My Home Birth Experience
Thanksgiving night, I had a feeling that labor was imminent. However, things didn’t really start happening until the next day, when I woke up having somewhat stronger contractions than before. Shaun figured he should call in to work early and let them know labor was starting, then we decided to go to Barnes and Noble to pick out a couple of books to pass the time. On the way to the bookstore, Judith called and asked me to buy bromelain capsules to help kick start labor. Later she told us she had been praying for me and during a nap the words “bromelain” and “Amanda” just popped into her head. In retrospect, this was quite remarkable, because the bromelain might have been the very thing that made the difference between a successful home birth and a hospital transport.
You see, I had a good amount of scar tissue on my cervix from a procedure several years ago, and Judith was concerned that this would make it difficult for my cervix to dilate completely. The bromelain capsules, she explained, would possibly help break up that tissue. After using the bromelain, Shaun and I started watching “The Bourne Ultimatum” with our dinner (ham, pineapple and jalapeno pizza—yes, the jalapenos were part of my own attempt to get things moving). About halfway through the movie I noticed I seemed to be leaking a clear fluid, and when I called Judith, we determined my water had broken.
Judith and her apprentice, Sharron, showed up at our apartment Friday evening to monitor me. We thought we’d be having a baby pretty soon since my water had broken! Judith went into my office to rest because they’d had a really long week so far, while Sharron sat in the living room and worked on one of her quilts. We chatted for a bit about all sorts of things, while I took homeopathic remedies and something called gentle birth tincture to try to further induce labor. I also did a ton of stretching, squatting and pacing around, but contractions really weren’t picking up. I was starting to feel like “the girl who cried labor,” and wondering if even these little contractions were all in my head. Finally Shaun and I went to bed.
Shaun didn’t sleep well. He was so excited to meet our baby that he woke up multiple times in the night, and I woke up a bit too from excitement and knowing we had company in our home. In the middle of the night, Shaun decided to stay up and made himself a pot of coffee. The next morning, we were getting desperate for things to start. Because my water had broken, we were working in a limited time frame—typically, it is unsafe to let labor go on too long after the water breaks. Judith did an exam to check my dilation, then she gave me a 2 oz. of castor oil to drink. She also had me go for a 45 minute walk in the fitness center while she and Sharron went to get some breakfast. The walk was nice, but it didn’t cause my contractions to pick up. In fact, it seemed to slow them down. The castor oil didn’t seem to be doing anything, either.
Judith had done some praying before she did her next exam that afternoon, and as she was checking my cervix her facial expression changed completely. “Thank you, Lord,” she said, going on to explain that I was dilated to about four centimeters. As she massaged my cervix to break up the scar tissue, her face changed into a shocked expression and I felt a sudden gush of warm fluid. My water had broken again! Judith explained sometimes your water could break and reseal, or other times it could break at the top of the bag and simply leak out before breaking completely. This time, it had definitely broken for real!
At some point, Sharron left to help with another client who was going into labor at the same time. Judith preferred to stay with us and send her apprentice to help the other lady because she believed my situation required her expertise. It was around 5:30 that Judith did another exam, declared I was about six centimeters dilated, and suddenly my contractions kicked in hard and strong. There was no doubt about it now, this was labor.
Judith told Shaun to start setting up the pool. He left my side and I continued lying on the bed. Judith sat next to me for my first few contractions, which very gradually increased in intensity. This is where my mind went into a totally different place and didn’t come back to reality until after baby was born. As I lay on the bed, a contraction would start like a tightening deep in my belly and peak into a very sharp pain about a third of the way through. Then, slowly, it would taper off and disappear. This surprised me, because I’d always heard that contractions built up slowly, peaked in the middle, and came down slowly, but mine seemed to peak very early on.
For the first few, I lay on my side and writhed with my eyes closed, trying to breathe. Judith kept one hand on my side and whispered to me to chant the word “open,” over and over in my lower register. Even with the chanting, the peaks of the contractions were nearly unbearable. All I could think to do was squirm on my side and clench my pillow. Judith reminded me quietly that by pedaling my legs, I was attempting to run away from the pain. She insisted I had to embrace it and allow it to rush through me. It was so difficult to keep my body still as those contractions peaked, but it gave me something to focus on. I also tried my best not to think about upcoming contractions or the pain of previous ones. Instead, I did my best to close my eyes and breathe and relax between them. I really enjoyed these silent, calm moments.
At some point, I felt Judith stand up and leave. I told myself I could do it on my own, I could manage these pains myself. However, things were infinitely harder when she was gone. I remember feeling one coming on and allowing my eye to crack open at the beginning—which caused me to completely lose my focus. I cried out, “open, open, open,” doing my best to keep my voice low. I felt incredibly small and helpless to what my body was doing. I felt like a child. After a few more contractions, it occurred to me that Shaun might be close to finishing up filling the birth pool, which I was certain would relieve some of the pain. I went into the dining room and saw the pool was barely a tenth of the way full and Shaun was getting frustrated with how long it was taking him to fill it.
