So about a week before I went into labor Jeremy showed me a photo of a sheep giving birth. This sheep was casually laying on its side with a baby sheep head just hanging out of its vag. I thought “That’s how I’m going to rock it.” So, for the first few pushes I was in a fetal position on my side, holding the image of that sheep in mind and trying not to puke. But it turns out humans are not sheep and to be productive at pushing the baby down and out I needed to open my legs – which I was very resistant to doing. Truth be told … I was scared. Warrior Mamas aren’t supposed to be scared. Warrior Mamas are squatting in a corner and birthing babies without fear. But here I am flat on my back, with Jeremy holding one leg by the knee and foot, saying “You guys… I don’t think I can do this.” But I did. This is our story.
A HOME BIRTH
Towards the beginning of my third trimester I found that my favorite midwife was planning to resign from the hospital I was receiving care at on January 1 to do home births. With the support of Jeremy and the encouragement of my doula and my family, I decided a home birth would be ideal. It’s not for everyone, but it was what I wanted and this serendipitous turn of events put it within reach.
On Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at 2AM, a week after my due date, my water broke while I was sleeping. It wasn’t a dramatic gush like you see in the movies and it wasn’t paired with anything stronger than Braxton Hicks “practice” contractions. In fact, it was a bit confusing and left me wondering if I had just peed the bed. I decided to sleep through the rest of the night. Though, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve just waiting for morning to arrive. I woke up around 7:30AM Sunday morning, still not in labor, and called my midwife, Dawn, to let her know my status. Because I had tested GBS+ (Group B Strep) she came to my house around 10:30AM to give me a shot of antibiotics to keep the baby safe. After your water breaks you really only have about 24 hours for labor to start, otherwise you risk infection. So, I was a little concerned that labor didn’t seem to be progressing. My mind was filled with all the variables and scenarios that could go down from there. Dawn recommended getting as much rest as possible and we would reassess at 2PM.
I didn’t rest, of course. Instead Jeremy and I started doing what we could to get labor going (heh, heh). Then we went for a two mile walk around the park – I tried walking with one foot on the curb and one on the ground, alternating sides. Then we decided to go get some Indian buffet. At 2PM I texted my midwife to let her know that nothing had changed and she said to hang tight and keep her updated. Around 3:30PM the baby’s movement had slowed and my mind was racing with anxiety over not going into active labor. So I called Dawn and my doula, Brandy, to come over to check in on the baby. Everything checked out fine – but I was still on edge.
I said “I just don’t want to transfer to the hospital” out loud, but Dawn and Brandy, together and matter-of-factly, said “Oh, that’s not happening! You’re going to go into labor. We’ve got ways.” It was reassuring to hear after a day of worrying about “failure to progress” and from there we started discussing more aggressive induction techniques. Brandy offered to do some acupressure. She busted out some Clary Sage essential oil and did a number on my feet – it was intense. And I have to admit, I didn’t truly believe it would work. Brandy and Dawn went to grab dinner and left me with a bottle of herbal extracts to take in an hour if nothing had changed. But within 5 minutes, around 4:30PM, the contractions got for real. I was so excited.
In the meantime, my brother sent me this video for encouragement.
LABOR FOR REALS
My contractions quickly went from just a tightening of my abdomen and mild cramps to more serious, period-like cramps – the kind that take your breath away and make you double over. I wouldn’t call it painful but it was intense. I welcomed them with all their might and invited them to stay for a while. After having about 15 contractions in the span of an hour I had Jeremy text Dawn and Brandy to come back over. They finished dinner and got to my house around 6PM. They brought in lots of supplies (for emergencies) and started getting things ready. Jeremy filled the birthing tub and got the bed prepped (we kept our sheets on the bed, put a plastic drop cloth on top of those, then put another throw-away fitted sheet on top of that). Meanwhile, I walked around the house and had contractions in various places. Things started getting more and more intense – at 7:30PM my contractions were 1-2 minutes apart. My doula invited me to get into the birthing tub we had set up next to the bed in our bedroom. I labored in there for about an hour listening to my Casa Jaguar playlist on repeat – the lights were dim and through my entire labor and delivery voices never rose above a whisper. Jeremy sat at the edge of the tub and offered me support when I needed it.
Around 8:00PM I got out of the tub to go to the bathroom and on my way back contracted so hard that I just crawled onto the bed. I labored on my hands and knees on the bed for about an hour and at this point things were getting progressively more intense. I started shaking and shivering. I’m pretty sure this was the “transition” phase of labor because things started getting really intense. My body was contracting but at the same time felt like it was being pried open. I decided to get back into the tub – hoping to birth my little Aquarius in water. However, I found myself feeling ungrounded in the water – I lacked the gravity and resistance I needed to productively labor the baby down. So, I made my way back into the bed. Brandy invited me to bear down a little with one of my contractions and that’s when a big gush of amniotic fluid followed. It took me by surprise and I looked to Brandy for reassurance that that was normal (it is). A few contractions later Brandy told Jeremy that she was going to go tell Dawn to scrub up – I knew this meant it was probably push time.
