What a different birth this was, compared to my first one. After Naomi, I was in an arrogant disbelief that epidurals are all that necessary. This experience made me seriously question my assumptions. Of course I did not get one -- you renounce any pain relief when you sign up for a home birth. Anyway, here’s the birth story of Nina.
I was 39 weeks pregnant with Nina. Naomi was born at 37 weeks, so at 39 I felt very overdue. I tried to encourage that baby to come out. On Tuesday, two days before birth, I biked around 20km (170m elevation): took Naomi to daycare, then went to work and back, then took Naomi to swimming (on my new shiny Specialized Vita). Then in the evening I went to a ballet class, which I’ve been attending regularly throughout pregnancy 2-3 times a week.
Ok, I know, these “natural methods of labour induction” don’t really work. So, the following day at the midwife’s office I said: Let’s do the membrane sweep. Laura was on duty that day. She did the membrane sweep for me when I was pregnant with Naomi (Naomi was born a day of two after). She has a magic touch or something. Membrane sweep is a very safe procedure that may reduce the course of pregnancy, but it’s not a guaranteed labour induction, and the magnitude of its effects measured in clinical trials is not that big (one small study found no effect at all). So Laura has something going for her.
The following day I was supposed to take Naomi to daycare early. I woke up before the alarm, at about 7:20am from mild cramping. I thought it was from the membrane sweep (an expected side effect), so I just kept on going with my morning. The cramps got stronger, so I began wondering -- are these contractions? I hurried up with my makeup routine. If these are contractions, I’ve got to make sure that I look good on the after-birth pictures!
Ten minutes later I realized that I was not in any shape to take Naomi to daycare. It was Anton’s morning to sleep in. Too bad for Anton, had to wake him up. Texted my doula. Then everything went on autopilot. I realized that my water broke: there was this funny smell of bleach and amniotic fluid smells like bleach (thank you, Internet, for all this random information that ends up being useful one day). I asked Anton to page the midwife.
Contractions are easier in the water. I get into the bathtub. Jill, the midwife, arrives. Contractions are getting serious. Based on my memories of my previous birth, I don’t expect them getting that uncomfortable that quickly. Thank God, Lolli, my doula, arrives. She puts her hand on my back, tells me to release my shoulders and forehead. The level of pain goes down by about 40%. The best $1300 I ever spent. Lolli arrived with her own little stool to sit on next to me. A true professional!
During my last birth, contractions felt like they were several minutes apart. When one came in I had to focus on it, but the thought of a pain relief never occurred to me. Not so this time. At one point I remember thinking: If I were in the hospital and someone came up to me with a needle in their hands, I would have trouble saying “no”. I was squeezing Lolli’s hand really hard. I ask Jill: Can I take Tylenol or something? To this ridiculous request Jill responds calmly: You can, but it won’t do anything!
Then I stopped getting any breaks between contractions. They came every thirty seconds and each one lasted more than a break between them. Lolli encouraged me to vocalize (this did help). But I couldn’t help thinking: I am probably scaring the hell out of Anton. During another short break I ask Jill again: Is there anything we can do for pain? She looked at me ever so calmly and said: “Give birth”!
During my previous birth, I remember a distinct break between the first phase of labour (painful contractions) and the second, ready-to-push phase. I remember absolutely no pain during the second phase, just the feeling of intensity. I was waiting for the same to happen this time, but apparently I wasn’t going to be so lucky. Just more contractions and a feeling that my body is opening up. At some point Lolli and Jill started telling me that the baby is coming out. I had to believe them. The second phase has arrived.
That made me feel better, because I realized I had some control over the situation (I can push!) and that I can make this whole ordeal end sooner rather than later. So I gave my first big push.
Jill and Lolli are asking me to get out of the bathtub (impossible for them to catch the baby in our small tub -- no access). Jill asks me: Can you feel your baby’s head with your hand? I do. Damn, it feels so big and hard!
Out of the bathtub, on the same bed where Naomi was born. I am not willing to put up with this any further, so I engage whatever is left of my abs (only obliques and a bit of transversus abdominus at this point, thanks to ballet) and push push push, contractions or not. I really want to get this over with. Laura, the second midwife, has arrived too at this point. There are supposed to be two of them during a home birth. The bedroom is set up with a metal oxygen tank, two matching midwives’ Dutch bags and other trinkets.
I distinctly remember feeling the head moving through my body. “I have to get it out, the rest will be easy”, I remember thinking. Laura asks me to slow down, because the head is about to come out. I have a choice: if I go too fast, there could be tears, if I slow down I have to tolerate these contractions for longer. I opt with the first option. The head is out! No tears.
Baby Nina started saying something while she was still half way inside my body. She probably also wasn’t thrilled with this whole birth procedure. I kept wondering why human birth hasn’t evolved into something more refined during millions of years of evolution. One last push, the body is out! And there she is: Ninocka! So pink and alive and so vocal. She has so much to share and she keeps on telling us something… Anton is in tears.
It is 10:05am on March 8. The day has only just started and we already have so much accomplished! The midwives are thanking me for not giving birth in the middle of the night.
Apgar score 9/9. 3050g, 48cm tall, 35cm head circumference. Nina clears the 34th weight percentile. She needs to be above 10th to avoid a hospital trip. Phew! She gets the breastfeeding right away, while still attached to me with a plastic-looking blue amniotic cord. The cord is cut, out comes the placenta. The midwives are fascinated by it. Anton and I don’t find it so exciting, given a living and breathing wonder of a baby in our arms. Lolli gets the bathtub cleaned and starts the laundry.
The comatose fatigue that pursued me through the last 2/3s of the pregnancy has vanished along with the birth. Sooo good to have my body back. Back in my pre-pregnancy weight ten days after birth, the stomach has imploded too. I can wear normal clothes. I still need to rebuild my abs: ballet will take care of that. Amazing how quickly the body recovers.