On our due date, April 6th, I should have known that new hormones were at work when I spent the day in a sudden depressed state. I huffed and puffed, sure I would be pregnant forever, mad at myself for my loss of patience, and discouraged in general. I had been having pre-labor signs for weeks but they would repeatedly fizzle out by bedtime. The practice contractions I had felt up to this point ranged from period-like cramps to what I referred to as “Pain Pants” or “Pain Belt” which felt like a tightening combined with an almost nerve/radiating type pain. The day lingered on and eventually we went to bed with absolutely no idea that I was about to go into labor.
I woke up around 1:00 a.m. on Saturday April 7th, with my normal “I have to pee and I am also having a really painful Braxton hicks contraction” routine. I hobbled to the bathroom and when I got back I thought I would sit up in bed while the fake-out contractions went away. It was then that the baby felt like she was doing a complete somersault and my initial reaction was that she was going into a breech position. I freaked out and basically jumped out of bed to get her to stop. The adrenaline rushed through me—my heart was pounding, my mind racing. I decided to go downstairs for a bit to try and make myself tired again.
By 1:30 a.m. I realized that I was having contractions every five minutes. I started timing them on my phone app to make sure, and did the “Is this false labor?” list of things like eating, drinking, showering and walking. There was nothing stopping them and they did seem to be getting a lot stronger. I mostly sat in my glider, dozed off occasionally, and rode it out.
At 5:15 a.m. I went to the bathroom and had my bloody show. I was so excited because I knew that was my sure sign. I did a little dance and told my cats “This is it guys!” I waited a whole 15 minutes until I couldn’t stand it anymore and then I woke up Chris.
Right away we were in a flurry to finish up all the cleaning, set up the birthing tub and get everything just right. I continued to ride out the contractions, snack, drink fluids and help out occasionally. Around 1 p.m. our midwife told us over the phone to have a glass of wine and try to take a good nap because she thought it would be a while. Amazingly my body obliged and only had one contraction during my hour-long nap. Oddly, I think it was saving up all the contractions it had missed for one GIANT/LONG/INSANE/TRANSITION style contraction that lasted for a good two and a half minutes and brought me to shaking knees as the world caved in around me. We are pretty sure that in a single contraction I dilated many centimeters and popped right into advanced stage labor.
At that point contractions started coming every three minutes, and were lasting for one minute, but our midwife thought for sure that we were timing them wrong and had us use a watch instead of an app. Eventually, around 3 p.m., she heard me vocalizing through a contraction while she was on the phone with Chris and knew that it was time to head over. She was about 45 minutes away. By the time she got to our house I was 8 centimeters dilated! She phoned her assistant and the doula right away and told them to get over to our place quick.
Chris and I were so excited that we had progressed so far by ourselves with very little fuss. We got all the way to 8 centimeters eating lunch on the deck, laughing, and cleaning. I couldn’t believe it! I mean, yeah, sure, the contractions hurt, but you could jump on and ride the pain wave as long as you caught it right and then it was over until the next wave. It was manageable! At that point, we thought for sure that we were so close to having a baby in our arms.
I jumped in the birthing pool which slowed down the contractions, made them less painful and was such a nice break. Before I knew it, everyone was there and I was getting the urge to push.
It took an hour or so to really figure out the pushing thing. I had forgotten most of what I had learned, like tucking in my chin and how many breaths to take. When I finally started moving the baby down it didn’t take long before the midwife noticed that something wasn’t working right. No matter how hard I pushed, how long I pushed, or what position I was in, the baby was not moving past my pelvic bone.
We tried every position in the book. They had me marching up and down the stairs before a push, getting on all fours, on a birthing stool, on the toilet, in a squat, standing, and laying on my back.
Surprisingly, the position that is supposedly the worst for natural child birth (laying on the back) felt like the best to me. I could really feel progress with every push. Unfortunately when they checked the baby’s heart rate with the Doppler in this position, they did not like what they heard. Suddenly things got very serious. The midwife let us know that the baby seemed distressed and we still were not making a lot of progress. If we didn’t get the baby out very soon, we were making a trip to the emergency room.
This, of course, was a really big friggin’ deal. We worked so hard to stay out of the hospital, prepared so much in order to have the birth we wanted—at home—and then here we were possibly looking at a ride in an ambulance. Chris and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this. Let’s get this baby out.”
I got off my back and returned to the birthing stool which the baby seemed to like better. I pushed until every blood vessel in my body felt like it was going to burst. I pushed until my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I PUSHED.
At one point I yelled out “Ring of Fire, Ring of Fire!!” Chris could see her head crowning and at some point I reached down and could feel her.
Even though the baby’s heart rate was doing better, the midwife still wanted to get her out as soon as possible. We had been pushing for almost 3.5 hours and it was well past the point we would have been allowed to continue pushing in a hospital. A plan was hatched to assist the baby in her last moments of her descent. With the next big push I would be flipped from the birth stool to the floor on all fours, very quickly, where the midwife would eventually shove her way inside to find the baby’s arm coming out with her head. Because of her position, her shoulders had not folded in to become the same size or smaller than her head which usually allows babies to glide out after the head is born. Within one loud primal growl and scream from me, the midwife reached in and yanked her out. Athena Sparrow was born at 10:58 p.m. She was 7 pounds, 14 ounces.
I tore from one end to the other.
They guided me back into a seated position with the baby on the floor in front of me. Unfortunately, her umbilical cord was too short so I could not pick her up until it was cut. We had to wait until the cord stopped pulsing in order to cut it which felt like a life time. I sat, very uncomfortably on the floor, talking to baby Athena while she looked around very alert.
Chris was finally able to cut the cord and I could pick her up. I realized right away that I needed to get off my torn perineum in order to enjoy holding her so I had to pass her back to the assistant and get help moving to the couch.
I held Athena and breastfed her for the first time while I delivered the placenta on the couch. She looked up at me, eyes wide open the entire time. Eventually she started to “tell her story” and cried a hearty cry for a while.
Unfortunately I still needed to be stitched up which happened on my couch for a full hour during which Chris had his bonding time with Athena. I could not believe how long the stitching took! I was put on a weeks bed rest and was told only to get up to go to the bathroom.
After the midwife, doula, and assistant cleaned up and went home, Chris and I sat and talked about how traumatic the last bit, pushing and stitching, had felt. How right when the baby was born it felt like an accident scene in our own home. We hadn’t thought about what having a hospital-like setting in our home would feel like. How our home would feel changed in the moment. How no matter what you think a home birth is going to be like—you may still have some moments that feel like they are not your own. How you could feel sort of defeated or like you had done something wrong. But of course I did nothing wrong—I birthed a healthy baby—but a hormonal brain is a crazy brain sometimes. Over the next few weeks I had to talk about the trauma bit a lot. I needed to “tell MY story” which I think a lot of woman go through. Thankfully, successful breastfeeding really healed me mentally and helped me move on quickly.
In the days that followed Athena’s birth we fell so deeply in love with her. I could literally smell the love hormones on her. Having this little being, this little presence, finally in your life … It completes you.
By the way, love smells like sandalwood, in case you were wondering.