December was kind of a crap month around here; my blood pressure continued to rise (ultimately necessitating medication in the final weeks of my pregnancy), and I caught an upper respiratory virus that had me coughing around the clock, losing what little sleep I had left before having a newborn and leaving me basically incontinent (I admitted to my midwife that I wasn’t sure if my water had broken or if I was just peeing myself from the strength and frequency of my coughing. Fun! …And humiliating!). My midwives had stripped my membranes no fewer than three times in the previous weeks, and while my cervix had moved all the way to the front (where it should be for labor to begin) and dilated to a “stretchy 3-4,” I still hadn’t gone into labor. When my blood pressure went higher than ever a few days after Christmas, shortly after I hit 39 weeks, I was certain that I would have to give up my dream of another homebirth and instead head to the county hospital where my midwives have privileges. Cue the pregnant lady tears.
On the morning of December 28th, I called my midwife in tears, giving her my most recent, alarming blood pressure readings. She didn’t panic—and she talked me down and gave me a plan: I was to go for lab work immediately, in order to check for protein in my urine (a sign of preeclampsia, which is what my midwives and the maternal fetal medicine specialist had been concerned about for the past several months) and then head to my acupuncturist to get started on a three-day labor induction treatment. She called me back as I was on my way to the lab and told me to pick up some castor oil (a laxative that can cause cramping that may lead to contractions) while I was out, a labor induction tool my midwives had hoped to avoid, but now everything seemed more urgent. Gulp. I’d never tried to induce labor with castor oil before, but I knew that it wasn’t pretty. Luckily, I’d already been having contractions on and off for a couple of days, so I was hopeful that my body was ready to get things moving.
I called my midwife when I was back from my errands. She asked me to think about how I wanted my labor to proceed—that since we were now trying to induce it, I had a bit more control over how it happened than if I’d just gone into labor spontaneously. Did I want my kids around? For the entire labor? For the birth alone? At that point, I think I was still in denial about what was happening; I didn’t even believe her when she told me that I’d have a baby by the end of the day. Instead, I paid attention to the details of her instructions. Eat a good lunch to avoid stomach upset. Drink two ounces of castor oil mixed well with two ounces of orange juice. Call her as I was about to drink it, so that she could be certain of the timing.
I did as I was asked, calling my midwife immediately before I chugged the oily concoction, and then lying down for a short nap while waiting for the castor oil to take effect. Note: Should you ever be in the position to consume castor oil, do yourself (and anyone doing your laundry) a favor and do not lie down in your bed; instead, make a fine little nest on your bathroom floor—or even better, prop a pillow against the wall and just fall asleep on the toilet. Castor oil is a sneaky little devil and will give you no warning as it kicks into gear. Fast-forward to my panicked dash down the hall to the bathroom about 50 minutes later, where I remained for the next several hours.
I called my midwife back to report the beginning of castor oil-induced diarrhea. Let the fun and games begin! I had heard horror stories of castor oil not working—well, bringing on diarrhea without bringing on labor—and I was terrified of going through this multiple times. My doula recommended dancing and nipple stimulation to get contractions going, and so I hung out in the bathroom by myself, reading the New York Times on an iPad, doing just that. A ridiculous scene, I know.
Contractions quickly started to pick up pace, coming more regularly and lasting longer.
I called my midwife back to let her know that contractions had started. She advised me to quit dancing and save my energy, but I found that I needed to keep moving during the contractions, just kind of swaying my hips as they picked up speed. I asked her at some point in there how much longer she was on duty (my midwives work as a pair, trading on-call hours); her shift ended at 8 pm that evening, and I really hoped she would be there for the birth. Game on.
I texted my doula to say that my contractions were coming about three minutes apart, lasting for a minute apiece—and that while it wasn’t urgent, I wanted her support within the next couple of hours. (I really thought this would be a through-the-middle-of-the-night kinda thing.) Her husband was already on his way home to care for their children, and she started getting ready to head over.
My midwife and I spoke again by phone. I told her that the contractions were getting harder to talk through and required more of my attention, but I didn’t think I needed her to come over yet.
After the worst of the castor oil’s effects had passed, I moved from the bathroom back into our bedroom, wearing only a shirt. I swayed my hips, rolled around on a birth ball, and breathed deeply through contractions while my husband looked on. Realizing how frequently I was entering my contractions on the Full Term app I was using, I called my midwife back to say that the contractions were getting even stronger. She asked if I’d be OK with her heading over, and I agreed.
Laboring on the birth ball in our bedroom (All photos copyright of Heather White / Brooklyn Birth Arts)
Texted with one of my besties, Jen, who had planned to be at the birth. She was on her way into a movie theater but turned back around and headed to our house, making a crucial (and delicious) stop at a bakery on her way. There’s nothing like waking up to a brand-new baby and awesome chocolate croissants after giving birth!
My doula, Heather White, who is also a professional photographer (see more beautiful but NSFW photos from Addie’s birth on her site Brooklyn Birth Arts), arrived. I continued laboring on the birth ball and leaning on the bed while doing my personal version of belly dancing. She massaged me through a few contractions, and they continued to pick up strength and speed.
Jen arrived. I couldn’t even be bothered to feel self-conscious about not wearing any pants. (In all fairness, I had forewarned her that I tended to labor naked.)
My midwife arrived! Eventually, after she was set up with her birth gear, I asked if it was too early for me to get into the tub. My doula suggested getting into the shower instead, but with the contractions feeling the strongest at the base of my belly, I just wanted to sink down into a full, warm tub to help take away some of that pain. I expected my midwife to check me to see how far dilated I was before allowing me to get into the tub, but she just replied that if I wanted to get in, I should go ahead and do so. For this, I am particularly grateful—I so appreciate that she trusted my body and me to know that the timing was right.
