Esme's Birth Story
On Thursday morning, December 13th, I had an appointment with Dawn, one of my midwives. I was 38-1/2 weeks but measuring 46 weeks and feeling desperate to have my baby. I was so huge and uncomfortable and eager to have a baby in my arms and my body back. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked Dawn to do a cervical check to see if I was dilated at all. I was two cm. Hooray!
While there, I broke down and cried and expressed all of the worries that had been plaguing me. Practically everyone I knew was telling me my baby was too big to be born naturally at home. The 35-week ultrasound had shown the baby to be 7 lbs 9 oz already. I knew if I carried her to term, she would be around 10 pounds, and I was getting scared. Dawn asked me what specifically was scaring me, and I said shoulder dystocia (stuck shoulders). So we talked about that and she reassured me that since we had ruled out any pathologies of pregnancy that would cause an abnormally large baby, such as gestational diabetes, whatever size the baby was, she would be able to pass through my bones. I left the appointment feeling reassured and calm again.
Later that night, my husband Thomas and I had a spicy meal and then bundled up our three-year-old daughter, Kira, and went on a long walk around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights. I had some nice, strong contractions while walking, but they stopped when we got home. After putting Kira to bed, Thomas and I had a little romance (part of the prescription Dawn had given me for starting labor: spicy food, a glass of wine, and sex. I don’t drink, so the walk was in place of the wine.)
Just as I was getting ready to go to sleep, I felt a trickle of amniotic fluid and realized my water had broken. It was about 1AM on Friday at that point. I decided to try to get some sleep but about 20 minutes later, I started having mild contractions. I debated waking Thomas but decided to wait and see if the contractions were the “real” kind or the warm up kind I’d been having for several days. I stayed in bed and breathed through the contractions and just stayed really relaxed and loose. I don’t know if the contractions were actually less painful than what I experienced with Kira’s birth, or if I simply had learned the skills I needed to cope with them effectively and use them to my advantage, but I didn’t perceive them as painful at all. Just powerful energy.
The contractions didn’t seem regular, but I thought they might be the working kind, so I woke Thomas and told him to call the midwives and tell them what was going on. They live an hour away so they needed plenty of warning. I really thought that if this was labor, I had hours to go. After Thomas called the midwives, I asked him to inflate the kiddie pool that I was planning to give birth in. He did that and then asked if he should start filling it with water. I said no, it was too early, the water would get cold before it was time to get in.
The contractions were coming frequently and seemed to be intensifying, but I just stayed loose, allowing myself to melt into them, and visualizing my cervix opening. With Kira I had a 5 1/2-hour labor with very intense contractions that were two minutes apart from beginning to end, so the fact that these contractions were close didn’t tell me anything about how much time I had to go. Thomas sat beside me and rubbed my back and timed the contractions, and we found that they were about two minutes apart, just like my other labor.
Between contractions I told myself positive affirmations such as “I am strong,” “my body knows how to give birth,” and “I am not fighting this in any way”. During contractions I did deep belly breathing and I imagined myself floating on big waves. I kept my bottom loose and the tension out of my mouth, and the contractions continued to be really manageable.
After a few minutes of timing the contractions, I had three right on top of each other and then I had about a 5-minute break. I thought, “That’s strange. A rest period sometimes means transition is around the corner.” (Transition is the phase from when the cervix is fully dilated to when the baby is born, i.e. the pushing phase.) I got up to use the restroom and while sitting there, I realized I was shaking and I felt like I was going to vomit. I thought, “Hmmm. That’s really odd. Shaking and nausea are usually a sign of transition. But I’m not anywhere near transition. I’ve only been doing this for a few minutes and the contractions aren’t even that intense yet.”
I went back to bed and got into a hands and knees position on the bed, propped up on pillows so that Thomas could do some counterpressure on my lower back because it was really starting to ache. I asked him to get a bowl from the kitchen, just in case I did throw up. I had not made any noise, other than deep breathing, up until this point.
Kira was sleeping soundly on the bed beside me. In her sleep, she rolled over onto her belly and put her behind in the air (think child’s pose in yoga) and Thomas chuckled because we were in the exact same position, side by side, and he asked if he could take a picture of us. My response was something to the effect of “over my dead body.” Even in labor, I was vain enough not to want photographic evidence of how big my butt got during this pregnancy!
I had two really strong contractions that were difficult to stay on top of and required a lot of concentration and I found myself moaning to handle all the energy in my body. I had a fleeting “uh oh, I can’t do this” thought and then it really hit me: I AM IN TRANSITION. A rest period, shaking, nausea, and now the “I can’t do this anymore” thought. That can only mean one thing. Sure enough, on the next contraction I had the urge to bear down. As soon as the contraction ended, I told Thomas to call Dawn and tell her I was having the urge to bear down. He got her on the cell phone and reported what I said, and she said she was still about 40 miles away.
At that point, I knew the midwives weren’t going to make it in time and I felt at peace about it. I was having a baby with or without them, and since I had looked at having them there purely as a safety net, and had planned to have a completely hands off birth and catch the baby myself anyway, the fact that they wouldn’t be there didn’t really change anything.
