For several nights over the span of two weeks, I experienced cramping at night. Each time I thought, “this could be it”, and each time I woke up in the morning to another day of normal full on pregnancy… no cramps, no contractions… just big and heavy pregnant. My midwife, Terri, assured me that the cramps were a good sign that my body was getting ready to bring my baby into the world.
Saturday, March 25th, the day after my birthday, was one of the first beautiful spring days this year that was actually during springtime. Nick and I, with Maayan in the stroller, went for a walk down our street to the Valley Green in the Wissahickon. Normally we take a stroll, but this time I wanted to walk fast, and I was frustrated that Nick wasn’t up to my pace, so I stomped off without him down forbidden drive. I felt strong and good in my body and it felt good to move fast with my current temper. I came back towards Nick and he caught up with my pace and we walked and talked to the waterfall and then back home. We communicated and sorted through the frustration, brought clarity and then I had a crying release of the anger. A few hours later, I had a crying release of so much love. Yes, the hormones were engaged!
On Saturday night I went to bed with cramps again and assumed I would wake up to another normal day. This time, I woke up at 12:30 with more intense cramps… and 1:30 and 2:30. And after that, the cramps were so intense that I could not go back to sleep. I was back and forth from squatting on the toilet to wiggling around in child’s pose on my bed. Several waves of diarrhea cleaned me out. I drank water and kept moving and breathing. I think Nick was awake by this point… at least enough to be aware that it was really happening this time.
At 4am, I called Nets, my doulah, in Maryland and told her what was happening and she said in her tired voice “ok, my kids are all asleep and the babysitter is here, so check back in with me in a couple hours”. She asked if my mucus plug had come out yet. It hadn’t and I set in my mind that this could still be early labor and it could be a while until things progressed.
Soon after that, my 19 month-old son, Maayan, woke up crying in the middle of the night, which he rarely does. Nick brought him to pee on his froggy potty and I was ‘crying’ with contractions on the toilet across from him crying on the potty. Luckily Maayan went back to sleep after that, unaware of the rest of the labor.
Around 5am, in the weak light of dawn on a rainy spring morning, I wiped after peeing and checked the toilet paper to see the mucus plug tinged with red blood. I turned on the light to check it out and then felt like “ok, this is for real now” (even though I know the mucus plug doesn’t necessarily indicate when my baby would be born… just like everything else in labor). There is so much unknown in birth and in death. When we do it naturally, we just don’t know when it is going to happen. Somehow I took comfort in that unknowing.
I called Nets back and told her I lost the mucus plug and it was getting more intense. She said she’d be on her way. Then I went downstairs to labor more freely away from my sleeping Maayan. I had some special time to labor by myself feeling the power of my female body that holds the deep wisdom to grow and birth a baby. And when Nick came downstairs, I felt calm and secure in his presence. He stoked the fire in the wood stove and lit four candles on the table.
On my phone, I was listening to a hypno-birthing soundtrack gifted to me
by my friend Marni. The contractions never got progressively more intense or closer together… well, to be fair, I did not watch the clock to time anything, so it just seemed like that. For some contractions, I could lay on the couch breathing through the intensity with the hypno-birthing woman explaining how my muscle fibers were getting long and thin. I felt her words as my own, “I am calm, I am safe, I am relaxed.” And during other contractions, I let out loud noises and crouched to the ground, or put my arms around Nick’s neck and hung all of my weight from his sturdy body. And a few times, Nick used his knees to squeeze my gluts while I was in a hands and knees position. Each of these ways helped me ride the waves of intensity. It was comforting to be in my warm pajamas by the hot fire in the wood-burning stove.
When I laid on the couch, I draped the birthing gown over my upper body as an extra layer of warmth and comfort. The birthing gown has been worn by many women over the last several decades as they birthed. A woman in Mt. Airy made it for her partner to wear when she birthed their children, and it has since been passed along to many others. It is a beautiful purple blue pink batik of the cosmos with a strip of ocean pattern down the center. The Hebrew lettering around the neckline has the names of the arch-angles and the passages along the bottom of the gown say in Hebrew “open for me the gates of righteousness” and “she who births one life is as if she is birthing a whole world”. I wore this gown when my son was born and it was a comfort to have it with me now to have the strength and support of all the many women who had worn it. It also provided a reminder that I am connected to all women throughout time who have birthed.
During contractions, I held the immense power of the oneness of all women birthing. When they subsided, Nick and I talked details. We devised a plan for Maayan when he woke up. We called our friend Carly who was happy to come over at 7:30am to help set up the birth tub and then take care of Maayan until 9am when he could go to my dad’s house. It was a relief to have a plan.
