Claire was born on February 18th at 12:24 pm. She was 6 lbs 11 oz and 19 inches long. Claire’s birth story began the week before on Saturday when Michelle started having consistent contractions that were about four minutes apart and she could no longer sleep through them. The contractions had started earlier in the day and had been getting stronger as the day progressed. The call went out to our midwife as the contractions became more intense and she came to the house at 11pm and monitored the baby’s heart rate through the contractions. Everything seemed good but the contractions began to slow. In the way that she does, our midwife looked at Michelle and said “Why don’t you just go to bed and get a good night sleep.” Meaning this baby is not coming tonight so best to save your energy. Everyone involved thought once the labor started it would go very quickly. We would all be wrong by the time it was over.
Over the next week Michelle had nightly contractions that were close together for several hours but seemed to fade as the night went on. Some words our midwife had said really stuck in our head. “She knows what she is doing (almost everybody thought the baby was girl), there must be some reason this is happening.” Each night we tried different things to speed the process, like going for a walk, adjustments, etc. If it seemed like there wasn’t going to be much more progress Michelle would take a bath, have a half glass of wine, or just go to bed early. If contractions eased enough so that she could sleep we knew that we wouldn’t be meeting the baby.
On Tuesday Michelle became a little nervous as she had not felt the usual movement of the baby throughout the day. This happened once with Owens pregnancy. Just like it did then, worry and a bit of panic began to set in. Our midwife was out doing another prenatal visit in the area, and said she would come over to listen to the heartbeat to see if everything was OK. In the mean time, she advised Michelle to drink something sweet to stimulate the baby. Michelle drank a Coke (that’s right). Long term this cannot be a good thing but, this one time, could be no worse than the stress of worrying about the baby. Michelle began to feel movement again and our midwife visit revealed a normal heart rate.
Thursday afternoon the contractions began again. We went for a long walk with Owen in the wagon and when it was time to bring Owen in for dinner Michelle continued to walk on her own and was joined later by a good friend to keep her company. The contractions progressed and became closer and more intense. We called the midwife to update her, and she said to call back if going to bed didn’t slow them. They persisted. So once again the midwife came to the house and brought her assistant with her this time. When they arrived the contractions were too difficult to walk through and we were dancing through them in the basement. They listened to the heart beat and all was well. This time Michelle asked for an internal to see what the progress was. Surely after all these days and all this effort there had to be good news! The report was: “fully effaced and I can feel the head, but minimal dilation.” No one seemed bothered by the slow dilation as the contractions seemed to really be intensifying. So Michelle kept walking around and dancing through them. The midwife set up her equipment in the bedroom after a couple hours as things seemed to be progressing nicely. Around 5am we called the neighbor to come over and help get Owen started in the morning. The contractions began to slow down around 7am and the midwife suggested that we go for a long walk outside, and see if we could get them going again. So we did. We took a beautiful walk around the lakes of Ashburn Village and enjoyed our time together. When we got back, we checked again and there was not much more cervical dilation. We decided to call this labor event quits as well. The midwife packed up her gear and they were going to head home. Since the patients had already been canceled for the day at the office, she advised we go out to lunch and enjoy the day. (easier said than done)! So we packed up Owen after his morning nap and went to lunch and to Frying Pan Farm Park. Michelle was having contractions all day and was very uncomfortable but we were intent on having a special day with Owen, and we did just that.
Friday night we decided to go to bed when Owen did, “just in case.” At 10:30 on Friday night Michelle was awoke by intense contractions again, and tried to get in the tub to see if they would stay or go away again. They stayed. So we called the midwife again and Michelle couldn’t even speak to tell her what was going on because the contractions were so intense. She had to pick her daughter up at the movies at midnight then would be right over. So we made our way out of the tub and into the basement so we wouldn’t wake up Owen. Contractions were fast and hard and Michelle threw up which we took as a good sign that it was really going to happen today. She labored intensely until about 2:30am. We did an internal check and found Michelle was 8 cm dilated. We were all encouraged! But then the contractions slowed some. Around 3:30 am the midwife said to go lie down and get some sleep. After a few hours of sleep the contractions resumed again. The midwife performed an internal exam that revealed slight lip remained on the cervix. She advised that Michelle lay on her side in bed and flip to the other side every fifteen minutes. We tried this for a couple hours and then checked again. The lip remained. Michelle asked her to move it aside manually and we set about doing that. With every contraction the midwife pulled the cervix back with her fingers in an effort to complete the dilation. It was very painful and she actually continued to hold it between contractions and pull it back during the contractions because it was so stubborn. This went on for a couple hours and finally around 11:30am she was satisfied that it would stay back on its own. During those hours Michelle changed positions quite a bit and the midwife just moved around with her.
