For about the entire month of October, I had what is called “prodromal” labor – as in you pretty much feel like you’re about to get your period and potentially go into labor. Because I had experienced prodromal labor with my daughter, I knew not to be concerned. Granted, I did get antsy towards the end of the month because I had expected it wouldn’t last longer than two or three weeks.
On November 1st, I woke up with some strong contractions and decided to start timing them that afternoon. It looked like I was experiencing “real” contractions, and I get very excited that the time was seemingly closer. I called my midwife and doula and began preparing my planned labor food – baked ziti and chocolate cake. I had been watching my bad carbs and sugars for much of my pregnancy under the advice of a consulting physician who signed off on my HBA2C (homebirth after two c-sections) plans. She recommended that a lower carb diet would produce a “normal” sized baby compared to my two previous 10lbers, which was a good idea since we didn’t want to necessarily test my pelvis to that extent. We wanted the best chance for a successful HBA2C.
I suppose the first sign that things might not go as smoothly as I had hoped was when I dropped one of the cake layers as I was taking out of the oven. It was salvaged for nibbling, but I only had one layer to frost with the chocolate ganache. So, we continued to time contractions while enjoying a lot of delicious food. My midwife Debbie brought her daughter to watch our older children in case of a hospital transfer, which was really sweet of both her and her daughter. Granted, my kidlets were quite hyper and really distracting me – which really means I wasn’t quite “in the zone” in the first place. I was at 2cm when Debbie had arrived around 6:30ish, and I was only at 3cm when she left around 9:30ish. We concluded that I wasn’t in active labor and still had time and needed to rest. If nothing else, at least Debbie and Karen got to enjoy some of the foods I’d been promising this whole pregnancy. Brian pretty much demanded I stay home from work because he didn’t want me to over-exert myself. I obliged.
So, Monday came and went without much fanfare. I had contractions but was able to sleep through them. I was able to do a few things around the house (not that I did much, but I had to keep myself busy somehow). I cried a bit that evening because I wasn’t sure how much of a false alarm Sunday night was. Of course, I know I labor slowly, but it was getting very discouraging. I woke up Tuesday morning with some contractions that kept me awake, so I started my day to see how things would go. Fast forward to 4PM. I felt like taking a nap, so I laid down for an hour. I never did fall asleep because the contractions were strong enough to get my attention. I shrugged it off, got up, and let Brian know that we should start on dinner. I sat at my laptop while Brian worked on dinner, and around 6:45pm I felt something in my lower abdomen “pop.” It was almost like Junior had punched me, and I shrugged that off. Then it happened again with a contraction, and I felt a small gush of water. I waddled to the bathroom as fast as I could to see if I was leaking water – and I was. The contractions also began to get a lot more intense, so I told Brian to hurry and get the kids fed while I called Debbie and Karen before I began to get too overwhelmed by the contractions. I also told him to start filling the birthing pool with water.
Debbie had been at another birth earlier in the day and needed to drive about two hours to get to me. Karen got here around 7:15ish, or at least that’s what I think I remember. I was timing contractions for Debbie to give her an idea of what was going on. It became very obvious to me that I was in transition at that point because I remembered how things felt when I hit transition with Tati. Brian got the kids fed and ready for bed, and I remember Tati being very sweet and comforting to me. She came over and petted my head, gave me a kiss, and murmured “I love you, Mommy.” It was very sweet. With the kids in bed, both Brian and Karen were able to offer me a lot of support and encouragement, which was exactly what I wanted and needed from them. I knew that I had issues getting through transition with Tati, and I was afraid I’d chicken out this time. As I labored, I noticed an odd sensation that I wasn’t familiar with – I started to realize this was the “urge to push.” I could feel Junior’s head bearing down on my cervix, and I could feel my contractions literally pushing downwards. I got a little nervous because Debbie still wasn’t here, and I knew I wanted her to be here for the pushing stage. After a while I stopped fighting the urge once I realized what it was and tried to push a little with a couple of contractions. Yeah, that was definitely what was going on. Shortly before 9pm, I know that my vocalizations changed, and Karen knew it, too. She asked me if I felt like pushing. I managed to nod and grunt out a yes. Luckily for us, Debbie made it just in time with her midwife partner Virginia. She had heard me outside and asked Brian if that was me screaming – yes, that was me! It was so intense. I flipped over in the pool so she could check me (I had warned her earlier that I wouldn’t really be ready and to just go for it because I knew she’d need to check me anyhow). “His head is right there.” That felt so good to hear. With the all-clear to start pushing, I began my quest to finally push a baby out of my body.
I don’t think I was able to get a good enough grip or position in the pool, so I barely climbed out with Brian’s assistance. I held onto him while pushing through contractions, and I swear it was like I couldn’t squeeze hard enough to get it going. He was encouraging me and holding me. Believe it or not I ended up feeling most productive on my back. I thought that was the strangest thing and worried that I shouldn’t be doing that in case it wasn’t productive enough. I screamed and growled and grunted, pushing and pushing, and grabbing onto whatever I could (mostly Brian’s arm, which has a nice scratch on it now). I remember feeling discouraged that I wasn’t getting his head out after each push because it hurt. That so-called ring of fire? It’s true. I wasn’t sure where I’d feel it – well, now I know it’s at the perineum. It absolutely did burn and feel like someone had set fire to that general area. I also some how managed to get a Charlie horse in BOTH calf muscles while pushing, and that was so incredibly unfair.
