Thank you so much, to this amazing, strong, seventh-time mama for sharing this beautiful birth story! It was such an honor to get to help welcome this sweet boy in the world!
“We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Heading into the birth of my 7th child, it seems that maybe it would have all been “old hat” – that there wouldn’t be anything new or surprising. But although I had experience on my side, there are no guarantees about any birth, and I had to face a variety of fears, difficulties and trials through the course of this pregnancy and into the birth of my baby.
Early on, it was simply that we hadn’t planned on having another baby. With 5 kids already, there were no more seats in our van, no more space in our small house. We had planned on being “done” and a surprise pregnancy took some time to adjust to. On top of that, my husband Richard had experienced a complex injury at work shortly after we found out we were expecting again. He was in an immense amount of anxiety and stress as well as pain due to this injury and was almost completely consumed by it during my whole pregnancy. He had very little emotional or physical energy with which to support me.
The first couple of months I also had to see a nearby Ob-Gyn doctor for my prenatal care, because we didn’t know if we could afford another homebirth. I was absolutely devastated at the thought of delivering in a hospital again after 3 amazing home births. The prenatal visits at the local clinic were stressful with 5 kids in tow and I hated the quick in-and-out nature of the visits, as well as having to decline interventions I didn’t want. I mourned the potential loss of everything I loved about midwifery care and birthing at home.
Then at 14 weeks, the Ob-Gyn was unable to find a heartbeat at my prenatal appointment. With all of my kids in the room watching and listening, she told me I had to schedule an ultrasound in order to know for sure if baby was ok or not. Richard came from work and in the hour we waited to be fit in for the ultrasound, we had to face the prospect that perhaps our baby wasn’t with us anymore. This was a scary and stressful situation to go through, despite a deep-down feeling I had of peace and that the baby was ok. And of course the ultrasound showed us just that, but nonetheless it was a reminder that life is fragile and not to take anything for granted.
Another issue was that my previous birth, three years before, had been surprisingly different and difficult for me. Instead of being a quick, efficient, and fairly easy birth like I had experienced with my other babies, that one had dragged on, never really settling into the kind of labor pattern I was used to. So as this pregnancy progressed, I had all sorts of apprehensions to examine and deal with. Was I, at 35, too old to birth babies well anymore? After 6 prior pregnancies and births, was my uterus too worn out? I had come to think of myself as a “good birther” – my body always seemed to know what to do and I had always trusted in that strength to birth my babies. But now I wasn’t as sure. These were concerns I talked about with my midwife, who listened and assured me that she had no doubts about my ability to birth another baby. Her listening ear and reassurances helped me gain confidence as my due date approached.
As I neared the end of my pregnancy, it started to be difficult to pinpoint the baby’s position. The baby seemed mellow and didn’t move around a whole lot, and when he/she did it was somewhat ambiguous as to what body parts I was feeling. Kate wasn’t 100% positive about the baby’s position either, so at 34 weeks I went in for an ultrasound and sure enough, baby was breech. I spent the next several weeks working on getting the baby head down, including multiple visits to the chiropractor, hanging with my head on the floor and my butt on the couch (inversions), lying at the bottom of the steps with my feet going up, and many other stretches and positions to encourage baby to turn. Finally around 37 weeks it seemed that baby had flipped head down, although I continued to do inversions and pelvic tilts the rest of my pregnancy to help baby stay that way.
I had naturally gone at or over my due date with all but one prior baby, so I was sure this baby would make us wait a bit as well. My due date was a Monday and I was sure I’d have the baby before the weekend. But the weekend rolled around and there was not the slightest hint of labor. I was measuring 1-2cm big, as I had most of the pregnancy. I felt like the baby was big, bigger than my other babies had been. My internal “space” felt much more crowded and the baby’s movements were sometimes painful to me, like there wasn’t much room at all. My midwife never seemed concerned though, so I didn’t worry. I remember asking her at one point if she thought the baby was big, right around my due date, and she said something about “No, not too big. Nice sized. Maybe 8 pounds.” The weekend before I turned 41 weeks was tough emotionally. I hadn’t expected to get quite that far without baby coming or any signs of labor. I had spent the whole week before basically unable to do anything that didn’t pertain to birth prep. I couldn’t find motivation for anything. My kids played Legos and did puzzles and colored…the weather was cold so we were pretty much hibernating. On Sunday night, I decided that I would change my mentality going into the next week. I would look ahead to the following weekend and tell myself to just get to that point. “I can make it one more week.” I didn’t really expect to go another whole week, but I figured if I looked that far ahead, instead of just to the next day, I wouldn’t feel so disappointed when a day passed without labor starting. One day Richard stayed home in the morning to “take me for a walk.” It was about 10o below zero and we were frozen to the bone by the time we walked around the block! But it was invigorating and despite no contractions, it felt helpful and productive.
