Our boy, Delano, was born at home in a water birth through hypobirthing coaching and with the support of a licenced midwife, doula, my mom, my extended family, and my personal coach: my husband. Though we couldn’t plan when baby arrived, our hard work preparing paid off with a story to remember.
Hoping Against Induction
On Wednesday two days before Delano’s birth we visited our home birth midwife, Bernice. Baby Del was over a week past the estimated due date, and Bernice asked us how we felt about natural induction. Wow, I thought to myself. Was it time to consider this already?
I had always felt very strongly that the baby comes when the baby is ready, not when we think it’s time. But we expected Del to come early; Stae, my first son, had been two weeks early, so this time I had made a point of being prepared in advance. It had been weeks now, day after day of hoping this would be the day.
I had formed a habit of responding to every query of “How are you?” to “I want my baby!”
As we sat at the table with Bernice all I could come up with was “We’ll think about it.” So we left our appointment with the promise that we’d call her in the next couple of days if we decided to go forward with a membrane sweep to help baby along.
Early Labor’s More Fun with Will Farell and Kathy Griffin
How did baby know it was time to help us out with our decision?
The next morning I began to feel cramping. One week earlier I had also begun to have stirrings; these turned out to be practice labor. So this time I didn’t want to get my hopes up too soon. Ben was working an a.m. shift, so I let him know that I would call him if things sped up or looked decisive. He returned home at noon, and after lunch I decided that it might be time to try to start timing the surges. Lo and behold it seemed there was a pattern!
Although they were very short, only 30 seconds, they did seem to be 10 minutes apart. Still too soon to be decisive, I felt.
So we took a much needed trip to the grocery store, and I simply called out every time I felt something and Ben ticked off the timer on his phone. It felt almost as if the activity of timing was what we needed to hold on to — it was something we could physically do during this time of uncertainty and excitement. We held onto that, and every time I felt a tightening I stopped the cart, held on to the handles, and breathed.
The sensations were something to focus on, something that required concentration, something to relax and ride through, and then they would pass. It was almost as if their passing was there to remind me that this was easy, that this was do-able.
HypnoBirthing and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth had both said that humor was helpful through labor; Ina May had specifically recommended “potty humor.” I decided to go with it. We swung by Family Video and picked up a copy of Blades of Glory and a Kathy Griffin stand up.
I was pretty sure I was having contractions at this point but still didn’t want to call it and end up with another false alarm. So when we got home we popped in Blades of Glory and just chilled out a bit. We let Bernice know that something might be happening, but that I was still pretty laid back so no need to come just yet. We got halfway through Blades of Glory and decided to switch tapes.
That was when Ben began to show signs of the “first time Dad” jitters.
As we laughed through Kathy Griffin, me closing my eyes periodically and coaching myself through the slow breathing I learned in class, Ben began to get a bit frantic about the timing. We both realized that it was going to be our call whether or not Bernice should begin the hour-and-a-half drive to our place. Ben reminded me several times earlier that the “sign” would be when I got “serious”.
As I cackled over Kathy Griffin’s foul play treatment of poor Gwyneth Paltrow I didn’t seem all that serious!
So Ben just kept timing and watching, timing and watching! When I took a break to walk to the kitchen he found the moment he was hoping for: I paused and grabbed the wall, closed my eyes, told my Dad, “Wait a sec,” and breathed in deep. That’s serious, Ben decided, and made the call.
Are You Having Contractions? (The Hypnobirthing Way)
I’m grateful to Ben for making that decision, because I think I was already in the zone by then. My Mom got out the stethoscope to listen for baby’s heartbeat and I donned a Santa’s cap that had unearthed itself from the Christmas decorations box a week earlier. It looked like baby would be born before Christmas after all! As we sat in the kitchen, I continued breathing calmly through my surges. Since I let Ben know that we could take a break from timing I was no longer calling them out.
My mother asked, “Are you having contractions now?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Really? I can’t even tell.” It seemed that the Hypnobirthing predictions were coming true. Others couldn’t really tell how far along I was getting.
