I was standing in the kitchen talking with Brian about the birth experience I wanted to have this time. My second natural, home birth and I knew what to expect -the feelings, the challenges, the process. All things I had missed with my medicated hospital births for my first two children. This time around I had read Spiritual Midwifery by the queen of American midwives, Ina May Gaskin, and I wanted to have one of those sensual, cosmic, romantically connected experiences with my husband so many of those birth stories share about.
When I told him this, Brian looked at me cock-eyed.
He’s not the feely-touchy-emotional type and I already knew bring this up with him would be slightly awkward. But his insight surprised me.
“Yeah, but that’s not really you.”
“What do you mean?” my turn to look at him cock-eyed.
“When you stub your toe you want to yell and throw stuff. I mean, you’re not really good with pain. I just don’t see you wanting to be super connected when you’re trying to push out a baby. You kind of want to be left alone.”
I had to stop myself from objecting, because…he was right. You see, I either wanted that psychedelic-hippy-lovey-dovey kind of cosmic birth, or I wanted to walk out into a lake by myself and push out a baby alone. Guess what? I got both.
For 10 months I’d been preparing for this experience and I wanted it to be richer, fuller, more enjoyable than any of my previous three births. I wanted it to be as natural and, for lack of a better term, “mother earth” as possible -my body doing what it was naturally created to do, free of fuss and fear, full of acceptance and peace. Time and again I read testimonies of how women were able to master their bodies with their minds, how attitude is so much more powerful than circumstance. I wanted a beautiful birth experience and to feel the deep connectedness I heard about.
A day or two before my due date I took 2 tablespoons of castor oil mixed with orange juice at noon and laid down for a nap. I got around 2pm and by 3pm the castor oil was kicking in. FYI, the world wide web says that castor oil takes 2-6 hours to take effect. And who ever thought of CASTOR OIL?! That stuff is ridiculously nasty. I do highly recommend the OJ mixer, though, if you’re going to do it. And drink it fast.
I noticed regular contractions soon after, but no more intense than the usual bout I’d had on and off for several weeks. Within your last week or two of pregnancy you wake up with the burning question, “Will today be the day?” and tiptoe (or power walk) through each hour waiting anxiously for any signs. It gets downright exhausting, particularly from all the false hope of early contractions. I waited it out.
By 4pm they were still strong and I dared to tell Brian, “I really think it may be tonight.” I’ve cried wolf so many times (thanks, early contractions) that he remained non plussed, but I held on to a thread of hope that this was it.
While making dinner for the kids the intensity really began to kick it up a notch. I’d stop what I was doing and breathe through the contraction. “Ah-ha, now this is beginning to feel like labor.”
At 6:15pm I texted Salli, my midwife, “Think we’re having a baby tonight. Strongest contractions yet, about 3-5 min. apart. Will keep you posted. Probably headed to the shower soon.” I like to be in water as much as possible when I labor. It also makes clean up so much easier.
I went into my bathroom and lit candles. A crap ton of candles. I started relaxing my body and breathing and thinking positively about the contractions leading to a baby that night. I turned on soothing instrumental music. I took a picture of the set up and shared it to Instagram (because that’s what you do nowadays, right?)
It still didn’t feel real yet. And then it did -but I had to claim it. I popped my head out and looked down into the living room at the family,
“I love you guys and I wanted to let you know we’re having a baby tonight.”
Brian had been laid up all day with a terrible head cold/sinus infection and now had to take over the evening routine with our three kids. Fortunately the children were game for an earlier bedtime and Brian rallied himself to wrangle our crew while I labored in solitude.
The shower started, I got in and began to focus. The main thing I had in mind was how Ina May and all those birth stories talked about riding the wave of the contractions and not letting yourself go headfirst into them, pummeled and lost in the pain. A famous saying from those fabulous hippy midwives is to think of contractions not as pain, but an interesting sensation that leads to having a baby.
I began to visually ride the wave of each contraction. As I kept myself above the pain -placing my mind on top of it, believing my body was capable of gracefully handling this natural occurrence and these were good, positive sensations that would bring about my baby- I maintained strength. I smiled. I reminded myself to delight in the experience. And you know what? The “pain” no longer roared; my surfboard confidently and serenely floating on the crest of each wave.
And another thing surprised me. It felt completely out of body. As I stepped into the shower and prepared to have a baby -not with the hippy-love-romantic connection with my husband that I originally wanted, but alone- I didn’t feel any resentment whatsoever. Instead of feeling pity for myself or anger towards the situation or my husband for not being at my side (which is, sadly, much more in line with how I’d normally react,) I was hit with a wall of love and grace. Let me just say, this wasn’t me. It was something beyond me. And I am so thankful for it. It was as if stepping into the shower, I was stepping into a portal of love. There’s my hippy-dippy-cosmic-love stuff.
