The story of Eve’s birth could begin with me telling you about waking up at 5:30 am on Friday, November 7th with strong contractions, 10-12 minutes apart. But I’m going to start it even earlier.
Eve’s birth was influenced by all the births before her in our family. Growing up, I remember hearing the stories of how the women in our family birthed. There was Grandma Grastorf, who avoided hospitals, and gave birth to our Uncle Grant in a bedroom of their apartment, before the doctor even got there. There was Grandma Buckwalter, who gave birth to 12 children, a testament in itself to her ability to birth well. There was our own mother, who was told she had childbearing hips, and delivered all of us quickly and without much intervention. I remember Mom being in labor with Esther. I was 11 at the time, and Mom was sitting in the blue armchair, rocking and working on some knitting or crocheting. She was timing her contractions, and I was helping her by writing down the times on an envelope. I also remember Mom talking about her birth with me. She gave birth at a doctor’s office. She and Dad arrived there at 7:30 am and I was born at 8:30 am!
All of these stories, gathered together, give us such a good foundation when it comes to birthing. We have strong, stoic women on both sides, and we have inherited those childbearing hips. We didn’t have a word for it then, but what we absorbed as kids was a positive birth culture. We did not hear that birth was a medical crisis, or something to be afraid of. We heard mostly that women’s bodies knew what to do, and that birth was a natural process that happened just as it should.
Eve’s birth was also influenced by my experience birthing Miriam. My labor started in the morning, my water broke at 9, I met the midwife at the birth center at noon, and Miriam was born at 3:55 pm. I had no pain medication or continuous monitoring. I had one dose of IV antibiotics, because I was group B strep positive. I mostly labored alone, on a bed, with my husband there to give me sips of water in between contractions. I went home 4 hours later with our beautiful newborn. Following the birth, the attending midwife told me that I would be an excellent candidate for a home birth, based on the speed and relative ease of my labor.
As we planned for our second child to arrive, I thought a lot about my experience birthing Miriam. I knew I wanted the same sort of low-intervention birth. Perhaps this is my independent streak, but I don’t like having to follow unnecessary rules that are often enforced in hospitals when it comes to birthing. I did not want a cascade of interventions. I wanted to be left alone to let my labor progress naturally. I knew that second babies often arrive faster and easier than first babies. I was cautious with Miriam’s birth, and chose a birth center within a few miles of a hospital, in case a quick transfer was needed. This time around, knowing my body and how labor progressed the first time around, I felt ready for a home birth.
I do not want to spend much time here defending home birth, because I know you all don’t need to be convinced. Martha had two wonderful homebirths in Canada, a country that offers homebirth as an option through their nationalized health insurance. (Oh Canada, why can’t we have nice things like you?) My mother-in-law gave birth to two of her four children at home. And, of course, there was my Grandma Grastorf, who preferred to have her babies at home. So I like to think that home birth runs in our family, and for Miriam and Eve, on both sides of their family! For a low-risk woman like me, having her second child, homebirth seemed to be a way to have the birth experience I wanted without all the unnecessary interventions. So I established care with an independent homebirth midwife in Ithaca. I wish that homebirth was accepted here so that physicians would back up midwifes in case of transfer to a hospital, but homebirth remains on the fringe in these parts. I decided to take my chances. If transfer to a hospital was needed, I would be cared for by the OB-GYN on call, who likely would not know me at all. Ideally, I would like the health care system here to recognize homebirth as a valid option, to include it as part of the range of services offered to pregnant women and to not alienate the midwives who provide it as a service. But I would like a lot of things–universal health care, government-sponsored child care, and federally mandated, fully paid maternity leave. The road to progress is long and slow in this country when it comes to supporting women and families, sadly. It’s hard to see what the rest of the developed world offers and then consider what we have here. But I digress.
Back to those contractions. I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for a few weeks, some that were sort of painful. These contractions on Friday morning hurt enough that I had to get up out of bed to walk them off. I started looking at the clock and realized they were coming every 10-12 minutes. I knew that labor might be starting. The world woke up outside, Miriam came into our bed around 6:30 am, and I paced and breathed. I helped her get ready for school in between contractions. I don’t think she noticed anything was up. Around 7:15 am I texted my midwife to let her know things seemed to be getting started, based on the hour and a half of regular contractions I was having. I also texted my boss to let her know I wouldn’t be in today, as I thought I was in labor (I was at work the day before!). Krestia took Miriam to school and stopped to get a few groceries on the way home. Of course we would be all out of toilet paper on such a day as this. He also got popsicles and Vitamin Water. Remember that Vitamin Water, it will come up again (haha).
When he got home, my midwife texted back to ask how things were going now. I let her know that the contractions were now 6 minutes apart, and I was pacing around the house and doing some pursed-lip breathing to get through them. She asked if I wanted her to come, and I said I think so? I feel like things might happen fast. I am so glad I told her that. She said she would be at our house soon.
Krestia was wonderful and ran around the house doing all the things to get ready for the birth. He made the bed, he cleaned our bedroom, he swept the floors, he did a load of laundry. He set up the space heaters in the bedroom and got them going to warm things up for the baby. I paced and breathed, and realized that this was really it, our baby would be coming today!
The midwife arrived around 9 am and checked me. The baby’s heart rate was strong and my vital signs were good. My cervix was 8 cm dilated already! When she said that I was thrilled, thinking maybe I would be done with labor in the next hour or so. Of course that wasn’t the case, it can’t be that easy. The birth assistant arrived and they chatted about how things were going. At some point I decided to go upstairs and labor there. I paced for awhile between our bedroom and the bathroom, and soon decided to stay in the bedroom, laboring by leaning on the birth ball. Krestia kept checking in on me and I told him I was fine. The midwife and birth assistant stayed downstairs and had tea. I thought to myself how refreshingly low-key and normal this all was, a healthy woman in labor in her own home.
