Background Info and Context
Our last birth was an unassisted one and I loved it. But this time we hired a midwife, due mostly to my husband’s desire for one, but I also sensed the Lord wanted to show me how to lean into others and receive care (something I am not great at). We chose one of our area’s longest-practicing midwives whose old-school hippie ways and hands-off approach seemed the best fit for an “unassisted birther at heart.” I felt very respected and seen by her as we walked through prenatal care in collaboration and planned for a birth that would be as unassisted feeling as possible.
It’s worth noting here that this pregnancy was a harder one. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t all that bad. I had no major complications and it was textbook “healthy,” but at age 42, my body simply felt the wear and tear on a basic level more keenly. I was very uncomfortable and worn down and even resentful at times about being in this pregnancy state once again. Additionally, for the first time ever, I felt genuinely nervous – even apprehensive- about going through labor and experiencing the intensity of it again, and this surprised me.
Gratefully, I managed to sincerely not expect labor to commence prior to 40 weeks, because I’ve made that mistake in the past and to do so is to prolong one’s mental agony. Haha. But I was really hopeful and even expectant to give birth between week 40 and week 41, which would also be when my dear friend, podcast co-host, and traveling traditional midwife Lauren would have her RV parked in my yard with her family (6 kids and her husband). It was a last-minute trip made possible only because one of her clients 4 hours away had had her baby quite early.
I was looking forward to her visit and we thought it would be such an amazing story if I ended up having the baby whilst she was present and maybe she’d even attend the birth alongside my local midwife we had hired. Each day of their visit was wonderful, full of fellowship and prayer, fun and therapeutic emotional release. One of our daughters even got freedom from something she’d been battling for months. None of it was wasted and it made the waiting much more bearable and nourishing.
10/27/22 (41 weeks)
On the 5th day of their visit they had planned a day trip with some other friends. That morning I had some bloody show and thought I might have the baby while they were away or that night after they returned. But alas, I didn’t. I did, however, have even more bloody show in the middle of the night after they returned.
10/28/22 (41+1 weeks)
Day 6 – their last day – and I woke up without any meaningful contractions, still. Usually, bloody show is a good indicator of imminent labor in multips like me, so I was confused and frustrated by this. I was beginning to sense that I might not go into labor until our friends were packed up and on the road. Like, even though my MIND had been saying it would be a fun story to have the baby while they were around, my BODY was needing the privacy and quietude that could come only when I didn’t have a family of 8 living in my backyard. Ha. So when Lauren offered to shift their plans in order to stay longer in case that middle of the night bloody show was going to lead to labor, I told her I thought it might be best to continue with their departure plans. It was as if having them there created almost too many options/possibilities for whom would attend the birth and in what capacity; I was overthinking and feeling awkward about it all. I needed to simplify my head space. She graciously received this without offense and shared that she had even intuited the same conclusion..
But before they rolled out, she and I spent some time doing some repositioning maneuvers (the Three Sisters of spinning babies) and had a walk in the woods and she made me an herbal tea… and then by about 4:00 pm they were pulling out of our driveway as we tearfully waved until they were out of sight. Just before leaving, Lauren joked that I’d probably have my baby when they are 2 hours away. I thought that seemed fast, but I also felt like it was entirely possible that it’d be sometime that night.
After they left, the kids were all disoriented by the departure of their friends and so through contraction-like sensations I tried to shepherd them through the empty space left by good friends and we talked about our favorite parts of their visit. We had dinner, I rested a bit in our room and had a nap while Tim played games with the kids. I also invited all the kids and Tim to lay hands on my belly and pray that our baby would come soon. They are usually very reluctant to pray aloud but they did it this time and it was such a balm to my heart.
