(a story of life, community, surrender and accepting hard things)
You get a mixed bag of reactions when you tell people you are having your baby at home. Although it is trending these days, birthing at home does seem to have a stigma and mystery attached to it. Initially, it seemed a little too crunchy for me, and came with too many unknowns. I would have never considered it, but a unique set of circumstances led to the decision…
I have several close friends, whom I respect, speak very highly about their home birth experiences with their midwives. I was able to ask questions and voice concerns like: “Is it too messy? What about my white carpet and white sheets? And what if something goes wrong? And will the baby and I get the same level of care?” These friends were very influential in my decision to birth at home. We were planning on having him at the same natural birthing center (Family Beginnings at Miami Valley Hospital) we had the others at. We had four great experiences there, and we were not looking for another option, but my friends’ stories were very compelling.
With the move to our new house, we are now an hour from our birthing center. When in labor, you don’t want to arrive at the hospital too early, and you don’t want to arrive too late. The logistics of rounding up my kids (they are often in different locations), getting them dropped off with family, and then making it to the hospital an hour away (not too soon, not too late) made a home birth more attractive. I wanted to remove as many stressors as possible, and this was a big one for me. With a home birth, all I had to do was stay put, and have a family member come pick the kids up.
A friend gave me a book about hypnobirthing, which is a birthing technique that uses breathing, relaxation, meditation and visualization techniques to have a more comfortable and successful birth. It teaches women to remove fear, stress and tension from the birth experience to allow their bodies to do the work of birthing the baby. For me, I knew I could stay more relaxed at home versus a hospital environment.
The cherry on top was all of the c-🦠 restrictions. At my first OB appointment I found out that the kids would not be allowed to come see the baby after he was born. That sealed the deal for a home birth, where I would have the freedom to make my own decisions for my family.
On Martin Luther King Day, at 39 weeks, my water broke at 5am. I have never birthed a baby before 40 weeks (often closer to 41 weeks), and my water has never broken without being in active labor, so this was an unexpected surprise. I was not happy about it. It put me on a timeline (ideally you want to have the baby within 24 hours and if not, intervention becomes necessary), and I did not want to be on a forced timeline. I also had a few more things on my to-do list I wanted to get done that I thought I would have another week to do. I wanted to be at peace and surrendered to the timing that was out of my control, but I was having a hard time getting to this head space on that Monday morning, when I realized my baby was coming earlier than expected.
I was annoyed and frustrated all day with the unnerving reality that I could be in labor at any moment, or I would pass the deadline and need to be induced. I had on and off contractions all day, but nothing serious or consistent, which caused me to continue in my annoyance and frustration.
By 5pm, 12 hours after my water broke, nothing eventful was happening. I was really starting to feel the pressure of the deadline. My midwife decided to come and spend the night so we could start doing things to get real labor going. I asked my mom to come pick up the kids. It was time to get serious about having the baby.
Cliff and I ate dinner around 6pm in a quiet, clean, empty house while my midwife was on her way. I started to finally relax at that point and surrender to the timing, no matter how it unfolded.
Before we ate, Cliff prayed for all the things on our mind and heart in that moment. By the time we finished dinner, things started moving in the right direction. By the time our midwife arrived around 7pm, I was officially in real labor.
She started setting up her things while Cliff and I were talking and laughing in between contractions, which were coming about every two minutes and lasting about a minute. I stayed really calm and relaxed and felt very comfortable, which has not always been the case in the past. I was using all the hypnobirthing techniques I had learned, which proved to be very effective. I was able to carry on conversation in between contractions, and what I would have called very painful in the past, now felt very manageable. It was so nice to be in our own bedroom and eliminate the rushed frenzy of getting to the hospital.
Active labor went on for about two hours, and then things turned on a dime. I do not know how else to describe it, except to say that the “sh** got real” 😂. That was around 9pm. My body started shaking, I felt like I was going to vomit and I started sweating a lot. I was in transition. There was no longer lovely conversation happening in between contractions, and Cliff’s encouraging words no longer felt encouraging - I just needed it to be quiet so I could focus.
My plan was to get into the tub once I was in transition. In past labors, I got in the tub too early, and the warm, soothing water slowed things down too much, so I avoided getting in too soon, which ended up being a good plan. Once my midwife observed that I was in transition, she softly suggested that I get in the tub, which I did.
I never had my midwife check my progress, because it’s uncomfortable and I wanted to avoid hearing a centimeter that could possibly dishearten me, so I had no idea where I was (although I intuitively knew exactly where I was). In the tub, I kept feeling for his head and was discouraged that he did not seem close, because the contractions were coming so hard and so fast.
Then came the moment that has happened with all five of my births, that seems to be common for many women - the moment these words came out of my mouth: “I don’t think I can do this any longer.” It is a place of intensity and desperation and helplessness and pain and exhaustion. It has happened to me five times now - I get to the end of myself, and shortly after, the gift of a new person emerges.
Moments after I said that, I had a hard contraction, and I felt his head “pop” into the birth canal. It was an odd feeling I had not experienced before…he wasn’t there, and then he was there. Seconds after that, with the next contraction, his head was out, and seconds after that, with the next contraction, his body was out. It happened so fast. And there was my son. The sense of relief and elation was too deep to adequately describe. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. To receive the new life in my arms came with a deep joy I will always remember and long for.
He only spent seconds, maybe a minute, in the birth canal and I never felt the infamous “ring of fire” I have felt with the other four births. I never pushed with my own effort, I just allowed my body to push him out and surrendered myself to the work my body knew how to do. I did not resist it, I accepted it and let it happen. I was in transition in the tub for about 1.5 hours. I had my easiest recovery.
Rowan barely made a peep when we came out of the water. I got to receive my son and hold him right away in the warm water, and he snuggled up on my chest and went to sleep. He was born in a calm, peaceful, comfortable, quiet environment of love and support. It was a deeply satisfying and meaningful experience, “exceedingly abundantly” more than I asked for or imagined.
My midwife and her assistant started cleaning up and providing excellent after-birth care for Rowan and I. I was able to nurse him right away on the couch in my room, and then we moved to our bed. A few hours after the birth and checkups, the midwife left, and there we were with our new baby boy in the comfort and peacefulness of our home.
I held Rowan all night, skin to skin, and did not sleep a wink, which is what I planned to do. I wanted to soak it all in, have time to savor the experience, and mentally process what just happened. Cliff slept like a log.
We got to enjoy two blissful days of a quiet, clean, home with just the three of us. They were some of the most delightful days of my life.
I will finish with a quote that was meaningful to me as I prepared for Rowan’s birth:
“The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.” - Gerald L. Sittser
“…chasing after the setting sun…”:
fear, resistance, clenched fist, desire to over-control
surrender, peace, open hands, trusting, confident, ceasing resistance, acceptance of what is
“plunging into the darkness…”:
circumstances you don’t understand and cannot control, acceptance of pain & hard things as the path to growth and new life
the meaningful gift of something you have worked hard for, and traveled the path of pain for; a place of satisfaction, joy and peace
“Head east”, my friends, to enjoy the depth, satisfaction and meaning of your next “sunrise”.