After attending a birth, people in the birth community often say, “It was a beautiful birth!” Although I think that the births of each of my children were beautiful in their own ways, I don’t think that this is the phrase that would have sprung from anyone’s lips after the births of my first two children. Our first child, Jedidiah, was born at home. His birth was very long and somewhat traumatic for me (several days of early labor that left me exhausted for the 18 hours of hard labor culminating in five frustrating hours of pushing). Our second child, Lilia, was also born at home, this time with a triumphant labor that required me to process the trauma of my first labor during a very long transition (you can read that story HERE).
Coming into this labor, I had very few expectations. I felt thankful for the positive experience of Lilia’s birth. I felt a peace about trusting God with whatever happened. The confidence and joy that I felt after Lilia’s birth left me feeling unafraid and calm (for the most part) about facing labor again. Josh voiced on many occasions his hope that this birth would be a beautiful, joyous one – without the difficult trauma and stuck points we’d experienced in the past.
I also think that two birth experiences, motherhood, personal life challenges, life in community, and even Thai Bodywork classes have caused me to grow significantly over the past 6 years. I am not the same person I was when I birthed Jedidiah. I know myself better, I know more about my body, I have better boundaries with relationships, I am more able to handle pain and stress, and I am less concerned with doing things the “right” way or being perfect. Natural birth often seems to require this type of self-reflection and growth, because, like it or not, the immature or unhealed parts of ourselves that we like to hide come out in the middle of something as painful and demanding as labor.
Despite two long and difficult labors, my first two pregnancies were fairly easy. For most of those pregnancies I felt great, exercising regularly and enjoying the miracle of life within. This third pregnancy was different, though. I did not have any major problems, but the whole pregnancy I just felt a little “off.” I couldn’t sleep well, often waking up in the wee hours of the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. Many times after eating I felt nauseous and could not lie down for an hour or two (even after eating very small amounts of food). Near the end of the second trimester, this post-eating nausea got really bad. I might have had a virus (my daughter had a stomach bug at the time), but I never threw up. This went on for about two weeks, in which time I could eat very little food. My midwife (Sarah) did some blood testing and found that my iron and platelets were both a little low, but nothing that seemed alarming to her. I started taking some additional supplements for low iron.
When our family left on a trip from Chicago to New Mexico (on the Amtrak), my symptoms got worse. I ended up with altitude sickness and a gastrointestinal virus. All in all, I had about a month of not being able to eat very much and feeling just awful. All of this lifted, but days before my due date my platelet count plummeted. Sarah was concerned about my blood clotting properly. She ordered another blood test that included a clotting test. The night of the test (while out on one last date), Josh and I received a phone message from Sarah, saying that my platelet count had gone back up, and I was cleared to have the baby at home. We breathed a huge sigh of relief and praised God for watching out for us.
During this same time, I was beginning to feel stressed about the timing of the birth. My mom would be flying in the day after my due date, and I worried that the baby would not arrive before she had to return home. That last week or so of pregnancy was very stressful for me, and I focused all my energy on remaining centered and getting rest.
I woke up on Thursday morning (my due date) not well-rested, and I decided to surrender my need to take on everything at home. I told Josh that I needed to rest and that I couldn’t help with Jedidiah’s school preparations that morning. I also told him I would need him to pick up Jedidiah from kindergarten that day. Josh responded graciously and took care of everything. I got a few extra hours of sleep. After I woke up, I did a few stretches that my doula had recommended to help the baby’s head come down straight, instead of at an angle.
Then, I went in for an appointment with Sarah. By this time in the morning, I was having fairly regular mild contractions, but this had happened several times in the previous month, so I did not want to make a big deal out of it. Sarah decided to draw my blood again, just to make sure the platelets were still within a safe range. She listened to the baby and measured the height of the uterus. She did not check my dilation (homebirth midwives usually wait until a woman is in labor to do this, so as not to introduce infection or increase the chances of the bag of waters breaking).
I drove home, and then I drove to pick up my 3-year-old and our neighbor’s son from preschool. The regular, early labor type of contractions continued. I put Lilia down for her nap and decided I should sleep, too. As I lay down resting, I began to feel certain that this was the beginning of “the real thing.” I heard Josh come by around 2:00 pm to get the car keys and pick up Jedidiah from school. When they returned at 3:00 pm, I told them both that I thought we would have a baby by the next day (I didn’t want to get Jedidiah’s hopes up that it would happen quickly).
Josh decided to go on back to work, and I had a moment of anger. Josh figured that it would be awhile before things “got serious,” but I knew intuitively that this was the beginning of real labor. I calmed down, and we agreed that I would call Josh when I needed him to come. We did however, read one little page together from Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin, a book that had been an inspiration to me during this pregnancy. The page was entitled “Advice for Mother at the Time of Birth.” The recommendations are rather unique, but we decided to give them a try. Truly, this one little page set the tone for our entire labor experience! I have typed it out HERE for your reading enjoyment (the hippie language is pretty hilarious).
