Some parts were pulled from things I previously wrote about the birth, so if something looks familiar, that’s why. Anyway, here it is.
The Birth of Vera Jean
When I found out I was pregnant I knew I wanted a home birth. My older sister had just had a successful home birth and I had been talking with her for months about it- doing research alongside her. When it came time for me to make a decision about how I was going to birth, it was an easy choice. I knew I wanted to have the same midwife, Amanda, at my birth too. My sister had been so comfortable with her, and I was impressed by what I had seen. Besides, she only lived a block away from me. I called Amanda and we started the process.
I remember I had to adjust in many ways to the alternative care I received. I was so used to trusting doctors- to being told definitively what to do in each situation. It’s not really like I wanted to do that. I was even somewhat disillusioned by the whole doctor thing… I went to my doctor for my initial prenatal care, and they put me on medication for high blood pressure, telling me that the baby needed nutrients and they were very worried. They even told me that I may have had a tumor. Long story short, it turned out they were using a faulty blood pressure machine, and everything was fine. Needless to say, I was not a fan of conventional care at the time, and yet I still found myself mentally giving Amanda all of the authority. However, over the first few months I found myself feeling more and more empowered and trusted by her. She gave me lots of information and at each step let me know what my choices were and how much power I had. She never told me what to do. She never made me feel scared or helpless. She really made sure to let me know that she was there as a facilitator, but that I was the driver in this process. And so my baby grew.
I woke up to a dull aching in the bottom of my belly. I looked at the clock- 4:30 in the morning. I got up, went to the bathroom, drank some water, and went back to bed. I barely slept and by I was up for good. I nudged Jeff, my partner, and told him it was time, so he got up and went to take the day off work. I started to feel the ache come like a wave- starting in my back and moving around through my belly. I had been feeling random painless contractions for weeks, but nothing like this. Still, I doubted. I had four days until my due date, and I knew that first babies often come “late.” I didn’t want to alert everyone if it was only going to be a false alarm. By I was leaking clear fluid. I waited until to call my mom. She said she would be by, but was going to have breakfast and would come by later. At Amanda came and checked the baby and said she’d come back later. By my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart. By then everyone was here- my mother, my husband, Amanda, and her apprentice, Kate. We put on the movie Anne of Green Gables, and I actually enjoyed myself- watching each person in the room talk and entertain themselves. I occasionally leaned my head back and let the wave come, and then it would pass and I would come back. I had to keep myself from trying to play hostess as I wondered if anyone would like anything to eat or drink.
By that evening, though, I had lost that inclination and I was fully focused. The contractions were more intense, and my mom was helping me focus through them. Night came, and I was still slowly leaking clear fluid. I worked hard through the night. I wandered all through the dark house. Each person kept me company at some point, and Amanda checked on the baby frequently. Everyone tried to get some sleep, although it was the furthest thing from my mind. I remember at one point everyone slept and the house was silent. I walked through the house and looked at each person sleeping. It occurred to me then that no one was worried about me. Everyone was resting and had faith in my body and this process. I felt encouraged by their sleep.
By early morning, though, I was exhausted. I was sitting on a yoga ball which initially helped me through contractions because I could bounce a little and roll my hips, but when they passed I would start to slowly roll off until I jolted awake again. I had been in labor for over a day and was anxious to know how close I was. Amanda asked me if I wanted to be checked and I decided I did. I was 6 centimeters dilated. I took some cramp root bark to help bring the contractions together, as they had slowed to every 6 minutes or so. It worked, and my contractions picked up to every three minutes. Labor felt intense, and everyone was so helpful. I had back labor, which was making it difficult to relax between contractions. My mom rubbed my back and Jeff rubbed my legs. I felt so loved. By late morning, however, the contractions slowed to every 9 minutes. At that point I felt grateful because I got some much needed sleep between them. Amanda suggested that each person go home and give Jeff and me a little time to refocus. I felt like it was a good idea, and so soon we were back where we had started, the house quiet again. I slept.
When Amanda came back to check on me she noticed my temperature had risen. She was concerned and had me push fluids for the next several minutes. I was having trouble wanting more than a sip here and a sip there, although Amanda told me that the rise in temperature was concerning because it could mean either dehydration or a possible infection. We decided that I would try to drink more, but an hour passed and my temperature remained elevated.
