My first birth experience was when I was 13 years old. My mom gave birth to my brother Stephen at home, and I was able to attend. My mom also had my sister (!!!FINALLY, a sister!!!) Katerina at home when I was 15. Those births affected me very deeply. Yes, I saw my mom in pain. Yes, to teenager it was pretty “gross.” But there my mom was, all normal and yet powerful, giving birth on a bed surrounded by her family. I was sold.
Of course, my first 2 births changed things. My first was a scheduled c-section and the second, a VBAC, wasn’t something a midwife would attend until I had a “proven” uterus.” Meaning, after a c-section, if you VBAC successfully, your chance of a uterine rupture go down significantly. (You can also read Gianna’s birth story and Aliya’s birth story for information leading up to this pregnancy.)
Aliya was a great sleeper and potty trained herself early (night time by 15 months and full time by 22 months) so we decided we were finally ready for a third. I became pregnant immediately, but miscarried another sweet baby. The very next month we got pregnant with Gabe.
My pregnancy this time around was as easy as they come. A little tired, infrequent nausea, with a general happiness about life. I had the “pregnancy glow.” I worked out almost every day and was as fit as I was during my first pregnancy. The one thing troubling me was where we would have this baby. It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that I decided I wanted a home birth. Kevin strongly preferred a hospital birth. You may remember from Aliya’s birth story that I don’t always get what I want, even when I think I deserve it. So we talked, and we talked and we talked some more. Until we finally came to a compromise. Kind of.
The compromise was that we would deliver at home, but that I had the OB as a back-up in case, for any reason, we had to transfer to a hospital. So I began seeing both a midwife and my OB from my previous pregnancy. Yes. Twice the visits, twice the weigh-ins, twice the peeing-in-cups. But they couldn’t have been more different. With my OB, the average wait time was 30 minutes, with a face-to-face visit with the doctor of less than 5 minutes. With my midwife, the average wait time was 0 minutes, and the face-to-face was an hour. A whole hour where we talked about what was going on with me, discussed my diet and discomforts, she gave me a gazillion tips,we “talked shop” about birth stuff (by that time I was a certified birth educator). Sometimes we just chatted. Those visits were incredible. I healed emotionally from my c-section and truly, there was no more worry. I’m not gonna lie. I developed a serious midwife crush on that woman.
Of course it wasn’t completely straightforward. Normally midwives have a certain doctor/hospital they transfer to in case of emergency. The doctor my midwife used wasn’t covered by our insurance though, and what with assuming all the costs of a home birth, we just couldn’t afford any other expenses. So we sort of back-doored our way into a back-up OB situation with Dr. M.
Me: Soooo, I was thinking that I might like to have a homebirth.
Dr. M.: (looking at my chart) Mmmhmmm. Well, if that’s what you want princess, power to you.
Me: But maybe I could come see you too? In case something goes wrong?
Dr. M.: (still looking at chart) What? Oh. Sure. Fine.
Me: (fleeing) Greatthanksbye!
As the pregnancy progressed and Kevin got to know our midwife, he became more comfortable with the idea of a home birth. Our particular midwife is a CNM, or certified nurse midwife. She teaches classes to OBs-in-training at UCLA and this woman knows her stuff. Sure, she’s very natural-minded, but she also has a very firm grip on the medical aspect of birth and doesn’t shun medical intervention when necessary. As soon as he got comfortable with her and with home births in general, I introduced the idea of him catching the baby. Always pushing the envelope, that’s me. Turns out that was a good idea, as you’ll see later. (Assuming you make it to the end of this epic post.)
During our 20 week ultrasound, we learned we were having a boy. I cried tears of real joy. Kevin, on the other hand, had to sit down. A boy? (Yep.) Would a boy be as sweet and loving as his girls? (Yes.) He’d mastered the art of girl-parenting. (Truly.) What would he do with a boy? (Turns out he’d be just fine.)
