First of all, having our intervention-free homebirth, and bringing Marcus into the world gently and happily into our sun-filled yellow bedroom was an amazing experience. I truly couldn't imagine having done it any other way. Robert later asked me what I was "on" during the labor and birth and immediately afterward--he said I definitely appeared to be in an altered state, and I know that I was. The labor passed in a blur and the birth in an ecstasy: I had so much support, from my family and my midwives, and I'm so glad everything worked out so well.
On Thursday the 21st I woke up feeling like my abdomen was tighter and heavier than usual. Nothing looked different, and it was just a feeling, so I didn't say anything to anyone. I'd been having lots of contractions--sometimes even regular, 5-10 minutes apart, for an hour or two at a time--over the past several weeks, and had had more than usual the day before. They were noticeable but not particularly uncomfortable, though, and I would note them with a pretty scientific curiosity. I just felt sort of strange Thursday morning, though, but I certainly wasn't going to admit that to Robert or my parents. And of course, just in case I was wrong and this wasn't the beginning of labor, I wasn't going to sit home and do nothing but wait for it to pick up. My parents were planning on going to a local Weight Watchers meeting midday, so they set off as planned, and meanwhile I met Robert and two of his co-workers for lunch at our favorite Chinatown place, Gourmet Dumpling House. I was having regular contractions that were somewhat stronger than they had been on previous days, but they didn't stop me from enjoying lunch. There was one moment when one gave me a funny twinge, though, just after we'd sat down, and apparently something showed on my face, because Robert asked me if I was okay. At that point I was sure that he knew I was in the beginning phases of labor, but no, he later said he hadn't really noticed anything.
After lunch I stopped at a CVS and bought some hairdye--normally I dye or highlight my hair 2-3 times a year, but I hadn't done anything to my hair during the beginning of my pregnancy (birth defects, yada yada yada); still, I figured that now the baby was formed and nothing even potentially bad could happen. I came home, met up with my parents, and by 2:00 started feeling regular contractions that were distinctly different than I'd felt on any other day--these wrapped around my entire abdomen, rather than being localized, and they were mildly uncomfortable rather than merely tight. Still, I went ahead and dyed my hair and took a shower--the color was nothing drastic, just a dark brownish-auburn that evened out the several other overgrown shades in my hair.
At 5:00 I admitted to my mother that I felt strange and was having regular contractions. She immediately said that she knew it, that I'd looked very odd since lunch and she was wondering what was going on with me. I was having to move slightly during the contractions in order to be comfortable--just sit up or shift around. When Robert came home from work around 6:30, I asked him a question about something and then had a contraction and started pacing around the dining room while he was answering. He got kind of annoyed, and said, "Hey, I was talking, why are you walking away?" so I explained. Robert immediately got very concerned and asked what Kelley (our midwife) had said. I said I hadn't called her yet, and that I figured it was still very early labor, so I wasn't overly worried. He looked worried, though, so at 7:00 I called Kelley.
She said to relax and do whatever I needed to do to be comfortable and have a restful evening, and that she'd check in with me by phone the next morning unless I called her before. I said that sounded fine, and got off the phone and sat down to the dinner my mother had made (a nice roast chicken). I really did not feel like eating anything, though I was glad I'd had a nice lunch. I got up and down several times during dinner, and Robert looked so worried that he didn't eat anything either.
At that point I realized that I was bleeding somewhat heavily, so with Robert getting more and more agitated (while my parents calmly ate their chicken), I called Kelley back at 8:30. She said that bleeding this much during early labor was unusual, but not something that she thought was dangerous or an emergency, but that she would plan on coming by early the next morning no matter what to check on me. She advised getting some sleep, and that sounded like a good idea to me, so I got in bed just before 9:00 and attempted to sleep. For awhile I would fall asleep and then get woken up by a contraction, and end up walking a few circles around the bedroom with a hot water bottle pressed against me, so I eventually realized sleep was not going to be possible. At 11:00 I called Kelley back and said that I really thought I couldn't wait to see her until 8:00 in the morning; she stayed with me on the phone through a contraction and agreed that she would call her assistant Zion and they would both be right over. In retrospect, the period from 9:00 until 11:00 was actually the most uncomfortable part of the entire labor--I was nervous and trying not to show it, I was fighting the contractions and trying too hard not to, and I hadn't quite accepted that I was really actually having a baby that night.
