This is the story of the birth of our son.
In the early morning of May 22 I woke up in the middle of the night to pee, like I often did while pregnant. But this time, when I wiped I noticed a gelatinous pink substance on the toilet paper. I instantly got really excited, because I knew it had to be the mucous plug. I was instantly nervous yet thrilled that I would possibly be going to labor soon. I text messaged my Mom, who slept on the other side of the house from me, and then settled in and tried to sleep. I knew I needed to sleep, given what awaited me, but I was just too keyed up to really fall back asleep. It was around 1:00 am, and I think I only got a couple more hours of sleep that night.
When I woke up, I quickly got dressed in my workout clothes so that my Mom and I could go for one of our daily walks in the desert. If labor was near, I wanted to speed it up by moving as much as I could–this was part of my plan to have an active birth. We did our normal walking route, and I pushed myself to walk as fast as I could. Normally on these walks I would have pretty strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, and this time was no different. The faster I walked, or if I pushed myself up a hill, the Braxton-Hicks would get stronger and my belly would feel really tight. But today I didn’t feel any sensations out of the ordinary–just the strong Braxton-Hicks.
After our walk I decided to go to my weekly prenatal yoga class. I’d always imagined that it would be neat to go to yoga while in early labor, and though I wasn’t having any contractions yet I figured this would be my last yoga class before having my baby. I mentioned to the girls at the beginning that I’d lost my plug that morning, and everyone was really excited for me. The class passed pretty uneventfully, but at the very end when it was time to chant “om” as a group, I remember thinking that I should put a lot of emphasis into this om so that my baby could really feel it. At that moment, I felt a strong gush of water like I had peed myself, but not strong enough to make a puddle or anything. I rushed to the bathroom, where I confirmed that there was a lot of liquid in my pants, then hurried back to the yoga room to tell everyone that I thought my water had just broken. I told Susie, the yoga teacher who was going to be my doula, that I would keep her posted after my midwife’s appointment that afternoon. It was such a delightful moment!
My Mom picked me up from yoga and then we drove together to my midwife’s office. During the entire drive, I continued to feel little squirts of liquid–not too heavy, but enough to notice. When we got to my midwife’s office for my prenatal appointment, there were three other pregnant couples there. This was surprising, because I didn’t know it was going to be a group prenatal. I told my midwife that there was “wet stuff” coming out. I tried to act natural and sit on the couch like everyone else, but the liquid kept coming and my pants were starting to get really wet. So one of the assistants took me into another room to test the liquid to see whether it was amniotic fluid. As soon as she looked down there, she said “Oh yeah, that’s amniotic fluid,” and her test strip confirmed it. I was so excited but also so nervous that I was definitely having a baby soon. Of course I knew that I would be giving birth sometime soon, but as a first-time mom it’s just hard to wrap your mind around the fact that you are really actually going to push out a baby.
After confirming that my water had broken, I expected…something. But my midwives acted like nothing was going on. I wanted to scream “Hello–aren’t I having a baby, like soon?!” But instead I tried to act nonchalant like everyone else at the prenatal. We all went downstairs for a group communal lunch, and no one even really mentioned the fact that I was about to go into labor. Meanwhile, I started having very light contractions–really more like a backache. But I tried to pretend I didn’t feel anything, since that was the vibe I was getting from my midwives who went through this all the time.
After lunch my Mom and I drove home and I tried to nap. Again–tried. I was starting to have very light contractions, so I thought it would be a good time to listen to some hypnobirthing tracks and try to get in the right mental zone. They didn’t really help me relax too much, because I never did fall asleep. After an hour or so of trying to nap, I decided to quit and walked out into the living room to see that my sisters had arrived from California. As soon as they heard I’d lost my plug, they got in the car and started driving over from San Diego.
We decided to fulfill a family tradition of going out to eat Mexican food at our favorite restaurant, ZTejas. Every time my sisters come in town from San Diego, we go straight there to enjoy chambord margaritas and chips and salsa. My contractions were so light at this point that I could just sort of pretend I didn’t feel them. Over dinner we laughed and were all very light-hearted. I remember thinking we had this great secret that no one in the restaurant knew–I was in labor! I texted back and forth with my midwives. Two of the assistants said they were going to try to meet us for drinks, and the head midwife suggested that after dinner we go to the movies. But about half-way through dinner my contractions started getting a bit more noticeable, and I knew that I didn’t want to be away from my home much longer.
