As I write my son’s birth story almost ten months after his birth, all of the warm feelings associated with my pregnancy and the poignancy of birth come rushing back to me. When I recall my monthly, and later weekly, prenatal visits, I don’t think so much about the “procedure” part of them-weighing myself, checking my urine, Jan or Lucky taking my blood pressure, feeling for the top of the fundus, and listening to the heartbeat, etc. Certainly these were important, and Jan’s utmost concern was for the health of my unborn baby and myself. However, my appointments were always so much more than that. Being greeted with a hug and talking about how my life was going, how I was feeling, any concerns I had about pregnancy and the impending birth, and basically talking with Jan and Lucky about anything that I felt I wanted to share with them-those are the memories that come to me when I think about my prenatal visits. As a result of this, my husband and I were very comfortable with Jan and Lucky because they became our friends as well as my health care providers.
By the time my due date rolled around and they had visited our home a few weeks prior to make sure we had everything ready for the birth, we were ready for our second child to be born. Our son Jared, who had just turned two and half at the time of the birth, was also excited to meet his baby brother or sister, and we had prepared him as much as possible. He had watched videos of homebirths, we read books to him, and I had demonstrated to him some of the noises I might make while I was working hard to push the baby out. My husband and I were a bit nervous about how he would react to everything going on in our home during labor and birth but had several plans in place-ranging from him actually being present for the birth to having him go to my mom’s if he seemed to be upset.
My due date was December 12th, and I had an intuitive feeling that the baby would be born a few days after my due date. Around 11:30 p.m. on the night of December 14th, I felt a few abdominal pangs that seemed to be a bit stronger than the frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been having. I thought perhaps they were the beginning of labor, but since they weren’t very painful I headed to bed. My son woke me up around 3:30 a.m. calling for me, and as I laid next to him I had a rather strong contraction. I was almost certain that labor was beginning. I woke up my husband and we went to our “birth room” (the family room where the labor tub, birth supplies, and a sofa bed were set up). Many women give birth in their bedrooms, but we had chosen to set up a separate “birth room” because our son, at that time, shared our bedroom with us. In case I went into labor and gave birth in the middle of the night, we didn’t want to disturb him. I went into a cleaning frenzy, and my husband timed and recorded the contractions.
Around 4:30 I called Jan because the contractions were getting stronger and by this time I was sure that I was in labor. I was managing the contractions fine and birth didn’t seem imminent, so she told me to give her a call when they got stronger. She did make it clear though that she would come whenever I felt I needed her. We started filling the labor tub.
By six o’clock, I was starting to feel like I needed some extra support to make it through the contractions, and I knew I would feel better if Jan was there. I called her, and she arrived at my house around 6:30. She contacted Lucky who arrived not long after. While the labor tub was filling, I spent each contraction straddled on the toilet-I found this most comfortable for me. In the minutes between contractions, I walked around the house but as soon as I felt a contraction coming on, I quickly headed for the bathroom, which seemed to be my comfort zone. My husband and/or Jan was always there to lend me support. I never felt alone, and it was such a comforting feeling being in my own home. I remember Jan lightly stroking my abdomen during some of the contractions, which surprisingly helped a lot. The sensation of her fingers on my skin seemed to take my mind off of the much stronger, forceful pain emanating from my pelvis. She would gently assure me that I was doing great and I could do this. The expression on her face was one of calmness and empathy-something I desperately needed during the intense contractions.
Once the labor tub was filled, I got in, and the water instantly helped me to relax. One of the greatest benefits for me was the fact that it removed the feeling of “I’m between contractions-what am I supposed to do?” that I remember feeling during my older son’s hospital birth. I just stayed in the tub! Between contractions, I chatted with my husband, and as the birth grew more imminent and the contractions stronger, I tried to just lay back in the water and close my eyes during the breaks. (I remember pretending I was on vacation and relaxing in the hot tub at a hotel!) I had an intense need to bite during the contractions, and Jan or Lucky brought me a washcloth to bite on to relieve my husband of the pain he was probably feeling from me biting on his hand! I tried a variety of positions in the tub to find the ones that made the contractions most bearable. Occasionally I got out of the tub and went through a few contractions holding onto my husband. He hugged me and held me up while Jan or Lucky massaged and applied pressure to my lower back, which felt really good.
During this time, my son woke up, and I was very concerned that he would cry for me and not want to be taken care of by my sister, who was there to help out with his care. However, everything worked out fantastic! My sister Julie got him up and brought him into the birth room to see us. He seemed to understand what was happening since we had talked at length about Jan and Lucky coming to help Mommy when it was time for the baby to be born. Then he was content to get ready for the day and play in the living room. Occasionally my sister brought him in to see us when he asked to. I know he was well prepared-my sister told me after the birth that when he heard me making very loud sounds during the pushing stage, he paused what he was doing, told her “Mommy’s working really hard to push the baby out” and went back to playing! It was a great reassurance to me during my labor to know that he was nearby and happy. This peace of mind was one of the greatest benefits of home birth for my husband and me.
