My husband, Dan, and I had been preparing for the birth of our first child since before he was conceived. After months of infertility, a miscarriage, and finally a little medical help, our little miracle was finally on his way. Growing up witnessing my mother give birth at home to each of my 4 sisters, I never imagined my own birth occurring in any other setting, barring medical necessity, of course. However, home birth is not common in Nebraska and midwives are hard to locate. I resigned myself to a hospital birth and began visiting the midwife clinic there for prenatal care. The hospital midwives were wonderful and very open to discussing our desires and concerns, all the while monitoring the healthy development of our baby. They were very nice and assured us that the kind of birth I wanted was achievable in the hospital setting, but because of my experiences and my conviction that birth is inherently safe, I couldn’t get comfortable with the idea and renewed my search for a home birth midwife. Honestly, the thought of unassisted birth did cross my mind – if all was well, I could just not go in to the hospital! But being my first baby, and considering that Dan was utterly terrified by the idea, it became clear that we had to find a midwife, or home birth was out. After searching for almost a year and a half, she finally came into our lives.
We prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the birth by attending Bradley method classes and reading as much as we could. It was a time of excitement, and each new book inspired us and reassured us. As the time drew near, I began to feel nervous that something would come in the way of my home birth. There were valid, though unlikely, medical issues that could arise, but the most disappointing to me would have been if I had gone more than two weeks past my due date. At this point, my midwife would insist on a hospital delivery. Also, I was hoping that my mother would be able to come from out of state to be with us for the birth, but she had purchased a plane ticket for my due date and could only spend about 10 days with us. These time constraints weighed heavily on my mind and I was sure I was going to go very overdue and not only would my mom have to leave before it happened, but I’d miss out on my home birth as well.
Little did I realize, prodromal labor began about 10 days before my due date. I was having episodes of regular contractions that were not painful, but I wasn’t sure whether they were different than the familiar Braxton-Hicks practice contractions. They seemed a little stronger, and it felt like they were, well, pulling on my cervix! They would continue for several hours but would always fade away when I went to bed, and they never distracted me from my routine activities. The day before my due date, my curiosity was getting the better of me and I asked my midwife to check me. I had been trying to feel around by myself and couldn’t find my cervix. It was right down in front, very mushy, 3cm dilated and 90% effaced, with a very bulgy water bag – much farther along than I thought – turned out I had been reaching right past it! Maybe I wouldn’t be going two weeks overdue after all??
We picked my mom up from the airport at about 11pm on my due date. I had been having the usual practice contractions that morning, and actually was passing what seemed to be my mucus plug, but there was no blood and the afternoon was quiet so we made plans to really start trying to get things going beginning the following day. Dan put the golf clubs in the car thinking the walking and swinging might help kick things into motion, and we also bought ingredients to do some baking, thinking it would be nice to do during early labor. We stayed up until about 1am chatting and catching up with my mom.
I awoke out of a deep sleep with a serious pain in my bladder area – this was not completely unusual, so I hauled myself out of bed and practically fell down the stairs as I groggily made my way to the bathroom. I peed, but that did not relieve the feeling of needing to go, although there was a considerable amount of bloody show. I sat for a while longer and eventually felt like I could get up. I thought something might be going on, so I did not go back to bed, but instead went to sit in the living room for a minute. It was 5am. Soon I felt like I needed to sit on the toilet again. After a couple rounds of this routine, I realized these were probably labor contractions. I got a paper, pen, and watch, and started writing down when they started and how long they were lasting. This was a little tricky since I kept needing to go and sit on the toilet with each one. In the beginning they were 4-5 minutes apart and about 30-45 seconds long, but by 6am they were 2-3 minutes apart lasting 90 seconds and longer, and getting pretty intense! I realized this was going pretty fast and decided it was time to let people in on what was happening.
I called my midwife and told her I thought she should come over - soon! I went into the guest room to wake my mom – I told her we were having the baby today and she said, “ok, sure honey.” Then she saw me have a contraction – I had to get up and lean over onto the bed and sway my hips. She said, “You better go wake Dan!” He bolted out of bed at the news and threw himself into the shower. When he was out, I got in and he and mom started getting things ready around the house. My midwife arrived while I was in the shower – before 6:30 I think – and wanted to check me. I was trying to wash my hair but had to get on hands and knees for contractions. I let her check me in between and she thought I was a good 6cm already.
