If you are a kid living under my roof, it's a given that you get to eat cake for breakfast on the day after your birthday. On the night before your birthday, you'll find yourself curled up in a queen sized bed with your mom (that's me) and your three siblings, listening to the story of your birth. Beginning Sunday, June 14th, at 8pm e/p, and airing nightly through Friday, June 19th, Discovery Health will be bringing birth stories to the small screen as they celebrate Baby Week. You can catch Twins By Surprise on Sunday, Little Parents, Big Pregnancy on Monday, Births Beyond Belief on Tuesday, and Obese & Pregnant on Wednesday. They've also asked some BlogHer moms to share their own birth stories, so here's a version of the one I tell Sophie every year.
Each of my four children had a very different birth than the others, so the stories I tell at bedtime in February, June, October, and December don't resemble each other at all.
I didn't ever have an underwater birth, and there's no way that doing it unassisted (Freebirthing) is for me, but I still can't wait to see this episode and hear how these totally non-medical births compare to my own minimally medical home delivery:
And, I can only imagine the heat that these women must get for the choice they're making. Most people in my life were not shy about telling me what a big mistake it was for me to have a baby at home on purpose. I didn't come away from my first two labors the poster mom for childbirthing, much less doing it at home without so much as a tylenol. Both my boys were induced; I took any drugs the nurses were pushing, thanked them, and then asked for more; and I begged and demanded an epidural starting when I was about not-even-1 centimeter dilated. Things were different this time, though, with my daughter. I found out that I was pregnant just a couple of months after I had a miscarriage, when my boys were not quite 2 and 4 years old. I thought about having a homebirth, because I was so insprired by a couple of my close friends who'd done it recently. My first two birth experiences left me wanting to be able to talk about the next one the way these women did about theirs. They never had to say the words, "It changed my life," but I heard them whenever they talked about it.
When I was six months pregnant with Sophie, my June baby, her dad and I split up. Far from being the tragedy that lots of my family and friends thought this was for me, it was actually a huge, freeing relief. Her dad was really skeptical of non-hospital deliveries, and we never even discussed the subject. Within a week of becoming a single mom, I had found a midwife, Veronica, and made a Grand Master Plan for my homebirth. Veronica worked with an MD in the wings in case of emergencies, but she had more experience than any of the OBs I ever had. She'd spent time as a traveling midwife in impoverished villages, delivering babies with no doctors on hand. She said that she missed being able to do breech deliveries now that she was back in the US. Also? This woman had a root canal, completely unmedicated. (Typing that gives me the shivers.)
I remembered how great it was to be in a hot shower during labor with my first two, so I started asking around about renting a birthing tub. I didn't want to spend much, and I found a great match with a couple not too far away who rented out Rubbermaid horse troughs just for that purpose. I lost count of how many times I had to say, "No, not straight from the farmyard." (eyeroll) "They're bought and only used for birthing."
Once the tub was set up in my living room, I went to the hardware store for a new garden hose to fill it up with. Everyone recommended using the washing machine hook up to fill the tub: just connect the hose, open up the spout, and soon after you'd be immersed in warm water, laboring to soft music and low lights with no beeping monitors or IVs jammed in your wrist. But. I lived in a two bedroom apartment, and the washing machine was communal and down the hall. No problem! I thought, I'll just use my kitchen sink!
So my due date, June 2nd, arrived and I was still pregnant. I'd just gotten over a horribly wretched case of strep throat that hit me after I'd spent two weeks taking care of my boys who had it one after the other. 105 degree fevers and puking all around! That's motherhood. Well, at least part of it.
On my due date I had a class at my midwife's office. I was sitting there, watching birth videos, when I felt a twinge in my belly. I'd never gone into labor on my own, so even though this was my third child, I wasn't sure if this was "it." After the class, I stopped at the drugstore to stock up on a few last minute items, and I think I was a little bit manic because I was telling anyone who wasn't afraid to come near me that I was, "Going! Home! To Have! A BABY!" I did go home, and was still having some mild contractions, but nothing that really slowed me down. We had plans to meet family at the park that night, so I packed up my boys and we went. Later that night I got the boys to bed, then tried to sleep myself.
At 3:00 am, on the nose, I sat straight up in bed, no longer wondering if I was kinda maybe sorta in labor. It was now abundantly clear to me.
I called my mother. She arrived to find me on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth. She sized up the situation and asked if I'd called Veronica yet. I hadn't, so she got that ball rolling, and also called my friend, K, who was my doula. My mom has had four children herself, so she knew that this was no false alarm.
While we were waiting for Veronica and K, my mom turned to me and said, "So, you wanna fill up this tub?"
"Sure, pantpantpant, that sounds pantpantpant like a great idea!" I said.
There's this thing you've maybe heard of before, called a Dry Run? That would have been a wise thing to add to my birth plan, just under the line that read "Get birthing pool." We somehow got the hose connected to the kitchen sink, and it just barely stretched across the apartment to the trough. My apartment was sort of cute; it looked vaguely like something out of Melrose Place, and was built just after World War II. The original wood floors were under the carpet, and, as it turns out, the original plumbing was behind the walls. There was just not any water pressure. A trickle, no — not even a trickle, a very weak spit of warm water dribbled out of the end of the hose. I had a big contraction and threw up in the little plastic bowl I was holding. My mom looked at me. I looked at her. We both started to laugh, because there was no way that pathetic stream of water could ever begin to do the job, especially now that the contractions had gotten a lot more serious about making themselves known to me.
