Wednesday, March 21, 2012
On the night of the 4th of December I was 41 weeks pregnant. We lay in bed and Nancy, my partner, searched the Internet for ways to induce labor. I was scheduled for a “no stress test” at the hospital the following day to be sure our little one was healthy inside me. Nancy found an article on nipple stimulation that suggested if you stimulate your nipples for 45 minutes then with in 48 hours labor is likely. We tried this and within fifteen minutes I was in labor.
At 9:44 pm I said, “I think this is what a contraction feels like.” It felt like a mild to moderate menstrual cramp. The cramps continued varying in length from one minute to three minutes. The resting time between contractions varied from six to ten minutes. Nancy kept track of my contractions in a little book documenting the frequency and intensity. We called our Midwife Maria and informed her that we were in labor. Maria told us to call her when the contractions were four minutes apart one minute long and in that pattern for an hour. “In the mean time” she said, “Get some rest.”
At about 2am the pain during contractions became intense. I began to throw up with each contraction. Nancy massaged my back in long strokes from my shoulders to my lower back and she pressed my hips together. We lit the candles that our friends and extended community made for us.
I lay on my side in bed and tried to rest and then got up in excruciating pain and ran to the bathroom to throw up repeatedly. At some point I had nothing left to throw up. Nancy made frozen recharge drink cubes, which I sucked between contractions. With each contraction I lost the recharge I had managed to swallow. I could not sleep and neither did Nancy. At one point I stood up and bent over the baby-changing table, Nancy came behind me and compressed my hips. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said. Nancy said, “You are doing so well.” After this Nancy often told me that I was amazing and I could do it. My confidence came back a little bit with her encouragement.
At 4:25am I went to the bathroom and a jelly-like clot of clear mucus and blood came out. “Baby I lost my mucus plug,” I shouted from the bathroom to the bedroom. Nancy wanted to see and I showed her. I felt excitement at labor progressing and my body opening. I thought that I should call my friend Ellen so that she and her partner Carmen could prepare to come the next day but I wanted them to have some rest.
At 5:00am I called Ellen and told her that I was in labor. I said that it would probably be a while but it would be good if she came by 5:00pm. I asked her to tell Carmen and prepare to stay a long time. In our preparation Ellen and Carmen were responsible for setting up the birth tub.
Contractions became more and more intense. In the morning at about 8 or 9 my phone rang and it was the nurse from Kaiser calling to confirm my “no stress test”. I told her I was in labor and then began having a contraction while on the phone. Her name was Jill and she told me exactly when to breathe in and when to breathe out and she coached me through the contraction. It was exactly what I needed to keep going. After the phone call I used the deep breathing shown to me. I felt light headed but able to continue.
I asked Nancy to call Maria and Nancy said that my contractions were still far apart. I called Maria and asked her to come by when she could to check the baby’s heart beat. Maria said that she would come by at noon. At some point Nancy called the rest of our birth team Ellen Carmen and Carol and asked them to come.
Maria arrived before the others, I remember saying, “The contractions are really bad”. Maria said in an enthusiastic voice, “No they are strong that’s good!”
Maria called an assistant midwife named Nile who arrived with a tool belt slung low across her hips and filled with midwife tools.
Maria checked how far I was dilated in the bedroom. I lay back on the bed and she reached her hand inside and felt around. When she removed her hand she said, “You are eight centimeters dilated we are going to have a baby.”
When the support team arrived they began to assemble and fill the birth tub in the kitchen. Nancy stayed with me in the bedroom. I bent over the bed and my acupuncturist Carol Francois came in and massaged acupressure points on one side of my body, she showed Nancy how to massage the other side. The points helped my body open and sped delivery.
Maria asked if I wanted to go in the water tub to give birth and I could not imagine moving from where I was. It turns out that the tub was only half full anyway. Maria invited my support team into the bedroom and said, “Do what you have to do.” Carmen documented the birth; I felt Carol’s presence near me. Ellen said later that she thought to herself, “What do I have to do?” Ellen brushed my tangled and wild hair back into a neat ponytail at the back of my head.
Maria put a birth stool at the side of our bed. Nancy sat on the bed and I sat between Nancy’s legs on the birth stool, she put her arms under my arms for support. I held onto Nancy’s hands and squeezed them tightly. Maria said, “When you feel the urge to push PUSH.” I remembered the story of another mamma who did not feel the urge to push and was transferred to the hospital. I pushed even though I did not feel a strong urge. I felt something pop and then water gushed out. Maria wiped it away with a chuck pad, she also discretely wiped away the little bit of poop that came out as well.
I felt a tightness around my opening that burned, I stood partially up instead of pushing and thought to myself “you are a wimp.” Both Maria and Nancy encouraged me to squat down, both told me I was doing a good job; this helped. Then the assistant midwife Nile, young caring and confident took a fan from her tool belt on her hip and fanned my hot face. It felt amazing.
