So, amazingly enough, a year ago was Laelia’s first birthday! But a year before that, she born (funny how that works). That story has yet to be told. Until now.
As some/many of you may already know, we had a home birth-hospital transfer, and let me say right now to get it out of the way; it was NOT an emergency. There—now you don’t have to read on while expecting things to get super exciting or anything. It was a normal boring 48 hour birth process that progressed in tiny steps and climaxed with her head being pulled out by a suction cup.
A long long time ago when I was a young and eager art college student, I moon-lighted as an anthropology major (in other words, double major). I learned a lot of things about humanity that I always thought to be quite obvious, but apparently most people found them to be revelations, and sometimes shocking. Among the more “shocking” information was that birth was a normal, natural process that would take place whether a laboring woman was in a field or a fancy hospital. The mother could be alone, or she could be in the presence of loved ones, doulas, nurses, midwives, doctors, anesthesiologists, etc–but either way, that baby would come. When I think about humanity, I don’t think with my “taboo on”, as I like to say. That might mean I have never been fully engrained within my own culture, but mostly it allows me to suppress my knee-jerk reactions to things which is entirely liberating. This means:
- I know it’s normal for a 4 year old to breastfeed (from a biological and world view)
- I know the difference between gender and sex, even though applications for health insurance and people proclaiming the “gender” of their unborn child don’t
- I know, baby-wearing and co-sleeping ARE NOT TRENDS OR FADS. They are basic human traits. On the contrary, cribs and strollers are modern trends.
- I know giving birth completely numb while strapped to a bed and monitors with IVs coming out of you is not normal. Giving birth via major abdomnial surgery is even more abnormal. When I was in college I learned the cesarean rate was 1/4 births in America, and it terrified me. When I got pregnant in 2009 it was 1/3. There was no way I was going to be in a hospital.
I got pregnant a whole month and a half after we got married. We just decided to see what happened, and it happened fast! I knew I wanted to be in the care of midwives, but I couldn’t decide on a home birth or a birthing center; my main problem with having a home birth was that we live in an apartment and I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors (I’m so nice, right?). Luckily, my new cousin-in-law and bff Becky had already had two HBACs (and now 3, the last birth being breech twins) with a very reputable pair of midwives, Leslie Stewart and Catherine Williams of Home Birth Services of Los Angeles. I went to the orientation meeting, and they immediately addressed my concerns about having a baby in an apartment by telling us a story about delivering in a 80 sq ft studio in Venice, and that there isn’t really anything in a birth center that they couldn’t offer us. What with this news, the fact that I don’t have to get on a freeway to get to their offices, and that they delivered Mayim Bialik’s (I saw her at an LLL meeting once!), Cindy Crawford’s (a family friend used to be her nanny, and when I mentioned my midwives at a Christmas party as my aunt was flipping over the idea of me having a home birth, she said something along the lines of how great my midwives were; this calmed my aunt down), and Pamela Anderson’s kids (oddly enough my bff nannied her kids for a while, and helped her mom who was their housekeeper), how could I say no? But seriously, these women have delivered everyone’s HB baby in Los Angeles. It’s weird. Or awesome. A little of both. Anyway, we felt very happy to settle on our birthing plan.
The only thing I was nervous about was telling people about our home birth because nothing brings out the shocked and defensive side of even the most non-judgmental people like doing something taboo. For some reason, just saying this occasionally makes women who choose to birth otherwise to proclaim all their very sound reasons for wanting to give birth in a hospital. As if simply stating “I’m planning a home birth” means “I’m planning a home birth and I think you’re stupid for wanting to give birth in a hospital”. So if anyone is reading this and getting all fired up about all of their reasons for preferring a hospital birth, please don’t. And if you are one of the rare persons who would prefer a home birth but for medical reasons would never be allowed one and you’re feeling defensive about your circumstances, don’t. You are what a hospital and it’s highly trained staff is for. (However, if you are reading this and you’re getting fired up because you want a HB but it is illegal in your state, please; get fired up! Start a petition!). I think these things are very personal. A woman should give birth where she feels she will be the most comfortable and capable of giving birth. There are plenty of good, solid reasons why many women feel more comfortable in a hospital, but I don’t feel comfortable in hospitals. They creep me out, and I feel suffocated. There are also just as many good, solid reasons to give birth at home. Luckily, home birthing is becoming less and less taboo, so I don’t worry at all anymore when I talk about it.
