Nanci is wonderful midwife in Houston and we plan to seek her expertise for future births. During the prenatal process, I appreciated her gentle care, patience in answering my questions, and flexible office hours. When I first called Nanci, it felt so nice to hear her say, “Congratulations!” In contrast, the secretary at a doctor’s office had treated my request for a pre-natal appointment as an annoyance, like I’d gotten myself into some irritating predicament that needed curing.
Home birth was also wonderful. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, as this was my first baby and I’ve never seen another birth in my life. Not a cow, not a house pet, not a single birth at all. So my own birth was a learning experience. People often ask if we did home birth to save money – no, we had the option of doing a hospital birth and we have very good health insurance. But ask yourself – when was the last time someone you know gave birth in a hospital and told you it was wonderful? I have never heard a positive hospital-birth experience, and so we decided that home birth was a better fit for us both from a health-safety and personal-comfort perspective.
I expected a water birth – we ordered the “Texas Special,” as my husband calls it. A big box arrived with a blow-up birth pool and a stack of plastic sheets. My husband got a hose and bucket at Lowe’s.
Are you wondering what a home birth looks like? Do you have white carpet, like we do? Nanci and Diana arrived with a big box of tools and gloves. By lunchtime, they left with black bags and dirty towels. Our place was immaculate. The carpet is still white. Midwives could teach serial killers a few tricks.
Here’s what happened….
Ten days before giving birth, I looked down at my tummy and freaked out. It was huge. I hadn’t seen my thighs in months. I could barely tie my shoes. The logistics of birth suddenly seemed impossible. The due date – February 22 – came and went. Nanci reminded me that the average baby is 8 days late, so “Furball” (as we’d nicknamed him) might take an extra week. Relaxing before Furball arrived, I’m sure I looked like a turtle: once on my back, I was stuck. To get up, I’d roll back and forth until momentum flipped me.
During this time, I was especially glad to have Nanci as my midwife. She had calming words, reminders to do (horrible) perineal massage, and recommended stimulating contractions by using a breast milk pump. (It works.) While friends told me their birth stories – doctors inducing birth, the loss of control, and babies in distress – it was comforting to know that my baby would not go through that.
At night, when the rest of the world slept, Furball puttered around in my tummy. He woke every three hours. Bump. Thump. Swish. Elbow. Kick. Eventually, I would get up and putter around, too. He liked lean his back against my left side and cuddle a tiny butt into my elbow. “Can you straighten him out?” Nanci asked during weekly measurements.
Leap Year day, I crossed my legs and moved as little as possible. The clock ticked over to March 1st – just after midnight – and a rubber band snapped. It was the sound of my water breaking. Exactly 8 days late. Contractions started about 30 minutes later. Within two hours, the contractions were less than four minutes apart, and my husband called Nanci. Nanci and Diana, the assistant midwife, arrived very quickly.
Around 6 am, Nanci and Diana asked for a breakfast recommendation. My husband looked panicked. “Is this a good time for that?” They assured him it was and brought him back a breakfast sandwich. Meanwhile, I tried to have patience about the birth process – contraction after contraction was getting boring. I’d walked around the pool for hours. Like a teenager enduring a bad class, I now tried to sleep. It would soon be over.
Birth is, I’m told, the most painful human experience. Without diminishing anyone else’s perception, I would say that this is not true. (My mother completely disagrees, but she gave birth without drugs THREE TIMES in a hospital that required her to stay on her back and one of the births was induced! Thank you, Mom!) From my perspective, I can imagine that a bad leg break is much worse than a non-medicated birth. However, it might be telling that it’s taken me quite a while (almost 2 years) to sit down and think about the birth again, to write this. Looking at my notes, I was in back labor – the baby’s head would grind down my spine as he came out. In a hospital, birth on my back would have been pure agony. At home, I could do whatever was most comfortable – stand, walk around, or rest on my hands and knees. My husband’s strong massage greatly helped, too.
The pushing stage took almost an hour and was, by far, the most painful part of labor. I hadn’t expected that, because I’d read that dilation between 8 and 10 cm is the worst part. This stage probably would have taken less time but I kept mistakenly relaxing during contractions. It was less painful than pushing. The midwives kept reminding me to push. After a while, though, I couldn’t tell the difference between pushing and relaxing – the baby’s head was in the canal and completely stretching the muscles. My body took over, and the muscles pushed on their own – I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d wanted to. I never had “the urge to push” – my body simply took over and pushed without my help.
I’d expected a water birth, but that’s not what happened. For me, I found the water uncomfortable and got out. Then I tried it again and got out. And again. By the end, all our towels were wet from drying me off over and over. I’ve heard so many glowing stories about water birth, but it wasn’t for me. (To each, his own.)
True to his personality, the baby arrived just in time for lunch. I’ve always wondered what the significant days in my life will be. We mark them on the calendar every year – my mom’s birthday, and dad’s birthday, and our brothers, sisters, cousins, then the anniversaries and the weddings. That day, we added March 1st, and a little guy who loves to eat.
Nanci and Diana took care of us – putting the baby on me, massaging my stomach (to help the placenta detach), and cleaning us. The baby was nothing like I expected – red, squished face, and a tremendous yell. The midwives took care of Max while I took a shower. Looking down, I marveled at the jellified, empty sack of my tummy. (Why had no one told me to expect that?!) We spent the rest of the day cuddling and sleeping.
I may not have mentioned my husband, Chris, enough to reflect his importance during the birth process. I couldn’t have done it without him massaging my back and helping me walk around, major pain relievers. I would have agonized if Chris weren’t there. And he served tea and coffee, snacks and sandwiches – keeping everyone energized. (For the next couple days, my husband’s hands cramped, sore from all the massage he gave me during contractions.)
After the birth, I clearly recovered faster than everyone I know who had medicated births. For example, I took a shower by myself immediately after the birth. The next day, I sat by the pool. Although I was careful to relax the first week, I could walk short distances. Within a week, I was able to walk around the neighborhood. There is a clear difference in recovery times between non-medicated and medicated births. Friends told me how brave I was to have a baby at home, but that seemed odd considering their birth stories and how long it took for them to heal. I got to stay at home, get massaged, and then sat by the pool after.
Nanci and Diana – Thank you so much for a wonderful birth experience!
Things that helped me:
Strong back massage during contractions
Hip swivels during contractions: put one foot on a stair and move hips clockwise in a circle, then the other way.
Back exercises – cat/cow, quadruped (aka bird dog), leg raises and circles. These began months before birth to ease back tension, and also helped during birth.
Breast milk pump stimulated contractions immediately.
A stocked fridge with daddy-friendly cooking items for the days after birth.
Friends brought frozen meals in disposable aluminum pans, ready for popping in the oven.