March 24th, 2014, was the best, happiest, most intense and emotional day of my life – it was the day Daniel and I welcomed our baby daughter Ava Lucille into this beautiful world.
Ava’s due date was March 16th, over a week before she arrived. I know, and so does almost everyone, that many first time moms are 7-10 days late, but as the days came and went after March 16th I felt more and more nervous and anxious that she would not come naturally. I had decided around 20 weeks to switch to out-of-hospital prenatal care, through Alma Midwifery Center. From 20-40 weeks I felt I had tremendous, thoughtful care from my midwife team. But, they could not legally treat me if I went past 43 weeks pregnant, and they also warned that research shows that babies have many more problems and risks associated with birth between 42 and 43 weeks. With each passing day I became more and more convinced that I’d have to transfer back to hospital care and be induced. I was convinced that I wanted to do a natural childbirth, and I realized early on that I thought the midwifery model, and out-of-hospital care would give me the best chance at achieving this. We had planned all along to birth at the Alma Midwifery birthing center in SE Portland, but around 37 weeks we had some major insurance issues that made us reassess where to give birth, based on financial realities. Our conclusion was to have a home birth instead of birth at the birthing center. We spent the few weeks after 37 prepping for this – gathering supplies we would need, like a garden hose, basic medical supplies and postnatal remedies for mom and baby. By 39 weeks we were totally prepped and I felt ready to give birth.
The days dragged by – especially after I took work off starting March 10th. A week went by. Another week went by. I had a few spells of what felt like despair and depression that I had made the wrong decision to have a home birth, since I felt destined to have to transfer back to hospital care. Daniel helped me sort out my feelings. On March 22nd I spent the afternoon and evening with friends, at Alicia’s baby shower for Sophia (who was born on February 15th). Seeing her beautiful baby made me so excited, but feel that I was never actually going to get my own. It felt good to be around other people during this emotional time. On Sunday the 23rd I felt a bit fed up with everyone on the planet asking me, “When is your baby due?!?” Me: “Last weekend…” or “Is the baby here yet?” Me: “No… still not here.” We considered driving down to the beach to spend the night at Manzanita. We ended up staying around home and spent Sunday afternoon playing Settlers of Catan, Seafarers edition, with Andrew and Leah on the 5th floor patio of the condo.
Sunday night was normal – dinner, then reading, then bed. Another day gone by with no sign of baby, I thought as I settled off to sleep around 11:00pm. An hour later, around midnight I woke up with a new feeling in my pelvis. It didn’t feel like Braxton Hicks contractions, which I found had almost no feeling at all. It felt slightly uncomfortable, and I wondered, “Is this it?!”, but quickly quelled my excitement, because I felt I had come to terms with the fact that she would be another week or more. I laid in bed trying to attune myself to these new feelings, which were sort of crampy. An hour later, they were still coming, in fairly rhythmic patterns and I definitely could not sleep. I decided to wake Daniel up. He thought I might be in labor, but I still thought maybe I just had a stomachache. I decided to sit in a warm bath, which helped the moderate pains. Daniel came and read me a story about the Annapurna Basecamp trek in Nepal, until the pains started getting more intense and I couldn’t concentrate on the story anymore. At this point, Daniel was certain and I was fairly certain that I was in labor. We called my mom about 3:30am to tell her what was happening, as we were planning to have her at the birth, too. We said we’d check in a little later.
Things started getting more and more intense by the hour. To be honest, things start to get a bit hazy for me around 6am, when my mom arrived. I think about the 24th and it is hard for me to put together a reasonable timeline for how things happened, or when people came and went. The three of us hung around the condo, both mom and Daniel taking care of me – helping me stay hydrated and eating enough. Contractions were fairly regular, ever 4 minutes, lasting about 1 minute each, for several hours. Once the sun came up, contractions took on a more uncoordinated pattern. Some every 4 minutes, some every 6 minutes. I felt disappointed because I thought labor might be stalling. I continued to move around the condo freely – doing whatever movements felt best, and making whatever noises helped me get through the contractions. Being able to move about freely was crucial, I felt. Whether I wanted to be on all fours on the bed, standing, pushing against the wall, lying on the floor, squatting on the floor, holding one leg up, pacing the hall. I did all of these things and everything helped with the pain. I realized how essential movement is to laboring naturally and I realized how if I were confined to a space, like a bed, or if I were confined with a monitor, I don’t think the pain would have been manageable and could see myself wanting pain medications quickly.
