A woman’s birth experience is incredibly important and life changing, something that she will always remember. My grandmother still talks about all five of her births to this day, one of which involved a vacuum and her son losing some of his scalp. It is a transformative experience that can be either beautiful and empowering or devastating, traumatic and one that scars her literally and figuratively. Before I became pregnant I was fortunate enough to learn about birth choice. My mom had two out of the four of us at home with a midwife, and all four of us without any drugs. My little sister was born upstairs in my parent’s bedroom while I played with my siblings downstairs. We all piled in bed to meet her when she was just minutes old. My oldest sister had used a group of midwives for both of her daughters, one in a hospital, one at home in the water. Not all women have the privilege of knowing women who talk about their birth experience and birth choice. For me, it was incredibly empowering to know these women and also read every birth story I came across, including all the stories in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (which is a must read for any woman who is or wants to become pregnant). The United States has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world and has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among all industrialized countries. There is no reason for this, and we need to change these statistics. I am a very private person by nature, but I have decided to share my birth stories here in hopes that it will empower other women, educate them on birth choice, and keep them and their babies safer.
There is a lot of fear surrounding birth, at least here in the United States. Television has skewed what real labor and birth really is and celebrities scheduling their c-sections around their busy calendars with no medical reasons has definitely changed the way American women view birth for the worse. Women are sometimes made to believe they do not know how to birth which is entirely false. A woman’s body is strong and capable and our care providers need to have reverence for the process of birth as well as act as guardians of safety if something were to go wrong. The most important thing about your doctor or midwife is that you trust them and that you feel well cared for. This could not have been truer with my midwives, the Midwives of New Jersey. I cannot speak more highly of them and would recommend them to anyone living in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. They have not paid me to say this, I simply love them, and they love what they do. I hadn’t planned this, but the timing is perfect; my Midwives happen to be hosting a Symposium for Physiologic Birth November 3rd and 4th. The topic is “The Evidence for Birth Choice” and speakers will be presenting the evidence that supports patient-directed decisions for their birth like midwifery care, home birth, water immersion and water birth, with special attention focused on avoiding invasive procedures. Please click here if you are interested. It will be amazing!
Now on to the birth story. To give you a little context, my husband and I had planned a home birth in our little apartment under the care of our Midwives. This was my first pregnancy, I was low risk, baby was head down, and I carried full term. My husband and I take turns telling the story from our points of view. Stay tuned for my daughter’s birth story, which I hope to get up here soon as well.
Joy: On Thursday, October 1st, two days after my due date, Jon texted me that he thought I would go into labor that day. I had been having contractions ten minutes apart since the day before. I thought nothing of it because the week previously, I had also been having contractions six-eight minutes apart. I took a long walk in the morning with my sister and two nieces (four and seventeen months), carrying one or the other some of the time. Jon got home on the later side and we made spicy stir fry for dinner with chili peppers from our garden. As we were finishing up dinner between 8 and 9pm, I began having much stronger contractions coming six minutes apart. Right away, I knew these were different contractions than I had been having for weeks. We started to realize we weren’t really ready for my labor to start so I started cleaning the house and Jon went to get the birth pool out of his truck. I remember vacuuming and taking breaks for each contraction, either on all fours or leaning on furniture and swaying. They were totally manageable, but not for long. The contractions started coming every four minutes and lasting at least a minute and a half long. After an hour of this, Jon called the midwives. Caitlyn suggested I drink a glass of wine and take a shower. Wine was the last thing I wanted so I drank lots of water instead.
Jon: Joy had been saying a few things in her texts to me while I was at work that lead me to strongly believe that she would probably be going into labor that night. I finished up my day at work and then went straight to working on my side business that I was just starting at the time. I set up my chain saw mill and milled out a bunch of large sections of a maple tree that I was salvaging for lumber at my parent’s house. I put in a lot of physical work and went home and helped Joy make a spicy stir-fry (we had been joking about trying spicy food to induce labor). Soon… very soon after we ate dinner Joy got some really intense contractions. Oh boy, I thought, I’m exhausted and ready for bed. It would be nice if we could somehow get some sleep. As the contractions started getting stronger and closer I went out to my truck to grab the birth pool and began blowing it up in the living room. I began to get a little nervous knowing that we definitely wouldn’t be sleeping and that our son was on his way here!
