My first birth was a disappointing hospital birth. My second was a hopeful, healing homebirth. This is my story.
With every birth a mother is born. Whether it’s your first or fifth birth, it is a transformative time, poignant and capable of creating personal revolutions. As soon as my husband, Chad, and I found out we were expecting a baby, I knew I was going to give birth at home. My experience giving birth to my first son in a hospital was not something I wanted to repeat, for multiple reasons.
I was a single parent when my first son, Sunny, was born, and, unfortunately, a sense of loneliness is what I most associate with his birth. I had read Spiritual Midwifery and had watched The Business of Being Born; I knew (with as much vague certainty as a first-time mother can have) that I wanted an empowering, informed birth experience. I still chose to birth in a hospital, “just in case,” but I felt confident. Reading Ina May’s birth literature, I strongly connected with the philosophy that creating the same vibes that got baby in there—sensuality, privacy, intimacy—can help baby get out. I knew what I wanted, but my experience was very different.
The short version of my first birth experience is this.
I labored for 40 hours, 20 or so of it mind-blowingly hard. My mom was there and I had a wonderful doula, but I still felt so alone, unable to create the sense of comfort and intimacy I had so desperately wanted. I tested positive for GBS, so I had to be on antibiotics the entire time, an IV hanging out of my hand. I was “stuck” at 3cm for most of my labor, unable to progress despite tremendously harsh waves of contractions. I was afraid of these waves; I ran from them; I was tortured by them, and the exhaustion was mentally and physically devastating.
I wandered the halls of the hospital, knowing that walking should help. But being surrounded by so many random strangers was a bizarre, impersonal, relatively violating experience. I was poked, prodded, and subjected to multiple unnecessary vaginal exams. I was told I wasn’t progressing fast enough; Pitocin was recommended which led to an epidural, and my hopes of a natural, empowering birth crumbled around me. I gave birth on my back, with nurses holding my legs apart, telling me in my numbness when I was supposed to push, with an oxygen mask over my face and a team of nurses assembling, ready to pull my baby out because I was taking too long.
I feel fortunate that, overall, interventions were limited and Sunny was born vaginally. He was born healthy and for that I am eternally thankful, but my experience stole something from me, took from me my ability to believe in myself, to trust my body, to know I could birth.
Afterward my son was born, I had this strange feeling that I’d been in an accident, that I was in the hospital because something bad had happened. Nurses came in and out of my room all night long, I was given terrible breastfeeding advice, we couldn’t sleep. When it was time for me to check out, I drove myself and my baby home alone, and we spent our postpartum days alone, just the two of us. I consider myself extremely blessed for having discovered Attachment Parenting during my first pregnancy– the breastfeeding, cosleeping, and babywearing, the connection we formed saved me and gave me more purpose and direction than I ever could have imagined.
My pregnancy this time around was vastly different, full of so much love and hope.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude just thinking about it. The support and joy from my husband, my son, my family, friends, and my midwife worked to heal wounds I didn’t even know I had. I practiced Hypnobabies regularly, reprogramming my beliefs and attitude towards birth.
Related: A Love Letter To My Midwife
I was skeptical — could self-hypnosis and positive birth affirmations really help me heal from my last experience? Could it give me the ability to not want to run from contractions, to face them and not feel defeated? I went with it, and found the hypno scripts incredibly soothing and inspiring. I told myself every day that my contractions cannot be stronger than me because they are me, that my body was made to birth, that I can ride the waves of contractions and each one will bring me closer to meeting my baby.
I did a fear-clearing session with my doula that left me with tears pouring from my eyes, but feeling more whole and ready. I talked to Chad often about my hopes and fears regarding birth, what I thought I would need from him, what his fears were, and how much I looked forward to giving birth with his support.
I still worried.
What if this labor was long and harsh like my last one? What if my body fails to dilate effectively? What if I have to transfer due to sheer exhaustion? What if I’m just not made to do this? I acknowledged these fears and tried to let them go.
My birthing process started with a dream.
Early in the morning on Tuesday the 8th of April, I posted the following on Facebook:
“I had the most beautiful dreams about birthing last night, off and on all night. I was on the beach, watching my friend have her baby, from bird’s-eye view. The waves were crashing in and out, leaving images on the beach; detailed drawings of various birth scenes in the sand, including a red mama tiger giving birth to her tiger baby. It was so beautiful! I need to try to draw it, but I feel I could never capture it properly.