Together Maria and Nile listened to Sekou’s heartbeat. Maria looked me in the eye and said, “Your baby’s heart rate went down, and we are going to want to get him out in the next push or two. It is time to work really hard!” After this I do not remember feeling pain; I cared only about getting Sekou out safely. I remember pushing very hard. We have a video and in the video in these final moments of pushing I was quiet and concentrated.
I reached down and felt Sekou’s hair between my legs, it was slimy. I pushed again and felt his head and then his body slide out of me. Maria said “Nancy, Fiona -somebody catch your baby!” Maria caught Sekou and put him in my arms. “Well hello” I said “you made it.” Sekou cried and then was quiet against my breast. Nancy kissed me, we both had tears running down our faces. Then Nile and Maria wiped the blood from Sekou’s body. They clamped his umbilical cord and Nancy cut it. He was born at 2:41pm. Ellen sent a picture of him just born to our friends and announced his birth.
The midwives asked Nancy to take off her shirt and they put Sekou on her chest for skin-to-skin bonding. I stayed seated on the birth stool to birth the placenta. The placenta slipped out easily into a large bowel and looked a little like an organ to me or an enormous blood clot.
I had a little tearing and Maria prepared to give me stitches. She asked me to lie back on the bed. Someone put Sekou on my chest. Maria asked my friends to distract me. Ellen lay to my right and Carol sat to my left. I closed my eyes and felt Carol stroking my forehead. Maria strapped a headlamp to her head, she sprayed between my legs with something that stung and then numbed the area then she began to carefully sew up my tears. I remember an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing. As Maria stitched the tears my friends sang, “Maria, I once knew a midwife named Maria.”
Next Maria put an ice pack between my legs and I lay with my head at the headboard. At the foot of the bed the Midwifes examined Sekou from head to foot and weighed him in a hanging cloth scale. Maria asked Nancy to put her little finger in Sekou’s mouth and he began to suck on it. Sekou weighed 8lbs and 3oz.
A few significant things about preparing for our homebirth:
My partner Nancy and I conceived Sekou March 8th 2011 with a little help from a sperm donor and alternative insemination. The date of Sekou’s conception is significant to me because it stands between the anniversary of my mother’s birth date on March 7th and her death date on March 9th.
My mother used to say about my birth, “I was in labor 48 hours and they almost lost us both.” My mother was 39 when she birthed me caesarian and 42 when she birthed my little brother Ian. I am the age of my mother when she had her second child. I expected 48 hours of labor, I expected pain and I was prepared for the possibility of transferring to Kaiser Hospital if need be. In fact we toured Kaiser to see what it was like. I also had the example of two of my friends Alli and Michelle who gave birth at home with Maria as their midwife.
My ability to birth my son at home felt bigger than me. I felt carried by the people in our lives and the extensive preparation that Nancy and I underwent. Several things significantly helped me to prepare to give birth.
To start we met with Maria our midwife regularly, her coaching about everything from nutrition to how to work as a team was invaluable. The fact of her experience having delivered over 1000 babies gave me confidence. Maria’s coaching before and during the birth of Sekou and especially after his birth was the ground on which I stood. A great doctor at Kaiser Sarah Mendel followed me in addition to Maria and she supported my decision to birth at home.
I was also part of a mamma’s group of four women. In the group we shared experiences and we read the book “Birthing from within.” We did an art exercise from this book in which we each drew our ideal labor as a landscape. The picture I drew greatly resembled the birth I had.
The preparation I did with my acupuncturist Carol Francois helped me to carry a strong healthy baby. Carol attended the birth and her presence helped me immensely.
Other mamma’s birth stories helped me to prepare as well especially Raynell’s story, which made clear the importance of staying hydrated and partner encouragement. I enjoyed going to a potluck at Maria our midwife’s house at the beginning of my pregnancy and hearing so many home birth stories. It felt like a complete circle to go again after Sekou’s birth and share our experience for others preparing for home birth.
Most helpful to Nancy and my work as a team during labor was the home birth preparation class we took taught by Jane Austin. I also did prenatal yoga with her.
My friend Ellen was there for me through out my pregnancy and she and her partner Carmen attended Sekou’s birth. She threw a shower for us in Dolores Park; at the shower friends decorated candles to light during labor, they also took a candle home with them to light. Ellen sent a message to our friends to light their candles while I labored. An altar held the lighted candles from our community as well as the picture I drew in the mamma’s group during labor. The physical reminder that I was not alone and had support from our friends and ancestors helped me.
Carmen documented Sekou’s birth leaving us incredible photographs and video we will one-day share with him.