For our first child we planned a home birth attended by a midwife.
One of our reasons for choosing a homebirth was because we felt it was important not to rush cord clamping and cutting. When we asked our midwife her position on cord clamping and cutting, her answer was “barring any emergencies, clamping can happen whenever you choose. I prefer to wait until it has stopped pulsing.”
Her response, among other things, told us that she was the midwife for us!
I had decided early on that I didn’t need to do the “first (traumatic) birth in a hospital, learned better, second birth at home” route; I could learn from the women who went before me and just start at home! I’m overjoyed that it went so well.
Calvin’s Birth Story
I attended my 40-week appointment on Oct 1 expecting no news.
I chatted with my midwives, Karen and Katie, and told them I had some discharge and the baby felt really low. Karen said, “I know you didn’t plan on having any internal exams, but what do you think about having one now?”
I felt excited and positive about that, so we went ahead with it. They checked me and found that I was 2-3cm dilated, 50-60% effaced, baby at 0 station. I was in pre-labor!
I knew that could go on for days, even the whole week, so I didn’t get too excited. Later when Karen was checking my fundal height, she told me I was having a contraction. I couldn’t tell – I had to place my hands on my abdomen to feel the hardening from the outside. Wow! I wonder how long *that* had been going on without me noticing!
I left the midwives’ and called Gabe to share the news. We both felt happy but not like our baby’s arrival was imminent – it was just sooner rather than later. The rest of the afternoon, I kept putting my hands on my belly to feel the contractions. It was thrilling.
Around 10:30pm, I started feeling some light menstrual-cramp-type sensations, so I headed to bed, hoping for a good night’s sleep. Three hours later, I woke to sensations I couldn’t ignore (like heavy period cramps). I quietly got out of bed and went downstairs. I spent some time rocking on the birth ball and timing contractions. They were 30-45 seconds long and averaging 2.5 minutes apart. “Hmm…early labor?!” I thought.
After about an hour, I went to wake Gabe. He took a minute to tune in, then he got really happy. He texted Karen who asked us to spend another hour timing contractions. In the meantime, Gabe fixed me a mango smoothie, figuring I needed some calories for the long labor ahead.
Now I started puttering, pacing, and rocking through the sensations. They were longer and closer together, so we sent Karen another text. Her response: “Could be early labor! See if she’d like a hot shower and some rest.”
I was curious. “Gabe, contractions are lasting about a minute, coming one to two minutes apart – I think that’s active labor, not early. But it’s okay. I’ll try the shower.”
I paused at the bottom of the stairs to sway through a contraction. As soon as it was over, I knew I had to hurry on up the stairs so I’d be at the top before the next one came!
The shower felt delicious, especially when I let the hot water fall right on my belly. I kept thinking about where in labor I was – I really thought this was active labor, but it seemed too soon, and I wasn’t *that* uncomfortable. Maybe Karen was right.
I decided to follow the rest of her advice – lie down and get some rest. I brought a bucket with me because I felt a tiny bit nauseous. I got into bed with Gabe, lay down on my side (after trying hands and knees – ouch!) and had only one surge in the bed. It felt awful!
I jumped out of bed in the middle of it and my water broke! I excitedly told Gabe before I ran to the bathroom. I knew where I’d be comfortable – sitting on the commode. I asked Gabe to bring the bucket to me… I felt more pukey and my surges were picking up in intensity. Gabe called Karen and while they were talking, I started throwing up. I thought Gabe’s voice sounded worried, so I tried to reassure him: “No, I’m okay, it feels good.” I didn’t sound very good, though, because I vomited right through that last sentence! That made me laugh. A lot.
I rolled through the next surge and during my resting phase I heard Gabe trying to give Karen a sense of what was happening. I thought I could explain better so I asked for the phone. While I was talking, another surge came so I talked more slowly as I breathed through it. I didn’t use the word “transition” but on some level I knew I was experiencing most of the signposts: water breaks, contractions pick up, vomiting, contractions taking more concentration… all classic. The only unusual thing was that my surges (I wasn’t calling them contractions) took more concentration, but not as much as expected.
Karen told me to call back when I couldn’t even talk through them. I asked Gabe to fill the birth pool, so he was in and out of the bathroom setting that up. Meanwhile, things picked up again and I wanted more direct support from him. A cool cloth on my face and neck, and stroking my scalp felt lovely. The positions that worked for me were sitting on the toilet or standing, rocking, and leaning forward against the wall.
When the pool was about 2/3 full, I just couldn’t wait any longer – I had to get in. On my way to the pool, I had one quick moment of “if this gets much more intense, or lasts too much longer, I don’t know what I’ll do.” But with the next breath, I was just doing it. Gabe helped me into the pool and called the midwives to tell them to come.
In the warm water, in the dark, nightlight-illuminated nursery, I expected relief. Instead, my sensations plateaued for a surge or two, then continued to pick up! At this point they also started lasting longer, with shorter pauses in between. During a surge, I would sway and rock on my knees or my hands and knees and do really low vocalizations, letting my focus go to outer space or inward. I kept picturing things like flowers unfurling and opening and spirals moving outward. I visualized each surge ‘opening opening opening’ my cervix, which kept it feeling intense instead of painful.
Between surges I just wanted to see Gabe and touch him and connect. He sat right by the side of the pool and kept eye contact with me the whole time. It was challenging to regroup enough between contractions to stay on top of the next one, but I managed just fine. Just when I wondered how many more of these I’d have to do, I got a longer break between surges. I felt energized! And then, on the next surge, I felt a bearing down in my whole body. “I feel pushy!” I told Gabe.
