Jonas decided to stand up to pee today, and as I was helping him wipe the seat from the inevitable drips, I was thinking, “Wow, that’s the toilet he was almost born over!” I get a lot of questions about his birth, so I thought I would post the details here. Note: if you are at all squeamish, you might want to stop here.
So . . . on 7/10/08, my parents came up to watch Linnea, and Jon and I went out to lunch (Dogwood in Hampden). Afterward, he headed off to the hospital to prepare for his 3pm OPS meeting, while I went home to take advantage of my parents’ presence to get in a nap. I started having more contractions than usual while I was lying there but naturally assumed they were Braxton-Hicks. Well, I started wondering if they were getting regular, so I timed them. They were probably around 3 to 5 minutes apart and lasting about 45 to 60 seconds.
Another note: with Linnea, I had a midwife-assisted hospital birth with no anesthesia/analgesia, which was what I had hoped for. However, we had gone to the hospital way too early, and I wanted to avoid doing that with Jonas.
Back to the story. The contractions started growing a little in intensity and were definitely spaced at about 3 minutes apart. When Jon came home I told him that I suspected I might be in latent labor, but that I wasn’t yet completely sure. So I asked him not to say anything to my parents, because I didn’t want anyone to get excited over nothing. Plus, we were using a doula, and the midwife who attended Linnea’s birth agreed to be on-call for me, so I didn’t want to call them for no reason. After a while, I went downstairs, and it was obvious to me that my contractions were growing in intensity. Still, I hid it from parents and (stupidly, in hindsight) sent them home to Annapolis.
The timing and order of everything from here on out is a little unclear to me. It became obvious to Jon that I really was in labor, although I was still in denial. I agreed to call the doula to give her a heads-up, and she was going to leave as soon as her babysitter to arrived. I held off calling the midwife for a little while longer. It was time for Linnea to go to bed, and I was actually planning to read to her as I usually did, but Jon thought that was ridiculous and told me to stay downstairs.
I did some laps around the first floor of our house and needed to stop for each contraction. I tried sitting on my birth ball for a while but didn’t like it very much; walking was much better. At one point, I remember that I was feeling tired and wanted to rest a bit, but lying down was so hideously uncomfortable that I immediately stood up. I had a few sips of water but had no desire to eat or drink. Finally I called the midwife to give her some notice, and she told me she’d leave soon (she was having dinner at a restaurant with friends). We also called my parents at some point to ask them to come back, but then they ended up getting stuck in traffic.
Jon came downstairs to find me clearly in active labor. (I’m guessing that active 1st stage lasted about 90 minutes, or maybe a little longer. Definitely no more than 2 hours.) He called one of his coworkers–to let someone from work know he was not going to be working the next day and maybe to see if she could come over to be with Linnea. She heard me moaning in the background and told him he needed to get back to me. He went back up to get my already-packed suitcase and to gather his stuff. In hindsight, it was pretty stupid, because we live all of 3 minutes from the hospital, and he could easily have come home afterward to grab whatever he needed. Things really intensified for me, and I ended up wanting to sit down on the toilet. It was the only comfortable (relatively speaking) position for me at that point. I started getting even more vocal than I had been previously. Probably some expletives were uttered, and I distinctly remember yelling up to Jon to ask him why he had abandoned me. I ended up waking Linnea.
We needed to leave, so he ran Linnea over to our neighbors’ house to see if they would watch her until my parents arrived. Jon put some ridiculous sign on the door for my parents, which said “Linnea” and had an arrow pointing left. Meanwhile, I started to have the urge to push. He came back after leaving Linnea with Steve and brought Mary (a postpartum nurse) back with him. She sat with me in the bathroom, and Jon, after assessing the situation, called 911. It seemed like he got really frustrated with dispatcher, who asked him a ton of (reasonable, I’m sure) questions and wanted to stay on the line to talk him through things. He ended up yelling, “I know what to do, I’m an emergency physician!” and disconnected the call.
Then, all of a sudden, my membranes ruptured, and I felt the baby drop really far down. Fortunately, I was sitting on the toilet, so there was no big mess to clean up. I told Jon that the baby was coming out then. I would gladly have pushed the baby while sitting on the edge of the toilet, but Jon refused to catch the baby that way. They put down some towels in the hallway and managed to convince me to come out of the bathroom.
I remember Mary telling me to lie down on my back, and I indignantly replied, “I don’t push on my back. I push on my hands and knees.” And so I did. I’m not sure how long I pushed for. With Linnea, it was about 20 minutes, so I’m sure it was much less with Jonas. I had the head out in maybe 2 contractions. So the head was out, and then Jon was telling me to keep pushing. I got annoyed and told him I wasn’t going to push because I wasn’t having a contraction. He got more insistent, so I told him to pray. Finally the next contraction came, and I pushed the baby out. (Later, the midwife told us that it can definitely seem like an eternity after the head is out, but vindicated me by telling Jon that I did the right thing by waiting for the contraction.) And our precious little Jonas was born.
Jon ran upstairs to get some hemostat clamps we happen to have around to clamp the cord. Then we delivered the placenta, which Jon placed in the insert of Linnea’s little potty. Jon and Mary wrapped Jonas in a towel. I later reflected that I should have been more forceful about putting him in skin-to-skin contact with me, but it was all a bit overwhelming.
I don’t remember if the doula or EMS arrived first. When the latter arrived, it turned into a real circus. First the fire truck arrived, and they had no useful supplies at all. Then the chief came in his SUV, and then finally the ambulance. We were able to cut the cord, and they brought in a “space blanket” for Jonas.
My parents arrived to find our very small cul-de-sac filled with emergency vehicles, which absolutely horrified my mother. (It also scared Linnea for a while, and she’d get upset whenever she heard a siren for a good 6-12 months afterward.) We were going to be taken to the hospital. I would have walked out to the ambulance, but they of course wouldn’t allow that. Because we have steps leading up to our house, I needed to be strapped into a wheelchair. When we left the house, there was a huge crowd of neighbors watching to see what was happening.
I had my first-ever ambulance ride (lights but no sirens). I was really impressed with how painlessly they put in my IV in a moving vehicle. When we got to the hospital, the midwife arrived and checked me out. I had a few skid marks but no tears at all. I had a lousy two-night stay in the hospital and almost signed Jonas and me out the second night.
One of the nurses asked me if I had secretly planned a homebirth, to which I emphatically answered “no.” However, I will say that I loved being at home and would do it again in a heartbeat, assisted, if we were to have a third child. Of course, everything ended well for us, and I’m extremely grateful for the incident-free birth. But it was amazing to me how much better it felt to be able to move as much as I wanted without ever being tethered to a monitor, and to go at my own pace without pressure (for the most part) from anyone else to have any interventions or act a certain way or to do anything in particular. It’s remarkable how my body did what it was supposed to do and how little control I had–once second stage started, there would have been no stopping it. That baby was coming out. Some people give Jon all the credit. I’m not denying that I had some peace in knowing that he was there, and that he would be cool under pressure. But I also knew what to do.
Again, I am fully aware that things don’t go so smoothly for everyone, and medical interventions obviously can provide great benefit in some cases and save lives. I don’t think doing it without an obstetric provider in attendance is at all wise, and being completely unprepared is not the way to go. But I am left wishing that homebirths attended by licensed providers were more of an option here in Maryland (and the rest of the US).