In my dream I found a bathroom on the beach and checked myself to find I had lost my mucous plug and had my bloody show. When I woke up, I found that my dream was right— I had in fact lost my mucous plug, and pressure waves are rolling in around me. Birthing time has begun!”
In a surreal in-between state of sleep and waking, I was apparently in labor throughout the night. (My friend from the dream ended up having her baby at home two hours after me!)
By 5am the contractions (and my excitement) were making it difficult to sleep, and I knew Chad would be awake and getting ready to leave for work, so I went downstairs to meet him in the kitchen. He asked how I was feeling, and I started out by explaining my dream, then letting him know that I really had lost my mucous plug. He exclaimed, “Is this it?! Should I stay home?”
I was unsure if he should stay home from work; I thought maybe he should go, just in case this was early labor and we were in for a long ride. I could always call him back home if things progressed rapidly. But timing the contractions told me they were a mere 3-4 minutes apart, and so he decided to stay. I was paying a lot of attention to each pressure wave, swaying, breathing, and dancing through them. I warmed up some homemade chicken broth to sip on, set up my Hypnobabies CDs in the bathroom, and started a bath with essential oils and epsom salts. The pressure waves were not physically intense, but mentally they were taking all of my attention, as it dawned on me that this was real, this was it, birthing time was here and my story was about to unfold.
In the tub, contractions slowed to about 10 minutes apart. I tried not to pay it much mind, but I was a little disappointed. My doula had a one-hour homebirth; my sister had a five-hour homebirth– my heart desired that kind of experience, where labor starts and it doesn’t take two exhausting days to work its magic. Chad gave me a long massage, and the waves slowed down even more. We rested together, held and touched each other, enjoyed these moments of quiet anticipation.
I felt some fear creep in as the day continued on.
My labor was progressing slowly. I was content and comfortable and surrounded with love, but I was also reflecting on my experience with my first son. What if this took so long that I reached the point of exhaustion like I had before? Would I be able to make it 40 hard hours at home? When I got up to make food or walk around, my contractions picked up. I was torn– should I rest while I was able, or should I be up, walking and moving, trying to really get things flowing? Again I looked at these fears and worked to let them go.
I talked to my doula and my midwife, and they both recommended that I simply rest and let my body do the work. So I laid on the couch, breathing through contractions, soaking in the ease of this experience. We listened to music and watched a movie, which provided a good distraction. Sunny played and watched cartoons, checking on me regularly. My love for him in particular overwhelmed me again and again throughout the day. I knew these were my last moments as a mother of one. I wandered around the house, enjoying the feeling of my body moving instinctively through these pressure waves. I took advantage of my huge appetite, eating lots of oatmeal, homemade chicken soup, smoothies, and other nourishing foods. As the day carried on into evening, I knew I needed to continue to eat in order to embrace what was in front of me.
I went upstairs and spent some time in my birthing space.
I had hung pictures of birthing women and positive birth affirmations next to where the tub would be. Two labor candles sat near a box I had received at my Blessingway, a hand painted box containing letters to my unborn baby from dear friends who love and support us. A picture of me and Chad, and a mama-baby sculpture were placed on the shelf to serve as focal points.
I sat for a while with a basketball my husband had inscribed for me after a funny pregnancy dream, in which I had a special “pregnancy basketball” covered in positive birth affirmations. In my dream, this ball was everything to me. It was the answer. In my dream, it rolled out the door of my house, into the yard of a nearby family’s house. Their yard was full of basketballs, and I couldn’t find mine. They tried to give me one of theirs, but I knew it wasn’t the same. I needed my pregnancy basketball! So Chad made one for me. (I love him!)
I had tested positive for GBS again, but chose to follow this protocol instead of getting antibiotics this time. I took vitamin C with bioflavanoids knowing that it would help keep my bag of waters intact (reducing the risk of GBS transmission to baby), and thus far it had worked– my water had not broken. But I became concerned as night-time approached. If my water did break, how much time did I have? I realized that was one thing I didn’t cover with my midwife– was there a time limit to this considering the GBS status? I called her, and she immediately eased my fears. She explained that she was hesitant to tell me this, but she was actually at another birth. So I could take it easy, sleep as much as possible throughout the night, and call her when things picked up. My body would do the work, and as long as my waters were intact, I should disregard the clock. A phone call with my doula told me the same things. She reminded me to trust my body, to relax and embrace the infinite moment. These were things I knew, but it felt good to have them reiterated. I felt renewed.
