We're so excited to share the home birth story of another one of Thrive's clients. It's a very special thing to witness the birth of a new life and we most certainly don't ever take it for granted. The incredible photography from this birth was captured by Sincerely, The Kitchens. FYI: There are some graphic photos ahead (blood, placenta).
This birth story is a result of reflection on three previous birth experiences, deliberate planning, and thoughtful intention. As we have grown our family, our progression from a hospital birth to free standing birth center births to a home birth has always been carefully considered. So carefully, that I first contacted our midwife for this birth two full years prior to getting pregnant. I was determined to be educated and fully aware of my options, as to create a path of empowerment and beautiful space within which to bring our fourth baby into the world.
By the time I attended the first consultation with our home birth midwife, I already knew her story. I read her website, followed her Facebook page, and spoke to friends about her birthing philosophy. During our meeting, she mentioned a few times “If I hired her…”, but I already knew. Blessed with great intuition - I knew. She would be present at this baby’s birth and I had no reservations. Not one. What a cool gift – to know, to be confident. The first of many gifts this birth gave us.
This baby would be born at home.
But, it wasn’t always that easy. Hence, our fourth baby as our first home birth. My husband and I eased into this ‘alternative’ birthing over the course of 7 years, with past experiences encouraging us to trust our intuition. Many books were read, long discussions had, and hard decisions made. Many, many hours were spent driving to receive care that satisfied both of our needs – for empowerment, for safety, for respectful birthing. This birth would be no different in that regard, as the midwife chosen lived 2+ hours from our home. But this time was different because we were both fully prepared to give birth on our own terms. We were on the same page and I love the way we worked it out as a team. Another cool gift.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…” Ephesians 3:20
I came home from work on Friday evening, 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant, with a tickle in my nose that made me suspicious, and a bit nervous, that I was on the verge of getting a cold. I went to bed after giving three boys dinner, bath, and a tucking in bed. I awoke around 12:30am and was uncomfortable, but was able to fall back asleep. I awoke again at 2:00am and decided I would go and sit in the recliner to be more upright. At the time, I contributed my discomfort to the impending cold virus. But around 3:00am, in my sleepy fog of awareness, I realized that I was having regular contractions. Uncomfortable, but mild and only requiring a pause in thoughts and an easy focus on the breath to get through them. I was able to get intermittent sleep throughout the rest of the night in the recliner, and then started my Saturday with a particularly bad sinus pressure headache and continued mild contractions. The boys made themselves breakfast and my husband hurried off to work with a reminder from me to keep his phone close. I fixed a cup of tea and headed to the bath to try and relax as much as possible. The head cold was making me anxious about giving birth any time in the next few days due to lack of energy and focus. I quietly listened to music and sipped on my tea in a comforting sea salt and olive oil bath, all the while, mild contractions continued and my house stood at the mercy of three minimally supervised boys.
In two previous physiologic births, I had never had labor begin this way, but I was quickly realizing that this was going to be a part of baby’s birth story. I was able to continue my day at home with the boys on Saturday and they were patient far beyond expectations for little ones, seven and under. I remember feeling very grateful that day for things like Legos, iPads, and cereal, while worn out from contractions and feeling under the weather.
Saturday night into Sunday, I again awoke in the middle of the night, around 2am, with contractions that were beginning to get a bit more intense. I decided to head out to the recliner again, but didn’t get any relief, or sleep. At 4am, I got into the bath and relaxed deeply, almost falling asleep at times. For two hours, I stayed in the bath, flipping from one side to the other and redrawing warm water to stay comfortable. I went back to bed around 6am and was able to sleep soundly for an hour and felt quite rested after that hour. I remember dramatically telling my husband: “I didn’t think I’d ever sleep again.” Chilling words for a soon to be mother of a newborn.
Sunday morning, I lost my mucus plug. Another ‘first’ in labor for this fourth time mama. With contractions increasing in intensity and loss of the mucus plug, I knew that things were progressing, despite my desire to have more time to work through the head cold.
Contractions continued Sunday with increased intensity, 10-15 minutes apart and lasting for 30-40 seconds each. I started timing the contractions on an app on my phone and my oldest son was quick to find the phone and open the app if he saw that I was uncomfortable. The boys were very astute and kind during this time of uncertainty. As the day progressed without significant change, I started to wonder how long this would go on and when would I know to call the midwife? The timing of that call was fairly important, as she had a two hour commute to get to our house.
Sunday night into Monday had a similar pattern as the previous two nights and I found myself in the bath, again, around 3am. However, I wasn’t able to get the same relief. I was feeling quite drained of energy and contractions were only getting stronger. Just as I considered a call to the midwife, the contractions dipped in intensity but remained consistent around 11 minutes apart and just under a minute each. Funny enough, it was only then that I realized I couldn’t go into work Monday morning and called out. It was January 30th and the beginning of my maternity leave. More mucus plug/bloody show later that morning helped me to put in perspective that this baby was coming – at some point – but taking his/her time. I was exhausted, but I loved the unique onset of labor, relative to my other births.