I had another contraction and really roared through it, opening my mouth as wide as I could (an open mouth means an open cervix) and letting the sound pour out, releasing tons of energy. The noise woke Kira and she sat beside me and watched me quietly. The contraction ended, and I turned to her and explained that the baby was coming and mommy was working hard but everything was okay, and I asked if she’d like to go lie down with Sarah (my 24-year-old niece who has been living with us). Thomas took Kira to Sarah’s room and woke Sarah up to take care of her. It was such a relief to me to have Sarah there to care for Kira so that I could focus on what I needed to do.
While Thomas was out of the room, I had another pushing contraction and I knew the baby was coming. I grabbed the barf bowl, ripped off my panties, dropped to the floor on my hands and knees beside the bed and stuck the bowl between my legs. My water broke with a huge gush just as I got the bowl in place to catch the fluid and I felt the baby’s head crowning. Thomas came back into the room and picked up the phone to talk to Dawn, who was waiting on the line. He got down on the floor behind me to see what was going on and he reported to her that the baby’s head was out as far as the eyebrows. He ran to get a plastic tarp and came back and somehow managed to get it under me in time. Good thing he had the presence of mind to do that or our carpet would have been ruined.
I was resting and staying relaxed and quiet between contractions. I felt like I was in a totally primal place, where time doesn’t exist. The thinking part of my brain was turned off and everything inside of me was calm and ancient. In that altered state I felt more powerful and complete than I’ve ever felt. My mind and body were one.
Another contraction brought her out as far as her nose. Thomas was completely calm and was whispering encouragement to me. He’s always been good under pressure. Another contraction brought the rest of her head all the way out. I reached down and touched her wet, sticky head. I heard Thomas ask the midwife if it was okay that the baby’s face was dark purple and her eyes were closed. I could feel my baby’s feet kicking inside me, trying to help herself be born and work together with me, and I knew she was fine. My connection to her was strong and I felt no worries about anything.
Thomas reached in with a finger to feel for the cord around the baby’s neck and said there wasn’t one. Another contraction and I roared and pushed with all I had and felt nothing happen. Shoulders stuck. I knew what to do. In mid contraction I rocked up onto my feet, out of the kneeling position and into a squat because I felt instinctively that that was the only way I was going to open wide enough to get her shoulders out. As soon as I got into a squat, her shoulders eased out and then whoosh! The rest of her burst out, riding another huge wave of fluid. She had barely touched the floor when I scooped her up and brought her to my chest and cuddled her.
She let out a couple of lusty cries and then settled down and just made little cooing noises, talking to me, telling me all about her adventure. As soon as she was out, the pain stopped and I went from roaring like a grizzly bear to laughing and saying, “Oh, my baby, you’re here!” I was so happy and felt so good. It was 3:05 on Friday morning. The labor had lasted about 90 minutes and transition had lasted only eight minutes.
Thomas got the anti-bleed tincture(shepard’s purse and yarrow), which I wanted to take right away, just in case. I hemorrhaged with my first birth, requiring a blood transfusion, and I wanted to pre-empt too much blood loss this time. I lost very little blood with this birth.
The midwives, Dawn and Sue, arrived about 15 or 20 minutes after the baby was born. I had the baby wrapped in a towel and she was still attached to me by the cord. She was covered with vernix, but so cute. I was just sitting on the floor enjoying her and feeling completely amazed that she was here. I delivered the placenta about 10 or 15 minutes after that, and then Thomas brought Kira into the room to see the baby. She was so excited and happy to finally meet her baby sister. She cut the cord and set her baby sister free.
I had torn along the scar line from Kira’s birth, so one midwife gave me a few stitches while the other did the newborn exam. We were all stunned to learn how big she is: 10 pounds, 3 ounces, and 22 inches long with a 14.75-inch head and 15-inch chest.
We named her Esme Jolee, which means “beloved,” and she is the sweetest baby and such a joy to us. We feel so blessed. Her birth was incredible in its ordinariness. It was so simple, and I believe it was so because there was no one there to complicate it with routine medical procedure. I can only imagine the needless interventions we would have been subjected to if I had been delivering a 10+ pound baby in the hospital. But birth works best when left alone.
I feel like this birth was perfect in every way. There’s nothing I would have changed. It felt so right for Thomas and I to bring our child into the world together, without anyone else present, and then it felt wonderful to have the support and care of good midwives afterward. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The memory of the pain has already faded and I am on a birth high.
The day of Esme’s birth I felt pretty beat up. I felt like someone who had just pushed a 10-pound baby out of her body. But the next day I felt almost as good as new. Against the advice of my midwives, I was up and around and doing laundry and housework and completely ignoring their order to rest. But that night my milk came in and with it I got a fever, body aches, a relapse of the cough I had had weeks earlier which really made my stitches uncomfortable, and sharp uterine pain which we were afraid was the beginning of an infection. My body was going to make me rest whether I liked it or not. So I stayed down as much as I could for a few days and I’m as good as new again. I feel on top of the world and the memory of Esme’s beautiful, peaceful birth will be something I treasure for the rest of my life.
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