The following stories are from my clients and have all been reprinted with the author's permission.
I’ve heard many times that third babies are unpredictable. My first two had come right before their due dates, and within four hours. I expected this one to be a week late, missing the whole definition of unpredictable. Nothing quite prepared me for the experience of Sabrina’s birth.
Our due date was December twenty-first. Sabrina had already begun to drop in November. By the beginning of December I was having some painful Braxton Hicks fairly often. We speculated a possible early delivery. I tried not to get my hopes up.
just some pre-labor
Thursday December thirteenth, I felt particularly sick. The nausea was just awful, and I was having contractions every eight minutes. When I went to the bathroom that morning I noticed a lot of bloody show. I was so excited I called my husband Chris at work and interrupted his meeting to tell him he needed to be ready to run if I called again. I spent that entire day waiting for the contractions to pick up. They never did. By that night I was in tears. After a good cry I fell asleep.
We both woke up around five-thirty the next morning, the fourteenth. I began to time the contractions that hadn’t stopped all night and they were four minutes apart. I was stumped. I’d experienced so many false alarms with this baby, and my last one, that I just didn’t know what to think. I hated the idea of having my midwife drive an hour to our house for labor that wasn’t really going anywhere.
Chris decided he didn’t want to be alone if this baby came as quickly as our last one, and called our midwife. My contractions picked up as we waited for her to arrive. I still couldn’t bring myself to believe this was it.
3 centimeters dilated
She arrived and quickly checked me, only to find that I was three centimeters dilated and fifty percent effaced. She told me to try sleeping and she would check me again in an hour. I couldn’t sleep a wink. My head was whirling. Chris however, was sawing logs in a matter of minutes. After an hour I had not progressed at all. We decided to stop the labor by “knocking me out”, so I could get some sleep. I took two Tylenol PM and slept for three hours. When I woke up the contractions were back to eight minutes apart. The boys were awake and doing their thing, running wild and making messes. I timed contractions for awhile and then began to clean… again. Chris knew I was truly agitated when I began washing dishes. I hate washing dishes.
I called my mom to let her know what was going on. She suggested I take zinc to speed the labor. She’d done it when I was born and said it worked. So I took two zinc, and sat down to rest. I decided that I had all weekend to have this baby so I was just going to chill out and try to stay positive. This was around five o′clock. At five-thirty I had eaten half my sandwich, and suddenly felt so nauseated I couldn’t finish it. I decided to lie down. My contractions were three minutes apart. I was still not sure if this was really it.
Chris made a quick call to the midwife again and our friend Maryellen to come over and watch the boys. I got up to walk and refused to lie down again because I didn’t want the contractions to stop. I became very determined to make this baby come if it took all night. I was even massaging my abdomen because it made my uterus contract.
My midwife arrived again around six-thirty and began setting up. It was fascinating to watch her. She was so organized. In just a little while she had all her tools laid out on a cookie sheet and new sheets on our bed covered by plastic and another sheet with disposable pads on top of that. We were set to go.
The three of us talked in between contractions. We shared stories, swapped jokes, and quoted comedians. Bill Cosby’s account of his wife’s first birth had me cracking up when a really big contraction hit and I leaned against Chris who was sitting on the bed in front of me. He was pretty tired too, and rested his head on my belly. It actually helped with the pain!!! For the next several contractions that was our stance. I rested my hands on his shoulders as he pressed his head against my belly while giving me a hug and rubbing my back. I know we probably looked silly, but I certainly didn’t care.
Around a quarter to nine I told my midwife that I was really confused. I’d never had a labor last so long, and the contractions were so strong. She thought that perhaps Sabrina had turned posterior, and that was slowing things down. I asked her to check my progress, and she said I was seven centimeters. The baby wasn’t posterior, but she did notice some scar tissue on my cervix. We assumed it was from Clark’s speedy entrance into this world three years ago. I was so tired that she asked if I wanted her to break the water to speed things up. I said, “Yes” without hesitation.
breaking the water
She began trying to break it with her fingernails but it wouldn’t budge. We started to chuckle at its strength. She tried again, but could only pull on it. By that time we were in hysterics. Chris didn’t get the joke so much, so I told him the bag was so strong it wouldn’t break, and it felt like she was pulling a water balloon out of my vagina. It took her several attempts with an amniohook , but it did finally break. It wasn’t until that moment that I accepted the fact that I was going to have a baby that day.
