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Alban’s birth story

April 20, 2012

In some ways, I feel that Alban’s birth story is the most boring story in the world because I had such a “textbook” labor. Truly, I progressed through every stage in the right order, and everything took an average amount of time to happen. However, the more birth stories I hear, the more I realize that even “textbook” cases are filled with little moments that make them special, and aspects that deviate from whatever “plan” may have been in place. And since this is the first birth I’ve witnessed first hand, and it happened to be the birth of my own child, it is obviously special to me. So here it is as I recall it 11 weeks and three days after the fact.

The night before I went into labor. With my friend Brooke and Alban's girlfriend, born two months earlier.

On the morning of Monday, January 30 I woke up early because I could feel the pantyliner I was wearing was wet. I quickly went to the bathroom to assess what was going on down there. I was surprised and excited to see some bloody show, a sign that labor is starting. Having been well warned by our midwife not to call her in the middle of the night (it’s better to let her sleep so she can be well-rested when you really need her), I jotted off a quick email to let her know what happened. After a thorough scan through my birth books and a Google search confirmed that labor could be up to two days away, I went back to bed, unconvinced that labor was imminent since I had no other signs. The Braxton Hicks contractions I had been experiencing for the past few weeks (months?) were not longer, stronger, or closer together.

When we arose to start the day, I told Darien to go to work. I didn’t want us to be sitting at home staring at each other, wondering when the baby was coming. He agreed to come home a little earlier than usual. He also called his mother, Julia, who was to be our doula and had to make the trip from southern Maryland, about six hours away. However, we were both convinced that there was not going to be a baby today, so he told her not to come quite yet. So convinced was I that this was not happening yet, I didn’t even call my mother, who was also expecting to attend the birth. I emailed her, also letting her know that it probably wasn’t time to come. Fortunately for us all, neither of our moms listened to our words of denial. They both made travel plans and were in the city by that evening.

Kimm called me later that morning when she got my email. I described the bloody show and explained that nothing else was happening. She agreed that it was just bloody show, not my water breaking, and said she would check back in again later in the day, so I went about my business. Darien gave me a list of things to do to keep me busy, and also to prepare for the possibility that this might be the last baby-free day of my life. Funnily enough, I got everything on the list done except for the one thing that would have had practical application later that night. Kimm told us not to tell our neighbors in advance that we were planning a homebirth because people tend to get really concerned. However, if you slip a note under their door when you’re actually in labor, people get really excited that a baby is coming. One of my tasks was to write those little notes letting our neighbors know not to call the police if things got loud – we’re just having a baby. By the time we needed those notes, I was in way too much labor to write them, or to care that they hadn’t been written. Oops.

I was feeling a little anxious because nothing else was happening, so I continued to look for ways I could move things along. I decided to go to the gym to get my half hour of walking in. Since Kimm doesn’t do internal exams during prenatal care, I had no idea whether I was at all dilated or effaced at this point, and I think I secretly hoped that if I walked fast enough or long enough, the baby might just fall on out. My speed had seriously decreased over the course of my pregnancy, and I now found myself hoofing up a storm at 3.0 next to a man who was more than twice my age going exactly the same speed. Sadface. I was ready to have this baby.

The day continued with more Braxton Hicks, and lots of trips to the bathroom, but nothing else. I thought that maybe if my bowels were empty by go time I wouldn’t have to worry about pooping when I pushed. As it happened, that was far from my mind when it came to pushing. I cared about poop about as much as I cared about being naked in front of my mother and mother-in-law. That is to say, I didn’t care about anything but getting the baby out. It was so not about the poop.

My mom called in the afternoon to say she got my email and couldn’t just wait at home. She would catch a train and stay at a nearby hotel that night. Darien ended up working later than usual trying to tie up loose ends in case he didn’t make it in to work the next day. Kimm called around 7 p.m. and asked if anything had changed. I told her everything was the same, and she asked if I thought I would be able to sleep. I had been having a lot of trouble sleeping for the last few months of my pregnancy. She advised taking a Benadryl and said, “Talk to you in the morning.” My mom called when she got to her hotel. I told her nothing was happening, and we said goodnight.

