I never considered birthing in a hospital, though I did check out a midwife-only birthing center about 45 minutes away. It was pretty nice, but it wasn't home, and I didn't fancy giving birth and then hopping in my car a few hours later, even if it had been closer. I chose a homebirth midwife, S, who was going to deliver my best friend's second baby and had been with her while she labored with her first (until she ended up transferring to the hospital for a c-section because her baby was well and truly stuck). I use her initial because homebirth midwives are illegal in NC: a woman may birth wherever she wants, but a midwife may not attend her at home. S and her compatriots take on a legal risk to do what they are called to do and I am beyond grateful to these women for this reason.
We saw S once a month at her house starting at 7 weeks, three weeks after my positive pregnancy test. We'd have a chat about how I was feeling, what was going on with us (James made it to every appointment), what I was eating, and she'd answer any questions. I rarely had any--for one thing I'd already read quite a lot about pregnancy and birth, and for another I really wasn't worried about anything. I felt great, I was as healthy as I've ever been in my life, and I was confident that my body knew what it was doing. We loved our visits! S and her assistants were kind and funny, and after each visit James and I would eat Cuban food (and drink Cuban coffee) at a nearby restaurant.
In my 36th week I had the first of what I'd call my "prelabor episodes." I woke up in the middle of the night having intense, constant contractions. These were nothing like the painless Braxton Hicks I'd grown used to! It was quite painful, wrapped around from my lower back to my lower belly, and did not let up. The contractions weren't timeable since there was no break whatsoever, and because of this I could be reasonably sure it wasn't labor. I ran a very hot bath, had a glass of wine, and after a half an hour or so it stopped. I was glad to experience this because I felt like I had an idea of what was to come. This happened again another time, I think around 38 weeks, but after that I had no "action" for a few more weeks.
My due date was Tuesday 3/20, which was also my 7th wedding anniversary. Baby decided to let us keep that date just for ourselves. Even "overdue" I kept to my regular schedule of going to the gym and yoga classes. On Sunday morning I went to my last prenatal yoga class. By that Sunday evening I was having regular, timeable Braxton Hicks, 10 minutes apart. James and I ate at a Brazilian steakhouse. That night I slept an hour or two and then I just couldn't sleep at all the rest of the night. The contractions were annoying me, I was uncomfortable, my hips hurt, I kept having to get up to pee, etc. Monday I went to my regular chiropractor appointment. I was still having very regular Braxton Hicks. That night I couldn't sleep at all AGAIN. Not good. Nothing helped so I stayed up all night for the second night in a row.
Tuesday 3/27 was my 41-week midwife appointment. I told her about my 10-minute apart, timetable BH and she asked if I wanted her to check my cervix. I said yes and had my first internal exam-4 cm, with some bloody show as she removed her hand! We were all very happy & excited to see this, and S said she would be seeing me at my house soon. Her assistant, J, took my blood pressure. This was the first time they'd taken it lying down. It was still within normal, but much higher than my usual 90/60. I explained that I get really panicky lying on my back, which had started sometime in my second trimester. When I sat up, J took my BP again and said "I can feel your pulse dropping!" It was just funny to me bc in yoga I was never able to relax at all while reclined even in a very upright and supported position. Sometimes I'd try to get through it but mostly I'd give up and lie on my side. Here was measurable proof of my discomfort.
Anyway! Off we went to Cuban for lunch, with me dilated to 4 cm and my 10-minute contractions continuing and finally intensifying (a cervical check can "excite" things). After we got home, James went for a final pre-baby long jog with his friend Rob. I followed S's orders not to sit around and wait for the baby, and I went out as well. First I went to get a pedicure, mostly because I wanted to use the massage chair. After about one minute the woman in charge freaked out about me being pregnant and made me turn it off. I was very annoyed but I didn't feel up to an argument about it. After that I went to Babies R Us to pick up a few more sleeper gowns and ogle already-born babies. I drove through Cookout and got my beloved fresh peanut butter milkshake, which I'd discovered sometime in my third trimester. Then I went to the mall to get a chair massage. After that I was starting to get quite uncomfortable and I was out of errands, so I went home. By 8 pm my contractions were becoming 8 minutes apart, and sometimes 5 or 6 apart. And they hurt. It was real labor! I contracted at 5 minutes apart all Tuesday night. I spent most of the night in the bath, trying to get some rest between contractions. At one point I was able to sleep for about an hour having made a crazy tower of pillows on the bed. This was the first whole hour I'd slept since Sunday night. Not an ideal way to start out laboring.