After my doula filled our gigantic Jacuzzi tub and lit a bunch of candles to place all around it, I slid in. The contractions were continuing to get more intense, and I focused on just taking each one as it came. The warm water helped ease some of the pain, but I also made horse sounds with my lips, like the famed midwife Ina May Gaskin recommends, with the idea that an open mouth equals an open cervix. My doula also started chanting “OOOOHHHH-pen,” which I picked up as well. My 3-year-old thought I was saying, “Ohhhhh, Ben!” which is his brother’s name, and he got quite a laugh out of that (he just kept repeating it and giggling to his dad in the next room).
I couldn’t have asked for a better place to labor—the water and candles were really soothing, and labor seemed to be relatively manageable. My husband and kids were in and out to say goodnight (my husband, our au pair, and Jen helped them get ready for bed while all of this was going on), but the room was mostly peaceful. My doula and I had the chance to have a quiet check-in where she asked me how I was doing, especially with regard to my mom (who passed away in 2009, just two months after my second son was born—so this was the only pregnancy she’d never been around for, and the only child of mine she would never meet). To combat some of the sadness I was feeling about all of that, I had put up a couple of pictures of her that I could see during labor and wore a gold ring that she’d worn daily. Looking down at that ring and thinking about how much she would have loved having a granddaughter—and how I hoped that my relationship with my daughter would ever come close to the warm and fulfilling one I had with my mom—was the one moment that left me crying in labor—but I moved past that and got on with the business of birthing this baby.
Although I’d been good about drinking sufficient liquids during labor, I hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch, and my midwife offered to make me a snack. After thinking for a moment about what wouldn’t make me want to vomit at that point, I agreed to eat a PB&J sandwich, and she headed down to the kitchen to prepare it.
During one of my contractions, I felt a sudden, pronounced pop and felt my daughter’s head kind of click further into place. My water had broken! Luckily, the fluid was clear. No one thought to alert my midwife to the news immediately as everything seemed fine, so when she came back up with my sandwich and my doula let her know, she jumped into action after quietly telling my husband that the rest of labor would move very, very quickly. (I was glad I didn’t overhear that last part—I was already busy coping with harder and faster contractions and probably would have felt scared about what was to come.)
My midwife told me that if I felt like bearing down, I should go ahead and do so. I couldn’t believe that this was happening so quickly, but I got as comfortable as I could on my knees and focused on trying to help my baby come down the birth canal. She added that I might be able to feel her head at that point, but when I tried, the baby seemed to be just out of reach.
I started pushing with each contraction—something much easier this time around, thanks to having done this twice before, having done Kegels throughout my pregnancy, and having my midwife show me with her fingers where I needed to bear down. After a few more contractions, I could feel my daughter’s head and the “ring of fire.” In between contractions, my midwife said I could feel her hair with my hand—and after turning down the opportunity during the last two births (because I was so desperate for labor to be over), I was grateful to take a moment to do that. Sam also reached down and felt her head and we shared a look of “Holy sh*t!” before the next contraction came on. A few minutes later, I asked my midwife if her head was all the way out yet and was disappointed to learn that it was only her forehead. Throughout this time, my midwife supported my perineum (where I had had an episiotomy and fourth-degree tearing during my first birth and then second-degree tearing during my second birth) with her hands. When my daughter’s head was finally fully out, my midwife asked me to stop pushing for a moment so that she could unwrap the umbilical cord from her neck so that she could come out more easily. After that, it was just another push or two until she was all the way out.
My daughter Adeline Hope was born. When my midwife pulled her out of the water and put her on my chest, we could see that she looked kind of blue and wasn’t crying. My midwife gave her mouth-to-mouth—just two quick puffs of air—before she grimaced and started sputtering or coughing and then crying. It seemed scary to my husband and me at the time, but my midwife later explained that it was pretty routine and hadn’t caused her any real concern (in fact, in the full set of photos, you can see that my midwife was smiling the whole time—it was truly not a moment of panic). Addie was then wrapped in a towel and I held her to my chest, keeping her head out of the water as I just kept repeating her name. About 10 minutes later, I handed her to the assistant midwife (who had arrived with my other midwife, about 10 minutes before Addie’s birth) and then, at the direction of my midwife, stood up and gave a quick push and let the placenta fall out into a waiting bowl (and, um, yes, I did later have it encapsulated).
Holding my sweet, crying baby
Once Addie and the placenta were separated from me, she was whisked off to the bedroom, where the midwives told my husband to strip off his shirt and then placed her on his chest to help keep her warm. I followed shortly thereafter and stole her back from him, eventually getting her latched on successfully once her chest was a bit clearer.
The beginning of what we've spent the last three weeks doing
The rest of the evening felt like a celebration. Yes, my midwives checked Addie and me out (she weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces—outweighing her brothers at birth by several ounces) and dealt with all of the necessary paperwork, but I remember so little of that. What I remember most is the feeling of overwhelming joy—of making it successfully to the end of my hardest pregnancy… of delivering a healthy, live baby girl… of laboring among friends and family in the comfort of my own home (in fact, we live in the house where I grew up, making it even more meaningful to be there)… of finally having the waterbirth I had always hoped for... of winning the super-short-but-really-intense labor lottery with a mere five hours of labor (and 18 minutes of pushing)... of feeling respected and supported throughout the process by incredible midwives and an amazing doula… of being completely in love with this new baby, this daughter, of mine.