
-LABOR AND DELIVERY-
The day before labor finally started was a Saturday. The hubby was out for the morning/afternoon, so I spent that whole day praying and quieting my mind. I took all day just to eat slowly, take a long walk, sit in the sunshine, take a long shower, and rest. It was such a quiet, restful day; the calm before the storm. In retrospect I’m pretty sure the stress I was handling throughout pregnancy resulted in the long, late labor and long recovery you’ll read about.
At 41 weeks and 5 days, Sunday morning, I finally went into spontaneous labor. I already planned on staying home from church (crowds of people were overwhelming). I woke up just before 8:00 a.m. with a “different” contraction. I lay still and waited to see if it happened again. It did, 20 minutes later. Then it happened exactly 20 minutes later a third time! I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I kept paying attention. They started coming 15 minutes apart and didn’t go away when I used the bathroom and got up to cook breakfast. I told the hubby that I suspected labor, and we decided to go out for a long walk to get some fresh air. It felt lovely. Contractions started coming every 10 minutes and stayed that way for a while. When we got home, they stalled for about an hour but picked up again around lunchtime. We alerted the midwife and our parents, and my mom stopped by that afternoon to help with a few things. By then, contractions were definitely stronger, coming about 7 minutes apart, and I let myself hope that we’d be meeting our baby soon. I never thought I’d be so relieved to feel pain.
When bedtime came, I tried to sleep, but it got impossible pretty fast. By 10 p.m. contractions were 5 minutes apart and required all my attention and focused breathing. At midnight I moved to my rocking chair (the hubby’s special baby gift for me) in the living room and sat there the rest of the night, laboring in the dark. I didn’t sleep at all, but I was still incredibly thankful that the time had finally come. At 6:00 a.m. I got to the point where I felt I needed help, so I called my midwife. She was attending another mama close to delivery at that point, so she sent over a backup midwife and assistant. They arrived and got busy setting up all their things, evaluating me, and making sure I was comfortable. Later I found out that the midwife didn’t even think I was in real labor. They checked my dilation and I was 4 cm. Almost a full 24 hours of labor had passed and I was at a 4? I had expected to be further along, but I wasn’t disappointed. I could keep going. Dilation can change in a matter of minutes. The assistant, whom I had spent time with prenatally and really liked, sat down with me and we chatted. She informed me that the longest part of labor was over, but the hardest part was coming up. If I remember correctly, she prayed with me, helped me focus on Scripture, and encouraged me to keep surrendering the process to God, to keep trusting Him no matter how hard it gets.
The midwife and assistant decided to leave and let me labor by myself (with my hubby, of course) until I got to feeling “pushy.” They told me to just keep walking around, moving through every contraction, and to call my midwife when I felt like pushing (for she’d be done with the other family by that time). The hubby ordered himself breakfast (I had no appetite) at a restaurant down the street, and we walked there together to pick it up. If there were more bystanders, I think they’d have been scared to see a giant pregnant lady in obvious pain so far outside a hospital. All that was going through my head was “keep walking… keep breathing… keep walking… keep breathing” while it hurt. It did indeed hurt. The hubby and I slowly walked back home. I spent the next hour urgently pacing every square inch of our little apartment, sipping water during the short moments I wasn’t hurting. Whew, it was hard work, getting through those contractions. “Labor” indeed. I lost my mucus plug around this time.
Before long, I found myself pushing a little bit to relieve the pressure I felt with each contraction. I have little memory of the subsequent events’ exact timing. All my focus was on breathing deeply and not losing control over my reactions. The pain was moving lower and lower, and then I started pushing harder and more involuntarily. Fear that I was going to push the baby out without a midwife there crept in, so I gave my phone to the hubby and told him to call her right away. Leaning forward felt good, so I leaned over our bathroom sink until she showed up. When she and her assistant arrived, they quietly let me do my thing as they evaluated my state from a distance and prepared their supplies. I moved to the toilet and labored there for a bit. My water broke, but not much came out. Baby’s head was definitely descending. The midwife had me move to the bed to check my dilation. I was at 9 cm (only three hours after the last check) and would have been at transition if not for a small lip of cervix blocking Baby’s head! My memory is also fuzzy here, but I believe the midwife started guiding me through pushes while moving the lip out of the way. Ouch.
They had me turn on my left side to continue pushing, monitoring Baby’s heartbeat every few contractions. The midwife coached me on how to push, and both she and her assistant were so encouraging the whole time. They switched me over to my right side, but noticed that the baby’s heartbeat started dipping with each contraction in that position. So back to my left it was, where the heart rate returned to normal fluctuations. Midwife’s assistant was helping hold my leg up. My hubby was up by my head, holding my hand and providing things to drink. He was so great. I was running out of physical energy and had to choke down a spoonful of raw honey. The urge to push as contractions came on was unbelievable. It was like my entire torso, all the way up to my throat, just cramped up and squeezed downward. Trying to suppress it was out of the question.