I saw Kate the Monday of 41 weeks. She asked how I thought the baby was. I thought about it for a minute and then told her confidently, “the baby is happy and content and healthy.” The assurance of that came from deep down and I knew it to be true. With my hand resting on my giant bulging belly, I could almost feel the baby’s contentment radiating out. The baby had always been a calm, mellow baby. Now I could tell he or she was big and healthy and just peacefully enveloped in my womb. I suddenly had an overpowering conviction that labor would start all in good time, that I shouldn’t be impatient, and that the baby was perfectly fine hanging out for a while longer. “This baby is not stressed and I shouldn’t be either” was the thought that came clearly into my mind. So I decided to wait with the same peace and contentment I felt from my baby. Yes, there were times throughout the day when I would feel a burning impatience, or a feeling that I’d never go into labor and just be pregnant forever! I even had a few small breakdowns with my husband when my fears and impatience would come pouring out. But the conviction that all was well and all would be well, kept me mostly feeling confident and content.
Midway into my 41st week I went in for a Biophysical Fetal Profile – an ultrasound to check the baby and my amniotic fluid. Baby passed easily, and I was amazed to see the “practice” breathing movements the baby was doing. I again felt a deep conviction that he or she was doing well, but in addition I realized how the baby was getting ready to be born all on its own. I saw Kate again on Thursday, when I was 41 weeks & 3 days. We discussed what would happen the following Monday if I went to 42 weeks. It would mean seeing Kate every day for increased monitoring, as well as another biophysical ultrasound and a consult with a physician that Kate partnered with. Heading into that weekend, I felt almost desperate to avoid the craziness I saw looming in the coming week. I was tired of appointments, tired of people asking if I was still pregnant, tired of all the mundane household duties that still needed to be done. I felt that if I could just be left alone to gestate, that Baby would come at the right time. I had an overwhelming urge to seclude myself from everyone and everything, wrap my arms around my belly and rest quietly until labor started. Perhaps that should have been a sign to me that it was very, very close!
On Saturday we went out as a family for a lovely long walk. The weather had taken a drastic shift that week, going from bitter cold temps early in the week to high 30s on Saturday. The walk and the weather felt wonderful, but still not a hint of labor. Still lingering in that “time of in between.”
“To give birth, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey. We need time and space to prepare for that journey. And somewhere, deep inside us, at a primal level, our cells and hormones and mind and soul know this, and begin the work with or without our awareness.”
I talked to Kate and decided to come in on Sunday morning for a stretch & sweep. That morning we got up bright and early and headed into the city with all 5 kids and my burgeoning belly in tow. It was a glorious spring day, and early thaw for Minnesota. Richard and the kids sat in the driveway while I ran in. Kate did the stretch & sweet and asked me if I wanted to know how dilated I was. I answered yes and was surprised to hear her say, “4, stretchy to a 5.” It was good to know that my body was getting ready for labor even when I didn’t see or feel any signs of it. I promised to call Kate that evening with an update and we scheduled another appointment for the next day, as well as another biophysical ultrasound. Then Richard took us out for breakfast at Panera. I remember seeing all my children sitting and eating their bagels, laughing, joking. Smiling at my husband, feeling my baby moving inside me. I felt a deep gratitude envelop me and I knew I wanted to remember this moment and just savor it. The temps hit an unseasonably high 40* that afternoon and we again went out for a family walk. I tried not to think of the busy week looming in front of me, but just enjoyed the “now” – having a conversation with my husband children, this baby kicking inside me, my children splashing in puddles.
That night I snuggled into bed with almost-3 year old Benjamin, not knowing that it was the last time for he and I to fall asleep alone together. During the night I suddenly woke up knowing that I had had a contraction. I looked at my phone and it said 1:58am. I waited and again felt a contraction, not hard but definitely a real one, and I knew with calm certainty that labor had finally and truly started! I got up without waking Benjamin and used the bathroom, then went into the kitchen. I walked around a bit aimlessly, but Richard woke up and came out. I told him I was in labor! He was all business mode right away, knowing my labors can be quick. He wanted me to call Kate and my mom right away, but I wanted to wait, and make sure it was REALLY really labor. I felt like I needed some time to listen to what my body was doing first. I tried to eat a little snack and drink some water while Richard turned up the hot water heater and got the birth tub supplies out. I sent a text to my mom to give her notice, and a little before 3am I talked to Kate, who was already at a nearby hospital. I told her she didn’t need to come yet, but after I got off the phone Richard told me I should have her come. I’m not sure what it was that made me want to wait “just in case,” but Richard sensibly said we shouldn’t wait. I texted Kate to ask how close she was, she responded “don’t wait too long to call me” and I said, “ok, just come now!” Richard began to inflate the birth tub in our bedroom and by this time Benjamin had woken up from the lights and activity. He sat in our bed with a sleepy look on his face, happily watching everything that was going on.