Darien arrived home around 8 p.m. and made fajitas for dinner. It was as if my body suddenly knew that the birth team was in place and on alert, and now it was OK to go into labor. I began to have contractions that seemed slightly stronger and were noticeable enough that I had to pause every now and then to breathe. We finished dinner and decided that we would just hang out like it was a slumber party. Darien had brought home some snacks, so we noshed on those and watched a few episodes of 30 Rock to keep things light. By the time we had finished two episodes, I had to stop with each contraction and focus. I still found Tina Fey hilarious, but it was starting to get distracting. Darien decided that now was the time to move the dogs in case the baby came that night. He didn’t want to have to do it in the middle of the night, and I certainly didn’t want him to have to leave me to do it if I was deep into labor. He called our friend Jerry to arrange the hand-off. Julia offered to drive them across town to Jerry’s, so Darien took Kipling and Beckett away around 10 p.m.

I labored alone while they were gone, and was really starting to wish I wasn’t alone by the time Darien returned. At this point, the contractions were real enough that we thought it might be good to time a few so we could send some data to Kimm. All the while, we were still dutifully obeying her rule not to call her unless it was really time. We timed for about half an hour, and Darien emailed Kimm. Within three minutes, she called him saying, “I’m so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet.” She asked what was happening, listened to me through one contraction, then instructed us to call her when we felt like it was time to set up the birth pool. We hung up and realized that we were not going to get any sleep that night.

One of Kimm’s instructions had been to buy two plastic sheets, one for the bed and one for under the pool. Earlier in the day, I made up the bed with our good sheet on the bottom covered by the plastic, and then both of those layers covered by an old sheet. We pulled the bed down (we have a Murphy bed) and I laid down to try to rest a bit. I shot up in pain at the first hint of the next contraction, thinking “Oh hell no. There is no way I am laboring in that bed.” It was so painful we put the bed back up and I didn’t lay back down in it until after the birth.

I labored in various positions around the apartment. I tried the birth ball. I tried squatting. I leaned over the sofa. I walked. I swayed. We slow danced. Darien pressed on my hips, which ended up being a miracle maneuver that kept him busy for the majority of the rest of my labor. At one point, Darien laid down on the sofa for a nap and I labored by myself in the other room. Out of curiosity, I decided to time some more contractions. Over the course of about 20 minutes, I noticed that they were getting awfully close together, and much stronger. I woke Darien up in disbelief: “Are these really two minutes apart?” He looked at the timer and decided that it was time to set up the pool. However, being that it happened to be 3 a.m., he hesitated calling Kimm, so he started setting up the pool first, and called her a few minutes later so he could say he didn’t call her at 3 o’clock in the morning. At this point, he also called both our moms and told them it was time to come over.

The contractions were getting pretty intense at this point. I had to breathe and focus hard through them. I was beginning to moan. Julia was the first to arrive, and by the time she got there I was doubled over on the sofa, our wedding quilt wrapped around me because I felt cold. They set up the pool and they had some trouble getting the liner in right. Finally, it was inflated and they started to fill it. I remember thinking that it seemed to take forever to fill up. The birth pool was big enough for two people to fit in, and a container that big takes a while to fill from a bathroom faucet.

My mom and Kimm arrived at pretty much the same time, though I was in so much labor I barely noticed them come in. I had a moment of wondering if it would be awkward because I was completely naked and getting ready to push a person out of me, but it passed so quickly that I never gave it a second thought. It was so not about being naked.

As soon as I got in the pool, I felt instantly better. It was shocking what a difference it made. What had started to feel truly painful was immediately manageable again. This was perhaps my favorite part of labor. We were all crammed into our living room. I was in the tub, and my birth team was assembled around me. They were a wonderful ring of support. We chatted and laughed and I felt completely normal in between contractions. Kimm had me use my mom as a focal point during contractions, and I held one of her hands and one of Julia’s hands through each wave as Darien pressed on my hips. Some were harder than others. One particularly painful one caused me to break my mom’s gaze, press my head into the side of the pool and sob. But, as our Bradley teacher explained, “You always get another chance because there’s always another contraction.” Sure enough, the next one was better.

