International Day of the Midwife is this weekend, and I’m very excited about the art installment which will be part of our local Birth & Baby Fair. As part of the festivities the BBRN is suggesting sending a thank you note to your midwife. I thought as part of that I would post Junah’s birth story here (this was originally written for my midwife’s newsletter, so she has seen it before). It is long, but I hope you enjoy it.
I never decided to have a homebirth because for me there was never any other option. Some of my earliest memories are of very pregnant women, wearing denim jumpers over plaid button-ups, coming to our house to receive prenatal care on our couch. Homebirth slides are intermingled with the slides of birthday parties and Christmases in a cardboard box in my mom’s closet. The first birth I attended was that of my cousin, but I remember very little of it, as I was not quite two years old at the time.
I am so fortunate. In this society where birth preparation seems to begin once a positive result is achieved by peeing on a stick, my entire upbringing prepared me for giving birth. Instead of taking to heart birth “horror” stories so commonly shared with gestating women, I was raised on stories of how birth can actually, and naturally, be.
I had a wonderful pregnancy and while I knew that labor would be painful I was never scared of the pain. I understood that there was no way to know what giving birth would be like; I just wanted to approach it with as little resistance as possible. I hoped to let go and give in and allow my body to do its work. The prenatal care I received from my midwife, Edana, encouraged my natural instinct to trust my body and its abilities. Yes, I had doubts and concerns, and in my last week, when my baby was overdue and I was grieving the loss of someone very dear to me, I worried about and wished for my baby’s birth.
On Sunday, February 18, just after dinner, I felt my first twinges of contractions. They seemed like gas pains and so it wasn’t until eleven-thirty that night, as I was getting ready for bed and lost some of my mucous plug, that I became sure labor was starting. I kept my knowledge secret from my husband, knowing that we both needed sleep. And while I was nearly sure I wouldn’t get any, I wanted him to be able to. We went to bed and there I lay until he began snoring and I could no longer comfortably stay in one position. I took a blanket and pillow to the couch and tried to rest, but sleep was out of the question. I was just too excited. I ate a little, drank water and strong red raspberry leaf tea, and emailed a friend saying, “It is strange, if this is the real thing, how contractions feel. In between them I feel perfectly normal, but during them I am very uncomfortable. Not in a bad way, just kind of exciting WOW way.”
At three in the morning I woke Jason to tell him what was going on but told him to stay in bed. I bathed and ate some more, then Jason got out of bed at four. We sat on the couch, practically giggling with excitement between contractions and chanting “Yana hoeh ah who when aye” during them. Five o’clock came and we called Edana who said she could tell by the sound of my voice that I was still in early labor and advised us to get more sleep. Dutifully we went back to bed, knowing she was right. Still unable to sleep, however, I got up again at six-thirty, returned to the bath and called my mom. She was awake and had been since three. When my dad woke up at five she said to him, “I couldn’t sleep, I thought I was channeling Barbara but I guess I was wrong.” My contractions were just intense enough then that I didn’t like talking during them and would tell my mom, “Here’s another one, you talk.”
We had been on the phone for about ten minutes when I felt a pop and a little rush of fluid and specks of vernix floated to the surface of the bathwater. My water had broken. My mom told me she was on her way over and to call Edana back. They arrived within a few minutes of each other and Edana checked me. She was surprised to find that I was dilated to two centimeters, eighty percent effaced and at plus two station. Two days before she had checked me and been unable to even reach my cervix, it was so high and posterior.
Soon after that my sisters, Jesse and Madalyn, arrived and my contractions became more intense and required more of my attention. I took another bath, leaning often on the edge of the tub for support and signaling to those in the room that another contraction had begun by saying, “Stop talking.” Silence allowed me to focus inward, relax and let my body do its work.
I was unaware of the arrivals of Donna, Megan, my cousin Sara and my mother-in-law Cyndi because my contractions started coming in groups of three, it seemed, with little time for me to prepare. If I was talking when a contraction started, or listening to what someone was saying, the intensity of it would take me by surprise and I felt unable to reach a state of calm and focus. I would move my head back and forth and grasp repeatedly at the air above my belly. I kept reminding myself, aloud, “I can do this. It will end.” My husband tried to help me by joining in and saying, “Not much longer now.” During a break between contractions I told him he couldn’t say that because I knew he meant not much longer until the baby was born and I was speaking of just the one contraction. I could only think about the contraction I was dealing with not the inevitable, impeding arrival of each successive one.