By the time Bernice arrived it was 1 a.m.. I had taken a shower to help calm me, and my parents had successfully cleaned the entire house in a frantic flurry. I guess it helps people to have something to do! Ben remained staunchly by my side, but we were only now beginning to find the time for him to do relaxation coaching. Bernice began taking notes and checking my vitals. When she realized that I was having contractions during this she became concerned that perhaps she had come too soon. How could I have contractions without her realizing it? Perhaps things weren’t really that serious yet, she reasoned, and I wasn’t yet in active labor. It was past my bedtime by two hours and I let out a yawn.
“Do you think you could sleep?” she asked. “It would be good to get some sleep if you can, for strength.”
I replied with a “Maybe” but it was probably more to please than a realistic assessment. But that was all she and the gang needed at that point. Bleary-eyed, my birth team hit the sack, hoping to store up some energy for the real thing. Bernice assured that if I wasn’t in labor after all, she could always catch some appointments in town in the morning, and then come back.
Super Mama Sets Up the Birthing Pool?
I nodded in agreement, all the while thinking, “Um, I think I am in labor.” But I did want everyone to be able to be strong and alert through the birth, so we popped in our Hypnobirthing CD and I worked through the exercises solo while Ben got some much needed rest. As we lay there in the dark, I drifted into sleep once or twice while struggling through the longer and longer surges.
“How in the hell am I supposed to hold one inhalation and exhalation through this entire contraction?” I thought.
Hypnobirthing may have taken me well through this point, but I was beginning to feel like I was doing it wrong. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was getting further and further into labor and was only two hours away from transition, the most intense part of labor. Normally in the Hypnobirthing routine, Ben and I would have been doing concentrated exercises and visualizations through this tough part.
Lying there in the dark, I realized that I definitely needed some help, and decided perhaps I should re-read the part of the book that explained slow breathing. Not wanting to wake Ben, I got up and took the book with me to the bathroom.
As I sat there thinking, “Perhaps I should set up the birth pool…” it finally hit me how crazy I was being! I was in active labor by myself and worrying about not waking people up!
Finally come to my senses, I woke up Ben and let him know I needed help. I asked him to set up the pool, call Dione, my doula labor assistant, and wake up Bernice. At first he was hesitant, still convinced by my Hypnobirthing level of calm that we had some time to go before things were serious. “We’ll set up the pool when we get to that, it’s okay,” he said.
“So you’re not going to set up the pool, then?” I asked, with the tone I get when I’m serious.
He noticed the change in my voice. “Um, you want me to set up the pool, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I replied decisively. “I need you to set up the pool now.”
“Okay!” he said. This time he got it.
All around me, everyone snapped into gear. Ben woke up Bernice and my parents and they were hovering about me, heating up water, checking vitals again, and listening to the baby with the doppler. But I was oblivious to anything but the surges that were beginning to get ahead of me.
That Final Effort
Ben attempted some tried and true relaxation exercises with me — the ones that inevitably put me to sleep during our months of practice. But it was to no avail. By now the surges were strong enough that they cut through his words and demanded my attention. As they occurred in my lower back and just above my bladder in the front they seemed to play a symphony all their own. They were longer and though they did give me that much needed time to rest in between, it was too short for me to be able to fully connect with our longer relaxation scripts. Had we started earlier, I might have been more fully in the “zone” already and able to focus on the visualizations.
Ben wisely realized this and went fully into the short “reminders” that were also provided as a Hypnobirthing tactic. “Breathe up, up into the balloon,” he chanted. “Limp arms, limp legs, everything relaxed.”
Now in the pool, I let myself float, and held onto his hand while I focused on his voice and my breathing. At some point, Ben put in the sleep relaxation CD that we had purchased. The gentle melodic guitar sounds spoke to everyone in the room and enforced a quiet stillness that left everyone automatically speaking in whispers. The surges were strong enough now that periodically my whole body would tremble, despite how relaxed and silent I was there floating.
