Somebody turns one today…and that means it’s time to revisit an old favorite.
A quick word of warning: This really is a birth story. I won’t be grotesque, but I’ll be honest and medically accurate. There are no photos of the actual birth, and no nude shots. However, if words like placenta make your stomach turn, then maybe consider skipping this one.
Labor began a day early. And by a day early, I mean a week late.
Let me explain.
I was 41 weeks when I started having clear signs of early labor. Contractions weren’t particularly painful, but I knew these weren’t the same Braxton Hicks I’d been experiencing for the preceding month and a half. Something was going on.
Since I tend to have short labors, my team of midwives was insistent I call them as soon as I felt anything, so although I knew I was still in the very early stages, I rang up my midwife at 8:30 on Monday evening. She was still at the birth center finishing up some paperwork, and since I live right around the corner, we agreed to have her come “check” me as soon as she’d wrapped up. An hour later, she pulled up to the house, and sure enough, I was fully effaced and dilated to 3 cm.
Now, both she and I knew that 3 cm can be a tricky “turning point” in labor. Sometimes you sail right past it. Other times, moms can labor right there for hours, even days, without progressing. Since it was already getting late in the evening, I opted for some sleep. My midwife drove home, and I went to bed, wondering if I’d be woken up at some point in the middle of the night with true, “active” labor.
I was a week past my due date (further along than I’d ever been in a pregnancy before), and I can’t pretend I wasn’t anxious to find out if this would be the night I’d finally meet my son.
Sure enough, at 2:30 in the morning, I woke with contractions strong enough to prevent any further sleep. They still weren’t “active labor” contractions by my estimation, but they were getting closer, much stronger than the previous ones, and about 10 minutes apart. I told my husband to get a little more shut-eye while I went to the living room to read. I promised to wake him if the contractions started to get much stronger or any closer together.
By 4:30, I was sleepy again, so I went back down to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. The contractions were getting stronger, as I’d hoped they might, but they weren’t any closer together. I knew we were still playing the waiting game. Finally, about an hour later, I had my first really strong contraction. I woke my husband, who went to take a shower, and had another while I was waiting for him.
“Should we call the midwife?” he asked. But the contractions were still only 10 minutes apart.
“Let’s wait for two more,” I suggested.
We lay back down and waited. A couple minutes later, another contraction hit. And then…nothing. My labor had stalled out at 6 AM at approximately 4 cm. Early labor was over, but active labor had yet to begin.
At the time, I was frustrated. I’d had “false” labor before with Huckleberry, but this was different. This was real labor. Just…truncated.
After getting a couple hours of much-needed sleep, however, I was able to turn my perspective around.
I was relieved and grateful to be at home where I’d been able to labor comfortably. Even though I’d stalled out, no one was pressuring me to get a Pitocin drip or offering to break my water or threatening me with a cesarean if I couldn’t progress. (All things I have personally experienced in hospital births.) I got some rest and then got on with my day.
By dinnertime, I felt pretty nauseous. I lay down for a bit while the family ate and my stomach settled. It wasn’t long before the queasy feeling passed, and I managed to eat a slice of pizza before the contractions started again. This time, there was no messing around. They were strong. From the very first one, I couldn’t talk through them.
In all likelihood, my instinct about the night before was correct. I hadn’t been having false labor; I’d been having early labor, which had stalled out. Probably because morning came and my mommy instincts kicked in that I had other kids to care for.
If I’d been in the hospital and stalled out 4 cm, I likely would have been pressured to have all sorts of interventions. Instead, I had a day to rest and eat while my body prepared itself for the hard work of active labor and delivery. Would it have been nice to have my boy a day earlier? Possibly. But since I can’t know what the interventions would have ultimately led to, I’m glad that, instead, I let my body choose its own course and timeline.
Now that things were starting up again, I was in active labor right off the bat.
Labor was fast and hard. My husband and I got the children to bed, with me participating in between 10-minute-apart contractions. We tried not to let them know what was going on, since we wanted them to sleep and were afraid they’d be too wound up if they realized I was in labor. Besides, I still wasn’t sold that this was the “real deal.” Yes, despite this being my 4th birth, I still wasn’t sure if I was in labor or not. I did call my midwife, just to give her a heads up, and then my husband and I got ready for bed in case things took awhile.
By midnight, I was convinced I was in true labor, but the contractions remained a steady 10 minutes apart. They were getting somewhat stronger. I definitely couldn’t sleep. My husband managed to nod off in between each one, waking when he heard my breathing change so he could record the time. About 12:30 AM on Wednesday, I was contracting at 7 minutes apart. It was time to call my midwife. Good thing, too! By the time she and her assistant showed up with all their gear an hour later, the contractions were 3 minutes apart and getting quite strong!