Okay, on to the actual birth story…
I woke up at 4:oo am on April 15 with a ground-breaking contraction. It was like a bolt had struck me and I grabbed for the bed post and moaned. It was completely different from anything else I had felt before, as if a completely involuntary muscle you’ve had for 27 years was being activated for the first time. I tried to go back to sleep, but it happened again about ten minutes later. I woke Tyler up and we started timing the contractions on our iPhone app. They were 7-10 minutes apart, and about 45 seconds long. It was four days after my due date and I was pretty anxious for labor to get started. I had my “last” appointment with my midwives at 10am that day, so it was good timing. Tyler stayed home from work he drove us to our appointment. I was 1-2cm dialated and her head was in a zero position. Not a big change from my appointment the week before, but they assured me labor was starting and to keep them updated. We went home, expecting the baby to come that night. Except, she didn’t. There were a few hours in the middle of the day where I only had like two contractions, but we were back to every 7-10 minutes by the evening. We ordered take out from our favorite ramen place and watched the office. Tyler helped me breathe through my contractions very well. I was surprised by how much his counting and his gaze would help me keep my focus. And that’s what we did, for the entire night… we breathed, ate ramen, had contractions, watched the office. Not much sleeping happened.
Suddenly, it was 8 am the next day, April 16. My contractions had come to 5-6 minutes apart and were 60-90 seconds long. Tyler set up the birthing tub in our living room and I sat in it for a little while. It was instant relief. I cannot express how amazing getting into that tub felt. We called the midwives and Catherine came by around noon to check on us. I think I was 2 or 3 cm dilated and her head was still in the zero position. I had that very classic woman-in-labor feeling of “whaaaaaat!? How I am I not further along than that?!”, but I immediately remembered the stories about women progressing very quickly in labor, and remembered that I should focus how far I’ve come and how close she is to being here. I also remembered that being in the water too early can stall labor, so we decided not to use the tub again until later. Catherine left but the midwife-in-training, Tracy (now officially CPM) came over. She has spent years as a doula and it showed. We didn’t hire one because we couldn’t afford one, but with Tracy around all was well. She gave me a tincture and let me lean on her through contractions, gave me tincture to help speed up contractions, and she walked with me about the house. She sat quietly with me as labor progressed ever so slowly. She talked me and Tyler through every contraction which I spent leaning on him. At 4pm I was 4cm dilated and was finally officially in labor. The 36 hours that had previously gone by were merely pre-labor. Meh. That’s childbirth though, right? My mom always told me “I was in labor with you for 36 hours!” and I was already hitting that mark… I knew this was going to be a long labor. There was some haze between this period and when I finally went into transition. My cousin arrived. I got into the tub and things sped up super fast! Leslie came over around this time. I was 7 cm at 8pm, and 10cm by 8:45pm. I remember mostly a horrible uncontrollable feeling at the bottom of my trunk, and a very nauseating feeling. Like something is trying to get out anyway it can. I gripped onto Tyler and definitely had a good little freak-out sesh in the tub. I remember begging him not to let it happen to me again. However, in between contractions I would come back to normal, asking the midwives for critique (I’m so weird). As moments would go by, I knew another contraction was coming. I get startled very easily. I think I was partly anxious about when the next contraction would come, and take me by surprise! Luckily, transition was over quickly, but not before my water finally broke (in the tub!) and my aunts came by to drop something off mid-contraction. Transition is over. Time to push.
