Planning for a birth is inherently difficult. It’s the final stage of a series of steps biologically designed to send a strong message that you’re not driving the boat any more. As we’ve discussed in our previous posts, we decided early on to do a homebirth. Keep an eye out for a post on my (overwhelmingly positive) thoughts on homebirth in general…
We’re aware that it’s a little unusual to get a birth story from a husband’s perspective, but this was penned with both of our input and Allie’s take on the situation (italicized) is included where she wanted to express thoughts from her own perspective. And so our tale begins…
We had been speculating for weeks about when Freia was going to join us. It was the subject of many comically detailed discussions involving a wide array of divination strategies, drawing from dreams and holidays and interesting date combinations. After all that, it was honestly a bit surprising for her to arrive on the OBGYN-predicted due date of March 5th, not at 3:17 on 3/17/17 or at high noon on St. David’s Day.
Now, I don’t know if it was purely coincidence or awareness that the due date was nigh or some deep level of connection with Allie and Freia that led me to do this, but I spent all of Friday March 3rd preparing for an immediate birth. I stayed late at work wrapping up everything I was working on so that it could be easily picked up by my coworkers, and spent the entirety of Friday night (until about 1 am) rigorously cleaning and reorganizing virtually the entire house. I knew I’d nest, but I didn’t think I’d nest this hard.
The *small* project of restoring a consignment dresser to use as a changing table became a bigger endeavor when the landlord *accidentally* threw away the top we'd removed for sanding. A couple of Sundays' work and a trip to the specialty lumber store later and Aaron has created a beautiful new cedar top which blends with the old seamlessly. He also tossed together a frame for the changing pad out of scrap wood and finished it with linseed oil. I'm so happy with the way these both turned out. Nesting instinct in full swing over here as we put finishing touches on every corner of the house and try to keep it mostly spotless and completely in order as this birth can happen any day now. I have a couple more closets I want to organize, but really little babe, we're ready for you. 👶🏡⏳ . . . . #9monthspregnant #39weekspregnant #homebirth #nesting #newparents #soon #diy #nursery #restore #antiquefurniture #reducereuserecycle #crafty
It will probably go down in our future family lore that me deep cleaning the entire house put Allie at ease enough to go into labor. She had been plagued by Braxton-Hicks contractions, which are sort of the uterus’ practice contractions, starting at about 12 weeks. After an early morning of errands on Saturday the 4th, Allie mentioned that the contractions started to feel almost imperceptibly…different. Not painful, not regular, just different. More lower-back-centered. We brushed it off as nothing (the Braxton-Hicks had kind of numbed us to the concept of contractions meaning labor) and continued to go about our day, culminating in us going to a restaurant where we grabbed dinner and I played saxophone with a second-line horn group. Allie, of course, danced along.
As we were leaving, she noted that the contractions were getting a little more distinct. By the time we got home, she had open her full term app and was logging regular contractions (lasting about 45 seconds, at roughly 6 minute intervals). We figured we’d give it a little time to see whether the regularity held, so we settled down to watch the pleasantly enjoyable, albeit fairly racist 1970s quasi-classic Silver Streak.
While the spectacularly afro’d duo of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor overcame the odds and saved the day onscreen, Allie’s contractions kept right on trucking at the same frequency and duration. By the end of the movie, we went ahead and texted our awesome midwife Kellie to let her know that we were potentially in the “early early” stages of labor, although it might be a false alarm. Kellie told us to get some sleep and she would try to do the same, and we could touch base in the morning.
The contractions at this point were still difficult to determine the start of – I’d maybe feel one coming on in my lower abdomen, but until it wrapped around to my back 5-10 seconds in where it lingered and intensified, I wasn’t sure if it had actually started. The finish was more distinctive as the back pain was quickly whisked away from one moment to the next. At this point they felt like a combination of medium to bad menstrual cramps and a sharp back ache. Aaron dutifully applied counter pressure from his vantage point next to me on the couch.