When Dione arrived, I turned to her and Bernice and asked, “What are we doing to do to help me get through this? Or am I just going to sit here and cry?”
“It won’t be long now,” was Dione’s reply.
Later on, she told me that she could tell at that point that I was almost there. She put a cold washcloth on my forehead, which helped to bring me back to my body in contrast with the warm water I floated in. I kept with it but began to have thoughts that I wouldn’t make it. I realized I needed to make sounds that would speak out the intensity of what I was feeling, even though the stillness of my body did not.
I tried a low pitch hum, which gave way to a new kind of breathing. Instead of the quiet breath through my nose I exhaled through my mouth and pursed my lips to feel and hear the air push through my mouth. Out of nowhere I felt a lump inside me, and suddenly realized that I was pushing. Although it sounds so predictable as I write it now, it really is impossible to describe how foreign and otherworldly it felt.
How could I be pushing already? Was it really happening? I knew that I needed to stay calm, but on the other hand I knew that if I could just get baby out this would be over!
I shouted, “I can feel the baby!” That was Bernice’s cue to call her assistant, who lived just blocks away. She was across the room now, on the phone. As each contraction came, my body rose out of the water, lifted by my legs on the opposite side of the pool. I let my voice go and alternated between steady breathy exhales and deep low pitched moans. All the while Ben held my hand and kept me breathing with his steady voice.
“The baby’s coming!” I called again. I could feel his head moving down as I pushed with the contractions, still aware of Bernice on the opposite end of the room.
Now the contractions would begin as before, in my back, then intensify and move forward into pushing. I kept wishing I could simply push, instead of feel the terrible tightening of my back before each surge forward. Finally, Bernice was back at the side of the pool and I heard her voice telling me to let my body do the work. “Your body knows,” she said gently.
Her words told me to calm down, not to push too quickly. Like I had been told through Hypnobirthing, I slowed down and focused on long exhales. As we got closer and closer I felt little Del move forward with each contraction, and then recede back as I rested. Then I could feel my skin stretching. I couldn’t believe that he’d ever make it out. The whole room was so still, with Ben still behind me holding my hand and my mom, dad, and son opposite, watching and witnessing little Delano’s head emerge and then recede. Then, finally, his head was out, and I got a break. “Just one more,” Bernice said. I had to keep going, now came his body. I rose again and suddenly he was out into the water. Before I realized what had happened, he was up on my chest. My baby!
How can you describe the surprise of suddenly having your child on your chest with your arms around him after all that hard work? Even though I had had him inside of me all that time it was still so unbelievable to look at him, a little person, lying there ready to be loved. He was still a bluish gray and quiet, having made a gentle transition first into the water. After a few moments he let out a single cry, but he was still a quiet soul. Quiet and alert.
I realized how high the water was around me, now that I was sitting up in the tub, and decided it was time to get out and into bed. At first I moved to hand little baby to Ben, until I was reminded that he was still attached to me by the umbilical cord! So everyone helped me balance myself as I held Del and was lifted out of the tub and guided a few steps away onto our bed.
There as I held Delano and Ben sat beside me I was reminded that I needed to finish and birth the placenta. So engrossed in my little boy how could I distract myself! Del was beginning to nurse by now, so I mustered up a push somehow, even though it felt foreign to me, especially in contrast to the active pushing I had felt earlier. Bernice showed Ben the placenta and the miraculous sac where Del had spent his first months. Then Ben cut the cord and little Delano was his own man.
As we spent the next few hours in a daze Del quietly gazed about the room with his big dark eyes. Janice, Bernice’s assistant, remarked at how calm and quiet he was. “Looks like you got might have gotten lucky and got an easy baby!” she said. She was right that I was lucky — the support I had from Ben, my family, my doula, my Hypnobirthing coach, my midwives, and my supporting doctor came together like a miracle. As far as “easy” I guess time will tell, but I think we got the most perfect baby in the whole world.