In this series we share birth stories of all kinds from mothers around the globe — with the hope that they inspire, educate and inform expecting mothers. Interested in sharing your birth story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Read more birth stories here.
I had been lucky enough to be present at several home births, a birthing center birth and had started reading birthing books long before I even wanted to be pregnant just because I was interested in the topic. I wanted to try for a natural unmedicated birth, and I knew that feeling comfortable is one of the most important factors in having a birth go the way that you hope. For many people the most comfortable place to birth is a hospital, but I always knew for me it would be my home. I loved Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and the way that she described how peaceful a birth could be. I was also lucky in that I had already seen my midwife in action in two other home births so I knew her style and trusted her completely. My husband and I took a very thorough and wonderful childbirth class called The Bradley Method that walked us through every birth scenario we could imagine and taught me very effective relaxing techniques for labor. I especially loved how it focused on preparing my husband for how difficult pregnancy would be, how to stay in tune with me and coach me through the birth, and even how to really care for me postpartum. I highly recommend the Bradley method, we could not have felt more prepared. I felt that with the help of that class we grew so close through the pregnancy, I was amazed at how loved I felt by him.
I was not one of those happy glowy pregnant women and had I various issues, nothing serious for the baby but very uncomfortable for me – mysterious rib pain, extreme pelvic pain, terrible digestive issues and a breech baby that we thankfully flipped with cranial sacral therapy. My mother had been overdue with me by 4 weeks so I expected to go longer than my due date, but when I hit three weeks overdue I was feeling desperate to get things moving. We had tried all of the usual things, walking, spicy food etc and in a last ditch attempt to move the baby along I faced my fear of needles and scheduled acupuncture for Friday morning. But at 4 am Friday morning gentle compressions in my lower belly woke me up.
I turned on the contraction timer app I had ready to go on my phone and realized the consistency meant this was finally happening. I knew not to get too eager, that we might have a long haul ahead of us. I tried to go back to sleep and I let my husband sleep as long as possible. When he finally woke up I told him I believed I was in labor and we kicked into excited action. My parents were staying with us so we all ate a hurried breakfast, put every single thing in place in the house (at my extreme nesting insistence) and I took a long shower and washed my hair, thinking who knows when I’ll get to wash my hair again? We kicked my father out of the house and then the waiting began.
My contractions were only uncomfortable through the morning and early afternoon, but by mid afternoon my husband and I decided to take a walk and see if we could start speeding things along. On the walk the contractions became painful enough that I needed to stop and concentrate on them, and they were regular, every 3 minutes or less. Books would have said these were signs we were really getting somewhere and it might be time to call the midwife but I had a feeling it wasn’t that easy and I was right, when we got home again things slowed way down for several more hours.
Around 7 pm I was no longer able to talk or smile through or much in between contractions so we decided to call my tribe. I am not strictly an extrovert, but when I’m in pain physically or emotionally I am very comforted by having loving people around me. My birthing team consisted of my husband, my mother, sister, cousin, my two midwives and a photographer/friend.
We spent a few hours in the living room, and my team brushed my hair, rubbed my back, read me poems, played beautiful music that made me cry and laughed around me. I remember that as such a sweet time through the pain. When the midwives arrived they guessed by the intensity of pain and time between contractions that the baby would arrive by midnight. How wrong we were.
Around 10 pm I moved to the inflated birthing pool in our dining room. We had all of the lights off, just candles, my birth playlist with Arvo Part was going and I had a statue that was meaningful to me placed by the birthing tub. It was wonderfully peaceful but I was starting to close into the pain and tune everything else out. I had heard so many people rave about how amazing the water felt, and while that was true, it was countered by the fact that my legs kept cramping in every position since I could not stretch out fully in the pool. I would flip to a squatting position against the wall of the tub for a contraction, and then flip back to sit with my legs stretched straight out to alleviate the cramp in between, and I did not find that a relaxing situation.
My contractions intensified in the tub and my team was using all of their energy, and swapping places as their strength wavered using the clothespin technique on either side of my hips. The contractions never took over my whole belly, they always stayed from the naval down, and the best way I can describe them is like a vice just closing in on my lower abdomen.
