In the week before Zach was born, Dan and I started a countdown for him to know how long he needed to stay inside of me. I was planning a home birth, and by law, my midwife was not allowed to deliver before 37 weeks. Dan would be out of town in Las Vegas for the Half Iron Man World Championships until Monday, September 12th, which was 37 weeks and one day. Dan even told my unborn baby how many days and hours to wait to make sure he got home in time for the birth but not the labor! I told him not to tell our child that, since I needed Dan to be there to be my coach. Little did I know we already had an obedient child!
Since Dan was gone I figured that weekend would be a good time to get my house clean. It was important for me to labor in a clean house since who knows when I would feel like cleaning it after the baby was born, and my mom was coming to be my doula, and I wanted the house clean for her visit. This wasn’t just a standard cleaning either, it was a “white glove” cleaning of stuff that gets neglected in a routine cleaning, like baseboards, etc. My hubby and midwife told me to take it easy while he was gone, so on Saturday 9/10, I asked 2 friends to come over and help me. With me doing just the easy stuff, the 3 of us got my house spic and span! I also figured that weekend was a good time to get together with my girlfriends, so I had planned a hike with them. When I told Dan that, he said, “Um, no. The only hiking you’re going to be doing is maybe around the block.” So I met my friends for lunch and purposefully wore something not conducive to hiking so no one would be able to tempt me to go.
When I got home, I just wanted to be lazy, but I had one more unfinished project. When we first moved into our house, we didn’t have anyone living behind us. We have lots of windows on the back of our house, but we never put window coverings on them because we didn’t have to. Well, since then, quite a few homes had been built behind us, and since I was giving birth at home in our living room, we figured we’d better cover the windows. Two of the windows got blinds, but another one needed curtains. We bought what we thought were curtains, but it turned out to be just one curtain. I had already hemmed it (b/c the window is short but the curtain was long), but we went out and bought the matching curtain later and I hadn’t hemmed it yet. I didn’t really feel like doing it that night but knew I should just get the job done, so I hemmed the curtain on Sunday 9/11 before reading for a bit and going to bed. Turns out it’s a good thing I had that curtain done!
I went to work as usual on Monday. Someone that morning even asked about my pregnancy, and I told them I was finally at the point that I could give birth safely at any time, but I still wasn’t due for about 3 weeks. As excited as I was to have made it to 37 weeks, I really didn’t think I would have the baby for a couple of weeks, regardless of the fact that people had been saying for weeks that I looked like I was ready to pop.
Well, around 11:15, “pop” is exactly what I did! I went to the bathroom, and when I stood up to pull my underwear and pants back on, I felt a little pop and then was soaked! For half a second, I wondered if I’d peed on myself, since that kind of thing can happen late in pregnancy. I quickly realized this was not a matter of a little dribble of pee, this was a lot of wetness! Talk about an adrenaline rush as it sunk in that I was going to have a baby today or tomorrow, not in a few weeks!
I walked out of the bathroom and immediately went to my coworker/friend Jane who was standing at the copier and told her what had happened. At first I didn’t want her to tell anyone, and then I figured, I’m going to have this baby soon, I guess there’s no point keeping it a secret! I packed up my laptop and purse, and then I stopped by my boss’ office to tell him. He asked if I needed a ride or needed him to follow me home, but I said no. My contractions hadn’t started yet, so I didn’t really need help. Another coworker, whose cubicle was near my boss’ office, popped her head up and offered to come be with me, but I assured her I was fine. In retrospect, I probably would have had a hard time driving if my contractions had started, but they didn’t.
I got in the car and texted Dan “So, my water broke. Not even kidding. No contractions yet, but get here quick, k? Can’t believe this is really happening!!” Then I called my mom to tell her to get on a plane. The plan was that she would catch the first flight out of Detroit and hopefully get here while I was still in labor. The first available flight would have her arriving at the house around 10:30 p.m. or so, so we figured she’d make it with plenty of time since most first time labors last quite a while. I also called Dan’s ride from the airport, Carlo, since I thought Dan was on a plane and wouldn’t get my text for a while. Turns out he had a layover, so he called me right back and we chatted for a bit. He was pretty excited.
Then I called Dotti, my midwife. She asked if the water was clear (yes), if I was having contractions (no), if I was feeling the baby move (no, but he/she wasn’t super active anyway, so I would try to pay better attention). She told me my labor needed to start in the next 12 hours, according to medical “rules” so to keep her posted. She also said she would send her husband to my house to set up the birth pool. My home visit with her was supposed to be the next day, and I would have gotten the birth pool sometime that week, but we hadn’t made it that far! She also told me to pour witch hazel on some pads and put them in the freezer for later.
