My sweet Honey Bee turned three months old on Sunday. I know. I can’t believe it, either. It seems like she was born just days ago, but I look into her little face, and she doesn’t look like a newborn anymore. Already, her features and personality are starting to shine through, and I feel I am catching glimpses of the little girl she’s becoming. I don’t know if she will be my last, but I plan to live like she is anyway, and soak up every delicious baby moment.
In that vein, I thought it was finally time I shared her birth story with you.
Honey was my second home birth. (Yes, we planned it. As Jim Gaffigan says, “Just to make you uncomfortable.”) If you want to read about my first home birth experience with little Pumpkin, you can read about it here.
People have asked me how this birth was, and the word that always comes to mind is hard. I don’t think this is a particularly comfortable response for most people to hear. Especially moms who are anticipating a future birth of their own. After four kids, I think most women hope to hear that my fifth birth was a breeze–that she practically popped right out! (How I wish.) That’s just not how it happened, though.
The truth is, this was my longest labor. That includes my first, which was a medical induction. It lasted 13 hours from the start of active labor. Barring that first labor (because Pitocin is the devil and I was on a mighty high dose of it–with no pain meds, because I’m cray-cray), this was also my hardest labor physically and psychologically.
The truth is, I expected it to be easier. My last three labors have been progressively shorter at 8, 7, and 6 hours respectively. I anticipated this one would last about 5 hours, 6 tops. So when I felt the contractions coming on strong and steady right as we were getting the kids to bed, I thought: No big deal. She’ll be out by midnight.
But it took longer than I expected for the contractions to reach the point-of-no-return, and I’ve had full nights of labor in the past, only to stall out at dawn and not give birth until the next evening. So I waited until around midnight to call my midwife. The last time I did this, it took her 40 minutes to get to my house and by then, I was already in transition. I was hoping for more of the same.
My midwife did arrive with her assistant about 40 minutes after I called, and she checked my vitals and prepared all their gear. Turns out, I thought I had a few things that it turns out I didn’t have. Luckily, they supplemented with their kit, but that just goes to show how unprepared I was for this birth. (Honey was born 2 days before her due date, and I have never had a baby by the due date, so I was sort of counting on an extra week to get myself ready.) I was coping well with the contractions, and then I felt the urge to push.
Because I have a diagnosed cystocele/rectocele (non-uterine prolapse), I knew I would probably feel the urge to push before I was fully dilated. My midwifery team and I had discussed ahead of time that once I felt the urge, I wanted to be checked to see if my cervix was ready, and if it wasn’t, I wanted to try some positions that would help take the pressure off a bit.
By this time, it was 3:00 in the morning. I’d been up since 6:00am taking care of my four kids, not to mention doing some hardcore nesting, and I was exhausted. When my midwife checked my cervix and told me I was only 6cm, I wanted to cry. I think she knew how tired I was, and she asked me if she could break my water.
Now, my water has never broken naturally during labor. (I even had one baby born in the caul.) The one time I had my sack of waters broken was with my first baby, when I’d stalled out at 6cm, and I was already past the time limit the hospital had placed on me before they wanted to intervene with a Caesarean. Fortunately, breaking the water worked in that instance: I gave birth vaginally to Sugar 2 hours later. But, it also made the labor extremely intense. I had a feeling that if my midwife broke my water during Honey’s labor, I would notice a similar boost in intensity–and my contractions were already taking a toll on a very worn-out me. But I knew I couldn’t last indefinitely, so I said okay.
After my water broke, the contractions hit as hard as I’d expected. Each one was an endurance effort, and there was simply no way to do anything but enter into some suffering. I coped by side-lying on my bed, panting through the contractions (different for me, because I usually vocalize quite freely; I knew I needed to conserve energy), and offering up the pain. (During labor, I like to offer each contraction for those who are struggling with infertility or waiting for a child through adoption.) It was bearable, but just.
By this time, it was about 5 in the morning. I’d been in labor for 11 hours. I had not anticipated dawn hitting–and more importantly, the children waking–before I had delivered the baby. With Pumpkin, we’d simply put the older kids to bed, and I gave birth in the middle of the night. When they woke up in the morning, he was here. No need for a sitter. I told my husband there was no way I was delivering this baby in time. We needed to call for back-up. So, he arranged with one of our friends to come take the kids between 6 and 8 before she had to be to work, and then another friend would help out from 8am on.
Our first friend showed up about 7am. I was barely holding it together. My husband helped her hurry the kids into clothes and shoes and out the door while my awesome midwife and her incredible assistant helped me to labor. Just as they were all leaving, my body kicked into an even higher gear, and I knew things were about to change again.
Finally, transition hit. I knew because I could feel my body going into fight-or-flight mode, and my midwife jumped into full-on coaching mode. She was talking me down, helping me breathe. It was time to get ready for delivery.
I thought I would want to deliver on the birth stool, as I had with Pumpkin, but I was very tired. Then my midwife checked my cervix one last time and discovered that I had a cervical lip (as I had with all my previous pregnancies). The one time I was on Pitocin, it was no big deal. The medicine did all the pushing for me. But for my other pregnancies, pushing with a cervical lip was very, very hard. Each one took nearly an hour. I didn’t have it in me. So when my midwife asked if I wanted her to hold the cervical lip out of the way, I agreed immediately.
Now, I’ll be honest, it’s not a fun sensation. Also, there are only a few positions you can be in where the midwife can perform this maneuver, so that limited my birthing options. I decided to lay on my bed. With the next contraction, she held the lip out of the way, and I pushed hard. It was agony. Like, seriously, I felt completely out of control. I remember screaming, “Get her OUT!” I have never done anything that cliche during a birth before. I may also have cut off all circulation on my husband’s hand at this point. You’d have to ask him, though, because I wasn’t really paying attention to anyone else’s pain. All I knew was that I had to get that baby OUT or I was going to rip in half. Luckily, with one more push, she was born!
I remember laying there with my eyes closed for a moment. Not even looking at my baby. Just being so grateful that it was done. That we’d both made it through. I heard her cry. And then after one more strengthening breath, I reached for her.
My midwife laid her on my chest and I just cuddled her while they waited to tie the cord. My husband cut it, and then the baby got her Apgar score (a perfect 10!) and we took care of the afterbirth. Once I’d had a little something to eat and drink, I went to take a nice hot shower–in my own shower!!–while my midwife changed the sheets on the bed. Then I got into some fresh pajamas and climbed into my own bed with my new baby. There is no feeling on earth like that, and I would take an unmedicated birth any day for the awesomeness of that feeling.
I always feel so vulnerable immediately postpartum. In the past, after giving birth I’ve experienced incontrollable shaking, chattering teeth, sweating, nausea: a total adrenaline overload. But with home birth, I don’t have those symptoms. I just settle into what is familiar, cuddled against what is brand-new, and there is so much peace and joy and comfort. It is the best feeling in the world.
Home birth is not for everyone, and it’s not safe for every birth. I only know that I feel blessed to have been able to experience two healthy, successful home births, and if this one was hard, it was also such a sweet gift. I don’t know that I would feel so positively about the experience now had I not been safe in my own room with a team I trust implicitly, cheering me on through the hardest work of my life. I am so grateful that I can look on Honey’s birth as a true challenge, but one met with kindness, gentleness, comfort, strength, peace + grace. I am beyond blessed.