It was June 4th, 2003, twelve days after my due date, and my belly was still huge and heavy. Worries abounded about having to undergo another induction (our second baby Kai was induced and his was not a birth that I was hoping to re-experience). I had overcome pregnancy concerns about high blood pressure, and had experienced weeks of uncertainty over who my midwife would be. For a few weeks at the end of the pregnancy, we had none. Then we had a new one, and then it looked like we wouldn’t have one at all. But now we had our original midwife Cathy back and felt comfortable with her again.
Had it not been for all of the extraneous stressors surrounding the end of this pregnancy, I don’t think I would have been in any hurry to change nature’s course. However, due to all our concerns, we had been trying everything since her due date to try to entice Maya to join us in the world, including acupuncture treatments, acupressure massage, castor oil, sex, nipple stimulation, cervical sweeps, I took herbs and homeopathics, you name it. We were planning a home water birth and were working hard to try and protect that possibility.
Back to June 4th. 12 days after my due date, stress resolved, I was feeling fresh and generally calm. Just the day before the ultrasound had revealed that the baby was in a great position, active, healthy and well. I had been having contractions on and off for weeks, and the only new sign that morning was pink show, which I knew to be more significant. I trusted that labor was imminent, and hoped I made it before the following day, as that was the date set for my induction. The next day marked the end of week 41, and was also the last day when it would still be legal to have a homebirth with a midwife. The clock was ticking.
My friend from midwifery school, Sharon, came to visit from Bellingham. She was in town for a root canal. Little did I know that we’d both be in pain later that day! She brought us champagne, and sat in the garden with me for a while. As soon as she left, Cathy arrived. She had given me cervical sweeps for two days in a row, today was the third one. My cervix was 3 cm. dilated and very ripe.
At 2:30 p.m. I emailed my husband Justin, "Tonight is enema night." We’d used that trick in our last labor to turn a piddly pre-labor into full swing, and I thought it might work again. At 3 p.m. I had a sudden inspiration to go for castor oil again and emailed Justin to let him know I’d taken it, and sent him my schedule for taking two more doses over the next few hours. I was on a mission!
At 4:45 p.m. I took my second dose of castor oil and started to read up on my options for the induction – Prostin gel or Cervidil.
Three paragraphs later, at 5 p.m. exactly, I had a huge, painful contraction that was nothing like the ones I had been having all day. At its peak I felt and heard a giant "bang". I couldn’t tell if it was a kick, if a bone had just snapped (really!), or if my water had broken. I was so much in shock from that sensation that I didn’t move out of my seat for at least five minutes. I think I was adjusting to the notion that my labor had just started. Then I called Justin at work, but he’d just left and wouldn’t be arriving for at least 45 minutes. I had another strong contraction that swept me away, and as it subsided I called my mom. I had to tell someone what was happening! I finally got up the guts to stand up, and felt the fluid release. In the bathroom I did a nitrazine paper test, which confirmed that my water had released. I wrapped a towel between my soaking legs and called my friend Wendy, who was going to help us and care for our other three children during the birth.
The kids (who had been at daycare) and Justin all arrived at 5:45 p.m. I was so relieved to see them! Justin was trying to get the kids fed and organized, as well as eat some food himself, clean up the bedroom for the birth, fill the tub with air, and get me whatever I needed. During contractions he would stop and run over to me and rub my lower belly. That was really helpful.
At 6:15 p.m. Justin came into the bedroom and said he couldn’t find our youngest son, Mika. The kids had all been playing outside together and suddenly Mika was nowhere to be seen. Justin went to look, I continued to labor. Justin and the kids and neighborhood kids as well were all out looking for Mika for at least half an hour before Justin returned and told me Mika was lost. I had to go help him look as we were all very worried, so I put on some pants with a towel stuck between my still dripping legs and went outside to help. Wendy still hadn’t arrived so I called her cell phone and asked her to hurry!