I got up to go to the restroom, and had three powerful contractions in a matter of a few minutes. “Wow”, I thought, “Transition already?” I got back to my room and sat on the side of the bed. The contractions came so fast and so strong I couldn’t quite think straight. Suddenly I was pushing. Chris and the midwife were making a last attempt at prepping the pool that our son had poked a hole in days earlier. We had planned a water birth, but it was not to be. Chris quickly sat down in front of me to help me breath through the contractions. When asked if I was pushing, I kind of whimpered, “Yeah.”
“it’s a head”
My midwife started to put her gloves on. I stood up and leaned against Chris so she could change the wet pad underneath me, and out came Sabrina’s head. Chris said,”There’s something down there.”, and I screamed, “It’s a head!” to which my midwife calmly replied, “Well so it is.” She placed her hand on Sabrina’s head, and it was a good thing too, because the very next second her body just shot out. She said, “Grab your baby!”, and we did. I held her arm, and Chris held the rest of her. Somehow I ended up lying back on the bed with Sabrina on my chest. Judah and Clark hovered over us, fascinated by their new little sister. My midwife still had a glove half on, just flopping all over the place.
That was my first bare handed catch, she said and we all laughed.
I noticed the cute little birth mark on Sabrina’s chest, and her blonde hair. She was so beautiful. Suddenly, as in every birth, I forgot all about the nausea, headaches and exhaustion. For such a miserable pregnancy it ended so perfectly. My labor was long, emotional, and tiring, but it was also sweet, and casual; even fun at times. I loved the way I laughed my way through it. “This is how babies should be born.” I thought, quietly and casually with laughter and tears.
Chris dressed Sabrina while I bathed. When I came back to the bedroom, Judah was holding her with the biggest grin on his face. We all crawled into bed for a family picture. We were so glad our baby girl was finally here. Our family felt complete.
The following story is from a VBAC mom who had a rough pregnancy, a long prodromal stage and a very difficult labor. I have included her story because I want women to know that even if you do not "enjoy" your labor experience, you are still strong and capable, and, more importantly, you may not be alone. By the way, she went on to have another home birth with me a few years later.
Benjamin’s birth story begins in March when we found out I was expecting, only 6 months after trying to conceive. It took us almost 5 years with Brendan, so we were happily surprised to have another on the way so soon! From the beginning I felt it must be a girl, since I had much worse morning sickness than in my first pregnancy. I also craved chocolate, which I don’t normally! A 24-week ultrasound “confirmed” my suspicions…yes, it showed a girl! We called “her” Molly for 4 months!
It was a hard pregnancy for me, beginning with the morning sickness, then itchy hands and feet, a painful hernia until about 6 months, heat rash, SPD, hemorrhoids, and more. In addition, it was very stressful trying to decide on a birthplace and care provider since I was convinced that a VBAC was healthiest for me and my baby. My options within the medical community were less and less promising, and I hoped for a peaceful birth without having to fight for it. After researching and interviewing, Jeff and I decided on a homebirth with a midwife. When we met Juliet, we were impressed with her calm demeanor and wholesome, realistic approach to birth. We felt immediately comfortable with her. She even came to our house to do prenatals, and it was such a treat not to have doctor appointments throughout the pregnancy! I did visit an OB one time for an ultrasound. I did not plan on going back, but the atmosphere within the office further convinced me that I did not want to birth in a medical environment.
Around 37 weeks, I felt the birth must be imminent, since that’s when I had Brendan! I patiently waited until 40 weeks, but when that came and went, I started losing patience. I struggled on miserably until 41 weeks, having started and stopped labor several times already. I was adamantly opposed to any kind of induction, fearing another c-section caused by “failure to wait”. I also had worked hard on fetal positioning, and felt that if labor had not picked up on its own, the baby might not be in a good position, and induction might commit her to a delivery in a bad position - and all of the issues that entailed.
