- Jessica, CPM
- Emily and Tara, birth assistants
- Desirre, doula
- Teri, photographer/doula
- Ben, amazing husband
My first daughter, Ella, was born by Cesarean after planning a homebirth, having a 42w2d pregnancy, transferring to the hospital for “low amniotic fluid,” 30 hour induced-but-pain-med-free labor, failure to progress due to posterior position and double nuchal hand. I knew I’d be making some different choices when I became pregnant with my second daughter, Brenna. My choices resulted in a beautiful home waterbirth after Cesarean.
I knew I’d have to be in an entirely different place emotionally and spiritually. My first pregnancy was during my senior year of nursing school, and with that came a huge amount of physical and mental stress. So I spent my second pregnancy not working as an RN, but rather managing a cloth diaper store part-time where I spent my days helping mommies, families, and babies. Very low stress and it is a job that makes me so happy! I only took doula clients through my first trimester, knowing I likely couldn’t (and shouldn’t) put my body through the possibility of attending a long birth. My first pregnancy I spent so much time researching and reading all the “right” books and videos and stories that I didn’t take time to prepare myself inside for the profound transformation that is birth. However, I always skipped the chapters on medical interventions and preparing for possible Cesarean birth because, hello, I was planning a homebirth so why did I need to know that stuff? So my second pregnancy I spent processing what had happened during Ella’s birth, dealt with my fears and doubts, and surrounded myself with positivity, letting no negative comments, stories, or ideas into my “bubble of peace.” Ben and I took Hypnobabies, a childbirth preparation course that teaches self-hypnosis for relaxation during birth. It took effort, but I journeyed inside, nourishing myself and harnessing my energy.
(Cuddling with Ella the last morning of my pregnancy)
My birthing time begins on a Thursday evening when I am 41w4d pregnant. I sit down to watch TV and notice that I’m not paying attention anymore. Pressure comes like medium cramps every 6 minutes or so, which isn’t definitively the start of anything – I had lots of prodromal labor in the weeks before – but as the next couple hours go by, it gets stronger and more intense, and I feel like I have to stand and sway my hips through each wave.
My 11-year-old sister, dear heart that she is, makes fun of my birthy swaying. I arrange for my two-year-old, Ella, to spend the night with my mom, and Ben and I settle down at home to prepare for baby to come. Ben fills the birth pool while I cuddle up in bed with my hypnosis tracks.
At about midnight I feel ready to have more support. My body hardens as I sway and moan. Ben calls our doula, Desirre. She arranges our space, covering the bed with shower curtain liners then soft sheets. Ben is ready for some sleep, so we send him to bed with the assurance that nothing would happen without him. Desirre and I stand in my kitchen, have a snack, and chat between contractions. Leaned over the counter, I feel a pop, and splash! My waters release at 2:30 am.
Our midwife, Jessica, and her two assistants, arrive as we clean the kitchen floor.
We chose our support team very carefully; instead of having our family members there (which made me feel rather like a watched pot during my first birth), we had our midwife, her two assistants, our doula, and our photographer.
Ben wakes up sometime in the very early morning, feeling a bit more rested and ready to rock this VBAC with me. We spend some time in the birth pool together. I love the feeling of buoyancy and the ease with which I can reposition my big ol’ pregnant body. We spend about an hour in the water.
It wasn’t long before things change rather suddenly. I experience intense pressure in my back and sacrum. Ben’s whole-body counterpressure is barely enough to relieve the crushing sensation in my low back. Ah-ha. I remember this from my first labor. How could I have forgotten what a posterior labor feels like? Baby’s heart tones are heard on my right side instead of my left. I sound “grunty” and feel the urge to push with contractions, even though an exam reveals I am only dilated 5 cm with baby’s head not well applied. Contractions space out and get more variable in intensity. All of these signs tell us that baby rotated from LOA to ROP, which is a much less favorable position for birth. I am not discouraged, though.