This is when I really started to use my Hypnobabies.
Understanding that this was early labor, that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to, and that I needn’t worry– I was done paying so much attention to all of it. I wanted to sleep, to stop the thoughts racing in my mind. Up until that point, I had been remembering my Hypnobabies script (I can do this, my baby is safe, my body will open…). But I hadn’t really been utilizing the self-hypnosis or the hypno-anesthesia. So I challenged myself. I would lay on the couch, getting my feet and legs rubbed by my sweet loving husband, and I would remain still. I would look directly at the contraction instead of humming, swaying, or walking through it, and I would continue to rest. Sleep even. And I played a head game with myself– “These are nothing but gas pains. I ate too much ice cream yesterday.” My contractions felt a lot like strong tummy-ache pains. I wouldn’t give every ounce of my attention to a gas pain or menstrual cramp, so why devote so much of my energy to these contractions? I mellowed out. I envisioned a warm light of anesthesia flowing through my body, heading towards my uterus, and soothing the consistent ache.
And it worked. I laid still, feeling each pressure wave, but not reacting. The pain wasn’t gone, but it was remarkably different. It was fine. I rode over it easily. I wasn’t afraid. The amount of strength I gained from this was an incredibly healing moment, as I had been fearing going into the night. If I’d thought it would be a short labor, going into the night would be fine– I’d put some music on, invite my birth team over, maybe bake the brownies I had saved for this event. But I knew it was feeling long and getting longer, so I wanted to sleep. And trying desperately to sleep through labor felt so sad last time. Going into the night inspired that same deep sense of loneliness that I’d had with my first son’s birth.
But thanks to my Hypnobabies practice, I was able to sleep. I wanted Chad to get some solid rest too, so he went downstairs to a separate bed, and I curled up with Sunny. I wanted to be close to my son, and I found so much comfort in laying next to him. I continued to breathe through contractions, barely noticing them anymore, although they were picking up in intensity. And I slept.
I awoke at midnight to find that I was needing a stronger, more focused dose of hypno-anesthesia to make it through each contraction. It was going into Wednesday morning now, and things were getting more challenging. I was able to make it calmly through the first half of each contraction, and then I had to squirm around and moan. I tried the trick Sunny had reminded me of throughout the day– “Remember to smile after every pressure wave.” So, even though I didn’t feel like it, I smiled. In the dark, next to my 5-year-old, I squirmed and moaned through these new sensations, and smiled after every one. Finally it became too much and I knew I needed to move.
I went downstairs and joined Chad in bed.
He woke up immediately, and we laid there together, sleeping for five minutes at a time. We alternated our rest with contractions and counter-pressure. I would wake up and say “Push please,” while starting the contraction timer on my phone, and he would push hard on my lower back, easing the ache, taking my mind off it. We did this while laying in bed, until it got to the point that I had to sit up and roll my hips through every wave. Then it got to the point where the only thing that felt right was hopping out of bed and throwing myself down on my knees in some sort of prayerful stance, pressing my forehead to the mattress and moaning until each wave passed.
As I did this, my husband asked if he should get behind me and continue the counter pressure. I couldn’t speak, but he did it anyway, and it was exactly what I needed. Every time I moved, he moved with me. His support was perfect and whole. I reminded myself to keep my forehead relaxed, to press my tongue gently against the back of my teeth and keep my jaw loose– this felt essential to dilating effectively. I could no longer ride on top of the waves, but I fully surrendered to them.
At 4:35am I texted my midwife and told her the surges were picking up significantly. She asked me how far apart they were; I told her five minutes, and described the long, low, easier contraction I’d been experiencing in between each big one. She said she would come over. I wasn’t really getting a break anymore; the waves were crashing in fast and furious, and I also recognized that my baby felt extremely low. He seemed to have the hiccups, and I could feel them so low in my body; it was such a surreal sensation. Chad asked if he should get the pool ready; I told him yes. I am glad he asked, because I was so far in Labor Land that I’d nearly forgotten about it.