In between contractions, I drank some chicken broth that I had made earlier in the day, but as labor progressed, it made me feel nauseated and all I wanted was water. I wished later that I could get the bitter taste of bile and chicken out of my mouth. After about an hour and a half of laboring in the water, I took a bathroom break. It’s crucial to stay hydrated and also drain your bladder frequently during labor. By the second bathroom break, I couldn’t go, but Kimm had me stay on the toilet while she took my blood pressure. The contractions were coming so fast that it took several before she could get a good reading. That was excruciating. I was so relieved when she let me get back in the water. This time, Darien joined me in the pool, so I could lean on him and he could continue with the hip compressions from a more comfortable position.

As I approached transition, Kimm checked me for the first time. I was in the pool, and she put on a pair of gloves and had a flashlight because it was dark in the room except for some candles. She said I was at 7 cm. I remember thinking, “Only 7? I still have to go through transition!” The next time she checked me was at 5:20, according to her notes, when my water broke in the pool, no meconium. She asked me to feel for the head. She told me she could feel a lot of hair. I felt the firmness of a skull covered by a mushy squished scalp, but I confess I could not distinguish whether there was hair or not. Either way, that head still seemed awfully far away from being born.

Now would be the time when we should have put those lovely notes under our neighbors’ doors. However, we were instead consumed with the work of bringing a baby into the world. As the contractions grew stronger and longer, my cries grew louder and louder. This was perhaps the most surprising part of labor for me. I had read so many birth stories, and heard about women just popping babies out without breaking a sweat. Being a singer, and protective of my voice, I assumed I would labor pretty quietly. I would breathe and focus and maybe use a low hum. I certainly wasn’t going to be a screamer like those outrageous depictions of birth in the movies and on TV. Ha! I had absolutely no control over what came out of my mouth. Moans, sighs, groans, cries. They all came out, each more surprising to me than the last.

Knowing that I sing, Kimm suggested I sing through some contractions. However, no one offered up any suggestions for what to sing, and as I am horrible at making decisions, what came to my head was perhaps the least sensible thing to sing during labor: a Mozart aria. I sputtered and crawled through “Deh vieni, non tardar,” each phrase punctuated by howls and grunts. This is surely the worst singing I have ever done in my entire life, but possibly also the most productive since it got me through transition. I finished the aria and Kimm told me to keep singing, so I started the next thing to pop into my head, a French art song. I was so frustrated by this point because I was in a lot of pain, the contractions were coming right on top of one another, and I couldn’t remember the damn words. With each disrupted phrase, I could hear my voice becoming shrill and high. Remembering everything I had read, I kept trying to keep my forehead soft, my jaw relaxed, and my noises low, but I found myself failing time and again.

For his part, Alban’s heartbeat remained strong and steady the whole time, and he was in perfect position. After months of posture work, he had stayed occiput anterior (OA), which meant I did not have any back labor, and he was also straight, with his chin tucked. Every time Kimm held the Doppler wand to my abdomen, the wonderful sound of that little heartbeat throbbed and pulsed, filling the silence of the room.

Poor Darien was literally supporting me during transition by holding my entire weight. We were both standing in the pool, but at the height of each contraction, my legs curled up under me, so he was carrying me through the worst of it. My arms around his neck, he braced his legs, and I sang and groaned. I can’t say I knew where the baby was the whole time, but I felt as though my body was being slowly exploded apart. My pelvis was so full, and it seemed like there was a giant head everywhere inside me.

The thinking part of my brain knew that as it got harder, it meant that I was getting closer to meeting my baby. The more you think you can’t do it, the more imminent the birth. But I questioned how long I would have to deal with the really hard contractions. At one point I called out pathetically, “Kimm?!” She answered, “This is a bridge you have to cross yourself. This is the birth you wanted.” It wasn’t so much that I wanted her to do it for me. I just wanted to know that it was getting close to being over. You really think you won’t be able to manage, but then you get through the next contraction and you’re that much closer.