My EDD was Nov. 4th. Starting on the 2nd, I had several rounds of serious contractions. Jeff even stayed home from work one day! Friday morning, Nov. 12th, I had my first bout of active – pattern labor. I had 3 hours of contractions 4 min. apart and 60 sec long, from about 7 am. I was disappointed when they fizzled out, gradually stretching farther and farther apart. I was in a lot of pain from my hemorrhoids, and needed lots of help. Jeff stayed home from work again. I was miserable, crabby and frustrated. Not a good day. When I finally got to sleep, I had only 2 hours or so before the contractions kicked up early Saturday morning. Again, an active labor pattern! Juliet (the midwife) was moving that day, and I just knew I was gonna wreck her plans! I got all excited again. After 5 hours of really intense contractions, lasting 90 seconds and only 3 minutes apart – fizzled again. What was going on? I called so many people to tell them to stand by, only to have to call and tell them (again) that nothing was happening now. I was so sure. The increasing intensity and closeness had me convinced! But this time I didn’t have to wait until morning for another round. Although they spaced out to 30 min apart through the day, contractions came back slowly to 20 min apart, 15, 10…Finally, by 11 pm, they were only 4 minutes apart and lasting 60 sec. again. They were the most painful yet. I had to stand up each time one came to manage them. I could not relax and was getting scared that something might happen before anyone arrived. So I called my doula, Ann, at 2 am. She came out around 3:30, but contractions were already spacing out before she arrived. I just couldn’t believe it. I was still contracting at least every 10 minutes, and it was so helpful to have her there to help me through them. They were so hard. By 8 am we were all exhausted, and decided to try to lie down. I was able to sleep in spite of a few waking contractions. At 11 am, Ann left to go home. Jeff and I slept the rest of the afternoon. A few times I woke up with a monster contraction that made me moan & cry out in my sleep! But nothing consistent. Eventually, they quit all together. So we went through the evening…Brendan was at Grandma’s the whole day, which helped me rest, even though I missed him and felt bad that he was gone. Jeff went and had dinner with them, which gave me some quiet time alone. Later that evening, I missed Brendan terribly and started to cry. We had him come home, and the family stayed and visited a little. It felt good for all of us to sleep in our own beds that night.
I felt so good Monday, I thought I could do this forever! Ha ha… It was the first day in a week that I had no pain and no contractions to work through. What a relief! Juliet came out for a check/prenatal around 2 pm. The baby was in a good position and was very reactive, which we were happy about. I had Juliet do an internal check, which showed I was 80% effaced and 1 cm dilated. She could barely reach my cervix and was not able to sweep my membranes, which was all right with me. Even with the check, I felt very crampy a few hours later, and was almost sorry we had done that. Jeff worked Monday and Tuesday, so I had Brendan on my own. But Grandma helped me out for several hours, and I was able to nap both days. I was so glad that Jeff would be home again Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday was a hard day. I had more prodromal labor each day, and I was tired and hurting. I could barely walk from all the pressure on my bladder and pelvis. Jeff went to a movie that night, and I had a meltdown, crying because I just couldn’t stand to be pregnant anymore! I was so, so uncomfortable. When he got home, we packed up Brendan and went out for Chinese food. It was nice to get out as I had been stuck at home for days! But we came straight home afterwards. I made some cheesecake bars before bed, just to have something to do, even though it was very hard to stand up that long. Finally we got ready for bed around 3 am and wouldn’t you know it – more contractions. I had no way to know that this was the beginning of my actual labor! I had a glass of wine and tried to sleep. No luck. I went to the bathroom and was very excited to notice some pink mucous on the toilet paper! Finally, finally, there was some progress that I could see! The contractions were pretty spaced out, but started getting closer together. I stayed up watching TV, unable to sleep.
By 7 am Thursday (42 weeks and my birthday!) they were again about 4 minutes apart, sometimes 3. I was able to handle them with breathing. Through the morning I had more show, called my birth team to put them on notice, and started to feel very sleepy. Jeff went to the store for some last minute things. Brendan woke up at 11:30 so I called Grandma, who came and took him. I couldn’t even think about nursing him! I laid down to try and rest, while Jeff made a pot of chili, picked up the house, and inflated my pool. Contractions spaced out a bit, which allowed me to get a little rest. But they were still quite hard and obviously dilating my cervix, as I continued to have more mucous. They continued all day and evening, in patterns from 4 to 8 minutes apart. I had to call my birth team several times to let them know things were staying the same. I was getting discouraged. After midnight, Jeff went to bed. The contractions didn’t allow me to sleep. Around 4:00 am, I had been laboring for 24 hours, been up for over 36 hours, and I was exhausted. I was desperately missing my son, who had to stay at Grandma’s over night for the first time. I was crying from frustration, praying, and even posting on the ICAN list asking for prayers. I planned to wait until 8 am and then call Juliet, my midwife, to come out and check on me. At 5:30 I got a little break and fell into an exhausted sleep, waking every 10 min or so for a giant contraction. At 7:30 my Mom called, and I was awake and going again. I called Juliet right at 8 am. I told her I wanted her to come out. She was planning on a prenatal for me at 11, but I told her to come as soon as she could. Within minutes of me talking to her, contractions picked way up in frequency and intensity. I told Jeff to fill the pool! I couldn’t get comfortable. I got in the pool when there was only a few inches of water in it. I ran the hose over my belly and the warm water felt soo good. But the water started to get cold and we turned it off. I stayed in the pool for about 30 minutes, but I could not handle a contraction sitting down. Getting up took me out of the water. When I got out to use the bathroom, I never got back in. It was too much trouble!