Jon: So after we called the midwives Joy and I talked briefly about doing some of that “really great stuff” we learned about in childbirth class. “Let’s try the rebozo” we said. I wrapped it around her stomach and used the techniques we learned about that seemed so great at the time. After five seconds Joy said “no! stop! you’re making it worse!!”. Ok no problem, they told us this might happen so then we said “let’s try counter pressure”. Joy sat in chair against a wall while I pushed her knees back and up to take pressure off of her back. This time it lasted about 2 seconds until it made things worse. So we moved on to some pressure on the back hips that every woman is supposed to love while in labor. That lasted a whole one second until Joy told me again that it was making it hurt more. We probably tried a few other things like massage balls or something but the point is nothing helped and the contractions were only getting stronger. I was starting to think our little guy was going to come before the midwives arrived. That was definitely not the case.
Joy: Around 1:00 am I was starting to feel like I needed my midwives and I kept asking Jon when my midwife Roxy would be there as I already had no concept of time. I remember being in the bed wondering how I was to manage the intensity of the contractions when I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous and proceeded to vomit most of my dinner. Just then Roxy arrived, it was around 2:30 am. I only know this from looking back at text messages Jon was sending. I said to Jon that I didn’t want to be too hopeful but vomiting was sometimes a sign of transition so I was secretly hoping I was 5-6 cm. Jon helped Roxy bring in all her bags and after some time Roxy decided to check me… 2.5 centimeters. I was honestly surprised. I had so much further to go and my contractions were already so intense lasting 2 minutes and just kept on coming. I thought Roxy would go home since I had so far to go, but she stayed. What seemed like not long after (but could have been hours), midwife Chrisy showed up. Chrisy wasn’t even on call but another mother had gone into labor within minutes of me and they were short staffed.
Joy: I remember them telling me I should try to rest, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to, the contractions were too intense. They tried to get me to move around to help progress labor along. They also suggested I try to take a bath in our tub since it was too early for me to get in the big tub. As soon as I got in I remember being so uncomfortable I basically immediately got out. Much of this I don’t really remember but looking through pictures of my labor helped me to remember. They suggested I sit backwards on the toilet which I did for awhile and Chrisy rubbed some essential oils on my back. I was on the floor of the bathroom at one point which I have no recollection of. They gave me Phenergan which was supposed to help me rest but it just made me feel awful and like I had to go to the bathroom. I kept asking when I could go to the bathroom. I remember them having me walk around the apartment. Chrisy suggested I try to lift one leg at a time and put it up on a stool. I tried that and it was incredibly painful but most likely was a good thing. They also hooked me up to an IV with fluids at some point because I was just eating ice and didn’t want to eat or drink anything. All this lasted hours but I’m not sure how long.
Jon: The labor started off so intense with the contractions so close together. Time was starting to blend together. It was hard to say if it had been 6, 8 or 10 hours at this point. The midwives were there and hardly anything anybody did was giving Joy any relief to her strong contractions. I knew I married a tough woman but this was certainly the hardest thing I had ever watched her go through. I thought with the contractions as strong as they were she couldn’t possibly labor until morning. I knew she could handle it but I really thought we would have our baby by sunrise or shortly after based on the intensity of everything. The midwives were great, they gave Joy all the space and freedom she needed to “do her thing” while jumping in at every opportunity to encourage or help.
Jon: The examinations were the absolute worst. I knew they had to be done but they were so hard to watch. Joy was in so much pain and discomfort already and having to be checked while in the middle of contractions was obviously extremely painful for her. I would have to leave our bedroom during the examinations because I just couldn’t watch how much pain she was in. One of the things that helped Joy cope in between contractions was crushed ice. I usually left the room and crushed/cut up ice while she was getting checked.
Joy: At some point they checked me again and I was 4-ish centimeters, and then again and I was 6-ish. (It was excruciating every time they checked me, Jon had to leave the room) I believe this is when they let me get in the birthing tub. I am pretty sure it was light out by now. The water really helped me relax through the contractions. Chrisy sat on the exercise ball next to the tub and lightly rubbed my arms which was pretty much the only thing I wanted. When my contractions started to be even more intense Chrisy would pour water on my back during each contraction. I’m pretty sure she did this for hours, she was an angel. (Jon and Roxy took turns pouring water too.) I remember telling the midwives I couldn’t imagine the contractions being any more intense and Roxy told me she didn’t think they would. Hindsight, I believe this was when I was in transition. All of the sudden I felt nauseous again and vomited anything else that was left in my stomach. Around this time I had a sudden longing for my older sister to be there and told Jon to text her to see if she could come.
