Hooray! Our Local Birth Stories series continues with this wonderful story of mama Libby’s birth journey, culminating with the birth of her first baby, Nathan, at home! Don’t miss her “keys to success” at the end! Thank you, Libby, for sharing your beautiful story with us!
THE BIRTH OF NATHAN
Prologue…how I came to have a home birth
I have always considered midwifery as the standard of care for birth. My brother and I were born at a midwife hospital in Georgia and I knew when it was my turn to give birth that I would seek out a talented midwife. In college I heard Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist, speak about the medicalization of childbirth in western countries. I knew from that moment on that if I chose to have children, I wanted my birth to be as natural as possible and not in a hospital setting.
When we found out I was pregnant, we planned to give birth a rural birth center run by nurse midwives. Unfortunately, the birth center closed when I was 6 months pregnant and we were forced to seek another caregiver. We chose to work with a traditional midwife who was also birth attendant at the birth center. I assembled a fantastic birth team with a doula, midwife, and an apprentice midwife. As the due date grew increasingly closer, I felt my more confident in my body and my choice to birth at home.
The big event…
On a Saturday morning 2 weeks before my due date, I woke up about 6 am with what I thought were GI cramps. I used the bathroom a few times and tried to figure out what I’d eaten the night before (spicy Indian food!). When my husband woke up around 8 am he tried to convince me this was the start of labor. I quickly told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. I’d read the books. I’d watched the movies. I’d talked to lots of moms about what to expect. This was not labor.
My non-labor sensations were strong enough that I couldn’t talk or move much. I stood bracing my arms on the window sill in our bedroom and swayed side to side, trying to find my rhythm in the new sensations. I tried several breathing techniques, but the contractions were stronger than I expected them to be at the beginning of labor. My husband suggested we try a few positions we learned in the hypnobirthing class and also from our doula. I couldn’t get comfortable and the sensations overwhelmed me so I returned to swaying braced on the window sill. Eventually, I moved to sitting on the toilet and braced my arm on the sink. Sitting there provided relief from the sensations and made them manageable.
I started to keep track of the contractions with an app I downloaded on my phone. When I started timing the contractions they were 2 minutes apart and 1.5 minutes long. The midwife wanted to be called when they were 5 minutes apart. Whoops.
My husband kept badgering me to call the midwife. I finally relented at 9:30am, admitting that ok this really was labor. My midwife talked to me for a minute on the phone, heard my struggle to talk during a contraction, and immediately headed our direction. This was the confirmation my husband and I needed that this really was labor. This is also when my husband started panicking. He was reading the spreadsheet our doula had given him with descriptions of the stages of labor. I was at the last stage and he was by himself at home with no birth attendants. Our midwife lives over an hour away and we’d just called her. He began evaluating how he was going to deliver this baby himself. Little did he know the primitive part of my brain was smart enough to wait for the midwife to arrive.
I had romanticized my birth setting in the months leading up to the event : candles lit, music playing, and altars to birth goddesses in every room in the house. Here I was riveted to the toilet, not the most appealing setting for this most sacred event. Between contractions I ran to gather my required birth tools, struggling to get them and return back to the toilet before the next contraction. A part of me was laughing at myself during these excursions; the other part of me was desperate to have the comfort of these tools. Finally, the candles were lit and Jennifer Berezan’s “Praises for the World” soothed me from the CD player. You might wonder where my husband was during these hurried jaunts. Well, I’d told him to clean the house. I mean, what would the baby think of his new parents if he saw how dirty our kitchen was? Obviously logic wasn’t playing into this decision, but with cleaning underway, I felt free to focus on my labor.
The midwife and doula both arrived at our house around 10:30 am. I didn’t know this at the time, but they quietly entered the house and listened to my response to a few contractions before letting me know they were there. Apparently as soon as I knew they were both in the house, my vocalizations changed and labor accelerated. I didn’t connect this acceleration to their arrival but it makes sense. I knew it was safe to deliver the baby with our birth team in attendance.
I was still on the toilet in the small half bath adjacent to our bedroom. I never imagined I’d birth in a bathroom but at that point I was not willing to be moved. Sitting on the toilet was the only thing that relieved the pressure of the surges. They were ramping up in intensity and I started vocalizing with each one. I was glad we’d practiced this in my pre-natal yoga class. I kept struggling to keep my voice in the low deep tones with my jaw loose as recommended by Ina May’s books. Since I was in a tiny room the midwife and doula observed from the adjacent bedroom, lending energetic support. I didn’t want to be touched and they sensed my need for them to just be present while the baby and I worked.
During one contraction I felt a pop down low and my water broke. A few contractions later I told the midwife the baby’s head was coming out. She put on gloves and came into the bathroom and told me to stand. We didn’t want to birth the baby in the toilet (he’d never live that down!). My husband held me up through the next surge as the baby’s head came out. The midwife told me not to push during the next contraction while she worked to free the baby’s hand that was tucked around his neck but he wouldn’t budge. This was definitely the most intense part of the labor but it only lasted a few moments. I pushed on the next contraction and the baby came all the way out. This was 11:32am. The midwife caught him and immediately put him on my chest so I could hold him. She did a few mouth to mouth puffs to get him going and he started crying. We all moved to the bedroom and I laid back in bed with the baby on my chest, cord still attached, to wait for the placenta to be delivered. My husband and I cuddled on our bed, in awe of this new being in my arms.
The second midwife arrived at this point and helped get the baby and I stable with homeopathic remedies (arnica). I think we were both in shock at the speed of the labor. The baby’s head was perfectly shaped since he sped down the birth canal and didn’t get squeezed too much. The midwives gave me an herbal tincture of angelica root to encourage the placenta to be delivered. The placenta finally came out when I stood up and let gravity help me. The midwives examined the placenta to ensure it was intact. We were fascinated when they showed us the amniotic sac and the different parts of the placenta. They then placed it in a plastic bag and let the umbilical cord stay attached to the baby. Since the baby and I were fine, the midwives and the doula retreated to the living room to give our new family time to bond. After about an hour, the midwives came back and my husband was guided on how to cut the cord. The midwives then did the newborn exam there on the bed next to us.
We feel so blessed to have the birth experience we were looking for. It was intimate, gentle, and safe.
Keys to my success:
Reading positive birth stories – there’s nothing more reassuring than hearing about births that went well. I highly recommend Ina May Gaskin’s books Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery because they are filled with positive births.
Regular exercise – I did prenatal yoga, bellydance, and lots of walking.
Careful eating – I followed the Brewer Pregnancy diet with modifications for vegetarian moms. Lots of protein, tons of fresh veggies, and lots of variety. Every morning I made a “baby smoothie” with Greek yogurt, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, prune juice, and frozen fruit.
Herbal Tonics – I supported my body during pregnancy with herbal tonics of red raspberry leaf and nettle leaf infusions. Susun Weed, a traditional herbalist, recommends these two plants for their easily digestible vitamins and minerals needed by the pregnant body. Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year was a frequent companion on my pregnancy journey.
The Birth Team:
Full of Grace Midwifery – Bettie Sheets and Debbie Eakes
Doula on the Peninsula – Peggy Caister