At 6:40 p.m. Justin called 911 to tell them we’d lost our three-year-old, and his wife was in labor! They were going to send help but then my husband found Mika at a playground about one kilometer away. Later Justin said Mika had been sitting in the sand, and when he asked him why he’d run off like that Mika said, "The new baby's coming." It was a huge relief to see Justin walking back with Mika in his arms.
Wendy arrived just then, and found me leaning against my back fence contracting, with a baseball game going on in the park behind our house, about 100 people in the park, and the two older boys Kieran, six, and Kai, five, inside the house. Kieran greeted her with this announcement: "Mika’s lost, the baby is coming, and my fish died!" We had a good laugh afterwards about what a state of disarray our family was in as she arrived!
My labor had cooperated by lightening dramatically during the time that I was out looking for Mika, but was now back in full force --proving the mind-body connection in birth! Justin helped Wendy with the kids, and the two of them were trying to get the room and tub ready for the birth. My contractions were already three minutes apart, lasting a minute and very strong. I needed Justin to focus on me so Wendy turned on a movie for the kids and came to help us whenever she had a moment. The kids came and went as well over the next hour, they had the option to be wherever they most wanted to be. I never felt stress at all by having them around, I knew that they were being watched, and that Wendy was getting them excited about the baby’s impending birth and explaining to them why I was making noise.
At 7 p.m. Justin said he wanted to call Cathy as the labor was faster and stronger than any of the other ones had been. Initially I refused, because I was worried that I wasn’t going to be in active enough labor and she would want me to go to the hospital for antibiotics due to having Group B Strep. (In retrospect, my Laborland brain had already kicked in and I was in serious denial about how fast labor was going!) I pointed to the tub during one contraction as if to tell Justin to hurry up and fill it because I needed it. Mika wanted to get in with me but Wendy got him to help pour in buckets of water instead, which kept him happy and involved. I got in at 7:20 p.m., hoping to get some relief. The celebration was short-lived as the amount of pain I was in quickly mounted to unbearable levels, and I wasn’t feeling much difference now that I was in the water. I was having to tone loudly through each wave, and heard Wendy explaining to the kids (standing around the pool) that I was singing my birth song. At one time I shouted, "Fuck!" and Kai started giggling and said, "That’s not the word in any song!" He made us all laugh and I thank him for that brief respite from my pain.
Ten minutes later, I asked Justin to time five contractions, to get a sense of what was going on. When he told me I’d had 6 in 16 minutes, I realized it was time to get the midwives there. So at 7:45 p.m. he called Cathy, who said she was at another labor and couldn’t come, and that she'd send Heather instead. We couldn’t believe it! I was worried that nobody would make it. The baby was coming soon and Heather lived over 30 minutes away. I kept asking if they would call Cathy back and make sure Heather knew to come right away. I had changed from not wanting the midwives called to feeling very anxious to have them with me as soon as possible. I was sad that Cathy wouldn’t be coming as we’d built a strong relationship.
Justin paged Cathy again to make sure Heather was on her way, and she said she was less than five minutes away from our house. She’d re-thought her plans with the other labor and knew I needed her more! I was very relieved to hear that. I bet Justin and Wendy were too!
I moved from the tub to the toilet as I kept worrying that the intense pressure I was feeling might be diarrhea effects from the castor oil (in fact it wasn't diarrhea).
The pain at this time was excruciating. My cervix felt as though it were ripping in two, as if large steel blades were tearing into my bones and flesh and grinding against my every nerve. My mind was in a trance, I was drifting off into laborland as my body moaned and howled and released. All I could think of was to just get a breath in, to just get some cool air. I felt hot and sweaty and crowded and in so much pain on the toilet, but I couldn’t get up. The breaks between contractions were too short and I had to use them to communicate with Justin, to breathe, to howl. And then another one would come and take me away again.
