I have been meaning to write Selah's birth story from my perspective (read Mike's here) for the past couple of weeks, but, well, I have a newborn, and everything takes longer than it takes! So, here goes...in the future, I will really try to do the write up as soon as possible, because I already feel I am forgetting details. I know this is long, so only read it if you want to. I found a lot of inspiration in reading the birth stories of other women while I was pregnant.
Thursday morning, April 2nd, I woke up and felt a trickle of fluid that I thought might be amniotic fluid. I got a little silly, jumped up and down, did some deep squats, etc, trying to see if more came out. A teeny tiny bit did, so I didn't really worry about it, but thought it was possible my water had broken and that Selah's head was just blocking the passage of a gush of fluid. I called my midwife Jasmine later that morning and she told me just to pay attention, that we would meet at 6pm, and to call sooner with any changes. I went about my day, babysat Juniper for a while, visited El in the hospital, drove Sari around, etc, and nothing interesting happened. At our home visit that night, however, Jasmine checked the fluid and it was indeed amniotic fluid. She also told me that I was just a fingertip dilated and about 50% effaced. Mike and I were very excited, but we knew that now the clock was ticking for me to go into labor or risk going to the hospital. Jasmine gave me some herbs to stimulate labor, blue and black cohosh, to take every 30 minutes until I went to bed. Mike insisted on going out for sushi and I obliged, realizing this was our last night as a childless couple. I watched him enjoy his sushi, as I had no appetite at the meal, and began having regular but non painful contractions around 8. When we got home, I knew that this was labor and crawled into bed in an attempt to rest before the ultramarathon ahead. I never was able to sleep that night, but was at least able to shut my eyes and doze between contractions. By 2:30am, I was too uncomfortable to lay down anymore. Mike got up with me, but I sent him back to bed. I really wanted to be alone, without even Mike or Jasmine. Around 3, I timed several contractions and found that they were already 3 minutes apart and lasting 45-60 seconds.
Mike got out of bed around 5:30 to find the most serene scene we could have imagined. It was lightly snowing outside and still dark. I was quietly moaning through contractions, trying to follow Ina May's wisdom of using low toned moans to keep the mouth and jaw loose and keep the mind off of the pain. In retrospect, I realize that these contractions were not painful at all, but I thought they were at the time. Jasmine arrived at the house around 7:30, glad to find me in active labor. She checked my vital signs, listened to the baby, and quietly prepared the living room for birth. Throughout this time, I did not want any help or for anyone to touch me (hence the many blog posts from Mike).
Through the morning, the contractions remained 3 minutes apart but slowly increased in intensity. It was like climbing a set of stairs--they would be at a certain level of pain that initially, I thought was the maximum I could handle, then I would "get used to" that level of pain and they would climb to the next step of intensity to start the cycle over. By noon, the contractions were very intense and I started vomiting during them. During a very intense retching session, my water bag broke for real, with several huge gushes that made me think I was peeing my pants. In hindsight, it was somewhat funny--I was on hands and knees in the living room, violently puking into a trashcan while asking for a towel to protect the carpet from what I thought was pee. The pain was so intense by this point, I was convinced that I was going through transition, the most painful part of labor. Mike and Jasmine started to get the pool ready and Jasmine decided to check my cervix. I was absolutely crushed to find out that I was 1 cm dilated and 80% effaced. 8 hours of active labor for that!! At that point, I was pretty sure that I would end up at the hospital with an epidural. I could not imagine going for another 24-30 hours with that kind of pain, and I knew the pain would only increase in intensity.
Sari came by just after the exam and gave me a big pep talk. She told me, "Joy, it hurts like hell. It is going to hurt like hell here or at the hospital. You can do this, I promise, you can do this." I didn't believe her. I kept saying that I couldn't do it, and Mike was incredibly supportive and encouraging, never once saying that we could go to the hospital if I wanted to. After noon, Mike could NOT leave my side, even for a second. Jasmine stopped filling the pool (I was not to get into the water until I was 5cm because the hot water often slows labor, just like an epidural would at the hospital) and had me get into the shower. The warm water of the shower felt great, but my contractions did not pause--I was the energizer bunny, they were 3 minutes apart and 45-60 seconds no matter what I did.
