In my final week of pregnancy, I was starting to feel antsy. I had woken up in the wee morning hours on Sunday, July 14th to real contractions— no mistaking them for the constant Braxton-Hicks I’d been having since I was 15 weeks along. Up until this point, I had been doing everything in my power to remain calm and relaxed about my baby girl’s arrival. I was soaking up every spare moment with my husband, knowing that our duo would be three before I knew it. But these mild early morning contractions renewed my excitement for my impending birth. The contractions petered out, but reappeared the next day along with loose stools. I knew the signs of early labor and was sure that I’d be having a baby within a day or two. On Monday, I woke up feeling terrible: exhausted, nauseous, more tummy trouble. Tomorrow, I thought, I will have a baby. A few more days came and went like this— I lost a good portion of my mucous plug, my tummy was in a constant state of unrest, and contractions would peter in and out in a teasing way— but still, no baby.
When I walked into my prenatal appointment that Friday at 39 weeks and 3 days, I was frustrated that my body had been in that near-labor stage for almost a week. I prayed that I would be out of my misery soon and that my baby was coming that weekend.
Nancy, had planned to sweep my membranes at the appointment in an attempt to get things moving. She went through the regular health checks first: measuring my belly, taking my blood pressure, etc... and found that my BP was 144/90. Pre-pregnancy, my blood pressure has always been below average and in the second half of pregnancy it had consistently been 120/80. In other words, none of us saw this coming.
My mom happened to be visiting me on the day of my appointment and had come with me to the Rites of Passage office. I am beyond grateful for how this worked out because the next words out of Nancy’s mouth had to do with further testing at the hospital. I needed to prepare myself for the possibility of induction due to gestational hypertension or preeclampsia. Needless to say, I pretty much lost it right there in her office. I had been dreaming of and planning for my home birth since well before I was pregnant, and here I was— days from the end— facing the possibility of a medically-induced labor. I felt completely defeated and a little guilty, even though Nancy assured me that there was nothing I could have done to keep this from happening.
She went ahead with the sweep and said that even if my blood pressure stabilized, it would be best to have my baby sooner rather than later. If the hospital didn’t admit me, it was time we start actively trying to bring this baby earthside.
I called my husband at work and told him that he was officially on paternity leave: one way or another, we were going to meet our daughter that weekend.
He met me at home and we packed bags for the hospital in case the testing deemed it necessary to stay. I was NOT at all prepared to pack a “go bag” because I never anticipated having to go anywhere! I threw the necessary items in my overnight bag and we drove the seven minutes to our backup hospital. We spent five hours in labor and delivery triage, where baby and I were monitored and my blood and urine were tested. Everything looked generally great. I wasn’t showing signs of pre-eclampsia and my blood pressure had returned to a normal range, though still a bit on the high side. The hospital recommended I stay for induction because that was their protocol, but after going through the test results with Nancy, she felt perfectly comfortable with me having my baby at home. We left the hospital with a huge sigh of relief and set our sights on naturally encouraging this baby to make her big debut.
After a great night of sleep, my husband and I woke up early and had a hearty breakfast. He cleaned our kitchen from top to bottom and tidied the whole house and I joked that he was nesting more than I was. We fooled around in an attempt to get some contractions going and then went for a vigorous 45 minute walk. Nancy met us at home that afternoon to do another membrane sweep and to check my blood pressure. It was still a bit high, but the numbers weren’t alarming. I was dilated to 3.5 cm, and my cervix was very soft, but not effaced. She did another sweep at 1:30 and immediately I went on the breast pump. By 1:45 I was having mild but regular contractions.
I had heard that breast pumps can cause the type of contractions that fool women into thinking they are in labor, so even when my surges were picking up in strength and regularity, I wasn’t ready to call it anything. I decided to get off the pump after an hour or so to see if the contractions went away or if they picked up steam on their own. An hour after pumping, my body was still surging every 6-7 minutes. Both of my parents were going to be with me during labor, so I called them to come over around 3:30. I still wasn’t calling it labor, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to get things set up.
I was starting to have to breathe through contractions and though I was technically able to talk through most of them, I didn’t want to. In between each surge, I felt great— excited and energized— but then I’d move inward and focus when I felt each tightening come. By 4:30 or 5 I was ready to call this early labor, even though my mom had been telling me so since she arrived at our house more than an hour before.
