Anna, Nathan and Isabella
Even before I became pregnant with our first baby, I knew that I wanted to birth at home if at all possible, simply because I knew I'd be far more comfortable and at ease in my own home than in a hospital. But the more research I did on the issue, the more statistics I read about rates of C-sections in hospitals, and the more birth stories of all kinds I heard, the more I became convinced that a home birth was not only what would suit me best, but was what would be safest both for me and the baby. I shared what I'd learned with my husband, Nathan, but he actually didn't take any convincing at all--he was extremely supportive and all for a home birth as soon as I brought the idea up.
We are lucky enough to live only about 20 minutes away from the only midwifery practice in our state that offers home births (the American prenatal care system is a bit different than in the UK), and so when I became pregnant in February of 2006, we contacted the midwives' office. They offer a free appointment to all prospective patients just to meet and ask questions and decide whether their practice is right, and so we set up an appointment. From the moment we met Louise and Pam, the two primary midwives of the practice, we knew that they were absolutely what we were looking for. They were both simply lovely people, and combined expert medical knowledge with a birth philosophy that exactly matched our own. When Nathan and I left their office after our first meeting, I knew that I couldn't have felt more confident about putting ourselves and our baby in their care. My confidence only increased throughout my pregnancy. They made each checkup appointment feel like visiting friends and were always happy to spend as much time as it took to answer whatever questions we might have. I found it was easy to be excited rather than anxious about the labor and birth; I was actually looking forward to it.
I had read about Maggie Howell's hypnobirthing CD's on this website, and purchased the one designed for homebirth preparation. I listened to it a few times a week from the beginning of the third trimester on, and then every day during the last few weeks of pregnancy. I had a pretty low success rate of managing to stay awake throughout the entire thing, but I still felt that it helped tremendously in preparing me mentally for the whole process of the labor and birth. Also, during the last couple of months, Nathan and I enrolled in a Bradley method childbirth class, which we both really liked. The Bradley preparation focused on labor as a team effort and spent a great deal of time on what the husband could do to help, and that approach made me feel much more comfortable and confident about the prospect of the birth. I knew I wouldn't have to be doing it all on my own, that Nathan would be right there helping me get through. And Nathan was fantastic about preparing and practicing for labor--he would help me with the physical exercises we'd been given to do and we also spent time every night practicing relaxation, which is another key component of the Bradley method. I would lie on our bed and he would help me progressively relax every muscle, starting from my feet and working up, so that by the time labor rolled around I was really "programmed" to relax completely at his touch. Lastly, I read the page on this site about getting your baby "lined up" for birth, and followed all the suggestions for encouraging the baby to be anterior rather than posterior--not slumping back with my feet up, etc. During the last couple of weeks I also did lots and lots of squats, which I think helped a lot in bringing the baby's head down into my pelvis--by the time I went into labor, the head was already at the zero station.
So . . . on to the labor itself. Like many first time moms, probably, I was sure I was going to go early--especially since around 2 weeks before our due date I started having strong Braxton Hicks contractions and lots of period-type pains. And also like a lot of first time-moms, I found that my baby was going to come when it was good and ready and not before! By the time 5 days after our due date had gone by, I was starting to feel like my pregnancy was going to go on forever--I was convinced my baby would be the first child in history to be turning school-age while still in the womb! But 6 days past the due date, I woke up with a feeling that today would be the day--I'm not sure why, but something in me just knew. I even had a feeling that labor would start around 2 pm. And sure enough, right around 2, I had my first contraction--just a painless Braxton-Hicks type contraction, but it still felt quite strong. The contractions kept coming all afternoon at fairly regular intervals, but they were still painless and weren't at all bothersome. I was still feeling like this was "it", and at the same time trying not to get my hopes up in case it wasn't, but that afternoon a friend called to chat for a bit, and she said she was could tell I was going into labor just by listening to my voice--she said I sounded like an athlete about to run a marathon. Anyway, by around 7 pm that night, I was beginning to think she was right! The contractions were coming about every 10 minutes and were starting to get stronger and a bit painful. They were also accompanied by some emergency runs to the bathroom, which also made me think that this was the real thing and not a false alarm.