After a few hours in the birthing pool I needed to get out because you cannot stay in a pool for too long during labor. I switched to a birthing stool around 3 am which I had also heard wonderful things about. While I have no doubt it was a great position to open my hips, I found it precarious to balance. I needed to grip the stool through contractions and that was not conducive to having my body relax and open up to contractions. I remember the time on the birthing stool as being just about the hardest.
I hoped I was in transition, and I told the midwives I’d like to try to push. So far they had not checked how far dilated I was, at my request. I had witnessed how painful it was to be checked during a contraction and I was concerned it would undo all of my hard work relaxing. I had also heard that it can be discouraging to find out you are not as far along as you hope, and that you will know when it is time to push. I started to push but after about 45 minutes I could tell it was not right. I told the midwives I was getting discouraged, and they suggested that they check me.
They found that I was not nearly at full dilation, and I needed to go back to not pushing and wait. This was incredibly discouraging, I had already mentally gone through transition, pushed and had to go back again to stage 2 labor. In retrospect I should have let the midwives check me earlier so that I knew if I was truly ready to push.
During this discouraging time I somehow was never scared or wanted to give up. I knew all along that transferring to a hospital at this late stage of labor to get medication would be so incredibly painful and potentially not relieve pain or make things go faster, so I always felt that my best option was to just keep going that way I was. I kept repeating in my head ‘The only way out is through.’
I was encouraged to take a shower for change of pace so I slowly made my way to the bathroom and during a long hot shower I do not remember any pain at all. It was wonderful. I spent some time on my hands and knees doing cat cow which felt amazing on my back. My mother says that I was hunched over as I shuffled to the shower and when I got out of the shower I was standing up straight and had more energy.
I spent some time laboring on the toilet, facing backwards so that my hips were open and I had the back of the toilet to support myself as my team massaged my lower back. This was my favorite position in all of labor.
I did not, however, want to give birth into the toilet so I moved to my bed around 6am. I was checked again and we found that my cervix was swollen because of the unsuccessful pushing earlier. This could be a big problem during labor since it could block baby’s head from easily coming through the birth canal. My midwife amazed me with her knowledge for this problem. She suggested that I put a few arnica tablets under my tongue and every two contractions roll over to my other side. It was horrible to try to move that often but the technique worked and after a few hours the swelling was completely gone and I truly was ready to push. These hours are very dark in my mind, the pain was all encompassing and I could do nothing but focus on relaxing every bit of my body during a contraction as my birthing class taught me, and staying perfectly still resting in between. It felt never ending.
I had wanted to push squatting since that is supposedly the easiest way for baby to descend, but I had no strength left so lying down in bed it was. I started pushing around 8 am and for several hours there was no progress. I had been looking forward to the relief of doing something, so many women described how good it felt to push. Not so for me, it felt very futile and I could feel no movement or relief. My midwives monitored baby’s heartbeat and were sure nothing was wrong, that he was just on his own schedule. By the end I was so weak my team was holding up my legs for me, but finally, somehow, in a blur I saw my baby’s sweet face after 30 hours of labor. He was laid right on my chest and my heart exploded. I laughed and cried and he cried and nursed. About 20 minutes later his father cut his umbilical cord.
We were so lucky to have a very healthy and easy baby, an easy time nursing and I did not suffer from any postpartum depression, but I do want to mention that physically postpartum recovery was very difficult. I do not think it is talked about enough. My midwives gave me strict instructions, especially since my labor was so long and difficult, to rest for 3 weeks – truly rest, barely leave the bed much less the house. I am so so glad that they insisted on this and that my husband and family made that happen for me. I needed it. The first few days and week are such a mess of fluids, a body sore beyond belief and huge hormonal fluctuations. My stitches took much longer to heal than I expected, and eventually I had to have pelvic floor therapy. It was almost 6 months before my body felt normal again and I could start exercising. Postpartum is different for everyone, and some women do bounce back quickly, but I wish there was less pressure on the bouncing back when some women need much more time to heal and rest.
Overall I was so so pleased with how our birth turned out. I would have preferred it was a little bit shorter, but I’m so grateful to my midwives who believed in me and my body and let me and baby take the time we needed. It was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done but I would not have done anything differently. Being at home made a very difficult ordeal the best it could be for me. Looking back at the photos I see all of the love that surrounded me, and I see myself in my home creating my family right where it belongs.