One of the midwives on my three-person midwife team, Courtney, came over at our request around 10am to check how I was doing. At this point, she said I was 3cm dilated, which was still in the early stages of labor. Due to the fact that I hadn’t slept at all she recommended that I take a Benedryl to help me sleep. I was at first apprehensive about this, as I was still having regular, incredibly painful contractions, and I didn’t think a sleep aid would actually put me to sleep. They said that even if I could just lie down and close my eyes between contractions, this would help, because I could easily labor all day and night, and into the next day. The thought of being in labor for an entire 24 hours more sounded so daunting. I took one Benedryl, although I am not sure it altered my state at all. I didn’t get much extra rest from this.
Sometime around noon (maybe before? Maybe after?) I was again laboring in our bathtub. This was starting to get difficult because I felt I wanted to be in the water, but I needed the freedom to move around, which I didn’t’ have in the bathtub. My mom was in the bathroom with me helping me through contractions when I threw up the entire contents of my stomach, including the Benadryl, into my bath. I suspect this was my body’s way of cleaning everything out before the real difficult stage began.
Thinking back to this point in the day, I have very hazy memories of how things exactly went. When I describe it to people, I say that I felt high on some sort of drug. I suppose I was high on hormones. At this point, I also think I went into total animalistic mode. Obviously, I am a human, an animal, but I felt like I was a wildebeest or something, simply because I felt that I had no conscious control of anything I was doing. I felt that my body, my nature, was behind the drivers seat and my consciousness was simply along for the ride. All pretenses went out the window. All modesty went out the window. Any noise that I wanted to make, I made. Any position I wanted to be in, I got in. I remember screaming and moaning incredibly loud during contractions, but I couldn’t help it. When the contraction was over, I’d tell myself that maybe I should try being quieter, or else the cops would come, given hat we have many neighbors in close proximity. Then another wave of contractions would come and I’d scream even louder. I felt this was actually quite liberating, thinking about it now, to be in total 100% connection with my body. I have never felt that before. I was in awe of myself.
During this whole time Daniel and my mom, who were like my doulas, were totally essential to me, attending to my every need. I hardly felt conscious of what was happening, but when I felt thirsty, there was a glass of water and a straw in my mouth. If I felt low energy, there was a sip of homemade electrolyte beverage there for me. If I needed to lean on someone, Daniel was there to sway with me, or encourage me. For several hours I felt like I didn’t’ even open my eyes, but moved about, grabbing out for the first outstretched hand when a contraction came.
At some point in the early afternoon, I knew I needed the birth pool. I remember insisting and saying over and over, “When are the midwives getting here with the pool? When are they getting here with the pool!?” There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to be in the warm water. Courtney came back to the condo with the pool, I think, around 1pm (?). Contractions were so intense at this point, I was in an entire different universe. During each contraction I screamed at the top of my lungs, which helped me get through it. Earlier in the morning when things started getting intense, I kept screaming during contractions, “This hurts so bad! THIS HURTS SO FUCKING BAD!” My mom suggested I say something positive to myself, so my mantra become, “I can do this.” I’d repeat it over and over as the waves came. I do think this helped, to encourage myself and to try to think about something other than the pain.
Around 2pm (?) the other two midwives arrived – Tara and Kori. Kori was not actually on our birth team, but Jamie was gone for a few days, so Kori was the on call Nurse Midwife of the group. The birth tub was finally blown up and ready in our living room. Right before I got in I was riding out a huge contraction, kneeling on the couch, screaming into the pillows, when my water broke right then and there. I was shocked, and excited as this meant things were progressing. I quickly got in the tub after this and got some pain relief from the water.
The next 2 hours were a complete blur. The contractions were the most intense physical feeling I’ve ever felt. Sometimes between contractions I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to waste the energy. The pain was different that being injured, though. I knew the pain was leading somewhere, and that it would end. The birth tub was large enough that I could move around, stand up, kneel, or change positions whenever. When my contraction would end, I would beg the midwives to tell me when this would end. They told me they didn’t know, but things were moving along. I felt like I didn’t know how much longer I could do this. I never said it out loud, but I wondered if I had overestimated my strength. I was thinking of what it would be like to go to the hospital at this time. But, soon enough I started feeling a new feeling – an incredible, almost crushing pressure low down in my pelvis, which was her head. The contractions shifted, yet again, in intensity, to the ultra highest yet. I couldn’t believe that things just kept escalating. The feeling is very difficult to describe in words. It hurt so much, but it also felt euphoric at the same time.
