If you didn’t read Part 1, I don’t blame you. TL;DR: baby had stopped growing by 38 weeks, but since I was already seemingly in early labor that Friday and the ultrasound showed all was well and that she wasn’t *that* small, we decided I could try for a homebirth as long as she arrived by Monday.
Friday night I paced the house from 2am to 6am having difficult contractions. I was just waiting for them to get closer together to call the midwives, but at the same time I was hoping I wasn’t in labor because I was so exhausted. At 6am, they stopped, and I slept for a few hours. I had sort of expected this as it had been going on for days.
Saturday I continued to have some contractions. Daniel and I went ahead and set up the birth pool and set out the supplies. Got the house clean, spent time with the kids and each other. I had a good feeling that when night came I’d have a repeat of the night before, but that the contractions wouldn’t fizzle out this time. We went to confession at 4pm and the priest nearly fell out of his chair when I told him I was already actively in labor, but then he comforted me and told me he’d stay up and pray for me and told me to call him at home any time. From there we stopped at the grocery store for some last minute items and I bought a bouquet of baby pink roses so Lu would have some birthday flowers. I assumed I’d get a few hours sleep before the annoying contractions started up, since they’d been starting around 2am.
Daniel made delicious burgers but I was too nauseous to eat. I sent the girls to bed around 9:30 and promised I’d wake them if things got serious. I took a shower and drank some chamomile tea hoping to relax. I kept telling Daniel to get off his game and come to bed so we could get a few hours sleep just in case. He said he’d get in bed when I did. But I just kept fidgeting with things and making sure everything was just right. At about 10:30 I laid down and had a contraction. They always hurt worse when I was sitting or lying down. I needed to be walking through them then they weren’t so bad. When the contraction ended I got back in bed but minutes later there was another. After a little while I stopped bothering to get back in bed. I kept telling myself “if it was the real thing they’d be regular and I wouldn’t be able to walk during them.” This kept me from calling the midwives. I finally tried to lie down again and I dozed for a moment only to jump out of bed with the most horrendous contraction yet, closely followed by a similar one. I called Shawna and told her I was pretty sure it was go time. She said they’d be here an hour. This was around midnight.
I was glad I had a whole hour before they arrived. I like to be alone in labor so every moment of solitude was good. I told Daniel to keep playing his game til they showed up. I set out 100 varieties of tea next to the electric kettle, and some mugs. I got the sparkling water from the fridge and laid out dried fruits, pretzel thins and goat cheese, and salami and crackers hoping snacks would distract Daniel and the midwives and keep them from hovering.
Nanette arrived first at 1am and I told her I was afraid I’d called too soon or that it was a false alarm because as uncomfortable as I was, I was talking and walking through the contractions AND now they seemed to have slowed down. She said that part of the job was showing up for the false alarms and that it was never an inconvenience to come and check on a mama, but she was pretty sure I was in labor. Shawna arrived shortly after and they checked on me and the baby. I kept fretting about not being in labor so Nanette asked if I wanted to find out if I was dilated. I was just so convinced I wasn’t in labor that it felt like a definitive way to know if I was wasting everyone’s time. So I consented and was floored to hear I was at 7cm.
At first I was content to do my power-walking-through-contractions thing while Daniel and the midwives chatted and gobbled up all the snacks I’d set out for them. I was secretly super amused that my plan had worked while I zipped around every room of downstairs praying the rosary and mumbling birth affirmations and trying to focus specifically on praying for other people to distract from my own discomfort.
Upon realizing that I wasn’t going to be proactive about getting things to intensify, the midwives started offering some suggestions about ways to move baby into a better position and speed things along. The problem was that I didn’t want to get to the hard part. They were content to let me wear myself out if I insisted, but they also let me know that’s exactly what I was doing and at some point I was going to have to look this thing in the face and get it over with, and then I could meet my sweet baby.
Reluctantly I periodically tried some of their suggestions, and they’d work, meaning contractions would get worse, so I’d go back to my insane pacing. Then everyone would patiently mind their own business for a long time before quietly mentioning “maybe try sitting through one.” Or “You could lie on your side with the peanut ball through one, if you like.” Or “You know the birth pool is full and warm any time you’re ready. No pressure.” I’d always instantly balk at anything anyone said to me but then come around to it and give it a try. I had one objective: avoid pain, and not one other person was catering to my delusion that that was what we were here to do. Everyone else was just awkwardly waiting for me to decide to lean into pain, embrace the suck, and accept that I’m not one of those women that has serene, easy births so that we could get to the other side. This is always my dilemma during labor. I want to accept the suffering with grace and composure but I’m always like a wild eyed wounded animal in labor. I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I think it’s because I, like many people, cling to the illusion of control in many aspects of my life and I wish I was better at surrendering control in situations where it’s appropriate to do so. I wish I was better at accepting. I wish I had more faith. I wish I bore all of life’s suffering better than I do.