It was 5:30 pm. Amanda sat solemnly next to me and explained that because of my continued high temperature and the lack of regular contractions she felt it was important to transport to the hospital. I felt so sad. I had planned and meditated and prepared for this birth- the last place I wanted to go was the hospital. I sat on the couch next to my mom and Amanda. I remember wanting to be as positive as I could, but a part of me felt like it was breaking. I shed a few tears and tried to accept it. My mom held my hand and prayed for me. She prayed for the baby. Even though I was disappointed, I felt so supported and loved.
We woke up Jeff and told him about the new plan. I took a shower (as all women do before going to the hospital) and it felt incredible. We got to work packing the bag for the hospital. I had joked about not having to pack one before, and it all seemed so strange. I wasn’t even sure what I needed. And so we went. Amanda had called ahead, so checking in was a breeze. I felt the contractions get stronger as we came in. Everyone was nice, and soon enough I was in the hospital garb- the gown, the IV, the fetal monitor wrapped around my belly. Strangely enough I felt very confident. The doctor was just how I imagined. She took charge and told me she was going to check me. I was still at 6. They started me on some saline solution and I perked up quickly. It was interesting to see my contractions on the monitor- I would silently float away into one, almost disappearing, and then I’d come back and look at the screen to see where I had gone. They were little mountains I climbed, evidence of my hard work. Occasionally I’d hear Jeff or my mom say “That was a big one!” I started to get cold from the saline drip, and they brought me a heated blanket. Soon enough I had to pee, so I asked Jeff to help me to the bathroom.
We told the nurse that we were going to the bathroom, and she gave us a cup so they could get a sample. We got to the bathroom and I was glad to have Jeff’s support- things were getting so heavy. Finally I squatted over the toilet, positioned the cup just so, and WHOOSH! I heard a waterfall beneath me. I looked at Jeff and told him that I’d never peed like that before. He looked startled and said “No, Grace, I think your water just broke!” I pulled the cup out from under me and it was filled to the brim. I didn’t know what to do, so I just put the cap on and wiped off the sides. We got back to the room and whispered the news to Amanda and my mom. We just set the cup on the countertop, and joked about whether or not we were going to get busted for not giving a real urine sample. The nurse came and took my temperature, and it was back to normal.
My contractions got very close and strong, and I said I wanted to go back home if I could. Amanda said that was fine if I wanted to, so we started to prepare for our departure. I could feel the excitement as everyone got my things together, and we decided to up the speed of the drip. Jeff moved the little lever and it felt cold in my veins. It made me shiver. I was thrilled. The doctor came in and we told her we’d like to go, and she explained that they would prefer me to stay. In that moment I felt very strong, and I knew what she was going to say. I thanked her for her input, but explained that I wanted to go home. The nurse came in and took the cup away, and she commented about how much better it looked. We giggled and hoped they wouldn’t find out what was really in the cup. The first doctor soon brought in another doctor, who seconded her advice to stay. She told me based on how long I had been in labor they considered it abnormal and since my water hadn’t broken (that they knew of) they would like to watch me. I again thanked her, but said I would like to go home and that I would sign the papers to leave. She told me I’d have to sign the “against medical advisement” papers, and I agreed. Finally, the head doctor came in. He was a tall and very friendly man, who asked us again what our plans were. He explained that he was concerned about the length of my labor, and that they would like to keep an eye on me and consider giving me some Pitocin and see where things went. He explained that if things didn’t progress that they’d consider a cesarean. I thanked him again for his help, but explained that I’d really like to be going. He assured me that he would even let Amanda deliver the baby if that made me more comfortable. In the end, they gave me the discharge form and I signed. The nurse came back in and told us my sample looked great. We exchanged glances and thanked her. She wished me luck.
At that point I could barely move, so my mom and Amanda helped me get dressed while Jeff rushed to get the car. It was . They wheeled me out and I remember waving to the nurses and the women at the front desk on our way out. Driving was hard. Every bump he hit felt like it radiated through my body. It was so intense I wondered if I would be able to walk. Minutes later we arrived home, and I prayed in the driveway to get a break. I prayed for just the tiniest moment, seconds, so I could walk in the house. All of a sudden I felt relief. I walked around the car, up the steps, and into the house. I flung my coat off and headed for the bathroom. As I sat down I felt the first inkling to push. It was so powerful! I shouted at Jeff and he yelled to Amanda that I was pushing. I heard her say “Wait!!!” The urge soon passed and I moved to the bedroom and lay on the bed, occasionally feeling a push come. Amanda checked me and I was at 9 centimeters.
