I am going to tell my story as a series with several parts, which only makes sense given the epic length of my labor (51 hours spread out over 3 days). Telling this story is incredibly important to me, but also daunting. There were so many life-altering moments, so much humor, so much healing, and so many hours that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But, our birth stories are important. They stay with us for the rest of our lives. They define us in new ways. They are triumphs that deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged. Yet, I am sure I will leave some of the details out—partly to allow some of it to remain private and sacred, partly so as not to delve too deeply into what is a very graphic, raw experience.
Forward: The Decision
I decided halfway through my pregnancy that I wanted to give birth at home. I have always had a negative association with hospitals, but in this case, it was much more than that. I’ve been fascinated with birth for years and so have read many books and seen many documentaries, all of which have convinced me that an unmedicated, calm, quiet birth in which I would be able to make decisions for myself was what I wanted.
The hospital I was originally planning to birth in, and the midwifery practice that was going to deliver my baby, were both notorious for medical interventions and placing hospital policy above the wishes of their laboring patients. As I’ve mentioned, I decided to hire a doula to alleviate some of my fears surrounding birthing in an environment that threatened to mar the experience I had envisioned. She immediately encouraged me to explore other options and interview other midwifery practices. I was very hesitant to make drastic changes halfway through my pregnancy, but it didn’t take much reflection to realize that, in my gut and heart, I’ve always wanted to birth at home. It was the only thing that felt right to me. I simply hadn’t allowed myself to entertain the thought, believing it wasn’t a viable option for me, for whatever reason. After a few long talks with my husband, though, I quickly understood that a homebirth wasn’t something to fear, it was a way to provide myself the greatest chance of having my version of the ideal birth.
Once I made the decision, all the fear and anxieties I had about giving birth vanished. Instead, I looked forward to a meaningful, private, joyful experience that would allow me to remain 100% in my element. I put photos on the wall next to my bed to serve as a focal point during labor. I bought my favorite soothing candles and made a long, relaxing playlist of music. I felt so at ease knowing I could cozy up in all my favorite parts of the house for comfort. I was relieved that my environment wouldn’t be foreign and there wouldn’t be a parade of doctors and nurses I’d never met intruding upon the flow of my labor. I dreamt of cuddling up, as a family, in my own bed after pushing my child out, peacefully and gently.
Making the decision to do a homebirth was the most important decision I made during pregnancy, and I owe so much of my experience to the wonderful, attentive, caring, insanely talented group of midwives I hired. From the 1-hour prenatal appointments (that often went even longer) to the deep level on which they got to know and understand me to the constant support, encouragement and care I received over the 3 days I labored—they did much more than make sure my baby and I were healthy. They are special women, not of this world. And I believe my story, the one I’m about to start telling, is so meaningful and beautiful in large part thanks to them.
I was a few days away from being 42 weeks, at which point I would have to be medically induced in the hospital. Given my decision to do a homebirth, I was obviously not feeling too thrilled about the possibility of ending up in that situation. Thankfully, midwives have many tricks up their sleeves, one of which is to try to push you over the edge into labor with the use of several herbal tinctures. I had been having strong contractions for weeks that would last for several hours and then (frustratingly) peter away. So, the aim was to simply nudge me along when that happened.
One of the midwives and her apprentice came over late morning on Thursday to start the tinctures and monitor my progress. That day was bright and lovely, full of so much hope and anticipation. I couldn’t sleep the night before, knowing there was a good chance my baby girl could be on her way the next day. It’s interesting to swing from impatiently wondering at every moment when labor will begin to suddenly taking control (or at least attempting to) by telling your body that labor is going to begin now. Alex and I were excited, yet cautiously so. We had tried the herbal tinctures a few days earlier without any luck, so I tried to temper my expectations.
We went for several long walks and I remember our neighborhood looking more beautiful than it ever has, the sun more golden and everything touched by it cast in a glow that seemed to come directly from heaven. We ate tuna fish sandwiches with avocado and I wondered if that would be my last meal for a long while.
The contractions began, but we quickly learned how slow the process of birth can be, especially when you are trying to induce (naturally). I contracted from 12:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. before my contractions organized and made it clear that this was actual labor. Most of those 10.5 hours was spent sitting on my birth ball while Alex tried to lift my belly (thus the baby) into a better position in the hopes that I would start to dilate. We were both amazed by how those hours passed by so effortlessly—we were so incredibly focused on doing what we had to in order to meet our baby.
By the end of this phase of labor, the humor began. Never in my life did I imagine I would be so humorous and entertaining in labor, but it was a theme that lasted until the moment my placenta was delivered (of course, there were definite periods that lacked humor, as well, but it always came back). I think part of my unexpected comedy routine, which was equally matched by Alex’s, was that the hours were beginning to wear on me. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in labor and birth, and after 10.5 hours of simply waiting for contractions to organize before officially labeling it “early labor,” we were definitely getting a little bit nutty. I realized Alex was losing it when he took out a box of animal crackers and began performing a show that involved a mountain goat who climbed the rough terrain of my swollen belly only to break both his front legs, a buffalo would received CPR from a pig with heart-shaped ears, and an elephant who lost his tusk to a camel who was trying to sell us said tusk on the black market. Yes, this was the official beginning of labor, and the official beginning of the insanity/entertainment/challenges that took place over the course of three days.
To be continued…
Read the next part here: Part II