First a note: This is a birth story. While there are no direct pictures of nudity, there are, of course, some in which I am not clothed and all that is blocking nudity is a baby or camera angle. In addition, this describes Zara’s birth and talks about things in my labor experience that might make some people squeamish. If you are not comfortable with any of this, please don’t read it.*****
I had grand plans for the birth of our second baby and our first home birth experience. I was going to bake a cake, set up a beautiful birthing corner around the tub, and have a great big birthday party with friends popping by to keep me company in early labor and staying to celebrate Peach’s birth.
When I woke up at 7:30 on Sunday, January 6th, all of that was still part of the plan. I had pounds of coconut, pink and blue sugar sprinkles, and a zero candle waiting in the kitchen; I had a long list of phone numbers for the group of friends (affectionately dubbed “my birth tribe”) sitting on top of my basket of home birth supplies. Everything was ready and waiting as I made my way in the light of a gray Nantucket sunrise down the stairs and across our house to the bathroom — but the possibility that we might be using them was far from my mind that morning. I had been up relatively late sewing the night before and I had big plans for the day: a website training with a client at 10 and a massage for myself later in the afternoon in hopes of getting things moving in honor of my due date on the 7th. I fully expected Peach to be late since Nora had taken her sweet time deciding to come into the world. I had already had several episodes of Braxton Hicks contractions, so when I climbed back into bed and realized I might be having contractions, I decided the best course of action was to ignore them and get more sleep before my busy day.
Shortly after 8, Nora woke up and I decided to play the contraction card to get out of getting out of bed, even though at that point I still wasn’t sure if they were real. I hadn’t been able to fall back to sleep which was unusual for me, but my contractions were still pretty irregular and not really uncomfortable at all. Chris tossed my phone on the bed on his way downstairs with Nora, so at 8:15 I decided to check in with Sybille, our midwife. “This may be the day. Bloody show around 7:30. Haven’t been able to to back to sleep. Laying in bed. Somewhat steady contractions. Will keep you posted,” I texted her. Sybille texted back that she had gotten my message and I decided since I clearly wasn’t going to fall back to sleep that I might as well download a contraction app for my phone. I figured at some point that it might make sense to time my contractions which, then, were not anything more than noticeable. Not 15 minutes later, around 8:30, I was laying in bed fiddling with my phone when I had the distinct feeling that I had either peed my pants a tiny bit or my water may have broken just enough to trickle out. That was the last straw on attempting to rest, so I got up and headed for the shower.
Sybille texted me while I was in the shower telling me to check in with her at noon if not before then, which prompted me to let her know that I thought my water may have broken slightly. At that point (8:50), we spoke on the phone and we agreed that she would stop by around 10:30 to take a round of vitals and test to see if my membranes had indeed ruptured. I felt like I had all the time in the world and so I remember agreeing to her checking in only with the idea that she would leave afterward. Up until that point I had been debating keeping my scheduled client meeting for 10:00 — not because I thought I was still having Braxton Hicks, but because I expected this labor to go similarly to my labor during Nora’s birth which lasted about 12 hours and during which I was very active. It seemed reasonable to me to try to get things done, considering my expectation of having several more hours of first stage labor, but after talking to Sybille I realized that was silly given how much there was to do at home, so at 9 I emailed my client to cancel our meeting, texted my friend Caitlin that I was probably going to need to to cancel my massage, and texted the first couple of people (our doula/Sybille’s assistant, our photographer, and Nora’s support person) to give them a heads up that Peach might be coming. Then, Chris and I got to work setting up the house.
Chris washed dishes, started moving furniture and brought our supplies downstairs, while I worked on cleaning our room upstairs. The night before, I had left sewing supplies strewn across the room, a pile of fabric scraps and thread on my dresser, and the sewing machine out on our ironing board at the foot of our bed. Nora sat on our bed playing with her birth doll while I put everything in its place, then she helped me to take our bed apart and then remake it with a waterproof cover and second fitted sheet over the one that was already on the bed. I tried to time a few contractions because I figured that Sybille would ask about them when she arrived, but I couldn’t get anything reliable since I wasn’t always with my phone when one started and I also thought that bending over to pick things up was sometimes triggering them.
Around 10, Nora and I went downstairs to help Chris get the dining room setup and to sweep the floors because I didn’t want everyone to come over to a house covered in dog fur (I worried about that while in labor with Nora, too). At that point, I was starting to have to breathe through the contractions, but I could still walk through them and do what I needed to do in between them. They were probably somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes apart at that point and I still expected several more hours before things got serious, so it didn’t occur to me to let everyone else in my birth tribe know what was going on — all I was focused on at that point was getting the house ready.