I was starting to need to vocalize with each contraction. They were coming so fast I could barely finish my shower. I thought maybe I was getting close to transition. I was using visualizations of my cervix opening up – each contraction was pulling it up towards my ribs, over my baby’s head. It was yielding easily. I got out and did Child’s Pose on the bathroom floor for a bit, but soon went into the baby’s room and leaned over the exercise ball in front of the air conditioning vent – I was so hot! I was feeling pretty fine in between contractions, but there wasn’t much time. My midwife was having a hard time getting long enough to check my blood pressure! I was kinda shaky and felt a little nauseous. This was probably because the only thing in my stomach was a bit of blueberry juice I had drunk in that first hour in the living room. Mom found me a bucket, and Dan brought me some of the Labor-ade I had made the day before, which helped considerably. I never ended up needing the bucket! During contractions, I slipped into my own world – it was a completely separate space where I just felt my body do its work. It was not painful, just intense. I did not want anyone to touch me or say anything to me. I made very loud, low moans. It wasn’t long before the moans were turning into growly grunts – was this the urge to push? It sort of felt like it…
Dan kept coming in trying to ask me how to use the waterbed adapter on our kitchen sink to fill the pool in the dining room. We had done a practice run but I had been the one to set it up – oops! All I could say was, “I can’t think about that right now!” I guess he eventually figured it out because he came in and told me the water was ready for me. When I got in, my midwife checked and found that my dilation was already complete. My bag of waters was still intact, though very bulgy. She wanted to break it to make sure there wasn’t meconium. I hadn’t intended on doing any sort of interventions like that, but in the moment it seemed like it wouldn’t hurt since I was already fully dilated. The sensation that followed was crazy – so much pressure! But then I started to have really nice breaks in between contractions, which up to then I really had not had. I was able to put my hair into a ponytail. I could drink some more Labor-ade. I was feeling pretty great! When the contractions did come, that pushy, growly thing came over me. I decided to shift from leaning forward over the edge of the pool, to leaning back against the wall. Dan pulled up a chair and supported me under my arms, holding my hands. I sort of felt like things had been going so fast, now that they were slowed down I wanted to just hang out and enjoy it. It was still early! But it was time to push the baby out. I was not really mentally prepared for this yet, and during contractions I was starting to feel a very scary sensation that I would tear in the *wrong* direction. I was not really afraid of a normal perineal tear, but this feeling was terrifying. I could not do the “hold your breath and bear down” kind of pushing. It was all happening too fast. I was panting through contractions but I could feel the baby moving down anyway. I started to whimper, but my midwife gave me some reassurance that I would be ok. The time had come whether I wanted it to or not – there was nothing I could do about it. They told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head. I couldn’t let go of Dan’s hands. The head popped out and the contraction was over. I had a moment and I could reach down and feel his little ear, and what was this? A little fist by his right cheek! Soon he started to turn towards my right thigh, and one by one his shoulders slipped out too. I was narrating this to the on-lookers, trying to share my experience! I lifted him up quickly and it seemed like as soon as his head was above water he started to scream. He was so purple, and his back was covered in vernix. His fist was still clenched up by his face. He cried for a moment more, and then calmed down in my arms. What time is it? 8:20! Only a little over three hours of labor, with only about 20 minutes of "pushing." Crazy for a first baby.
We all looked at him in awe – his face was swollen! I offered him my breast but he was uninterested. We thought he might be cold, so we put a hat on him and submerged his body in the water. After a few minutes, we decided it must not be warm enough for him, so Dan cut the cord and he and my mom took him and got him bundled up. I got out too and went into the bathroom to see about the placenta. I tried to sit on the toilet and pee, but I couldn’t. After what seemed like forever trying to just go, I tried nursing the baby and this time he did latch on – and what do you know, the placenta came right out! I didn’t even feel it. Upon examination, there appeared to be a “double membrane” which may have been why my water never broke on its own. Baby nursed for a few more minutes. Then we went to check out the damage – I had two first degree tears that each got a little stitch. Not bad for a nuchal hand! I was basically right about feeling where I was going to tear – but thankfully it didn’t upset any important structures.
After I was all cleaned up, we looked the baby over and determined that he was perfect. 8 lbs even, 20 ¼ inches long. He was still a little chilly so we kept him wrapped up with a heating pad and settled into bed. He basically slept for the next 12 hours, and I couldn’t even fathom closing my eyes – I was so high! So we got up and proceeded to call all our family and friends. Did I mention it was Father’s Day? Dan was pretty pleased about that… And that is how Gregory Sebastian turned us into a family.