Once we got home, I decided to start with some of my early labor plans from my birth plan. First, I started baking a cake. I was getting a bit grumpy from the increasing pain, but I tried to hide it and focus on the steps to the cake. Sometimes I leaned over the kitchen counter, but at this point the contractions really felt more like a bad backache than what I had imagined. My Dad (my parents are divorced) stopped by to visit, but I wasn’t very hospitable to him–I sort of ignored him while my sisters and Mom talked to him. I started getting a bit teary too, because the contractions were starting to hurt more. I never timed them, so I have no idea how far apart they were. But I didn’t feel light-hearted anymore, so I felt like real labor was getting closer. My midwives, doula, and birth photographer kept texting me to ask if they should come over, but I didn’t want to have they come too early so I told them to wait.
Around 8:00 pm, my yoga teacher/doula Susie came over. It was really good that she came when she did, because I was crying for no reason and my family was starting to really annoy me (again, for no real reason). We decided to go for a walk outside in the dark. While we walked, Susie told me that she felt like I was in very early labor, because I was able to hold a good conversation. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I know that as we walked the contractions ramped up a notch. We probably stayed outside for 15 minutes before we headed back home. But it was just what I needed to recenter myself and put the tears away, for the time being.
Once we got inside, we decided to watch some TV to take my mind off the contractions. Things start to get fuzzy at this point, but I know that we turned on Game of Thrones. Susie and I sat on the floor, and she began giving me a back massage whenever a contraction would come on. I sat on the birth ball and on the floor, and after about 30 minutes I couldn’t pay attention to the show at all. I knew the show was playing, but I had no idea what was going on. The contractions were starting to take all of my concentration. I think around this time I told my Mom to take over text messaging my midwives and birth photographer, because I couldn’t focus enough to talk to them anymore. The contractions hurt, but moving around, breathing, and Susie’s peaceful touch helped me to cope with them.
Around 10:00 pm my first midwife assistants showed up. I remember being pleasantly surprised to see Danielle and Rachel in my house–and thinking how funny it was to see them out of the context of their office. I don’t remember anything else about this time, but I assume we all sat in the living room for a bit while I moved around and sat on the birth ball. I must have asked to go in the tub, because my next memory is getting into the tub in my Mom’s bathroom. I had planned to labor mostly in her bathroom, because it was so large, with a huge soaking tub, shower large enough to fit many people, and seating for all my attendants. In all, I was expecting Rachel, Danielle, and Jamie (the three apprentice midwives), Shell, my dear midwife, Susie the yoga teacher/doula, Natalie a birth photographer, my sisters Kelly and Kristen, and my Mom. Yes–that is a lot of women to have at a birth, but it seemed right to me.
So there I was–soaking in the tub, like I’d dreamed of, surrounded by candles and my sweet birth team. My Mom followed my birth plan and made sure there was lavender candles and incense burning, the birth mix created by Bryan playing, dim lighting, etc. The contractions were at a place where I knew what was going on around me in between, but during a contraction I had to go into myself, moan, breathe, and really focus to get through. We weren’t timing, but the contractions seemed to be coming closer and closer. I started having shooting pains in my back with each contraction, so my doulas would surround me and push really hard into the small of my back, while another would squeeze my hand tightly–this became necessary to get through each back-burning contraction.
I was starting to think that I had to be close to fully dilated, because the contractions seemed on top of one another, leaving me with barely any break. I was starting to think really negative thoughts, and I told my midwife Danielle that. “I’m thinking lots of cliche thoughts right now!” I moaned. She told me to just let them out, so I screamed “I don’t think I can do this much longer, I want to quit, I hate this.” Everyone just smiled–I must be nearing transition! I remember also thinking of how proud of myself I was to make it this far, keeping it together and employing all of my pain management techniques. At this point, my midwife Shell said that it was pretty late (I think around 1:00 am), and so maybe we should check my cervix to see if everyone (the midwives, doulas, family, etc.) should try to get some sleep, including me. So reluctantly I got out of the bath and onto my Mom’s bed to let Shell check me.
This was the first time my cervix had ever been checked at any point during my pregnancy or labor. As she had her hand inside me, Shell started to laugh a little and said “Are you ready for this?” “What?” I said, thinking she was about to tell me I was fully dilated. “You’re barely 1 cm dilated,” she said.