I decided to eat some soft boiled eggs and toast, knowing that I might not be able to take in anything substantial for much longer. My mom volunteered to make it for me, but was so distracted by my laboring that the toast burnt and there were egg shells mixed into the dish. We were cracking up, marveling at the fact that a dish with two ingredients could go so horribly wrong. I ate most of it anyway. My dad began filling the birth tub while I baked my daughter a “birth day” cake in between contractions. I mixed the ingredients together in the Kitchenaid and paused to lean against the counter, swaying my hips with each surge and breathing in the scent of funfetti. 30 minutes later, someone else took the cake out of the oven— I never did get around to frosting it.
Nancy came by at 8 p.m. and I had just gotten into the tub. I was actively working through contractions and the warm water felt amazing. I was still feeling pretty normal in between the surges and there wasn’t much for her to do yet. By 8:50 she had decided to leave for a couple of hours since another one of her clients was laboring at the hospital and getting close to having her baby. I was only dilated to “a stretchy 4 cm” and she knew I had plenty of work left to do. She said to call her if things became significantly more intense, otherwise she would be back in two hours with our student midwife, Carlee Ann.
The contractions were definitely getting very strong and I was practicing my low moans as a way of coping. I ended up on the toilet with my husband facing me, so I could lean into him and squeeze his hands as each surge built inside of me. I hollered for someone to grab something for me to throw up in— I was bowled over by the intensity building inside of me. I can see how easily this sensation is referred to as “pain”, and it’s true: contractions hurt. But it wasn’t the kind of pain you’d experience if you break your leg. It wasn’t gnawing or superficial. It was pain with a purpose; backed with a force that I couldn’t have anticipated coming from my own body. I kept thinking to myself how amazingly strong my body was for creating such a huge amount of energy.
Throughout my labor, I moved around the house. I spent time in the birth tub and in the shower— the relief of the warm water helped to relax the rest of my body while my uterus did the hard work. I rocked on the birthing ball and in the rocking chair in the nursery. I leaned against the back of the couch and swayed upright with the help of a birthing rope made for us by some good friends. It felt good to change positions because nothing about labor is static and I didn’t want to be either.
I expected active labor to produce contractions that were increasingly more intense and closer together. And though overall that was the case, I was surprised to find that my body created its own rhythm. Sometimes I’d have two or three contractions on top of each other that would push me to the limit of what I thought I could handle. And then I’d get a much milder contraction the next time, or I might get a seven minute break and fall asleep. Looking back, I can see that my body was really taking care of itself and going at its own perfect pace.
I spent much of my labor with my head down and eyes closed. I couldn’t handle the immensity of the internal sensations along with visual stimulation of any kind. My birth team was amazing and read all of my cues perfectly. I felt so supported and encouraged and safe. I felt like I was in control.
But then I reached 7 cm. When I started labor, I was dilated to 3.5 cm, but I wasn’t really effaced, so my body had a lot of work to do. It took me fourteen or fifteen hours to reach this transitional stage. It was around 4 a.m. when I started to feel like I was unraveling. I had been navigating through the contractions by moaning loudly— fighting my body’s urge to hit those high-pitched, screechy tones. I knew that I needed to stay relaxed and open, and my husband was a huge help by humming in the low “o” tone that I was aiming for. I could hear his voice making the noise that I wanted to make, so I spent my energy trying to match his pitch as much as possible. (A surprisingly difficult task.)
When Nancy checked me and told me my progress, I felt utterly defeated. I still had THREE whole centimeters of dilation left and then I had to push a baby out of me! The surges were getting so intense and I felt like I was running out of coping mechanisms. I was exhausted in the deepest way a person can be exhausted. I needed this to be over and I still had so much left to do. I was laying down for the cervical check and Nancy suggested that I get back into the birth tub. As I was rolling over to get up, a particularly powerful surge hit and felt like it was ripping through every cell of my body. Laying down through the contraction felt terrible, but I was utterly paralyzed in fear and pain. This was all too much for me. I hadn’t spoken more than a word at a time in hours, but in this moment, I needed my birth team to know that I could no longer handle the intensity inside my body. “No.” I looked at each of them in the eyes. “Seriously, I can not do this anymore.”
I was at home, there was literally no way out of this moment but to move through it. There was no epidural to be given, no one to cut this baby out of me and put me out of my misery. I stepped into the tub and started to weep. They weren’t full-blown tears of pain. I was weeping out of pure desperation. How would I ever make it to the other side?