Sybille came a little after 10:30. She did a litmus test on the underwear I had been wearing earlier and it was positive for amniotic fluid, which meant we were indeed going to have a baby that day. At 10:45, she did a round of vitals (taking my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature), checked my urine with a test strip, and listened to Zara’s heart rate. At that point, I was getting more uncomfortable. I was eating a bowl of cold cereal and drinking tea, but I had to stand up each time that I had a contraction instead of being able to sit through them — yet still, I thought that things were going to last for a long time. Sybille, I think, had a better instinct for how things were progressing (which is why she’s the midwife, not me!), so instead of leaving like we previously discussed, she decided to bring all of her supplies in from the car and get herself set up.
During this time, Nora was sitting at the table with us and was getting increasingly excited. She was interested in everything Sybille was doing and kept exclaiming, “Peach is going to be born today!” Even in this early stage, she did great. She was happy to help with the preparations with which she could help, and was understanding when during a contraction I told her she couldn’ t touch me. The only trouble we had was that she had an accident on her rug after denying needing to go to the bathroom, so we set a timer to remind her to go in a while.
Chris was getting the tub ready, and we had the surprise realization that the brand new compressor couldn’t run off an outlet, but had to charge for two hours before it could be used to inflate the tub. We spent awhile discussing this (and realizing that we should have tried it out first), but I decided there was no point in worrying because we had “plenty of time.” I finished my breakfast, cleared Nora’s and my dishes, and went back to getting things ready.
At 11:25, the house was clean enough that I was thinking about starting the cake when I realized that I wasn’t taking any birth preparation photos. I walked to the living room, popped the memory card in my camera, started to walk toward the kitchen when, just like in the movies, my water really broke in a giant gush. I said, “Oh, my gosh,” and stood there frozen for a moment, completely surprised by the suddenness of it all. My water never broke with Nora until just as she was about to be born, so it never occurred to me that I might end up standing, sopping wet in a puddle in my hallway. Sybille came from the dining room to check on me and I called Chris down from upstairs to have the lovely job of cleaning it up (luckily we have vinyl flooring and not carpet), then I headed to the bathroom to rinse off. After rinsing in the shower, I took myself back upstairs to find another pair of pants and to print another copy of our phone list because the one I had printed before had somehow disappeared from our supply basket. Around this time I realized that we should call Becky, my friend who was going to support Nora, and so Chris did that after putting a movie on for Nora as temporary entertainment.
Initially after my water broke, my contractions lightened up. Up until that point they were still very manageable, but I definitely felt more pressure than I had at the same point with Nora, which I remember mentioning to Sybille just before I flooded the hallway. After my water broke, some of the pressure felt lessened, which gave me the break I needed to get cleaned up, but then they really kicked into high gear and I realized that there was no way I would be baking a birthday cake that day. Sybille listened to Peach’s heart-tones again after I went downstairs from printing the phone list and I remember standing bent over the kitchen sink feeling nauseated and incredibly hot. As soon as she was done, I stripped off my shirt to just the bikini top I was wearing and decided the best place for me to wait for the (gosh-darn) tub to be inflated and filled was on the toilet. Chris helped me get my pants off, brought me a bowl since I thought I might be sick, then went to get me a blanket when I decided I was cold, before going back in the dining room to start filling the tub with the half-charged air compressor.
At 11:51, my friend Megan called me, perfectly timed in the space between contractions. She is an OB-GYN and had just finished a twin delivery, and decided to check in with me after seeing Chris’ Facebook post saying it was going to be Peach’s birthday. I don’t remember much about our conversation except that I told her I was sitting on the toilet, which made her laugh, and that I didn’t know Chris had posted something on Facebook so I thought she must have some amazing OB ability to sense when someone is in labor. The conversation was pretty short; I rushed to get off the phone when I felt the next contraction coming; now I see that we spoke for three minutes, so I’m guessing that’s about how spaced apart my contractions were. After the next contraction ended (11:54), I realized I needed to text Caitlin back and confirm that I was indeed in labor and cancelling our massage. At noon, I realized that someone needed to call Lisa, our photographer, to get her there in time, so Chris did that, and then I realized that I needed to tell my birth tribe that I was in labor, but at that point (12:08) all I could manage between contractions was to go into the Facebook event I had created and type two words: “Baby time!” I had wanted to call or individually text people because there were a few friends who I really wanted there with me, but things went so much faster than I had anticipated and by the time I realized how imminent everything was there wasn’t much I could do between contractions.
Sometime soon after I posted on Facebook, my friend Sunny, who is Sybille’s assistant and a doula, arrived, and she brought with her the thing that saved the day: an air compressor so they could finish inflating the tub and start filling it up. (Becky also arrived at some point (I have no idea), loaded with all kinds of toys and books and with a special big sister gift for Nora.)