I constantly had to change positions to find the most comfort depending on where Selah was in relation to my body. I often found myself on my hands and knees, slumped over the ball. I was working so hard and was so tired, the I literally fell asleep between most of the contractions. Mike laughs about it now, telling me how he had some great inspirational words that he had really thought through, and that as soon as he started to tell them to me, my head would bob and I would be out.
Sometimes I stood up, sometimes I sat on the couch, sometimes I was on hands and knees, sometimes I squatted. The most painful position by far was laying in bed. For that reason alone, I cannot imagine ever doing a hospital birth and being "strapped" to the bed with the fetal monitor, IV, blood pressure cuff, etc.
Jasmine and Alicia were unbelievably supportive, calm, and necessary. I could not have done this without them.
As things progressed, I really started to lose faith in myself, not in my ability to give birth, but in my ability to do so without pain medication. I was also getting very dehydrated and could not keep even a drop of honey in my system. Jasmine reminded me that the vast majority of women around the world that were giving birth at the same time were doing so naturally. Mike squeezed my hips and rubbed my back to lessen the pain of contractions. At some point, I began laboring while sitting on the toilet backwards. It was the perfect height and the most comfortable place I could find. In between contractions, I would fall back against Mike and fall asleep. Then I would wake suddenly, yell for the puke bucket, and begin moaning through the contraction. Around 4:30 in the afternoon (4 1/2 hours after the news of being 1 cm), Jasmine asked if she could check me again and asked what I thought would be a reasonable amount of progress (enough to keep me from demanding pain medication). I told her 5 cm, but in the back of my head, I kept thinking that even if I was 5cm, I knew I still had to make it through transition (7-10 cm) and didn't think I could do it. She checked me and I was 6-7cm, which really perked me up and gave me a renewed sense of energy. I was able to get in the pool, which was relaxing but did not slow contractions at all. It also made me hot, so I got out pretty quickly and got back on the toilet backwards and continued to labor for another couple of hours. By 6:15 or so, I started to involuntarily grunt in the middle of contractions. Jasmine had told me about this and said it was just the body starting to push. She checked my cervix again and I was nearly complete, with a little cervical lip. I was so excited!
Jasmine gave me 3 or 4 doses of homeopathic arnica to reduce the lip and had me get back into the birthing tub. My body did the grunty thing through several more contractions until I was completely dilated, about 6:55. During those contractions, I could not get relief at all, even between contractions. I was in the pool spinning in circles, writhing in pain until my body started pushing. Pushing was the most overwhelming sensation of muscular contraction I have ever experienced. Every muscle in my body did what it was supposed to do, seemingly beyond my control. Even the muscles in my face were contracted, making for really silly looking faces. Jasmine kept trying to get me to slow down and not push so hard, which I tried to do. The pushing contractions were such a relief compared to before--even though my body was going through this very intense experience, it was not painful, just intense. I pushed the way my body wanted to, with very little coaching, for about 40 minutes until Selah was born at 7:35 pm. Mike started weeping the moment she came out while I just tried to get it together after all that work! She started crying and turned pink within a few seconds of delivery. We just looked at her face for a couple of minutes before we realized we hadn't looked at the goods to see if she was a boy or girl! What a wonderful surprise when we saw that she was a girl!
I soon got out of the tub and onto the birthing stool to deliver the placenta and for Mike to cut the umbilical cord.
Within 10 minutes of Selah's birth, our new family crawled into our bed to bond alone. This was a beautiful and heartwarming time, one absolutely unique to home birth. Selah latched on and started breastfeeding and we just looked at her perfect little face. While we bonded, Jasmine and Alicia cleaned the living room and made us a yummy plate of cheese, fresh bread (thanks, Sari!), eggs, and fruit.
An hour or so after delivery, the midwives came into our room to do Selah's newborn exam. She aced it! We then excitedly called our friends and family to give them our joyful news.
Selah was weighed on something like a fish scale with a loop of fabric attached to it. She was 7 pounds, 5 oz, and 19 inches long.
What an amazing story!