After he left, I decided that it would be a good time to sit and watch a movie with the kids. If they were watching a movie, then the house would stay clean and I could relax and have fun with them. I had found a few movies at the thrift store and wrapped them up (along with several other small gifts for the children to open during labor). We opened one, tried it in the VCR, and it didn’t work. No problem. We opened another one, tried it in the VCR, and it didn’t work. I was starting to feel mad that none of these movies from the thrift store worked! We tried a third one that didn’t work, and I decided to try a movie I knew worked. That didn’t work either! So, it was something wrong with the way the cords were plugged in. I remembered that friends had borrowed our television, and we hadn’t gotten everything back together quite right, yet. After more frustration (that involved a woman in labor trying to lift a large television set) and kids upset about not getting to watch a movie, we decided to go next door and try to watch a movie there. Oh, and I called Josh to tell him to come home as soon as he could get free.
Stephanie and her children happily invited us in, and we watched Arthur with them. My contractions continued, but I was still able to talk through them. I told Stephanie that I thought I was in early labor. Then I realized it was probably time to call the midwife and give her a heads up. Sarah told me to try to rest, if I could, and to call her when I could no longer talk through the contractions.
At that time, our friend Kate came by. She was the one who we had arranged to take care of the kids during the labor. Josh had called her to come by and help. The kids were still playing at Stephanie’s place (we live in a six-flat apartment building, and everyone I’ve mentioned so far – besides the midwife – lives in our building). So, Kate offered to help me make dinner. I got her started on dinner, and then I hurried around the house trying to get a few things accomplished. I worked on timing my contractions, as I had been too distracted to do that up until then. And, I got the house completely in order. My contractions were about 30-45 seconds long and about 3-5 minutes apart.
Josh arrived home at around 5:30 pm, and we decided to sit down and eat dinner as a family. Kate had agreed to watch some children down the street before we had called her, so she went on to that job, offering for us to bring our kids over there after dinner. We had a nice last dinner as a family of four, though I was starting to have to get up and move and focus more to make it through the contractions. I often got down on hands and knees for the contractions, and Lilia would come and join me.
A little before 7 pm, we walked down the street together and took the kids over to the house where Kate was babysitting. We told her we’d be back in an hour to pick them up and put them to bed. We went home and cleaned up after dinner and made some phone calls. By this time, my contractions were about one minute long and two minutes apart, and they were getting intense. I was no longer able to help with the chores around the house. Josh called the midwife and doula and asked them to come at around 8:30 pm. Josh insisted on taking a few more pregnant pictures of me, and then I took a warm bath.
He went to pick up the kids at 8:00, and he asked our neighbor Stephanie to come over and sit with me. I lay down on the bed and focused through each contraction. The contractions slowed down a little and my body was able to rest, although I was not able to fall asleep. Stephanie arranged and lit all the candles that the women had given me at my mother blessing. Our apartment felt like a sacred place.
When Josh arrived home with the children, they quickly got ready for bed and then came to sit by me on my bed. We did the bedtime story there, and then they scurried off to their beds. They knew that a baby would be coming by the next day, but they both fell asleep quickly (thank you, Jesus!).
As they were going to bed, I got up and went to the bathroom. I began to have diarrhea and to have very strong contractions. I heard our doula, Anna, come in the back door. I was unable to greet her for a little while. A few minutes later, I greeted her quietly and walked toward my room. I had a big contraction and she placed her hands on either side of my pelvis, adding pressure to counteract the pain of the contraction. I was amazed at how much this helped, and I continued to ask (nicely!) for this maneuver throughout the rest of labor.
Soon, Sarah arrived, and she asked to check my dilation. After several rounds of contractions (which took me all over our little apartment – I am a mover during labor!), I laid on my bed for her to check. I was 7 or 8 cm dilated. I had secretly hoped that I was this far along or further. I did feel worried in that moment that the next part would be as long as it was with Lilia, but I continued to pray and keep a positive attitude.
About this time, Josh, who had been setting up the birth pool in our dining room, came to be fully present with me. What a joy it was to be together during labor! I began singing made-up prayers to Jesus. I sang the words of encouragement and hope that God had given me before labor: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I proclaimed my trust in God who made me body and who would be with me every step of the way. I chose to say “This is fun!” – instead of complaining. I smiled at the women who were attending my birth. Joy, our midwife assistant, also arrived during this time. I asked in a sweet voice, using the word “please,” for the things that I needed from Josh and my birth team. I allowed my body to do what it needed to do. I relaxed into the contractions and imagined my body opening up for the baby to emerge. I refused to freak out, get angry, or complain. My body showed signs that I was continuing to dilate.
Labor was intense. It hurt. I had only 30 seconds or less between contractions. I was welcoming labor, and it was coming faster and faster. I wanted it to be over. I imagined it being over and me lying comfortably in my bed. But I refocused my mind. I chose to be present. I chose to be positive. I wiggled my jaw to keep it loose, quoting Ina May out loud that “a loose jaw makes for a loose bottom.” I secretly hoped that I was almost done, but none of the midwives were saying it was time to push. It must have been about 9:30 pm by this point…maybe a little later.
