This is the second installment in my Journey to Homebirth series. Part 3 will explore the research I did and emotional journey I took in order to choose a homebirth VBAC for the birth of my second baby. As Ani just turned 9 months old, I wanted to post her birth story (finally!) now.
I awoke at 5am to two contractions. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks for months and contractions throughout the day and night for days, though, so while they got my attention I didn’t immediately think anything of it. I started to get out of bed, intending to make yet another way-too-early-in-the morning trip to the bathroom, and felt a gush as my water broke. I woke up Keith and asked for a towel, trying to make sure our not-yet-protected mattress was kept dry. He jumped up, excited, and ran to get the towel. After making it to the bathroom, I walked around a bit, restless. I was having contractions but they were quite manageable and coming only every 5-7 minutes or so. As it was so early we waited a bit to call anyone and stayed in our bedroom, trying not to wake Aria (in bed with us) or my mom, who was in the next room. When Aria did wake up we spent a few quiet moments with her, enjoying our last morning as a family of three.
At 7am we called one of my midwives, Mairi, and my doula/birth assistant, Kat, letting them know what was going on. At that point everything felt quite manageable on our own. Mairi decided to come by in a bit, just to check on me and to let Erin, my other midwife, know what was going on. We told Kat she could stay home as we were expecting Mairi to just come by for a few minutes and then to leave again until later in the day and didn’t want people to hang around, bored and away from their families, in our small apartment. I walked around a bit doing general morning stuff, getting some water and some breakfast. My mom congratulated me, which caught me a bit off guard at the time. I don’t think it had yet sunk in that the baby was really coming; I was thinking more about the journey ahead. I should have finished packing Aria’s bag for my mom to take and made sure she knew where it was, but I still believed I had lots of time and would be involved in getting her ready to leave when the time came. I think I was also starting a turn inward that I didn’t even know I was making. Labor was getting more intense quickly and I was already more inside my head than I realized. An hour later contractions were coming every 4 minutes and felt like they were double peaking, taking more of my concentration to get through. I asked Keith to text Kat and let her know. She texted back right away and headed over.
Kat arrived first, I believe. We chatted a bit, a sudden lull in my contractions that made me embarrassed for having called her. They picked up again shortly, however, and I settled into the bedroom, the room I had always pictured as most comforting for labor. I leaned against the bed during contractions. Keith brought me a doll of Aria’s – a big-eyed, brightly-colored Powerpuff girl – joking that it could help me. Surprisingly, I became attached to it, a piece of my beloved first daughter and a good memory, asking him not to move it for several contractions.
Mairi and Erin arrived soon, one after the other. They set up and took turns observing me, adopting a hands-off approach that allowed Keith and I to work together with few distractions. Kat became a messenger of sorts, staying with us during the labor and relaying information to them when needed. Poor Erin was nursing a broken foot, the result of a Vespa accident, and stayed in our living room as much as possible, listening and resting until she was needed, propping her foot up while she could. Giving us space, however, did not diminish our midwives level of care in any way. The layout of our small apartment meant they could hear everything, including the heartbeat each time Kat administered the doppler. The nook we used for the birth tub created a nest of sorts for me but allowed Mairi and Erin to stand back and observe and discuss without breaking my concentration at all. I felt at all times guided, supported and cared for while also being given the freedom to test my body’s strength and the privacy to deal with each wave in the way that felt best for me.
As time went on Aria became more of a distraction, hyper and concerned about the goings-on and wanting to come and check on me every few minutes. I needed the freedom to not worry about her and to concentrate on myself and asked someone to make sure she stayed out of the bedroom. Sometime later I saw my mom usher her out the door; neither Keith nor I were sure of where they were going but knew the plan was for my mom to check into the hotel next door, so we were not too concerned. We also figured they would stop by sometime; in the end, though, we would not see her again until the baby was born. Believing we wanted Aria out of the apartment right away, my mom had rushed to get out the door before she was able to get Aria’s things from us. It worked out and they were fine, but I felt badly that my poor planning had left them both high and dry without the bag of special toys and the list of local activities they could busy themselves with that I had prepared.
Keith had been filling up the birth tub since early morning and after contracting a while leaning on the bed focusing on Aria’s Powerpuff girl or draping myself over a birth ball on the bed I was eager to move into it. I pulled my clothes off, keeping only a nursing bra on and earning the comment from Kat that she knew I was in real labor because I wasn’t concerned with my nakedness. If I had been, she would’ve come too early. The tub was a godsend, worth every penny. It was where I would spend most of my labor. When I had to get out to go to the bathroom or move around I was not nearly as comfortable; the toilet was excruciating and other areas and positions just not as relaxing as the tub.
The first time I remember decelerations being an issue was when I had been in the tub for a short time. Kat looked for the baby’s heart rate with the doppler but had trouble finding it because the baby was moving so much. When she did catch it for a moment, it was much slower than normal. She checked in with Mairi and Erin, who had been listening from their vantage point in the next room. Concerned, they came in to listen again; Mairi too had a hard time finding the heartbeat but Erin found it almost immediately. They had me change positions and the heart rate came back up. Throughout my labor this was the pattern, the baby’s heart rate continually fluxuated and they monitored us both closely, changing my positioning and pulling me out of the tub at times to ensure she had the space she needed and didn’t get too warm. And throughout labor, Erin had the magic touch, finding the baby’s heartbeat instantaneously, even as she was doing somersaults in my belly.
My favorite labor position was leaning forward against the side of the tub, my arms and head draped over the top. Kat put a towel over the top so I could lay there comfortably; I held Keith’s hand and during contractions pushed my forehead into his. I didn’t realize how hard I was pushing until the next day, when I had a bruise on my forehead and rugburns on my chin from the towel.
At some point Kat brought me a washcloth scented with lemon aromatherapy drops. Between contractions I breathed in the delicious scent. I am normally very sensitive to scents and fragrances and have lots of allergies but during both pregnancies I’ve been obsessed with citrus. When pregnant I eat lemons by the slice, if not whole, wash my hair with grapefruit shampoo and clean the floors with lemon cleaner. I simply cannot get enough. Kat knew this about me and went out of her way to find the perfectly scented oil for my labor. Keith said later that I had a vice grip on that cloth. Once in my hands, I did not let this go for many hours; somehow breathing this in renewed my strength and resolve and concentration for the next wave to hit. It relaxed and energized me simultaneously.
Towards early evening, Mairi checked me for the first time and found I was at 6cm. “Is that IT?!?” I cried, frustrated. Mairi tried to reassure me, telling me that I was making progress, but there was a nagging at the back of my mind, reminding me that was where I’d gotten stuck during Aria’s birth. I was aware of the continuing decels and kept asking “Is she OK?” I was starting to question whether I could do this. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” I said to Mairi, unable to form a more eloquent thought or statement. Her response to my doubt got me through the rest of labor and the birth, still hours ahead of me: “You don’t have to know whether you can make it through the rest of labor. All you have to know is whether you can make it through the next contraction.” With a renewed sense of strength I refocused. I could make it through one more. Taking them one at a time I continued to make slow progress; I still doubted myself a bit, but knew I had a good team and lots of support and after each contraction I knew I had one more left in me. I could do this.
A little while later, Keith left the room for a few moments to grab a sandwich; when he came back he said he’d talked with Mairi and reminded her that I’d gotten stuck at six with Aria. She said she’d wished she’d remembered, that I was almost a 7, but she didn’t want to get my hopes too high. Hearing that I was pushing past six, even a little, helped my confidence. My body was working, if slowly.