Our second baby’s due date was April 25th, 2011. We had an easy pregnancy, and had decided to have a drug-free birth at home. After my 20-week ultrasound showed that we had a healthy baby (no gender - we like the surprise!), we stopped seeing my OB/GYN and saw only my midwife, Jessica.
On the 25th of April, I had five hours of regular contractions that kept me from sleeping. At 2 am, I called in the forces: my midwife Jessica, my friend and photographer Sara, and my babysitter/baby sister Jenny. Jenny and Sara came over, but as soon as they arrived, the contractions stopped. False alarm. Two nights later, I had five more hours of regular contractions. Another false alarm. I grew more frustrated by the day.
When NewBaby was a week past its due date, Jessica performed an exam and found that I was 3-4 centimeters dilated. To put this in perspective, when we were admitted to the hospital to deliver Caleb, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. I was excited to know that my body was working to bring this baby out, but I was frustrated that it wasn’t working faster. Jessica and I discussed different ways I could encourage baby to come faster, then she stripped my membranes and sent me off to my book club. I fully expected to be in active labor as we discussed One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.
The next night, when this child was eight days past its due date, I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer and pulled out the big guns: castor oil and a breast pump. At 7:45 pm on May 3, with Caleb sleeping soundly upstairs, I mixed 2 ounces of castor oil with a chocolate milkshake and downed it all. (Don’t let anyone fool you; a chocolate milkshake will not mask the disgusting flavor of castor oil. Even as I write this, seven weeks later, I can still taste its foul flavor. Ugh.) At 8 pm, I sat down on the couch with my new breast pump and began to follow Jessica’s instructions: pump on one side for two minutes, take a five minute break, pump the other side for two minutes, take a five minute break, and repeat… for two hours. To entertain myself, I watched The Princess and the Frog on Netflix. (It wasn't my first choice, but I didn't plan that part very well.) After the first two minute pumping session, the contractions began.
At 9:30, I called Jessica with a frantic question. “How do I know if it’s really working?” After two false alarms, I was terrified that I would stop pumping, the contractions would continue, I’d call everyone in, and then labor would stop - again. The first time had been really embarrassing, and I didn’t want to repeat that. Jessica assured me that if I stopped pumping and the contractions continued, we could be pretty sure it was real.
So at 10:00, when the contractions continued without the pumping, I thought we might be in business. The pain was intense enough that I got in the shower, remembering how nice the hot water felt on my back when I was in labor with Caleb. I was still unsure when I called Jessica at 10:45 to check in, but as we talked, I became pretty certain this was real labor. Perhaps it was the way the pain from the contractions felt like electricity radiating down my thighs that convinced me. Or maybe it was the fact that, despite my uncertainty, halfway through the phone call Jessica informed me that she was putting her shoes on and coming over. Somehow, I realized this baby was really coming, and called Sara and my mom to come out.
At 11:00, I asked Chris to begin filling up the birth pool in our bedroom. I didn’t even want to wait until he had finished filling it; when the tub was halfway full of water, I climbed in. It felt so good, I didn’t want to leave! I quickly realized, though, that I needed someone to support me in the water.
Before Caleb’s birth, we had taken Bradley Method classes, which emphasized the importance of relaxing through contractions. However, it’s really hard to completely relax your body when you’re at risk of sliding into a pool of water! Chris gamely climbed into the pool with me, and supported me as I leaned back on him. He was exactly what I needed. Part of his support was physical: leaning on him made it easier to relax. Another part was emotional: feeling his warm skin and his breath on my cheek comforted me. A third part was spiritual: as I felt his touch, I knew he was praying for me with each contraction. All of this made it so much easier for me to push through the pain of the contractions.
Jessica and her nurse-assistant, Natalie, arrived around 11:30. They checked on me periodically, but for the most part they hung out in our living room downstairs while Chris and I labored in the birth pool. Initially I wasn’t sure how that would work. What if I needed Jessica for something? Would I have to shout for her? Call her on the phone? But time after time, she showed up exactly when I needed her. Then I realized – she could hear me! I had thought I was laboring really quietly, but Jessica could hear me all the way downstairs. She could tell by the sounds I made with each contraction how intense they were, how hard I was working, and if I needed help or encouragement.
