The story of your birth begins many months before you actually began your journey out into the world. When I was about 5 months pregnant with you, your Abba and I enrolled in a 12-week Bradley Childbirth class. Although my parents had taken Bradley classes with me 30 years ago, I wasn’t particularly committed to a drug-free birth, even though that’s Bradley’s thing. I didn’t feel that I had anything to prove to myself or the world by having a natural birth – I just didn’t want to be in horrible pain. This was my mindset when we started class.
During the second class, we received a DVD called “The Business of Being Born” to take home and watch. The documentary chronicled the prenatal and birth experiences of several women – some who had given birth at home and some who had given birth in a hospital. I bawled through the whole video. I cried for the women in the hospital, because their experiences scared me, and I cried during the home births because they looked so natural and beautiful. This was my first real exposure to watching home birth, and it was incredibly powerful. I was already unhappy with my OBs (both practices I had seen), and was starting to feel resigned to getting prenatal care that just did not work for me. I didn’t sleep that night and instead began looking into the possibility of us having a home birth for you. Thus began the start of an adventure we never saw coming.
By the time of our first visit to Claudia, our prospective midwife, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to have a home birth. Your Abba still had several concerns regarding safety, but after an hour of talking with Claudia, he was just as excited as I was about bringing you into the world in the safety and comfort of our own home. Un-fortunately, most people we talked to about home birth were initially skeptical if not downright unsupportive. Many people were intrigued, but only a few people were actually very excited for us. The general lack of support was frustrating, and after a while we just stopped telling people about it. During this time, two people ended up being very strong supports for both of us – your Aunties Ashli and Nicole. Both of them essentially responded the same way when we told them about our home birth plans: “That is awesome! I SO want to be there!” And we thought – why not?
Our Bradley classes continued until the end of the summer, and we learned more about what to expect during labor and ways to help prepare my body for a natural childbirth. At the same time, our midwives gave us ample information regarding routine tests conducted in the medical setting. Aside from these two important resources, I was frustrated by how difficult it was to obtain information about anything other than traditional hospital birth. This lack of information both frustrated and motivated me.
The last week before you were born was difficult. We received countless messages from eager friends wanting to know if LaFeetye (our nickname for you) had arrived yet. I woke up each day wondering, “Is today going to be the day?” We had been reading birth stories from our friends in Bradley class, and I often found myself wondering what our birth story would be.
The night before your due date (October 23rd), we went with some friends up to an Italian restaurant called Scalini’s, which was famous for making an eggplant parmesan dish that seemed to induce labor. If you were born within 48 hours of us leaving the restaurant, we would get a $25 gift certificate and a Scalini baby onesie for you. We enjoyed the time with our friends, but, alas, you were not ready to come out yet. Over the following week, we tried many, many things to get you to come out: spicy foods, tropical foods, acupuncture, acupressure, evening primrose oil, sitting on a birthing ball, lots of walking…. all the usual recommendations. We even tried Scalini’s again! Still, no you.
Halloween night was cold and rainy. We still had one or two things to assemble for you, plus we had not yet figured out how to use the breast pump. Your Abba was my tech support for figuring out how it worked. It was so uncomfortable when I first put it on that your Abba put it on himself too. This is a true sign of love.
We went to bed after midnight and read for a while. Just as I finished reading my Lilith Magazine, I felt a strange pop in my belly and wondered if you had kicked me. Then I felt a slightly painful contraction that was very unlike the Braxton-Hicks I had been experiencing for months, and I asked your half-asleep Abba to rub my back. A few minutes later, I got up to go to the bathroom and was very surprised to find liquid already coming down my leg. In that moment, I knew you were on your way and that we would be holding you in our arms soon. I turned to your Abba and said, “I think my water just broke!” Your Abba’s response: Are you sure you didn’t pee on yourself again?
While he was in denial, I had already hopped into the shower and began having more contractions. By the time I got out of the shower, your Abba was in the kitchen making popcorn to share with Caldecott and had started blowing up the birthing pool and air mattress. I made chocolate chip pancakes. I am sure the cats were quite confused.
