I always knew that I wanted to have a natural, more organic birth than is the “norm” in this country, but until I really started doing my research, I didn’t know what my options were. A few months before I found out I was pregnant, a friend of mine had a home-birth. To be honest, I didn’t even know that people did that – but the more I learned about her experience, the more natural and beautiful it sounded to me. I did have a regular OB-GYN, but when I discussed my concerns about pitocin and c-sections, she was very dismissive. With their group, I would not be able to have a midwife at the hospital with me, and if I went longer than 40 weeks, they would induce regardless of whether or not I wanted to be. She seemed proud that their c-section rate was 35%, “less than the national average.” I left my first pre-natal visit feeling that if I stayed with their obstetrical group, I wouldn’t have a choice about my labor. I felt very disheartened.
I met with Valeriana a few months into my pregnancy to learn more about home births, and I immediately felt like it was the right path for me. It was liberating to not see labor as a problem that needed fixing, but as a beautiful rite of passage. The more determined I was to have a home birth, the more powerful I felt in my body. Whenever anyone questioned my decision, I reminded myself that this is something that women have done for thousands of years – that there’s nothing more natural than delivering your baby and that it’s not something that needs to be feared. My husband and I did, however, decide to stop telling people about our decision. It was difficult enough to convince our parents that we weren’t being reckless or endangering our unborn child – we didn’t feel the need to explain ourselves to everybody who asked us which hospital we’d be delivering at.
Leo is now 4 weeks old, and when I think about my labor and delivery, I still feel really empowered. There’s so much fear surrounding childbirth – and while I don’t think that I was necessarily prepared for the pain, it was a really beautiful and even peaceful experience. I felt really connected to not only my body, but the earth and the universe as well. I knew I was in labor when I woke up on Wednesday morning, three days after my due date. I had been having mild contractions on and off all week, but these were more regular, about 40 minutes apart. They weren’t painful at all, but I called Valeriana and my doula, Bonu, just to let them know that I thought I was in labor. They told me to keep them posted. My husband had stayed home from work that day because there was supposed to be a big snowstorm. So, we went for a nice walk and got lunch together. It sort of felt like a nice secret between the two of us – that I was in labor and we were still going about our day. When we got back from lunch, we cleaned the apartment and prepared things a bit, I took a nice nap, and then we decided to watch a movie. About half way through the movie, at about 8pm, I decided to call Bonu to let her know that my contractions were 5 minutes apart.
Bonu came over and she and Dori set up the tub and made my laborade. By about 10pm, my contractions started to get more and more intense. I felt them in my butt, which was not what I had anticipated at all. At first it was difficult for me to just breathe through them, because I felt like I would fart or poop. I spent a lot of time on the toilet bowl at first, but when I realized that I wasn’t going to have any “accidents”, I was able to let go a little bit. The birth ball definitely came in handy – I spent at least an hour or two kneeling over the ball, and Bonu would massage my back and hips during my contractions. It definitely felt reassuring to have her there. While Dori was really my emotional support – holding my hand and giving me pep talks and just comforting me with his presence – I felt like I needed Bonu’s physical support. I kept wanting to know how much longer it would last, or what to expect next, or if other women felt the same thing. She kept bringing me back to the present and encouraging me to focus on what was happening “now”.
We called Valeriana at around 2am – my contractions were really intense and coming every 3 minutes. While we waited for her, we moved to the bedroom, and I labored on my bed for a while. Val arrived at about 3am and took the baby’s heart rate and measured me – I was 7cm dilated. By that time I was starting to feel like I couldn’t possibly continue. I felt that, for certain, this would be an only child because I would never do it again. I told myself that if I was in a hospital, I would definitely want the drugs. Dori and I had discussed beforehand that I could bitch and moan all I wanted, but if I ever said I wanted to go to the hospital, he would take me to the hospital. To be honest, there really was never a moment in the labor that I actively wanted to be in a hospital. As painful as it was, I felt safe in my home. I felt comfortable in my home. I couldn’t imagine, and still can’t imagine, having to deal with the discomfort in a hospital room.
To get things moving along a bit, Valeriana had me walk up and down the stairs, 2 steps at a time. I would take one flight, and then rush back into the apartment to have my contraction leaning over the birth ball. When I thought I couldn’t possibly take any more, she had me get into the tub. I was there for about a half hour before I felt the urge to push. On one of the first pushes, I felt something pop. It was my water breaking! It hadn’t occurred to me that it hadn’t broken yet! I felt like we were making progress! But Bonu and Valeriana had told me that I’d feel great relief when I started pushing – that it’d feel really good. But pushing did not give me any relief at all. If anything, it was extremely frustrating. When I complained to Valeriana, she suspected that I had a cervical lip – where the cervix is blocking the baby’s head from descending. This did concern me a bit, but she kept checking his heart rate and everything seemed fine. She confirmed that I did have a cervical lip and throughout my next few contractions, she pushed the lip aside as I pushed down. I hated this part, but it did really help, and I eventually felt the relief she had described. I could feel him moving lower and lower.