I was almost completely dilated and starting to feel “pushy.” Kimm asked me to get out of the pool so she could check me. I laid down on our sofa, hastily covered with protective pads and towels. She guided me through another contraction as she pushed back a tiny lip of my cervix. Next, she announced that we had reached the “fun” part, and that it wouldn’t hurt. I thought, “You are so lying. I’ve head about the ring of fire.”

As I stepped out of the pool that last time, I recall looking down and seeing that the water was red. I became alarmed, not because I was afraid I was bleeding too much, since I know that only a tiny amount can look like a whole bunch when it’s diffused in water, but because I thought it was because I had torn. I despaired at the thought of having to heal from a tear. It was the number one thing I was worried about. Alas, this baby still had to be born. If I had torn already, how bad would it be when the head finally came all the way out?

She had me stay on the sofa and lean back against Darien to push through the next contraction. Fortunately, I felt the urge to push with each contraction that followed. I was surprised to find that it did hurt less. Or, it hurt in a different way, I suppose. The contractions no longer felt like they were ripping my insides apart, but the pressure of a head moving through me replaced the previous pain with a new one.

Kimm exclaimed, “Look at that hair!” Our moms enthusiastically agreed, “We see it!”

Kimm decided that we needed to make some room for the baby to come out. Since I hadn’t been able to go to the bathroom, she used a catheter and drained my bladder.

Next, she decided to help move things along. We would later learn that our friends from birth class were laboring at the same time, and Kimm needed to get to their birth as soon as she was done here. She confessed, “I could tell when the pushing started that this could be a two to three hour push, or I could do some things to help you along and make it a one hour push.” I thanked her for the extra help. Still, when she told me that it would take three pushes and my baby would be born, I did not believe her at all.

Kimm sat cross-legged on the end of the sofa with my feet on her knees. Darien held my legs from behind, and I played tug-of-war with a towel between me and Kimm with each push. Pushing was quite satisfying in that it was the most active part of labor. I was exerting myself like it was the hardest workout of my life. Active labor is frustrating because to be helpful, you have to get out of your own way, try to relax as much as possible and just let your body open. Pushing is the opposite. That baby was not going to slide right out. It required some serious effort. Each contraction yielded two or three pushes lasting ten to fifteen seconds each. I would grab a quick breath in between, and continue as long as I could.

At some point, Kimm asked my mom to bring the oxygen over and give me some during each push. I guess I needed some extra energy. I did feel my strength waning a bit. It was very exhausting, and I wasn’t sure how much progress I was making.

As the head began to crown, our moms got more excited. Kimm told me the head was coming. For a moment, I thought about asking someone to bring the handheld mirror from the bathroom so I could see, but then I thought better of it. I was too chicken to look at what was happening down there. I just wanted the baby out.

Kimm placed my hand to feel the head, and that time I could really feel it. I think I smiled for the first time in about three hours. With the next push, I heard my mom say “We can see the face!” and I thought, “You people are lying to me. I have seen the birth movies. Once the head is out, the body comes sliding out with the next push. If you can see the face, that means the head is out, and if the head is out, that means the body should have come out by now and the body is certainly not out!”

Kimm asked me to curve my spine and push up, which I thought was weird given all that I had read about pushing on your back and fighting gravity, but it seemed necessary to move the head into the next position to get it out.

By this time, Julia was pouring olive oil liberally all over Kimm’s hands. Things were getting pretty messy. Kimm got very businesslike and told me I had to turn over on my hands and knees. She asked Darien to help me do so. I thought she must be joking. There was no way I could move at this point. Somehow they flipped me over and I was leaning into Darien. Our heads were close together, and I was looking over his left shoulder. She told me not to push, and then to give one final strong one.

Whatever the head felt like coming out was nothing compared to an entire body slipping through. Turns out the shoulders had gotten stuck. Hand and knees is the standard fix for that complication. And that’s when I tore, according to Kimm.

The baby slipped out and under me. I was quickly shifted back onto my butt, and the baby was passed beneath me so it was laying on towels between me and Darien. Kimm knelt next to us on the floor, rubbing vigorously. I instantly felt so empty and relieved and exhilarated, I didn’t even worry that the baby was still blue and not yet breathing. Kimm gave a little mouth-to-mouth and there was the first cry. She gave him some oxygen, and his cries continued to get stronger and louder. The rest of the room breathed again.

