A quick word of warning: This really is a birth story. I won't be grotesque, but I will be honest and medically accurate. Birth is not for the faint of stomach. If that's you, consider yourself warned ;-)
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 that 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. Since we was still at the birth center finishing up some paperwork and I live right around the corner, we agreed to have her come "check" me as soon as she'd wrapped things 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 meet my son.
Sure enough, at 2:30 in the morning, I woke up with contractions strong enough that I couldn't 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 Brian to get a little more shut-eye while I went upstairs to read (we live in a split-level and sleep downstairs). 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 Brian, 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 James, 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. Now, 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. I got some rest and then got on with my day.
It was a great day, too. Brian took off from work so that we could rest up--and because we knew that labor was probably impending. He spent the day outside with the children while they helped him put together the new play system he'd gotten for them the day before. It was something our children have been eyeing for years, asking wide-eyed every time we went to COSTCO if they could just look at it one more time. I'm not sure they ever really thought we would buy it, because they knew it was expensive, but with the new baby coming, Brian decided it was finally time. Providentially, when he got into our COSTCO, he discovered that it was on sale--several hundred dollars off the retail price!! Our God is truly a giver of good and unexpected gifts.
My heart melted watching my husband and children work together while I sat by in a cozy lawn chair, "nesting" with my recipe binder. Sorry to be so sentimental, but I adore my husband for loving on his kids so much--and I don't primarily mean buying them something their little hearts have desired for so long. I mean by giving them this incredible experience of working together--and making the anticipation and arrival of their baby brother that much more momentous and special. I got all choked up watching them pour over the directions, gather and sort materials, and as I watched Brian teach the two older children to use a power drill for the first time.
I thought, How special. And then, the homeschooler in me added, Plus, they are getting the world's best shop lesson!
The construction stopped long enough for a spontaneous pizza dinner, but I was feeling 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 I started having contractions. 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. After all, the contractions had been regular, growing gradually stronger and longer and closer together, and they'd been effective, dilating me to approximately 4 cm, the point at which early labor ends and active labor begins. Now that things were starting up again, I was in active labor right off the bat.
As I said above, this whole experience was one aspect of home birth that made me very grateful. 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.
So, labor was fast and hard. Brian and I got the children down for 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 we were afraid they'd be too wound up if they realized I was in labor. Not to mention, after how things had gone the night before, 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 Brian 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, and I definitely wasn't able to sleep. Brian managed to nod off in between each one, waking up when he heard my breathing change so he could record the time. About 12:30 AM, I was contracting at 7 minutes apart, and we decided it was time to call my midwife. It was a 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 James and Abby "in the sack of waters," as well. (With James, the sack burst as he was crowning, and Abby was born "in the caul," a really fascinating occurrence that I will talk about again in a minute.)
I knew that pushing with a baby who was still encased in the amniotic sack would mean an extra amount of effort on my part. When the membranes rupture spontaneously, the pressure of the baby's head aids in delivery, but my baby was going to come out with a nice, comfy cushion. Well, comfy for him.
Considering all of this, I chose to deliver on a birth stool. This is basically a low, semicircular, plastic chair with an open bottom, no back, and a pan placed below it. After trying several positions, this is the method I wound up using to deliver Abby, whose delivery was quite difficult for me. The support of the stool and positioning it allows were helpful in addressing two issues I had in her birth: a cervical lip, and the aforementioned bag of waters. We knew my membranes hadn't ruptured, and my midwife suspected I might have a cervical lip, as well. Together, 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 article link through "cervical lip"). Not to mention (as I knew from a previous labor), it hurts! I was already spontaneously pushing every one to two minutes. One way or another, the baby was coming, and soon!
One funny anecdote was when my midwife's pager went off during the delivery stage. Since she still couldn't see the baby's head, she left her assistant in charge while she stepped to the side to return the page to another laboring mom. Once she'd ascertained that there was no emergency, she told the client that she would need to call her back because she was "right in the middle of catching a baby!" Even in the middle of a contraction, I found it humorous.
A couple of minutes later, Will 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.
Will was finally here!!
Since Will 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! But then, he was crying, 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!
Of course, to Brian and me, he was perfect. And so small! 7 lbs, 3 oz. (For reference, our babies to date 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 transluscent ears were tucked so tightly against his little head. I took in 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 in sore and exhausted, and my throat felt raw from those last, involuntary screams, but Will 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 Brian went upstairs to cook 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 Will's nursing. He was very sleepy right off the bat, but eventually, we did get him to wake up, and he latched on. It would take another 24 hours before he would really figure out how to nurse well, however.
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. Poor Will spent the next day throwing up an awful lot of fluid, and until he'd gotten it all out, he wasn't particularly hungry--or comfortable. After that, however, things went very smoothly.
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 and thank me for inviting them to the birth. I thanked them in return, and then 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, Will was crying to be fed. Sophia thought it was Abby, but James knew better. "No!" he shouted across the hall to her. "Will is born!"
When Brian confirmed this news, Sophia looked at him suspiciously. "Are you joking with me?" she asked. But once Brian had convinced her Will really had been born, she nearly fell over herself getting out of bed.
She and James hurried downstairs and climbed into bed with Will and me while Brian went to get Abby. James was beaming, and Sophia was on cloud nine. Abby was slightly less impressed. After giving Will a cursory glance and a smile, she turned immediately toward the bedroom door and said, "Shoes? Si-side?" which is her way of saying she wanted to go outside and play.
We spent that first day at home...and the next...and the next. At some point, James pointed out that when he'd "met Abby" for the first time, her car seat had been in our room. He wanted to know where Will's car seat was, and that was when it hit me. It was in the car.
Will had never been in the car. He'd never been in a 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 wonderful experience, for my incredible husband, and for the amazing, beautiful women who helped welcome my son into this world.
Most of all, I am grateful for my healthy, sweet baby boy. That God has entrusted me with this precious gift is awesome and humbling and joyous, and I can never thank Him enough.
I am so blessed.