In the final days of a very healthy, smooth pregnancy I found myself eight days past my guess date and feeling pretty relaxed and wonderful. But, after a second evening of what felt like very low movement from the baby compared to usual, I called Denise to say I was concerned. We discussed options and she conferred with her back-up doctor, and I ended up going into the hospital the next day (Thursday) for a non-stress test. I felt a little silly and nervous about the risk of starting a medicalized birth in motion, but the baby seemed just fine during the non-stress test. My amniotic fluid was a little on the low side according to an ultrasound, and while the midwife in the hospital said they would recommend induction, I was so relieved that Denise said she wasn’t at all concerned about the amniotic fluid level or the baby’s health. My gut agreed. We decided to keep the appointment with Denise the next day (Friday) and she said maybe she would sweep my membranes.
At the appointment I was just barely beginning to dilate and my cervix was not very ripe, but Denise was able to sweep my membranes. Denise and her midwifery student, Alison, reminded us that sweeping the membranes may not start labor since I wasn’t too dilated or ripe, but we went home with some homeopathic blue and black cohosh and an urban legend that Olive Garden’s eggplant parmesan can induce labor.
I took the homeopathics that afternoon and we decided to put the Olive Garden legend to the test. It was lovely to have dinner out with David, our 2 year old daughter, Wren, and David’s mom, Beverley who was visiting from Jamaica. We had a relaxing evening and as I was putting Wren to bed, I noticed some subtle contractions. I was still thinking that labor probably wouldn’t be happening that day, trying not to get too excited and hopeful. I felt so good through my pregnancy, particularly at the end, that it was difficult to remember not being pregnant and hard to imagine labor ever beginning.
I noticed some contractions through the night but they didn’t keep me from sleeping until around 6 am when I started timing them. Lying down, they were lasting 1-2 minutes and 7 minutes apart. After about 30 minutes I decided to see if they changed when I got up. Walking around they were about 1 minute long and coming every three minutes, but I was still able to manage them easily. At 6:45 am I had some bloody show and some loose stool shortly after. We called Denise and left a message on the on-call phone line. Wren woke up and we had a dance party in the living room. I was getting excited – the contractions were continuing and it started to feel like maybe it would happen today after all. When we connected with Denise and described all of the symptoms, she said that it sounded like labor was actually progressing pretty quickly and that I should stop walking around and take it easy until she got there. She said Alison was sick, but that her back up partner, Kate would be assisting her. I called my mom to come to the house but told her she had time to go to yoga class before coming over. David took Wren on a run – a tradition now after he went for a run the morning that Wren was born – and I rested through the contractions that were still coming pretty frequently, but not yet too intense.
Denise arrived around 10 am and by that time I was starting to stop and breathe through contractions as they came. We set up supplies and when Denise checked around 10:30 am I was 4 cm dilated and things were intensifying and speeding up. Mom arrived around 11 am and things were really moving along.
I was laboring in our bedroom with the door closed so Wren could have the rest of the house for running around. My mom, David, and Beverley were taking turns keeping her occupied. We had done lots of talking and storytelling about birth and looking through birth books and watching home birth videos, so Wren was aware of what was going on. But, she was a little concerned about me throughout the day since I was in the bedroom and not able to engage very well with her when I did come out for brief trips to the bathroom.
For the next hour or two, it felt like things were moving really fast. In the bedroom, I was sitting on the birth ball, leaning over the birth ball on the bed and laying on my side to deal with contractions. Either David or Mom was with me, rubbing my back and hips and giving me words of support and encouragement. I started to feel faint with contractions and they brought me some juice and soup. The nausea made me so nervous – what happens if I faint during a contraction?! But Denise was reassuring that it was normal and I would be fine. No matter how positively I felt about birth going in, once in the thick of it, it was so important to have Mom, David, and Denise there saying positive things to keep my mind on the right track.
When I would lay down on the bed, my contractions would subside and sometimes I’d even drift off to sleep. I kept thinking maybe I’d already gone through transition because I had read that often there is a lull before the final pushing stage. I was waiting for a really strong, reflexive urge to push like I had with Wren, but it wasn’t coming. I was getting discouraged even though it was probably only 2 pm.