Shawna could tell I was irritated by everyone so she suggested I go out and look at the moon. It was probably about 30 degrees outside but I went out and paced around barefoot and half naked in the moonlight in my front yard all by myself like an absolute crazy person for a while. I think the word “Lunatic” is quite fitting here.
This sounds like a lot but only an hour and a half or so passed during all this time since the midwives arrived.
I got in the tub for a couple of contractions and the warm water made me relax immediately (between contractions) which felt so wonderful. I’d been in real labor for three days, hadn’t slept in so long, and had been power walking for hours on an empty stomach. The tub also spaced the contractions out a little bit, which was welcome. But it didn’t make them hurt less. Power walking was still the only way to make them bearable. So I got out, which was probably really frustrating for everyone who was hoping I’d finally grown a pair and decided to have this dang baby, especially since they were all sort of dozing while I sat in the tub.
While I did more pacing, Shawna and Nanette encouraged Daniel to try to take a nap, so he went to the bedroom to lie down.
I don’t remember much about this time. I know I wasn’t out of the pool very long. I couldn’t really walk through them anymore and I was starting to panic. It was coming for me whether I was going to be stoic about it or not. After throwing up for 5 solid minutes, I finally rallied because it seemed best to at least act like this was happening on my own terms instead of admitting I was just along for the ride, and I got back in the tub knowing being on my knees was going to bring those earth shattering, bone crushing, ripping, tearing contractions that bring baby. I was so broken with exhaustion that I could only hope it went mercifully fast. It was probably 3:30 in the morning at this point.
I really hadn’t been in serious, hard labor very long. It really hadn’t been unbearable up to this point. Most of the misery was me wearing myself out and psyching myself out. But getting in the tub and sitting on my knees ramped everything up to 11. And, you know, it was as bad as I was anticipating.
I had a hard contraction but I felt like I could manage them at that level. The next one was way, way worse and I was all “nope. Done. Can’t do this.”
Before I could get my bearings the next one was on me and it was worse, and longer and I felt like I was maybe starting to push involuntarily. Pushing hurt but I couldn’t stop. Nanette asked me if I wanted Daniel and I just stared at her. I didn’t know how to answer it. I hate for Daniel to see me lose it, until I get to the point I’m really losing it, then I need him to hold my hand and help me keep it together. I just didn’t answer her because I was having some weird out of body experience. He’d come when he was needed in accordance with the mystical force that decides such things. I wasn’t making decisions anymore. We’re surrendering to the process here, Nanette. Why don’t you ask the universe if it’s time to get Daniel? This is magical birth space where time stands still and nothing makes sense. Get out of here with your sensible questions. Next contraction was maybe the worst I’ve had in all 5 kids and my water broke. Somehow I managed to groan that it had broken and Shawna yelled, “yay!” Then she went to wake Daniel. I was annoyed at the yay, but glad to hear that the birth fairies had elected to summon the baby’s father all in good time 😂😂😂
I looked at Nanette and demanded to know how long I was going to have to do this. She said she doesn’t get paid enough to predict the future. I told her I’d pay her literally anything if she’d just tell me. She laughed, and Daniel and Shawna returned. I briefly wondered if we should wake the girls but I was afraid I had hours of this and I couldn’t deal with them watching me in agony for more than a few minutes (even though they’re pros at this by now)
Another contraction started and I instinctively put my hand between my legs and Lucia’s head was born so fast into my hands. Just….pop! I didnt tell anyone the head was out. Nanette realized it a moment later and announced it. I asked if I could just push the rest of her out and get it over with but they advised against it. “Let her ease out on her own it’s ok if it takes a while” but before they could finish talking the rest of her rocketed out of me and I started to try to pull her to my chest. “Leave her under the water,” Nanette instructed. “The cord is short, let’s unwrap her from it.” It felt like slow motion. Nanette was calm and cheery as she described to Shawna how the cord was wrapped around Lucy’s arm once and twice around her neck, but assured the room that it wasn’t tight and there was no problem. Apparently I screamed during the last two contractions and it woke the girls and they were now in the room, all cute, wild haired and bleary eyed in their nightgowns, big smiles on their faces. It was around 4am.
I lifted my tiny, slippery baby to my chest, and we all gasped at how unbelievably tiny she was. No way was this baby “just under 6lb.” I was shocked. And afraid. I just sort of looked at her, stunned. She was nice and pink but she didn’t cry, which I didnt realize til Nanette gently told me she was going to give her a little rub. She patted her and rubbed her and I think I was saying panicky things but I don’t remember. After only a moment the quiet was pierced by what sounded like an angry, mouse-sized pterodactyl. I felt some relief but I was still in shock about her size. They kept reminding me to hold her close and cuddle her and look at her but I was just dazed. I felt the urge to push the placenta out but it didn’t come away as easily as all my others had, it didn’t feel right. The pool filled with blood and Shawna said we should go ahead and cut the cord since it was short. She clamped the cord and gave the scissors to my second born (Sophia, age 8) who leaned into the literal blood bath and hacked away at the cord with the most joyful expression. It took her several tries to sever the rubbery cord. The whole scene just seemed so silly to me and I laughed.