Baby’s head moved through the birth canal… we were so close! All my concentration was on staying relaxed, simultaneously pushing with each contraction, giving it all my might and trying to be effective. I felt plenty of stretching and burning. Her head was right there! The midwife had me stop with the big pushes and told me to only give fast, little pushes as the head crowned to prevent tearing. She had me reach down and touch my daughter’s emerging, fuzzy baby head. It was surreal. Little pushes, little breaths. Suddenly, her head was out! With the next contraction — maybe it was two? — she wiggled her shoulders through, and the rest of her just slid out! The time was noted as 11:46 a.m., exactly 45 minutes of pushing. The midwife immediately placed her on my belly. Bumble Bee squawked a few times and cried; I held her and gently shushed her (which didn’t feel natural at all). I was breathless, relieved to be done. I looked at this baby in disbelief. How on earth did something that huge just come out of me? I actually did it! And as she cried and writhed, warm and covered in goop, I also couldn’t believe that she was mine. I had a baby now. I was a mom! This is who was kicking and squirming and growing inside me for the last ten months! She’s real! It was amazing.
Afterwards, I just rested while everyone cleaned up around me and checked me for injuries. I got by with a minor tear not requiring stitches. Coaxing the placenta out was very unpleasant, but there was no problem with it. I discovered that Baby had released some meconium in utero, and I was thankful that no complications arose because of it. My midwife also said that the cord was looped around her head like a headband and was pressed more to the right, which is why Baby’s heart rate slowed while I lay on my right side.
Baby latched on to nurse without a hitch. I ate and drank some small things and took a hot shower when I felt strong enough to stand. Oh, that felt good. In the meantime, everything and everybody cleaned up. Baby Bee was weighed, diapered, and swaddled. The midwife and her assistant set the three of us up on the bed and gave us some papers and final instructions for recovery and newborn care. And that was it! They left for the afternoon, and I nodded off to sleep after staring in wonder at this new, delicate little person.
I couldn’t — and still can’t — wrap my head around how much of a gift she is. It is quite humbling to hold a tiny child in your arms, someone who is half you and half your life’s love, yet wholly her own person, and realize that God has entrusted this little soul to you to nurture and prepare for His greater plan. I’ve realized how incompetent I am for such a job; I am many things that I don’t want her to be also. But I am a sinning human like the rest of the world. I am not capable of raising a perfect child, neither is she capable of turning out as a perfect person. What matters is that we realize our desperate need for Christ and accept Him as the free gift He is. I hope and pray, more importantly than anything, that Bumble Bee and any of our future kids learn to seek Him on their own.
Deep stuff aside, I LOVE being a mommy! We’re six weeks into it, and it just keeps getting better. Bumble Bee loves cooing and smiling at everyone. I never understood the desire to just sit and stare at your kid all day, but now I do, especially when Daddy plays with her. And she is the cutest little thing, in my perfectly unbiased opinion. She keeps us busy, that’s for sure. But I have zero complaints. That’s life. With kids, the challenges may increase, but so do the joys. I can hardly remember life before her, before all the snuggles, tiny noises, and seeing her face. I don’t even recognize my old self. How did I exist without a little baby depending on me for everything? Thinking back, life before seems so empty and boring. Not that a baby is the answer to inner fulfillment by any means. Don’t believe that lie. But a baby brings so much more LIFE into your life. It’s pretty great. Praise God!
– NOTES TO FUTURE MAMAS –
I’d like to point out a few things that, in spite of many months of reading about and studying the subject of pregnancy/birth, still caught me by surprise.
Afterpains. I knew about them, but I didn’t know they’d be a big deal. You’re not done with contractions after pushing that baby out. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I still felt like I was in sporadic labor as I birthed the placenta and for several days following. It legitimately hurt. And these intense cramps really kick in every time you nurse… which is all the time at first. It’ll take you back to labor, like contraction PTSD. So during those first nights when you’re waking up and feeding the baby, it’s dark, kind of lonely, and you hurt badly all over the inside and outside, hang in there. It passes before you know it.
No core. Suddenly your heavy baby-belly will be gone and your pelvis, back, and midsection will feel like jelly. Your insides will feel so weird as they settle back into their proper places. Don’t freak out, but you may probably even see your tummy moving while your intestines are at work. It’s like a baby is still in there. Your abs and diaphragm will be weak, so breathing, sneezing, coughing, laughing, or pushing will be difficult. Your center of gravity has to shift again, so you’ll be a little dizzy and off balance. C-section mamas have another realm of things they experience (often more difficult, I’ve heard). Thankfully, your bladder returns to full capacity super fast. It will be strange and awesome when you first realize you haven’t used the bathroom for a full half-hour and you still don’t need to just yet.
You need more time. I thought recovery would be a piece of cake and I’d be able to handle most of my former responsibilities within the first month of delivery. Not so. Go ahead, laugh. Healing physically while caring for my baby has taken much more time than I expected. I’m used to a high level of productivity every day, so slowing down has been a huge challenge. But it has been good for me to learn more of Mary’s ways, for I am naturally a Martha.
You may not feel like a mom right away. A lot of moms describe love at first sight or lots of warm and fuzzy feelings about their babies right after delivering them. This is not always the case, but that doesn’t mean it’s not normal. I didn’t “feel” the gushy kind of love until about two weeks postpartum. Of course it was instinctual to keep this tiny baby alive and care for her as well as possible; it just took a little time before she didn’t feel like a stranger. Give it time. Your “normal” is changing dramatically and suddenly. The emotions will sort themselves out. (Yet sometimes they don’t. There is nothing wrong and everything right about reaching out for help if you suspect postpartum depression.) Love grows.