The sun comes up Friday morning. I spend some time sitting on the birth ball leaning forward onto the big bean bag we put on the couch. This is one of my favorite spots. I catch a nap in between contractions. To try to get baby to rotate back to LOA, Desirre supports me through several contractions in knee-chest position, as well as some asymmetrical lunges. Ben and I take a short walk during which I “curb-walk” with one foot on the curb and one in the gutter to wiggle baby around in my pelvis. When I have a particularly intense contraction, and Ben sees that my brow furrows or I was tense my shoulders towards my ears, he uses the cues we learned in Hypnobabies class: his hand on my shoulder and the word, “release,” to instantly relax me into hypnosis. Teri, our photographer (and also a doula), pampered me with a foot and calf massage. Time passes, but it seems only moments pass.
Something I don’t expect and could never have prepared for was the method that I use to relax my pelvic floor. It seems I am very good at relaxing my bottom, so I find myself peeing – yes, peeing – during contractions. The large chux underpads we had come in very handy! I have more “costume changes” during labor than my birth team had ever seen.
(Ben giving me the "release" cue)
(This is what support in labor is all about)
(Listening to heart tones)
Since my birthing waves were spacing out and things were getting quiet, Jessica and her assistants leave to get coffee, while Desirre stays with Ben and me. I am tired, so I climb in bed and sleep between contractions, getting up on my hands and knees when waves come. I rest for an hour until Jessica returns. The tub sounds good again, so Ben and I get back in. Jessica encourages Ben to do some nipple stimulation on me to try to jump-start my labor. We enjoy some peaceful, quiet time floating and cuddling in the pool until mid-morning.
After a while, I feel hungry, so we get out and I eat some toast and applesauce. My birth team and I decide it is time to re-evaluate. Baby is still in an unfavorable position, I have been 5 cm for about 12 hours, and my labor is still variable, so we call my chiropractor to ask if he would come give me an adjustment and release my ligaments so baby could turn. Thank goodness, he is available and willing to come over! I lay on my back while he adjusts me during contractions – not fun. I do not like to be on my back. Jessica holds my hand through two hours of the intense sensation of the chiropractor slowly rotating my baby. I feel her body inching across my belly from right to left. It works! With baby now in good alignment, my labor gradually regulates. Soon I am only aware of the ebb and flow of my birthing waves. I think over and over, “This is not bigger than me.”
(Holding Jessica's hand)
It is mid-afternoon. Ben and I go for another walk, and I take another fragmented nap. At 5pm, I am really hungry, having only snacked for most of the day, so we call and ask my mom to bring something for dinner. When she stops by, she leaves Ella in the car, not wanting her to want to stay with me or mess up my groove, but I really want to see her. Ella comes in and, oh, it feels so good to hug my baby! We have never been apart for that long ever before. She asks to nurse so we sit in the rocking chair together. She nurses and we cuddle while I whisper in her ear how much I love her. Her breastfeeding brings on some very intense contractions. I am flooded with emotion – I miss my Ella but know I need her to leave, too, because I feel that these contractions are distinctly different. My sweet girl is helping her sister to be born. Ella leaves with my mom, and things start to get very, very intense.
(I don't want Ella to go!)
(Ella senses something big is happening in our family)
At 5:30 pm, I need to get in the pool. It isn’t a want, but a need. I strip all my clothes off and Desirre says, “She must be serious. She’s naked.” Surrounded by my amazing team, I enter the heady phase of transition. The waves are intense, but I can stay on top of them and breathe through. The air feels tingly with energy. My mantra is, “Open, open, open,” and I repeat it as my birthing waves get stronger and stronger. “I feel stoned,” I say, as the hormone cocktail of impending birth floods my system.