We started timing my contractions and were surprised to find that they were 5-7 minutes apart and about 45 seconds long. We called Claudia, who told us to call her back when they were 4-5 minutes apart and a minute long. She also recommended that we get some rest. I crawled back into bed and waited for your Abba to come and rub my back during contractions. He tried, but he pretty much fell asleep, which frustrated me greatly. Soon my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart, so we called Claudia again, then Ashli and Nicole. It was four in the morning.
Everything happened very quickly after that. When Ashli and Nicole came, they curled up with me and helped me through the contractions. Claudia and her apprentice, Natalie, arrived and began setting up. Your Abba filled up our birth pool, then began making carrot cupcakes (and was hence nicknamed “The Jewish Mother”).
There was no better feeling than that first time I got into the pool. It was so warm and relaxing… I never wanted to get out. The contractions were easier to handle while in the pool, but I noticed that I would get extremely hot during the contractions and freezing cold after they passed. Ashli and Nicole were incredibly responsive to my insistent pleas for “more cold!” and helped to keep me cool by placing ice-cold cloths on my face and neck… pretty much from the time I got into the pool until the moment you were born.
There were two specific times that I felt like things were slowing down, and I asked Claudia what we could do to speed things up. Both times she suggested walking, which I did: a strange parade of me, Nicole, Ashli, Claudia, and Natalie walking around and around the living room and dining room. It was painful, but your aunties helped me through it. Claudia was both present and non-intrusive at the same time – giving advice when asked, but mostly just observing and making sure everything was going well. Natalie monitored your heart rate with the Doppler every half an hour to make sure you were okay, and you were always doing very well. Time really was a blur, but I remember watching the sunrise from our birthing pool. Across from me was your Abba’s sweet face with an excited and encouraging smile. During this time, aside from being in pain, I felt calm and prepared for the most challenging stage of labor that lay ahead.
At some point, the contractions became a lot stronger and more painful. Feeling these very strong contractions slowly building deep in my body actually was a little scary for me. Claudia recognized my fear and called me on it. She validated the pain I was experiencing, but reminded me that the only way for you to come out was for me to use the contractions as a means to push you out. I worked very hard to mentally welcome the contractions and their power instead of feeling afraid of them. Refocusing my thoughts and emotions was not easy, but I believe it helped you to come out as soon as you did.
I wish I could say that the last stage of labor was a breeze, but it was really quite painful. I am sure some interesting things came out of my mouth during that last hour and a half (such as “Whose stupid idea was this anyway?” and “I am never doing this again!”). While I had my eyes closed most of the time, I do remember how important it was to me to see your Abba’s face across from me. That, along with the “play-by-play” from Claudia, kept me motivated.
Once you began crowning, the energy in the room was incredible. Your aunties, and Casey, Natalie, and Claudia were an amazing cheering section, worthy of the NFL. I remember being able to reach down in the water and feel the top of your head – very soft, and covered in soft hair. I still couldn’t quite believe that there was a person coming out of my body! I remember your head coming out, then your shoulder, then the rest of you basically came shooting right out. Your Abba caught you and brought you to my chest right away, and we both stared at each other in wonder. It was so bright in the room with all the sunlight pouring in, and there was this tiny little body in my arms and so much talk about your full head of hair! These moments were a beautiful blur of excitement, wonder, gratitude, and so much love.
“LaFeetye’s suitcase” (aka the placenta) was delivered less than 10 minutes after you were born. You and I stayed in the birth pool together for about 20 minutes, then your Abba cut the cord, and we went into the bedroom to nurse. Your strong latch impressed all of us from the start (and surprised your Abba greatly when you latched onto him through his shirt later that night)! A few hours later – after your newborn exam and ensuring that we all had something to eat – Claudia left the three of us tucked in bed as a family. I can’t imagine a cozier way to begin our lives together. All night long, your Abba and I kept looking at you in amazement. We admired your tiny fingers and eyelashes, and we marveled at how much we already loved you.
Elena, your name means light and brightness, and you were ushered into the world on such a bright and beautiful day, surrounded by the most loving friends and family you can imagine.
With much love,
PS – The experience of having a natural childbirth at home was incredibly empowering and rewarding for me. I hope that if you choose to have children that you have a birth experience that gives you the same wonderful feeling.