Contractions were getting closer and a bit stronger for me, so I paid little attention to the arrival of the midwives (Kate and her two assistants) around 3:40am, or anything else that was going on. Grace had gotten up too at this point. I went downstairs to use the bathroom and when I was coming back upstairs a contraction hit me that caused me to drop onto all fours and crawl up the stairs! Then I knew that I wanted to get into the tub ASAP. The midwives were getting their supplies set up, putting the plastic sheets on the bed for me, and filling the birth tub with Richard. I got out some snacks, lit my birth candle and filled my water bottle. As soon as there was enough water in the tub, I changed into a swim suit top and lumbered in! For a while I listened to my birth music on my phone, breathing deeply through contractions and trying to keep eating a little and drinking in between. I was aware of the other kids waking up and my mom arriving, but my focus was turning more deeply inward. At some point before the tub was all the way full, we ran out of hot water and the boiling pots on the stove procedure began! Contractions were getting very intense and all my focus was on breathing through them, relaxing my body, letting each contraction build and then feeling the release as it left.
Kate checked the baby’s heart rate periodically. My mom was in the basement with the kids and the room was dim and quiet and peaceful. I sank into the warm water as my contractions became fiercely intense, and yet I was still able to focus through them and be awake and aware in between. It felt less intense than other labors, because usually by this time I would be sleeping in between contractions and completely zoned out in “labor land.” Yet I was still able to open my eyes, reach over to the bedside table for my coconut water, and feel somewhat alert between contractions. I felt my baby moving vigorously inside me, turning and kicking.
Then at the end of one contraction, I felt a pressure that I knew meant I’d be pushing soon. As one assistant midwife poured another pot of water into the tub, I told them not to bother heating anymore – I knew baby would be here soon! I moved into a kneeling position with my arms over the edge of the tub, holding onto Richards hands. My contractions were coming fast and hard now, with the pressure building. I was starting to hold my breath and grunt during them now, and then suddenly there was a pop and I felt my water break. The pressure and pain increased ten times! I was half kneeling, half squatting facing the edge of the tub now. I NEEDED Richard’s hands to hold and pull on during contractions! I was completely overwhelmed by the fierceness of the contractions now, and they weren’t letting up. In between the actual contractions, the pain and pressure was still so intense that there was no relief. I was panting and groaning, trying to get centered in between the overwhelming contractions, but I couldn’t find relief or centeredness. I knew I just wanted to push this baby out NOW. As a contraction built an unstoppable urge to push consumed my body. I pushed as hard as I could. I expected baby to start crowning with that gargantuan effort, as all my previous babies were born with only a few pushes. But seemingly nothing happened! It was then that I knew this baby was really big, and felt a tinge of fear that I wouldn’t be able to get him or her out. I didn’t know it at the time, but the baby’s heart rate showed some deceleration at this time. The midwives were checking it frequently but I was too focused on pushing to notice anything except this primal impulse to deliver my baby.
My breathing was hard and ragged. In a moment that seemed stretched out for hours, I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my forehead, into my eyes and down my nose. I saw them drop into the water as another contraction built and my body was again consumed with pushing. Groaning, roaring, straining with every fiber, I pushed. My clenched jaw pushed, my hands gripping Richard’s hands pushed, the taut tendons in my arms pushed. The muscles in my thighs pushed, my very toes pushed against the power of my straining uterus working to expel this child. For weeks afterwards I had a bruise on bottom of my big toe and the ball of my foot from bracing myself! Every last ounce of my strength was poured into pushing, and yet I didn’t know if I was strong enough to do it this time. I’ve pushed every other baby out with relative ease and speed, but this was different. This was harder than I could ever have imagined possible. The previous several hours of labor had seemed manageable and less intense than expected, but had given way to a pushing stage that stretched me to the limits of my strength and beyond. Again I roared into an overpowering, irresistible heaving push, trying to propel this being out of me. I could feel the baby moving down, filling me, filling the birth canal, so close, and yet not coming out. Head down on my clenched fists, pulling against my husband’s strong arms, my face grimacing with the incredible effort, I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Sweat ran down my face. My midwife was behind me and I listened for her voice. Yes, I heard her say the baby was crowning! I thought this would mean another quick push and baby would be born, as it had in the past; but not this time! Slowly, slowly, with colossal toil, the baby came bit by bit. The head was born. The shoulders….would they come? In the most titanic of efforts, I scaled my mountain peak, attained the summit of all my exertions, triumphed in the hardest physical test of my life. With sweat dripping from my face and muscles quivering, I birthed those big baby shoulders.