Things moved along and the contractions got more painful and closer together. I asked Krestia to stay upstairs with me. I drank Vitamin Water in between contractions. I leaned on the birth ball and rocked and swayed and breathed deeply. Every half hour, the midwife checked the baby’s heart rate with the Doppler, and checked my pulse and blood pressure. Everything was good. Soon they all stayed upstairs with me, a quiet circle of support. No one said much.
The contractions got so intense. I felt like I was stuck in the worst part of labor, the dreaded transition. It’s the stage of labor between 8 cm and fully dilated (ready to push). Transition is the part they always show in movies where women scream and cry and say they can’t do it, and they feel like their bodies are going to split in half. I did not do those things, but I moaned and gasped and rocked and swayed. I remember saying, I just want to get to the pushing stage! I knew that the only way out was through each contraction though, so I did what needed to be done. The birth assistant said she saw my toes curling with the contractions and encouraged me to try to relax my muscles instead of tensing them. This was good advice and I tried to heed it. She also said, each contraction was doing good work and helping me progress, and that was helpful to hear.
I looked at the clock and noticed it was around noon. I had been laboring so hard for 3 hours now and I wasn’t at the pushing stage yet! I realized that I needed to change something. I think I was leaning over too much on the birth ball, and I needed the assistance of gravity. I stood straight up at the side of the bed, and I squatted. I did deep knee bends through a few contractions, and suddenly my water broke with a dramatic splash on the floor. There was a flurry of activity as the midwife and the birth assistant cleaned up the mess. A minute or so later, I vomited all the Vitamin Water in my stomach. It was the strangest thing–I had no indication the vomit was coming until it was suddenly flying out of my mouth. Coming so fast after my water broke, I remember thinking, wow, I’m gushing fluids at both ends! What will my body do next? The midwife and birth assistant reassured me that my body was clearing out, making way for the baby to come. It didn’t feel good, but it meant progress.
The midwife tells me that my water broke at 12:15 pm. I had a few more contractions, and then told them I felt ready to push. I moved onto the bed on all fours. By this point I was desperate for the whole experience to be over, and soon. I pushed, hard, three times. It feels so good to push as you are no longer at the mercy of the contractions–you can use your muscles and feel the progress being made. I felt the ring of fire on the second push, and the midwife told me the baby’s head was out! The third push and she was born, and I was so relieved. It was 12:43 pm. It was over, I had done it. The midwife passed the baby to me, and I knelt over her and stroked her face. She was covered with amniotic fluid and blood and vernix. She was slippery and bluish white, and starting to pink up as she cried. I was trembling and exhausted and oozing fluids, and we were still attached by the cord. Hello, sweetheart, I said. There you are.
I crawled over to the other side of the bed and sat down, carefully, and our second daughter was lifted onto my belly while we waited for the placenta to deliver. My husband, the quiet source of strength that he is, whispered to me, “good job.” The midwife waited for the cord to stop pulsing, and then Krestia cut it. After I got a few stitches for a small tear, the birth assistant helped me into the shower to clean off. They cleaned the room while I was in the shower, and I came back to a clean, warm bed. We got some alone time with our baby girl, and she latched on and nursed beautifully right away. The midwife and assistant came back and did their exams on me and the baby (we both passed!) and then cleaned up and left.
Krestia went out and waited for the bus, as it was around 3 pm by then, and our chatty 5 year old made her way into the house. If I had been out there waiting for her, I would have burst with the news right away, but Krestia just smiled and told her there was a big surprise waiting for her upstairs. She came running up to see me and found a baby in bed next to me! She was really surprised. We had a lovely afternoon and evening all to ourselves, getting to know each other, calling family to tell them the news and taking pictures. How wonderful to recover in my own bed, at home, with my family around me. Miriam got her gifts “from the baby” and loved playing with them–new markers and a set of Frozen dolls. When she opened the Frozen dolls she said, “these are even better than the baby sister!”
The next day, the birth assistant visited to check me and the baby, and on Sunday, the midwife came. It was wonderful to have people come to me instead of me having to leave the house. We talked about the birth. The birth assistant complimented me on the quiet way I was able to manage the contractions. The midwife told me that it was great that I was able to sense that something needed to change towards the end of my labor, and I was able to make that change. I am amazed that I did it all, right here at home.
The week since has been wonderful. Eve is a delightful baby, so calm and peaceful. She sleeps for hours at a time, which is something her older sister never did as a newborn. I am feeling good and recovering well from the birth. We have had a few outings but have mostly enjoyed being home together. Breastfeeding is mostly going well except that I came down with mastitis a few days ago–Eve is so sleepy and I have too much milk! I am on antibiotics now and feeling much better. I am so happy to be home for the next 11 weeks (1 week is up already!). I can’t wait for you all to meet Eve–she is such a sweet little person and fits into our family so perfectly.
Many people have asked how Miriam is adjusting to having a new sister. Mostly I think she is happy about Eve’s arrival. She has been writing her own books recently, and decided to write one a few days ago titled, “My Baby.” She sums it all up so well, I want to share it with all of you:
Off to hold my baby some more, and smell her head before that newborn smell fades away. I think I am realizing more this time around how fleeting this stage of life is, and I’m trying to sit still and enjoy it as much as I can. Looking forward sharing her with all of you soon…