I pushed for one hour. I pushed for two hours. I pushed for three and four. I was fully dilated and 100% effaced, but still, still her head was at a zero position. For five whole hours we thought she would be coming any minute now (this was the theme of this labor). I pushed in the tub, I pushed on the bed, I pushed on the floor, I pushed with Tyler holding me up and me squatting (poor Tyler/good Hubby; he was almost as exhausted as I was). Around 1 am Leslie mentioned that she thought her head was tilted. This meant her head was not coming out at the narrowest point, but at a wider point and it was pushing her head toward her back (indeed; this was the case). So we tried some new positions, and she tried to move Laelia’s head with her hands during contractions. My contractions started to peter out. I was exhausted. I was running on empty. I had barely eaten or slept for almost 48 hours. Leslie mentioned transferring to Dr.Wu (my awesome back-up OB) for pitocin to strengthen my contractions and an epidural to relax my pelvis so her head would finally descend down the birth canal.
But Tyler and I just wanted our baby! We didn’t want to go the hospital. She was going to be here in five minutes and we could just stay home and take a shower and go to sleep. Then wake up in our own bed and make a big breakfast! And get used to our new addition, and welcome a few visitors (ahhh, that still sounds so wonderful)! I pushed for another hour, in a last attempt to make it happen, but there was still no progress. Leslie said she worried about Laelia’s head swelling and she didn’t want me to walk myself into a c-section. For the first time in the labor process I really cried. For one thing, it was going to more than double the cost of her birth, all of which is paid out of pocket despite the fact that I have insurance (5k deductible, 10k when a baby is born, and it starts over every January). The thought of waiting out a car ride alone sounded like a nightmare, and it was the worst.
Of course my contractions started to come hard and strong the second I got into the car! We checked into the hospital rather quickly, but not before I had a drop-me-to-my-knees contraction at the sign in counter (absolutely the only movie-ish part of this birth). I was given a room. I immediately had to field questions from a nurse who wondered “who would do this to themselves” and other such nonsense while fixing my IV. I told her in a very strong but probably shakey voice that “I believe that pregnant women are not sick, and they should not be treated as if they are sick. I believe in natural childbirth”. They told me to prep for the epidural, which I refused. Let me repeat that. I refused the epidural after all of this. I didn’t want to be drugged up when I saw my baby for the first time, I wanted to feel everything. I am a woman. As such, I’ve been given both the privilege and the burden of bearing children. It is a unique human experience, and damnit, I want to remember it and recall it, and just experience it. But no. I already had that dumb uncomfortable IV in which was making my arm turn to ice, and they were telling me I had to also do this stupid epidural too. Tracy came with us to the hospital after gathering some clothes for us, and she encouraged me to go through with it to get some rest and avoid a cesarean. The nurses seemed surprised at this; they were prepping for a c-section. But, as Tracy explained, the pitocin should strengthen the contractions and the epidural should relax my pelvis, so there was a good chance Laelia could be delivered vaginally. I relented and accepted the epidural (*ding* $1,000 *ding*). They wouldn’t allow Tyler in the room (/annoyance. I loathe this sort of BS. I should never have to be separated from my husband for any reason, except maybe incarceration. Huge reason I wanted a HB). I didn’t feel the needle. Then I couldn’t feel my legs. Then I couldn’t LIFT my legs. W-T-F. It was strangely warm and it was an incredible relief to the lower half of my body. But I was thirsty. I couldn’t have water. My lips were becoming extremely chapped (add chapstick to your hospital bag, ladies) and everything I could feel was freezing. The stupid IV would not stop stinging (okay, the IV was not really stupid, I’m just very resentful). I laid there, extremely frustrated at my situation, worried about having a cesarean, but I finally fell asleep around 4:30 am feeling confident that the rest of this labor would progress, and I could avoid surgery.