Nathan and I phoned the midwives to let them know that things seemed to be happening. Louise was on call that night. She agreed that this was probably "it," advised me to try to get some sleep while things were still fairly low-key, and said to call her when the contractions changed--as she put it, shifted into a new gear, either more frequent or more intense. Nathan and I made a quick trip to the library to rent a video to watch later on (I picked a travel video guide to Great Britain, figuring it wouldn't require too much concentration and that the scenery would be relaxing to watch), and while we were there I started to feel more pressure in my pelvis and was more uncomfortable standing up. When we got home, I went to bed and put on my hypnotherapy CD. I didn't exactly fall asleep, but I managed to doze for a few hours. Then I got Nathan, and we did our progressive relaxation exercise; that helped a good deal, and I managed to doze for another couple of hours.
At around 1:30, the contractions suddenly got much more intense, so that I couldn't sleep anymore. I had read that I'd know when active labor had begun because I wouldn't be able to talk through contractions, which had scared me a bit because that sounded like quite a lot of pain. But it wasn't like what I had imagined at all. The contractions were intense, and there was pain with them, certainly, but it wasn't the pain that kept me from wanting to talk. It was more like I just had to focus inward with every contraction and concentrate on what my body was doing. The pain was definitely manageable, and in between contractions I felt absolutely fine.
I got up, and thought I'd try getting in a warm bath, so Nathan filled up the tub and helped me in. I had expected to really like laboring in water, so I was quite surprised to find I didn't like it at all! When the water was warm enough to relax my muscles, I felt overheated and uncomfortable, and when it was cooler I just felt wet and in labor instead of only in labor, which wasn't much help. We called Louise again to let her know that things seemed to be shifting gears and she asked whether we wanted her to come over. We were coping fine on our own, so she said to phone back when the contractions were closer together. I got out of the tub and put on the new nightgown and robe set I'd bought specially for the birth. It sounds silly, but that actually made me feel better than anything else. It was just a cheap cotton floral nightgown and robe from WalMart--I think I paid something like $12 for it--but somehow being in fresh, brand new clothes really helped--like getting dressed up for prom or a date.
I had read that you should try to eat during early labor if possible, since you'll need the energy later on, so Nathan fixed me a snack and I ate in our living room while he carried on with getting the birthing supplies set out. Then I got up to help and we got the bedroom set up--the sheets changed, the "good" blankets put away, the diapers and baby clothes set out. We were laughing and talking and I was amazed that this was labor--we were totally relaxed, just having fun and enjoying the time together. It felt really good to squat down with every contraction, and every so often we'd time a few to see whether they were getting any closer. We took some pictures of the two of us sitting on our couch, which I love looking at now--they're my last images of myself pregnant and Nathan and I before we became parents. We also said prayers together. Then we watched some of our travel video, and by the time we were about halfway through, the contractions were coming about 3 mins. apart, so we called Louise again and she said she'd come over along with Sarah, their student midwife.
Louise and Sarah arrived with all their gear, and were so lovely, even though I'd routed them out of bed in the middle of the night. I felt almost like I was having friends over for a visit. Soon after they arrived, Sarah checked me, which, as it turned out, was my only internal exam. I was a little nervous about finding out how far along I was--so far I felt fine, but I was afraid I'd be discouraged if I wasn't very far along. But as it turned out, I was already at 5 cm., and actually went to almost 6 with a contraction that hit while Sarah was checking me. I was very, very encouraged by that. The pain still felt completely manageable, and I was completely relaxed and happy and calm. And that's actually how it stayed throughout the whole rest of labor. The hypnobirthing CD had talked a lot about welcoming each contraction as bringing you one step closer to meeting your baby, and I think it helped me a lot in that regard. Nathan commented after the birth that he was amazed that from start to finish of the labor I never once mentioned the pain or even groaned--but I honestly never even thought about doing either at the time. Even though the contractions hurt, I found I was happy and excited when each one struck. Both Nathan and Louise and Sarah were also huge help to me in getting through the contractions as the pain gradually got more intense. Nathan kept telling me what a great job I was doing, and I remember him saying over and over, "You're doing so great--you're making this look easy!"
Throughout the night, we all four sat in our living room chatting, and when a contraction came I would hop onto my birthing ball, which I'd found to be the most comfortable place to deal with the contractions. Nathan would rub my back or massage my shoulders through the pain, and from time to time Sarah would listen to the baby's heartbeat to make sure everything was going all right for the little one. Then we'd go back to chatting. I can truly say that my labor was great fun. When Sarah looked at her watch and said it was 6 am, I couldn't believe it--the night had just flown by for me.
The trusty birthing ball in use!
