On Wednesday, December 17th our baby was already 12 days “late” from the expected due date of December 5, 2014. I had been getting advice from everyone for the past week or so on common tricks, urban myths and old wives tales for ways to bring on labor. Trust me, after being pregnant for over 10 months, I was more than willing to try all the things, no matter how outlandish. So I ate pineapple, took evening primrose oil, drank red raspberry leaf tea, ate spicy food, walked and walked and walked, bounced on an exercise ball, got acupuncture, got a prenatal massage, got a chiropractic adjustment, got frisky, did acupressure, got a pedicure, tried to meditate and visualize baby coming, sat out under the full moon. Then finally, I got fed up and stopped doing all the things. I was just so over it. So I went about my life, enjoying the fact that both my doting husband and dedicated mother had taken weeks off work to be home with me and the baby. Well, since we had no baby yet we all just acted like it was a vacation. And it was. We went out to movies, I took long, lazy naps, I got coffee with friends and baked Christmas cookies with family. It was actually pretty wonderful.
Thinking back, I realize now that Tori was trying to teach, or perhaps, reteach me an important lesson: Then, and forever more in my life as a parent, I must surrender control. When Tim and I were trying to get pregnant we were given the opportunity to learn this lesson and had our first taste of feeling frustrated and powerless in this process and I think that by being late, Tori was coming in as the clean-up hitter (to use Sampa’s baseball metaphor) to bring this lesson home. She was reminding us that there will be so many aspects of childrearing, including birth and labor, that require us to let go, realize that we are powerless and have faith that all will be well in its own time.
Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon when Rebekah, our midwife, came to visit she and I agreed that it was time to take more aggressive steps to get this baby born! Although I had finally accepted that it was out of my control, Rebekah had a few tried and true midwifery tools that she knew would speed up a labor that was already in motion. We wanted to jump start my labor since I had been having contractions for weeks, but not ones that were steady, rhythmic or increasing in intensity or frequency. She and I were both well aware that risk factors increase after 42 weeks so we were eager to get things moving. The good thing was I never felt like I was under the pressure of a ticking clock to have my baby before 42 weeks or else go to the hospital and be induced medically, because Rebekah partners with an OB/GYN who attends homebirths after 42 weeks and would have attended mine, with Rebekah alongside her, if there were no other risk factors present. Regardless, we still thought it would be good to encourage this stubborn little baby to come out and greet the world sooner rather than later. So, Rebekah checked me to see how far along I was. This was the first time I had checked for dilation and effacement in my pregnancy. Up until this point I had not felt it was necessary to introduce the possibility of infection by getting a vaginal exam just to know numbers. Even knowing specifics about dilatation and effacement still wouldn’t tell me when I was going to meet my baby, as people can be very dilated for weeks without going into labor (someone really should invent in-utero e-mail so babies can let you know their birthdays in advance!).
When Rebekah checked me, I was excited to find out that I was already over 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced. This was pretty amazing considering I hadn’t been having steady contractions prior to this point. This let Rebekah know that my body was getting ready to go into labor but just needed a little push in the right direction. So she said she wanted to do a membrane sweep. I was ready to do whatever it took to meet my baby ASAP so I said yes. After the membrane sweep, I started feeling regular contractions all evening. I played a game of Settlers of Catan with Tim and mom and Stephan (and won!) while feeling waves of contractions that made me catch my breath. That night, I knew I would need energy for labor so I took a benedryl and drank a glass of wine to help me sleep through the contractions. From the way I was feeling, I expected that that night I would be having my baby.
I woke up in the morning, still pregnant and then no longer contracting. I felt a little down, but the plan that we had developed with Rebekah was that I would take castor oil in the morning if I wasn’t having real, rhythmic early or active labor contractions. So, after breakfast had digested, I drank a not-so-delicious cocktail of OJ and a shot of castor oil. Less then an hour later, things kicked into gear. I wasn’t violently sick like many of the people who I know who have also drank castor oil. Instead, around noon, I started having real labor contractions, every 3-5 minutes. They were painful and I got the chance to put into use the birth class meditations, and labor positions that Tim and I had practiced. I remember thinking how I was bummed that I was in labor in the daytime because in my imagination I had always pictured myself giving birth in the cozy darkness of my home lit by Christmas lights. Around the same time, my dad texted and called. Coincidentally, he was in Sacramento for work and wanted to know if he could stop by. I was in too much discomfort to talk to him so I had Tim call him back and tell him that the baby was on the way and that I was not feeling up for visitors. All I wanted to do was lie down on the couch and get some rest but I couldn’t seem to get comfortable lying down. So I resigned myself to laboring standing up, bouncing on the exercise ball and leaning over on the couch. After a few hours of this I asked Tim to call my mom to come over. I was so grateful to have her coaching and support during labor. She helped put counter-pressure on my back, gave me encouraging words and supported Tim as he supported me.
After about four hours of laboring with contractions every 3-5 minutes I called Rebekah to check in. She listened to the sound of my voice and my breathing during contractions and she suggested that I take a walk around the block. I could not imagine going outside in the condition I was in but she insisted. She told me it was a beautiful day out (it was, sunny but chilly) and that that sun and fresh air would do me good, even if my walk was only as short as to my mom’s house around the corner. So, Tim put Toast on her leash and I put a sweater on (I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t change out of my pajama pants) and off we went for a short walk. As we slowly walked around the block, I had to pause frequently when the contractions hit me. They seemed stronger than at home but did not increase in frequency. Rebekah had told me over the phone to call her if anything changed, but I did not know what to expect in terms of a “change”. When we got home, Tim took the dog out to the backyard to play fetch (since the walk had not been long enough for her). It seemed that as soon as he left me alone, the contractions started coming on faster. I doubled over on my knees, leaning on the couch and tried to breath through the wave of contractions, but I couldn’t seem to get a handle on them. They seemed to be coming one right after the other. When Tim came back inside he noticed immediately that something had changed. “You should call Rebekah,” he said. I could barely catch my breath enough to say back, “You call her.” And so, around 4pm, Tim called the midwife to come. It was time to have the baby.