Joy: The contractions were hard to even tell apart at this point, they kept coming and coming and usually just flowed right into the next with no breaks. They wanted me to get out of the tub to check me again. It was so hard for me to get out. I was so deep in labor and transition. When they finally got me out of the tub and onto the bed to check me, I was 8.5 centimeters! They asked me to push through a contraction while they were checking me and I felt my water break. Little did I know they couldn’t find my baby’s heartrate during this whole ordeal. Jon was watching from next to the bed and saw the panic on Chrisy’s face. I don’t even think they knew my water broke for awhile and I couldn’t even talk because the contractions were so intense. There was talk of giving me oxygen. They told me to quickly get on my hands and knees and that Chrisy was going to push the baby back up. My momma instincts kicked in. I was breathing deeply and talking to my baby telling him it would be okay and to stay strong. His heartrate came back up. Chrisy told me we were going to the hospital, I agreed because I completely trusted my midwives. My sister walked in just as this was all happening.
Jon: October 2nd from sunrise to afternoon is a real blur for me. All I know is that Joy hadn’t gotten any rest and had been working really hard. By this time we had filled up the birth tub and Joy did find some relief laboring in there. She still had to get out and go to the bed for a few examinations which were just as bad as the night before. She was progressing slowly though so we were hopeful that it wouldn’t be too much longer. At some point Joy and I fell asleep for no longer than a minute while she was in the tub and I was leaning on the outside maybe holding her hand or something. I know it couldn’t have been long because I woke up before the midwives could snap a picture. By this time it was roughly 3-4 pm or so. Joy was on the bed having another examination. Her water broke during a very hard contraction while Chrisy was checking her dilation. The other midwife checked for our baby’s heart rate as the had been doing regularly. Even I could tell it was silent for too long as she hunted around Joy’s stomach for the beat. In all the checking they did we always heard the heartbeat right away. Nobody totally panicked but I definitely felt the tension and saw the seriousness on Chrisy’s face as I heard Roxy give a few quick orders and saw Chrisy move very quickly into action. The only thing I remember Roxy saying is for Joy to turn over and get on all fours on the bed. “What just happened?” I thought. “Have we come all this way and now our baby isn’t going to make it?” I did the only thing I could at that moment. I went to prayer. I don’t even remember what the midwives did exactly but all of the sudden I heard the heart beat come back on the monitor and felt a huge relief. Roxy stated “we’re going to the hospital, that was too long of a drop in heart rate.” With that I began packing anything I could quickly and very shortly after we jumped in the car and I drove to the hospital while Joy and Chrisy were in the back seat. Joy laboring on all fours and Chrisy monitoring the heart rate, which stayed strong the whole car ride.
Joy: Unfortunately, with the abrupt and unexpected transfer to the hospital, my labor practically stopped. I was having contractions every 20 minutes by the time we arrived at the hospital. I had already pre-registered in case of transfer so we walked right in and I got on the hospital cot. Some male doctor came in to see me (protocol, even though my midwives worked out of the hospital and would still deliver my baby) and made some snarky comments to Chrisy about me being a home birth transfer. She stood her ground. Roxy arrived shortly after. I was very uncomfortable and just wanted to be in the water again. The next best thing was to be on my hands and knees. They hooked me up to Pitocin since my labor had stalled. This definitely made my contractions impossible to relax through. Every time I bent my wrist as I was on all fours, the IV machine would beep because it would cut off the flow of Pitocin. This was infuriating. My midwives gave me time, they encouraged me to try the shower since there was no tub. I tried so hard to relax but I just couldn’t. I had to drag the IV with Pit along with me into the bathroom. I crawled on the gross hospital shower floor on all fours, my knees were raw and bleeding. At this point Chrisy had to go home and Caitlyn (who was 8 months pregnant and had been at the hospital all day already) joined Roxy. They mentioned the word “epidural” to me. I was angry, I didn’t want it, I didn’t want the chemicals in my body. After some time they sent my sister in the bathroom to talk with me. Thank God she was there. She had already given birth twice and had a lot of wisdom. She kindly explained to me that getting the epidural might save me from having a cesarian since I had been in labor so long and my water had broken and we had to abide by hospital protocol. I was still defiant but shortly after I realized I simply could not relax to get to 10 centimeters and I still had no urge to push. I agreed to get the epidural.
