The Birth of Nora
Labor began in earnest around 11:30 in the evening on Monday, January 7th. I had been experiencing some “interesting” symptoms all day but didn’t think it was the real deal. It turns out that I was already in labor, I just didn’t know it. I had actually spent the majority of the day walking around IKEA with my mom. When I realized that the cramps were not letting up, I suggested we head out and I called my midwife as soon as I got home. She told me to keep an eye on things and let her know if anything changed. She told me to eat a good dinner and go to bed early. Easier said than done…
Afterall, I had myself convinced that I would give birth later than my due date. What is too funny about this whole “due date” thing is that my daughter arrived on schedule – very much unlike her parents, who tend to be chronically late. But that aside, once I realized that this was “the real thing,” I was surprised to be in labor.
My husband was my first line of support. He was with me in the very beginning when I thought things were starting. In fact, he was the one who said, “Honey, I think this is it.”
Me? “Nah… I don’t think so… Ow.”
Ok. Maybe this really was the real thing. I tried following my midwife’s orders and getting some sleep, but every time I tried, another “cramp” would wake me up. Turns out, those “cramps” were really “contractions.”
My husband made all the phone calls to my incredible doula, and my wonderful midwife, who also brought an assistant. He was there when my water broke and we got excited together. That was another surprise: my water actually broke on it’s own. Again, another thing I was convinced about: my water wouldn’t break. Since I had already been having contractions, when my water broke, I was more confident that this was the “real thing.” I was also surprised at how little water actually came out. It wasn’t like in the movies or on TV where they make it sound like you’ll need a kayak to make it to the bathroom.
I know why they call it labor. It is hard work. The force and intensity with which my body brought forth a fully formed human being is no small feat. It is a miracle – and anyone who says otherwise has either not experienced it, or is ignoring the absolute wonder of life. I had no idea what I was in for – I knew it would be hard, but whoa nelly – that was one super intense experience.
And here I am, just 10 weeks later, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
After I fully accepted the fact that I was in labor, I turned inward. What I mean is, I did not converse much with anyone and I had no concept of what time it was. On top of that, I labored through the night – when I could have been sleeping. I remember my doula arriving and how I wasn’t able to tell her how I was feeling. It was mostly a mix of exhaustion and the intensity of labor. Then, later, my midwife and her assistant arrived. I couldn’t even say hello. But what was interesting was that I distinctly remember their arrival. First, my midwife and how Chris helped her bring in all of her equipment. My doula stayed with me, and I don’t know how I would have fared without someone being with me during that time. Later, my midwife’s assistant arrived. I remember hearing everyone introduce themselves, and there I was, wishing I could properly say hello. But I was busy with other things.
My labor was hard. Once it kicked in, it was full steam ahead. Some women have little breaks between contractions where they can rest and talk. Not me. It was intense and I describe my state of mind as lucid, dream state. By the time everyone arrived, it was nearly 4 in the morning and I hadn’t slept. Yet, I was very aware of where I was and what I was doing – I knew who was with me, who was touching me, what music was on, and yet simultaneously, I was somewhere else.
I remember thinking about the labors of other women I know. I thought of my mom, who had a natural childbirth with both of her children, and how she told me that when she would have a contraction she looked at a point on the wall and would focus and breathe. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even open my eyes most of the time. I was simply too tired and too focused on laboring. I thought of a friend of mine who said she was “whimpering” by the time she was ready to push. I could only moan and hum throughout my labor. I thought of Mary, alone with Joseph in the stable, laboring to bring Jesus into the world. I was suddenly aware of how comfortable my surroundings were. Some funny thoughts crossed my mind, too. I thought about those stories I’ve heard about powerful African women who give birth in the middle of a field and then continue about their day. How in the hell do they do that?! Do they even do that? I thought about those women who have 2 hour labors and basically sneeze their baby out – and thought of what a load of crap that is! (And if you are one of those women, congratulations! I still don’t believe you, though.)
As my labor progressed, my midwife kept track of the baby’s tolerance to the contractions. Little Miss Nora handled everything beautifully. The thing I appreciated the most was the lack of internal exams and the fact that I was not hooked up to any monitors or IVs. I was allowed to just simply be a woman in labor. I could move about as I needed, or just sit still. I was at home, in comfortable and familiar surroundings. The women who were supporting me were not only kind and calming, but also seriously prepared and professional. I had absolutely no concerns about my care or that of my baby. I had complete faith in the team of people who were assisting and supporting me – you cannot imagine how empowering that is!
Between my doula and husband offering me water, encouragement, massage, and pretty much anything else I needed; and my midwives holding down the medical end of things, I can say this confidently about birthing at home: it is comfortable and powerful, awe-inspiring and peaceful, and wholly transformative. And safe.
But there were surprises, too. Everyone says that labor and birth never goes exactly as planned, or as one imagines. And mine was no exception. Thankfully, there were no major surprises that warranted an ambulance ride. But there were little things that, when thinking back, make me realize how my planning and preparation were excellent exercises, but in the end, being flexible and having faith ultimately resulted in the successful birth of my daughter.
Some of the little surprises: I had imagined that I would labor in every room of my house and possibly even go for a walk. Instead, I labored in my bedroom and bathroom. I spent most of my time either laying on my side in bed, or kneeling on all fours in the bathroom. I didn’t expect my contractions to be so intense, but they were – and so intense that I vomited twice: another surprise. I didn’t expect to be in labor for 12 hours, since my mom had two very short labors – and the rumor is that most women take after their mothers – but I was in labor for longer than I anticipated. I thought that my husband’s voice would be the one most soothing to me, but I found that during the pushing stage his voice was the most jarring. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t think my water would break on its own, but it did – and once it did, the contractions became much more intense.