I got home and texted various people what was going on. I was so excited! I also called my friend Erin to ask her what I should eat for lunch. I was planning on having Mexican, but I remembered she really regretted eating bacon early in her labor b/c she could taste it coming back up later. I decided on cream of chicken soup, since it’s pretty bland, and an Ensure (meal replacement drink). Before I could get lunch ready, Dotti’s husband got there and set up the birth pool. My contractions started while he was there, and they felt like intense cramps in my lower back. He left, and I got lunch ready and finished filling up the pool. I was super excited and didn’t know what to do with myself (a nap was out of the question with all the adrenaline coursing through me!), so I went outside and walked around on my driveway. Then I decided to go tell my neighbor, Susie, what was going on. I didn’t want her to freak out if she heard me yelling and screaming, so I told her we were having a home birth (apparently I’d told her before, but I forgot).
I went back in the house to finish eating lunch, and my doorbell rang, and it was Susie. She said she and her husband had hit their knees and prayed for me, but it really bothered them that I was all alone. I felt bad making her stand on the porch to talk to me, so I invited her in. Mistake – she wouldn’t leave! She was bothered by the fact that I was in pain, and she really wanted me to go to a doctor “just to get checked out and make sure you’re ok.” I tried to assure her that I was fine, and that it’s labor and it’s expected to hurt! She wanted to call my other neighbor, a PA, and have him come check on me. I told her, let’s just walk over there! I didn’t really feel a need to, but I knew it would make her feel better. Alas, he wasn’t home. She did end up calling him and he said he would come after his last patient. He actually did come, and so did his wife (a nurse) sometime while I was pushing – I have a vague memory of the doorbell ringing several times. Anyway, she kept asking me if my midwife was on her way, and I said no! She asked, when will she come? I said, I don’t know, when she needs to! I was texting Dotti my progress and figured she would come when she needed to come, and I wasn’t concerned about it. However, I was getting kind of frustrated with my neighbor – she was not the kind of person you want around if you want a calm, supportive environment! (Just to clarify, she’s very sweet and helpful, but when you’re doing a home birth with no pain relief or interventions, you need calm, confident people surrounding you and encouraging you, not panicked people who think you’re crazy for giving birth at home!) She really wanted to do something to help, and eventually I remembered that my crock pot was on loan, and that was one of the things on my birth list, so she went to her house to get hers.
Earlier on the phone, Dotti had offered to send someone if I wanted someone to be with me. I realized my neighbor was not going to leave until someone else was there, so at 2:43 while Susie was getting her slow cooker, I texted Dotti “Is Emily in town? I think I would like her here, at least until Dan gets home. My neighbor is kind of driving me crazy.” She replied “Ok! I’ll check with her” then “Emily is on her way from Canon City so I’m sending Jennifer to stay with you till she gets there.” Emily is a midwife in training and has over a hundred births under her belt. Jen is also training, but she’s very new with very little experience. Still, she proved to be a godsend!
Jennifer arrived at 3:35 and came in with a confidence that comforted both me and my neighbor. I told her that I had left my birth ball at work and someone was bringing it after work, but that was still an hour and a half away. Susie asked if I wanted her to go buy me one, and I didn’t want to impose, but Jennifer just said “yes! Go buy her a birth ball!” It was genius b/c obviously Susie wanted to do something, anything, to help, and it got her out of the house. She left, and I told Jennifer that all my contractions were in my back, and I was concerned about the baby being posterior. I had read a book my midwife loaned me that talked about having good posture when sitting/lying to prevent the baby from getting into a bad position, and I had very strictly followed the advice in the book for 2 months, never reclining, so I was pretty bummed that he/she might be posterior. Jennifer said she didn’t really know what she was doing, but that the backbone was the easiest thing to feel, and she would feel my belly to try to find the backbone, which would indicate an anterior [favorable] position. She couldn’t feel the backbone. Oh no – the dreaded back labor! So she had me walk the stairs in big strides for a few minutes, then told me she had just read about another method for turning the baby. She told me to get down on all fours, and put my face to the ground and my butt in the air, and stay that way for 30 minutes. I dropped to the ground where I was standing, right at the edge of the living room, and stayed there for half an hour. It was hard – as soon as I did, my contractions got really intense. She and I both figured it was because of the position, and that they would lessen when I got up. After 30 minutes, the contractions were no longer confined to my back, but they were still very intense, and I wasn’t quite so “chatty” anymore.