Within an hour I was starting to lose control. After an unbearably painful contraction, I threw up. I couldn’t believe it. No one had arrived yet. I told Jeff to call Juliet and see where she was. I didn’t want to have this baby by myself! I think she was surprised, because I had just talked to her a few hours before and nothing was happening. She was 20 minutes from my house. We also called our doula, who was at another birth. She sent her backup, Vicki, who happened to be the instructor from our hypnobirthing class. I was happy to have her wisdom and experience. I am afraid I didn’t impress her very much, though! Labor from here on out was pretty much a train wreck!
I barely remember Juliet arriving, around 10:30. I was already lost, at the mercy of these unbelievable contractions. Somewhere in the next hour, Vicki arrived, as well as the midwife’s assistant, Jen. I latched on to Vicki’s hand, while Jeff applied amazing counterpressure to my hips and sacrum. I didn’t have back labor, per se, but my hip joints felt like they were coming apart! No one else could give me any relief…I needed those big, strong hands of my husband’s. Boy, did I give him a workout! I would tell him “Squeeze! Higher! Now the middle! Lower!!” Sometimes when a contraction started I would just wail, “Honey, SQUEEZE!!!” The doula joked later that she would re-name the double-hip squeeze the “Honey-squeeze” when she taught her classes. I tried to lie down a few times, but this position didn’t allow for the counterpressure I needed. Most of the time I stood next to the bed, leaning over the birth ball which was on the bed. There was no relaxing, no control, no rest – just pure survival. I screamed, yelled, begged for help, cried, prayed…for 5 hours! Juliet checked me at 12:30 and said I was 7-8 cm. (This was the first time I let her get near enough to check me! But I had to know!) She said, “No wonder, sweetie…you’re in transition!” “No freakin’ kidding,” I thought! I kept saying, “I can’t do one more of these! Somebody please help me. DO SOMETHING!!!” Later they all laughed because everyone WAS doing something, holding my hand, squeezing hips, rubbing my back, etc. All I wanted was a little rest. I kept begging for a rest!! They said contractions were about 3 minutes apart, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t rest between them, either. They kept telling me to relax my bottom. What??? Honestly, I would have had an epidural 20 times over if I had been in the hospital. I probably would have gone to the hospital if I thought I could have made it to the car, or survived the ride. I kept thinking it had to be almost over, even when it wasn’t. I was really scared because it was so much worse than I ever imagined. I didn’t know anyone could live through something like that. It shocked me when the midwife and her assistant were calmly sitting in my living room, reading and talking, while I screamed like a banshee in the next room. Like this was NORMAL??? All three attendants granted that I broke the record for most noise made in labor. Ooh, good for me! Again, I never expected that. I am a really quiet person and expected to moan or cry, but….not this!
I was dragged to the bathroom a couple of times. Laboring on the toilet didn’t help. One time they had me try sitting backwards leaning on the back of the toilet. That was the worst. I felt trapped and started flipping out. Finally, as I was going to the bathroom for at least the 10th time, I started making grunting sounds. My midwife didn’t recognize them, because, as she said, I had made so many different sounds the whole time! My doula said I started babbling in my own “language”. I didn’t notice this but I think it was when I was trying to talk but the grunts were taking over. It felt like trying to talk when you have the wind knocked out of you. After the contraction, not realizing I was pushing, I said, “Do you think the shower would help?” Yes, they all agreed, so I tried to get in the shower and sit on the birth ball! It was a joke! I couldn’t get up. I might have been in there for about 2 contractions. Jeff had to get in the shower and stand on the corners of the tub and pull me out. Then I knew I was pushing. I told everyone that I was pushing. We went back across the hall to the bedroom and Juliet checked me again. Yes, I was complete. It was almost 3 pm. I did not really choose which position to push in, but just collapsed on the bed in exhaustion. So I ended up lying on my right side, which I had been wanting to do all day! Oh, it felt so good. Contractions spaced out enough that I could really rest in between. Then when they came, they weren’t very painful anymore. I pushed hard with each contraction, but it was infinitely easier than any of the labor I had just been through. I could feel the baby moving down with each push. My water broke about halfway through the pushing, but leaked out slowly as baby’s head was already in the way. Pretty soon, I could feel the stretching part. Jeff went down to hold up my leg and watch the birth. I kept wanting to put my leg down, and everyone kept saying, ”No, no, no!” The head was already coming. Juliet used oil and hot compresses to ease the crowning. I felt a bit of a stretch, but not the ring of fire I had been so worried about. I didn’t even realize when I had pushed out the head. Juliet asked me calmly if I was getting another contraction. No, I replied happily. I didn’t know that they were waiting for me to push out the rest of my baby! They had asked me if I wanted to touch the head, or watch in the mirror. I am sorry to say that I declined both options. I was so exhausted that I wasn’t that interested. I surely do regret that now. With the next contraction, I pushed the baby out. I thought that I had pushed out the head and body with that one push. I was really surprised later when they told me about the time in between. What a wonderful feeling…I can’t describe the relief! The placenta followed within just a few minutes.
