Sometimes there are people who are just really great at life. Those people also usually make pregnancy and childbirth look like an effortless stroll in the park. My gorgeous friend, soul sister, and (future) sister midwife Abby is that person. Her and her husband John were a huge support system for me during my years in midwifery school- so graciously opening their home to me every time I needed to be in Gainesville. I will forever be grateful to them for the kindness, love, and hospitality they shared with me. Needless to say- I was so honored that a sister midwife asked me to take care of her when there were so many options so much closer to her home. In the end, Abby's beautiful no-fuss pregnancy turned into a pretty epic no-fuss homebirth.
I always say that if I do my job well enough during pregnancy, that my mamas don't need me. I can't push their babies out for them, I can't make things easier, my role is to just protect space for them and their families to welcome their babies- they don't NEED me. I don't want to spoil the good parts of this story, so I will leave the rest of the story telling to mama.
"I was feeling nauseous—not unusual at all during my pregnancy! I went to the bathroom heaving and coughing (I was just coming off of a nasty upper respiratory thing that I shared with John), and felt a sudden warm gush. I sat on the toilet and puzzled over this feeling, thinking that it couldn’t possibly have been my water… only 38 weeks! First-time moms almost always go post-dates. I even adjusted my due date back a week to October 11 (the real one was October 4) just to ensure that Earley’s birth would be as hassle- and intervention-free as possible. After conversing with the midwife, we decided that I would put a pad on and see if I continued to leak fluid—a sure sign that it was indeed my bag of waters and not an oh-so-common accidental pee.
John was at work for a couple hours so I took the opportunity to go to the store and buy the rest of my birth supplies. I was met at the store by Anno, whom I shared the exciting events with. She was to attend my birth as an assistant. Excitedly, we walked around and gathered all the supplies. She was sworn to secrecy to not tell anyone yet, as I didn’t have any contractions and didn’t want any alarms raised. The more I walked around the store the more I gushed clear fluid, confirming that my water was broken. We finished shopping, I picked John back up from work and we headed home to finish the birth kit and rest.
After a time it was clear I wouldn’t be going into labor right away. Charlie and I discussed my options and given the fact that I was doing well, we decided to wait a while to get something started, if it didn’t start on it’s own. Needing to chill out, I had half a glass of wine and some Natural CALM, and slept like a baby.
I snapped awake with absolutely no contractions, so John and I set off at once to get some natural labor induction stuff: three different homeopathics, a bottle of castor oil, chocolate ice cream and peanut butter—the ultimate last-ditch-effort labor starter combo. As the midwife put it, we were “throwing the kitchen sink at my body”.
It was morning time now. John got ready for work and I got ready for labor. I hoped that it would work, as my next option would be to transfer to the hospital. However, I was nervous of the feeling of the castor oil in my body. John left for work and I suddenly realized “this is it”. I felt resistance to making and taking the castor oil concoction—will I be sick? Will it work? If it does, then I’ll be in labor. Holy crap! If it doesn’t, I’ll be in the hospital hooked up to a continuous IV drip of Pitocin—something I politely pushed back out of my head. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes go by and I am still milling around, putting off the inevitable. Realizing that it’s go time, I decide to perform a ritual to overcome the fears I had. I grabbed a piece of paper from the recycle and a sharpie, and without hesitation I began to write every fear or block that popped into my head. Things like “I fear that my labor won’t start naturally” or “I am afraid of how the castor oil will feel” or “I am nervous about being a mother”. After five minutes of detecting and recording each fear, I decided I was done and took the paper and a lighter out into the rainy, wet yard. I breathed deeply and lit it on fire, visualizing all of my fears and irrationalities dissolving into flames. I made sure every letter on that page was engulfed in fire. Then I tossed the remains into our burn pit and headed resolutely back to the kitchen.
“We need you to keep this down for it to work properly,” I heard Charlie say in my head as I blended the ice cream, peanut butter and entire 4-oz bottle of castor oil in a bowl with a hand mixer. Then I opened the double doors that lead to our yard with the burn pit, grabbed the birth ball and had a seat on it with the bowl and a spoon in hand. The yard was so peaceful, misty and serene, the sounds of the rain dripping giving me no reason to put on any music. My dog and cat lay at my feet as calm as could be. One or two huge bites of the concoction every five minutes—I can do this. Within 30 minutes I was scraping the last spoonful out and gulping it down. All this time, I also was dosing each homeopathic in turn in 15-minute intervals.
Yes, it worked! I distinctly remember the sensation of oxytocin releasing into my system. It was like someone was pouring a warm cup of water over my head and body. It gave me a high/drowsy feeling that I’ll never forget. I went very inward after that point and time stopped. Before the contraction pattern really took hold, I spent a lovely, peaceful moment watching the rain drip drop through the trees, taking it all in, still one with my baby.
I do not recall registering that my labor was really starting until I had such a strong wave that I lost my lovely castor oil concoction. I do remember texting John at work and telling him “Yeah it’s working! Take your time and head home after lunch.” I called Charlie and let her know it was definitely working. Then things began to intensify exponentially and my husband received another, more urgent call where I said to scrap the first message and come home NOW. I was sitting on the birth ball folding baby clothes and trying to pack the last of the birth supplies in between waves.