Our 5-year-old daughter likes me to lay with her for 6 minutes every night before she falls asleep, so I was doing just that at about 9:45 pm (oops! Late bedtime!). When I rolled out of her bed and stood up, I felt a rush of warm liquid. I said to my eldest daughter, who was in her bed in the same room, “Oh! My water may have just broken. Please excuse me!” In the bathroom, I was pretty quickly able to discern that it had indeed broken. I texted Laura (the midwife) “water broke” at 9:57 pm. And then I took a dose of Lobelia and Mother Wort tinctures to help take the edge off my nerves and the subsequent tension in my body.
Laura was at another birth 45 minutes away, for a mama whose water had broken about 7 minutes before mine! So, given that I wasn’t really contracting yet, we agreed I’d just put on an adult diaper and get in bed and wait and sleep, summoning her as needed (She had a backup to send to the other birth in the event that I needed her sooner).
Contractions didn’t really start up right away and it wasn’t until about the time that she was finishing up at the first birth that they had any oomph and were getting closer together, so she came straight to our house. Cherith (the birth photographer we had hired rather last minute!) also headed out.
I put on my pretty lacy bralette, turned on the lights in the pool and the LED candles, and got my birth playlist playing. It was very beautiful and serene.
At about 2:30 am they arrived and shortly after I decided to get into the tub, even though contractions had petered out when I got out of bed. I was remembering my previous birth when the same thing had happened: easy, manageable contractions in bed which stalled when I got out of bed and then picked up with a vengeance and went straight to FER when I got in the birth pool. So I was assuming the same would happen again (this is such a newbie mistake: I ought to know better than to expect any two labors to be the same. The comparison game isn’t helpful).
Things did NOT pick up in the tub. I was not even close to being in labor land, as much as I wanted to be. I sat in that pool waiting for the next uneventful contraction and feeling BORED. I told myself they would pick up soon, once I acclimated to the new people in my space and to the water, but I was wrong. I felt agitated. Laura suggested that she and Cherith go downstairs a while and that Tim and I go to bed and snuggle and rest. This was about 4 a.m.
So to bed I went. Tim fell asleep right away and I laid there having just enough contractions to stay awake, but not enough to produce a baby. Sometime after 6 a.m. Laura came into our room and sat on the edge of my bed and asked if there’d been changes. I couldn’t say yes, so we agreed she and Cherith would go home. Perhaps not feeling watched and waited for would make a difference, she suggested. She checked baby’s heart tones and palpated for the position, finding that his head was resting on top of my pubic bone, and postulating that engagement was what was needed next to get things moving.
They left by 6:30-ish a.m., Tim dozed off to sleep and I lay there continuing to have just enough contractions to not be able to sleep. I started hearing sounds of the kids waking up for the day and I just fell apart. I couldn’t face another day of more painful sensations and unproductive contractions and bloody show and leaking water. I was embarrassed that I had called in my birth team only to have to send them home. This was my 6th baby for pete’s sake! You’d think I’d not be so dumb! And with the kids awake, surely I wouldn’t go into labor. I’d lost my window of opportunity.
I started to SOB. The hardest, bed-thumping, growling, sob I’ve had in a long long time. Tim later said it sounded like someone I was very close to had just died. I let it rip. All the trying to have a good attitude and wait patiently nonsense was over. I was pissed and sad and scared. The sobbing culminated with a wail of “I just want my BABY!!!” And honestly, I think that’s when something shifted. That release…
Desiring to pull myself together and pivot to having as decent a day as possible, Tim went down to assist the freshly woken kids and to make me breakfast. Before he went downstairs I asked for a dose of both Pulsatilla and Caulophyllum (homeopathics), which Lauren had left with me after we determined they were good matches for me. I pulled my big pregnancy body pillow onto the bed and curled up inside of it on my left side, drying my tears and googling “how to encourage baby to engage in the pelvis.” I was working on formulating a plan for maneuvers to get things going again when I had a contraction that was different. And then it was quickly followed by another. And another. Getting closer and stronger and making me moan through them. They were one on top of another and I felt nailed to the bed, doing my best to stay on top of them with relaxation and breath but utterly unable. At first, I was trying to do weird positional things with my pelvis to help baby engage, until I realized that he already HAD, hence the crazy contractions and the lower-down pressure I was feeling. These were transition contractions. It was around 8:30 a.m. I think.
