It's been five days since Mae was born and after some time to heal, reflect, and sleep (a little), I'm feeling like I might be able to write a semi-coherent birth story. Many people have expressed interest in knowing more of the details of our home birth story, I guess because to most it's a somewhat unorthodox decision to have a baby at home. This has taken time to write because my children aren't even a year and half apart -- the girls turn one and a half on February 1st -- so at the moment I have three babies under 18 months old! Don't worry, it is exactly as scary as it sounds, but someday in the not so distant future, these girls are going to share an amazing bond and I know it will be ridiculous fun.
My story is really about the contrast between two very different birth stories. My beautiful twin girls were born via c-section and my surprise baby girl #3 Mae was born via HBAC (home birth after cesarean). When Jon and I found out I was pregnant again in May last year I knew almost immediately I wanted to try for a VBAC and potentially a home birth. We were in the middle of packing up our house and moving across the west coast back to Arizona for his new job and to be closer to family, and I began doing more research. When we arrived in Arizona, we met with several midwifes, doulas, and OB's before I finally deciding on an absolutely fantastic Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). I had been in the care of a very progressive OB (by Arizona standards, at least), but upon meeting the CNM for the first time, I felt an immediate bond with her and knew she was the person I was looking for: kind, funny, smart, experienced, and most importantly, she made me feel supported and heard. Once we began care with her my entire pregnancy experience changed. It was amazing to leave behind the impersonal medicalization of prenatal care and create a special bond with just one person who came to my home, did all my testing, and checked in on me and my baby. Sometimes we'd just talk and get to know each other better... how often do you get to become friends with your doctor? Before I even went into labor, I said to Jon, "You know even if I don't get my HBAC, making this one change has been the best decision for my care."
When January 17th (Mae's due date rolled around) I'd been through a few rough nights of prodromal labor. The night before and was so horribly uncomfortable that Kim, my midwife came over to offer emotional support and to do another membrane sweep in hopes maybe this would be the final straw to send me into labor. My mom, sensing how stressed and tired I was, took the girls for the day... Later, when she called to tell me that she would keep the twins for the night.. I quietly said to Mae, "This would be a good night for you to come!"
Jon and I went out for some errands, came back and took a much needed nap, then ordered take out. We settled into watch some Netflix around 6:30 at night. I kept feeling sick to my stomach and was contracting even more than usual (which was already a lot) and we decided to start timing. The contractions seemed to be getting rhythmic and growing in discomfort, to the point I had to stand up and move around, stopping each time they came. At about 8:30 Jon said, " I think we should call the midwife." Of course I balked, "What if this isn't real labor? They'll probably stop..." He shook his head, called her anyway, and took off upstairs to get our bedroom ready for labor. I yelled after him, "You're just going to have to take it all back off again! I'm sure these are going to stall out!"
When Kim arrived and they still hadn't stopped, I (maybe superstitiously) persisted in thinking they was going to stop at any moment, and everyone was going to all this trouble for nothing. Because really, when you're 40 weeks pregnant, your mind starts playing tricks and you begin to be resigned to it, like "Yep this is my life now; I'll just be the woman who was pregnant forever."
I spent the next eight hours with growing contractions, some with double peaks lasting 2+ minutes and practically starting again as soon as the last one had stopped, all felt intensely in my back. I was in agony. Finally, we did a cervical check. For all that time and pain, I'd moved one freaking cm and was measuring 4 cm. Hearing that news after such a trial was utterly crushing. To the midwife, though, it meant something was wrong with her position. Kim said to me, 'She's crooked, called asynclitic meaning she's head down, but not square to the cervix. Babies move during contractions but some need some more "encouragement" to move into the right position. She gave me a frank warning. "There were things we can do help this problem, but they are not going to be even remotely pleasant."
I took a minute to think. When you've been managing horrible, unproductive pain for the last eight hours, being told it's going to hurt a lot more in order to move forward is a tough pill to swallow. I thought about all the birth affirmations I read, reviewing all the pithy quotes to find strength and resolve in my moment of crossroads in my labor. "How much do I really want this? I could call it right now, go to the hospital, get an epidural and probably end up in another c-section." I took a moment between contractions, and one of these statements suddenly shined out from my memory. "Remember why you started." In my mind's eye I saw my twin girls faces. I was doing this for them as much as I was doing this for me. I didn't want a long recovery and huge downtime from a c-section. As soon as that moment had passed and my body headed into the next wave of contraction, there was no doubt in my mind: we were going to do this, whatever it took. I was all in.
After about an hour of different positions and manipulations baby Mae shifted and moved! We were in business.... just how in business were we? In less than four hours I went from 4cm dilated to holding her in my arms. Those four hours, though, were the most intense minutes of my life. I have never felt so much pain before. On the pain scale of 1-10, every couple minutes redefined 10 for me. I have never had to dig so deep to just get from one breath to the next.
I had no idea where I was going to labor, or what positions might work. We tried them all, but like a complete crazy person, I labored almost the entire twelve hours standing, holding onto Jon, the wall, the counter or whatever for support. It was insane, but absolutely nothing else felt even remotely doable when a contraction came.
At 8-9cm my water had still not broken. Between contractions, I BEGGED for her to break it, saying "This f'ing water bag won't f'ing break already, I think it's why she's not here yet..."When we did, it was relief and holy shit all in one pop. Just how right was I? In two more contractions it suddenly became urgently apparent that she was COMING NOW. Everyone got into place, and I laid on my side and there was this long tranquil pause between contractions, long enough for me to ask what was going on. My midwife said, "This is Heavens Rest. Take a deep breath and enjoy it..."
I looked out the windows in my bedroom and in this moment I could see the sky was turning to a soft pink light. Morning was coming. A minute later, powerful wave came over my body, compelling me to push. I pushed while holding onto Jonathan's hands for strength, through this and then another wave. Before the next one, from some foggy distance I heard Kim say, "You are having this baby on the next contraction." One more moment of pain and then she was here... one became two, and in this surreal moment I was holding my baby, still attached to me, crying out the first air she'd ever breathed in.
She weighed in at 8lbs 12oz, 21.5 inches long and she was beautiful, perfect, messy, and all mine. Jonathan, Mae and I laid there on the bed while the whole world swirled around us.
Maybe I was crazy to give birth at home away from the securities of medical intervention should I have needed it, but I also had to just do what felt right, trust in my body, and birth without fear. As unexpected as it might seem, the pain was a crucial part of my story. In some hidden place inside me, I needed to know I could do this. I wanted to walk the path my mother and countless women before her have walked. I feel like I touched the tremendous power we are capable of, even in the most impossible circumstances. Personally, I feel more connected to myself and my daughters than I did before that life changing night. I feel complete gratitude for the gifts life has given me, and home birth taught me lessons about surrendering myself, trusting others, and even further solidified the bond Jonathan and I share. When I couldn't hold myself up anymore, he was there for me, his silent strength and calming affirmations helping get me from one breath to the next, until the final breath that brought Mae into this world.
It was a day I'll never forget, and whose lessons will unfold over a lifetime.