This isn't the birth story I thought I would be writing after having my third baby.
Eleven weeks ago, on March 30 at 12:48pm, Saul Michael was born in our home. His was a planned home birth for which we prepared for months. Almost from the moment we found out we were expecting him, we decided it was time to have a baby here. Little did we know what was ahead of us.
Baby Saul was born twelve days late. It was a long twelve days, to say the least. Not even having given birth to Jake 11 days after his due date and to Siena 10 days after her due date could prepare me for yet another "late" baby. It's a test of patience, strength, will power, and humility that only moms who have given birth after their estimated due date can truly understand.
The beginning of Saul's birth story actually starts on Saturday, two days before he was born (because when you're "late" labor begins when anything at all starts happening). That day we dropped off our kids at my mom's house for a sleep over and headed over to see my midwives. I had already had an ultrasound a few days prior, at 41 weeks, that showed the baby was very happy inside where he had plenty of room and fluid. My midwives confirmed that my kid had no plans of coming out any time soon. His heart rate was steady and his movements were good.
When we left that visit, at 41.5 weeks, we had instructions from the midwives to go out to dinner, have a glass of wine... and wait. If nothing happened within 24 hours, then to begin what they call a natural induction... which involves wine, castor oil, walking, and boom-chika-wow-wow, if you catch my drift. Wine is the only thing I was pleased to see on those instructions. I couldn't believe that at 41.5 weeks, this baby would need so much coercing to get out. While I was discouraged that I was still pregnant, I knew that there was an end in sight as I would not be allowed to go past 42 weeks. I was also committed to avoiding a hospital induction so I welcomed any sort of game plan.
The next day, at around 2pm, I started feeling contractions. They were regular but not painful. Since all the midwives live about an hour away from where we live, we had been told to call them sooner than later even if it resulted in a false alarm. I called the midwives at 4pm to give them a heads up about the contractions. I told them I would get in the bath to confirm it was the beginning of labor and that I would call them back if the contractions continued. While I wasn't hoping for a quick labor, I was expecting a labor similar to my second's which was an absolute dream... around 12 hours long but easy-peasy. A bath and a glass of wine confirmed it was labor... and I was absolutely giddy. FINALLY! Admittedly, I've never been very good at "ignoring labor" as childbirth teachers will recommend to do.
When I called the midwives again they said they were already near my house (just in case) so they arrived at my doorstep an hour later. An internal exam showed I was only 3 cm dilated but on my way into real labor. So they left me with instructions to eat a good dinner, rest, and continue the natural induction plan the next day.
A few hours later, Phil and I blew up the birthing tub and started setting everything up because the next day would for sure be our baby's birthday. I wanted to get a good night's sleep which for the past few months had only happened if I took a quarter (a quarter!) of a Unisom, a very mild sleeping pill. So I took it.
I was able to sleep in between contractions all night even as they got stronger and stronger. At around 4am we called the midwives again. They happened to be tending to another home birth just twenty minutes away from my house so they said they would make their way over as soon as they were finished there. I believe the other baby had just been born and they arrived at my house again less than three hours later.
Before they got here, I changed into my laboring clothes and did some laboring on the birthing ball (relax... it's just a yoga ball you sit on). Now I know that I had made good progress in that time... when my midwife checked me in the morning, ten hours after my first exam, I had progressed to 7.5cm. She didn't tell me this to avoid giving me false hopes.
Things get blurry at this point. I think Phil would be a better person to write the next part of Saul's birth story but I'll share my perspective... jot down what I remember and leave out what I choose to forget.
Labor became incredibly difficult. The pain was so intense, more intense than I remember in my other labors. I felt hopeless and desperate to be done. I was so, so desperate for the pain to stop and I knew that it would stop immediately after the baby was born so I felt a desperate need to get the baby out. It felt as though I was running to the finish line but I was running in place. After talking to my midwife a few weeks later, I found out that I had dilated to about 8.5-9cm but that's where I stayed for some hours. It was like being in transition for an unbearably long time.
All this time the baby's heart rate was fine so we had no pressure to ditch our home birth plan and opt for a hospital birth. As much as I wanted to get in the car and drive to a place where I could get my hands on pain killers, I knew that abandoning our plan would result in utter personal disappointment. As long as the baby was fine then I just needed to work through the pain and my body had to do its job.