At 8:15 p.m. Cathy arrived. As soon as I saw her I said, "I can’t go anywhere!" in case she was going to suggest I go to the hospital for antibiotics. She looked amused and said she knew that for sure! She heard me toning hard, and knew I was having a hard time staying with my contractions. They were overpowering me and I felt like I was losing my grip on reality. I’d had three natural births before, but they had never felt this intense. The lack of breaks between contractions made an unbelievable difference, I had no time to gather my strength, energy, or focus, and that hindered my ability to cope with the labor. Cathy kneeled before me, and I locked my eyes on her. I held Justin’s hand tight, he was standing beside me and all I could see of him was his waist. I looked at Cathy with a trancy, pleading stare, and heard her tell me to "dig deep". She reminded me with those words of everything I knew I had that would get me through, and I dug as deep as I could. The next twenty minutes continued with no change.
Cathy tried to set up and organize equipment but I couldn’t let her leave my side. Wendy offered cool cloths as I was dripping sweat. The toilet is in the corner of the bathroom and I felt very closed in with the three of them in front of me and three walls surrounding me on the other sides. But I couldn’t get those words out, only "hot", "owwww", "help", "can’t do it", "too hard", "oh fuuuuuck…". I felt like I was screaming in agony, but they all tell me that I was just toning up and down the scales, not screaming.
Heather had called during this time and told me afterwards that when she heard my voice in the background on the phone she thought, "We need that woman in our choir!” A few times I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror behind them, an intense, dreamy, stoned-looking woman, sweaty hot and swearing, birthing on a toilet and I thought in a far-off way – wow, that’s me!
Cathy heard the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler and I felt good to have heard her safe and sound through this tidal wave storm that we were both experiencing. She managed to do a quick cervical exam. I was 6 cm. Suddenly I worried that this would take too long, that I couldn’t possibly survive if this continued any longer, and felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I heard my own childbirth educator’s voice telling me, "Where you are at in labor is no indication of how long it will take to reach 10 cm." That helped me to relax and trust the process.
Heather arrived about 8:30 p.m. She was madly setting up in the bedroom adjoining the bathroom. Cathy was trying to go help her but I needed her to stay with me. Her eyes and words felt like a lifeline to me. I pleaded with them for some sort of pain relief (which makes me smile now as I knew full well they didn’t have anything!) Heather offered Rescue Remedy, which I gladly accepted. I think it helped take the panic sensation away from me and helped me regain my focus again. The contractions continued as huge swells of unbelievable pain. My hips and leg muscles were contracting in response to the pain, to counter the sensation of the pressure I was feeling. I felt those muscles sore and tight for days afterwards. I was bearing down slightly throughout my contractions now, not so much because I felt I needed to push, but because I needed to relieve some of the overwhelming pressure. For whatever reason this was helping. Cathy encouraged me to follow whatever my body wanted, and trusted me to follow my own birthing instincts.
At 8:40 p.m. Cathy strongly advised me to get off the toilet and go back into the tub. At first I couldn’t do it, until she reminded me that I'd wanted to birth in the tub, and said if I didn’t move soon I wouldn’t be able to. She suggested that the hands and knees position in the water might help to take some of the intense pressure away. It took very clear direction for me to be able to stand up and head for the tub. I took two steps and stopped near the sink, holding onto Justin and feeling nauseated for a few minutes. The contractions suddenly lightened and spaced out slightly. I didn’t recognize it then but I was probably in the "rest and be thankful stage" between dilating and pushing. Every time I felt like I was going to be sick I heaved and although nothing came out I could feel my cervix painfully wedging itself open with each heave.