Tuesday night was very exhausting. Sometimes my contractions were 30 seconds long and 5 minutes apart, sometimes they were 2 minutes long and 4 minutes apart. Mostly they were a minute long every 5 minutes. I would lie down in the tub as best I could between contractions, and then stand or kneel when I felt a contraction coming on because I couldn't take them lying down in any fashion. Some people feel contractions as "rushes of energy." If I was lying down (or, heaven forbid, sitting), I'd describe them as "being stabbed in the cervix by knives." Standing/kneeling made them feel more like "my lower half of my body trying to rip free of the upper half of my body," which I found preferable to stabbing.
Basically, this pattern (5min/1min) continued all day Wednesday as well. I spent plenty of time in the bath. I tried to take a walk down my driveway (I live on a gravel drive in the woods) but I just couldn't hang. I had some crazy hot flashes while I was walking and it didn't feel helpful at all. I wasn't interested in eating at any point during the labor process, but I drank tons of water and I did manage to get some food down in little bits at a time to keep up my energy: a quarter of a Larabar each time I went in the kitchen, a bite or two of banana, chicken soup (I'd mostly drink the broth, but I also chewed up the meat/veggies and spit them out. Seems weird now, but very logical at the time.).
I don't really remember what James did all day. I wanted to be left alone mostly.
Eventually, the sun went down and, well, things continued at the exact same pace. I have to be honest that it was brutal. The last time I'd strung together more than an hour or so of sleep was Saturday night. Now it was Wednesday night, and I'd been contracting for at least a minute out of every 5 for 24 hours. I lived in my bathtub, endlessly filling and refilling it, taking times in between to wander around my bedroom moving however felt good, holding onto furniture and breathing through contractions, and trying to find ANY resting position that I could stay in during a contraction. I never did, I remained upright through every single contraction. I had a contraction timer going on my phone, and it was my lifeline. I'd watch the timer go and know "this will end."
My midwife came to stay at our house once her kids were in bed on Wednesday night (no rush since things weren't picking up). She asked if I'd like to be checked, and I was almost afraid to know. What if I'd barely progressed? How much longer could I do this? But I said yes, because NOT knowing was worse. I was 8 cm at 11:30 Wednesday night. S & James watched some Netflix and I continued to get in and out of my bath, pace my room, and occasionally go downstairs for a meager snack and a change of scenery.
There was one point early Thursday morning where I'd been wandering around my room for what truly felt like an eternity, my husband sound sleep in bed right there, and I was been having contractions that were 2 minutes or longer, still 5 apart. I had been desperately trying to find a position I could stay in for more than 3 minutes at a time (since I felt I had to be upright for each contraction), and failing over and over at finding anything bearable. I stood, contracting, holding onto James' dresser for support, and thought "I'm going to collapse from exhaustion right here and right now. My legs can't hold me anymore." As I felt my knees buckle and imagined myself lying on the ground, I pictured this ordeal just being OVER. I would go to the hospital and it would all be over somehow. And then I got SO MAD at myself. "You will not collapse. You will not go to the hospital. If you do, you will probably have a c-section and you will be so upset and angry that you have gone through all of this for DAYS now just to do what you never wanted to do. You will NOT collapse." I didn't collapse. I held myself up and I got my legs back strong underneath me. I climbed back in the bath and I hauled myself upright every 3 or 4 minutes and I persevered. Around 1 or 2 am my contractions got closer together, and I then continued to haul my recalcitrant body to standing or kneeling every 2 or 3 minutes. Writing this out, I don't even understand how I possibly KEPT doing that after all those hours and days of no sleep, but I did.
At 5:30 ish I decided I wanted to get into the birth tub, and we set about getting it set up. There was a comedy of errors and the tub ended up in our smallest room, wedged partly in the door (which therefore couldn't close). OH WELL. It's actually a quite nice room with some lovely wall hangings and a couch, so in the end I'm glad it was that one. The tub wasn't full until at least an hour later, due to the issues we had, and also my too-small water heater (which had been quite a pain with my multitude of baths over the past few days as well), but once I was in it I was in heaven. Unlike in my tub, I could float through contractions. I could doze between them. I'm actually crying right now, thinking of the immense relief it was to be done heaving my body around, and to catch a few minutes of rest.
It was pitch black when we set up the tub and I got into it, but the sun was up at 7:30a when S's assistant J showed up. Boy, was she surprised when she walked up to my door and could look in the window and see me stark naked in the birth tub from outside my house! Oops! We hadn't realized it was that way when we'd set up the tub (since it was so dark out) and I was way, way beyond caring. I live in the woods anyway. S went to go check on a mama who had delivered a few days prior, and J hung out in my living room while I enjoyed floating and resting. I was changing positions when I somehow kicked open the plug in the air-filled bottom of my birth tub. You better believe J came at a run when she heard me yelp "Help!!" She found a wrench and I managed to get it closed but it kept popping open and we had to just call the inflated bottom a loss (the tub integrity wasn't compromised), but she says it's an image she'll never forget, a laboring woman using a wrench under water between contractions! If only I'd remembered where my goggles were!