At that point, it was like a record scratched and my whole world stopped. I was shocked and immediately began to panic. I was barely holding on anymore, and yet I was barely dilated. The next contraction felt like someone had taken that torture lever in The Princess Bride that Prince Humperdink used to torture Wesley, and turned it up to 100. I screamed with all my might and began vomiting violently. Everything gets very blurry after this. I remember they had me call Bryan, and I told him that I had lost all hope. I just didn’t see how I could keep going, I had completely lost my center. The contractions had hurt previously, but I could cope; now, all I could do was scream as the contractions washed over me like a wave.
At this point my midwives realized they were in for a long night/day, so they began taking turns napping. My sister Kristen went to bed. I was left with one midwife at a time and my Mom. Things were quieter and less jubilant. I quickly realized that I couldn’t lay down at all, because my contractions got so so much worse. I started making a circuit of bath, toilet, and shower. I did this for the rest of the night, and with each contraction I basically just screamed and clutched onto whoever was nearest. No amount of breathing or visualizing could help me. I began thinking that there was no way I was having this baby, but if I just kept pretending eventually they would have to take me to the hospital and cut it out.
My Mom became my rock. I had been certain my Mom would just annoy me during labor, but when I got to this low point–where I just felt desolation that I would never be giving birth and would be in labor forever–I just need my Mommy.
The hours all blend together as the night passed and morning took hold. Once daylight appeared, I began spending some time in the swimming pool, swaying from side to side while my sister Kelly held me. Like my Mom, Kelly was such a soothing presence for me.
After 1:00 am, things just kept on going pretty much the same. I would spend some time in the tub, where the pain wasn’t as bad, but I began feeling the contractions deep in my butt. The back pain was terrible, but when it progressed to my butt, it was like no pain I could ever imagine. Every contraction made me feel like I was trying to poop a watermelon. So I would go to the toilet, where I could sort of ease the muscles down there and deal with the butt pain a little bit better. The pain was eased the most in the shower, so I took shower after shower.
I remember my midwife Danielle bringing me my birth plan and reading me the part about how under no circumstances should they take me to the hospital unless Shell told them it was necessary. I had not once asked to go to the hospital, but I was moaning that I coudn’t do it, that I was never going to have my baby, and things like that. Plus, my screams never once abated from 1:00 am on. Shell suggested that something mental was blocking me from progressing, so Danielle tried to do some Bodytalk on me. I’m still not really sure what Bodytalk is, but I know it’s a kind of therapy where my body gives feedback to Danielle and helps her to learn what’s going on with me mentally.
Shell checked my cervix a couple of times, and each time she did it she would leave her hand in for the next contraction and try to spread my cervix. Can I just say that this was the most painful thing about my whole labor. The butt pain was terrible, truly terrible…but having someone’s hand inside you during a contraction feels the way I imagine having a finger or toe slowly cut off would feel. BUT…by doing this she seemed to be able to help me dilate faster. She would tell me to push into a certain side of my cervix, for example, and to visualize it opening in specific detail. She’s some kind of a cervix Jedi master, because this truly helped.
The butt pain got worse and worse, so that I felt the need to bear down with each contraction, even though it wasn’t time to push. Often I would be walking, with my Mom and Sister on each side of me, when a contraction would hit. I would immediately drop into a squat and bear down with all my might, and they would each have to hold an arm. But I was not actually pushing the baby out. I just felt the need to push into my butt.
As bad as things were, they just kept getting worse. I remember thinking the neighbors were going to call the police, because I was yelling so loudly. Shell told me to scream “UPPPP!” to my cervix, and I did. I screamed “OUTTT! GET OUTTTTT!” to the baby. I told everyone that I thought my baby was an asshole. I told Shell that I knew my baby was never coming out. She laughed and said that all babies eventually came out. I told her with certainty that not mine–my baby was not coming out.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Like, really really couldn’t take it any more. But I would NOT ask to go to a hospital. So I looked at Shell and begged her to tell me what to do. I just wanted her to tell me what I had to do to get him out. I knew that she knew, but it wasn’t her style to give orders. At this point, though, she started giving orders. She told me to go back outside, get in the pool, and start marching up and down the length of the pool. Then do lunges on the left for a few contractions, and then lunges on the right for a few contractions. If you’re on land and a contraction hits, squat or lunge into it. Then for a few contractions, pull up on your belly and march your legs. If you do all that, I bet you’ll have your baby within an hour, she said. Suddenly determined to get this darn baby out, I headed straight for the pool (and had at least 2 terrifying contractions on the way), and began to follow her orders. Things started getting really really primal, but I continued to push into the pain. Wherever you feel it really hurt, push into that place, she told me. And I did. The more it hurt, the more I tried to make it hurt. I bore down with the butt contractions, even though it hurt so so piercingly. I screamed like a banshee, gritted and gnashed my teeth, and pushed even harder into the pain.