When John arrived I was able to talk and do things, but would have to breathe and walk and have silence when a rush came. I held a hand up to stop him when he’d ask me things. We loaded up and headed to my parent’s farm out of town, where we planned to have the baby. All of this time I must have either been coping extremely well OR was in complete denial at how intense things were getting. Probably both! Contractions in the car totally sucked—I coped 100 times better when I walked them out than when I was sitting down through them. At each rush I would use locked arms to hold myself over the seat, sort-of hovering my pelvis. My mind briefly visited the thought of lying in a hospital bed on my back and I was thankful to be headed to my parent’s house out in the woods, away from it all.
We arrived and from there my recollection becomes a bit fuzzier. John unloaded our birth kits and other things while I went upstairs. Once all was in the master bedroom, we discussed food. Originally, we were going to stop at the grocery store on the way out to the farm and pick up something to make together, a task that would help while away that long primiparous labor I was “supposed to have”. We had labor snacks but I wanted food. With my contractions I could not bear stopping on the way out, so we decided that John should leave to get the food ingredients while I set up the room… I was SO hungry and figured I still had hours to go—I needed sustenance. So he left me with music playing, our birth kits packed in a corner, for the grocery store. I tried to unpack but felt all of my energies drawing further and further inward. The rushes were coming on stronger and I paced around the whole upstairs of my parent’s nearly-empty, gorgeous cedar house. I do recall being VERY vocal at this point, trying to focus on low, primal noises. Far from wasting energy, these yells and moans felt both strong and grounding.
Suddenly, a long and hard rush hit me and I looked up at the ceiling and yelled with all of my might. Our dog, who came along with us for the event, stood at the door outside whining for me out of concern. I roared “HUSH!” at him so fiercely in that moment, needing to concentrate, that I believe he turned tail and hid under the porch. This wave was different, I could actually feel a little body moving down. I was on the birth ball in the room, hanging over the bed. I reached my two fingers inside me and was shocked to feel the head of my son a mere two knuckles deep. It was one of the first and only pangs of panic that I felt during the whole process. Was I to do this alone? I crawled into the bathroom, shaking uncontrollably and rinsed out the bathtub as fast as I could before the next rush. It came and I hollered through it and moved onto the toilet. It felt good to be on the toilet, and then it dawned on me that it was because I was involuntarily bearing down and my body was starting to push.
The tub filled and I clambered in, thinking that this would ease my extreme feelings of pain, explosive energy and more pain. I laid on my back in the water and felt another rush mounting and it literally felt like I was levitating to get up out of the tub, away from this insane pelvis-wrenching pressure. I knew full well at this point that I was pushing and got out of the tub, cold and wet, to the find my phone in the other room and call my husband. I put it on speaker as another rush mounted and when he answered all that I could call out what “HE’S COMING!!” Luckily dear hubby was pulling in the driveway at that moment. Not taking my word for gospel, he started unloading the groceries in the kitchen downstairs, until he heard me go through another rush. I yelled his name loud, long and clear. He came running up and began putting pressure on my low back (heaven!) and called the midwife. She was driving through a crazy storm, still an hour out from us. She suggested I get back in the tub and offered to stay on speakerphone. John, I later found out, had also texted his sister to come out and she in turn informed the birth photographer. They began making their way out.
I got back into the tub, John got down on the floor beside me and the midwife-on-speakerphone was next to us on the countertop. She was so wonderful—the joy and excitement in her voice reassured me very much. This wasn’t an emergency to fear, we weren’t doing anything wrong without her there—this was a normal, natural birth and we could do it. John’s face was inches from mine and I held his hand tight, and tearfully we made the most powerful eye contact I have ever made. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he whispered. “I’m ok. Just help me breathe through it and make sure he doesn’t come too fast.” In a split second, I watched my husband transition from man to father. He did not fear, he did not falter. We did it together, taking each rush in stride, breathing each breath as one.
At some point Anno arrived—the baby was almost crowning she was shocked to discover. I saw a “What the…?!” look on her face, which she replaced with a smile when she noticed me looking at her (something I laughed about later). Then the photographer was on a counter above me, snapping away like an angel with a lens. I wanted to make a joke, maybe I tried, but I was in an alternate reality now. I was working with my baby—in me, of me, still connected physically to me, but soon to depart.
With Charlie guiding and reassuring us on the phone, and John squeezing my hand tight, I felt the head truly crown and on the next rush decided to give it my all. I gave birth to my son at 4:00pm on Monday, September 23 at 38 weeks and 2 days, a mere 5 and a half hours after naturally stimulating labor. He was born in water into his father’s hands Charlie made it just minutes after he was earthside.
I am so blessed—saturated in love, family, friends, health and happiness. I trusted birth and I trusted my baby and he trusted me. We all snuggled up that evening as a new family unit and it rained for hours thereafter, a brilliant beginning to a lifelong season of love."
Many many thanks to Amanda O'Donoughue Photography for kindly sharing these gorgeous (like, seriously- LOOK AT THESE!) photos. If you are in the Gainesville area and looking for a birth or lifestyle photographer, CALL HER. She was great at the birth and clearly has a strong handle on her craft. You Alachua county friends are lucky! You can also read her side of the story on her own blog here which includes a really beautiful slideshow.