Monday, my boys made me breakfast in bed – the most generous portion of yogurt and granola I’ve ever seen – and then they headed to my mom’s for the day. We previously had many extensive talks about what was going to happen when the baby would come and how I would need to work really hard to have the baby. In their most gentle way, they were realizing that this was happening and, again, I felt so overwhelmed with their sensitivity, yet goofy curiosity.
I spent Monday on the couch watching “This Is Us,” listening to 90’s music, and online shopping….during continued regular, mild-moderate contractions. My house was still, my birth space ready. I was having to use more focused energy to get through contractions, but they weren’t unbearable. After three full days of contracting, in addition to the head cold I was battling (in the most desperate of ways with spoonfuls of minced garlic and honey, among other things), I was anxious for a bit of relief and still wondering how and when this would turn into active labor.
“Breath as an anchor.”
Monday into Tuesday was another restless night with trials of the recliner and bath, but to no avail. In sidelying on the couch, unable to keep quiet during contractions, I realized that active labor was imminent. I labored alone in the night for as long as possible before deciding to call our midwife, Karen, a little after 5am. Contractions were intense, 8-9 minutes apart and lasting anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. We talked and decided together that it would be a good time for her to come since she had to travel 2 hours. I also then called my doula, Maria, and was grateful that she lived close so that she could be there quickly to help me labor. Maria helped “shake the apples,” a rebozo technique using a woven wrap that was relieving of pressure and felt wonderful in quadruped draped over the birthing ball. In between strengthening contractions, we colored mandalas and intricate designs with my boys. We drank yummy smoothies made by my husband, Johnny. We laughed and pretended that we were just friends getting together, blissfully enjoying one another’s presence.
Each contraction began with the unplanned, silently stated mantra of “I am bigger than this” and ended with a hiccup. Confidence, wave, and a jolt out of labored-focus and back into the present day. We laughed and couldn’t believe others in the world were just going about their normal business -- didn’t they know?! A baby was coming!!
Around 8am, the midwives arrived to our house – Karen, Heather and Samm. They were coincidently wearing purple, my favorite color. I felt calm and steady contractions were not altered by their presence – a true measure of my comfort level with the women I had chosen to attend this birth. They set up their birth supplies and talked to us about how things were progressing, and then they left to give us some time to focus on labor and be in our space together. At this time, I was favoring quadruped over the birthing ball with counter pressure on my pelvis to get through contractions. I stayed this way as long as my knees could tolerate. But it was during trips to and from the bathroom that I realized that being upright intensified the contractions and chose to labor braced by the boys’ school table.
When everyone was back in the room that afternoon, I remember asking (pleading?) -- “Is this baby coming today?” -- hopeful someone would be able to tell me the answer. But it was during these fully upright contractions that I felt the baby descending and I realized on my own that, yes!, this baby is coming today. Empowerment. I am doing this.
“In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment.”
Soon thereafter, I decided that laboring in the water would be helpful to give me a much needed break. After my boys finished filling the pool, I eased into the water and it felt amazing. I was so grateful for the total body relief and let everyone know that I was in a different, much more tranquil place. With this relaxation, labor slowed. This was what I needed at the time. It was easily the most comfortable I had been in the past four days, and with Johnny spoon feeding me chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream I was quick to pretend that I could turn labor off and come back another day. From my spot in the birth pool, and in between contractions, I watched through the French doors as my three boys played outside – running carelessly and enjoying life. This moment still stands out in my mind. The fact that they were so unfazed during a monumental transition for our family made me happy. And they came and went; inside, outside and by my side – easily.
Unfortunately, I started feeling very hot and fatigued while in the pool. Cold rags and opening all the windows on a January day didn’t help significantly. So I got out of the pool – drained of energy – similar to the feeling after a long day at the beach. A bit defeated but persistent, I labored again outside of the tub and felt contractions intensify again. For as long as I could, I labored out of the water before requesting to get back in for relief. The most peaceful moments of baby’s labor were in the pool and I’m grateful to have had the pool as an escape. During this second bout in the pool, I felt active with each contraction and “pushy.” I could feel baby’s bag of water with my hand, still intact. At one point, I thought (or wishfully hoped in the name of progression) my water broke. It didn’t. Unlike my last two births with spontaneous rupture well before onset of contractions, this baby’s bag of waters was relentless! I do remember briefly feeling a bit frustrated when each contraction and push didn’t progress to feeling baby’s head emerge.
And once again, I got too hot. Just prior to getting out of the pool the second time, and knowing that “pushy” was a good sign, Johnny asked if I wanted our three boys to be present during the birth and I said “yes.” The boys were very aware of all the details of birth through preparation with books and videos. I wanted them to witness their baby coming into the world. For all of us, I felt that the transition into a family of six would be gentle if they understood and saw the process. …He rounded them up quickly.