My neighbor came back with the birth ball while I was on my hands and knees, and she and Jennifer chatted while they blew it up. I was no longer really talking much at that point. I also couldn’t remember any of my relaxation techniques from class, and I planned on going back through my notebook when I got up. Yeah, that never happened! After I got up, I sat on the birth ball for about 2 seconds and hated it, and I never sat on it again.
Emily arrived shortly after that, at 4:35, and my neighbor finally went home. Emily checked me internally and told me I was 6 cm dilated. She actually thought I was 7 cm, but she said she always underestimates what she tells the mom so as to not get her hopes up! I have read that you can dilate really slowly or quickly and it doesn’t really have any bearing on where you are in your labor, so I didn’t really care. But about that time, I started kind of feeling a bit like pushing. Emily told me not to push until I was complete, but I pushed just a little anyway b/c it felt like what I was supposed to do. I also wanted to get into the pool, but I guess I hadn’t filled it up quite hot enough, so Jennifer added hot water. It was also around this time that they decided it was time for Dotti to come.
Periodically throughout the afternoon, I had talked to Dan. I talked to him when he landed, and at that point I wanted him to be home to be with me, but I was still ok. Then I talked to him when he was leaving the airport, but I thought he was much closer to home b/c I had no sense of time. He said he needed to stop and buy an outfit for the baby, b/c that was his job and he hadn’t done it yet (thinking I still had a couple more weeks!). I thought he was stopping somewhere in town, and I told him to just run in and buy something and get home quickly. He was actually just leaving Denver and stopped in Castle Rock, which is still 30-45 minutes from home. After Emily checked me, I called him again, and he was at the north end of town, about 10-15 minutes away. I tried to say something and stopped in mid-sentence when I had a contraction, and Jen took the phone from me and said “she can’t talk right now, she’s having a contraction. You need to get home soon.”
Right after that, at 4:54, I got in the pool. By this time, it was very full! So Emily and Dotti both got quite wet from having to lean into the pool to check me. Emily said I would feel better in the pool, and I felt very cheated that I did NOT feel better in the pool! I didn’t know it, but I was going through transition, the hardest part of labor. Thankfully I never felt nauseated, but I also never got a “rest and be thankful” stage – just plowed right on through! At 5:05, 10 minutes after I got into the pool, Dan walked in the door! I remember thinking it seemed out of place that he was so chipper. He really had no idea I was so far along and thought we still had the night ahead of us. Jennifer told him “she’s cookin’ fast!” and he got to work setting up the video camera (which only recorded for 12 minutes, I found out the next day. Bummer). Just as he got it set up, I said “I have to push!” He was very surprised. Emily asked if she could check me, and I didn’t respond b/c I was in a zone and just didn’t really want to talk at all. She checked me anyway and said I was complete and could push to my heart’s content. I’ve heard that a lot of women feel relief from pushing. I did not. It felt better in that I needed to do it, but it still hurt just as much, and it hurt a lot between contractions. I felt like I wasn’t getting a break. Finally later I realized I might not be getting a break from the pain, but I did get a break from the work, and I needed to rest.
As I was getting in the pool, I felt lightheaded, so Emily gave me some oxygen. In fact, I think had the oxygen mask on my head when Dan walked in, but he never reacted to it. For the rest of my labor, I never really felt right in my head, but Dotti said that was because all my oxygen was going to the baby and the birth process.
When I got in the pool, I immediately was on my hands and knees, with my arms hanging over the side of the pool and my head resting on the edge. Aside from minor adjustments, I never really moved from that position until the baby was born. The next day I felt like someone had beaten my arm up and couldn’t figure out why until Dan reminded me I had been hanging on that arm on the edge of the pool for all of the pushing stage.
The notes say I was complete and pushing at 5:15, although I’d been secretly pushing for a while before that. When Emily checked me and said I was complete and could push, a small panic ensued that Dotti wasn’t there yet and that they couldn’t reach her. I wasn’t worried – I had confidence in Emily! In fact, I told her “you can do this!” meaning she was capable of doing it if Dotti didn’t get there in time, but in my oxygen-deprived, zoned-out state, I couldn’t explain what I meant, and Emily thought I was asking her if she could do it. It didn’t matter, because Dotti and her assistant Stephanie got there at 5:20. Dotti came over and talked to me, and I asked her if I was in transition. I kind of knew I wasn’t, but through the whole process I never asked a question that might have a discouraging answer. She said “oh, you’re way past transition!”