Check out that head of hair!

While we were all waiting for that first breath, no one had bothered to check whether we had a boy or a girl, so I looked down to investigate and happily announced that we had a boy! Darien had been right. I think in that moment, Darien and I both rejoiced that we got to use our boy’s name, which we both loved, and “Cletus” was banished from memory completely. All at once, we had Alban, and he was always Alban, and we couldn’t imagine him ever being anyone else. It was 7:08 a.m.

"This is not what I signed on for!"

We hugged and kissed and held our baby between us. I was thrilled by the sense of accomplishment I felt. I had done it. We had done it. All of us in that room. Here was this little person we had waited months to meet. Our birth “plan” had been fulfilled. We were rewarded with a beautiful, healthy boy.

The cord had stopped pulsating by this time, and Kimm asked Darien to cut the cord. It was firm and rubbery looking. Just like that, Alban was on his own, an independent being.

I was vaguely aware that our sofa had become a war zone, covered in blood and amniotic fluid and olive oil and god knows what other byproducts of birth. I had neglected to protect it because while I wasn’t adamant that I should birth in the water, I just assumed I would. Kimm asked that I crouch over a bowl to collect the placenta. Again, I thought she must be crazy if she thought I was going to be able to move. But again, I managed to do what needed to be done and somehow got off the sofa enough to let the placenta fall out with one little push. In pregnancy, I thought I would be really interested in looking at it and possibly even photographing it, but I was so consumed with looking at Alban that I couldn’t have cared less about the now useless organ that fed him and filtered toxins all those months inside me. If we had a yard, perhaps we would have planted a tree over it, but since we don’t and I had no plans to eat or encapsulate it, I was grateful when Julia offered to take it and bury it near her home.

Kimm checked the placenta to make sure it had come out in one piece. Everything looked good. She commented that by the looks of it, she thought maybe the due date was a week off, and perhaps Alban wasn’t born 10 days early, but more or less right on time.

It was time to lie down. My mom opened the bed. It was a place of rest once again. Kimm grabbed one of the large pads from the birth kit and placed it under me. I waddled to the bed, feeling a gush from beneath me as I stood up. As I settled into a mound of pillows with Alban on my chest, Kimm checked me for tears and said she thought it would be best to give me a few stitches in one spot. I didn’t absolutely need them, but she thought I would heal better that way. Our birth teacher and midwife-in-training Tanya showed up at this point. She had missed the birth because Kimm had texted her instead of calling.

Julia helped with the suture kit, and my mom comforted me as Kimm gave me a shot of lydocaine. It’s hard to compare this pain with the pain of transition or the pain of pushing a person out of me, but at the time, this seemed like it was the worst part of birth. I had my baby and I was ready for the area to be vacated already. Fortunately, it was over fairly quickly. Kimm gave me three stitches and Tanya applied some sort of powder to help with the bleeding. They replaced my pad and had me put on the most glamorous pair of mesh underwear.

Alban was not keen on the poking and prodding.

Tanya assisted with the newborn assessment. Kimm brought out the tape measure and scale. Everyone else guessed his weight, and Darien was closest. He was a hefty 8 lb. 4 oz. I knew he would be an 8 lb. baby! We marveled at his fingers and toes. We examined his head, which was cone shaped from delivery, but quickly molding back. He had a full head of hair, as well as downy fuzz all along his shoulders and down his back.

Because Kimm had to go help the other couple, she gave us a quick briefing on after care and told us she’d check in again with us later. Tanya helped her gather her equipment, and they left to the next birth. Our moms worked to get the immediate mess more or less contained, then they left to get a bite to eat. Darien and I were alone with our son for the first time. We looked at each other and looked at Alban, laid down, and fell into a blissful sleep. Our little family was safe at home, cozy in our own bed, oblivious to the world outside, reveling in our joy, overwhelmed by our unbelievable luck.