I must add that Lucky was a fantastic person to have at the birth. Her loving support and the sense of calm that she brought to the labor and birth were truly integral to my ability to cope with the contractions. She sat patiently by and kept reminding me of how strong my body is and that it can do this! I will never forget her telling me over and over that “There are x (I forget the number) women all over the world in labor right now going through the same thing.” For some reason, hearing that helped give me strength-knowing that I wasn’t alone in this struggle to bring a new life into this world.
When I had been in labor for six hours or so, I think Jan sensed that I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed and my water had not broken. My labor with my first son had only been about five hours, so neither of us expected me to have a very long labor. I wasn’t sure that I wanted my water artificially broken, and she didn’t feel that was necessary. However, we both felt like the labor would probably progress much quicker if the bag of waters ruptured. We agreed that she would check my cervix and, in the process, I would bear down. If the bag of waters ruptured just from coming in contact with her fingers, great! If not, we would wait a while longer to see if the water naturally ruptured. She checked me, I bore down, and the waters broke. I was relieved! I should add that Jan only checked my cervix when I requested-it was great having that option since there were a couple times when I was curious how dilated I was, yet I didn’t have someone constantly probing me, possibly introducing infection or generally making me feel uncomfortable.
As I started to get a strong pushing urge, I was belly up in the tub holding myself up with my arms. Jan suggested that Dave, my husband, put on his swim trunks and hop in the tub to hold me up. That’s what he did, and it was an immediate comfort to have him in there with me. As the head got closer to the opening of the birth canal, I flipped into an “all fours” position. Lucky told my sister and Jared when the baby was about to be born, and they decided to come in to witness the birth. At 10:45 am, the baby was born, and Dave and I sat in the water as I cradled the new baby in my arms. We were so excited, we didn’t even look right away to see the gender!! After a couple minutes, we decided to look, and it was a boy! Jared stood by the side of the tub peering in at his brother. I have seen lovely photos of mothers in the birth tub with their newborns, but I just felt awkward trying to hold Grant up out of the water. So, I stood up and went to lay down on the sofa bed. Then, we spent some time just cuddling and getting to know each other. I believe that Jan and Lucky also checked Grant’s vital signs at this time, but I was too excited to notice!
Soon after, I delivered the placenta. I remember being very breathless and just having this “out of this world” feeling. I guess I was just so elated at having delivered the baby completely naturally! I was still in shock that I had done it. Grant was incredibly alert, looking intently at Dave and me and around the room. Grant nursed just wonderfully from the start. Jan then checked me over, and about an hour later she weighed and measured Grant and gave him a very thorough check-up. As our family got to know each other, Jan and Lucky took down the labor tub and cleaned everything up-you wouldn’t have even known a baby had just been born there! I was in heaven as I held my new baby and Lucky fed me scrambled eggs-you sure don’t get pampered like that in the hospital.
Unlike my hospital birth, where I felt rather alone and unsure of myself after being discharged, Jan was a fantastic support person in the days, and even weeks after the birth. She called several times in the days after the birth to see how we were doing, and when I had concerns about perineal pain and later, a breast infection, she was always willing to come over and help me through the problem. She truly cares about her clients, and it shows! It seems as if she will do everything possible to make sure mother and baby get off to a good start. My husband and I had complete confidence in her midwifery skills and were very comfortable with her as a person. We won’t even think twice about where our next birth will take place or who will be in attendance-Jan and Lucky attending the birth in our home are without a doubt the only option for us! We can’t even fathom delivering in a hospital after having experienced this, unless there were medical issues that necessitated it.
I must add that, ten months later, Dave and I feel like the birth experience continues to impact our lives. Unlike our first son’s birth where Dave stood by unsure of what to do and intimidated by the medical personnel and equipment, he was intimately involved in Grant’s birth, which has been a boon to our relationship and his father/son relationship. Jan never “stepped on his toes,” but rather she and Lucky helped Dave to know what type of support to offer. The gentle birth, and not experiencing the anxiety of being separated from us after birth, has also helped to shape Grant into a rather easygoing little guy, in my opinion. Big brother Jared took plenty of time to adjust to the new family situation, but he has always spoken quite fondly of the birth and talks about the details of it to this day. Even at the young age of two and a half, he was able to appreciate this important family event due to the preparation he had. Finally, the birth experience has certainly given me an amazing sense of accomplishment and well-being. I relive the memories frequently! Remembering that I was able to bring Grant into this world without any sort of intervention or drugs helps me to keep perspective. I remind myself that if I was able to do that, I can certainly handle the day-to-day challenges of raising two active little boys!