Tim came up with my breakfast to find me like that and texted Laura that maybe she should come back! I tried to eat between them but only managed to choke down maybe an 8th of that breakfast. I yelled to Tim, “Water! I need my water!” He lunged for my water bottle and I yelled in a very agitated tone, “Not THAT water, THAT water!”, pointing to the now cold birth pool. He said he would work on warming it up and I quickly said, “I’m sorry, I’m not mad at you, I’m just in pain!”
Agatha was awake in her crib in the other room by now, chattering to herself and calling out to be helped out of her crib. But we had to ignore her cos things were just moving too fast. Our family friend, Laura D., was summoned to come get and tend to Agatha and whichever other kids needed/wanted attention.
It was about 9 a.m. when Tim said the pool was probably warm enough and Laura, Laura D. and Cherith all arrived. I limped my way hastily over to the pool, tore off my adult diaper, and plunged in in the thin long sleeve t-shirt I happened to have on. Immediately I declared, “this isn’t warm enough!” and Tim went scurrying to boil water to add. It never really did get warm enough (IMO). But I also wasn’t about to get out.
Expecting that once I hit the water things would unfold like they had for Agatha, with a quick FER response and emergence, I looked out at the autumnal trees and tried to center myself for that powerful involuntary expulsion sensation. Instead, what I got were something in between transition contractions and pushing contractions. They were spaced out enough that I could catch my breath in between, they were still very strong and I could feel stretching and downward movement, but they weren’t the kind you push with yet. So I breathed and panted through most of them.
NO position felt quite right and I think I tried them all. The bottom of the birth pool had a little hole in it that made a little “bubbler” and I kept staring at that or the trees outside as a focal point while three of my kids (Hazel, Walter and Maeve), Tim, Laura and Cherith stood silently observing (and filming and photographing).
When the FER contractions started, they were honestly terrible. They felt utterly overwhelming and shot down my inner thighs. The stretch and burn was incredible and I felt like I was being torn in half. Plus, they weren’t working very quickly compared to my previous experiences. Inside my head I starteed wondering things like “Why is this taking so long? Is there a nuchal hand or something? Is he military presentation? Why isn’t he here yet?” I called to mind two phrases that had been highlighted to me during my pregnancy, “folllow THIS labor” and “flow with the river.” Ok, here was my river, and I needed to yield to it’s current or I’d drown. This labor was not any other labor, it was an entirely new one.
As I writhed around between FER contractions, I at one point happened to find my face right beneath a birth affirmation card my friend had made for me years before that said simply “I can do hard things.” It was just what I needed at that moment. I growled, I cussed, I called out to Jesus, I moaned, I complained.
This was NOT a zen birth, friends. I was very very agitated.
Finally, the FER contraction that – with my conscious cooperation – birthed his head hit. His head emerged bit by bit, not in one big slide. In fact, Laura had to tell me to add a little extra on the end to get his chin out. I reached back to feel his head, and it felt just HUGE bobbing there in the water. 9:47 a.m.
I had to wait for another contraction before I could push out his shoulders. I felt him restitute (turn) and heard Laura say something about how I’d probably have to work hard for these shoulders cos they’re big. The contraction came and I gave it my all. And nothing happened. I felt a little panicky. I called out to Laura – who was very intentionally standing far back and not touching me unless i requested her assistance – and she offered to check for a cord. No nuchal cord. She asked if I wanted her to check his shoulders and I said yes. They were a little “sticky” so she maneuvered baby a bit to help them slide through, which happened quite easily with that assistance. Then, because her hands were right there, into her hands he slid (a little sad, cos I really wanted to catch him myself in a slow, unhurried underwater “first look” moment), but I immediately spun around and collected him into my arms, then sat down and started cooing and grinning and crying with relief. 9:49 a.m.