Up until this point, Nancy had stayed in the background of my labor process, allowing my husband and parents to be the amazing support team that they were and only appearing for brief monitoring and to check in. But she stepped in during this crucial point of self doubt and brought me back into my body. I leaned against the side of the tub and she brought her face inches away from mine, telling me to look into her eyes. I stared at her as if my life depended on it. She told me to say out loud that I was not afraid. It was a lie— I was terrified— but I said it anyway.
I put my head back down so I could focus inward on my body and in that moment a magical thing happened. One by one Nancy, Carlee Ann, my parents, and my husband started saying my birth affirmations out loud. I had taped about a dozen affirmations on the walls, and in this perfect moment, they read each one to me as I struggled to regain my center in the dim candlelight of our living room. Slowly, I felt myself return to my body. The contractions were no less intense, but I had grown stronger. I was rising to the challenge. I was more powerful than I could have ever known.
Moving past that point of no return felt like a huge victory, but the work was far from over. As I continued to labor in the tub, I started to feel pushy. Nancy checked me again around 7 a.m. and I was 9 cm dilated. She urged me to do everything in my power not to push so I wouldn’t cause swelling in my cervix and so my body could continue to do its work. I took fast, hard puffs as if I was blowing out candles through each contraction, occasionally succumbing to the intense need to bear down but doing all that I could to control this uncontrollable urge. I liken this experience to having food poisoning and being told that you can’t throw up... not an easy task. I spent an hour this way and finally Nancy decided to push the little lip of cervix out of the way so I could get to pushing. It took a few contractions to get the lip around the baby’s head, but we finally got it and then the real fun began!
Pushing was incredibly intense, but it felt so satisfying to be actively doing something. I spent an hour pushing in the tub and my water finally broke. I expected that I wouldn’t notice if my water broke in the tub, but I felt a definite POP and when I looked down, I could see the force of the water moving below me, even though it was perfectly clear.
I decided to get out of the tub so I could try pushing in another position and I spent some time on the birth stool, which felt great. Nancy had a mirror below me so I could see the progress I was making. It was a bit frustrating to feel like the baby was moving so slowly. Nancy kept saying “you’re moving her down one millimeter at a time,” and I thought to myself that a baby is about a million millimeters long and I would never actually be done. I got off the birth stool because my butt was falling asleep (seriously, why can’t they put a little padding on those things?!) and decided to stop watching my progress in the mirror. I felt like I could push more effectively when I closed my eyes, put my chin to my chest, and focused on rounding my body over my baby.
My husband was sitting on the couch and I was squatting between his legs, using him for support. Nancy never once asked me to change into a position that would make things easier for her. Instead, she contorted herself to work around what was most comfortable for me. Looking back, it’s things like this that make me so happy that I chose to give birth at home— I was able to guide the entire process and honor what worked best for my body and my baby at any given time.
Then I felt it: the famous “ring of fire”. I was surprised to find that the ring of fire was not a fleeting feeling, but rather an overwhelming stretch that lasted for quite a few contractions. As uncomfortable as this sensation was, it was also exciting to know that I was getting so close to the end. Finally, with one toe-curling push, my baby’s head was born. I immediately pushed again and the rest of her warm, slippery body rushed out with the sweetest relief.
I pulled her up onto my chest and could practically feel my heart bursting into a million pieces. At 10:12 a.m. on July 21st, a week after those initial teasing contractions and over 20 hours of labor with two hours of active pushing, I couldn’t believe that she was finally here. I wasn’t sure how I would feel the first time I saw my baby, but she felt familiar right away. It was as if she were meant to be in my arms all along and I had only just found that missing piece to my heart.
She pooped on my stomach and down my husband’s leg within a minute of being born— a fitting introduction to parenthood— and was crying before she even made it to my chest. A few minutes later, her eyes were open and looking up at us. Ten minutes after she was born, she was breastfeeding for the first time.
Our sweet Hazel Mae was 8 lbs. 12 ounces at birth and a whopping 22.5 inches long! She has been such a dream and I can’t believe I ever lived without her. I know home birth isn’t for everyone, but it was the perfect choice for our family and I’m so happy I had the opportunity to bring her into the world in such a peaceful, safe environment.