The next approximately three hours were a blur to me. I remember at one point I came out of the bathroom and Rebekah was there and she listened to me labor through 5 contractions. After she listened to my, and the baby’s heart rate and determined that I was far enough into labor that she would be staying at my house because the baby was coming soon, I asked to take a shower. She asked if I wanted her to set up the birth tub, but I said no. I just wanted a shower and I think I had a sense that things were going to move fast. In my subconscious I thought there would not be enough time to set up the tub. Plus, I didn’t want anyone paying attention to setting up a whole new environment for me to labor in. I just wanted to have the baby!
I think being in the shower was my favorite part of labor. Tim brought the exercise ball into the shower and I sat on it for a while, alternating between bouncing and standing under the hot water. I remember feeling like I could tolerate the extreme discomfort of the contractions better while I was in the heat and steam. At one point my mom came and checked on me. I could still talk at this point and told her that I thought it was cool that my water hadn’t broken yet. It was good luck, I said, to have a baby born in the caul and I’d heard it makes labor easier. Right after I said that, I heard and felt something pop and thought I felt a gush of fluid. I wasn’t sure, since I was all wet already, but I was pretty sure that’s when my water broke.
Again I came to a turning point in the labor. At this point I sort of got lost inside myself. I don’t remember much after I got out of the shower other than I spent some time laboring on the toilet and holding on to Tim’s neck and squatting, bearing down. Anne Marie, an OB/GYN and Rebekah’s back-up midwife arrived to assist in the final stage. I vaguely remember Rebekah checking me and telling me that I was fully dilated except for an anterior lip. She pushed it back and then told me I could start pushing whenever I felt like it, which turned out to be right away.
I started pushing a little after 7:00 PM. When I had learned about the pushing stage of labor in my natural childbirth class I had been taught that lying on one’s back is not the most efficient way to push (although it is the most common in hospitals) so I had envisioned myself in a squatting or kneeling position. But in the moment, the place that felt the best for me to push was on my back, in my bed, so that is where I labored in the final 45 minutes.
Pushing was the worst. I felt out of control and remember repeating, “I don’t like this” over and over. But Rebekah got me to focus on her and asked me to ground and center myself and send all my energy downward. Listening to her and my mom’s voice and seeing Tim’s reassuring face was the strength I needed to push the baby out but it still felt like it took forever. Once, between pushes I was so frustrated, because I had no idea how much progress I had made, I whined to Rebekah that my baby was a “jerk” for making me wait so long to go into labor and then making me do all this work to push the baby out. I think that was when she told me to reach down and feel how close to being out the baby was. Feeling the baby’s fuzzy head was the motivation I needed to put all my effort into the last few pushes to get her head out.
After the head was out, her body did not immediately and easily follow. Rebekah and Anne-Marie struggled to move Tori’s hand out of the way because she was holding her hand up to her chin and that was blocking the rest of her body from coming out. I didn’t have any idea that they were struggling with a difficult positioning because I was totally absorbed with staring at my baby’s little face for the first time. Two minutes after her head was out, they were able to scoot her hand back and after a few more pushes Tori Rose was born. Because of the finagling the midwives had had to do to get her out, Tim didn’t catch her on his own, as we had planned, but Rebekah did have him assist her in guiding our baby on the final slide out into the world and onto my chest.
When I had her in my arms I could see she was perfectly gooey but a little less pink than expected. She did not cry right away. She was sort of gurgling a little and struggling to take the first big gulp of air so Rebekah leaned over and gave her mouth to mouth. With that little assistance from Rebekah, Tori was able to push all the fluid out of her lungs and cried a healthy cry. It was only then, when I knew she was breathing and safe that I realized we still didn’t know the gender. Everyone else had been preoccupied with delivering her safely and stabilizing her that no one checked or announced her gender so I reached down to feel whether she was a boy or a girl. I was surprised to find she was a girl because I had had dreams and intuition that she was a boy throughout my pregnancy.
The next few hours were a warm, fuzzy blur of relief, joy and exhaustion. I hadn’t torn or needed any stiches so the midwives and my mom left Tim and I alone with the baby for almost 40 minutes before I started having contractions again to deliver the placenta. In that time we just marveled at the little life we had created. After the placenta was delivered, the cord had stopped pulsing and Tim cut her away from me. He took off his shirt and held her for the first time, skin-to-skin. Then, while Anne Marie helped me to the bathroom, Tim helped Rebekah assess the baby and do the basic newborn tests, all of which she passed beautifully. Once I was tucked back in bed, Tim weighed her (8 pounds even) and Stephan brought us food and came to meet his niece. Rebekah stayed long enough to make sure that Tori could latch on and was nursing and then left, saying she would be back in 24 hours to check on us. Mom made Tim and I the post-partum reward that I had dreamed of (a top-shelf margarita). And then left us alone with the baby.
By 11:00 PM Tim and I were cozied up and sleeping in the warmth and safety of our own bed, with our beautiful, healthy baby daughter in our arms. I was so grateful to have had the baby I had yearned for in the homebirth that I had dreamed of.