As soon as I had called Kelley, I felt much better. Kelley arrived just about at midnight, and Zion shortly thereafter. When they got there, I had already filled up our bathtub (not specifically a birth tub, but an extra-large, pretty deep bathtub that Kelley had in the past agreed might be useful during labor and even birth) and relaxed into the contractions without consciously trying to. I also established that I was quite happy relaxing in the tub during and between contractions. For most of the night I moved between the bathtub and the toilet, just because sitting on the toilet felt comfortable and changing position periodically kept things moving. Mostly I was in the tub, though, where in between contractions I could stretch out full-length, resting my head on a towel against one of the sloped edges of the tub, and with no pressure at all on my stomach. When the water started to cool down, I'd let a little out of the tub and add more hot water, so it always stayed comfortable. I kept falling asleep in between contractions, and then when one woke me up I'd realize that I had been sinking down in the tub and had a mouthful of water as I was dozing off. During contractions I tended to kneel against one of the long, flat sides of the tub, my legs spread and sort of fish-tailing behind me, and my belly floating, while I leaned over the edge of the tub and gripped the marble surround. I was vocalizing a lot, lots of loud "Ohhhhhs" and "Ahhhhhs" in low registers--Robert said later that I must have scared the neighbors, but I didn't really care at all. At the beginning I was vocalizing deliberately, because I had read that relaxing the jaw is a great way to relax other muscles too, but pretty soon I think the sounds weren't consciously made at all (Robert called them my zombie sounds). I started feeling sick to my stomach, though I never actually threw up, but for the rest of the night, drinking more than a sip of water at a time made me feel full and ill, and clutch a small plastic waste can just in case.
Kelley and Zion left me alone for most of the time in the tub, which was fine, as I was really not feeling present. Periodically they came in and had me drink things (water and a lemon-flavored all-natural electrolyte replacement drink, Recharge), and they monitored my pulse and the baby's heartbeat (by Doppler) after contractions, but no one was pressuring me and I felt very relaxed. I was sort of aware of the passage of time, but it was as though everything was sped up--mostly my eyes were closed, and I'd just open them a little and see that it was 4:00 and Zion was sitting on the floor near me, or that it was five-something, with Kelley and Zion both nearby, and dawn coming. I could hear what people were saying to me, but sometimes it sounded very far away, and I kept wondering why people were asking me questions. I remember saying, "Come, baby, come!" during some contractions, and "Mmm, I want to meet my baby!" whenever anyone asked me how I was. At several points during the night I got the shakes and shivered and shook uncontrollably, though I wasn't particularly cold--it's a side effect of the hormones, and if anything I was far more hot than cold.
At some point around 4:00 or so my bag of waters partially broke. Later on, closer to dawn, the baby's heartbeat was not recovering well after contractions--it's normal for it to drop during a contraction, but it wasn't bouncing back up the way it should. The waters then showed heavy meconium, indicating that the lowered heartbeat after contractions was stressing the baby a little, possibly because the umbilical cord was being compressed. Kelley and Zion had me change positions and try lying on my side with one leg in the air (Robert supporting it). Changing positions changed the baby's response to the contractions, so although we kept seeing a lot of meconium, the baby's heartbeat was solidly up in normal ranges and staying strong. I drank another quart or so of water to help replenish the amniotic fluid meanwhile, and Kelley and Zion were keeping good tabs on both me and the baby.
By about 5:30 Kelley said I should start trying to push in order to rotate the baby's head. I pushed for about four hours in all. About halfway through the pushing I was conscious of getting tired, and I remember asking Kelley how much longer. "Not much longer," she said, "It's up to you." I remember being satisfied with this response, somehow. Sometimes during the four hours I was kneeling on all fours on the bed, sometimes lying on my back with my knees up close to my shoulders, and sometimes pulling, like tug-of-war, on a knotted bedsheet for resistance. Robert was right at my left side the entire time, managing to support me, record video, and let me grip his shoulder or arm with all my might. Zion and my mother kept handing me washcloths that had been soaking in a bowl of ice water, and I'd keep one of those on my face or neck and one on my chest to help me cool down. It was the most remarkable sensation: on one hand, for the most part I couldn't not push, and it felt completely natural, if intense, but on the other hand, I could sometimes decide to relax through an individual contraction--kneeling down, with my head in a pillow--in order to take a short break. Kelley's partner midwife Tara arrived sometime between 8:00 and 9:00. Sometimes Kelley put a finger in between the baby's head and my pelvic bone, which was great because it gave me a specific target to push at. At other points she helped me focus on holding the baby's head at a certain point with some short grunt-y pushes, after a few big pushes, rather than pushing further at that point. Both Robert and I got to reach down and feel his head, which was an amazing sensation, while just a little bit of scalp and hair was partially outside of me.
