home birth week : sela's birth
Welcome to home birth week, dear friends! I'm so excited to open my blog for this discussion. Birth is such a powerful experience for women and I'm looking forward to hearing your stories + sharing my own.
I do, however, have one small request before we begin. How women choose to give birth is such a deeply personal decision that I ask all of you to be respectful + kind in any of the comments you leave here, and I will also honor that request in all that I share with you during this week.
To kick off home birth week, I thought I would share the story of Sela's birth, since that is truly where my home birth experience begins, and I will end the week with the story of Graham's sweet birth.
I found out I was pregnant with Sela in August of 2006. I was 20 years old and had only been married since the beginning of June. Both Brian and I were completely shocked, to say the least, that we were going to be parents. Every evening we would sit on our small couch in our small apartment talking and planning for our future that suddenly included the tiny little person that we had created.
Up to this point in my life, I had never imagined how I would give birth. My only experience with birth was watching my little sister, Sophie, being born when I was 11. My mom gave birth in a hospital, and it was pretty quick and uneventful. I remember my dad holding her hand, rubbing her back, and speaking quietly in her ear. The doctor poked his head in a few times, checked dilation, and finally showed up right before Sophie was born. There were beeping machines, a television was on in the background, and a nurse brought me milkshakes. I remember watching in awe as Sophie's body emerged from my mother's, and wondered why the nurses took her so quickly away for weighing and measuring and washing. When they finally brought her back, all wrapped in a brand new blanket, I was the first to hold her.
My first and only experience with birth wasn't a negative one, although it is very different from what I eventually chose for myself. The doctor seemed kind, the nurses were helpful, and of course my dad was there to give support and love. When I picture my mother in labor, I see her sitting in the hospital bed in quiet discomfort, her eyes focusing intently on her round stomach. It is then that she makes an offhand comment that changes how I think and feel and envision birth for myself, a comment that I've carried with me for 14 years:
"It makes more sense to stand, I think. I feel like I'm pushing against gravity when I'm laying down here."
I doubt she even remembers saying this, but it shifted something inside of me. It made it possible for me picture a different birth.
When I found out I was pregnant with Sela I was working as a wellness counselor at Good Earth, a local health food store. I worked closely with a group of women who had recently finished their doula training and had worked with women who had given birth at home. We spent a lot of time talking about birth, all of the different ways that women support other women through the birthing process, and how important it is to have a support system in place in order to have the birth you want.
One of the women, my dear friend Vanessa, was pregnant with her first child and planning a home birth. I think I probably made her crazy with all of my questions during those first months, but she always answered my questions in such a positive and confident way. She knew the kind of birth she wanted and she was making it happen. A few weeks before she gave birth, she invited me to a birth party that was being held to honor her transition into motherhood. It was such an amazing night. I remember how much love and support and laughter filled V's home, and felt such a strong sense of sisterhood with those women who believed in a woman's ability to give birth however she chose.
When I went home that night, I had made up my mind; I wanted a home birth. I wanted to be in my own home, making decisions about my own body, and surrounded by people who believed in me.
Brian and I interviewed a few different midwives, but felt the most comfortable with Diane. We met with her at her home on a warm August afternoon, she was in the middle of a family reunion and her backyard was full of grandchildren. She asked us questions regarding our medical history, what kind of birth I wanted, and shared her credentials. She had delivered over 3,000 babies and had 30 years of experience. She started the midwifery college in Utah. She was confident and knowledgeable, answering all of our questions easily, and we knew that many midwives called Diane during long or complicated births for help and advice. She laughed easily and seemed to be more like an eccentric grandmother than a medical professional.
I started visiting with her at about 8 weeks. She lived 25 minutes from my home and I would drive to her house once a month for prenatal visits. She had a quiet room in her basement that she used as her office. When I arrived she would test my urine and I would weigh myself. Then we would go into her office + I would sit on the comfortable bed with a bright quilt while she took my blood pressure and we talked about what had happened in the past month. She would measure my growing stomach + listen to heart sounds. My visits lasted about 45 minutes and I felt comfortable talking to her about my changing body, the fears I had about labor, and the worry I had about being a young mother. I would usually leave with a list of herbs or supplements she felt would help prevent anemia, heartburn, and nervousness.
