I’ve started and stopped this story of my firstborn son’s birth many times over the past eight weeks. I’ve lost drafts in my postpartum fog. I’ve thought up humorous versions, dramatic versions, artsy versions. It occurred to me that there are thousands of homebirth stories floating around the Internet. The fact that Michael Ryan was born at home is not the reason I want to document his birth. It is because he is my boy. And all of a sudden he came earthside and things are oh so different now. In a very good way. This is the beginning of my life as a mother. The beginning of Cody’s life as a father. The beginning of our baby boy’s journey through this ol world. His birth was the day I received a gift directly from the hand of God.
Labor was nothing like I expected. My first contraction was just as intense as the last. They began and remained about a minute and a half long and two minutes apart. Barely enough time to celebrate the end before a beginning came again. Michael Ryan was in the right occiput anterior position. Not the notorious “sunny side up” but still causing back labor. I remember telling Cody that if my belly could hurt just one time I would be ok. Essentially, babies rotate as they exit the body. Instead of making a little twist like most babes, ours had to do a completely three sixty before coming out. This took a great deal of time and hard work. Carolyn later told me that had I been in the hospital I would have almost certainly had a c-section. But, alas, nature proved itself capable.
I labored in a wicker chaise lounge with a hot rice pack on my back watching the sun shine through a lace curtain for hours and hours and hours before Carolyn made me get moving. I took many hot showers because during them was the only time I could get a grasp on my contractions enough to be able to talk to Cody. Carolyn was ok with that because the shower was up a long flight of steep stairs. I labored while walking up and down those same stairs sideways, on a birth ball, in the tub (which I was surprised to find left me feeling even more out of control than laboring on land), on all fours with my belly wrapped in a piece of cloth while Cody gently shook it back and forth (heavenly relief), in child’s pose, and while trying to get my hips to sway back and forth just a little in the slow dance position with both Cody and Abby, our wonderful doula. Progress came by the half centimeters as it slowly grew darker. I had been laboring from long before sun-up that morning and Carolyn was now talking about putting potatoes in the oven for her husband’s supper.
Finally, as I rode out a contraction with my arms draped around Cody’s neck and my right leg on the footboard of the birth bed to help dissolve a cervical lip, a gush of (thankfully) clear fluid spread across the wood floor and Michael Ryan decided he would indeed let himself be born.
I was only seven centimeters but with the next contraction my body curled in upon itself. I pushed in spite of myself and despite everyone telling me that I must stop. Time stands still when you’re birthing a babe, but very soon another exam revealed quick progress and what Carolyn later described as my body opening as she was checking me.
Nine and a half centimeters and up into the bed I went. First on my sides with one leg then the other held back in the crook of my arm. Then flat on my back (wasn’t that what I wanted to avoid?) with Cody on one side and sweet Abby on the other. Pushing was marvelous. Finally, there was something I could do to make that one spot on the small of my back stop the terrible twisting and aching. My contractions didn’t space out much during pushing, just long enough to catch my breath. But I no longer dreaded their arrival. My baby was coming and I felt immensely better than I had in almost a whole day. I finally regained a little clarity. Although I was out of breath, I could conversate coherently. I talked to Cody a bit for the first time in hours.
Many, many pushes later, up on my haunches I went with my arms around Carolyn. Then off the bed and onto the birth stool which allowed me to touch his head for the first and only time before it was on my chest. Back onto the bed and bits and pieces of conversations about tearing. Lots of wash cloths, bowls of hot water, olive oil. The word episiotomy gets tossed around which I find strange because midwives generally do not perform them in preference for natural tears. Thankfully his heart rate stayed perfect so we were in no rush. More pushing on the bed, in a squat like a jungle woman, and finally back on the birth stool where he begins to crown in earnest. Back on the bed and Cody is taking more peeks than I ever thought he would between trips to the bathroom to blow his nose which strangely poured the entire time I was in labor (he wasn’t crying, he said). I felt no dreaded ring of fire. All of the sudden I had a tremendous sense of relief of pressure and with the next push his body followed and he was on my chest in an instant. No suctioning, no examining, no vigorous rubbing and emotional encouragement to breath. Just a blanket placed on his back and the first glances for fingers and toes and gazes into his perfect face were reserved for Cody and me.
His eyes were wide open (and they stayed that way for hours afterwards). No vernix. No blood. He came out looking like he had already had his first bath and had been towel dried to perfection. I will never forget the smell of the top of his little head. It was the ideal mixture of my own scent and the smell of my husband. It was like gasoline. One sniff and I couldn’t stop breathing it in.
A minute or two of celebration later and I felt a gush. I rationaled that it was my placenta, but instinctually knew it wasn’t. Cody’s face told me I was right. Carolyn’s “oh!” heightened my sense that something was wrong but the sweet face looking into mine gave me a strange confidence that everything would be ok (No one ever bothered to remove him from my chest during my big bleed, for which I am very thankful. Had I been paying attention to what was going on, I would have surely passed out.) Much of what happened I didn’t know about until later. After much kneading of my empty belly, two shots of pitocin haphazardly jabbed into my left thigh, internal pressure applied by Carolyn’s fist and quick snipping of the cord and manual removal of the placenta, the fountain finally slowed. During this intense time, Abby stayed close to my face, talking to me about my perfect baby and forcing grape juice and tiny bites of Clif Bar with each breath.
This is the type of situation that scares people away from homebirth. My refute: it was handled just as it would have been in a hospital, with the same medications, by a skilled practitioner. And I was ok. Had I not recovered within a few more minutes, I would have been swiftly stuffed in a vehicle and at the ER within minutes. And I would have still been ok.
He latched on within about thirty minutes of being born and nursed for a little bit while everyone asked me if I felt ok over and over again and made me drink glass after glass of juice. After it was determined that I could move around without fainting, I sat naked on the toilet trying to pass Carolyn’s pee test while I watched Michael Ryan’s newborn exam. Then a warm herbal bath was drawn for us with natural soap (oh how I reeked after all that hard work and sweating!), wash cloths, and fluffy towels. I got in first then my naked brand new baby was handed to me. I held his head and let the rest of his body float in waters similar to those that had ruptured and drained from around him only hours before. All the messaging of my belly during the bleeding incident made it flatten rather quickly, and I remember being surprised at how back to normal I looked already. After a few minutes, Carolyn and her assistant told Cody to dress his new baby and watched laughing as he tried to pull a finicky newborn gown over his little body while he lay on that same wicker chaise I had labored on for so many hours. I called my mother while I was in the tub. It was the first conversation I had had with her since I went into labor.
Eventually, Carolyn checked me for tears and persuaded me to let her stitch up a small internal laceration. I was so over the whole experience by then. I just wanted to be left alone with my baby.
Carolyn put us to bed and closed the door. Cody passed out immediately. My adrenaline was in high gear. I stared at my baby, nursed him a little, and took many pictures.
We were back home by nine o’clock the next morning.