It was during one such contraction that Edana tried to speak to me and I told her she couldn’t. I was just unable to give up my focus to anyone, so she waited until the contraction passed and told me that all of my outward expressions were taking energy away from my uterus and that I should try to lessen those energy sapping actions. I knew instinctively that she was right. And while I couldn’t help speaking out at times, or moving in a frantic attempt find some comfort, I no longer felt that I was being gripped by some outside force, but was now part of the contraction. Instead of attempting to work through the contraction I needed to work with the contraction, or, more precisely, I needed to allow the contraction to work on its own. No longer an outside force that I needed to bear with until I was released, the contractions became not just part of me, but all of me. At times I still needed to verbalize as a way of releasing but, realizing that focusing on the contraction passing, as I had before, took me to a negative place, I tried to just express the place I was within the contraction in a more positive way by saying things such as, “Goodness,” and “Wow.”
I spent sometime laboring in our guest bed since I wanted the cool feeling of the cotton sheets rather than the warmth of the flannel sheets that were on my bed. During a break I told my mom that the sheets reminded me of being allowed to rest in her bed as a child whenever I was sick. Later I moved to the bathroom, and from there to my bed, and back again. I felt most comfortable on the toilet or lying on the bathroom floor. It was there, on the cool tile floor, wrapped in a robe and a throw blanket, my head bent back and my forehead pressed against a cupboard door, that I first remember pushing.
I made no decision to push and, at first, didn’t realize that I was. I just felt my body begin to turn inside out at its middle with such force that I had to let my mouth open to release the air from my lungs and throat. The sound that came out frightened me a little. It was so guttural, primal—a low, growling grunt—that, when I recalled it in those first few postpartum days, it startled me anew.
The pushing seemed to come from the top of my uterus and radiate downward, while my lungs, throat and mouth became an exhaust system for the powerful work my body was doing. There was nothing intentional about the sounds I made then—they just had to be if I was going to relax and allow the real work of labor to proceed.
Once I was pushing I began getting breaks—much needed, blessed breaks—between contractions. During one of these breaks I realized that everyone was getting prepared for my baby to be born on the bathroom floor. Until that moment I had no perception of how close I was because I could be only exactly in the moment. We all moved into the bedroom and my husband sat in the middle of the bed so I could face him and lean my weight into him during the contractions. I couldn’t relax in that position, however, and insisted that he was going to fall off the bed if he didn’t move so his back was against the wall. I was reassured by several voices that he was nowhere near the edge of the bed and wouldn’t fall. So convinced was I of the power in my own body that I was unable to relax for fear that he couldn’t support the weight of all that I was. I tried to explain, finally saying, “I know you’re not going to fall, I just need you to move.” We resettled against the wall and soon I turned my body so I was lying curled on my side, my upper body in my husband’s lap.
I rested and pushed, rested and pushed, there in the safety and security of my own home and bed and in the arms of my husband. No one told me when to push or how to breathe. I just did as I had been doing and listened to my body and let go.
Then my baby began to crown. The pain was immense. My baby’s head would crown just before the end of a contraction and, to my relief and dismay, the head would slip back inside me. At one point I tried pushing through the break, not wanting to lose ground. The difference was amazing. There was just nothing there with which to push. No power. No energy. Once again I realized that I had to let my body go.
The contraction that birthed my baby’s head was no different from those that preceded it, but I suddenly felt a burning as I tore. I cried out in startled pain for the first time, “Oww! Oww! Oww!” More than a minute passed and I asked what I should do, tried pushing but again, found it impossible. I waited for the next contraction, feeling in myself and in my husband’s arms, the urgency of the final wait before we would meet our child. Finally, at 11:39 AM, another contraction came and the pain was once again amazing as I birthed not just the shoulders of my child but also the one arm that was crossed up and over the chest, reaching it seems, to get out. Relief, immense, wonderful relief came with the moment I felt a flutter kick as though my child was swimming out into the world. Edana caught the baby but instantly I was up, reaching out, and, as Edana said later, taking my baby from her faster than any mother had before. Barely had my baby touched Edana’s hands before I held the crying, lusty being against my shoulder and leaned back against my husband, and all three of us, newly born as a family, together in our own bed, cried in relief, joy and surprise. Just seconds passed before I leaned forward, placed my baby on the bed in front of me, moved the cord out of the way and announced, “A girl! You’re a girl!” and then, revealing the name we had kept secret since before I was even pregnant, “Junah Rae! Her name is Junah Rae!”
Birthing is hard work. There was a point when the thought came to me that, because I was at home, I had no other option but to keep going. The thought was fleeting, and I did not wish, then or since, for something or someone to take over. The experience of my daughter’s birth, in the exact way it happened, is a treasured memory for me. And for that I am so grateful to have been raised in a family that prepared me for labor by teaching me to trust in my body and its ability to birth a child. I was fortunate enough to find Edana—the perfect steward for my journey into motherhood—someone whose trust in me nurtured my own instincts and allowed me to labor and birth in my own way. With her help, and that of my husband, family and other birth attendants, I was able to find calm in the incredible power of labor and birth. And I wouldn’t have missed a second of it for anything.