I dragged myself over to the couch, which was covered in a sheet and some big plastic-backed cotton pads, and my mom got the hose put up.
I must say that even though I was feeling nervous about the whole "no drugs" thing, I did alright. Unfortunately, I did vomit almost every time I had a
contraction and the contractions were right on top of each other.
Still, I noticed the absence of bright lights and beeping machines and
there weren't announcements and people in the hallway. All that was a
huge difference for me. Veronica made a little pallet on the floor so
she could lay down, and talked me through when she heard me
struggling. I went straight for the blowing breathing they teach in Lamaze class. Couldn't help it.
When things got more and more intense, my lower back spasmed on me
(or as a guy I used to work with would say, "It seized up, ahhhhhh!").
I couldn't move, and the grip was furious. I remember laying on my
side, feeling like I'd never be able to leave that position, and how
every time I threw up, my whole body felt like my lower back: one big knot of extraordinarily painful muscle. My
friend K stood on the other side of the arm of the couch at one point,
and when I was having severe pain she took her hand and pressed it, open
palmed, into mine. I pushed back, and immediately had less pain.
Counter-pressure = magic.
When I reached the point of thinking that I'd made a stupid,
horrible mistake doing this at home and felt like I needed to be taken
into surgery to get. this. thing. out. of. me. RIGHT NOW; I said
something to that effect. I think that I was so tired that I just
said, "I can't do this," which was Veronica's cue to get up and see how
I was progressing. She checked me and said I was at 8. And I thought
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME? EIGHT?!" Just then I
had a massive, physics-defying contraction, and she said, "OH wait,
you're at nine. . . no, ten, okay, you're there, BUT DON'T PUSH!"
I pushed. Hard as I could. Don't tell me not to push.
On the first push, Veronica told me that my water hadn't broken yet,
and that she was going to have to take the membrane off Sophie right
after she came out. Then I pushed again and her head came out right when the water
broke, on its own. One more push and she was out. Three pushes. Three. And really, it could have been one if I'd applied
So there was Sophie, totally clean from being in the amniotic fluid, and tiny and perfect.
The time? 6 a.m. Exactly. Three hours from the "this is labor" to babe in arms. I
suppose you might call hers an 'easy' birth, though I don't think those
two words belong in the same paragraph. Since I was on the living
room couch in my tiny apartment, I was near the front door. I
remember that someone opened the door, and there was a cool breeze and
the sun was coming up. Birds were singing, the fridge was humming, but
it was really quiet, too. I remember the damp cool breeze coming into the
house, and how blue and grey and cool everything was. It was nice
after working so hard, like a drink of water.
Veronica weighed Sophie in a blanket attached to a spring scale;
like a fisherman would weigh a fish. She was nearly seven pounds by
that scale, but I think she was really closer to six. She had no
eyedrops and no shots and no bath and no blood tests and no plastic
bracelets and she didn't leave my arms for a good long while.
It's hard to explain without sounding a little like a cornball, but never in my entire life have I ever felt so capable; so loving toward myself and my body; so able to do anything, literally, in the whole wide world.
This is the first time I’ve ever wished I’d done home births. Thanks for posting. I love birth stories!
i’ve read versions of Sophie’s birth story before, and it’s always beautiful. thank you for sharing it.
I’m with St/Vegas710. I cannot imagine feeling so empowered. Bravo, I think you are my idol. And I can totally picture your mom laughing.
What did the boys do when they woke up to their baby sister? 🙂
Amazing story, Jen. Just amazing.
Lisa, I ended up editing out the part about the boys. Their dad picked them up just before Sophie was born, and they came back home around lunchtime. They were smitten! (Too bad some of that has since worn off)
I am always a twinge jealous of those who get such lovely birth stories. With my kidney disorder, I had to be highly monitored and, at various points in time, my life was in question. It really wasn’t great.
I am so glad that people like you not only experience such beauty but share such a thing so that a) people know it can happen and b) I can live through you!
Found your blog from Discovery Health and I love how you write! Wow what a birth… 3 hours, that seems very fortunate… and it definitely must have been nice to not have to deal with hospital noises. Although I have to admit, I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t get to be in the birthing tub, I’ve always wondered what that’s like! :o)
We tried for a home birth, but ended up in hospital when labour didn’t progress. Jealous of your three hours!
That’s exactly the way I felt after I had my third, unintentionally in the car. I felt like Superwoman. Strong. Amazing. Empowered.
What a fabulous story to tell each and every year.
Thanks for sharing Sophie’s birth story. I have four babes too, 8,7,5 and almost 2. The third was born in hospital with my doctor in the hallway and the nurse on the other side of the room. My husband caught her. When I found out I was pregnant with the fourth I couldn’t imagine doing it that way again and also opted to home birth. It did change my life. It made me feel strong and beautiful and capable which is how a woman coming into parenthood should feel instead of the debilitation that seemed to occur in the hospital. Thanks for sharing!
jen, this is absolutely beautiful. I love it.
I am usually a lurker but I have to comment. I love reading homebirth stories! Yours is beautiful and touching. I have had two unassisted childbirths at home and the experience is amazing. Thank you for sharing yours!