Suddenly, I realized I would probably have a contraction soon and I wasn’t lying on the bed anymore: meaning I had no idea how to manage in a new position. I felt like I was out in the middle of the ocean without a clue how to swim. Quickly, I dropped to a hands and knees position because I knew there was no way I could stand. As the wave of a new contraction began, I regretted leaving the bedroom. I felt incredibly vulnerable on the floor in the bright room, and when the pain peaked I felt like there was no way to move my body to alleviate it. This was frustrating. When this contraction passed I started searching frantically for a new position for the next one—I was determined to manage the next one much better!
When Shaun had enough water in the pool for me to sit in it, I climbed in. In the pool, I sat with my legs outstretched between contractions. I tried to “flop” as much as possible because I knew I’d need to save my strength. I developed a routine of leaning over the edge of the pool with my hands on the carpet each time I felt a contraction coming on. When each one peaked, I would stretch my legs out behind me—like an involuntary urge, I had to keep my body moving. A couple of times I had Shaun get down on his hands and knees so I could drape myself over him. Just having human contact helped me immensely. Once, I leaned over the edge of the pool so far that my head was nearly down on the carpet, and while Shaun was nearby adding more air to the pool, I grabbed his hand forcefully and smushed it onto my face. I just needed his touch!
I was bent over the side of the pool when I had one or two extremely intense contractions that were very close together. These were so strong, it felt like something was going to explode inside of me and there was no stopping it. I pushed my legs back behind me at a funky angle. My body was so contorted as I moaned, “open, open.” I probably sounded like someone being exorcised.
During the peaks of these contractions, despite my best efforts to keep my voice low and calm, it was like someone suddenly stabbed me in the gut and made me lose all control of my voice. It squeaked into a high pitched “open, open,” and, breathlessly, into indecipherable, childlike whimpers. I was completely overtaken, desperate. I felt like if I didn’t do something, I would explode. I heard myself yelling, “I want to push, I want to push!”
Judith hurried over, saying calmly that she needed to check my cervix before I could push. I writhed through the remainder of the contraction and Judith checked me quickly. She said I was fully dilated, and on the next contraction I should sit back in the pool with my legs outstretched.
When it came, Judith said, “hold your breath,” and told me when and how to push. She put her fingers in and told me to push them out. I was suddenly numb to my contractions, because pushing was the perfect outlet for my body to work with the pain. Still, it was so hard focusing on that one area of my body alone—I wanted to push with everything I had, my fingertips, my jaw, my neck, my entire being. I did my best to focus my energy on that spot, and soon she told me to reach down inside and feel baby’s head. I did, and I gasped. It was amazing, and it gave me a strong second wind.
Judith was worried that the water had cooled down too much to safely deliver a baby. She asked me, “are you married to the idea of having baby in the pool?” I said no, I wanted to do whatever worked. So she quickly set everything up in the bedroom and told me to follow her. First I got down on my hands and knees and pushed. Not much happened, and I told her I was uncomfortable.
Then, Judith had me sit on the toilet, leaning back, with my feet up on a footstool and knees apart. Though I know the toilet helps some women open up, it didn’t work that way for me: it just felt awkward and uncomfortable. After a few unsuccessful rounds of that, we tried having me stand up in the bathroom. I had one foot on the toilet and the other on the floor. Each time a contraction came, I would drape my arms around Shaun’s neck and squat while bearing down. He, too, would squat with me as he supported me. I know I was pulling down on him really hard, but he stayed strong for me and whispered that I was a warrior. The squat pushing felt good because I was able to draw on Shaun’s strength, but I still wasn’t making much progress. By this point, over an hour had passed. Despite how quickly it took me to get fully dilated, the pushing phase was taking a little longer than normal.
We moved to the bed. I tried lying on each of my sides, pulling my leg up as I lay there. I couldn’t visualize getting the baby out in either of these positions, it just didn’t seem possible. I remember not giving my pushes all their time—instead, I was pushing more with the intention of trying to alleviate the pain of the contractions rather than pushing to make progress. My whole body was crashing, and I could feel the tension building up in all of my muscles. I felt floppy, and even though I was lying down, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I needed to be sinking into something, melting away.
Finally, we tried having me lie on my back. This was the most comfortable position I’d been in all night. During each contraction, Judith instructed me to tuck in my chin and pull my knees up and out as I pushed. It was hard to remember to tuck my chin and focus my energy down below. Even with all of my muscles being sore, I just couldn’t relax the muscles I didn’t need for pushing. Everything seemed to be involuntarily clenching up.
Between these contractions, my eyes slipped closed. Somehow I dozed off completely in the two minute intervals between my attempts to push. Everything was so warm and hazy—I was discouraged because I felt like I had truly given it my all and baby hadn’t even crowned.
