Before I was ever pregnant, I¹d heard about the horrors of giving birth: intense pain, extreme danger, and (the most awful part to imagine) the episiotomy ("they have to do it, honey, or you¹ll tear"). Television and movies showed husbands whisking their manic wives to the hospital, making it just in time for delivery. The news covered moms who had birthed in cabs or on the side of the road, and miraculously survived. I¹d seen dramas about children raised by their father or other relatives when their mother succumbed to the throes of childbirth.
When I confirmed my pregnancy with Sam, my first thought (after distress at the timing, since I¹d just been accepted to graduate school) was, "Oh my God, I have to give birth." As horrified as I¹d ever been at the prospect of giving birth, I¹d never considered a cesarean as an option. This was emphatically so now that I had observed my cousin¹s experience with a natural-birth-turned-cesarean, and the problems she¹d had with the surgery. I knew that I would do everything to give birth vaginally, but the prospect still struck fear into my heart. How was it possible that a child would pass out between my legs? How could I face that? And yet it was clear that I must.
This situation got worse the next day when I called my gynecologist. Dr. Safran informed me that he could not serve as my obstetrician; this is not part of his practice. I was speechless. Five years earlier I had been diagnosed with aggressive cervical dysplasia; Dr. Safran was the result of my exhaustive search for a gynecologist who would take me seriously‹answer my questions, listen to my concerns, offer me information and options, and respect my decisions. All the previous doctors had wanted to perform an in-the-office laser surgery, threatening that immediate action was essential to avoid cancer. I learned this procedure, recommended by my insurance company, could easily have left cancerous cells to develop in my body.
Dr. Safran, I knew, was the rare breed of gynecologist who I could trust to treat me as a partner in my healthcare. In his absence, who would I turn to for my pregnancy and birth? He wholeheartedly recommended a partner; I scheduled an appointment with her, reluctant, but knowing I may need an obstetricians care because of my cervical surgery.
Dr. Hibshman was a good doctor. She answered my questions as I hoped she would, and she was very open with me. Still, at our first meeting, I told her I hoped to deliver with a midwife, and I wanted to follow care with her in case I developed cervical incompetence. She agreed.
Around 20 weeks, I started searching for a midwife. At first, I didn¹t think I wanted a homebirth‹but I knew I didn¹t want a hospital birth, after attending Laura¹s birth of Alexandre, so I visited the local birth centers. They smelled of birth, and the nurses were a little cool. Besides, I couldn¹t imagine driving all that way in labor, possibly through rush hour traffic! So I started to consider a home birth.
Researching the safety of homebirth was the simple part. It¹s not easy to find a midwife in Virginia. It might be easier now, with regulations certifying and protecting CPM¹s, but in 2005, it was very difficult. People were reluctant to share the names of their midwives, lest I turn out to be an undercover investigator. My doula shared a couple of names with me, and those led me to other sources. Tammi was highly recommended but booked; she finally referred me to Francesca. As soon as I met her, I know I¹d found our midwife. I stopped looking for friendly hospitals and obstetricians, and I fully relinquished the idea of a birth center. I was going to birth at home.
Sam¹s Birth Story (written after his birth)
Sam really wanted to be with us early. He started trying to come into the world on a very lazy Saturday afternoon in early December. Tony and I lay on the couch for four hours, watching movies and waiting for the cramps (contractions) to stop. They¹d been coming for the previous week, too, but never for so long.
Finally, we called our doula, Heidi. Shortly afterwards, the contractions stopped. I think it was because I was scared to have Sam come so early: he¹d have to be in a hospital, and we didn¹t want that.
When we saw Francesca, our midwife, on Monday, she found that the contractions had been doing some work. I was almost completely effaced, and Sam¹s head was a station of zero: fully engaged and ready to come. Francesca gave us wild yam root to take three times a day, plus any time the contractions started, to keep labor from starting too soon.
The wild yam root worked really well. Sam didn¹t start trying to come again until over a week after we stopped taking it. The next time I had contractions, they were much more mild. I hardly noticed them‹except that they came with some leaking amniotic fluid.
I started noticing the leak on December 30, in the afternoon, as I went from ordering diapers online to joining Tony on the couch. It was very little fluid, and it only happened a few more times that day. I didn¹t think it was pee, but it could have been, so I didn¹t call Heidi or Francesca. But on New Year¹s Eve, it happened again and I was sure. Francesca said she¹d come on New Year¹s day to see how we were doing.
When she came, Francesca gave me some tinctures to take to try and strengthen the contractions: "B&B" and Cottonroot bark. She had me take Echinacea and 500mg of vitamin C every two hours to fight infection (prevent it from starting). I also started drinking lots of red raspberry leaf tea, which seemed to cause contractions. Francesca stayed overnight with a friend in Manassas, and we waited for labor to begin. I too my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, and listened for Sam¹s pulse, every hour. We had some contractions starting at night, and at 5am they woke me. They were about ten minutes apart‹but then they stopped.
The next morning, Francesca drove back home. Tony and I went to look for more of the tinctures, but we couldn¹t find them. We came home with some movies to watch. I was tired and disappointed, and frustrated because the tinctures didn¹t seem to be working any more.
After we watched a movie, I asked Tony for a back rub. It really helped. Then, climbing out on a limb, I asked Tony to find out if there were any accupressure points good for starting labor. After all, accupuncture, chiropractic, and moxibustion had convinced Sam to turn from posterior to anterior, and later from right to left. Maybe they could help now.