He was bluish and gurgly but grimacing and coughing and stretching out his arms. I suctioned his nose and mouth with my own mouth but mostly just held and caressed him, trusting and knowing that he was working it out and wasn’t in any need of help. I looked up and saw ALL of my kids and Tim standing at the edge of the pool – even the two who hadn’t been previously present (it turns out that my 7 year old had run downstairs to tell the other kids that baby was almost there and theyd followed him upstairs to catch the very tail end). I felt so proud and happy and loved to see them all there smiling in wonder (and maybe a little shell-shocked from hearing mom be so noisy). Tim came closer and reached out to touch the baby and me, tears and adoration and relief in his eyes.
The water still felt chilly so I wanted to get out with baby almost right away so he wouldn’t get too cold. I was helped up and out, wrapped in towels and walked to bed. The whole family piled on the bed and we all looked adoringly at our new baby for a while, just soaking it all in. I took a dose of afterease tincture and got baby latched on (incredibly easily and by the 30 minute mark). He was still connected to his somewhat short cord because we were planning a cord burning ceremony again.
I felt the placental release gush of blood pretty early on (at about the 20 minute mark) while in bed nursing and hoped that this might be the time it was birthed easily and before the 2-hour mark! I sent the kids downstairs to bake a birthday cake with Laura D. so that I could focus on birthing the placenta. For the next 2.5 hours Laura and I did every trick in both of our books to get that thing out. It seemed clearly detached from my uterus but it would not budge. Herbs, coughing, growling, pushing, upright and supine positions were all tried. Toilet, squatting, gentle cord traction, ice water… you name it, we tried it. And still it was unyielding. Part of the problem here is that I don’t get afterpains, so there’s not the added ooph of the uterus to help me out. I was also doing all of this whilst holding/nursing the baby because we wanted to keep him attached to his cord and then do a cord burning!
As we crossed the 2-hour mark, I noticed that I felt weak and depleted, and also agitated (yes, there’s that word again). I looked at Laura and said something like, “I can’t keep doing this. I need to eat and rest.” She said somewhat reluctantly that she could pull it out manually but that it wouldn’t feel good. To my surprise, I jumped on it. “Well, your hand isn’t bigger than his head, so how bad can it be? Let’s do that.”
Turns out that though her hand is indeed smaller than my baby’s head, it was horrible to have it ram backwards up my birth canal and then clutch and pull out a large organ. I absolutely yelled at her and did not do a good job of “keeping my bottom loose.” It took two attempts, and then there it was: out. Done. Finally finished. The resulting feeling of emptiness and completion was phenomenal. 12:30 pm.
With baby no longer connected to an organ INSIDE my body, we were able to put his placenta in a beautiful wooden heart-shaped bowl and lay him down beside it whilst I got into a more comfortable position in bed. Then we called the kids back in for a cord burning ceremony. Before we began, Laura and I gave a little placenta “lesson” to the kids, who were totally fascinated.
Everyone had a turn to hold one of the beeswax candles beneath the cord as I nursed baby and Tim prayed over him and blessed him. I got impatient with this process this time too and suggested we stop and just cut it. But Hazel was insistent on finishing, and so finish we did. We trimmed and tied the cord closer to his body after that (Hazel did the honors).
A little while later came a short and simple newborn exam on the end of the bed, the kids all around, watching. His head was nearly 15” and he was 22” long, but the most shocking number of all was his weight. He weighed in at 10 lbs 9 oz, making him my biggest baby by nearly a pound (his brother Gus was the next biggest, and he was born nearly 10 years ago)! His size may explain in part why the process of pushing him out felt more stretching (pun intended).
Someone brought me some food and I drank my celebratory 100% blueberry juice, and then all that was left to do was to rest and be still. The flurry of activity was over. The agitation ceased. Our sixth and probably final baby was safely in my arms.
Laura hugged me goodbye and emotion welled up in me that I didn’t expect as I whispered to her, “I ended up needing you much more than I anticipated.”
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