It began to be too hard for me to fully relax into the contractions. I gave Josh a long, open-mouthed kiss during one contraction (this is one of Ina May’s favorite techniques for getting the cervix to open). Suddenly, I hit a place where it was all too much. I could not maintain my calm ways. Singing made-up songs and relaxing into the contractions wasn’t working. Josh had been applying pressure to the sides of my pelvic bones and providing me with relief, but that wasn’t working anymore, either.
I remembered what Ina May said about how if you couldn’t be a hero, at least be funny while being a chicken. I decided to be a chicken, quite literally. I danced around the whole apartment flapping my chicken wings and chanting, “If you can’t be a hero, be a funny, funny chicken. Be a chicken. Be a chicken.” The team was cracking up, but I was in the zone. I surrendered to my animal self, and I just let my body do what it needed to do. I stopped trying to control the situation in any way. I’m not sure at what point I took off all my clothes, but they were definitely off by this point. And, I was hot. So very hot. I even opened the door to our back porch and said, “I want to go outside and have the baby.” No one tried to stop me. But, the fresh, cold, November air through the doorway was enough to satisfy me.
At this point, the birth team was still trying to get the birth pool water to a good height and temperature. I wanted to get in, but they said it was not ready, yet. I continued with my chicken dance all around the house. Then, in the living room while holding on to Josh, I began to push a little at the end of a contraction. Sarah noticed and said, “Did I notice a little something different there?” I don’t think I responded, but she knew that I would be ready to push soon.
At that point, she said something really sweetly, like “We may not be able to protect the rug if you have the baby in the living room.” I later told Josh that Sarah had banned me from the living room, and he reminded me how sweetly she had made this comment. A few contractions later, I walked toward the bathroom and said to Sarah in the most calm and positive voice I could muster: “I’m really most afraid of the pushing phase. What can I do?”
She had prepared water in the bathtub for me (as the birth pool was still not quite ready), and she said it might relax me to get in the water. I walked toward the water, but it just didn’t feel like what I wanted to do (I felt much more empowered during this birth to choose for myself and not feel obligated to take the advice of those around me & also to welcome their advice joyfully). Just then, a contraction came, and I dropped down to my knees and held the edge of the tub. Sarah described perfectly how to ride the contraction until it peaked and then begin to push. I followed her instructions, and my water broke with that push! I couldn’t believe it. Sarah said there was some light meconium in the water, so she would suction the baby once his head emerged.
With the next contraction, I did the same thing – this time moving onto hands and knees. The baby crowned! I heard Sarah say, “Josh do you wanna catch the baby, because it’s time!” I simply could not believe this was going so well! The next contraction came, and I felt the “ring of fire” distinctly (I hadn’t noticed this with my other two children). Sarah told me to slow down and to breath through it. I did my best to do this, but I honestly didn’t think I was doing it that well. Soon, little Simeon’s head was out. I did not look down to see him, but I heard him crying! In the next contraction, I felt that crazy feeling of a wet little person sliding out of my body, and Simeon Thomas was born. They passed him to me between my legs (I was still on all fours), keeping the cord intact.
As Sarah commented, he was quite “vigorous.” She had suctioned him when his head came out, but she said she hardly thought it was necessary. He was crying a lot, and the team helped me to get to my bed (cord still intact, placenta not yet born).
Oh, those sacred moments in life when you get to hold a new baby after the challenge of childbirth! They are most definitely some of the best moments of my life. Little Simeon was crying so much that we asked him if he was trying to wake up his brother and sister. Miraculously, they slept through the whole thing! It was 10:30 pm when Simeon was born – just two hours after they had gone to bed!
Simeon Thomas was 8 pounds 5 ounces and 20.5 inches long. His birth was beautiful and joyful. His big brother and sister were overjoyed to wake up in the morning to a new baby brother! And Josh and I were oh so grateful to experience the miracles of birth and new life in such a happy and wonderful way. We are so glad that he is here!
A few more notes: I had no tearing and an easy recovery. The blood test I had taken the morning of the birth came back showing that my platelet count had plummeted again. If Sarah had known the results, Simeon probably would have been born in the hospital. As it went, my blood had no problem clotting (I had less blood loss at this birth than at Lilia’s). I’m so grateful that we got to have him at home. AND, my mom flew in around lunchtime the day after the birth – such perfect timing!
I think that remaining positive and relational throughout the birth process was a major factor in how well labor went. I think that welcoming labor in this way caused it to go more quickly. The laughter and light-heartedness that Josh and I were able to bring to the situation also helped our attitudes and kept me from focusing on the pain. I am struck by how much difference such small changes made. Our culture often gives the birthing woman license to be as negative and mean as she wants to be during labor, but it was such a joy to interact lovingly with those around me in the intensity of childbirth. I felt loved and supported in the moment, and I feel connected and grateful now. What a small thing to try, and what a big difference it made!