Tony searched online, and he came back with two points to try. He did them each once, and I thought I could feel some contractions start, but it was very weak and I wasn¹t convinced. Tony tried the one between my thumb and first finger on my left hand again, then started to leave the room. All of a sudden, my waters broke in a gush over the bed. I laughed hysterically for twenty minutes! I took a shower, while Tony changed the sheets and called Francesca and Heidi.
While I was in the shower, the contractions started. They were very strong and frequent, all of a sudden. So I called Francesca to let her know. She was nearly at a her friend¹s house again, so she said to call back when the contractions became regular.
Tony and I tried to go downstairs to watch a movie. (This became the first great joke of parenthood: it took us two weeks to finish watching I Heart Huckabees.) I sat on a chux pad to protect the couch, but I was leaking so much now, in gushes, that it became clear that wasn¹t going to work. Also, as Tony tried to start the movie, I kept calling out contractions so frequently that we gave up. They were too distracting for me to focus on entertainment. They were coming every two to three minutes, regularly. So we decided to call and tell Francesca and Heidi to come. My water had broken at 9:15pm. Tony started recording strong contractions, 45 seconds and longer, two to three minutes apart, at 9:50pm. I took a second shower, and decided to forgo underwear this time when I got out.
Francesca got to us a little after eleven. Tony was filling the baby pool up in the living room, and trying to get a spare bedroom set up for Francesca, Aimee (her assistant), and Heidi, but it was hard for him‹my contractions were beginning to be hard for me to bear. I found it too hard to lay down. Contractions seemed to be worse that way. So we got the pool ready.
When Francesca came, I know I made a joke or two about how we learn everything by Google (first, it was cleaning a fish; now it was starting labor). Not long after, as I was sitting in the pool, I started to feel cold and the contractions started getting even stronger. I wanted to try to lay down again, and to get the pool warmer. I went upstairs, and Tony came shortly after. The contractions started to feel too strong for me to relax though, and I felt frustrated and unsure how to deal with them. Soon afterwards, Heidi came. I had my glasses off by now, so I didn¹t know what time it was. She and Tony helped me get into a rhythm‹Tony would grasp my hands as each contraction started, and I¹d let go as it faded. I started to concentrate on the time between contractions, and expect a certain level of intensity from the contractions that helped.
When I went to the pool the second time, I spent a long time there. It was warm and relaxing. Aimee came soon after. I hardly noticed her coming. She and Francesca were getting things ready. I think I¹d already started to push, or maybe it was shortly later. It was around 1am when I knew I must be pushing. I remember I was lying down at the time, upstairs, and I wasn¹t sure if I was pushing or fighting the contractions. I suspected I was pushing, but it seemed too early. I asked whoever was in the room with me, and she said, "Does it feel good?" I said, yes. She said, "Then go with it."
At one point, as I sat in the pool, Heidi suggested that I open my legs during the next contraction. That felt impossible, because of the intensity I was feeling in my legs, but I tried. Things seemed to start going faster. Shortly after, when I was coming back from the bathroom, I decided to try doing steps. Heidi suggested I do them two at a time. That made the most intense contraction I¹d felt yet, and I ran to the bathroom for support from the seat. I tried that a few more times, then went back to squat in the pool.
I started pushing more intensely in the pool, now, excited that things were moving along. Francesca checked the baby¹s pulse, and noted, when I asked, that the contractions were indeed starting to slow down. So, I got up to walk with Tony in laps through the dining room and kitchen. With almost each lap, I¹d have a strong contraction. I squatted to push, leaning on the birthing ball. After the third push, I started to think the head was coming. It felt like I had a third butt cheek, at the base between the other two. Francesca suggested that on the next push, I check if I could feel the baby¹s head. I could! So I showed Tony, too.
The contractions were coming less frequently and less intensely, and I could tell. I became determined to get this little baby out! So, on the next push, I got most of his head out. I could have kept pushing, but I was worried about tearing. When I felt the burning of his head emerging, I asked Francesca if it was okay to wait for the next contraction. (I had this idea that it should all happen at once.) She said okay, and so I did. But, because I couldn¹t walk now, the next contraction seemed to take forever. It was hard waiting so long with him almost there, and I started to worry that he was alright. When the next contraction came, even though it was very weak, I pushed as hard as I could. I pushed long after the contraction had stopped. All of a sudden he was out of me, and Francesca said, "Pick up your baby." What strange words to hear! So I did.
I was exhausted and bewildered. I leaned back into Tony, who kneeled behind me, and I held Sam to my breast. I know I asked Tony, "So, do you think he looks like a Sam?," and Tony said yes. He was born at 6:14 am; 9 hours of labor.
Sam screamed for at least half an hour. Aimee and Francesca kept giving us fresh warm blankets for him. They put his hat on him, after giving him some Rescue Remedy for his head. He¹d taken so long to come out because his head was at a sideways angle, and this meant his head was a little swollen on one corner. As soon as he came out, though, Sam was healthy, strong, and screaming. Half an hour later, he latched on and nursed for almost an hour. He smelled like cherries. He was beautiful from the start.
Aimee took a few pictures of us together. The sun was just barely up, and we had the curtains drawn. The room was lit by two candles and our little four-foot Christmas tree.
My contractions never picked up again. I had one, and I pushed the placenta halfway out but that was it. I was also very faint‹I had a hard time standing. So, about 8:30, we called an ambulance to take me to the hospital. The doctor there gave me some Pitocin to start the contractions (it is worse than natural contractions), and I pushed the placenta out. He stitched the very small tear I had inside my vagina. Tony held Sam during this. Then, I held him and nursed him while we waited for a room. We chose to stay the night, because I was still feeling faint and tired. I held Sam in my arms all night. I barely slept, but I kept smelling his wonderful cherry smell. I loved that smell. I loved my beautiful baby Sam.