“Let go, my soul, and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.”
Realizing that this was going to be a land birth, I took the midwife’s guidance to try the birthing stool. With my husband’s support in front of me, I sat on the stool and instantly realized that I had to relinquish any reservation in giving birth. I buried my face into Johnny’s chest and gave in to the release. Baby’s water broke fully and forcefully (ahem, all over my husband’s precious dry feet). With my legs going numb from the pressure of the birthing stool, I transferred to the bed and knelt down. Five minutes after baby’s water broke, I felt baby’s head come out. I opened my eyes; something I asked Maria to remind me to do - she did. And I remember thinking baby’s head was big, but in retrospect, I realized that I had never watched or held my baby’s head in birth. I am glad to have had that experience now.
Baby’s head was out one full contraction before the rest of baby’s body slipped into my husband’s loving hands at 6:46pm. With my mind so clearly in a distant place, and at the same time, so relieved to have the baby out, finding out the sex of the baby was not a forethought. But I was quickly sobered back into the moment as soon as I heard my husband gently say “It’s a….” and I turned to him on my right as he handed me our baby GIRL. The shock and intensity of that moment was profound and overwhelming; unforgettable.
“She believed she could, and so she did.”
Holding her, I immediately had a very clear instinctual feeling of how healthy she was – yet another gift. I knew she was big. And she was calm. Everything about her presence made me understand that her birth was exactly what she needed to enter into this world peacefully. The long days of contractions, my lack of energy, the seemingly slow progression of active labor; all were worth those moments after birth when our bond was sealed in a moment.
We lay down and baby girl latched onto the breast soon after birth without a problem. She knew just what to do. It was an hour or so later that her placenta was delivered. We chose to keep baby girl and placenta intact as a unit for as long as needed in order to allow for the greatest blood transfusion to baby and also to continue to educate the boys on the process of gentle birth.
“We are surrounded with love.”
The boys were eager to celebrate baby’s birth with a party; something they had been planning for and actively took part in creating during her labor, along with their Gram (my mom). They brought a sweet white cake with pink sugar that they had baked for their sister. We wore party hats. They decorated our birth room with pom-poms and streamers in honor of her birth. We ate wonderful food prepared by my mom. The boys were proud of their contribution to her birthday and it was a special moment -- to be singing Happy Birthday to our girl of a couple hours old in the comfort of our home and surround by so many people that already loved her. The pomegranate champagne toast was amazing, too.
After our quaint celebration, and in our quiet camp again, baby girl’s cord was cut by daddy and I got cleaned up. Special pictures of the family and birth team were taken. Maria snuggled baby girl and then left us tucked in. Heather welcomed us to our Babymoon with hugs and left for her long drive home. Karen and Samm stayed to do the newborn and mama exam. No tears, despite baby girl being the biggest of the four children! Guesses on weight came in at over 9lbs. Baby girl weighed in at 8lbs. 15oz.! With a couple of meconium diapers prior to weighing, there’s a good chance she was 9lbs. She outweighed all of her brothers significantly! It was after 10pm when Karen and Samm headed upstairs to stay overnight so that they could assess us again the next day. Baby girl slept soundly that night and it was the first time in four nights that I had any restful sleep. What a peaceful start! Karen and Samm came down to see us mid-morning before leaving the day after her birth.
Baby girl was born on her original due date, January 31st. She and I have been of one mind since she was in the womb, as I kept encouraging her to wait as long as possible to be born so that I could continue with commitments I had made prior to becoming pregnant with her. I talked to her a lot about being born on February 1st, which she was shy of by only five hours. She was very patient with me and allowed me to enjoy this pregnancy immensely. Her significantly longer gestation than 2 previous births was a blessing. January 31st was the perfect day for her to be born. A very meaningful day for our family, as it was eight years prior, on the same date, that we found out we were pregnant with our first child. Connected and full circle.
It was almost a full week later when baby girl was given a name. The Monday following her birth, she became Cora Eleanor Mai in honor of her grandmother and great grandmother. Her name follows the naming tradition of the first female, as I am also named for my great grandmother.
In preparing for this birth, one practice that stood out to me was to consider the question that I needed answered in order to give birth; taken from book Birthing From Within by Pam England. Only I could ask this question, only I could answer this question. On the same day I read and contemplated that passage, I went for a run and instantly knew my question: “Would I be fulfilled in this birth?” Fulfillment didn’t come with any preconceived criteria. It didn’t mean a certain type of birth, or a specific gender of baby. Despite societal pressure to have a girl after three boys, we were unattached to one gender or the other. Fulfillment, however, would just be a known feeling, in the moment, that allowed full processing of the occasion and a peaceful postpartum transition to a family of six. Would I be fulfilled in this birth?
I was, sitting on the birthing stool. I am, as I reflect on her wonderful birth. And I always will be when I think of how her story began – even years before conception.
And, most preciously, her given name of Cora coincidentally means ‘filled heart.’