I might have readers (like 2 of them) who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, and they might not know that Henry Joseph was born gently at home, into his Daddy’s hands, on 1/20/2011 at 7:10am. He weighed in at 6 lbs 8 oz (tiny! I know. But he was born at 38 weeks. If he had stayed in for another couple weeks, he probably would’ve been 7 and 1/2 lbs or something like that) and was 20 inches long. I posted a very rough birth story on Facebook, but I wanted to post a better version here (turns out it’s easier to type when one hand isn’t helping to position a nursing newborn).
He was born on a Thursday morning, but his story starts the Sunday before that, when I got desperately ill. Fever, chills, coughing fits, general grossness. Then Tim and Sam got sick, too. We were a fun bunch for a few days. Tuesday (1/18) was Sam’s birthday, and the three of us spent it together in our big bed just snuggling and feeling terrible. I started having some low contractions that felt like the real deal at some point — I chalked it up to being dehydrated a little, and maybe the coughing causing contractions. I had an appointment with my (wonderful!!!) midwife on Wednesday and I told her about the contractions. She said they were just warm-up contractions as my body got ready for real labor. They weren’t powerful or getting closer together or anything, but they did feel like real labor contractions and not just the tightening, Braxton-Hicks contractions. After my appointment I was still feeling so so sick so I went home and took a nap. I woke up around 7:30 because the contractions were getting stronger and they woke me up. A lovely family from our small group graciously brought us a meal that night because being sick and hugely pregnant sucks, but being sick and hugely pregnant and having to cook and feed a sick family sucks worse. I was hungry for the first time in days, so I had two big bowls of potato soup and some salad. As the evening progressed the prelabor contractions I was having got longer and stronger. I was needing to breathe through them, so out of curiosity I started timing them with ContractionMaster. They weren’t getting closer together for forming a pattern, but they were consistently 1 minute 40 seconds long. Tim was working to set up the birth pool because my midwife suggested I try to soak in the tub for a while to relax. I had a question about the tub so I Facebooked her, and mentioned that my contractions were around 1:40 long. She called me at 10pm and we talked about these contractions. At no point did it occur to me that these were real labor contractions (I’m a little slow, I guess). I was just hoping they’d stop so I could get some rest so I could get better. She gave me some suggestions to help me relax and to get the contractions to stop, including the birth tub. Tim ran out to buy a bottle of wine while I soaked in the tub. The water was sort of lukewarm at best because we didn’t have the right attachment to fill up the tub and we ran out of hot water before the tub was full. I had some wine and finally gave up on the tub and went to bed around 11:30. I was getting frustrated because these contractions were really starting to hurt. If these were just prelabor, I didn’t feel like I was handling them very well. How was I going to handle real labor? I was also frustrated because I was so sick and I wanted desperately to sleep but every time I’d start to drift off I’d have another doozy of a contraction and it would wake me up. You know, if the coughing wasn’t keeping me up. I also felt bad for Tim because he had a 102 degree fever and needed rest too but I could no longer handle the contractions without his coaching. They were intense, long, and felt like they were double-peaking. Around 2am I asked him to call my midwife again. He started timing contractions and they were 2 minutes long but anywhere from 9 to 16 minutes apart. There was no pattern or getting closer together. But I could no longer lie down during the contractions. It made them hurt so much worse (no wonder women strapped to a hospital bed beg for an epidural! I would’ve, too). The only thing that helped the contractions was swaying and rocking my hips, almost in a belly dancing fashion. Every time a contraction would hit I’d get out of bed and just rock my hips. My midwife said this sounded like maybe the real thing, so I called my mom and asked her to come get Sam. I didn’t think I was in real labor, but I knew that I wasn’t getting any rest and Tim wasn’t either, so I needed someone to watch Sam so we could sleep and hopefully get better the next day. My mom agreed to come get Sam, but she was sick with the same cold thing that we all had, too. Once she arrived I asked her to stay up with me for a while and time contractions while Tim got an hour or so of unbroken sleep. If this was real labor, I needed my poor, feverish sicky “coach” to be able to support me through labor. My mom reluctantly agreed (I don’t think she thought I was really in labor, plus she didn’t feel too hot herself) and I was kind of mad at her. But, I was probably in transition. I moved out to the couch so Tim could sleep in the bedroom. Every time a contraction came I’d tell my mom to start timing and then just get up rock my hips. At some point I felt vaguely nauseated. Around 4am I started feeling vaguely pushy, but the contractions were still not in any pattern — anywhere from 7 to 13 minutes apart. I had my mom get Sam up and leave at this point, and made Tim call my midwife again. She said she’d come right away. It’s a good thing she lives only about 10 minutes away from me! Around 5:30 my midwife arrived and asked if I wanted to be checked. I said sure, but I honestly thought she’d tell me that I was 1 to 2 cm and that I still had a long way to go. Imagine my surprise when she said I was almost fully dilated and effaced, with just a stretchy anterior lip. The contractions slowed down at this point — the “rest and be thankful” stage, as Ina May calls it — so I just chatted with Tim and my midwife. I had a few more contractions but they didn’t really make me feel an uncontrollable urge to push. So I just waited. Finally I did feel like pushing and it actually felt pretty good to push. I had Tim press really hard on my hip bones during contractions because that felt better. At some point it hurt worse when he did that so I had him stop. When Henry started to crown I started to freak out a little. I said, ‘oh, it hurts!” and “I’m scared!” and prayed in earnest “Jesus, help me please.” The other midwife there to assist my midwife, and Tim, just gently encouraged me and prayed with and for me. I knew that pushing wouldn’t make the pain stop, so I just kept pushing. I didn’t push for very long — Tim says maybe 15 or 20 minutes — and then at 7:10am Henry Joseph was born. My first thought was oh, he’s tiny. Compared to Sam, I knew Henry would be lucky to break 7 lbs. Tim and I just cried and thanked God and fell in love with our little boy. We tried to get him to latch while we waited for the placenta to be born. My placenta was small and not in great shape — maybe the stress from being sick made my body preserve my other organs at the expense of my placenta, so I went into labor? I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting a small 38 weeker.
Having a home birth was amazing. I can’t imagine doing it any other way, even a birth center birth. I think being in a comfortable environment where I was free to do what I needed to do (like get up and rock my hips at will, etc) really diminished the discomfort of labor. In a way it really was easy — there were parts that were difficult (see: being sick with the bubonic plague, crowning) but compared to Sam’s birth it was just so much easier. And my recovery has been easier, too. I feel empowered and strong. I feel love for my sweet family of 4 and I feel equipped and capable of raising my two sweet boys. The oxytocin rush you get right after you give birth is like…trippy. It’s such an emotional, strong, incredible feeling. I guess increasing pain in childbirth is part of the fall (according to Genesis) but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t also give us so much grace in birth. And that amazing cocktail of love hormones is pretty great.
Birth is worth the pain. Having had two natural births I can tell you that it is worth it. The pain serves a purpose — it’s not senseless pain. It’s pain that can be understood, and is in that way able to be conquered. It can’t be bigger or more powerful than you because it is you. You hit a wall of self-doubt but then you just take control and it’s exhilarating. I really believe it’s worth it.
We are so in love with our sweet Henry. It’s been almost 4 months now and his birthday remains one of the best days of my life, not just because he was born that day but because his birth was one of the best things that I’ve ever done. I love his dimples and his big grins and his giggles. I love his elbow dimples and his fat rolls on his leg — he may have been tiny at birth but he’s definitely made up for lost time as far as eating goes. I just can’t imagine our family without him in it.
God is good!