Vincent’s birth story began the week of his estimated due date, which was Sept. 22. On Monday morning of that week, Sept. 18, my husband left for a business conference in Orlando, Florida. He was scheduled to return the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 21. I mostly kept the fact that he was gone a secret. My parents and a couple friends knew, and we spent those four days praying and believing that I would not go into labor while Mike was out of town. He returned as planned, and, as we would discover over the next 12 days, Vincent was quite happy in the womb.
However, on the night of the 21st, I began having contractions – not the Braxton Hicks type I had been experiencing for weeks. These were crampy and low and felt like the real contractions I remembered with my other two labors. The sensations were not intense yet, but, because my other labors progressed so quickly, I called my midwife, Melissa, just to give her a heads-up. She asked me some questions about the location, intensity and timing of the contractions. Her best guess was that I could be in early labor. She asked me to drink a glass of water, take a warm bath and update her in an hour. I followed her instructions and was still feeling the contractions after that hour.
I pulled the birth supplies out of the closet and put them in the bedroom, just in case, and placed the shower curtain liner on my nightstand. Mike called my parents, who were on standby to help with the older kids while I was in labor and during the birth, and my mom was ready to drive to our house. I asked that they stay put, noting that my plan was to lie down and get some rest. If I were in labor, I wanted to be as rested as possible. If not, I still wanted to sleep. I texted Melissa this plan as well, and she agreed rest was a wise idea.
I continued to feel contractions for a little while. Mike and I chatted and recognized two things: 1) If this was labor, we were so thankful the baby waited for his daddy to be home, and 2) Could we actually be having a baby on his due date? That would be crazy. I drifted off to sleep at some point. As I awoke Friday morning, my due date, I thought, “Well, I guess that wasn’t early labor.”
While I was making myself breakfast, my friend Robin, who is a fellow slow cooker when it comes to babies (Her girls were born 13 and 11 days late!), texted me and asked how I was doing. I told her about the contractions, and she responded with “Prodromal labor!” I had not heard this term, so I Googled it and read that it is sometimes called practice or false labor. During my appointment with Melissa later that day, though, she said false labor is not an appropriate term. This is because prodromal labor usually is doing something – preparing the cervix – and oftentimes, having this practice labor can shorten real labor for women. There is work being done intermittently, rather than all at once.
While Melissa’s assessment was reassuring at first – I liked that my body was getting some important work done – it quickly became incredibly frustrating. I experienced prodromal labor almost every evening, right about the time I would try to go to sleep.
I continued to live life as normally as I could. I dropped off the kids at school, went to work, visited the chiropractor for adjustments and acupuncture, and enjoyed time with Mike. We tried to savor our last days as a family of four.
I constantly endured the questions, “How long are they going to let you go?” or “Are you going to have to be induced?” These people didn’t know I was having a home birth – I mostly kept that part a secret. So it was awkward to answer these questions.
There was no “they;” Melissa was my sole healthcare provider, and she would “let” me go as long as it took. If the baby and I were healthy, she was comfortable letting him decide his birthday, even if I went past 42 weeks, which is usually the limit in hospitals and birth centers.
Being a home birth midwife, Melissa does not believe in medical induction, and she doesn’t really make it available. Therefore, I started answering induction questions by simply saying, “I’m not discussing induction.” This seemed like the best response because I thought, even if I had been under the care of a hospital-based midwifery team, I still would not have discussed induction with them prior to 42 weeks.
When I got to 41 weeks, I started experiencing feelings of uncertainty and even inadequacy. You see, with my other two babies, I hadn’t totally been left alone to begin labor on my own.
With Elliot, my midwife was out of town and, at 41 weeks, 2 days, her supervising OB did an ultrasound and determined my amniotic fluid level was low. He suggested induction, which began with Cervidil, a cervical ripening medicine. That alone was enough to put me into labor, so I never had Pitocin or other drugs. With only about six hours of labor, Elliot was born the next morning at 41 weeks, 3 days.
With Cecilia, one of the midwives at the practice where I received care did a membrane sweep at 40 weeks, 6 days. This caused what I thought was cramping but soon discovered was actually labor. She was born later that night after only about four hours of labor.
So with the third baby, irrational thoughts crept in, specifically, “What if my body doesn’t know how to go into labor on its own?” and “What if I don’t recognize labor because it’s never happened on its own before?” Melissa assured me that my body and my baby knew what to do, and that when active labor began, I would know.
September ended, and October arrived. I went to work on Oct. 2, and I think everyone there was incredulous. Some of them felt bad for me, as in “You’re still pregnant?” That evening, Mike announced that something exciting was going to happen that night. He even went so far as to pick a time: 2 a.m. For the first time in days, I went to bed without feeling contractions.
Turns out, Mike was right, partly. I did wake up to pee at about 2:30 a.m., but I didn’t feel contractions until around 4:30. These contractions felt slightly more intense than what I had been experiencing for the past several days. I drifted in and out of sleep until about 6:30, at which point I got up to go to the bathroom again. This time when I wiped, there was blood. I knew this was a good sign. Mike asked, “Are we having a baby today?” I replied, “Maybe.” He called my parents while I took a shower. They were ready to travel at any minute, but I still wasn’t sure. I was likely in early labor, but I had no idea how far off active labor and birth were.