I woke up around 7:30am. The news I was waiting for: Laelia’s head had moved to the +3.5 position! Yay! The nurses said the Dr. was arriving soon! Double yay! Let me just say I’m happy I did my homework. No one wants to have to resort to their plan B, but its best to have a good one. After all my research, I discovered that Dr. Wu of Glendale Adventist is very supportive of natural childbirth (one of three who are well-known for it in the area). He did my initial prenatal appointment and the one required by our midwives. And, like I mentioned, while the nurses prepped for a cesarean, he walked in and said “no, she has a good chance to deliver vaginally, and we will take it”. I felt much better after he arrived and, we things were set into motion very quickly. He attached a vacuum (basically a big sucker) to her head, and he did a see-saw motion with every contraction. Okay, so when I was pushing, I guess it was the other very movie-like moment. I was holding a nurses hand, and my husband’s hand and the doctor was pulling, and my midwife-in-training was holding a leg and pressing on my tummy with the doctor, and we were ALL counting together. Can I just say THANK GOODNESS I pushed for all that time when I could actually feel something. I think it took me a good hour of pushing just to figure out how to do it, and it seems nigh impossible to figure it out if you can’t feel anything. I had to concentrate SO HARD to make sure I was pushing right. Your instincts are gone with an epidural. You must rely on a machine to tell you when to push. It is so strange/silly. But I was very determined to push her out. So I did! In ten or twenty minutes. She was born at 8:40am. 52 hours and 40 minutes after my first real contraction.
The moment she was born I felt a relief; relief in the same way you feel when someone sitting on your lap gets up. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of her before they took her across the large room to wipe her off. Tyler went with her. He got to cut the umbilical cord, but I didn’t see any of it. At some point she had passed meconium so NICU was there, but she was fine. She had a 9 on the apgar and weighed 8.5 lbs and was 22 inches long. I was dazed. I barely knew what was happening. It definitely compares to the most of I’ve been drunk before, and not in a good way. I had a very small internal tear and Dr. Wu was sewing it up and Tracy was asking him questions about it. I really wanted to see my baby, and it felt like it was taking forever for them to bring her to me. I finally got to see her and my first thought was “white baby” (you have to hear the way I say this. It’s funny). I mean, Tyler and I are Euro-American muts, but we just have darker coloring what with our medium-light brown hair and brown eyes. And I can get pale, that’s for sure but she was just so, so fair. We knew we could have a fair child (~1/4 chance), but we weren’t really expecting it. For a long time people wondered whether her eyes would stay blue, but I knew they would. I fed her for a long time, and we had visitors. My cousin and my aunts came straight to the hospital after I left home, and had been waiting in the lobby ever since! What troopers! Then they left and cleaned our house for us (we left it a right mess, what with the tub and all), which we are eternally grateful for!
We stayed in the hospital that night. It was miserable. I wanted to go home and take a shower. Every time I stood up I felt like my lungs were sinking down out of my chest because they finally had room again! I couldn’t sleep and bf Laelia at the same time because the hospital wouldn’t allow us to co-sleep, but she ate so much and I was so tired. My nipples chaffed pretty much immediately. Breastfeeding was very hard for the first month (I cried at every latch and needed something to bite on), but we toughed it out, and it quickly became a breeze and something we enjoyed for almost 20 mos. The next day, we just wanted to escape the hospital but there was all this paper work that had to be signed and our release kept being stalled to take newborn photos which vexed me to no end (Yet another reason I didn’t want to be in a hospital). We were finally released and I got to go home and take a shower. It was the best shower ever.
I think the things I didn’t like about this birth are obvious, but what I do like about it is that it demonstrates what birth drugs are for; how they truly aid in delivery after a complication has arisen. I also can look back and know I was dedicated to my natural childbirth and I gave it my all; I did my best. Overall, I’ve always been very happy when I think about her birth; some things didn’t go the way I wanted them to, but things worked out well, and my back up plan did it’s job! If/when we have another baby and I’m deemed fit and healthy, we will plan for another home birth!