As things progressed, I really had no concept of time. At one point my midwife decided it was time to check my progress and when she did we were all very pleased and relieved to learn I was 9 centimeters and very close to the pushing stage. What a relief! But that last centimeter was rough. Contraction on top of contraction kept me on my side just waiting and humming.
The contractions shifted from those which pushed the baby down to the kind that would push the baby out. The difference in sensation is distinct. I personally did not like the pushing contractions, yet I felt like I was active and “in control” with them, much unlike the previous contractions in which I simply had to just relax and “deal.”
At one point during pushing I had to use the bathroom, so my entourage escorted me to the loo. This was something I was not expecting, another surprise: to poop in front of 4 people, 3 of which are not actually family. If you’ve never given birth, know this: you reach a point during labor in which you could care less about what other people see and hear you do. There were 4 adults sitting in my bathroom with me watching me poop. I didn’t care. The entire roster of the Philadelphia Phillies and the President himself could’ve been in there with me and I wouldn’t have given a crap less. Literally. I was a woman in labor, in pain, doing the hardest work of my life and frankly, the opinions of other people didn’t matter much at that time.
This is the power of birth: your labor is the only thing. It is the only thing you are doing, the only thing that matters.
I pushed for 2 hours, but oddly enough, to me it didn’t feel that long. Actually, my entire active labor period was close to 12 hours and it didn’t feel that way. I suppose that’s the power of relaxation: since you lose track of time and space, the length of time is of no issue. I can’t tell you that it didn’t feel like 12 hours exactly, but I can tell you the concept of time for me was simply nebulous. No start, no end, just being.
As my daughter traveled down my body and closer to coming into the world, I distinctly remember being able to resonate with the female voices in the room, and not with that of my husband’s, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a little sad, but as much as he wanted to encourage me, I couldn’t listen to him. The deepness of his voice was jarring to me. I thought it would be his voice that I would want to hear, yet when he spoke, I couldn’t listen. My doula, on the other hand, would encourage me and her voice and that of my midwife were the voices I wanted to hear. Plus, it doesn’t help that my hubby took a break at one point and ate a piece of pizza laden with onions. That made for his lovely return to my side.
I made him brush his teeth.
My daughter’s arrival was imminent and my husband got “into position.” We had decided that he would catch her when she came out and for a long time I had worried about how he felt about doing so. It turns out that he was honored and awed by the experience. I had chosen to kneel on a footstool next to my bed to push. I folded the top half of my body over my bed and Chris sat on a chair behind me. As her head emerged, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “where is the dreaded ‘Ring of Fire’ I keep hearing about?” There was no fiery sensation, only a deep stretch and the feeling of her sliding out and then back in again. This happened about three times and then, her little face was out.
Then her shoulders, and the rest of her little body, and then, relief.
It was done. I did it. My daughter was here.
The flurry of the midwives’ activity harmonized with the peace of the world standing still. Because it did. The world stood still for a little while that morning – at least for me and Chris it did. All the necessary post-birth activities were handled beautifully.
The midwives attend births with an arsenal of equipment and they quickly tend to any and all normal and abnormal birth issues with dexterity and professionalism. My daughter had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, abdomen, and leg – but my lovely midwife whipped the cord from around her so quickly that my husband barely had a moment to even notice. Even though our little one cried right away and had a healthy voice, my midwife gave her a little whiff of oxygen to be safe. She apparently liked it so much that she grabbed ahold of the oxygen tube and held it near her little nose. All of the normal birth protocol and checks were done, I delivered the placenta (which was harder than I thought – another surprise), and my midwife tended to some very minor tears I had.
After everything was cleaned up, and I was settled in bed with my squishy new daughter, I was given a thorough tutorial on breastfeeding and I got to sit and chat with my midwife and doula about what to expect in the next few days. Chris got me some food, and our new little baby napped and nursed. All in the comfort of my bedroom. After a couple of hours, everyone left and Chris and I were snuggled up in our bed with our daughter. It was wonderful.
We then figured we should probably call our family to let them know – afterall, we hadn’t told anyone that I was in labor. Another surprise! I thought I’d be calling my parents and in-laws as soon as I knew I was in labor, but didn’t. We made the calls, and a few hours later my parents and in laws paid a visit to meet their new granddaughter. It was sweet and special and perfect.
* * * * *
I gave birth at home because I wanted to. I realize how blessed and fortunate I am to have had a smooth, uncomplicated pregnancy, labor, and birth experience. I give thanks to God for that, and I hope I am able to do it again. With that said, my home birth story is not here to make anyone feel poorly about their choice to birth otherwise. This was my journey, and each mother chooses for herself what is best. For me, having my baby at home was what I wanted to do and what I felt was best for me. I am not a fan of hospitals, western medicine, and certain medical interventions – though, I do appreciate their value when they are necessary and would have happily opted for those things if the situation warranted it.
But, those are just a few of the reasons I chose to have a homebirth – and if you are reading this and considering homebirth, I encourage you to do your research, check out the links below, and feel free to contact me anytime if you want to talk.
For more information on homebirth, check out the links and reading recommendations below.
www.thebusinessofbeingborn.com (this movie was part of what encouraged me to birth at home)
www.inamay.com (this woman is my hero)
“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin (available on Amazon.com)