It took Michelle several pushes to get the feel for moving the baby down and then it seemed all at once the baby was coming out. I quickly changed positions with the midwife, as we had agreed that I would catch the baby. We did not know the gender and the anticipation of our new arrival was intense. As the head crowned our midwife had Michelle wait to push to help avoid tearing for what seemed like an eternity. At the next push the head came out. We saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, arm and her upper body. The midwife calmly unwrapped the cord and told Michelle to give everything she had to push the baby out on the next push, as the baby was turning slightly purple. And she did. Out she came and I was there to catch her!
We immediately brought her up to Michelle’s belly and got her under a warm blanket and we could see it was Claire Christine who had arrived! After a few minutes the placenta was ready to come out as well. One quick push and it was out without incident. We left her connected to the umbilical cord to get as much of the cord blood as possible. We simply put the placenta in a bowl next to Michelle so Claire could stay attached, and still be close to Michelle. She was offered the breast and started nursing right away.
It was apparent now why the labor had stopped and started so many times. Claire very smartly was keeping herself safe. She was all wrapped up in her own umbilical cord, and needed to move down slowly, and reposition herself frequently for a safe birth. She and Michelle had worked together over the last week to have a very slow and peaceful birth.
The midwife and her assistant went upstairs to do some paperwork and left Michelle and I to enjoy our new little love, Claire. We had about an hour together before we cut the cord and Michelle went to take a shower. Afterward, Michelle needed a few stitches and with a little topical anesthetic from the drugstore that was taken care of. The midwife then performed a newborn exam, weighed Claire and inspected the placenta. Everything was just perfect.
We were ecstatic that Claire had finally arrived after so much work. Michelle was unbelievable laboring so long and intensely. She had not wanted much to eat or drink in the last 24 hours and suddenly could not get enough to drink or eat. I was happy to make the requested ham and eggs, she had earned it!
Owen had been with a family friend since that morning at5am, and she brought him back to meet his new sister. He was so sweet with her, and petted her hair saying “nice, nice.” What a wonderful feeling that was!
A home birth isn’t for everybody. When Michelle told me she wanted to do a home birth. I said “don’t you want to do it at the hospital just in case something goes wrong?” It seems like that is what everyone says. The reality was I had never though about the way babies come into this world. It’s like any other thing you never thought about before you just do what everybody does.
When Michelle explained the reasons why, it was clear that being home was going to be the best place for Michelle to give birth. Here are some of the reasons:
1.) Less chance of medical interventions, which lead to more medical interventions….even a simple IV of fluids can alter the hormones important for normal contraction of the uterus. There are many other interventions but you get the idea.
2.) Stress and Anxiety. A hospital environment can stress the woman giving birth so much that it can slow the labor or stop it. White coats, constant probing, being hooked up to monitors and “If you’re not fully dilated in a few hours we are going to have to do a c-section.” Probably the fastest way to tighten up a cervix. By the way a c-section is major surgery and significant measures should be made to avoid it if possible.
3.) Ability to eat and drink as you choose. Labor is hard work, and it’s important to have energy when it’s time to push.
4.) Freedom to walk and change positions during labor. This helps the mother and baby work together to optimize positioning and allow gravity to do its job.
A woman can give birth. Yes it seems basic, but it is true. We have been conditioned by TV and movies that a laboring woman is a hysterical mess and the only way they will make it through is with stirrups and an epidural. What really happens is you witness raw power and incredible empowerment of a woman. Why, if you did not have to, would you take that away from her?
Part of deconditioning myself from the idea that a woman cannot give birth without a hospital was reading birth stories in the book Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. After reading birth story after birth story I knew that it could be done.
If you are thinking about doing a home birth here are some things you should consider. Your family may not be warm and fuzzy about the idea. Generally you will have to convince them of what you want to do. Even then it will be a cool acceptance. They want the best and safest for you and in their mind that is in the hospital with as many interventions as deemed necessary.
Find a midwife that you are comfortable with. We loved our midwife. With both Owen and Claire’s birth her skill and knowledge on how to facilitate the natural birth process was invaluable. They would have both ended in a c-section in a hospital. It seems the skills and knowledge about how to help a birth along has been lost to the medical profession.
Lastly, you can have ham and eggs or whatever you want after you have pushed your baby out in your basement. You are already home.