Also, between contractions, at around 5am, I called our midwife, Terri and told her I was having regular contractions, which seemed manageable. Since everything was fine, she said to check back in later. Soon after that phone call I had a contraction that was so intense that I thought I was going to throw up. I yelled to nick to bring me a bowl and he brought me a small pottery cup. “no, I yelled… something big” so he brought me the huge stainless steel bowl just in time… and nothing came up. It was funny.
I asked Nick to call Terri and ask her to come soon. I was not in a state to talk on the phone and I knew this labor was for real now, but for some reason, I was hesitant to ask her to come right now. So she made her way over.
I felt relieved. The midwife and doulah were on their way. We had our plan for Maayan. I felt present and strong. I went back to the living room to sit by the fireside. It was about 6:30 am and Nick went back upstairs to do his morning Yoga. I said “ok, if you hear me being loud, come back down”.
What seemed like a few minutes later, I stood for a contraction bent over with my hands on the ottoman and felt water rush down my legs and fleece pajama pants. Nick came quickly downstairs and in a strained voice I told him my water just broke. He helped me take off my pants and I put on the birthing gown. I guess he cleaned up the watery floor and then put down a bunch of towels and a mattress cover to cushion my knees and protect the floor. Nick stayed with me through and between the rest of the contractions.
It was a rainy misty morning and the light of the rising sun was dimmed by the clouds. The day felt fresh and spring-like. I was happy to be by the fire and happy that I knew how to take deep-breaths. I breathed and groaned deeply through the contractions, imagining my cervix opening wider and wider. I made lots of noises kind of like the sounds I would make when I’m really frustrated because I dropped something and made a mess. However, in that situation there’s a stagnant resistance in my energy. In this case, I was open to the new life, welcoming the intensity because this was the way to bring our baby into the world. So the sound was similar, and the feeling in my body was totally different. This was the part I think I was missing in my first birth with my son. I had been stuck in the stagnant frustrated energy and did not trust that the intense feelings were a necessary means to open me. The contractions were going upwards. Finally after 36 hours of labor with him, I think I was just too tired to resist. And, I had to really engage the downward energy that was necessary to bring him down and out.
In this case I was not in my mind… I was present and it was purely physical. It must have been around 7:25am when I had what I call “the inside out contraction”. I was bent over by the wood stove. Nick was sitting on the couch. I said, “I have to poop” and took a step towards the bathroom and then quickly stepped back, saying, “nope, it’s the head” and I leaned all of my weight on my hands on the ottoman. I remembered this feeling from the grand finale of my first birth with Maayan. I braced myself and strained and felt the head turn inside out, like a popple doll. I was very aware of vast space on either end of the narrow part of the hourglass-like portal that it had just squeezed through. I reached down and felt the warm fuzzy head of my child and felt love, comfort, and relief. Nick kneeled down beside me and I asked if the chord was around the baby’s neck and he told me he had just moved it over her head. I was in love with him that he knew what to do and had already done it.
Knowing everything was progressing smoothly, I said, “quick, take a picture before the next contraction”. It was probably a few minutes between the head and the body coming out. This picture was taken then. I felt the next surge and Nick got ready to catch the baby.
We were both fully aware that it was just the two of us welcoming this human into it’s first breath and cry and kiss and hold. And we were both very peaceful with that reality. Later people exclaimed “weren’t you nervous?!” or “didn’t you panic that the midwife wasn’t there yet?!” And I am so grateful that both Nick and I can honestly say that we were simply present, confident, and excited to embrace the moment and our baby.
Around 7:28am, I delivered the baby and Nick received it into his arms. I use this language intentionally because so many people hear this story and say, “wow, Nick, you delivered the baby!” And it is common in our language to say that the doctor or midwife “delivers” the baby. Nick rightfully acknowledges, “Rachel did all the work, I just caught the baby.” Then he helped me step over the chord so I could turn around and sit down and hold my baby. I held her in my arms and said to Nick, “Look, it’s our girl”. When I was pregnant, everyone who guessed the gender guessed it was girl, so we would have been more surprised if it was a boy.
I held her red long body and she gave a wide mouthed cry as she moved her arms up into ballet’s fifth position- arms above her head with wrists folded down, fingers pointing towards the top of her head and then her arms opened up like a blooming flower. We kissed her head and then started singing her the song that we wrote for her in the womb. She got quiet and still. Nick took off his shirt and got some skin to skin with the baby.