I texted Salli at 7:15pm, “1-2 min. apart, it’s happening. Really strong. I’d say it’s safe to start packing up.”
The first of the 3 midwives, Heather, arrived by 7:40pm. She checked baby’s heart rate while I stayed in the shower and I hung out there for a few more minutes. The hot water was running out and I wanted the gals to check my dilation, so I got to the bed. Salli and Jessica were there – my beautiful crew of 3 was complete. Their gentle, quiet demeanor a comfort, the soft lamp light warming the shadowy room. I was 7-8 cm dilated, 100% effaced with my water bag bulging. This was music to my ears. I laid on my side and focused on enjoying the process, riding on top if each contraction, keeping my mind in a place of strength, relaxation and openness.
I remembered several stories I’d read about laboring mothers who decided to enjoy the process and be happy and peaceful. I talked with my midwives, I remembered to smile, I said positive phrases through my contractions like, “welcome, baby,” “Open, open, open,” “yes, yes, yes” and “I love you, baby.”
Worried the castor oil was going to make a return performance, I felt like I needed to use the bathroom. Waiting on the toilet for a minute, my water broke. How very convenient, wouldn’t you say?
I stepped into our garden tub, the hot water replenished, and within a few minutes I felt the urge to push. Oh, that warm tub full of water felt so good -there is nothing like birthing in water, I cannot recommend it highly enough!
When the urge to push comes, your body goes into auto pilot. “Sorry, lady, but you’re not the boss anymore.” Salli extended her hand to me and I squeezed the heck out of it as I began pushing (Salli, I love you!) After a few minutes, Heather stepped in and let me wring her hand to heck. Soon baby’s head was crowning.
This was the first time I had really experienced crowning this way. It was very calm. It was also very tight. We worked together to breathe gently through the urges to push so I could slowly stretch open with the mounting pressure. Oh my gosh, I’d never felt the skin of the vagina around the baby’s head so taut like that! I’ll be honest, I was worried. “How in the world am I not going to tear? I’m stretched to the max already?”
Finally baby’s head was out. Now for the rest of the body. And here’s where it felt the toughest. I asked if I needed to move my position. The ladies guided me to standing with one leg up on the tub, Captain Morgan style. Now it was time to push, push like I’d never pushed before.
Brian came in, just in time. Thankfully Jessica went to let him know baby was about to arrive.
A handful of pushes, two really big ones that ended in roars, and the baby was born at 8:45pm, an hour after the party started.
Our Truly Anne.
She came out bluish and limp and beautiful. Her heartbeat was good, but her lungs had fluid in them, so the midwives swooped in and began working on her while I held her on my chest. Suctioning her lungs, rubbing her extremities and back, blowing air into her. I had read about babies taking awhile to get going and, while I was concerned, I wasn’t worried. Her color began to come in, turning a sweet pink, and her breathing started to strengthen.
I snuggled with my girl in the tub while we waited for the placenta to deliver. Salli cut the chord and wrapped her up, handing her to Brian while I transitioned to the bed.
Jessica and Salli did my exam and the baby’s measurements and vitals checks.
During our 2 day postpartum home visit, Salli said, “If there was one word I’d use to describe your birth it’d be Peaceful.” I think that sums the whole experience up for me.
It may not have been what I envisioned, but in many ways it was just as rich as I’d hoped it would be. And the inner strength and lesson on mastering the mind I garnered are gifts I hadn’t anticipated and will now be part of my make up forever. My story.
A note from Salli, my midwife:
“Truly’s birth is very special to me in so many ways. It has been an honor to help you through two pregnancies and two amazing births!
I was sharing your excitement and joy when you let us know that your sweet babe was finally on the way. Remembering that your previous birth happened quickly, I urged my husband to drive faster! We all arrived in a timely manner, because we hate missing births!
Your sweet countenance during labor will forever be etched in my memory. Even at 8 cm you were smiling and chatting with us. When it got really intense after your water broke you simply said, “Now I feel like pushing”.
Recognizing the power of the forces of your body you then worked with your body to bring your sweet Truly down and then very gently allowed her head to crown, all the while guiding her out with your hand. It was so beautiful to witness your composure. Truly an honor.
Thank you allowing me to be a part or Truly’s welcoming. I love you so much!”
I want to thank my fabulous midwives Salli, Heather and Jessica and recommend Central Texas Birth Center to anyone in the area with 10 out of 5 stars (that’s a 200% recommendation.)