For most of my pregnancy with my first child, I was planning a natural hospital birth with midwives present. At about 24 weeks, when I was supposed to take the gestational diabetes test, I started to have second thoughts. I had done a lot of research and took all my at-home blood sugar monitor numbers to my midwife (all of which were totally normal), and just because I refused the test, they marked me as having a high-risk pregnancy and tried to guilt me into taking the test anyway. I didn’t feel respected or supported, and I didn’t want to have to feel that during my birth, or have to advocate for myself that strongly. When my husband and I met my home-birth midwife, Sarah, the first time, it just felt right. She had the right mix of an evidence-based scientific approach, and an ease about her that made me feel comfortable. We talked through all the scenarios that might cause me to have to go to the hospital, and what it would likely look like if I did.
I called into work on a Monday morning, two days before my due date, and said I wanted to take a half sick day from home. I wrapped some things up, and started to get some light contractions by lunch time. I tried to take it easy during the day, but it was in the middle of a weird late-September heat wave in Chicago with record high temperatures and I hadn’t slept in four nights. After I went to bed, I was getting contractions about every eight minutes. I knew I should try to sleep, but I was on my phone tracking contractions, and jumping up when I had them, and leaning against the wall because I had a sharp feeling in my tail bone. I was up every eight minutes all night, while my husband remained asleep next to me. I woke him up at about 4:30 a.m. as I was about at the point in which I needed labor support to get into different positions. We waited until about 6 a.m. to call my doula and my midwife, when my contractions were about five minutes apart. Then we went downstairs, and I threw up.
My doula arrived first, and was helping me manage the pain by making noise through the contractions. We had shopped the night before for labor food, and she was making me eat anything that sounded appetizing, which I think was just a smoothie and coconut water. When Sarah arrived, she talked to me and did an exam. I found out that I was only at 3 centimeters dilated. This was devastating, and I was exhausted. She told me to stop making noise and that I needed to rest. She gave me the option of either having a glass of wine or taking a Benadryl. I chose wine, and she said to drink it and get in the bath. She was doing this to slow down the labor so I could get some rest. She also told everyone to go home so that I wouldn’t feel pressured in any way. I had the wine and the bath, and pretty quickly the contractions went down to every eight-10 minutes and were less intense. I laid down in a dark room, on my side, with about three pillows under my top leg because I was still getting that sharp tail-bone pain. Shockingly, the next eight hours seemed to go by pretty quickly, just trying to rest and taking it one contraction at a time.
By 4 p.m., my mom and my mother-in-law were there, and it was time to call the doula and midwife again. Contractions were back to five minutes apart, and felt much more consistent. My doula, who arrived first, was really focused on making me drink coconut water with every contraction, I think I went through about 8 liters that day, and she helped me to breathe more deeply.
I was trying to bargain with her. This was really hard, and I said I think I could do it if it would be over in the next few hours. She replied, “You are doing it,” and assured me that the baby would come before the end of the day. Sarah was back, and this time I was at seven or eight centimeters dilated. I had some leaking fluid, but the midwife tested it and couldn’t tell if my water had broken yet or not. I was still resting on my side during contractions, but she wanted to play with different positions to intensify the labor. I had to be ready to work now, resting was over.
I turned to the other side, and she had me put the other leg up and push against her during a contraction. She asked how it felt, and I said much worse, to which she replied, “Let’s do that for the next three contractions.” Then she suggested I get in my bath. I was worried that it would slow down the labor again, but she said that at this point, there was no going backward. It was really intense in the bath tub, and she was making me lean over the edge so that I was above my baby during contractions, and then lay down to rest in between them. Everyone was really cheering me on. At one point my sister came in and heard a contraction and started saying, “Aww, poor thing,” and I said I didn’t want that kind of energy. It needed to stay positive.
I got out and I asked to be checked again. I was almost there, 10 centimeters with a little flap still in the way. She said to wait to push until it felt like I couldn’t not push, like my body was just bearing down. I pretty much did feel like that. We tried a few different positions for pushing, but what felt the most comfortable was sitting down on the toilet with my legs on the squatty potty. I had visions of squatting my baby out, but not exactly like this.
My master bathroom is large and from the 70s, and all the walls are mirrors. We had a soft red light in there, and I had nine people in there. I was pushing, and I could feel the head moving down. Pushing on the toilet, I felt like I could be done in a couple more contractions. Sarah asked me to move to my bed to push for a bit. I laid down on my back and pushed, but I didn’t feel nearly as much movement from the baby as when I was on the toilet. I felt like I was wasting my time there. The assistants were bringing in hot towels and putting them on my perineum (which now I am so thankful for because I didn’t tear at all).
Soon we got to move back to the toilet, and everyone was gathered around. Then my water broke, and splashed into the toilet. It startled me and actually splashed a few people. And within a few more pushes, my baby’s head was out. Sarah gently held his head in me while I got off the toilet and got on all fours on my bathroom floor. I actually asked if I could have a few minutes before I could push the rest of the baby out. I looked at Sarah and she was kind of laughing and saying “no.” Oh, just a few more pushes, but I was exhausted. He came out with his hands up by his neck, and he was handed to me and I leaned back to hold him. I walked to my bed with the cord still attached, and tried to latch him. He was very alert and he started to breastfeed.
While breastfeeding was supposed to help bring on the contractions for the placenta, that didn’t really happen. I just said that I didn’t feel anything. I got a shot of pitocin about 20 minutes after Connor was born to help stimulate the placenta. Still nothing. I got another shot about 40 minutes later. Still nothing. I wanted it to be over, I just wanted to be with my baby.
Everyone was cleaning up around me and eventually they weighed and measured the baby. Sarah got everyone out of the room and had my husband hold the baby next to me so I could focus. I wanted to talk about what had just happened and how amazing my baby was. I never really felt contractions for the placenta, but at one point, over 90 minutes after the birth, I said I felt some pressure and they had me push. The placenta came out, thank goodness, because apparently I was really close to having to go to the hospital for that after my natural home birth.
I had a lot of support at home. My mom stayed over for a couple nights to help out, and both my doula and midwife came back over for the next few days to check on things. I felt really supported, and it was a great way to welcome my baby to the world.
Written by Michelle Tagge