A little bit before 1 am, things started to get more intense. Jessica checked me and told me that I was almost fully dilated, but the baby still needed to rotate to get into position. She suggested that if I moved to my hands and knees, things would move along more quickly. Eager to speed things up, I tried shifting to my hands and knees, but quickly determined it was not for me. Each time I moved and part of my body was out of the water, I had the same reaction: “Oh! I don’t like this!” Eventually, though, I had to leave the water to go to the bathroom. I wanted to wait for the next contraction to be over before I made the arduous five-foot journey, but the contraction didn’t end. It was one on top of another on top of another. When I realized how long the contraction was, I had the faint idea that I might be in transition. Eventually the contractions ended, and I made it to the bathroom. As I peed, I felt a pop, then a gush. My water had broken! Then I started groaning and shaking, and managed to say, “This baby’s coming now!” Jessica, afraid the baby would come while I was on the toilet, grabbed some gloves and came to help me.
Luckily, I made it back to the bedroom. Once I was there, I had to decide whether to deliver my baby in the pool or on my bed. At first, I tried the bed, but got through one contraction there and realized it was not the best option. I just didn’t feel comfortable, and the warmth of the water really eased the discomfort of the contractions. I got back in the water, and prepared to finish this thing.
One contraction. I pushed pushed pushed pushed pushed. Then I rested.
Another contraction. More pushing.
When the break came between contractions, I looked up at Sara (who had come in with her camera) and said, “I don’t remember it hurting this much with Caleb!” A third contraction, and baby’s head was out. Jessica asked me to push more, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any more push in me! (Don’t worry: because the baby went straight from floating in amniotic fluid to the water of the birth pool, it wasn’t at any risk of drowning. They reflexively don’t start breathing until they’re in air. It’s pretty cool.) Jessica tried to help the baby out, but the fact that I was sitting on the floor of a birth pool meant there wasn’t anywhere for the baby to go. Quickly, she helped me up to my hands and knees and the baby slipped right out. Jessica passed the baby up to me, and I clutched it to my chest, in complete shock at what had just happened. We had done it. We had our baby at home. All of the planning and praying had paid off, and now we had our perfect little… little… what was it?
My mom, who is such a worrywart that she didn’t want to be in the room when our baby was born, hadn’t been able to resist the temptation and had snuck up to the door of our bedroom just in time to witness the birth of our child. From across the room, she was the one who saw and shouted, “It’s a girl!”
And it was. After 6 hours of labor, we had a perfect little girl. I held her to my chest, looked up at Chris, and said, “We did it! Thank God it’s a girl!” We had no boy names picked out, but we had known for quite a while that if this baby was a girl, she would be Daisy Kathleen. Daisy for a dream I had many years before, and Kathleen for Chris’ beloved grandmother.
While Chris and I reveled in the joy of this new baby girl, Jessica and Natalie swooped in and started doing all of the things that people do after a baby is born, regardless of where it happened: they took my blood pressure, checked to be sure Daisy was breathing, and wrapped her in blankets. Jessica helped me out of the pool, onto my bed.
There, we waited for Daisy’s umbilical cord to stop pulsing, and then we cut the cord. When Caleb was born, Chris was completely uncomfortable with the thought of being the one to cut the cord. With Daisy, it was still the same. Jessica was just about to take care of it, when Sara asked if she could be the one to do it. So she did.
While I rested on my bed and nursed my brand-new daughter, everyone was a flurry of activity around me. Natalie and Jessica were checking me, checking Daisy, cleaning up. Chris and my mom fetched me a snack – more than anything, I craved an apple, cheddar cheese, and a big glass of chocolate milk. Sara took pictures, my baby sister Jenny arrived, and everything was calm and wonderful.
By 5 am, everyone was gone: Sara and my mom went straight off to work, Natalie and Jessica went home to their families, and Jenny went to sleep in the basement until Caleb woke up. Except for the brand-new baby, you would never know that a child had just been born in our home! Chris and I laid in bed with our beautiful little Daisy, still in a happy shock that everything had gone so perfectly and that we now had a daughter. We got a little sleep before Caleb woke up; he was kind enough to sleep in until after 7 am. (I know you’re curious: despite all of the commotion, Caleb mostly slept through Daisy’s birth. He woke a few times, talked to himself, and went back to sleep without any help.)
Chris had run out to get me some pancakes from IHOP when I heard Caleb’s little voice on the monitor. I went to get him out of his crib, hoping that Chris would be home soon. I knew I couldn’t let Caleb meet his sister without Daddy there! I went into Caleb’s room, picked him up and told him that he had a new baby sister. He accepted this news (and the fact that my giant belly was no longer quite-so-giant) very matter-of-factly. I dressed him in his new “Big Brother” shirt and luckily, Chris returned. Together we brought Caleb in to meet Daisy. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to introduce Caleb and Daisy in our home, on our bed. I really think it made a huge change much less traumatic for Caleb, because there was no weird hospital environment, no absent mommy for several days, no giant disruption in his routine. Just Mommy and Daddy in bed with his new baby sister.