My water still hadn’t broken. I delivered Huckleberry and Spice “in the sack of waters,” as well. (With Huckleberry, the sack burst as he was crowning, and Spice was born “in the caul,” a really fascinating occurrence that I will talk about again in a minute.)
I had the feeling I might not be fully dilated, but I was definitely feeling “pushy,” so I made my way over to the birth stool. This is basically a low plastic chair with an open bottom, no back, and a pan placed below it. It’s the same method I wound up using to deliver Spice.
My midwife suspected I might have a cervical lip, but we made the choice not to have her “check” me, as management of the cervix during labor is not proven to help in anyway and can actually have adverse effects (see previous link). Not to mention (as I knew from previous labors), it hurts! Besides, I was already spontaneously pushing every one to two minutes. One way or another, this baby was coming, and soon!
At this point, my midwife’s pager went off. Since she still couldn’t see the baby’s head, she left her assistant in charge and stepped to the side to return the page to another laboring mom. Once she’d ascertained there was no emergency, she told the client she would need to call her back because she was “right in the middle of catching a baby.”
A couple of minutes later, Pumpkin started to crown. I tried to slow things down to avoid tearing, but he was determined to make it out in one push. Body followed head in the same contraction, and I laughed a little when I heard his feet hit the metal pan below the stool.
Finally, finally he was here!!!
Since Pumpkin was born “in the caul,” or what some cultures call “behind the veil,” he didn’t cry immediately. My midwife had to remove the membranes first. After that, he pinked up immediately, and he was in my arms. His Apgar score was a perfect 10, the first my midwife said she’d given in the last five years!
He was perfect. And so small! 7 lbs, 3 oz. (My other babies had all weighed in at over 8 lbs!) I immediately fell in love with his nose, which was clearly my husband’s and different from the one all the other children seemed to share. His soft, almost translucent ears were tucked so tightly against his little head. I adored his skinny legs, long feet, soft peach-fuzz hair, and the wonderful, squirmy, babyness of him. His little voice crying out to me was beautiful. And, of course, there was that new baby smell.
I was sore and exhausted, and my throat felt raw from those last, involuntary screams, but Pumpkin was in my arms, and I was in heaven.
As soon as I’d delivered the placenta and my midwife confirmed that I hadn’t torn, she and her assistant helped transfer me to the bed, and my husband went upstairs to make me some scrambled eggs and toast. He brought them down on a white tray with little ramekins of jam and marmalade, and I had breakfast in bed!
The only difficulty we ran into was Pumpkin’s nursing. One of the side effects of being born “in the caul” is that the baby does not benefit from the pressure of the birth canal. As a result, not all the amniotic fluid is squeezed out of the lungs and stomach upon delivery. Pumpkin was very sleepy and difficult to keep awake. Eventually, we did get him latch on, but it would be another 24 hours before he would really figure out how to nurse well. Poor Pumpkin. Until he’d spit up all that fluid, he wasn’t particularly hungry–or comfortable.
By 5 AM, my birth team had cleaned up the bedroom and started a load of laundry. My midwife and her assistant each came to the bed to give me a hug. They thanked me for inviting them to the birth. How could I convey with mere words the depth of my gratitude to them?
The room cleared, and I drifted off to sleep in my own bed with my new son snuggled up beside me.
When the children woke up in the morning, Pumpkin was crying to be fed. Sugar thought it was Spice, but Huckleberry knew better. “No!” he shouted across the hall to her. “Pumpkin is born!”
When my husband confirmed this exciting news, Sugar looked at him suspiciously. “Are you joking with me?” she asked. But once he’d convinced her Pumpkin really had been born, she nearly fell over herself getting out of bed. She and Huckleberry raced to our bedroom and climbed into bed with Pumpkin and me. Huckleberry beamed, and Sugar was on cloud nine.
Spice was slightly less impressed. After giving Pumpkin a cursory glance, she turned immediately toward the door and said, “Shoes? Si-side?” which is her way of saying she wants to go outside and play.
We spent that first day at home…and the next…and the next. At some point, Huckleberry pointed out that when he’d “met Spice” for the first time, her car seat had been in our room. He wanted to know where Pumpkin’s car seat was. That’s when it hit me. It was in the car.
Pumpkin had never been in the car. He’d never been in the car seat. He’d never left home.
From beginning to end, I found home birth to be a wonderful experience. I loved not having to call a babysitter, not having to be transferred to a hospital or birth center. I loved the relaxed, familiar atmosphere. It was wonderful having access to exactly what I wanted for comfort or nourishment. And nothing beats having a hot meal brought to you in bed while you cuddle up with your new baby.
I will be forever grateful for this awesome experience, for my incredible husband, and for the amazing women who helped welcome my son into this world. Most of all, I’m grateful for my healthy, sweet boy. That God has entrusted me with this precious gift is awesome and humbling and joyous, and I can never thank Him enough. My cup overflows.