Though I haven’t had an operating-room birth or an unassisted road-side birth, I have given birth in just about every other location with just about every type of birth attendant. For those who may want to know how my births compared, I thought I’d give my pros and cons for each scenario. Before I do, however, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think birth location is as important as who you choose for birth attendants. I believe most women can have a positive birth experience in any location as long as the people they are surrounded by are kind, supportive, and capable. See my post on this topic here. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences, and I do not intend to imply that my experiences would be expected to occur in every hospital, birth center, or home birth.
For home school, I try to have my kids write something in their journals several times each week. I let them pick what they want to write about, and they usually come up cool stuff. In the week after my baby was born, we mostly took a break from “school,” but we did have the kids write in their journals a few times. It was my 10-year-old’s idea to write about Hope’s birth. As soon as I found out what she was doing, I was eager to share her account on my blog. At first she didn’t want me to post it, feeling a little self-conscious. But I’m so glad she decided to let me go ahead. With her permission, I will transcribe her journal entry here:
On the early morning of Christmas day my parents woke me up and told me that my mom was in labor and said if I wanted to come I had better get up and find something to bring. So I changed, got my water bottle, some snacks, and a magazine my parents gave me.
That’s when I dropped my pants.
Funny how few circumstances there are when going bottom-less in front of other human beings is totally appropriate, but childbirth is one of them. I was ready to get in the tub. So I settled into the warm water, my husband held my hand, and Cherise knelt beside us and started pouring water over my belly. A few moments later, Mary came and stood at the foot of the tub. She must have known somehow that I was still feeling guilty about giving birth on Christmas, and she knew I needed a way to let that guilt go. The words she said to me… oh those words… those beautiful, beautiful words. Perhaps I’m not quoting her exactly right, but she looked straight into my eyes and said words very similar to this:
There is no greater gift to God’s service than what we’re doing right here right now.
As soon as her message penetrated my heart, it was as though the guilt instantly released its grip on me, and I began to cry. It was a massive, monumental, beautiful release. I sobbed, “Thank you…” and Mary didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Thank YOU.” Cherise and Mary both encouraged me to cry and let it out. This was the first time I had ever cried in labor, and it felt good. Releasing those trapped negative emotions allowed my body to move forward, and the contractions became even stronger.
My midwife partners and I at the The Farm learned by observation and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labors. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. -Ina May Gaskin
Apparently, reading Ina May Gaskin is a great way to boost oxytocin levels. My contractions had fizzled out when I curled up in bed to read, but within twenty minutes or so they were back. I kept reading for a while, but eventually I turned off my lamp and slept through the waves. As I slept, I noticed the contractions, but they were never strong enough to wake me completely.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m. my husband got up with an earache. I decided to get up too and start timing my contractions again. It was not the ideal time for him to be sick (ha, is it ever?), but I did my best to make him more comfortable with all the various natural remedies up my sleeve. It was looking highly likely that we would be having a Christmas baby, so he promised he would focus on supporting me despite his aching ear.
I really didn’t want to call my midwives. It was Christmas morning! And I especially didn’t want to bother them if it was just a false alarm. I waited until contractions were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting a minute. And finally I bit the bullet and paged them. Amy was the one who called back (she was on-call until 7:00 a.m.). I told her I felt like maybe I was holding my labor back because I wasn’t yet at my birth location, so I felt like I should probably come in. She said that was fine and that she would meet us at the birth center.
[The first part of Hope’s birth story is HERE.]
As I wrote in the first installment of this story, giving birth is such a multi-layered experience. And what a woman is feeling has such a deep impact on how the birth unfolds. With that in mind, I can’t really give the full scope of what I went through with Hope’s birth without sharing some deep emotional upheaval I experienced a week before. In my last post I shared one layer of my pre-birth emotional state: fear about letting my baby come out. Today I’ll make Brené Brown proud with some hard-core vulnerability and share another layer.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. -Psalms 91:4
With each of my births it has gotten harder and harder to write about the experience. A birth carries with it so much depth, so many layers of emotion. I feel like human language doesn’t have the capacity to truly encompass or articulate the profundity of it all. At the same time, I think that writing is an important way to process intense experiences, and I value having a record of important events. So, despite the weakness of the written word, I am sitting here with my baby strapped to my chest and my birthing music playing in the background with the intent of documenting my fifth venture into giving life.
I was afraid to let her come out. Having this baby inside of me had been such a peaceful journey. As my belly grew, my mental health steadily improved. I felt so stable. I felt so safe. But giving birth was going to create a lot of inevitable upheaval. And I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. Would I plunge into darkness again? Would my stable, happy world crumble to pieces as it had more than once before? Would I be able to give my baby the love she deserved?