His eyes got huge, happy, and excited. We had this moment where we realized the baby might arrive before the midwives did, and we had to be okay with it. We got there pretty quickly. Gabe updated Karen, who told him “tell her not to push – I don’t want her to tear”. And, I think she also said at this time “remember babies who come quickly come well”. I wasn’t worried about the baby at all – everything felt right. The baby and my body were doing everything they were supposed to do. It was up to me (or the thinking-brain part of me, at least) to stay out of their way!
During an urge to bear down, I kneeled or squatted in the tub, with my hands resting on top of Gabe’s on the edge or the tub. I would look into his eyes or at something in the room (like the art on the walls) and moan and pant in low tones until the urge passed. Between surges I would sit back, laugh, chat, and smooch with Gabe. I said things like “This feels kind of good.” And “I’m having a good time!” It was true: I felt fantastic, and our baby would be here soon. At times I’d reach inside and sweep away clots and feel baby’s head moving through me. It descended a bit with each surge, then retreated a tiny bit with each rest. I felt so grateful that it was coming out slowly and stretching me gradually.
I told Gabe how cool it was and took his hand to help him feel baby’s head, which was only a finger’s length away from coming out! Things got all trippy and timeless and then we heard the midwives arrive. I have to admit, it was comforting to hear them clank that oxygen tank up the stairs and set up their things. I hadn’t needed them there for my labor but I wanted them and their expertise for the baby upon delivery.
Katie came in, obviously flustered (she *had* just raced up the highway, after all), so I asked her to go back out, take some deep breaths, and come back when she felt calmer. (Gabe promises I was really nice about it). When she came back in, she asked to check the baby’s heart rate – 148 bpm – and I invited her to feel the baby’s head, too. Katie left the room and the other midwife Karen came in to get more of an emotional read on me. I had her feel where the baby’s head was. She told me to keep doing exactly what I was doing, and then she left the room, too.
Katie came back and sat quietly in the corner but I needed to not see anyone but Gabe during my bearing-down urges. So I asked her (politely, I’m told) to hang out in the hall. She did so immediately, and relayed the message to Karen. Unfortunately the spot Karen chose to sit was within my line of sight! Not good enough! So I had Gabe ask her to back up a bit.
Baby was really close now, and I was doing everything I could to hold back from pushing. The panting was incredible. I knew I was doing an awesome job. Gabe was my anchor and the awe and love in his eyes kept me in this amazing trance-like state. I remember telling him I loved him, and that felt really good. With one urge, I experimented with adding my own pushing power to the bearing down sensation – yikes! No thank you!
Baby got so low; it felt like it might come out my bottom. It was so intense. Then the head was right there, stretching me to a limit that was way past where I thought I could go. I was squatting, supporting my perineum, and easing my labia around the head. Suddenly I experienced a spasm in my thighs and lower back, which was painful (and the only sensation of my entire labor that I’d describe that way). I definitely cried out, and asked for help with both that feeling and the feeling in my perineum, and I think that’s when the midwives came into the room. And then I felt a distinct click, which I thought was a tear happening (but, in retrospect, was probably the rest of my bag of waters breaking).
Then came the next surge and the baby torpedoed out of me, head and body all at once. In one fluid movement I grasped my baby under the armpits and stood up. While that was happening, I heard Karen say “Okay mama!”
I only brought baby to my waist height because I could feel the cord’s limited length. I saw right away that it was a boy, and I looked to Gabe to see that he knew, too. We kissed and I don’t know if he said any words, but I saw joy and love and pride and wonder all over his face. I threw my head back and shouted, “I did it!”
The baby cried right away and I watched him turn pink from the center of his chest outwards. One thing I will never forget is the sound that came out of me as the baby emerged – it was like Whitman’s “barbaric yawp”. GIGANTIC. CREATIVE. TRIUMPHANT. It was 6:06 am; approximately four and a half hours after active labor began.
I stayed in the birthing pool, waiting until the placenta came out. Our baby settled right in against my tummy and I loved watching him become pinker and figure out how to breathe calmly. He never needed any suctioning – he was able to cough and sneeze to clear the bit of mucus in his airways.
I could not see the umbilical cord (it was too short), but I could feel Karen examining it and describing it to Gabe. She had such awe and reverence, pointing out the Wharton’s Jelly and showing him how it was pulsing. After a few contractions and still no placenta, Katie said, “You might have to push it out – it doesn’t have any bones like your baby does!”
So on the next contraction I pushed gently and the placenta slipped right out into Karen’s waiting hands. By this point the cord had stopped pulsing, and I felt it was time to cut it. Gabe cut the cord and then I handed our baby to him. It was a special moment, one more example of the love and trust we share. Karen and Katie helped me out of the tub and down the hall (on trembling legs) to the bedroom. Gabe and I got into bed with our new baby, who we named Calvin, and I didn’t leave it for the next five days!
Calvin’s little hands and feet were a bit blue for about 24 hours after his birth, which I knew was okay. The rest of his skin was so warm and pink; he was so healthy and alert. After we snuggled for a bit, Karen and Katie took the time to show us our “amazing” placenta. Karen said it was one of the most solid, healthy-looking placentas she’s ever seen. I was fascinated by the way the cord was inserted into the fetal side, and how the amniotic sack grew out of the maternal side. I am so glad we took pictures of the amazing organ that sustained my baby in-utero and supported his transition to the outside world.