PUSHING THE BABY OUT
During the course of my entire pregnancy and labor I never had one cervical check – meaning I never knew how dilated or effaced I was. This was partly to minimize the possibility of exacerbating the GBS, but I also felt comfortable with just doing whatever my body told me. Around 9PM my body was ready to push … but mentally I wasn’t there yet. Brandy encouraged me to bear down a little with my next contraction (which were now just a minute or less apart) – so I did, and from there my body took over. I pushed for an hour and a half at my own pace. Nobody was counting to ten or yelling at me to push. Sometimes the contractions would come one right after another … and sometimes, just when I needed it most, my body would grant me a few minutes to rest between pushes. Brandy would occasionally ask me “where’s your baby?” and I could feel him still kicking in my ribs, which made me feel like he wasn’t making his way down. She was also checking the baby’s heart rate with my contractions and he held steady with a good beat the entire time.
So here I was flat on my back. I kept thinking about moving to my hands and knees or at least a more upright reclined position but I felt paralyzed. So I just stayed put and kept pushing. And as crass as it may be, I can only compare pushing to involuntary dry heaving … but out of your uterus instead of stomach. Yes, it was painful and yes, I was afraid. I tried to visualize the ocean. I tried to transform into a sheep or gorilla or whatever kind of animal that has no problem pushing a baby out. When that didn’t work I tried to irrationally find a way out of my body. Like a weird trip or strange dream I tried to mentally coordinate a way to have someone else push for me. At one point I considered the logistics of transferring to the hospital and not asking for an epidural but instead asking for a medically-induced coma – but I didn’t even have it in me to sit up much less sit in the car and deal with hospital admissions. I had to accept the reality of the situation and embrace that it was me, my body, and my baby – and there was no turning back.
Brandy gave me some super helpful tips – like to curl into and around the contraction and bring my chin to my chest – these instructions almost helped me reframe pushing as an exercise or sport. Meanwhile, Dawn gently directed my attention to exactly where I needed to focus my effort with her fingers which was super helpful. Jeremy was still pulling my leg back by the knee with each contraction and would look down to watch the very top of the baby’s head poke out just a little further with each push. Dawn and Brandy encouraged me to feel the baby’s head – so I reached down and felt nothing but a hot mess. I remember at one point saying “I just want to be done.” And Brandy said “Then you need to push this baby out.”
When I finally accepted that I was going to have to put in the work and give it my all the baby crowned. With that, there was no relief between contractions and I could feel intense stretching in places I didn’t expect. At that point I had accepted that I would be in labor on my bed for the rest of my life. So I was beyond surprised when with the next push the baby came out. And just like that there was no pain. First, I was relieved. Relieved that I was done and that the baby was okay. Then there was pride. I’ve never been more proud of myself – and I was now a very proud momma to my little baby Fox. Then there was love. Just an incredible amount of love.
A NEW BEGINNING
So I did it. I didn’t go into pregnancy, labor, and delivery without fear. But I came out of it transformed into the Warrior Momma I intend to be. I told our baby how perfect he was (at least a dozen times) as he squirmed all naked, wet and warm on my belly. He cried just enough to tell us his own version of the story of his birth. After a few hours of clean up and blissed out bonding, Brandy and Dawn left our little nest – but not before I asked “Okay. Literally, what do I do next?” Because I really didn’t know. It turns out instinct is pretty powerful and what felt right was to watch my naked baby sleep on my man’s chest in our own bed all. night. long.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
THE DREAM TEAM
Jeremy: Everyone asks Jeremy if he was ever afraid or doubtful during the home birth. He wasn’t – not even for a second. In fact, he confessed to me that he felt silly giving me words of encouragement while I was in labor. It felt like lip service to him – because he knew I had it in me to do what needed to be done, and I knew that he knew. He never once doubted my strength. But the truth is I couldn’t have done it without his calm confidence. Thank you, Jeremy. We’ve had quite a few adventures – from our scandalous get-together to Mt. Everest. But I think this may be our greatest adventure yet.
Brandy Harris / Willow Birth Services: The best decision I made early on in my pregnancy was hiring Brandy to be my doula. We met over coffee and I shared with her my fears and when I apologetically shared my birthing preferences she called bullshit and encouraged me to own my desire for an unmedicated & intervention-free delivery. She gave both Jeremy and me the confidence to have a voice in our pregnancy, labor, and delivery experience. You might expect a birth doula to be a crunchy hippie but Brandy tells it like it is and never takes herself (or anyone else) too seriously – but then when you need it the most she’ll compassionately put a cold wash cloth to your head and tell you you aren’t pooping the bed when you totally are. Brandy, thank you. It’s amazing to think of all the courses my labor & delivery could have taken. You guided me down what could have been a scary path with a light so bright there were no shadows to be afraid of.
Dawn Karlin / Moments of Bliss: Dawn was one my midwives at OU Physicians. I heard she had a reputation of being the closest you can get to a home birth experience in the hospital so I had my fingers crossed that I would go into labor during her shift. But then when she quit her day job to follow her dream of opening a birthing center and doing home births I decided to take the leap with her. I’ve never put so much trust in another person as I put in Dawn – and she delivered (heh). She quietly stayed back while I labored but then came in like the efficient pro she is when it came to push time. I remember at one point desperately looking at her between contractions and the calm but serious focus on her face told me that it wasn’t going to be easy but that I could do it. And I did. Thank you, Dawn. You made me feel so safe in what was the most vulnerable and powerful experience of my life. I will be forever grateful for you.
And finally, thank you to all of my friends, family, blog readers, and Instagram followers who supported and rooted for me along the way. I truly believe all your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes gave me the strength to have the birth experience I desired.