Chris, Sybille, and Sunny quickly got the tub inflated and started to fill it with hot water from the shower, all the while I labored on the toilet. I started to feel like pushing not long after posting on Facebook and I remember having this fear that they weren’t going to have the tub ready in time. I had to scoot my butt forward and lean back against the toilet tank to take off some of the downward pressure and was mostly just trying not to push; at 12:28 (thank goodness for Sybille’s notes!), I told Sunny, who had come in the bathroom to check on me, that I was felt like pushing and asked if the tub was ready yet. It wasn’t, so Chris brought our rocking chair into the kitchen and helped me move off the toilet because I felt like I would be better able to stop myself from pushing and more comfortable in the rocking chair.
About this time, Lisa arrived and started taking our birth photos. We completely missed out on any photos during early labor because we were so busy getting ready and things went so much faster than expected. Luckily, Chris was able to get a hold of her when I finally thought to have him call her, and she was able to get here quickly. I sat in the rocking chair for only about 10 minutes, although it felt like a much longer time than that.
I pretty much exclusively sat with my eyes closed and just focused on breathing through contractions even though I very much wanted to push. I was bound and determined to have a water birth! At 12:40, I told them that was it, I wasn’t waiting any longer and I got in the tub, which was filled enough but not as much as it normally would have been.
Nora was still playing in her room with Becky, but as Peach was crowning, I called out to Becky to bring her into the dining room so that she could watch Peach being born. I don’t remember how many pushes it took, but it couldn’t have been very many, because, according to Sybille’s notes, I got in the tub at 12:40 and Zara was born at 12:48. I supported my own perineum, asked Sybille to help with the shoulders, and then pulled Zara out and up the rest of the way myself. It was pretty amazing.
I held her in the tub until I delivered the placenta (which seemed much harder to do than I remember at Nora’s birth) about 20 minutes later. During this time, we discovered that Peach was a girl and were all just generally amazed at her perfection.
After the placenta was delivered, Chris cut the umbilical cord and then we started to make the transition upstairs. I ate a banana before getting out of the tub, then Chris held Zara skin-to-skin while I rinsed off quickly in the shower (1:25 p.m.) and walked upstairs with the help of Sybille and Sunny. Although we spent time skin-to-skin in the tub, Zara wasn’t yet ready to nurse, but she got to that point while Chris was holding her (she started doing the boob dive and was looking for a nipple on him, which is one of the things Nora most talks about from the birth). Because she was ready to nurse, we delayed the newborn exam after going upstairs. Sybille and Sunny did an initial round of vitals on me and Zara,
while Chris fed me more fruit, then they all left us to have some family time in bed.
We snacked, Nora played, Zara nursed, and we made the first round of family phone calls (completely torturing everyone because we had no information other than, “it’s a girl.”)
A little after 2, Sybille and Sunny came back upstairs to completely examine Zara. What a difference Zara’s newborn exam was from Nora’s! Having the extra skin-to-skin time and actually being able to get in a good nursing session made a huge difference. Zara was completely content during the exam, not crying at all. After the exam, we got her dressed, took a few more pictures, and then she fell asleep, which gave me the opportunity to eat some of my homemade chex mix and a giant bowl of the cashew chili I had prepped a few days before, and that Becky cooked while we were having family time upstairs. Since Zara was sleeping, after I ate tons of food, Sybille examined me to see if I needed any stitches (none!), then she and Sunny helped me downstairs to go to the bathroom, get cleaned up again, and get dressed.
We took a few more pictures, toasted Zara with a glass of Veuve Clicquot, and then everyone left at 4:30, leaving the house as if nothing had happened: the tub was emptied and taken down, furniture was moved back, laundry was started, and all of the dishes were washed. The whole experience was, though a whirlwind, completely amazing and then, the best part was that we all got to sleep in our own beds and eat our own food.
I am so incredibly grateful for this wonderful birth experience. Grateful to all of our friends who sent money to our home birth fundraiser, grateful to my friend Jess who organized it, and unbelievably grateful to my Grandmother, Mim, who paid the difference — without which we wouldn’t have been able to have our ideal, happy, family birth. And I am so, so grateful to the amazing women in our birth team who made it the safe and perfect day that it was. Sybille, Sunny, and Becky, we can’t thank you enough. Nor do we have words for the wonderful Lisa Frey of Nantucket Event Media, who beautifully captured Zara’s birth, beyond our expectations (and another big thank you is owed here to Jess, who gifted Lisa’s photography to us). We will cherish this day and these memories forever.