Denise recommended I get in the shower. It felt good and I stayed there for about 20 minutes with the water running. When I got back to the room she said, “I think you need to do some lunges to try to get the baby to start moving down.” That sounded impossible! I was so tired and just wanted to lie down and get another break in the contractions. But I knew that wouldn’t be making anything progress. So, with Denise and Mom supporting me, I did lunges with my foot up on a chair. It was hard, but I could feel that moving my pelvis down and forward was helping to open me up and move the baby down. We continued alternating between lunges and resting for quite a while, with David, Mom, and Denise rotating to support me.
Around 4 pm, Denise decided it was time to check my dilation. Lo and behold, I was complete! The bag of waters was still intact and we decided to break it to help move things along. I was so relieved to be complete and my mind kept going back to that overwhelming urge to push I felt with Wren. Denise asked me to try to push on my own, but I couldn’t do it. I was just expecting my body to take over for the pushing part and I wasn’t prepared to actively, purposefully start the pushing. I lay down on the bed and waited for the urge to come, hoping for a rest before I needed to push. But the contractions were actually more intense and without a break in between. Lying on my side, I could feel the baby moving down and it was so intense. I eventually realized that lying there was not getting me rest or moving me any closer to the baby being born. So I got up on my knees leaning over the birthing ball and started pushing.
Throughout labor, I had been quite vocal during contractions, saying, “Oh, oh, oh…” in a low voice. I don’t remember being so vocal during Wren’s birth and I only had to push about 3-5 times with Wren, so I was not expecting the noises that came out of me during pushing this time! Denise reminded me to keep my voice low so that the vocalization didn’t take power from my pushes. When I could, I reached down to feel the head starting to emerge – it was so encouraging to know the baby was right there! Wren was getting nervous because she could hear me yelling. As soon as the baby was crowning, Beverley brought her into the room so they could both see the baby born. The last couple of pushes were so intense – I could feel the baby’s head coming down and stretching my pelvic bones apart. But, I was so excited to have nearly birthed my baby!
I pushed for about 20-30 minutes and through 5-7 contractions and with one last push at 5:21, our baby was born! I heard Beverley say, “I told you so!” and I knew it was a boy because she had been certain it would be a boy. I so wanted to hold my baby and rest, so I hurried to turn over and lay down but Denise had to remind me that he was still attached! We got him settled on my chest, skin to skin, and it was an unreal feeling to see and feel our son. So small, so perfect. David introduced him to everybody as Leo Luke. Leo is a name we like, and Luke is my brother’s name.
Leo was perfectly healthy. He cried for about 20 minutes, getting used to this strange new world, and eventually latched on for the first of many feedings in what has been a wonderful breastfeeding experience for both of us. Denise and Kate were very relaxed about everything following his birth. The placenta was birthed without incident and David and Wren cut the cord after. They showed us the placenta after looking it over – it was shaped like a heart. Leo weighed 7lbs, 10oz. After the first cry, he has been such a mellow, easy going baby, sleeping well, nursing easily, and brightening our lives with his sweet, sweet demeanor. Just the baby our family was waiting for.
Leo’s birth was just about an hour longer than Wren’s birth, but because hers had surprised me with how easy it was, his surprised me by feeling quite difficult when I was in the immersed it. In the hours and days immediately following Leo’s birth I remember feeling like I couldn’t imagine doing it again, while after Wren’s I said something cheerful about the next time just hours after she was born. But, as time has passed, I remember Leo’s birth as such a wonderful experience. When I tap into the memory of even the most intense physical and emotional moments, I have positive, empowering feelings about them. The difference was made by my positive, supportive group of birth helpers. I felt discouraged and tired but David, Mom, and Denise kept encouraging words flowing into my ears. I trusted them, so my own worries that I wouldn’t be able to do it couldn’t take over.
I am so grateful to Denise and Alison for their calm, assuring, evidence-based approach to prenatal care that helped me have a wonderful, relaxed, healthy pregnancy and labor. I spent my pregnancy and beginning stages of labor with Wren concerned about having to defend my choices and never once felt that way under Denise’s care. She is a wonderful, warm, knowledgeable caregiver and a protector of normal birth!