I rested a minute while they worked on the baby. I was so tired that I didn’t immediately realize that the baby was not breathing and had no heart rate. They said that he needed some help, and handled everything so calmly that I didn’t have time to be frightened. Juliet did a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, some chest compressions, and some vigorous rubbing and patting. I only saw the part where she was holding baby up patting his back and bottom. The baby pinked up quickly and started to make some little sounds. (Apgars were 5 and 9.) It was then that Jeff pointed out that this baby was not “Molly” as we were expecting! The ultrasound had indicated a girl. What a surprise to find we had a beautiful boy! It was one of my favorite moments of the birth. Benjamin Jacob was born at 3:29 pm, after 37 minutes of pushing. He weighed in at 9 lbs. 5 oz., and was 20 inches long.
Juliet tucked him in next to me and we tried to encourage him to nurse, to help with his respirations. Although he wasn’t interested right away, he was alert and looking around. He received a little oxygen for the first 20 minutes or so. After we had plenty of time to meet and hold our new son, it was time for me to get checked. I had a minor 2nd degree tear and a skid mark, neither of which was particularly painful. It turned out that I had a partial placental abruption, and baby had aspirated some blood on the way out. It was not known whether this or temporary cord compression caused his delayed breathing. I did not have any major bleeding, although they had me drink an herbal cocktail just in case. Eventually, I was helped up and got into the shower to clean up. I couldn’t believe I felt so good after all I had just been through! I got dressed and sat in my recliner while Juliet and Jen did the newborn exam. I held my sweet new son while close family started to arrive. The birth team cleaned up our room and left everything tidy. It was the best moment when my little son came home and met his baby brother. He was happy to see the baby, but only until he saw his bedroom. “There’s a swimming pool in my bedroom!” he shouted, and never gave baby another thought. Imagine being 2 years old and coming home to find a swimming pool in your room! (We had set up the birth pool in there.) It was better than Christmas!
Later Juliet told us that when she checked me at 7-8 cm, the baby’s head was still not engaged. She admitted she had been concerned at that point. But he must have dropped down quickly when the time was right. As it turned out, he came out perfectly LOA, and it appeared that positioning was not an issue in the labor. I had felt that he was LOA even during the long days of prodromal labor. So, I will probably never know what caused that.
There is still so much to process from this birth. I was completely traumatized by the labor for several days, and didn’t even feel that excited about having my longed-for VBAC. I couldn’t see signing on to do that again. Part of me thought, if I pushed him out that easily, I could have done that with an epidural, right? Then I thought about the moment of birth. The crisis was handled in a calm, professional, and humane manner. I warmed him with my body, spoke to him and nursed him when he was ready. Surely, in the hospital, baby would have been whisked off to NICU and I would not have held him for who knows how long. As it was, I went to bed in my own room with my new baby that night, and we all came out fine. I couldn’t put a price on that. And a week later, holding my son, I realized I had bonded with him in a way I could not even compare with my c-section baby. It took me a year and so much pain to get to the same place with my first-born! Benjamin looked at my face, and turned to my voice within the first days, while I cried for months when Brendan would not look at me. How can I compare physical pain and emotional pain? It is a question I don’t have an answer for yet. I just know I survived. Everything worked. I don’t know if it was “supposed” to feel like that, or if it would be like that again next time. I don’t know if exhaustion or fear played a part. Nothing happened as I expected it to, and I have had some grief over that (days of Jeff’s vacation lost to prodromal labor, an out-of-control labor, packing up all the little pink clothes, and more….) There is an unmistakable joy over everything, though, and I am so thankful for that. It’s a new feeling for me. I am thrilled that Brendan has a brother to grow up with. I know my baby is healthy and has had a good start. No interventions or drugs, and plenty of good breastmilk from the beginning. He is round and happy and loved. And, thanks be to God, I am not pregnant any more!!! It was a hard pregnancy and a hard labor, but it’s done and we made it.