Nick and I were sitting on the bloody blankets on the floor in-front of the fire singing as our midwife walked in the door only two minutes after the baby came out. We said “she’s here” and Terri smiled and sat with us joining seamlessly into our birth scene. The baby started sticking out her pointy tongue as if to lick her lips. I offered her to nurse and at 7:40am she latched right away before my placenta even came out. I was surprised that she’d be ready to nurse so soon. The instincts to live are amazing!
(And technology is amazing… because I know these exact times from the pictures that we took.) I delivered the placenta and, soon after, Carly came over elated to see that our baby had arrived. She sat with us for a few minutes and at 7:50 we heard Maayan awake upstairs. Carly brought him down and he got to meet his baby sister. He peeked into the blanketed baby in my arms with his angelic smile and said “Hi baby” over and over again as if he was seeing her for the first time every five seconds.
The morning progressed slowly. At some point, Terri helped me get up and use the bathroom and sit down in my nursing chair. I felt unsteady and somewhat light headed and moved very slowly. Carly brought me some papaya which I ate happily feeling refreshed. She helped with laundry and she got a huge bowl of warm soapy water and washed the blood off of my legs and feet. It felt so good. Then she made the smoothy with chia seeds and dates that I had soaked the night before, adding spirulina, hemp protein powder, pear and other goodness.
Around 9am, our doula Nets arrived and added to the welcoming of love for our child. We had the placenta, still attached to the chord, in a pottery pitcher that followed the baby from nursing chair to couch for the next 3 hours until we burned the chord with candles over a wooden box for the wax drippings. We sang havdallah and the baby’s song, and the wheels on the bus.
At some point, I ventured upstairs for the second best shower of my life (the first one being after Maayan was born). The warm water felt so good and cleansing… and I needed to be relatively quick because I was still too weak to stand for too long.
Terri helped me into bed and the party moved upstairs. She continued doing her magical healing touch on me and the baby. She weighed the baby- 7.5lbs. And once the visitors started rolling in, she left, “seeya tomorrow.”
Since it was a Sunday, our family all came to visit on that very day. Although I still felt spacey and vulnerable, I was happy to be amidst the people who love me the most. And everyone was excited to meet the baby.
In the early afternoon, my right leg started hurting. I had bulging varicosities there during the pregnancy and was often worried about a blood clot. The intense ache moved from my shin to my ankle and some on my thigh. When the pain did not subside, I started to worry more now… enough to call doctor friends to see if it was a red flag… turns out it was.
Most often in this country, babies are born in the hospital, and very often the parents go home and the baby stays in the hospital. This has happened to friends of mine and I could barely imagine what it would be like to go home without my baby.
Well it was a little backwards in my case, since I went to the hospital leaving my baby at home. I got dressed, nursed her, put her in the moby wrap with Nick and left him with the kids and my mom at home for the evening. My aunt Lynne and Uncle Stu took me to the hospital and then to a different hospital and then I waited in a hospital gown and bed.
My dad met me there and encouraged me to rest. I knew he was right… and it was hard to settle down, but I did the best I could. This was only my second time being in a hospital. I was born at home… so no hospital then. The first time was in high school because I had been vomiting after chemistry class. I only stayed for a couple of hours and then they offered me a popsicle (what?). I’m glad that even then I was wise enough to turn it down.
This time, as I waited in the bed, we reminded the hospital staff that I had a newborn baby at home and I needed to get back to her. Terri assured us that although the baby would be hungry, she would be ok without nursing and that we did not need to try to give her water or anything else. Finally they did an ultrasound on my leg and told me there was no concern.
I was gone from about 5:30pm to almost midnight. Although it was not ideal to have left, it was good to have the piece of mind that I was not going to wake up dead from a blood clot in my lungs. The baby was crying when I got home and I quickly showered off the hospital germs and came downstairs to nurse her on the couch. In retrospect, this whole excursion was ALOT of movement for having just birthed that very morning. The baby was pecking and frustrated and could not find the latch like she had at first. I was afraid she forgot how to nurse. I knew I needed to be relaxed too. So I stopped, wrapped her in a swaddle blanket, sat back down with her and she nursed strongly. Relief!
And the story of life goes on… That was her very beginning.
I am grateful to have had two home births, each beautiful in their own rite. And I dedicate this story to those women who had hoped for a natural home birth but did not have it for whatever reason. In the oneness of all women who have ever birthed, I give you my story to keep as your story too. Keep thinking big!