Debbie told me his head was crowning and said I could reach down to feel. I don’t know how I managed to do so, but I did. I guess that’s just the spirit that keeps you going in times like that. I pushed a few more times and birthed his head. I could feel him wriggling around and thought that maybe his shoulders were out, so I yelled, “pull, pull, pull!” because I was just so ready to be done. No, it was me who needed to push, push, push. And so I pushed again and at 10:17pm on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009, Brian Jeffrey Junior was born. Debbie smoothly caught him and put him right on my belly. At that moment, all the pain I felt while pushing him out just didn’t matter anymore. I had pushed out my baby boy, and there he was on my belly – gooey, pink, and new. He was definitely smaller looking than both of my other babies were. We laid there on the living room floor for a while as Debbie and Virginia cleaned us up. I only had a minor tear that didn’t really need to be repaired, which was amazing. Brian and Karen congratulated me, and Brian seemed to be in so much awe of what I had just done. When I think back on it, I’m still so amazed that my “small” pelvis did that. I’m amazed that the supposedly broken body that was supposed to be incapable of bearing babies had managed to push out this beautiful little baby who now wriggled on my belly instead of in it. No scalpels were required here. I nursed him within a few minutes of his birth.
Then came the time to push out the placenta. We were coming up on an hour, and I had been so caught up in the moment that I didn’t realize that much time had passed. So, I pretty much begged to do whatever we could to avoid a hospital transfer. I tried pushing, but it hurt so much. Every muscle in my body ached from pushing so hard to get my baby out, and I felt absolutely spent. We tried nursing Junior again, but I didn’t want to really push that hard while he was on my belly. We tried using a catheter to empty my bladder. Only half my placenta was coming down. I cried because I knew we needed to transfer me. Debbie was worried that I might have an accreta, and I was a bit, too. I remember thinking, “wow, this is going to really suck if I end up with surgery anyhow and have to recover from both – it’s going to suck that I might have to deal with that vile separation from my baby after all.” I didn’t agree to leave until I knew how much Junior weighed, so we got that handled – only 8lbs, 8oz, making him the “runt” of my litter. (My sign-off doctor was absolutely right to recommend that I watch my bad carbs and sugars!) We got me dressed enough to go to the ER, and I kissed Brian and Junior good-bye. Debbie drove me to Shands, where I felt like they were treating me like crap right at the front desk. I made sure I got wheelchair treatment because I wanted nothing to do with walking. I sat awkwardly in that wheelchair as I was brought to the L&D.
At the L&D desk, one of the “nurses” asked me when the baby was born. I said “10:17,” and she responded, “you’ve had that placenta in you for two weeks?!” Stunned at how someone could be so incredibly stupid when faced with a homebirth patient, I turned around in the chair to look her right in the eyes and said, “tonight. I know you think I’m crazy, but I’m not THAT crazy.” (Really, are homebirthers that “crazy”? I think not!) I was so offended that she’d think such a ridiculous thing. They brought me back to a bed and had me wait for the doctor. I talked to Debbie and thanked her for all that she had done and let her know that she had definitely earned my trust rightfully – hey, just look at how they were treating me in the hospital, that’s got to be good enough to show why I reserve giving my trust to someone dealing with my body. The “nurse” came in and introduced herself as the doctor – I held back the urge to say, “wait, you’re a DOCTOR?!” Seriously, how could a *doctor* be so stupid as to think I meant 10:17 as the date – even if they do go by military time and would’ve understand 22:17 better? It totally blows my mind that most people will blindly trust what a doctor says simply because it’s a doctor. So, they did an ultrasound on me to see if the placenta was embedded within the uterine wall. Luckily, we had separation at that point. It was just a stubborn placenta that didn’t want to conform to a time clock (hey, at least the baby was easy and didn’t get stuck!). So, they told me to go ahead and try to push again. I held Debbie’s hand and grabbed onto the bed rail, let out a couple more screams and pushed out the placenta. I guess I had the motivation to get back home to my baby and no fears of hurting or scaring him while there. I got to see what it looked like before letting them bag it up. I was given a clear bill of health and discharged shortly thereafter. Debbie took me back home, and I was so relieved that I could cuddle with my baby again.
Karen went home shortly after I got back, but not before I could thank her for being there for the birth and helping me get through it. She is by far the best doula I could have ever asked for – you know, she’s seven months pregnant and she still came to support me. Debbie and Virginia cleaned up, and I thanked them again before going upstairs to lay down in bed and see Junior. I also called my family to let them know the good news. Brian went downstairs to help out and get any last minute things handled. Debbie came up to talk again before she left.
So, Junior weighed in at 8lbs, 8oz, was 22 inches long, and had a head circumference of 14cm. His older siblings were 10lbs 2.5oz, 21.5in and 10lbs 6oz, 21.75in. He was the longest of the three but the skinniest of the three. He’s so sweet and relaxed, and somehow I think I owe his great disposition to the fact that he was ripped out of my belly into a brightly lit room by strangers in scrubs and white coats. He wasn’t shuttled over to immediately get poked and prodded. Instead, he was pushed out of my body into a dimly lit living room, caught by a gentle midwife who placed him onto my belly, and cuddled skin-to-skin to get warm. If I had to do it all over again, I would absolutely take the homebirth experience over the hospital experience. And now I join the ranks of women who prove that once a c-section does not mean always a c-section.