As the worst-case-scenario perspective in the group, I suggested that we take steps to ready the place in case labor progressed shockingly rapidly and we had the baby before the midwife got there. So we put throw-away sheets on the bed over plastic sheeting (to protect the mattress), cleared out the bedroom, put the receiving blankets my mom made in the oven, and pulled out everything we were going to need so that it was at least available.
Allie took a bath to slow down the contractions (which was subtly effective) so we could get some much-anticipated sleep. Allie has been listening to Hypnobabies, which is a hypnosis-based pain management tool for use during childbirth, for the past few months. Part of this regimen entails me reading a script that induces hypnosis and sets the groundwork for subconscious cues to be called on during the event itself. Since this seemed like it might be our last time to practice, we laid down in bed and I told her to “relax” and “imagine a powerful anesthesia is coursing through your veins” while we waited for sleep to take hold.
Despite our best efforts, Allie’s contractions were only getting more ferocious and that sleep never did take hold. We started timing them again and they had gotten closer together (about 4 minute intervals, lasting about a minute each), and after a little discussion made the decision to call the midwife. Feeling deeply out of my element, I snapped into technical presentation mode and started the conversation by rambling off the slew of data we had been collecting regarding the timing and frequency of Allie’s contractions. Finally Kellie interrupted me and said “Okay, okay, but do you want me to come over?” I went to consult Allie on this matter and we all waited while she groaned her way through the last half minute of the current contraction, only to respond with an “I don’t know? Maybe?”
In retrospect, we all agreed, the fact that Allie was unable to talk or make decisions was reason enough to have the midwife head over immediately.
Having no context for labor contractions I had thought at this point that they were probably real, but assumed I had a long time to go before anything interesting happened. They were intense enough now to take me off my feet and draw in my focus. “But maybe this is what early real labor feels like?” – I’d think, and offered to the midwife on the phone the prospect of going back to sleep in our spare bedroom if we’ve naively made this call too early. Throughout the pregnancy I had prepared for the possibility of a standard “24 hour” first labor, and been regaled for years by the tale of my mother’s first labor lasting around 50 hours.
At the time, it seemed that making the decision to call Kellie over was finally admitting that it was actually happening. Like we were pulling the trigger on this abstract event that we’d been trying to conceptualize for months, and if we kept ignoring it we would just continue to exist in our current state indefinitely. We’d been pretending to ourselves that it was going to be a long labor, slowly ramping up into the delivery sometime around late afternoon or evening the following day, and it was exhilarating and little frightening to think that the baby might come before the sunrise. As designated worst-case forecaster, I decided we were pretty substantially above my skill set, and so Kellie was on the way.
We were still in quick-labor denial at this point, and figured the most likely scenario was Kellie would come over just so we felt better about things and end up just sleeping in our guest bedroom while we waited for things to get going the following day.
When that call was made, my world got a surreal kind of high-energy calm, the individual moments moving in slow motion while half hours seemed to melt off the clock. I sent off a few texts to the impending grandparents to let them know things were underway and started scrambling to get the birthing tub inflated and filled.
Meanwhile, Allie was wandering around the house with increasingly powerful contractions, stopping to post up on whatever surface was nearby when the next one came. I was doing my best to provide remote emotional support, circling back to Allie to provide counterpressure when I could. Before I knew it, the tub was inflated, water was pumping into it, and Kellie was pulling up in the driveway in her brand new red truck.
Between when we called Kellie to when she arrived my contractions seemed to grow 10x in intensity and while we were no longer timing them, I don’t recall much time at all (certainly less than a minute) between the waves. Between contractions I may have been moving around the house, but during I was on my knees bent over forward, face in a pillow and butt up in the air. This is the position I naturally found most comfortable. I do recall having a conscious thought of “I shouldn’t be in this position because my body would have to push my baby against gravity and it’s not a very efficient way to labor.” In hindsight, maybe being in this position slowed things down enough to get the midwife here and give my body a little time to adjust.
By this time the contractions were near maxing out on my pain scale, and I felt them strongly in my sacrum and pubic symphasis. I did not have a fear of my pelvis ripping in two, but this is about the closest I could describe to what it felt like. I’d also completely entered “labor land” at this point and have trouble remembering a lot of details like time and place of events, who was present and where, what was said, and have no concept whatsoever of the amount of time passed. It should be noted too that up to this point there were no signs of labor save the contractions – and by this I mean my membranes were still intact and there had been no sign of a mucus plug or bloody show. At the midwife visit on Wednesday earlier that week her head was still felt floating above my pubic bone.
Upon arrival Kellie quickly confirmed that we had everything set up properly and all of the right supplies easily accessible, and wisely assessed that this baby was coming pretty soon. As a rule, she typically doesn’t do cervical exams unless requested because of the risk of introducing bacteria into the uterus so we don’t know exactly how “far along” Allie was at this point (“far along” is a bit of a misnomer, it’s not unusual for women to hang out for a while at any level of dilation). Shortly after arriving, Kellie notified her birth assistant, Pamela, of the situation and got her heading in our direction.
Once we had all of Kellie’s medical supplies set up and the birth tub was full enough to justify entering (you know, shin-deep), Allie moved into the tub, crouched down, and held onto the handle on the side of the tub with a white-knuckled grip. At this point her vocalizations had gotten substantially more gutteral and unceasing. No screams, just a stream of moaning, groans, and full-throated “horse lips”. Our dinky hot water heater had been maxed out by our earlier bath and current filling of the birth tub, so the water was coming out of the faucet more chilly than hot at this point. This presented a problem for Allie’s comfort, ability to dilate, and the baby’s body temperature, so I pulled out every water-boiling container we had and started our gas range going full force, running a gallon or two of hot water at a time from the bathroom sink to the stove to the tub in a frantic attempt to get the temperature up.
I recall wanting to get in the enticing water, but wanted one last opportunity to empty my bladder first. I went to the bathroom and endured a contraction on the toilet only to notice afterward a good amount of bloody mucus. Quickly I had another contraction on the toilet and Aaron was there with me and Kellie was at the door, calmly offering the helpful, but difficult-to-adhere-to advice to slow down my breathing (which had become quite rapid at this point) and to relax my shoulders (where were up at my ears), I did my best to do both of these things, but when my focus was dropped I was right back to huffing and tense.
In the next break I walked back into the bedroom, stripped off the nightgown I’d been laboring in and got in the pool. In a ridiculous attempt at modesty I asked Aaron for a bikini top which I was never able to don – I was as naked as Freia was when she was born from this point onward. I remember their attempts to warm the water for me, but don’t recall feeling an issue with the temperature. I entered the pool as Aaron described, and while I probably could have chosen a better side, I ended up on the first one I encountered, facing the foot of our bed, which was a tight squeeze for those outside the pool.
Aaron’s presence at my side and as a thing to hold onto was extremely valuable to me at this point. This is the one phase of the whole event where I wish we could have had another support person available – someone to chase down hot water so that Aaron would have been free to focus on me 100%. The inflated sides of the pool and plastic handles were a poor but tolerable substitute. The best relief I felt after getting in the pool was no longer dealing with gravity on my body and joints. At this point also my best Ina May horse lips were low, loud and apparently very effective.
I had maybe four more very intense contractions in the pool before my body rapidly jumped into the next phase of labor, pushing.
The hot water relay ceased when Allie notified us, in true nurse fashion: “My water broke! Fluid’s clear. I’m pushing now.” Kellie jotted this down and we both gathered around the tub to help Allie through the next phase.
I felt my water break with a distinct POP, looked down into the water and could see a gush of slightly shimmery crystal clear fluid flowing out of me and into the tub, immediately after that sensation I felt my body bear down completely unassisted by me.
Pushing was such a huge relief. The contractions were much more mild, hardly noticeable even, and the sensation of your body being completely open and feeling your baby start to descend was soooo satisfying. I’m far from claiming to have had an orgasmic birth, but this was absolutely my favorite part. I felt slightly in control, the pain was negligible, and I knew the worst was over. My body continued to bear down on it’s own intermittently and I had to debate whether to help it out and push along, or hold back, to give my body and tissues time to stretch and perfuse. i would give a little push to give in to the desire then hold back as much as I could. Kellie had a hand mirror and flashlight to keep an eye on Freia’s descent from her vantage point outside the tub. “I can see her hair – do you want to know what color it is?” she asked. “Yes” we answered and I knew she was close. During this pushing phase I was completely introspective, and despite my inner monologue made almost no sound and said very little aloud during this time.
When it came to her crowning I was extra cautious to not push too hard, I may be remembering this wrong, but I felt like I had a ton of control here. I was anticipating the infamous ring of fire and pushed very cautiously against a slight stinging sensation, judged it’s tolerably and continued to push as tolerated. I recall some stinging as she crowned, but this was minimal. I gave myself the okay and pushed with enough force to birth her head. I foolishly thought at that moment that she’d act like so many babies I’d seen in birth videos and wait until the next contraction or at least a few moments before shoulders and body came tumbling out – but not our eager beaver – the rest of her toppled out a moment after I felt the slight pop of her head being birthed. Apparently I was told to catch her, but I don’t remember hearing this, just looking down at a little baby about to swim away and grabbing her to pull her up to my chest.
The plan all along had been for me to catch, but when Freia came out I was almost entirely supporting Allie’s weight and for me to do so would have meant either dropping her or forcefully pushing her back to get to the baby. So Allie, in true warrior woman fashion, reached down and caught Freia herself. She pulled Freia out of the water, moving to unwrap the cord in the process (which was wrapped once around her neck). When Freia hit the air, she started immediately screaming loudly and beautifully. We looked at her and each other in awe. Our baby was cheesy and hairy and vocal and gorgeous and we were smitten.
“Wow, that was easy.” Allie said, still panting. Kellie laughed. I asked Kellie about it later, and she said it was the soonest she’d ever had someone say that after having a baby.
We wrapped up Freia and Allie and moved them, still very much attached, onto our presciently prepared bed. Freia got to the work of nursing and Allie, with a quick bearing down, pushed out the placenta. It was beautiful too.
Kellie did a quick exam to check for tears and found two small ones. We discussed the prospect of giving them a stitch or two, but we decided to see how the first trip to pee went first and judge from there. Mild stinging, but nothing close to injections of lidocaine and stitches to the vag immediately after giving birth so we decided to hold off. Five days later I can say this was a good call as I’ve had minimal discomfort.
Although it has historically not been a standard practice outside of midwifery, immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact promotes newborns’ thermoregulation and gets mama’s oxytocin flowing. This oxytocin is an important hormone that promotes bonding and stimulates uteran contractions, which begin the process of returning the uterus to its normal size as well as staunching postpartum bleeding. Maybe as a result of this flood of oxytocin, Allie’s bleeding was certainly present but relatively minimal.
Another midwife practice that has been gaining traction in medical circles is delayed cord clamping, which allows the placenta to fully pass on important nutrients to the newborn. In our case, the cord was unclamped and uncut and we put the placenta in a plastic baggie and kept it next to Allie and Freia for the duration of their first two hour (!) nursing session.
What a babe
When Freia had gotten her milk (to be more accurate, colostrum) fill, Aaron got to cut the cord and help with the newborn exam. She was perfectly healthy.
Once that was taken care of, Allie and Freia moved to the candlelit herbal bath that Pamela had been preparing. This herbal bath helps with the healing of both Allie’s lady parts and Freia’s belly button, and has been a twice daily routine since. Freia is part mermaid, of course, so she takes to the water well.
I’d been looking forward to this herbal bath since Kellie first mentioned it was her routine practice at our interview with her 28 weeks ago. It did not disappoint. The warm water and dim lighting felt amazing on my sore body and also helps the keep up the flow of oxytocin. Freia got to join me in the bath and continue her epic first nursing session.
When they got out of the bath, we were given a crash course by Kellie and Pamela in swaddling, nursing, healing, and general baby maintenance to keep us afloat until Kellie’s 24-hour visit the following day. We nodded along politely but were rapidly descending into sleep, and conked out as soon as they left.
But not before sending the mass text that our family had been anticipating for months…