Joy: Of course, once I made the decision, they told me the anesthesiologist had just went to a different floor and wouldn’t be back for close to an hour. By this point since I had made up my mind, I was thinking “give me the effing epidural!” It wasn’t quite an hour before he came in but it felt like forever. Sitting still for the needle while having the most intense contraction was nearly impossible. Roxy grabbed my arms, looked me in the eyes and gave me a pep talk. Then I had to lay flat on my back while the epidural did it’s thing, which was also excruciating during contractions. Soon my toes went numb and then crept up to my waist.
Jon: For the first time since the previous evening I saw Joy smile and relax. It was great to see her have relief after such a long time of hard work. I know she really didn’t want the epidural but I was glad she trusted her midwives. She was able to fall asleep for about 5-10 minutes if I recall correctly. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep during this time sitting up in a chair next to the bed she was on. By this point it was almost midnight again, and aside from the few seconds sleeping next to the birth tub, we had both been awake since Thursday morning, I had eaten just a little bit during Friday, Joy had eaten nothing but crushed ice since the labor began. The contractions started coming very rhythmically, we could actually see them coming on the computer screen graph before Joy felt them. We could also see the intensity of them too. They were getting stronger and closer together again and now I really started to think our baby was going to come before midnight for sure.
Joy: Shortly after the epidural kicked in I told Roxy I felt my baby’s head coming. She checked and sure enough, he was there. Caitlyn told me to reach down and feel the top of his head which was barely showing. It was warm, it was not my body, it was so strange and surreal. As he started to crown, the midwives saw meconium (even though my water was clear at home) and had to call the NICU team up in case he had swallowed any). I would say about 45 minutes or less of pushing on and off and he was out, 11:16pm on Friday October 2nd. I didn’t think I would get to hold him right away but Roxy practically threw him on my chest while she had Jon cut the cord before handing him over to the NICU team on the other side of the room. I heard him crying, I knew he was healthy and strong. It didn’t seem like long before they brought him back to me and we got to have our first skin to skin. So much relief in that moment, tears rolled down my cheeks. Our son, who we had been wondering who he was for 40 weeks, and who I had labored with for at least 40 hours (27 hours of active labor), was finally here! Nothing compares to the privilege of giving life and I was elated, definitely on a hormone high.
Jon: This is where everything just got so surreal. The midwives assured Joy that our baby’s head was now visible. I hadn’t planned on taking a look but Roxy basically forced me. Maybe it was due to my sleep deprivation I don’t know, but I said ok and took a look. I remember seeing the top of his head right there ready to come out! I went back up near Joy’s head and stood on the side of her bed as she began to push. I forget how many times she pushed, maybe 3 or 4 but I wouldn’t doubt that it was even 10 times. All of the sudden with an intense push from Joy the head was out! I heard the midwives telling Joy to slow down but shortly after his whole body was out and he was being held up in the air by Roxy. He was long and skinny like we figured he would be and his feet were comically long. He was also green which we didn’t expect but that was apparently due to the meconium. This might sound weird to some but as excited as I was I remember him looking more like a little alien than anything. Roxy put him straight on Joy’s chest and she had a brief moment to hold our baby for the first time. Roxy then put some scissors in my hand and told me to cut the cord. They rushed him over to a side room under some bright lights to clean him up and just a minute or so later he came back incredibly pink. He went right back on Joy’s chest and we really got a chance to be a family for the first time. He was strong and healthy and began looking to nurse right away.
Joy: My placenta followed shortly after and Roxy stitched me up. There’s a lot more to say about the whole recovery phase but that is for another post. I still marvel how all three of my midwives gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it. I went into the whole experience with preconceptions of what each midwife would be like during labor, but they all ended up being perfect in their own way. Roxy spoke affirmations to me during my whole labor, she stayed with me for 24 hours without sleeping and delivered my baby, she was my rock! Chrisy was an angel, rubbing my arms and pouring water on my back for hours on end, she truly doulas her laboring mothers. Caitlyn was a breath of fresh air, putting a positive spin on everything and filling the room with her bubbly personality. My husband Jon was always there to do anything I asked him and my sister was there for emotional support. I could not have done it without the help of such an amazing team!