Anyway there was no more excitement until 9:30 when I felt a pop out of no where. J came, shined a flashlight in the water, and confirmed that my water had broken. "You see that white stuff? That's vernix." Whoa. That was one of the most amazing moments of my life. Vernix is the coating on a baby's skin in the womb. I was now touching something that had touched my baby. I felt like we were now both in the room, as opposed to the baby being entirely ensconced inside of me.
During a contraction not too long after that, J came running in "Are you pushing? It sounds like you're pushing." "Umm... I didn't mean to?" I replied. She laughed and said it was fine and good. S came back not too long afterwards. James woke up, and came downstairs to me making much different noises than he'd been hearing when he went to nap earlier. He came in the room looking like he'd seen a ghost and I said "you look nervous. I can't look at you like that. Go away and come back when you feel better." It cracks me up now, but I was dead serious at the time. I wasn't interested in dealing with that kind of energy. I'm not really sure what he did when he left or if a midwife talked to him, but he came in a few minutes later looking a lot better.
I hung on for the ride and let my body do all the pushing for me for a long time. I was mostly kneeling or doing half squats (on one foot and one knee). Since there was no more air in the floor of the birth tub, I was kneeling basically on the wooden floor (we did put a towel under my knees) and I ended up with huge knots on the tops of my feet! They didn't bother me at that time, so it took some contemplating later that day to figure out where they came from! S set up a mirror on the floor of the tub so I could see the baby's head. There was a point where I had several strong pushing contractions and just didn't seem to be progressing. I asked why, and S said "you're holding back." "No I'm not!!!" I whined, and we all laughed because it was just so childish. We talked about how I was very, very loud, and should try to be quieter and direct the "loud" energy downward instead. Unfortunately, I was not making those noises on my own. Just like the pushing, it was my body doing its own thing. I would not, could not quiet down! I moved into a full squat and baby was still staying in basically the same place, and I began to get worried because I felt like I was hurting the baby's head where my perineum was not releasing around the presenting part. My midwife had warned me that equestrians have extremely tight perineums, and she was right. In a panic I said to her "get it out!!!" It's so comical in hindsight, what on earth did I expect her to do?? She started to move to do something, God knows what, and I had another contraction and instead of just letting my body push on its own, I pushed too. As I took a deep breath after that push, S said "pick up your baby!" WHAT. She realized immediately that I'd had no idea the baby was out and she quickly reached down and handed the baby to me. James and I just kept saying "hi baby!" It was such a shock and so sudden... There was no time where just the head was out, and then the body following. Once my perineum released (yes, tore), the whole baby escaped. The baby seemed to smile at us for a moment and then began to cry. It was a few minutes of us marveling over him before I said "what kind of baby are you!?" and checked the sex. It's a boy! Roland Frank. He was born around 11:30am, almost 48 hours to the minute from when I'd had the cervical check on Tuesday.
I was absolutely elated but also shell-shocked after working so hard for so long. Someone had made me an English muffin while I was still pushing and gave me a bite of it... Roland tracked the movement with his whole head. It was astounding to see how much awareness he had. His cord was pretty short so I couldn't even get him up high enough to kiss him yet! But soon enough the cord was cut, the placenta delivered, and we climbed out of the birth tub onto the couch. James held him for a few minutes while the midwives helped me get out and into a robe and settled on some chux pads on the couch. I took Roland back and got him latched on pretty easily. At that moment, I realized I had to pee REALLY badly. I asked what on earth I should do!? I didn't want to break his first latch, but I couldn't wait. The midwives said to just go where I was sitting since I was on all those pads anyway. I really didn't have a choice! So they were all just standing around and I was like... "Ok? So everyone leave now?" Hahaha even after pushing a baby out in front of these 3, I could NOT pee in front of people. So yeah, the first time I breastfed my baby is also the first (and only) time I peed on my couch.
I felt great, despite having a 2nd degree tear, but still the midwives insisted on wheeling me in a computer chair down the hall to the bottom of my stairs. We went up to my room and I took a glorious shower under their watchful eyes, and they helped me dry off and get in some pajamas and hop in bed. They did all of Roland's statistics right there on our own bed. He was 20.5" 8.5 lbs with a 14" head. I couldn't believe how strong his neck was, which I was very grateful for. He was just so solid already! J made some scrambled eggs for me & James, and then off the midwives went!
And then... We cuddled up and slept. Finally.