I don't remember a lot of the details of those hours. I remember refusing to have my water broken because I knew the pain would get so, so much worse (I recalled from Siena's birth). I remember that getting in the tub made me relax so much that the contractions stopped coming as frequently so my midwife said I had to get out. I remember throwing up. I remember falling asleep while sitting on the birthing ball (thanks, Unisom, I think). I remember asking desperately to be allowed to rest, take a catnap, which I was tired enough to do, but my midwife worried that my uterus was getting too tired so I had to stay awake and make my contractions stronger. I remember being very annoyed with myself for grunting, yelling, and moaning so loudly.
What I remember the most is feeling out of control. It was like there were two of me in my brain: one who wanted to get it together and the other who wanted the volume of my screams to match the level of pain that I felt. Needless to say, I was loud.
Yet there came a moment when the previous of the two won. That's when I got quiet. I got in my zone. I started to labor like I usually do... focused and efficient.
Phil held my hand and coached me, literally said the things you would hear a coach say. This is the time in all of my labors is when Phil earns his gold stars. This is when he is absolutely amazing because he contradicts all of my thoughts: when I say I can't do this, he says yes you can. When I feel weak, he says you're strong. When I think that the baby is never getting out, he reminds me that the baby is almost here. I believe him so I suppose that's what makes us a good team. Although, when I tell him I never want to have a baby again he just laughs a little.
I never confirmed but I believe that this "coaching session" helped me to completely dilate. In the pictures I can recognize this moment. Both Phil and I can see what we call "the look" in my eyes... the look of despair and resignation to the pain. Transition. That's when it feels like it will never end.
That's when it usually ends... but this time I'm not sure how long that part lasted because the infamous urge to push didn't come at this point as I would have expected.
At some point I finally let my midwife break my water only to find out that the baby was not in a good position to be "encouraged" like that. So I had to labor more on my hands and knees in an effort to have the baby turn his face where it needed to be. I was so tired that they placed a mountain of pillows in front of me so that I could fall into them in between contractions since I was almost asleep anyway.
In desperation to be done I made myself push in that position, knowing that I didn't truly have the urge to, but those pushes didn't work. Baby was still not ready to make his way out.
All along my midwives suggested that I should do some things to bring on stronger contractions. I was resistant to their suggestions because I felt that my body should just know what to do. In the end, there is no telling your body what it should or shouldn't do. It does or doesn't. For this birth, I needed to do all those yucky things they tell you are options when you want to have a drug free birth. Like I have said, there are parts to this story that I choose to leave out or that I've already forgotten about. I like it that way.
When he finally came out, when I was in the bathroom, we found out Saul had his cord wrapped around his neck twice and he was holding his hands close to his face much like he still does now. If no one has said it before, then let me be the first: that hurts like a B.
He didn't breathe or cry immediately. His body was blue and his face was bruised and swollen from being in a not so stellar position for his trip through the birth canal. It was a scary few seconds that seemed like an eternity. Soon enough he let out a loud cry and there was a cumulative sigh of relief.
As if I wasn't already in shock from the difficulty of the birth, I looked down to find out we had a boy baby and I was nearly floored. For nine months I was convinced that I had been carrying a girl so to find out we had a son was almost unbelievable. I will never be able to express the joy I felt to have another son.
Just like that, we were done (with the birth part, anyway). The pain was gone. I walked to our bed with the cord still attached between my boy and me, a weird thing in retrospect. It was all happiness. Just like that. Soon Phil cut the cord and he also held the boy. The boy who had no name for a while. I frankly didn't think we would have to use the boy names so it took me a while to process.
The attending midwife later told me that Saul's birth was what she called "a good teaching birth" for training midwives because of all the so called complications that can be dealt with safely at home but would result in many interventions at a hospital. I guess I'm glad I can be of service?
The million dollar question has been: would I do it again? Would I have another home birth? Would I have another difficult birth like this at home knowing what it would entail?
The answer is yes. I would because in my heart I know that giving birth to Saul in the hospital would have put me on a slippery slope starting with pitosin, then an epidural, then possibly forceps or even a c-section. While I truly believe that those things have a place and can even save lives sometimes, I think my experience proves that there are less dangerous options and alternatives to exhaust before resorting to those, as unpleasant as they can be.
Saul's birth story isn't what I wanted. I envisioned a water birth, catching my baby, and holding him while the birds chirped outside my window and unicorns flew about. It wasn't like that and I've come to terms with it. Birth can be raw and primal and always full of beauty because it culminates with a new little person in the world. I wouldn't trade my experience for anyone's. It's Saul's birth story and one day I hope to tell him all about that crazy day... and maybe ask for an apology from him as well.
Read Jake's birth story here
Read Siena's birth story here