I think around 3:30pm (?) I started feeling like I wanted to push, and I could feel her head very low in my pelvis. I thought the midwives would tell me when to push, but they let it be totally directed by me. I never actually thought, “1… 2… 3… push!” But with each contraction, as things changed, I would scream and the scream helped my pelvic floor muscles push. Again, it was my body taking over.
Nearing the end of the hour, after a strong contraction and a kind of burning sensation, that actually felt good, out came her head. The midwives monitored her progress in the water, at first with an underwater mirror and flash light, and as she came out, with their hands. One or two more contractions later and she was out! It was the greatest feeling and the greatest relief of my life. She was immediately placed on my chest, with her cord still attached, which they let pulse for several minutes. I was in total shock. Almost immediately, I forgot pretty much everything, all the painful sensations, that I had just been through over the previous 16 hours. I could not believe she was out. I kept looking at her and saying, “Is this real?” “I can’t believe this is happening.” “Is she really mine?”
Ava came out wide eyed and alert, looking all around the room at us and the scene at 4:01pm. Holding her that moment was the best moment of my life until then. Just absolutely nothing compared to it. She laid on my chest and we cuddled, as the midwives checked to make sure things were ok. She was healthy – the greatest gift I could have asked for.
After some time in the tub, the midwives encouraged me to get out and go lay down in the bed, as the water was getting colder and Ava was still partially wet, though wrapped in a blanket. My mom cut her cord and then Daniel took her and got some skin to skin time with her as the midwives helped me out of the tub. They encouraged me to squat down (there was a tarp on our floor) and give a quick push. I did and the placenta came out. From here, they walked me to our bed and I lay down and took Ava again on my chest. I was overwhelmed by joy and euphoria, to have this beautiful baby in my arms. I felt proud of myself and in awe of my body that I had just gone through those previous 16 hours without an intervention. I have never felt so strong. It is funny – in the weeks leading up to the birth, I told myself during labor I would visualize the most difficult physical things I’d ever done to help me get through it. I told myself I’d think about running a marathon and climbing to Everest Base Camp. Around 3am, after 3 hours of labor, I knew this strategy was out the window – even early on labor harder physically and emotionally than any of those things, by ten-fold.
Daniel, Ava and I rested on the bed as the midwives filled out my charts and prepped for Ava’s newborn exam. After we had got lots of cuddles in, they did a full body exam on her. She was 8 pounds 7 ounces and 20 inches long, with a nice large 14-inch head. She also got a quick Vitamin K shot, which she didn’t like much. We were all impressed with how calm she was from the very moment she came out. She hardly cried at all, and was very alert from the beginning. After Ava’s exam, the midwives checked up on me, feeling my uterus and checking for tears. I had a small tear, and they offered me one stitch, but they said it wasn’t necessary if I spent the next week resting and laying, so I opted to not get the stitch.
The rest of the evening was spent snuggling Ava and learning to nurse, all done in the comfort of my own bed, which I really appreciated. After another hour or so, when the midwives had cleaned everything and put everything away (and even started a load of laundry!), they headed home.
It was certainly a monumental day – the best day of my life, by far. Ava immediately became the love of our lives. I felt exhausted, elated, euphoric, and powerful. I could hardly grasp what had just happened, and several days later, it is still difficult to grasp.
All-in-all, I am extremely satisfied with my first birth experience. As I had earlier predicted, the midwife-care model is certainly a great fit for me and my philosophies. They helped me along the way, but they certainly didn’t deliver my daughter – I delivered my daughter. I am so grateful that I was able to have birth in the comfort of my own home, around my people, in my own environment. I would highly recommend it.
It has been a whirlwind – but the adventure is just beginning! I still can’t believe this beautiful baby is my own daughter, and I get to raise her, and she will be mine, and I will be hers for life. It is absolutely the best thing EVER.
About an hour after the birth. My mom holding Ava. New born exam – in the scale, weighing in at 8lbs 7oz. First family photo! The morning after – can’t stop staring at this babe.