Almost seven years ago, I gave birth to my daughter. My pregnancy began with really bad “all day” sickness in the first trimester, where I would watch Dr. Zhivago between trips to the bathroom to puke. My second trimester was grand, as I was big enough to look pregnant and not just fat, and I felt really good. I had the glow. The third trimester was a challenge, as I gained 55 pounds overall and cried when I couldn’t squat long enough to plant my onions. Then, exactly on her due date, my daughter entered the world.
We live in a very remote region of Northern California. Our closest hospital (that won’t do births) is an hour and half away. Our midwives would not take the risk of a home birth at our off-the-grid homestead, nor did we feel entirely comfortable with the idea, so we decided rent a house in town for our birth. A couple was going to Senegal for the summer, so it worked out perfectly that we could use their home for a month. It was about 15 minutes from the closest hospital, although no hospitals on the coast have an neo-natal intensive care unit. I wanted a home birth, and this was the closest I could get to one.
Everyone feared I would go into labor in the mountains, so several days before my due date, we went to town to wait it out. I was restless and knew I would never go into labor in town, so we returned home. I went for a long hike, and that night the real contractions began. I was walking down our driveway as my husband pulled up, and I said, I think it is time to go. My mother was here, but I feared her driving on the mountain roads, and we needed to take two cars for our dog to accompany us to town and fit everyone. So, I drove myself in labor two hours to the house we rented. My mother and I timed my contractions, but even though they were five minutes apart, I kept on driving (that’s how much I fear my mother’s driving!).
When we reached where a cell phone will work, I called my midwife. She could judge what stage of labor I was in by how well I could carry on a conversation, so she wasn’t too concerned. We reached the house we had rented and awaited the midwives’ apprentice to arrive. When Elizabeth, the apprentice arrived, I was annoyed that the midwives were taking their sweet time coming. I didn’t want Elizabeth, I wanted Jan and Marlene. I thought I was really progressing, but little did I know I had 19 more hours of labor ahead of me.
The birthing tub was set up, and I took turns between lying in bed, being in the tub, and going for walks. Nothing really worked for the pain, and I tried using combs on pressure points to offer some relief. I have a low threshold for pain, so after 16 hours of labor I was exhausted. My mathematical mind figured how far I should be dilated by a certain time, and when I had not progressed according to my formula, I was mentally devastated. I declared, “I want drugs!”
My Danish midwife recognized this plea as one for change. She leveled with me. It was 3:00 pm, and by the time I got to the hospital and was admitted, I would be having this baby, and there would be no time for drugs. She was right, my daughter was born at 6:50 pm, but in the meantime, those slave driving midwives took me for a hike to the river. I envisioned having my baby on the river banks, which I really didn’t want to do, so I found myself grimacing in pain and holding back.
That’s what I learned from my first labor. I clinched with each contraction, held it in, did not let go. I did not open, but I tightened with the pain and fought it every step of the way. My daughter remained crowned for three hours, and my midwives actually thought there might be a need for an episiotomy, even though in twenty years they had never done one. As any good midwife will do, they were patient and let my daughter come out as she needed to, as her heart rate remained normal and there was no need to rush things along. No interventions were needed.
I was on my hands and knees in the birthing tub when my daughter was born. Her daddy got to catch her as her grandmother watched. We carried her still attached to me to the bed, and immediately put her on the breast. She fed like she knew what to do, and we stared at her in amazement. Our plan was to wait until her cord stopped pulsing to cut it, but after the placenta was delivered, all hell broke loose, and that was forgotten for awhile.
I bled, and I bled, and I bled. My uterus would not contract. I lost a lot of blood. The apprentice gave me a shot of pitocin in the leg, and my husband held a flashlight as one midwive performed manual compressions on my uterus. If you’ve ever had someone shove their arm up to their elbow in your uterus while applying pressure from above, you know what I felt. It was worse than labor, far worse. My husband asked if we should be getting ready to transport to the hospital; my midwives said there was no time. My mother thought I was going to bleed to death. Suckling my daughter, I tuned it all out and put my faith in the universe that it would all be how it was meant to be.
The bleeding stopped. I was very weak. My mother was sent on a mission to buy Shepard’s Purse, Vitamin C, echinacea, black cherry juice, and Floradix. My midwives said they would start an iv if I wanted, but they felt that I could rebound if I followed their regime. I was sentenced to two weeks of bed rest.
We stayed in town for three days. I was too weak to take my daughter to the pediatrician and hospital for her PKU testing, so my husband and mother did it alone. She kept nursing like a champ, and I maintained that new momma bliss despite my weakened state. The 2.5 hour drive home was hard (my mother’s driving), and I felt feverish when we arrived. Lying on the couch, which became my home since I wasn’t allowed to climb stairs to our bedroom, I got very chilled despite the 90 degree temperatures. I was shivering and feared we needed to go to the hospital. My body temperature stabilized, and life went on.
After my hemorrhaging, you might think that I would be nervous about home births. I felt full confidence in my midwives to handle the situation, and I chose a home birth for my second child. My midwives were well trained (one in Denmark and one was a licensed midwive in CA), and I never once doubted their ability to handle the situation. In fact, I feel so blessed to have had people that cared about me be there in my time of need. My midwives say my life was not at risk, and I believe them. They felt compassion for my mother’s worries, and they also respect her for being cool throughout it all.