My due date came and went, without surprise. Braxton Hicks sensations had been increasing, as had menstrual-like cramping, so I knew it wouldn’t be too terribly long. Then on Saturday, May 29, at 40 + 5, I lost my mucus plug and had some bloody show! Andrew was out so I did what any kind wife would do and saved the pink mucosal glob on some toilet paper so he could see this weird science-goo for himself later. The day went on, and I got this urge to hill all the potatoes in the garden, scythe the weeds down, and clean the kitchen and house. I guess that was my nesting instinct kicking in right on time for our planned home birth.
We went to bed, and I woke up at 12:30 AM and coughed….and felt wetness.
I knew it wasn’t pee, so I got up to use the toilet and more and more fluid kept leaking out of me, then a gush. Clear, odorless, beautiful amniotic fluid. I really did not expect my water to break first. I was actually holding out for an en caul birth in my mind (hah, best-laid plans…)! Contractions started immediately, lasting about 30-60 seconds and 7 minutes apart. I called the midwife, we chatted, and decided she would come over first thing in the morning (7ish) to start IV antibiotics. I was positive for Group B Strep (GBS), despite an impeccable diet, years of food-based and supplemental probiotics, and implementing every remedy out there, and was up until that moment still debating whether to receive antibiotics.
This is definitely a theme I keep encountering in birth and in life: sometimes, even when we do everything “right”, undesirable things still happen. We can definitely try to set ourselves up for the best, but we do not have the final say in the end. Andrew and I tried to get some sleep, and as early labor surged through my body and mind, I envisioned all my grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers working through their labors as powerful life-giving women. I said each of their names in my mind and tried as best as I could to channel their strength and confidence.
My midwife Leslie and her assistant arrived 7 hours later, hooked me into a removable IV, and continued to administer a bag of penicillin every 4 hours.
I was not happy about exposing my newborn to this slu of gut-destroying drugs, but it was the best decision for us given the circumstances, and in retrospect, I think it saved me from a difficult birth. They left, and for the next 12 hours or so this was our routine: Andrew and I laboring alone, contractions keeping steady at about 6-10 minutes apart, me resting and saving up energy. I found that moaning and moving my pelvis in circles felt the best during this early labor stage. Fortunately, my body kept making plenty of amniotic fluid, so with every contraction I leaked a bit more. It became a bit annoying though, so eventually, I either labored over towels or wore some Depends! Ah, the things you don’t get told about labor.
Surprisingly, things were still not getting hot and heavy, but we all guessed that things would pick up in the night, which was my pattern for the past few weeks of cramps and Braxton hicks contractions anyway. Things did pick up a bit (I even vomited!), we called our doula over, and I felt like things were moving! Hooray! We kept on like this for hours, and I was feeling groovy. We even blew up the birth pool.
And then, the pivotal moment: the rooster crowed.
I fell apart. We had labored through the second night in a row, with morning nearly here, and STILL, I was not in the “active” phase of labor. Just as the midwives arrived to administer the next bag of penicillin at 4:00 AM, I burst into tears. I found myself sobbing, “My body fails my babies, what is wrong with me?” The grief of my first pregnancy compounded itself on my current feeling of failure, like a confirmation that maybe I’m never meant to mother a living baby.
My birth team held me, physically and emotionally, as I worked through this grief and frustration. And then my midwife had a talk with me. It had been over 28 hours since my water broke and labor started, and I had gotten very little sleep. My lack of active labor was truly a shock to us all. She broke it to us that we might consider a non-emergency transfer to the hospital, to hook me up to Pitocin to get my body to rev things up. Again, I burst into tears, feeling like an absolute failure. How stupid of me to attempt a home birth for my first full-term birth, how stupid of me to be so proud and hopeful that it will all work out this way, how stupid of me to think that because my daughter died maybe the universe would gift me the perfect birth of my dreams, how stupid of me to think I deserve things to work out in my favor.
Andrew and I were both deeply disappointed as we gathered items to put in overnight bags for the hospital and said goodbye to our dream of homebirth.
He was born at home right here on this land, and I had so much faith that we would be able to do this here as well. Andrew held me in his arms as he told me my body is perfect, I am not a failure, I am strong, and I did everything right. Then we decided that we were going to try our hardest to make this hospital birth beautiful, peaceful, and empowering. A home birth in the hospital.
It was a very teary ride as we made our way to the hospital around 11:00 AM, me contracting only every 15 minutes or so lying in the back seat of my car. Fortunately, I was allowed two support people in our birthing room, so our midwife Leslie joined us for the duration of labor until the baby would be born. We were all exhausted, so as I waited in the L&D triage room for a few hours by myself, Leslie and Andrew took turns napping in their cars.