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I spent a lot of time processing those fears. And I knew that those fears could potentially interfere with labor progress if I didn’t figure out how to let them go. When I woke up early in the morning on Christmas Eve with contractions, I felt a bit of panic. And when I used the bathroom and noticed the blood, I knew I had to finally come to peace with letting this baby come out of my body. My husband comforted me for a bit, and then I told him to get some sleep. I texted several friends and family members about the bloody show and mild early labor contractions. Then I sat in the early-morning glow of the Christmas tree and meditated.
Science has suggested that it is the fetus itself who signals the start of labor. This is related to certain proteins in the baby’s lungs, but proteins aside, it does seem fitting for a baby called Hope to choose Christmas morning for her birthday.
I really didn’t want to give birth on Christmas, but give birth I did anyway. :-) The experience was so many unexpected things, just as this pregnancy and all of the past year has been. I have never been so emotional during a birth, never before cried, never before vomited, and never felt so supported. I have never been filled with so much gratitude even amid the hardest pains. Most of my tears were just that… thankfulness… to my birthing team, to my baby, and to the Divine forces at work. I will post the full birth story later. Still processing.
A few winters ago, I grew kale in my garden. In AZ, certain crops can be grown during the winter, and kale is one of them. Anyway, as the kale grew, it soon attracted aphids. By the time spring came around, there wasn’t a kale leaf without hundreds of aphids on its underside. If there’s one thing aphids know how to do well, it’s reproduce.
Last Sunday, I learned something new about aphids. A man I know had been in a class with a bug-expert. And this bug expert explained that aphids give birth to live young, but sometimes the babies get stuck on their way out, and when this happens, a group of other aphids will gather around and help the mother get the baby aphid out. I’m not terribly fond of aphids, but this little bit of information made me smile (which is rare these days).
Eight years ago today my second baby came into this world upside down, or “sunny side up” as some people say. And she has indeed been a ray of sunshine in my life.
She was posterior (facing my front side) rather than the normal anterior position (facing my back). Her posteriority (I think I just invented a word!) brought with it some surprises. I had fully expected my second birth to happen very quickly. My sister’s labors were each roughly half as long as the previous. My first daughter’s birth lasted less than six hours, so I was expecting my second to come in less than three! I suspected she might be posterior, however, when that supposed-to-be-fast labor turned into an on-again-off-again roughly 28-hour labor.
My youngest woke me up at around 4:00 a.m. this morning. As I lay there after getting her back to sleep, unable to drift back to sleep myself, there was a near-constant nudging telling me to get out of bed and write. I kept asking, “What should I write about?” I got out of bed, still not really sure what it was I was going to write.
A couple of weekends ago, I attended a yoga/meditation retreat taught by my soul sister, Felice Austin. It was a life-changing weekend. It’s hard for me to even describe or comprehend everything that happened inside of me over the course of those three days. But I feel nudged to share a bit about three of the powerful experiences I had that weekend.
On Saturday, Felice guided us in a rebirthing meditation. Knowing that I was conceived as the sixth child in an unhappy, stressful marriage and baked for nine months in that negative environment, I went into this meditation with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I knew I didn’t want to relive my original gestation experience or find out just how painful it might have been. As it turns out, this rebirthing meditation had very little to do with how we were actually born and everything to do with transformation.
This experience really was transformational for me. I was reborn. I was healed. It was perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to pure ecstasy. It’s hard for me to describe what happened in a way that truly conveys its power. What happened was within the realm of my subconscious, but it was also more real than many of the physical experiences I’ve participated in. I experienced a new gestation. I was birthed and attended by women who love me, embraced in tenderness, re-took my first breath in euphoria.
Afterward, Felice told us that part of the meditation was to get up and talk to each other. I turned to Wendy who was the closest person to where I was and said, “Can I hug you?” We didn’t talk. We just held each other, and I sobbed. Then Sheridan came over to us and wrapped her arms around us. She doula-ed me in her gentle, perfect way… coaxing the wailing out of me in a massive release. And I sobbed and sobbed with these two beautiful women holding space for me and filling me with their love and light. I will never forget it.
On April Fool’s Day of 2009, I gave birth to my third child (my only son) at home (10:55 pm, 7 lbs 8 oz, 19 3/4″ long). After two smooth and low-risk pregnancies and births, losing our maternity insurance, and lots of prayer, we knew home birth was the right path for our third (and fourth) pregnancies.
It was a near-perfect birth from start to finish. My water broke in the afternoon, I relaxed at home, contractions started a couple of hours after membranes ruptured, I ate dinner, my birth support team arrived, labor picked-up, I hung out in the birth pool during the most intense contractions, I pushed for five minutes, baby boy was born on my bed. You can read all the details HERE.
It was magical. And I’m so glad I had my friend Cassie and my sister-in-law Brooke there as my doulas/photographers. I created a slideshow with my birth photos that you can view HERE. But I realized yesterday that I’ve never shared the photos themselves in a blogpost. Here are some of my favorites, taken by Cassie (and Brooke) at the end of my pregnancy, during labor, and afterward: