Today our daughter turns two years old. It is amazing to me that that much time has passed since I was pregnant and gave birth. All the clichés about babies growing too fast, and enjoying the newborn stages are completely true. Time passes so quickly, and all of a sudden, your beautiful, untouched baby is a toddler, almost a little girl. The past two years have been incredible. Joy has abounded, challenges have arisen, parents have been made. I was just telling Taylor how amazed I am at him as a father. I am not sure what I expected, but I know that he far exceeded my expectations, and he is just truly awesome. I have learned a lot from him in this process, and I am so grateful to have such an involved, thoughtful partner to raise a person with.
Josephine was born at home, and we had a beautiful, peaceful birth. I actually get a little jealous when I know a woman is about to give birth, because it is such an incredible experience. If I could go back and re-live that day, I would in an instant. It was miraculous. I have never been so proud of myself, so in love with my body, as I was that day. Taylor and I were a true team, and I cherish my birth memories. I have wanted to write my birth story out, but put it off. So, for Josephine’s second birthday, I decided to bite the bullet and just do it. I am afraid that it is impossible to transcribe everything that happened that day. So many of the feelings I had are indescribable, but I will try. Just a warning… this story is long, some parts make me sound a little earth motherish, and I do talk about poop… and of course, vaginas.
Before I start, I need to acknowledge some people who assisted Taylor and I through our birth: Andrea Ferroni, our wonderful, loving midwife. She was a wealth of knowledge, a pillar of strength, and a beautiful friend. Without her support, calm, confident presence and thoughtful guidance, our birth would not have been what it was. Thank you. Jane Young, Taylor’s wonderful mother, who loved us and worried for us, and made us a delicious pot of beans, even though her nerves made her stir them into re-fried beans. Jane told my mom when she was listening to me pushing that she wished she could come in and do it for me so that I wouldn’t have to hurt. What a woman! Thank you. Carol Whitney, my inspirational mother, who led by example and taught me about natural childbirth throughout my life. I remember watching kittens being born when I was a little girl, and my mom telling me to watch how the cat relaxed and almost went into a trance between contractions. Because of her, having a child at home was just how it was done, nothing out of the ordinary. The story of my birth at home helped me beyond anything else to prepare for Josephine’s birth at home. Thank you. And to Josephine. Thank you for making me a mother. You are my love. And so, if you are brave enough to read on, enjoy:
On November 15th 2009 I threw a candle at Taylor’s head. It was not my shining moment, however, I was absolutely through being pregnant. Up until that point I felt like I handled pregnancy pretty well: walking, doing prenatal yoga, keeping a fairly positive attitude and enjoying the bliss of growing life inside of my body. On November 15th, however, I was done. My house was clean, I had nothing left to organize, I didn’t feel like watching TV, Taylor didn’t want me to go anywhere more than 5 minutes from home in case I went into labor and had the baby within the 5 minutes it took to get home (one could only hope, right?). I was bored and ready to get on with it. I had had differing due dates from November 5th to November 16th, and I had convinced myself that the baby would be there the week before (against the prompting of my midwife – the lovely, talented, amazing Andrea – who advised me to tell myself and those around me that my baby would be born around Thanksgiving, thus giving myself some extra time). Although I had felt some contractions the previous week, no labor…no baby. It only took one unsavory comment from Taylor on the 15th for me to completely freak out and hurl a heavy candle at his skull. Luckily he has cat like reflexes and ducked out of the way, because I might have killed him if not. I spent the rest of that day in the guest room watching every episode of Project Runway I could get my hands on. I apologized before bed and vowed to wake up the next day in a better mood (it was going to be my birthday after all).
The morning of November 16th I woke up at 9:30 in the morning. I checked in with my mood and realized that I was still not in a great place, so I tried to talk myself out of it and got up to use the restroom. When I got into the bathroom and went to sit on the toilet, I felt water pour all over my feet and over the floor. “Taylor…” I said. “Umm, I think my water broke.” “Huh?” He murmured in his half sleep. “I think my water broke, can you get me those test strip things that Andrea gave us. I want to check to make sure.” Taylor walked into the bathroom and just about died laughing. “What do you mean you think your water broke? The floor has water all over it!” Yeah…I guess I should have just gone with it, but you never know. Maybe I peed myself and didn’t know. Turns out it was just a little (lot of) amniotic fluid. I gathered some in a jar to test and mopped up the rest with a towel.
After changing and such I called Andrea to let her know that my water had broken. I wasn’t having contractions or anything at that point. She told me to keep her updated on what was going on and gave me a list of things to do and not to do: Relax, take a shower, eat food, clean the bathrooms, take my temperature readings, don’t have sex-sex, but you can do other sexual things. You know, the basics.
I proceeded to clean my toilets, picked up the house, took a shower. I called my parents and Taylor’s mom Jane to let them know my water had broken. I told everyone not to get too excited; it could take a couple of days. Taylor went out and picked up some Chinese food for lunch while I relaxed at home. I had some contractions around 10:30, and then sporadically the rest of the morning. In the afternoon Jane and my mom came over to bring me my birthday pie (my mom had been hanging out in Merced about 45 minutes away waiting for me to go into labor, and was already planning a trip to Oakdale to celebrate my birthday). My contractions were getting closer together and longer, but I still felt fine, just a little uncomfortable. I timed my contractions on my iphone (which had to be later pried out of my hands by my midwife) and we all watched Sarah Palin on Oprah (I know, so fun). We kept in contact with Andrea throughout the day, and she suggested walking to keep things moving along. Around 5 pm Taylor and I walked down the street slowly, talking about something (just what, I can’t remember), and stopping for my contractions. We probably looked pretty silly stopping every few minutes, and we didn’t get far, but I remember it being a beautiful evening. The sun was just going down, and it was starting to get dark. That walk was really amazing.
When we got home I sent my mom and Jane back to Jane’s house to wait, since I was insisting that it could be a couple of days still. My mom knew I was farther along in my labor than I thought, and she didn’t want to go, but she left anyways at my insistence.
Taylor and I took that time alone to get the room situated for our birth. We already had the birth tub set up (really a plastic horse trough, or the tub of awesomeness as I will refer to it), but we got our iPod ready with music, got the lighting right, brought in the big yellow yoga ball, and just relaxed on the bed together. Our cat lay with us on our bed as we talked, timed contractions, and enjoyed each other’s company. It was completely relaxing and I felt so calm, concentrating on letting my body do what it needed to do. I focused on breathing and talked to myself and my unborn child, encouraging my body to open up, silently praising my child for her work in the process of her birth. I made phone calls to different people between contractions; our midwife, my dad, my sister, my friend Genevieve. Letting them all know that the time had come, but still insisting that it could be a while, so we’d call to update soon.
At 8:27 pm (I checked my phone log later), and between contractions I made a last phone call to Genevieve giving her an update. I let her know we’d call her when the baby was born. She told me I sounded really calm for being in labor. I once again said, “Well, you know, it could be a couple of days. Well, I’m going to go, I feel another contraction coming on.” As soon as I hung up the phone I felt like something inside of me snapped. My contractions immediately changed and became more intense. I could no longer lay down through the contractions, so I would get up on all fours and rock on top of the bed during them, then lie down and focus on relaxation and openness in between. I told Taylor he should call Andrea to come down now. He just shook his head. He had secretly called her about a half an hour before and asked her to come, knowing that I would need her. This is such a great illustration of Taylor throughout our labor. He was intuitive, supportive, calm, and strong. He would anticipate what I would need or what would come next and just quietly and unobtrusively do it. He is truly the reason for our beautiful labor and for that I am thankful. He had no agenda other than to be there to do anything that needed to be done; to be the brains of the operation, since my mind was moved out of the way so that my body could take over. He was brilliant.
By the time Andrea had arrived, I was using the yoga ball to rock on by leaning over it during contractions. Taylor and Andrea busied themselves filling the birth tub while I kept on with my job of focusing, relaxing, talking to myself, visualizing. I have no memory of the tub being filled or either of them doing things around the room because I was so involved in myself. I turned into myself and was unaware of the outside world.
At some point the amazing tub of awesomeness was ready, and I eased myself into the hot water. It was an instant relief, as I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed with contractions. The water felt amazing and I knew that I would not be getting out. The warmth helped soothe me in a way that I can’t even begin to explain.
From this point, things get a bit blurry for me, as the next five or six hours were intense and focused, but my mind was not in its normal place. I remember reading or hearing that you just have to move your rational mind out of the way during labor and let your animal mind take over. This seems to explain what took place inside of me after this point. I had decided before labor that I would not be ashamed of any noises I made, facial expressions, bodily whatever’s. Having already made that decision really freed me up to vocalize, grunt, moan as I pleased without embarrassment. I could really go for it. And I did. I remember thinking at one time, “Wow, that is not a noise I have ever made before.” And I don’t think, outside of childbirth, that I will ever make it again. It was bizarre.
At some point I made Jane and my mom leave the room, since their presence was distracting me from fully letting go and relaxing, so it was mainly Taylor, Andrea and myself in the bedroom during my labor. A wonderful woman named Alicia showed up towards the end (I think) to assist Andrea. I hadn’t met her previously, and I wouldn’t know her face if she walked right up to me on the street, but I do remember that she was gentle, cautious, and helpful. Taylor, my mom and Jane all said wonderful things about her, as she spent more time in the living room with the mothers and helping Taylor with little tasks he had to do.
When I was pregnant, I would joke around, saying that my vagina was going to become as big as a whales mouth to let the baby out. I was trying to deal with a little bit of fear I had about tearing, and the whole concept worked out for me. We would joke about whales mouth vagina so frequently that I had my friend Jen paint me a picture of a whale with a baby coming out of its mouth to use as a visualization tool during labor. Kind of a focal point to remind me that my vagina could, in fact, expand in an unbelievable ways. It also made me laugh, which helped me to relax.
Additionally, when I was pregnant I watched a video of an elephant giving birth. It was not really remarkable, however, there was something in the elephant’s eyes that sparked something in me, and the way she silently focused, opened her mouth, bore down and pushed the baby elephant out was inspiring. These were the two images that helped me. A whale and an elephant. Go figure.
Throughout hard labor I did a lot of positive self-talk. I would repeat, “open…open up…” out loud and in my head to remind my body of what it needed to do. I concentrated on keeping my jaw loose, so that the rest of my body would be loose and able to move and expand. I reminded myself that I could do this over and over again. I had heard that a lot of women hit a place in their labor where they feel as if they can’t go on. Where they want to give up. I never hit that place, most likely because I was so busy repeating, “you can do this….open up…whales mouth….you can do this…open”. My mind felt strong and I had never felt so focused in my life.
I used one word sentences to get my points across, to get what I needed. Taylor and Andrea quickly adapted to my new style of language, and they were able to give me what I needed without talking to me much at all. I would shout out “trashcan” if I needed to throw up. I would say “poop” if I felt like I was going to go to the bathroom (although it usually came out at “pooooooooopppp”, and Andrea would ask, “Do you really have to poop or does it just feel like you have to poop?” and I would respond, “feel.” – cute, I know). I believe I said the word poop more than any other word when I was in labor.
When my body told me it was time to push, I did just that. The feeling of bearing down was incredible, and there was no way I could have stopped it or done something different. It felt really good to pull on something, so I used Taylor and Andrea’s pointer and middle fingers to pull on as I was pushing and contracting. I felt like if I let go of their fingers, I would lose momentum, so they both let me pull on them violently for hours. I pulled so hard that my wrists hurt the next day. Poor Andrea had to brace herself between the tub and the dresser. I might have pulled her back out a bit. It was amazing. At one point during the pulling, Taylor wanted to get up to use the bathroom. I had just finished a contraction, and was about to start another when he said he was going. I simply said, “no, wait”. Taylor stayed by my side for about 10 minutes before I said, “ok, you can go.” Things needed to be on my schedule, as I needed them. Everything felt like it had an order to it. I was very much in control.
I remember saying a few bad words during my two hours of pushing, however, the room was mostly quiet. At one point I just needed to stare into Andrea’s eyes and have her tell me it was going to be alright. I remember needing to tell Taylor that I loved him. It was painful, but not in a scary, sharp, I stubbed my toe sort of way. It was in a stretching, burning, easing sort of way. I remember telling Andrea that the contraction pain wasn’t going away, and saying “shit…motherfucker”. I could feel Josephine easing down my birth canal. I could feel her move slowly down, move slightly back up, move slowly down again. Inch by inch. I talked to her the entire time, letting her know she was doing a good job, asking her to please come out. I tried my hardest to stay as relaxed as I could, to not tense up, to not clench my jaw, so that my body could expand to let her out. I worked with my contractions and let my body completely relax in between to get some rest. It was incredibly taxing. At one point, after I finished a contraction, I fell asleep. I woke up, most likely 30 seconds later, having another contraction. I was disoriented, thinking, “wait, what’s going on? Oh, yeah, I’m I labor.” In 30 seconds I had managed to become so relaxed that I actually forgot. I was in the zone, I suppose.
When Andrea and Taylor told me that the baby’s head was crowning (which I knew because I could feel that that was happening), and I pushed with all my might. She was just about to come out when the contraction I was having ended. I believe both of them made a slight disappointed noise (which in my head when I am thinking about it sounds like, “AHH AHH AHH…ahhhhhhhhhhh), because they were sure we would have her out by that push. I took a breath, told myself and Josephine, “alright, this is it, we’re going to do this”, and pushed one last time. Josephine was born into the water, and immediately the relief of completing this phase of labor hit me. I don’t know if I have ever felt as good as I did in that instant. I felt alive.
Taylor had his hands ready and quickly picked Josephine up out of the water and lay her on my chest. She let out a brief squawk, and then opened her eyes to look at me. I was immediately, intensely in love. Taylor and I looked at our daughter. I remember saying, “It’s our person.” She was perfect. I felt such a rush of relief, excitement, love and energy all at the same time. I can’t even begin to describe how that moment felt. It was pure love.
When it was time, Taylor cut her umbilical cord, and just like that, we were two people. Taylor picked her up off of me so that I could stand and deliver the placenta (which was fairly uneventful for me), and I stepped out of the tub and into our bed, with my family: Taylor and Josephine. My mom and Jane came in right away to meet their granddaughter, and we all just looked at her in awe.
When Andrea did a new baby check on her about an hour later, she asked us what clothing we wanted to put her in. Since we were having a home birth, and you usually just hear about picking out coming home clothes for a baby, I really had no idea. The thought of clothing this person just hadn’t crossed my mind. Taylor went into the nursery and grabbed a yellow sleep sack, and that was that. It was a little bit of a shock to me. Oh, yeah, that is our decision to make. It’s all our decision to make… wow.
Josephine was born at 2:50 am on November 17th, 2009. By around 4:30 am everyone had left our home. It was just the three of us (and our very concerned cat). Taylor and I just sat and watched Josephine as she slept silently, in awe of her, of what had just happened, and of where we were in life. When we all woke up a few hours later, we were ready to start our day…Josephine’s birthday…the rest of our lives. She was born in a beautiful, calm way and is a beautiful, calm person. She is strong, thoughtful, and imaginative. She is intelligent, humorous, and joyful. She is independent and brave. She is our person. She is perfect. I am forever grateful to be her mother, honored to help her down her path, and amazed at the beauty that she brings to our world. Taylor and I are very lucky to know her. Happy Birthday to my love.