Finally, at 2:00 PM we entered our birthing room, which was quite comfortable!
I got hooked into an IV and was given a low dose of pitocin, as well as the continuing penicillin. At this point, it had been 38 hours since my waters had released, which for many hospitals would have resulted in an immediate C-Section. We met our nurses and doctor, who were all extremely empathetic to our situation. They completely understood that we did not want to be in the hospital, that we had planned for an intervention-free home birth, and that we were in it for the long haul to have a vaginal birth.
The OB was amazing: she told me I was young, strong, and healthy, and there was no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to birth this baby vaginally. Every time I had a contraction she would stop talking, nod her head and tell me “great job,” and look me in the eye and tell me I could do this. Our entire hospital birth team was incredible, and I think were it not for them things would have turned out quite differently.
So, we continued to labor.
Andrew, Leslie, and I watched as things progressed quite quickly and my labor moved from “early” to “active.” Whereas in early labor I moved around, still talked in between contractions, and moaned through the sensations, the active stage left me more internal, quiet, and still. The doctor checked my cervix a couple of hours later (OUCH, I hated that) and told me I was at 4 cm. I was pretty deep in the zone of the ancient brain, but when she checked again several hours later and told me I was at a 5 cm, I broke down sobbing and frustrated. After all that, how could I only be 5 cm dilated?!?
My back was starting to hurt a ton, and even with Leslie, Andrew, and the nurse applying heat packs and massage, I was very uncomfortable. The doctor used an ultrasound to double-check her suspicion of a posterior baby (this baby literally flipped front to back every day for months!), and then offered some ideas on how to get this baby facing the correct way. We considered some spinning babies moves, which I scoffed at because I had been doing those damn spinning babies moves every day for MONTHS and my stubborn babe wouldn’t stay in an optimal position. So the doctor offered to physically move the baby internally, which would be painful but likely very effective. Sure, I said, go ahead and stick your hand up my cervix and rotate the baby’s head and body. I’m glad I made that choice, but it was BY FAR the most painful part of the entire birth. After the babe rotated, labor progressed much quicker and my back pain disappeared. Phew.
At some point, I asked Andrew to turn on my music playlist, which kept playing on repeat like 20 times.
That’s when things became even more ancient in my brain, even psychedelic, and the outer world simply did not exist. I met every surge with my deep breath, on hands and knees or swaying my hips, and simply rode the wave through the power of the sensations. The nurses referred to our room as “The Zen Den” because of how peaceful I was. I would not classify contractions as painful, just intense. I could hear people talking softly but I could not listen. The only things I could verbally communicate were “water” and “barf” (I learned that I am a frequent vomiter, haha). The words of my midwife echoed in my mind as she calmly whispered in my ear: “The power of the universe is flowing through you, down and out your cervix. Soften, and make way for your baby.” My husband’s encouraging voice interlaced contractions as he soothed my doubts: “You are so strong, you can do this, you are amazing, you are beautiful, I love you.”
Eventually, the doctor came in and checked me again. This time she did not tell me my dilation; she didn’t want me to become discouraged (I asked after the birth: I was at 7 cm). I found her eyes and asked her if she thought I could do this. “Without a doubt,” she said and told me how strong and amazing I was. I kept asking her, the nurse, Andrew, and Leslie whenever I would get in my head and have my doubts, and every time they told me they 100% believed in me completely to birth this baby.
I made my way to the bathtub for a second time, which was so soothing.Pretty soon though, I totally lost it.
I started weeping and wailing, crying, “I just can’t do this! Why are you taking so long, baby? This is horrible! I can’t go on!” I said to the nurse, “Maybe I should just get a freaking epidural!” She replied, “Well honey, it’s too late for that now, and besides, you’ve got this!” I was just so angry at the world but had the darndest time expressing why. Andrew was such a dear, his response was, “Well babe, yell! Be angry! Get pissed off!” So I did. I also hollered, “I am NOT doing this again, NO MORE BABIES!!!!” Not much of a zen-den anymore. And then, the moment that I look back on and laugh at so much: “LESLIE…..I’M…..DYINGGGG,” I wailed to my midwife. I started grunting and getting pushy, and all of a sudden a horde of nurses arrived in the room, an infant bed appeared, and it dawned on me somewhere in my mind that maybe I was in transition and the baby was getting close (duh).