Around my 37th week of pregnancy, Diane came to my apartment for my prenatal appointments. This is common for home birth midwives, they like to know how to get to your house + become familiar with your home before you go into labor. She stayed about 2 hours and we talked about where we would put the birthing tub, how many people would be present, and where Diane could go once labor started so she wouldn't feel in the way.
On April 2, I woke up early with contractions. They were mild and erratic, but I felt that I should call Diane anyway. She told me she would be by at 2:00 to do an exam, but to call her if anything changed. I spent the morning pacing my living room, talking to my mom on the phone, and chatting anxiously with Brian. When Diane came, the contractions were coming every 5- 7 minutes, so Diane checked me and I was dilated to a 2. She said she had a few errands to run, but that she would be back at 5:00 or so, and to keep in touch with her during the next few hours.
Things continued to progress slowly, and by 5:00 I was feeling pretty uncomfortable. I had called my doula, Liz, my mom, and Briana who would be the assistant midwife. Everyone showed up around 6:00, and we spent the evening laughing together and working through contractions. I always had someone holding my hand or applying counter pressure to my hips. We all tried getting some sleep around 9:00, I curled up on the couch with a hot pad but couldn't get comfortable enough to rest. I was up and down, pacing the living room and leaning on Liz or Brian for support. At midnight, I was desperate to get into the birthing tub. So we filled it with hot water and I settled in, finally being able to fully relax my tired body. I floated in and out of sleep during those early morning hours, my body feeling weightless in the dark water. Liz was there to hold my hand and breath through each contraction with me. Diane put herbs in the bath that turned the water pink, and we joked how it almost felt like a spa. Around 6:00 AM Diane was worried that things weren't progressing and made the decision to break my water. After my water broke, things started to get serious. My contractions were getting more and more intense every minute and they were coming quickly, almost one on top of the other. I couldn't believe that my body could do anything so powerful. I remember Liz pressing on my hips and whispering gentle words to help me focus. She was breathing with me and talking to me and holding my hands when the contraction would finally pass.
It was during that time that I had a lot of thoughts about hospitals and c-sections. I just wanted the intensity to be over and I wanted it over RIGHT NOW. Brian was pressing a cold pack to my forehead and I grabbed it from his hand and threw it on the ground. I wasn't very happy and I was close to giving up. Maybe Diane could read my thoughts, because she had me get out of the tub, checked me, and said it was time to push. I was so exhausted. I pushed and pushed and pushed with Brian standing behind me, supporting me, and whispering in my ear, " Bring Sela home. You're amazing. Bring Sela home." And then with one big push and a big loud yell she was here. And just like that the pain, the intensity, everything was gone. Briana lifted her to me, and I held her slippery body close to mine. I closed my eyes and said, " I would do that again. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would do it all again."
Everything after that moment is a little hazy. I know Brian cut the umbilical cord, and I handed Sela to my mom and sister so I could go and have Diane make sure everything was alright with me. I know there were apgar tests, and people with food, and an army of people cleaning up. I needed a few stitches and after I was all squared away, my mom brought Sela back to me. Everyone crowded in our small bedroom while Diane weighed and measured Sela. She listened to her lungs and heart, looked at her fingers and toes, and deemed her absolutely perfect. There were so many loving and excited faces watching me and my new daughter as Briana showed me how to breastfeed. I think there was actual cheering when Sela finally latched on! I spent the rest of the morning talking excitedly with family members and friends, telling them all about the amazing experience that had happened in my living room, and the wonderful, selfless women who supported me through those long, difficult hours.
There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feelings I had after giving birth to Sela. It is something that has defined me not only as a mother, but as a woman. I chose a path that taught me about the strength, power, and wisdom of women's bodies, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity I was given to bring Sela into this world surrounded and supported by women who believed not only in me, but in her too.