Then, Judith asked about a mirror. From some faraway place, my voice said that we had one in the other bathroom. She brought it in, and during the next push, she showed me baby’s head, just a small sliver of dark hair. I actually let out a brittle scream of excitement, and suddenly I had a little more energy. I pushed hard, saw baby’s head moving slowly as I pushed my body to its limit. Then the contraction ended and baby’s head slipped back into just a sliver again.
Judith suggested I drink a little caffeine to keep me going. Shaun brought me a Pepsi One and a banana, and just having a little bit of sustenance (I’d skipped dinner amidst the excitement of everything) helped keep me awake.
At some point, I watched Shaun’s face as I pushed. He lit up every time baby’s head made its little appearance. The look of awe on my husband’s face helped me manage the pushing, though it seemed like baby’s head was going to be stuck in the birth canal forever.
I knew it was supposed to be a slow going process, getting a baby’s head out, but Judith seemed concerned. I, too, was worried that I was going to lose energy and somehow have to go to the hospital amidst these raging contractions. I was upset at the possibility that things could’ve come this far and I’d wind up at the hospital anyway. Judith said to me, “Amanda, all women reach this point. This is the point where you have to make a decision. This is when you have to find the strength to push your baby out.”
She began praying. Shaun was praying, too. I closed my eyes and decided that I wasn’t going to the hospital: I was too close to seeing my baby, and I was going to muster up the energy I needed. On the next contraction, I pushed with absolutely all of my might. I could feel the progress below, and I also tried imagining baby’s head emerging. Oddly enough, the sting of baby’s head wasn’t bad at all.
I rested for a couple of breaths, then began pushing again through the rest of the contraction. From somewhere far away, Judith asked if she could make a cut. I said, “whatever it takes,” and Judith quickly and neatly cut me. I was suddenly in some kind of shock, because everything happened so fast. I felt the baby’s head come out quickly and the rest of the body slide after it.
Judith placed baby on my chest with terse instructions to “rub her feet and warm her up.”
(Apparently, Shaun said, “it’s a girl!” when Evelyn first came out, but I didn’t hear him at all because I was so enthralled with the tiny, bluish body that Judith was placing on my chest).
But when Judith said “her,” I said, “I had a girl?” I glanced at Evelyn’s body and realized it was true, and I was so ecstatic. I had been so convinced it would be a boy that the reality of a girl truly was a surprise and a joy.
I wasn’t thinking at all about the umbilical cord, the placenta, or even getting started breastfeeding. I thought all these things would be on my mind right after baby came out, but all I could do was stare at this little naked, waxy looking thing and marvel that it was a real, live baby (as I told my sister later, “I don’t know what I was expecting…an alien, maybe, or a trout?)
But Judith was insistent that I rub Evelyn’s feet. Something was wrong, I realized, but I wasn’t sure what. Judith told me to keep Evelyn close to my chest. Then she instructed Shaun to get some more towels going in the dryer. Holding onto the umbilical cord, she told me to give a little push and I delivered the placenta quickly and easily. Judith said that the umbilical cord had broken as baby was coming out. Now I was a little more conscious of what was going on, but oddly enough, I wasn’t panicking. I believed that as long as baby was close to me, she would be okay.
Shaun wrapped baby in a hot towel and started up another one in the dryer. I felt like we were changing out the warm towels constantly. I kept holding my daughter close for a long time, marveling at her humanness. Judith made sure baby and I were both stabilized and nursing properly then she asked for “just one hour,” to nap. Evelyn was the fifth baby she’d delivered that week, and she was desperately sleep deprived. She had us dress baby in two layers and keep her between us in bed to make sure she stayed warm enough.
Judith went into my office to nap, and Shaun and I lay in bed and stared at baby. Time didn’t really exist at this point: we were both so captivated by this beautiful little creature and her full head of dark hair! I texted my sister to let her know Evelyn was born, and Emily came out to meet the baby right away. She held Evie while Shaun helped me get situated. We chatted with Em for a few hours before she went home, and Judith woke up around 2 or 3 and rejoined us in the bedroom.
Judith did Evie’s exam and found that she weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces and was 20 and a quarter inches long. Judith was much more rested after her nap and we chatted with her about the birth. She said when Evie came out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and shoulders, which was what had been holding up the pushing process. Also, because the cord broke as baby came out, Judith had been truly concerned for the first few minutes after baby was born. Shaun and I assured her that we would’ve never known it because she’d remained so calm and collected! Judith took down all of Evie’s and our information for a birth certificate, and soon she was on her way, to return again Monday for another checkup.
My adventure in birthing Evie was life-altering and surreal. I can remember it so vividly yet it’s blurry at the same time. Yes, there were extremely difficult moments, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. I believe every woman should get to experience this incredible power that comes from within the female body. So many women are deprived of the intense, empowering joy of childbirth for fear that it will be painful. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t painful, it was merely a series of challenges. And after the fact, my only lingering sentiment is that there is something incredibly sacred about going through this ancient experience. There is something sacred about coming into contact with this strong, instinctive side of my body and soul. My home birth experience was every bit as miraculous and beautiful as the precious child it produced.