During contractions, I hold onto the edge of the pool and let my body float behind me. In between, I get into a deep squat. Ben and Desirre hold my hands. We all chat and laugh and listen to some relaxation music. Teri, our photographer, opens my Facebook page on her iPad and reads to me some of the awesome affirmations and encouraging words written by friends and family. I do some focus meditation on the stones that people had painted at our Family Blessing Party, and the necklace strung with beads from everyone hangs above the pool. An exam reveals me to have a bulging bag (so the water that had released earlier was a forebag and not the main bag of waters) and the amniotic fluid seems to be keeping her head from applying well. I choose to have my waters released. It isn’t long before I feel pressure in my bottom. Only an anterior lip of cervix! Once that lip melts away, I am completely dilated! My relief at hearing that – words can’t begin to say. During Ella’s labor, I had stalled at 9 cm when the Cesarean was called. Getting to 10 cm is a huge deal. I gasp and say, “Wow. I’ve never been here before!”
(Family Blessing beads)
As if transition weren’t intense enough, my body begins to do its work without me consciously telling it what to do. Intensity defined. My body is just... happening. The sudden loss of control has me fighting the new sensation of spontaneous pushing. Otherworldly, primal groans and grunts are pulled through my body. During contractions I am in the ocean with waves overtaking me near to the point of drowning. In stark contrast, between contractions, I am able to go completely back to my centered, grounded self. I holler through several contractions when Desirre says, “You can certainly yell this baby out if you want, but why don’t you try harnessing some of that energy with the next push?” And it is like, ding! Lightbulb moment. I’ve been with a few handfuls of birthing women, and that statement helps me step back from myself and see that I was resisting pushing.
(Desirre is The Awesome)
With the next three or so contractions, I hold in all I could, curling my body around my baby. I yell, “I can!” This kind of pushing is awesome. I feel progress. I feel the tell-tale burning in my bottom that lets me know she is close to crowning. I feel her head moving down through my birth canal. I am strong yet surrendering. I stand up during the next huge push, and her head is out. Another huge push and her body is birthed into Ben’s waiting hands. Brenna Lynn is born April 1, 2011, at 7:45 pm. It is the most breathtaking moment of my life.
I settle down into the water, cradling my sweet newborn baby and gazing into her eyes. I am in love. So perfect, so alert, so peaceful. Jessica discovers that there is a true knot in the umbilical cord. I feel the cord pulsating as we wait for the final contractions that push out my placenta. With the first one, the cord breaks in the middle of its length, but some quick thinking and acting by our midwife and complications are averted. I birth the placenta (which feels even weirder than baby’s body sliding out of me!), then am ready to move out of the water and into my bed.
(I DID IT!)
(True knot in umbilical cord)
Ben and I had just snuggled up with Brenna when Ben’s mom pops into the house asking for the keys to get Ella’s carseat out of our car since Ella was headed over to her house for the night. What timing! We introduce her to her new granddaughter, and before long, the whole family is called and comes to our house to meet Brenna. Minutes old, and already surrounded by her big, loving family! Brenna and Ella come back into bed with Ben and me. Ella immediately wants to hold her sister, saying, “It’s my turn to hold baby sister!” She is so sweet, giving her lots of kisses and “La foo” (I love you). After our experience last time, it is so incredibly nice to be in our own bed, under our own blankets, and cuddling both of our daughters.
This birth was transformative. I had always imagined the moment of my VBAC to be exuberant and full of happy tears and squeals, but it wasn’t like that at all. I have a powerful sense of I DID IT. I did it when I was told (and sometimes believed) I couldn’t. I did it after feeling crushing failure after Ella’s birth. I did it after I felt scared, defeated, and broken. I still have a scar on my uterus and in my heart, but I am not my scar. It is an important part of me and who I am, but it does not define me. My VBAC affirmed that I can birth. I am not different or special or separate from other women. I did my hard work and pushed a baby out. I tapped into my inner-most self and faced my fears and doubts. In a way, both of my daughters were born during this birth, with Ella helping my birthing time along, and the shift in my perception of Ella’s birth. In another way, this was the re-birth of our family, made new with the addition of sweet Brenna Lynn.