I took a few steps forward, got one leg into the tub, the other followed, I dropped onto my hands and knees and wrapped my arms around the far wall of the tub. I had two contractions like this, which felt lighter. Still not recognizing the stage of labor I was in, I assumed it felt so much more bearable because I was in the water and looked up at Cathy and said, "You Rock!" (which I meant as a thank you for the suggestion to get in the water as I thought it was responsible for the contractions being so much more bearable). Suddenly, I had another huge contraction, and instantly had to push with all my might. Cathy was sitting near my head on the bed, and as I pushed she asked if I was pushing "because I really needed to push, or just because it felt better to push". I couldn’t stop long enough to answer her, and just kept pushing and pushing. That was truly one of those moments where I recognized the disconnection between my body and my brain. I understood her question and knew my answer, but my body was not going to stop pushing in order to let me answer.
Wendy came in to see how things were going and I heard someone tell her to bring the kids in for the birth. I was glad someone thought to call them in. I could feel the cervix open the final bit as I pushed, and then felt the baby’s head descending into my vagina. I pushed again and felt her head move all the way down the birth canal.
I finally managed to get a second to look up at Cathy and said, "She’s coming now!" Cathy quickly moved to the other side of the tub and was trying to put on gloves while Heather grabbed a flashlight to get a look under the water. I heard Cathy say, "Oh yeah, there’s the baby" and I asked as I pushed, "Where is she?", thinking maybe her head was just starting to show.
I couldn’t believe it when she answered, "Her head is almost all the way out!” It wasn’t until that very moment that I realized that my baby was about to be born. I was thrilled to know it was almost over and with a resurgence of energy, I pushed the rest of her head out. But then my contraction subsided --I’d only been pushing about two minutes so far-- so I paused to rest and catch my breath. Cathy wanted me to push to get her shoulders out, I tried but I didn’t have a contraction at that moment so there wasn’t much strength to it. She asked me to flip over onto my back quickly, which I did (despite how painful that was!) and Maya’s shoulders easily came free. Cathy and I lifted her up to my chest together in one smooth motion.
The time was 8:50 p.m., I’d been pushing for less than five minutes, and I didn’t have a single tear from birthing all twelve and a half pounds of Maya.
Maya was greeted by her whole family. Her daddy and her brothers welcomed her along with me and for that I will be eternally grateful. As young children, they never would have been comfortable in the hospital environment, nor would they necessarily have been welcomed by the staff. At home, they were free to come and go as they pleased, and they were well attended by a loving family friend whom they knew and trusted. This was essential to their being happy and content during the birth. I know they will all treasure the experience of having been there when Maya entered the world.
One of the best surprises for me was the time I was given to recover in the tub after the birth. The placenta was born only a few minutes after Maya, and Cathy sat it in a bowl on the top of the water. The cord was left intact for about 20 minutes as Justin, the boys and I all absorbed what had just happened and had a good look at Maya. After I felt I’d returned to earth, I was ready to get out of the tub and move to my bed (right beside the tub). I had the pleasure of cutting the cord myself, and Justin held his daughter for the first time while I got out of the tub and settled into bed.
The kids had time to finish their dinner (they were interrupted by the birth during their backyard picnic) and get to bed at a reasonable time. Cathy left shortly afterwards to attend her other client in labor. Heather stayed with us for about four hours until she was sure my bleeding was under control and everything was fine with me and Maya. Wendy left several hours later, when she knew we were all settled in for the night. She was an enormous help and we are so thankful to have had her with us during the birth. All of them: Justin, Cathy, Heather, and Wendy, as well as the boys, were the best support team I could have imagined! A million thank you’s to all.
Giving birth is an intense, hard, challenging, experience that pushes us far beyond all of our mental and physical limits. Each of my births have been challenging, and Maya’s birth was as well. It took me a few weeks to come out of the labor trance, to leave the memory of the pain behind, and to begin to appreciate the experience for the blessings it provided me. In retrospect, I came to realize that there are so many challenges I never had to face - unnecessary interventions, unfamiliar people around me, unfamiliar surroundings, struggling with medical staff's opinions and beliefs. All I had to do was sink in, dive deep, and birth my baby the way I knew I could. That in itself is all a woman should ever have to face as she births her child. I will always be thankful to have finally experienced a home birth and to know first-hand the difference that it makes.