I started to feel overcome. I glanced around desperately and told them I just wanted a break. Kate joined us and rubbed my feet a little. I knew it was close. With the back labor in between each contraction, it was relentless. Amanda checked me again and I was complete. Kate suggested I go to the bathroom. I felt like I could, so I went and sat on the toilet. I felt an overwhelming urge to push there, and just went for it. I don’t remember much from this time, it was all-encompassing. Jeff came up behind me and lifted me off the toilet. I crawled the two feet from the toilet into the kitchen and pushed on all-fours. I wondered if my pushes were doing anything, and Amanda told me to reach down and feel. I reached down and felt the top of the baby’s head and some hair. I felt a jolt of excitement and I remember thinking “There’s really a baby there!” I pushed. I felt a burning and said “Ow, ow, ow!” Amanda said “Push through the ‘ow’!” I pushed. Before I knew it the baby was out.
Amanda said something with the word “he”- so I exclaimed “It’s a boy!?” They said “No! It’s a girl!” Everyone had been betting it was a boy, especially my sister, who I’m told was still not fully convinced when she received the call from my mother. As I sat on the kitchen floor with my baby in my arms I felt like the strongest woman in the world. I felt triumphant. I exclaimed “I can do that again!” They looked at me like I was crazy and wondered if I was joking, but I was dead serious. After a few minutes Jeff cut the cord. He commented on how strange it felt and said something about coaxial cable… The next couple of hours were filled- delivering the placenta, the baby was measured and weighed, I took a shower, phone calls were made, etc. Soon enough everyone had gone home and Jeff and I were left with our new baby in our bed, safe and quiet. Vera Jean was born at home on February 11th, 2008, at , after 44 hours of labor. She was 8 pounds, 10 ounces and 20 inches long.
Everything about my life now is a happy replication of labor- the constant acceptance and repetition, the tired reluctance and then the joy of accomplishment. I just can’t imagine not feeling absolutely everything right now. I never want to numb a part of my experience again. I think, once you reach that place of desperation and you push right through it, life takes on this whole new light. I will say that pain doesn’t mean what it did to me before, and that changes a lot of things.
I think that had I not intentionally been so positive and informed about my birth choice and not sought out success stories, I would not have had the birth I did. And I tell you, my birth experience changed my whole life for the better. It was hard and long and painful and all of those things, but it was a victory and a delight. I labored for almost 2 days, but I didn’t once think that my labor was abnormal, even after I was told it was by a few doctors. I was able to accept and continue because I knew to trust my instincts and have faith in the process. As a result I was able to successfully have my home birth, even with all the “problems” I encountered. My birth left me feeling like I could do ANYTHING, and I think I can… My birth left me with a daughter, self-respect, joy, physical pleasure (yes, my body buzzed- in a good way- for the next two days), an explosion of love, and the undeniable feeling that I had done the right thing. No, I didn’t ever regret that I didn’t have pain medication, or that my labor was long, or any of it. I ended that experience feeling the confidence I had started with, and more in some ways.
The other day I went out with my friends and one of them asked me about the pain of the birth. She isn’t even thinking about having kids, and yet she asked me about the pain. I told her that it hurt, but that it was also one of the most rewarding and remarkable experiences of my life. I told her that it hurt, but that I could handle it. She told me that she had never heard anything so positive about birth. She told me she’s scared of it. Isn’t that such a disservice? To not even be in sight of her potential birth experience and to already be afraid of it because she had never heard anything positive about childbirth? Women need to empower each other- I think had I been afraid of my labor it would have been much more difficult. I think if I had thought “Oh, I don’t want this, this pain is too much, this is taking too long, take it away…” then it just would’ve been a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m sure of this. Why haven’t women heard of the sense of victory and the love that they can experience? Why haven’t they heard of the joy of accomplishment? It’s not a wonder that so many women I know who share this joy have jumped into birth work in some way. I think that it’s not unlike a spiritual revelation- after you experience it you want to spread the word.