The contractions started to get quite painful around dawn, and Louise, who had originally said we could probably hope for a lunch-time baby said we might actually get one by breakfast time. The contractions were getting pretty painful at this point, and I was a little worried about how I'd cope if they went on for several hours this way. But then I started burping, and realized, thanks to what we'd learned in our Bradley classes, that this must be transition. I didn't have any of the other dreaded transition symptoms we'd learned about, although I did start to feel a bit fuzzy-headed, I suppose because of the endorphins my body was releasing. I'd been trying to hold off on moving to the bed for as long as I could, but I finally felt tired enough that I really wanted to lie down for awhile--and as it turned out, it was a good thing we moved to the bed when we did. Almost as soon as I lay down, a contraction hit, and as it struck my body suddenly started pushing. And with the push, my water broke. Second stage labor had begun!
The baby was moving down along my spine at this point, and the pain was definitely the most intense I'd felt yet. When another contraction hit, I asked Nathan to push on my back, and so he started to apply counter-pressure. What he'd forgotten was that he was standing on the shower curtain we'd laid down by the bed to protect the carpet. I had my eyes closed, but I heard him slide backwards, lose his balance, and say, "Yikes--I'm standing on plastic!" I burst out laughing and then apparently (although I don't remember this part) said, "Oooh, don't make me laugh!" Everyone thought it was pretty funny that he'd made me crack up even in the middle of a pushing contraction! The pain was pretty intense, and again I was a little worried about how I'd handle it if the pushing phase went on for too long--I'd heard of many second stage labors lasting 3 or 4 hours. But with the second or third contraction, Louise and Sarah told me they could see dark hair, and with one more contraction after that, Louise pulled my hand down and put it on the baby's head--a feeling I'll never, ever forget. So I knew I was close, and that really helped me get through the pain.
My body did all the work for me--I wasn't consciously pushing at all. Each time a contraction hit, it was a bit like my body was taken over by an alien force, leaving me with no control whatever of what was going on. That was a little scary, too, but Louise and Sarah and Nathan kept cheering me on, and I remember Louise holding my hand and telling me over and over to "say yes to it," when a contraction came, which really helped. I had Nathan in sort of a headlock, too, poor guy--hanging onto him for dear life, which was somehow very reassuring, as well. 30 minutes passed in a blur, and then the baby's head was out--that part felt a lot like I would have expected and hurt a lot, but it was over very quickly. With the next contraction, our daughter was born, after about 7 hours of active labor. Nathan and I were laughing and crying all at the same time--and our daughter was screaming! She must have read the apgar guidelines that said "vigorous crying" was needed for a perfect 10! Nathan cut the cord and I held her skin to skin on my chest for awhile before Sarah and Louise did a quick examination, wrapped her in a blanket, and gave her back to me. She weighed in at 7lbs and was 20 inches long.
Our little girl had come out "waving," with one hand up to her face, so I had a small tear that needed a couple of stitches. I held the baby while Sarah stitched me up, and then Nathan held her while Louise and Sarah helped me shower. An hour after the birth, we were all three tucked in bed sharing the good news with our parents on the phone and eating breakfast. I was amazed at how well I felt--a bit tired, but otherwise fine. And Louise and Sarah had cleaned up everything--you would never have known that a baby had been born in the room.
It's now been a bit over four months since Isabella Rose was born, and not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about how wonderful our maternity care and birth experience was. Laboring at home was simply fantastic--the comfort of familiar surroundings definitely contributed to how relaxed I was throughout. And besides being gorgeous and perfect and an utter joy and delight, Isabella has been and is absolutely the most peaceful, happy little girl imaginable. While I would love to credit her wonderful gene pool, I truly think that her being born at home had a lot to do with what a calm, easy-going baby she has been. From the moment she was born, she was never out of her mom and dad's care and spent her first days in the world in the quiet and security of our own home. Nathan and I found, too, that having a home birth really helped prepare us to work as a team in caring for our baby girl and made our adjustment to being new parents really very smooth. I hope our birth story will encourage other first time moms who are thinking about a homebirth--I am truly convinced that unless there's a true need for medical intervention, home is absolutely the ideal place to deliver. When we decide to start trying for Isabella's little brother or sister, we will definitely plan on another birth at home!
Home Birth Stories
First Babies and homebirth
Get Your Baby Lined Up - what it means when your baby gets in an awkward position, and what you can do about it.
Hypnotherapy for childbirth
Home Birth Reference Page