Now, more than ever, I am certain that planning a homebirth was the right choice for our family. I felt comfortable and safe the entire time. I felt supported and well cared for. There was never a moment when I was afraid. Not when I thought I couldn’t keep going during transition, and not when Alban failed to start right away. I knew that the pain was temporary, and I had complete faith in Kimm’s ability to assess the situation and tell me if things needed to change. I knew that Alban was still attached to the placenta and would be fine until he was ready to breathe. I was also willing to accept it if he didn’t start breathing, and believed that we had not done anything wrong. I had made peace with that possibility, and had confidence in our choice. Yet, I also acknowledge that we were lucky. We were prepared. We were educated. We were ready. And we had a beautiful birth.

I am so glad that I invited my mom and Julia to be a part of our birth team and that they both agreed to be there. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I wasn’t sure if I would want people there, or if I would want to labor by myself. It turned out to be incredibly helpful to have their support. Julia was a calm, confident presence, as she had experienced childbirth first hand as a mother and as a doula. And my mom turned out to be a total rockstar. She mothered me through those waves of pain, and I can’t imagine having done it without her. Being surrounded by women and bolstered by my husband was the perfect combination. And never once did I consider yelling at Darien or blaming him for doing this to me. Laboring together and experiencing the birth of our son was one of the most intimate events of our relationship, and I will always cherish that time as one of the most significant transitions of our life.

Now that I’m on the other side, I can understand why some women choose differently in birth. I understand why someone might want the security of a hospital setting, or might not have the option to birth at a birth center or at home. If you are in a hospital and have interventions thrown at you as protocol, it is mighty hard to fight back. If I had been confined to lie down in a bed strapped to a monitor, I would not have been able to go drug-free, especially if a nurse kept coming in every half hour offering an epidural. Lying on my back was excruciating, and the pain of labor was real. It was only manageable because I had the freedom of movement, the birth pool, and my birth team supporting me. And because I had no other option at home. I had to just push through. Yes, I could have transferred and gotten some drugs, but that would have required going out into the night and getting in a vehicle, which, even at the time, seemed like a worse choice than having to feel every single spasm and endure the full effect of transition. Ultimately, I had the confidence to keep going because I was educated, I trusted my caregiver, and my birth team exuded nothing but calm confidence back to me at the peak of my doubt.

I also have a healthy appreciation for those other options when they are needed. Having heard the varied birth stories of our classmates, I fully endorse hospital intervention when necessary. There is a reason we have highly skilled surgeons and powerful drugs. They work wonders when they’re needed. I am grateful that we didn’t need them, and I am equally grateful that they would have been there if we had needed them.

showered and resting comfortably

For us, our homebirth went off with just a few minor hitches (that sofa will never be the same!), and we can remember that day with fondness. Though, to be honest, I don’t do much fond reflection nowadays. I’m too busy mothering this little man we worked so hard to bring peacefully into this world. And that suits me just fine. I’m not quite ready to be nostalgic about this birth yet. I’ve got my hands plenty full with one baby to be thinking about doing this again anytime soon.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. wendalyn81 permalink
    April 20, 2012 10:03 pm

    I love that photo of the three of you. You look so happy, relieved, grateful, and beautiful. 🙂

  2. Julie Hudson permalink
    April 22, 2012 10:43 pm

    What a great picture of you and your little guy! Hope you are all doing well as we approach Mother’s Day- your first! Enjoy, and sorry about the couch!

  3. jrbates57 permalink
    April 23, 2012 9:22 am

    Beautifully written! Thanks for all the ‘my perspective’ information. It was an honor to be present.

  4. Kimm permalink
    April 23, 2012 5:20 pm

    Thanks for story, Betsy. I think I sound like dictator midwife. 🙂

    Although at that part when all women hit a wall, during that mighty transition – when they feel they couldn’t go on anymore, it’s a point of dichotomy for me. I could tell her, yes you’re almost there, but in order for that to happen, she has to release the idea time and space, and metaphorically release her gripping fingers from the edge of the cliff, and allow herself fall into the abyss. For you, that was that point when you called my name. I walked away from your birth as I usually do, amazed at what you did.

    Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey.


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