I intended to have my doula and her partner (a birth photographer) at the birth, but I didn’t want to call them too early, with my history of longer birthing times. Especially since it was early morning, I decided to wait. As much as I would have appreciated their presence throughout this experience, I love the fact that it was just me and Chad. I’d talked a dozen times during pregnancy about my desire to create a solid, intimate connection with him during the birthing process, and that is exactly what we had. Sunny continued to sleep peacefully upstairs.
Shortly after I texted my midwife, I felt nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and vomited. I was so happy! I knew this was a sign of transition. Sure enough, when I vomited a second time, my water broke. I watched it splash down on the bathroom rug.
My baby would be here soon.
I don’t remember how I got upstairs, but Chad tells me I ran up with him behind me, and I positioned myself on the upstairs toilet while he continued to prepare the tub a few feet away.
I was completely in my animal self now– moaning, Om-ing, gyrating my hips and breathing deep. Sitting on the toilet was wonderfully intense. I felt my body opening, and I embraced the non-stop rushes. Chad continued to move in and out of the bathroom, removing the shower head, hooking up the hose, and stopping to tell me “You’re beautiful.” Somewhere in there I called my doula and, struggling to get the words out, requested her presence.
At one point I felt an urge to poop, recognizing this rectal pressure as a telltale sign of baby descending. I bore down and felt my baby’s head enter my vaginal canal. It was the most incredible feeling! I exclaimed, “Oh Chad!” and got his attention, but I couldn’t formulate the words to explain what I was experiencing. He stopped to say, “You got this, mama,” then went about setting up the tub again. What I wanted to do was crawl off the toilet, get onto all fours, and push our baby out into his hands. But I held back. My midwife wasn’t there yet, and I wanted her to be.
She arrived shortly after I felt that tremendous urge to push, and I managed to give her some information– my water had broken and it was clear; I was feeling pushy. She gently asked if she could check on my baby, and listened to heart tones after I consented. Her assistant arrived a few minutes later. They were both quietly watching me, while checking in with Chad and gathering some supplies.
At some point I muttered, “Can I get in the tub yet…?” They told me there wasn’t enough water. Sunny continued to sleep in the bedroom next to the bathroom. My thoughts turned to him as I felt that familiar, intense rectal pressure. Chad hadn’t been in the bathroom for a bit, and I wondered where he was. I wanted them both there. (I later learned that my dear sweet husband had been downstairs brushing his teeth, having taken to heart my desire to have an intimate experience, knowing that I would want a fresh-breathed partner.)
Suddenly, the urge to push was irresistible.
I bore down and again felt my baby’s head enter my vaginal canal. There was no holding back this time. I shouted to my midwife and her assistant, who had been peacefully appearing and disappearing in the bathroom doorway, “I’m pushing!”
My midwife entered the bathroom and tried to help me off the toilet, saying “Ok, let’s move out here,” closer to the tub. I stood up, tried to walk, and exclaimed, “I can’t… I can’t!” as I felt the easy, fluid feeling of pushing my baby’s head out in one push. I shouted, “Chad! Get Sunny!” There was no pain, only tremendous relief, even pleasure. I let out an enthusiastic, “Oh yeah!” as I gently pushed the rest of my baby’s body out in a second easy push. My midwife calmly said, “Yep– here’s your baby” as she handed him to me.
My baby let out a tremendous cry as my husband and son both appeared in the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet, completely in awe, my warm, slippery baby in my arms. I checked the baby and happily told Sunny and Chad, “It’s a boy!” 5:10am, Wednesday April 9th.
River was here.
Our little River continued to holler loudly, announcing his presence to the world. The placenta was birthed into, and then rescued from the toilet, then everyone helped me into the bedroom. I found out later that my midwife had arrived a mere nine minutes before baby was born; her assistant made it two minutes before. My doula and her family arrived shortly after.
Some of the best parts of the labor notes were: “Baby born, placenta out, Kristen says ‘that was fucking amazing…’ Sunny talking about honey badgers and rhinos.”
I was totally stunned, and filled with a sense of triumph and wonder more powerful than I ever could have imagined. I did it! I pushed my baby out, at home, two pushes, no tearing, about 24 hours of labor, five of it active.
This birth echoed my entire experience with my relationship and pregnancy– healing parts of me that I had hidden away; showing me love and trust and faith again. My body is not broken; I am not broken. River was born; our family of four was born, and I was reborn.