The nurse pulled me out of the tub, even though I begged to stay in, and we went to the bed. At some point, I looked at the clock and saw it was just past midnight on June 1, and thought, “Noooooo!” This was significant because it meant I would not be having a May baby like I really thought we would. Not that it really matters, it was just kind of funny it worked out the way it did. The doctor checked my cervix again (ugh) and said I was fully dilated except for a small cervical lip. So I labored some more, through even more intense contractions, and then the doctor physically moved the lip with her fingers (ouch).
Eventually, I got on my hands and knees and felt the urge to push.
I suppose it must have been about 1:30 AM. It mostly came naturally, but if it were up to me I would have rested more before doing the intense pushing. At this point though, I was absolutely exhausted and we all agreed we just wanted the baby out. As I felt the baby descending through my cervix and into my pelvis, the pressure and sensations were INTENSE! I found myself unable to breathe calmly and keep myself serene, and exclaimed, “I lost my center! I can’t stay calm anymore!” During every contraction, I found balance in making eye contact with the doctor as she coached me through breathing. I found myself on my side, with one hip and leg elevated and higher than the other; this seemed to be the preferred position for baby and made my pelvis more spacious. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed, for what seemed like forever (it was 1.5 hours), and before I knew it I could feel my baby’s fuzzy head with my fingers!
Eventually, when the babe was crowning, I felt tension and fear in the room. I kept calm, because I knew baby and I were fine, but the doctor and nurses were really pushing for me to get this baby out on the next contraction. I sighed, felt exhausted, and pushed way beyond what my body was telling me to do (ugh!), but out the baby swooshed, and I tore a wee bit. I didn’t actually feel anything during those last pushes, I think the pressure of the head really numbed my whole nether-regions.
Our baby was born at 3:05 AM on Tuesday, June 1, 2021! I was 41 weeks and 1 day pregnant.
They put the naked babe on my naked chest immediately, and Andrew announced, “It’s definitely a boy!” The first thing he heard was me singing the Gaelic lullaby to him that I sang to him in-utero every day since 16 weeks. I wanted him to have some familiarity and comfort in a time of raw newness. Our son let out a little cough, they rubbed him vigorously to make sure he was breathing fine (he was), and he found my nipple and latched immediately! It was so surreal. This little human that I had been carrying for 9 months was now on my chest! He looked so foreign to me, but I was falling in love fast. I thought for sure I would cry, but Andrew and I were mostly in shock and too exhausted. Our son had arrived!
I pushed out my placenta (even though the doctor kept pulling on the cord! Ugh!), and my body did exactly what it was supposed to. All the hospital staff remarked how beautiful and healthy my placenta was.
He was with me a full hour before they whisked him to the scale, then immediately put him back on my chest. He weighed a whopping 8 lbs 12.9 ounces, which shocked Leslie and our nurse, and measured out to 22” long. No wonder why he was always in an awkward position in the womb: he was so big compared to the size of my torso! I felt like such a warrior birthing such a large baby vaginally, over so many hours, and without any pain medication.
Little Eamon John passed all his newborn exams, impressed all the nurses with his champion nursing skills, and charmed everyone who met him.
We were exhausted after this epic marathon birth and were anxious to return home the next day. From my water breaking and the start of contractions to holding him in my arms was 50 hours. From the start of the Pitocin drip (2 cm dilated) to birth was 13 hours, which is a pretty reasonable birthing time. Too bad I just had a day and a half of exhausting early labor and ruptured membranes beforehand! In retrospect, I am pretty certain his malpositioning was what caused labor to be so slow to start.
Although our birth did not go as planned, I am grateful for the medical intercessions that helped us all stay safe and let me birth my son vaginally and peacefully. My midwife assures me that I can absolutely try for a home birth again if I become pregnant again, which I’m already thinking ahead to. I’m really that crazy, wanting to do it all again. Oh, hormones!
Ever since we arrived home, our community has stepped up to help: meals for several weeks, house cleaning, emotional support, flowers, and so much love.
We feel so blessed. Andrew left for fishing in Alaska at just 2 weeks postpartum (which is our primary income source), and though raising a newborn alone has been challenging, I am again blessed with support from friends and family. We are so looking forward to his return after 7 weeks away so we can be reunited as a family again.
I look at my son’s face and smile and cry. How miraculous it is that he is here safe in my arms, after so much heartbreak. How sad it is that his face is the closest face I’ll ever meet to my daughter’s face. How much I miss my sweet daughter who I never got to hold and love. And how blessed we are to have such a healthy thriving child here with us crying and breathing and smiling.
Thank you to PALS for providing me a space to document my journey for the benefit of others, and for providing all the resources and support for pregnant after loss families. What an intense journey it is, to harbor life inside after the grief of loss, but we are all stronger with the love and support of each other. May we all continue to have hope in our journeys after loss.