I was due Friday November 13th. As a co-leader for our local chapter of the Holistic Moms Network, I helped plan a huge Open House for November 4th. We had a bunch of vendors and local practitioners (I forget the actual number, but I think it was around 40?) and we were hoping to get more than a hundred walk-in guests. So I did the only rational thing I could think of. I consulted with my baby.
Me: Listen, buddy. Mommy has a big meeting on November 4th. You’re supposed to be born November 13th, but I don’t think we need to wait that long. If you wait until the 5th, that would be great. And hey! You can share a birthday with your Papa!
Baby: (… kick … alligator roll …)
Me: Thanks, buddy.
Turns out kick/alligator roll is baby-speak for “No can do, woman. I come on my own time.”
Halloween rolled around and I spent all day Saturday working on the girls’ costumes. The dishes were piled high, the laundry was un-done, and we had 4 couches in our tiny living room. (2 old ones waiting to be given away and 2 new ones gifted to us by my in-laws.) But it was okay. Birth was easily 2 weeks away. Lots of time to prepare for baby, no?
After trick-or-treating, we put the kids to bed and I worked on weeding out the candy in their stash. I mean, a 2 and 4 year old don’t need all that candy, right? But a few pieces in, I started to feel… off. I put everything away and headed to bed. 2 hours later I woke up with one of the worst stomach viruses I’ve ever had. I spent all night in the bathroom. Kevin was extremely worried about me and felt completely helpless. He said to me later, “You’ll never understand what it’s like to watch your pregnant wife hunched over the toilet.” I believe him.
We called in reinforcements the next morning. My mother in law picked up the girls and I spent the day recovering on the couch, while Kevin took his turn getting sick. The girls came home in the late afternoon, and I was feeling better. I cleaned up the bathroom (but nothing else!) and got the kids ready for bed.
About 7 p.m. I started having regular contractions. No, no, no, no. I was not prepared to go into labor. Never mind the state of our house, or the Open House on Thursday. I knew what happened when women went into labor in a weakened state. Long labor, difficulty pushing… a sure-fire method to get transferred to a hospital faster than you can say, “pitocin.” I stormed around, denying the reality of labor until Kevin woke up from the force of my tantrum.
Kevin: (groggily) What’s wrong?
Me: Oh, you know. I’m taking care of the kids, I feel weak, and I’m having contractions 10 minutes apart.
I called my midwife about 10 p.m. She told me to drink a half a glass of wine, take a bath, and go to bed. “If the contractions stop, you’re not in labor. If they don’t… get ready.”
I followed her directions to a T. (Wine in labor? Yes, please!) But the contractions didn’t go away. They were mellow for awhile and I was able to sleep, but about 1 a.m. I gave it up for lost and got up. I wandered the house, trying to channel all those stories of women who scrubbed their floors and dusted their china in preparation for a home birth but it just.wasn’t.happening.
At 2 a.m. I woke Kevin up. “This is it, babe. It’s real labor.” God bless him, he got right out of bed. After surveying the already-cramped living area, we pushed our 2 old couches onto the front lawn, redneck style, to make space for the birth tub. Now we had a waiting area for visitors! Who needs a hospital after all?
This had been the weekend we scheduled to set up the birth tub. Illness took precedence, so Kevin now had to watch the set-up DVD while constructing the tub, pausing every few minutes to help me through a contraction. There were about 6 minutes apart but totally manageable. I started to feel better about the labor but I knew (ahem) that I still had awhile before this baby was born. I was predicting an afternoon birth.
At 4:45 I called our midwife. (Kevin called his mom to come watch the girls at the same time.)
Me: Hi, M. Just wanted to give you an update. My contractions are about 6 minutes apart. The last few have been pretty strong.
Midwife: Alright, I’m coming over.
Me: (compulsively worried about bothering people) No! No, not yet. It’s going to be awhile. I’ll call you back in an hour.
25 minutes later, at 5:10 a.m., our sweet baby boy was born.
The Last 25 Minutes of Labor:
After hanging up the phone, I had another strong contraction. I began whining to Kevin that I couldn’t wait for the tub to be finished. He urged me to get into our own bathtub, but I was loathe to waste hot water. We only had so much and the birth tub was big! “You need water now,” he reasoned, “we’ll figure out the tub water when it’s set up.”