I called Melissa, and she said it sounded like early labor. She encouraged me to keep my acupuncture appointment for that morning if I felt like I could handle it. My only hesitation was – what if the contractions got really strong while I had needles in my skin? We dropped off the kids at school, and I decided to go for acupuncture. I’m not sure if it was the time in the car and all the transitions – car to waiting room, waiting room to acupuncture room, etc. – but by the time I left the chiropractor’s office, the contractions stopped. I was so incredibly discouraged. I decided I would work from home, and I called my mom, urging her to go to work, too. Initially, she agreed, but she texted me a little while later and said she was going to come to our house. She wanted to be available in case we needed someone to pick up the kids from school.
I spent the next several hours sitting in my bedroom, working on my laptop. (Sitting is an important word here.) The contractions returned, but they were mild and sporadic, so I continued by answering emails, completing outstanding tasks and compiling a website traffic report that I sent to all my coworkers at 2:47 p.m.
About 3 p.m., I stood up to go to the bathroom and something shifted. Instead of returning to my work, I logged off my computer. When I texted Melissa at 3:09, I told her that when I stood up, the contractions became more intense and I felt myself having to stop what I was doing and work through them. Knowing she had about an hour drive to my house, she advised me to lie back down and said she was on her way. Mike helped me put the shower curtain liner and sheets on the bed. After that was done, I laid on my left side, and the contractions kept growing stronger. By the time Melissa arrived around 4:30, I was moaning to get through the contractions.
She used the Doppler to check the baby’s heart rate, which was in the 150s, then sat on the floor next to the bed and began organizing all the birth supplies. In the kitchen, my mom offered Melissa a cup of coffee and helped her find a pot to boil some medical instruments.
From that point on, Melissa calmly watched and listened. I told her I was shivering, which I remembered is a common sign of transition, the time in labor when the cervix finishes dilating. She also told me that hiccups and burping often happen during transition because I was experiencing both of those, too. Melissa never “checked” me, meaning she did not perform a pelvic exam to gauge my cervical dilation. (Although she would have if I had asked.) Both of us knew my cervix was somewhere between 8 and 10 centimeters because all the signs pointed to transition.
The contractions grew even stronger, and the pressure started to build. I was finding it more difficult to lie on my side as the contractions progressed. I was sort of flipping part way onto my back and opening my legs. Melissa encouraged me, reminding me that the immense pressure meant the cervix was almost completely open. “When you feel like you need to bear down, like you would during a bowel movement, that’s when it’s time to push,” she said.
It wasn’t long before the pushing urge came. Melissa could sense my discomfort with being on my side, so she asked me if I wanted to change positions. I said yes, but I wasn’t sure what position I wanted. I had delivered C.C. on my hands and knees, and I thought I didn’t want that again. However, at the time, hands and knees seemed like the most logical way to deliver Vincent. I was already on my side, so I didn’t have far to go to flip over.
At 5:51, I got on my hands and knees and surrendered to the fact that I would, once again, push with my butt in the air. Not the most glamorous of scenes. My water broke at 5:54, and according to Melissa’s notes, I began pushing at 5:56.
The pushing phase was amazingly similar to my experience pushing with C.C. The sensations were the same – intense pressure and unbearable burning. I even said some of the same things as I had five and a half years ago. For example, every time I pushed, I could feel the baby move back up, and this was incredibly discouraging. So, I would push, then whine, “Noooooo, I can feel him going back in.” Melissa reminded me this was normal, that the baby was slowly stretching my perineum.
Another common utterance was, “I just want him out!” I remember thinking that it was not possible to survive another contraction, that at some point my body was going to break. Having witnessed about 900 births, Melissa knew the crazy things I was saying and feeling were normal. In fact, to her, these irrational thoughts meant the baby would be born soon!
During this time, Melissa said two things that were helpful: 1) This is the hardest work you’ll ever do in your life, and 2) Try to stay out of your own head. She was right about the first, and as I reflect on the second, I am reminded of Ina May Gaskin’s suggestion to “Let your monkey do it.” This is her way of saying that our bodies know what to do. Women are made to give birth, but thinking too much about it slows or inhibits the process.
The head was born at 6:22 p.m., and Vincent Michael Henry fully entered the world at 6:23 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3. He started crying immediately, before I could even flip over. Mike helped me turn onto my back, and Melissa handed me my baby boy, who was still gloriously covered in birth goo, blood and vernix. I was crying and kept saying, “We did it.” It was a high like no other. Complete euphoria.
He stayed on my chest for a long time – almost two hours. I delivered the placenta at 6:41, and Vincent latched on for the first time at 7:09. Mike and I just stared at this new little life, thankful for another healthy baby.
I am so grateful for the home birth experience, which would not have been possible without my “team.” Melissa was steady and reassuring. She is truly the epitome of a midwife – completely confident in the normalcy of birth and women’s abilities to give birth. She even said my birth was “textbook boring.”
And my husband. Boy, let me tell you, I am a blessed woman. For starters, not every husband would have been as 100 percent on board with a home birth as Mike was. Not only that, during the birth, he was calm and light-hearted. He made me laugh – repeatedly. He didn’t say a whole lot, but he didn’t have to. Just having him there, being totally present with me, and feeling his hand on my back or in my hair – it was all enough.
Soon after I delivered the placenta, the big brother and big sister got to meet their new sibling. C.C. even helped cut the cord. My parents met Vincent, too. It was lovely being at home, in my own bed, with all my people.
After examining the baby, inspecting the placenta (Elliot took a particular interest in that!) and helping me shower, Melissa left at about 9:30. The big kids went to bed, and I put Vincent in a sleeper. My parents retired to the guest bedroom, and Mike and I snuggled into our bed with our new baby, born the day before my birthday. I’m pretty sure I stayed up all night just staring at him and reflecting on all that had happened over the past few hours. Best birthday present ever.