After about an hour of this, the contractions were coming so fast that it felt like there was no time at all between contractions. I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without another contraction coming, forcing me to drop into a squat.
I made it back into my Mom’s bedroom, when a wave of contractions one right on top of the other hit me. This time, I dropped down to my knees and began bearing down and actually pushing. I think whoever was with me could tell that I was pushing for real this time, and called for Shell. Everyone gathered around me right there on the floor in my Mom’s room. I think Shell positioned me on my back, like you see with hospital births, because she knew how tired I was from not having slept at all. As I pushed on my back, her assistants checked the baby’s heart rate. I don’t know what it was, but something must have been wrong with his heart tones, because I heard Shell say calmly but forcefully “Paramedics.” I’ll never forget that moment. She immediately had me move onto hands and knees, while my sisters began to call 911. All I could think was that I had to push with all my might. I didn’t know what the paramedics would be able to do if I couldn’t get my baby out, so I just had to push.
I went from hands and knees to squatting, back and forth, pushing as hard as I could. I had imagined that I would just push naturally, that my body would just know what to do–but because of Shell ordering them to call the paramedics, I didn’t even think about whether I was having a contraction, I just pushed continuously, took a giant breath, and then pushed some more. My Mom was right in my face, screaming at me to push. Someone was holding up an oxygen mask to my face. They kept checking the baby’s heart tones and apparently they got better, so that when the paramedics arrived Shell told my Aunt (who had arrived at some point–she’s the one with the dark hair holding me in the picture below) to go meet the paramedics and not let them into the room. I never even saw them–I guess they just waited outside the room. But Shell told me “Jenna, your baby wants a big gulp of air right now, let’s get him out so he can have some air.” So I continued to push, even though I was starting to get so tired. The pain of pushing didn’t really register with me, because it was so much less painful than the contractions I had been having. I didn’t really know when I was having a contraction anymore, because I was so focused on pushing.
After 20 minutes of this, Shell said that we needed to calm down a bit and that things weren’t so urgent. At this point, though, I think my baby’s head began to show–they said they could see his hair and told me to reach down and feel. But I didn’t want to feel–I just wanted to get him out. I’m not sure if we were actually in any danger, but Shell seemed to think that we needed to get the baby out because she told me to quickly get on my back again and she basically had her hands in me trying to pull him out as I pushed. I have to rely on what people are telling me about what was happening at this point, because all I was thinking about was pushing and I was never really scared. While I laid on my back, my Mom cradling me, Shell pulled my baby out. He was purple and not breathing, and had his cord looped around his leg and shoulder. Shell said “There’s the problem!” and then unlooped it and took him. She said “Don’t worry I’m really good with babies, what’s his name?” Felix, I told her, and the team immediately got to work rubbing him and calling his name. I couldn’t see what they were doing, but what I’m told is that even though it felt like time was suspended, within 15 seconds of him coming out he slowly opened his eyes (I imagine this happening in slow motion) and looked straight at my birth team. Everyone started to cheer, and my baby was welcomed to Earth.
I had never felt so happy in my life. All of the pain I had been feeling was gone. I was sort of in shock about what had just happened when they put him on my chest, but I remember saying over and over “Baby baby baby I will love you forever Momma’s baby I love you so much.” I couldn’t even hold him properly, but he was right on my chest and we were reunited.
The fear of the paramedics being called and his few seconds of not breathing were a bit scary to everyone in the room, but I just remember knowing that Shell would make everything okay and that my baby was going to be okay. My Aunt Dianna is sitting here as I write this, and she tells me that it felt like we were all pulling Felix to Earth together.
I stayed on the floor for awhile, holding my baby while Shell looked at the damage. She told me she didn’t have much hope for my perineum, because of how she’d had to pull him out…but besides a small tear, I didn’t have any damage. I didn’t even need one stitch. I barely remember delivering the placenta–Shell basically did it for me, guiding it out while I held onto my baby and didn’t pay much attention.
Once the cord had stopped pulsing, my Mom cut it. I remember this vaguely, as it happened right on my belly.
After awhile, I was moved to a chair and then to the bed. My midwives bustled around cleaning up. Someone prepared me a meal of gluten-free pasta and meatballs. I spent 30 minutes trying to pee before I gave up and allowed Shell to put a catheter in me (best. decision. ever). I Skyped with Bryan and showed him his baby up close. I also peed my pants because I had to go more even after the catheter was out, so I just did. It was amazing. Shell and my beautiful team of midwives performed Felix’s newborn exam on the bed in my Mom’s room. Natalie shot photos of Felix, and then I nursed him for the first time in the comfort of my own bed. We were never separated against my will, and nothing was done to him without my approval. He was not poked with a needle, swabbed with eye gunk, or bathed. His birth experience was respected and cherished in every way.
This is my midwife Jamie. Her tattoo sort of symbolizes my entire birth story and our home birth movement as a whole for me. Midwives and doulas feel like angels to me, helping bring these babies to Earth with their loving, skilled hands. Birth is so much more than a medical procedure. It is a spiritual rite, it is sacred, and it is beautiful.
When I think back on my birth, I think it was so much more difficult than I could ever have comprehended. Yet I never gave up. The back labor, the butt labor, the slow progression, the scary moments when he was having trouble when I was pushing and when he first came out were a little traumatizing. But now, three months after my birth, all I can think is that I can’t wait to do it again. I feel 100% sure that having him at home was the right thing. I know a lot of people are interested in home birth, but scared that something might go wrong, putting their child in danger. But you guys–midwives are so incredibly skilled. I feel so confident saying that these women know more about birth than any OB. They are there with birthing women through it all. They have seen so much, helped so many women birth naturally, that they just know how birth works and trust in this process. I feel like birth is such a spiritual thing. You have to have faith in the process and yourself. But if you are prepared, and if you have a good midwife, and if you just give yourself over mind, body, and soul to it, you can experience birth in such a divine way.
And let me just say this: if I had tried to birth Felix in a hospital, I know with a certainty that he would have ended up being born by c-section. I progressed so slowly, and I know I would not have made it through whatever wall was holding me back in a hospital. That right there would have ended up leading to a c-section. But I also know that I would not have had a birth team surrounding me with such love and knowledge in a hospital setting. Shell’s instructions on how to lunge, pull up on my belly and march my legs, push into the pain, and order my cervix up were so key to me. But most of all, Shell, Danielle, Rachel, and Jamie’s faith in me when I had given up on myself made it possible for me to birth this boy at home, naturally. I don’t know that any OB would have had such faith.
Felix is such a blessing–I love him with every ounce of my being. He is my heart and soul. Birth is also such a blessing. We, as parents-to-be, are entrusted with this most sacred decision to bring a child into the world, and I think that we have a responsibility to respect our babies and allow them to come into this world in a peaceful way. Women, our bodies were meant to do this. We can, and we must, trust the process, seek out skilled midwives who believe in birth, and trust ourselves help welcome our babies to Earth with minimal intrusion and maximum love.
All shots were taken by the beautiful, talented, kind-hearted, divine Natalie Norton (seen with Felix and me in the picture above). Natalie, thank you for being there and for helping bring this boy to Earth. I love you.
I must also thank Susie, my yoga teacher, friend, and doula. I don’t know if she knew what she was getting herself into when she agreed to help me at my birth, but I am so glad she was there. I couldn’t have done it without you. You will always be so special to me and Felix.
Kelly and Kristen–thank you for being the best sisters I could ever ask for. Your being there for Felix’s birth is so powerful. I can’t wait to be there when you birth your own children.
Mom–I love you. You were my rock and I have so much gratitude that I was able to push Felix out while being cradled in your arms in your bedroom. Than you thank you thank you.
And finally, to my sweet husband Bryan: thank you for witnessing the birth of our baby boy. I felt that you were there for every minute of it. I love you forever.