Thank God for him. He filled the bathtub and I got in, feeling some relief. Gianna crept in and sat by the side of the tub, all bedhead and excited eyes. Aliya followed a couple minutes later. I’ll never forget how peaceful they were, how in awe. They didn’t pester me with questions or bother me at all. They just sat silently watching, never appearing to be afraid.
At about 5:05, I felt some pressure. I gave the tiniest push and felt a pop. Relief! My water had broken and I had a minute of a reprieve.
But only a minute. I realized quickly that the baby was coming, and coming fast. I called to Kevin, who was running, literally, back and forth from the living room.
Me: Babe. This baby is coming. Now.
Kevin: (eyes big as saucers) What do I do?
Me: Page the midwife, call Cindy (the doula), and get some towels.
Kevin: (gone for a minute, comes rushing back in with my phone but without towels) The towel closet is empty! Empty!
Me: (at this point, I am totally calm) Get the beach towels. They’re on the top shelf.
Kevin paged the midwife and called Cindy. While he gave her the Reader’s Digest version of the scenario at hand, I interrupted to say the baby was coming that very second. Kevin dropped the phone on the floor (which was cool because she actually heard the whole birth) and kneeled next to the tub. I didn’t so much as push this time, as I just… stopped holding my baby in. His head was born and I told Kevin to check his neck for a cord. When it was clear, I let go again and our baby boy was born into the water. Not the way we planned, but into water nonetheless.
Kevin lifted him up to my chest, the most precious thing he had ever handed me. I rubbed the baby’s back and he began breathing almost immediately. He didn’t cry, other than a short squawk on his first gasp. All that day he didn’t cry. He squinted at us through puffy eyelids and searched for us with his murky newborn gaze, but he was as calm as could be.
A couple minutes later, my mother in law walked in. The girls ran out to meet her. “Your baby brother is going to be born today!” she said to the girls. “He already was!” crowed Gianna. Ashen-faced, Mimi walked in and burst into tears of joy.
A couple minutes after that Cindy arrived. (She already knew he’d been born because she’s heard the whole thing.) She let me know she had talked to our midwife and that she would be there any minute.
Kevin asked if I wanted to get out of the tub, but I said I’d prefer to wait for the midwife to get there. We added warm water to the bath and covered the baby with a mountain of beach towels. The placenta we put in a bowl and it hung out on my leg until the midwife walked in, surveyed the scene, and burst into laughter. “Only you, Micaela, would sit waiting for me in a bathtub with your new baby on your chest and the placenta on your lap.”
I got out of the bath then, with the help of the midwife, Cindy, and Kevin. The midwife weighed and measured him and checked him for any abnormalities. She stitched me up, too, but the tear was minor and nothing like the Aliya’s birth. A little while later I realized Cindy was gone. Turns out she was tackling our mountain of dishes. A saint in the making, right? (Want to give a new mom an amazing gift? Do her dishes!)
Kevin and I spent the next few delicious hours snuggled up with baby. We dozed and woke, dozed and woke and finally got down to picking a name. We had (again) 2 options. My only reservation about the name Gabriel was that it was the name we had given our miscarried baby, our first baby in heaven. But when we realized the date (All Souls Day) we decided to honor our baby in heaven by naming his brother after him.
Gabriel Thomas was born at 5:10 am into his father’s hands. He weighed 8 lbs 6 oz and was 21.5 inches long. His birth was the most peaceful thing I have ever experienced. In spite of the messy house, in spite of the unplanned nature of it, my heart will be forever grateful for the birth that was attended by only my family. Try as I might (and I’ve obviously been trying), I can’t put into words what it felt like to have my husband deliver my son to me.
As a footnote, I want to make it clear that I’m not an advocate for a planned unassisted birth. I truly believe in the value of OBs and midwives. I felt God’s protection every moment of that birth, and I know that is what He had planned for us. But I wouldn’t have and never would again do it on purpose.