I was helped out of the tub, into bed and dried off. Shawna checked over baby while Nanette looked after me. We were careful to keep baby warm. I continued to hemorrhage so I was given a shot of pitocin in my thigh which I loudly complained was as bad as childbirth. Shawna confirmed that I am definitely a drama queen. The girls all gave Lucy a quick snuggle and we sent them back to bed.
Once the bleeding was under control and I was tucked warm in bed, the midwives weighed Lucy. 4lbs 12oz, 17.5 inches long. Definitely much smaller than the biophysical profile suggested. They also looked over the placenta and told me it was in pretty bad shape, much smaller and much, much more degraded than it ought to have been at 38 weeks, contrary to the results of the BPP. To be clear I don’t blame anyone for that. It’s not like ultrasounds are incredibly clear and straightforward. I imagine they also did the best they could with the information they had. After we weighed her Shawna said, “Dude. Heather. How about those recurring dreams about a scrawny baby…”
I was a little crushed, feeling like my body had failed my baby. Like maybe I’d done something wrong. Like I could have eaten more perfectly or taken more supplements or practiced better self care. And maybe I still feel that way.
I also have some mixed feelings about the birth (as do the midwives!) because on one hand, had we known she was under 5lbs it would have been an automatic hospital transfer. That’s sort of their cut off and they are absolutely not reckless with their mamas or their babies. We were given comforting information via the proper medical channels and we proceeded accordingly. On the other hand, none of us regret that it happened this way because other than being scrawny she has all the signs of being a robust, healthy baby. She’s been able to hold her temperature from the beginning, had perfect blood oxygen levels and muscle tone, and is already gaining after a very minimal dip in weight. I don’t believe the outcome would have been better at a hospital in our case. I’d just be more stressed. So I’m glad she was born at home, though of course had I known she was doing as poorly as she was I would have gotten her out of there earlier (and it would have happened at the hospital.) I wish I knew why my placenta stopped functioning, but I’m grateful to my body at the same time. It’s almost as if, not only did it subconsciously give me a heads up to be prepared for a tiny baby (literally almost from day one), but it did sustain her as well as it could and then got her out of there the minute it became necessary.
The midwives put us to bed and then Shawna crawled into the guest bed and Nanette collapsed into the egg chair and they slept over til about 10am to keep an eye on me for bleeding and to keep an eye on Lucia’s temperature. They stressed to me the importance of absolute rest for myself and that my only job would be to keep Lucy’s temperature perfect and fatten her up as quickly as possible. Fortunately, in their experience, babies who are born very small but are full term tend to thrive better than even larger babies that are preterm. She isn’t premature, she’s just tiny, and appears totally developed in every way. We are of course exercising an abundance of caution and they come by every day for a weight check.
It’s always weird emotionally processing a birth. Birth is a spiritual thing and each one changes you. You don’t participate in the act of bringing a human soul into the world and remain unchanged. I read somewhere that there is an opening between the physical and spiritual realms during a birth, and I think there’s something to that. The house feels different after a birth. Home births are also hard to process because there’s always a little bit of fear of judgement.
I think, just like that desire for control, there’s a desire to hear definitively “you did the right thing.” But that’s not a real thing. Especially with parenting. We make the choices we make and we’re not entitled to validation for it. When you’re doing a thing that’s somewhat outside the social norm, you have to be especially willing to own your choices. My desire to be understood, and to explain myself, and to make sure everyone knows the midwives went above and beyond is really just pride and so I’m just going to say this: I’m happy with the way things went. And I’m not just “not sorry” because nothing bad happened, I in fact actually believe in all the counter culture parenting things we do. Not just so long as we continue to get lucky, but even when they don’t go as planned. We don’t take these things lightly, but make decisions on purpose that seem best for our family . We parent intentionally. We live intentionally. I think sometimes the status quo offers a false sense of security, and often it’s not lower in actual risk, it’s just that the risk is lower that we will feel at fault if things (that really are out of our control) don’t go as planned. It was a beautiful birth and God was with us, and overall I feel nothing but gratitude. We are proud to introduce to the world Lucia (meaning Light) Louise (meaning warrior.)
Lucia, I hope someday you read this and know that I was pregnant with you during the hardest time of my life. I beat myself up for not feeling connected to you before you were born, for not feeling ready for another baby, but the second I saw your face I knew you, and I thought “It was you that was with me that whole time. I didn’t know it was you, but you were with me when I was struggling.” You were a light in a dark place and you are aptly named, my darling girl. Your mother loves you more than you will ever know.