The rest is kind of a blur – when you’re in hard labor, you really have no concept of time. At one point I remember saying “I’m not having fun.” This may seem obvious, but when we were taking our birth class, I was always surprised at how the women in the birth videos were not having fun! I pictured the whole experience as such an adventure that, even though I knew it would be painful, I was super excited about the whole thing. Well, a little ways into pushing, I was not excited and I was not having fun. However, the thought of pain relief never really crossed my mind. My body had taken over and was very powerful, and I was just along for the ride.
I got sleepy between contractions during the pushing stage, but since I still felt lightheaded, I was afraid to go to sleep hanging on the edge of the pool. I didn’t want to pass out and drown in the pool! So I just rested as best I could, through the pain, without falling asleep. I also said things like “it hurts!” and “it stings!” Obviously it had been hurting for quite sometime, but this was a new pain. Dotti explained that for a first time birth, there are still remnants of the hymen in the vagina, and it hurts as the baby’s head comes through. She said it’s only like that for the first baby. It was a strange kind of pain I wasn’t anticipating.
Here’s the embarrassing part – I pooped in the pool! Multiple times! I had felt a little constipated beforehand, and by the time I was pushing, it was really uncomfortable. Getting my baby out was more important that any kind of decorum, and I felt like if I could just get all that poop out, I would feel better. Turns out I didn’t feel better, but as gross as it was, Dotti said it’s a good indicator that the baby is moving down the birth canal. Good thing I had already purchased the aquarium net for removing that kind of thing from the pool. I was missing several things from my birth list since I thought I still had a few weeks, but I’m glad I got that one!
At 6:01 I mentioned a fear of tearing – I hadn’t been pushing very hard to that point b/c I wanted to give myself lots of time to stretch. Apparently I wasn’t pushing hard enough b/c Dotti asked if I needed her to show me where to push. She put her finger on my perineum, and I didn’t like it, but it did help me to focus my pushing, and I started putting more effort into my pushes. At 6:22 Dan asked if the hair he could see was mine or the baby’s, but I had recently shaved down there, so it was definitely the baby’s! He was pretty excited about that, and I could hear him and Dotti talking about it, and how the head would come out and then recede with my contractions. They both said I could reach down and feel the baby’s head, but for some reason I was afraid of doing anything that would break me out of my “zone” so I never moved from hanging over the edge of the pool. Finally Dotti said “you never know which contraction is going to push the baby’s head out,” and that was encouragement enough for me to really push as hard as I could to get it over with. Within 3 contractions of her saying that, I pushed out the head. What relief! I still had the body to push out, but the hard part was over! Dan said the baby stuck its tongue out while its head was out but the body still in. (Later we found out I had a first degree tear, which was disappointing to me, but it could have been much worse.)
In the next contraction, at 6:38 p.m., I pushed the rest of the body out in one push and turned around as Dotti handed me my baby! She asked what gender it was (since that was the last thing on my mind) and it was a BOY! He had his cord wrapped around his neck twice, but he came up nice and tense…until he went completely limp and wasn’t breathing. Dotti said “talk to your baby” as she suctioned him, first with the bulb suction, and then with her own mouth. Emily was monitoring his heart rate (she had been throughout the whole pushing stage) and it was decelerating, and Dotti held oxygen under his nose. During all of this, Dotti was very calm, so I never worried. Dan and I also knew that this baby was God’s gift to us, and we just had a peace that everything would be fine. I attribute Dan’s peace to his confidence in God, and mine too, but mine probably also had something to do with my own oxygen deprivation. Dotti had to remind me to talk to him b/c I would start to and then forget what I was supposed to be doing.
There’s another story behind his name, but the short story is that God gave a name to Dan for our baby (which is why he knew it was a boy). I wanted God to confirm it to me, so I wouldn’t let Dan tell me the name, even though he’d had it since I was 3 months pregnant! So when our baby was handed to me, Dan said “do you want to know his name now?” I said “yes!” He said “Zachary!” I loved it immediately. Turns out it means “remembered by God” and since Dan already knew that (I didn’t until later) he knew that Zach was a promise from God and that he would be fine.
At 6:41, Zachary finally started breathing and crying – music to our ears! I didn’t know it until later, but Dotti was close to moving us out of the pool to do CPR on Zach. But she was so calm and professional, it never occurred to me that anything was wrong. Babies get oxygen from their cord, so as long as the cord is attached, the baby is still getting oxygen even if he’s not breathing. But his heart rate was going down, so it’s a good thing he perked up!