As I heaved up out of the water with this effort, I heard Kate say, “Keep your baby’s head under water!”. I sat back down and rest of the baby came with the next contraction, finally, finally! I looked down into the water in front of me and saw a baby in the depths. I was so exhausted, full of adrenaline, mind fogged with the pain, that this moment of birth is unclear in my mind except for this one snapshot. A baby underwater, whitish-looking, the dim light reflected in the blue pool water, and I can see froggy legs and arms spreading into the open expanse, swimming out of me and up to me. A white ripply baby free in the water, but still tethered to me by a blue cord of three strands. I had turned around to a sitting position and Kate, Richard and I all helped pull the baby up from the water. The cord was wrapped around the wet, slippery body and I lifted the rubbery rope over my baby’s head. Richard’s hands held the little butt and legs, and as he handed the baby over to me he said, “Meet your new son!” I had been convinced that we were having a girl, so I could hardly process his words! I looked between my baby’s legs and there were unmistakable boy parts, but still my mind was slow to comprehend. I was so exhausted, so spent. Relief flooded over me, relief that it was over, relief that the pain had ended. It was only 3 hours since my labor began, only 8 minutes since my water had broken, but it felt like it had taken forever and that I had given it everything in me. I held my hefty, pink baby who was sucking on his – HIS! – fingers and I felt like I had conquered Everest and received the greatest prize.
I’ll keep the rest brief. I bled very little and didn’t tear at all during delivery. The placenta was delivered and even before I was out of the tub, my big baby boy – we later named him Abel Knox – started to nurse. He was sucking on his hands almost as soon as he was born and took to nursing immediately! After the midwives got us into bed, they did Abel’s newborn check and his temperature and respirations were a little high. We had a serious moment where Kate told us we’d have to go to Children’s if they didn’t regulate within 20 minutes. I immediately knew I needed to get skin-to-skin with my baby. I had this wonderful shirt that is made specifically for “kangaroo care,” so I put that on and cuddled Abel into it. After 20 minutes of skin-to-skin time, his respirations and temperature had stabilized and although we continued to monitor him, there were never any more concerns. I wore him skin-to-skin for the next 24 hours straight, and for very long periods for days to come. It’s one of my favorite memories of my postpartum time.
The other children and my mom came to see Abel about 2 hours after he was born. Although the kids were disappointed not to be able to hold him right away, they were so, so thrilled that he was finally here! Grace and my mom made breakfast as the morning sun of a glorious spring day streamed through the windows. The midwives sat and ate and finished their charting. The birth tub and all the birth mess had been cleared away and I snuggled into bed with my new baby nestled naked on my chest. After so much waiting, so much work, he was finally here. I felt mighty and euphoric and so content.
What did this birth teach me? I learned that my body was strong. It taught me that I could grow a baby for 10 months, healthy and strong and big inside me. That I could face the most physically-tough delivery out of seven births and still do it! That I could push out a 10 pound baby! I learned to wait, and wait, and wait some more for my baby to arrive, even though the days seemed to stretch out for ever. I had to struggle through impatience and disappointment each night when I went to bed after another day that passed without labor starting. I learned to trust my intuition about my baby’s health and well-being, even before he was born. Although I could have tried to force Abel to come sooner, I could have tried to force labor to start, instead, with my midwife’s guidance, I waited and found peace in the waiting. Waiting for things to happen in the right time can be good. I was full of frustrations, fears, impatience and longings. But I learned to find a peace and calm in all the turmoil inside me and be in the “now” with thankfulness and gratitude for what I had been given.
Melissa is the mother of 6 earthly children and 1 in heaven. After 3 hospital births, including losing a baby due to a cord accident, she and her husband have welcomed their other 4 children at home. She is thankful for the care and knowledge she’s received from the amazing midwives in her life. She is blessed to homeschool her children, ages 16 years to 5 months.