Close to the birth, both my mother and father came into the room too, and stood near the bed. Marcus was born when I was lying on my back, with my knees way up. Tara was fanning me near the head of the bed and Zion and Robert helping support my knees up near my ears. Robert had just turned the video camera off, because he said there'd been about half an hour of the head crowning, then retracting a little, then coming back out a little more, then going back in again. Then I just decided that was it, this baby was coming now, and I gave an extra push at the end of one contraction that finally pushed his head out (face-down, perfect position by this point, thanks to the hours of rotating), catching Robert off-guard. Kelley and Zion cleaned the baby's head off carefully and suctioned him lightly (just nose and mouth), since the meconium was very heavy around his face. At that point I just wanted him out completely, and in one more push his body came out too. It was the most immense relief--a sudden gush, a lack of pressure and of weight and of tension. Robert seemed very startled, since it had taken so long up to that point that he didn't expect the body to follow quite so quickly. Up until the very last three rounds of pushes, everything I'd felt had been uncomfortable, even strongly so, and intensely hard work, but not painful per se. During my last few contractions and pushes, though, I did feel the so-called ring of fire and burning sensation, and that was painful, though over very quickly. Apparently I burst a blood vessel in my right eye sometime during the pushing, but I didn't realize it at the time.
It was 9:31. "Whoa!" Robert said. Then, "She's a boy!" Robert said. With the umbilical cord still attached, Kelley passed our son--hard to believe now that he had a name, Marcus, and that he was a person, here--up to me and I held him on my chest. I just kept repeating, "Oh wow, oh my God, oh wow!" over and over. (My mother commented that for a well-read person with a large vocabulary, I certainly wasn't showing it off then.) I also started shaking uncontrollably again, as a result of the hormones, but I kept a hand on the baby and didn't stop touching him. Kelley monitored Marcus (his Apgars were 7 and 8--very, very good for a baby who'd been under a little bit of stress in the womb), while Tara monitored me--my pulse and blood pressure--and someone was handing me a yogurt to eat right away to get some protein in me.
When the umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, and Marcus had gotten everything he could from it, Kelley clamped it off and let Robert, still sitting on the bed next to me, cut it. (He said it was like cutting a slimy jelly-filled rope.) I don't think I'd taken my hand off of Marcus once since he was first put on my chest, cleaned off of meconium, even while eating.
I wasn't particularly feeling any cramps or afterpains, but Kelley said that since I'd had that unexplained bleeding earlier, she would feel better if the placenta came out sooner rather than later. She said I should push again to push out the afterbirth, just like I pushed out the baby. I was confused--for the baby the contractions and the urge to push were so intense I couldn't not push, but now, without contractions, I couldn't quite summon up the right sensation. I basically just closed my eyes and guessed at how it should feel, and pushed out the placenta in one go. Kelley held it up for us to see, and it was impressive how large it was. Kelley moved over to Robert's desk and tested the cord blood on a special card to verify Marcus's blood type (A+, just like Robert), and since I'm O- she gave me a shot of Rhogam in my thigh to prevent my body from developing antibodies against positive blood. Since I'd had so much unexplained bleeding before and during labor, she also gave me a shot of Pitocin in the thigh to help make sure my uterus contracted well and I didn't lose too much blood now. I had just a very small tear (mostly internally), so she put in two dissolving stitches as well. I had an egg salad sandwich and a glass of milk, while Tara continued to monitor me. I think I was babbling during this time, talking happily and unpremeditatedly to anyone or no one--in reality mainly to Tara, who was closest to my head--and telling them about knowing I was in labor on Thursday and dyeing my hair and feeling bad for calling Kelley out at night. Then with Marcus wiped off a little, diapered, and lying in a blanket in our arms, Robert and I cuddled up next to each other on the bed and fell asleep. Robert, who had been so worried about so many different aspects of the birth (what if something bad happens? what if I'm in too much pain? what if he passes out from seeing the blood? what if he gets disgusted by things?), had absolutely none of his fears come to pass.
While we slept, my parents and the midwives had lunch and straightened things up, and then came back to let Kelley examine Marcus. He was seven pounds, four ounces (but she estimated that he'd passed at least four ounces of meconium in utero, so Robert said that we were cheated--our baby would have been heavier!) and twenty-one inches long--that's quite long for his weight, giving him a body type at birth somewhat like Robert's today (long and skinny for his height). The midwives left around 1:30 or 2:00, and I couldn't believe that the last twenty-four hours had actually happened, and here I was in my own bed with my husband and our child. I wouldn't have had Marcus come into the world any other way--it was a gentle birth for him, and an amazing experience for Robert and for me.
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Created: 8/29/08. Last Modified: 8/29/08.