Right after Dotti and her assistant Stephanie arrived, Jen had left. I guess at some point Emily and Stephanie had covered the couch with a shower curtain and then a sheet on top of that, and then some chux pads. Zach and I moved to the couch as soon as he was breathing. Thankfully he had a long cord, since we didn’t want to cut the cord until it was done pulsing.
I delivered the placenta at 6:43. Dotti told me to give a little push, and I didn’t really want to, but I did and it slid right out with no pain and very little effort. What did hurt was my perineum! It hurt a lot more than I thought it would – I thought the pain would be over as soon as the baby was out, so I was a little annoyed that I still had pain. I remember commenting on it a few times.
Zach and I snuggled on the couch for a little while as the ladies emptied the birth pool and started cleaning everything up. I’m not sure what time we started trying to get him to nurse, but it seems like it took a while. He sucked a little on the left side, but didn’t really latch. Finally at 7:52, he latched on the right side, in the football hold, and stayed on for almost an hour! I got extremely sleepy during that time and kind of wanted him to be done nursing so we could sleep, but the feeling eventually passed, and I didn’t feel that way when he was finished. Still, an hour of nursing felt like an eternity to me and to my poor nipple! While he was nursing, Dotti talked about the importance of being able to pee after birth, since the whole process can compress your plumbing. Well, I needed to pee while he was still nursing, and since I was lying on chux pads and my couch was protected, I just peed right there! In fact, I peed twice on the couch before Zach was finished nursing. They also wanted me to eat, so I had a bagel with peanut butter while I was nursing him. I really wasn’t interested in eating (and wasn’t for a few days) so it was an effort, but I drank a ton throughout my whole labor and afterward (hence the peeing on the couch!).
Finally, around 8:45, Zachary was finished nursing. At that time, I got up to pee (again!) and to be fitted with some lovely adult diapers with Emily while Dotti and Stephanie did the newborn exam on the ottoman in the living room with Dan. Dan got to cut the cord, and he said it was a lot tougher than he thought it would be – like cutting into raw chicken. Zach weighed in at 6 lbs 8.5 oz. and 20.25” long. The only thing that wasn’t great was that his hips weren’t quite even, but that was easily fixed by a chiropractic adjustment the next day.
Around 9:30 or so, I was escorted upstairs to get into bed with my hubby and baby and given some postpartum instructions. Zachary’s temperature wasn’t quite stabilized, so Dotti instructed us on what to do and to text her his temperature every 15 minutes. The ladies all came in and hugged me (and Jen came back to meet Zach!) and then they left to go out to eat and talk over the whole birth. Meanwhile, we snuggled in bed and marveled at the whole experience for a while, and then my mom arrived around 10:30. She was disappointed to have missed the birth, but happy that it went so well and so quickly. It was great to see her, but it was also nice that we had that hour to spend just the three of us, our new little family.
About that time we figured the other methods we tried weren’t working to get Zach warm enough, so we put Zach skin-to-skin with Dan with a blanket and heating pad on top. We finally got him warm! I was so hot I wanted to blast the AC, so I didn’t think I could stand to do skin-to-skin without bursting into flame. I think it’s neat that Dan and Zach got to bond like that, since so much of the initial bonding is between baby and mom. We ended up having Zachary sleep between us with a blanket and heating pad on top, and he stayed nice and warm and was able to hold his own temperature by the next day. It was a beautiful way to end a very exciting and unexpected day!
I remember while she was helping me to the bathroom, Emily said “you were made for having babies!” I didn’t really get too excited about that comment, having just gone through the hardest, most painful experience of my life! But by the next morning, I was ready to do it again. Giving birth at home was an incredible experience, and I hope all my future births are as wonderful as my first. It didn’t seem as important to me for the actual birth process, simply because I was in such a zone, I could have given birth in Time Square and not noticed a difference. But it was so wonderful to be in our own home afterward! Since the cord wasn’t cut right away, Zach got oxygen when he wasn’t breathing, so he didn’t have to be whisked away to the NICU. He didn’t have to ever be separated from me to get oxygen, for the newborn exam, or to be put in a warmer. Dotti entrusted us, his parents, with keeping him warm, while also giving us instructions and monitoring the situation. We were treated with respect and expected to be able to care for our own baby (with help only a phone call away if needed). We got to sleep in our own bed, and everything was cleaned up so it looked like nothing had ever happened in the living room.
I highly recommend home birth. If I know a pregnant woman who is low risk, I will try to talk her into this! I know some people think home birth isn’t for everyone, but I really think it could be. We women have powerful bodies, and we can trust them! I wish everyone could have such a great experience, surrounded by wise, knowledgeable women who are passionate about what they do, and if you take the time to be informed and educated, you can.