After about an hour and a half in the tub, Valeriana had me get out. She said that if I hadn’t delivered in the tub within that amount of time, it wasn’t going to happen in the tub at all. I guess the warm water relaxes the body, and my contractions were getting less intense (although they didn’t feel less intense to me!!) They suggested I get back on the toilet, since I had felt so comfortable there. I pushed for a while on the toilet, and Valeriana had me feel for his head. While it wasn’t as low as I’d hoped, I definitely felt it! Then I felt a horrendous burning, and knew (hoped) that it would all be over soon.
We moved to the bedroom, where I knelt on the side of the bed. Bonu kept telling me to push into where I felt the burning. I probably only had 3 more pushes and then they were telling me to stop pushing. I couldn’t figure out why they had me stop, but then Valeriana had me reach down, and my baby’s head was hanging out of me. It was the craziest thing I’d ever felt! This was the first time that I really understood that this little guy inside of me was a BABY! It just felt like a miracle to me. Of course I knew I was having a baby, but I just really understood then that he was a real person as opposed to just an idea. It’s hard to explain, but it was just an incredibly profound and beautiful moment for me. I had one more push, and out he came… I couldn’t believe it! Valeriana wrapped him up and handed him to me, and we got onto the bed. I couldn’t stop staring at him. My husband said something, and Leo opened his eyes and turned his head to look at him – like he totally recognized his voice! Later, my husband said that he noticed Leo do the same thing the first time I spoke.
We just hung out like that on the bed for what seemed like hours. I was amazed at how immediately he started searching for the nipple. And he found it! Everything he did was just awe inspiring. Every sound he made was the best sound in the world. I was completely hooked. Bonu and Valeriana cleaned up and made breakfast for Dori and me. I felt like I could have stayed in that bed for the rest of my life. Leo had his meconium poop all over me. This was sort of ironic because my biggest fear during the entire labor was that I would poop. Now I was covered in it, and I totally didn’t care! I had to push out my placenta at some point, and after about an hour and a half, Val and Bonu got a big pot and gave Leo his first bath to get all the meconium off of him. They had me get up and take a shower, during which time Leo hung out on Dori’s chest for some “skin time.”
After my shower, Valeriana gave us a “tour” of the placenta, which was pretty groovy. She did a few tests on Leo, like making sure his testicles had both descended, making sure his hips were okay, and weighing and measuring him. They both left just as our families started to arrive, and the rest is a blur. The visits continued …. Well, the visits are ongoing to this day! One thing that I would recommend to others considering a home birth is to limit the visits. It’s the one thing I would do differently next time. We would let close family come the first day, for no more than an hour at a time, and then we’d limit all visits for at least the next 4 days. I think that, when you’re in a hospital, people sort of understand that you’re in pain and recovering. Visits are limited to visiting hours, and most people don’t linger at a hospital for hours at a stretch. After Leo’s birth, I felt extremely overwhelmed, less about the baby and more about the constant company. Even though they were trying to be helpful, I still felt like I just couldn’t be comfortable in my own space. I didn’t even have time to check in with myself and my feelings about the labor. Less than 3 days after the delivery, I was even accused of not being a gracious enough host – Yes, seriously. When I think about that first week, I still think about how we were made to “deal with” other people’s feelings and egos. It upsets me that it wasn’t all about the baby and the three of us becoming a new family.
Despite that, I will absolutely aim to deliver the rest of my children at home. It was such a beautiful, soulful experience, and I really do feel like more of a woman somehow. I feel stronger in my body, like I can accomplish anything. Of course it’s been an adjustment and for a while I was clinging to the idea that I had to return to my pre-pregnancy life. But I recently took a yoga class where the instructor was talking about how the water in a river is constantly moving and changing, but the river is still the same river. This helped me realize that I really have to just let go and let my new life become what it’s meant to become. My relationship with my husband will obviously change, but hopefully it will become even stronger. I just have to go with the flow, and know that I’ve been given the most beautiful gift in the world. Leo is truly miraculous, and the rest is just gravy. Because of him, I really do believe that all is right in the world.