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Alyssa & Chris

alyssa and chrisWhat an incredible journey this birth was! My husband, Chris, and I had been planning a home-birth with a local midwife, Dana Albillo from Common Ground Midwifery Services, ever since we found out I was pregnant.

At my last prenatal appointment, Dana had checked me for the first time and found that I was already four centimeters dilated and eighty percent effaced, which was very encouraging! Dana predicted that the birth wouldn’t be too far off, and that labor wasn’t going to take very long. My estimated due date was June 17th (Father’s Day), but since I hadn’t had any ultrasounds, I wasn’t really counting on that day. We also didn’t know the gender of the baby, so there was a lot of suspense as the days crept along in June!

During Father’s Day weekend I had a few bouts of contractions, but when Monday came everything stopped; no labor symptoms at all. Rather than worry or become impatient, I remembered what I had learned from Samanda’s Naturally Prepared class: a due date is just an estimation, not a deadline! Most first time mothers go past their “due date”, so I was prepared for days of waiting, if need be. More time before the birth simply meant more time to prepare myself (and do more house-cleaning).

Tuesday morning, June 19th, I woke up hungry as usual at seven. Suddenly, as eight o’clock hit, I began having contractions. They were immediately five to six minutes apart and too uncomfortable for me to continue sitting down on the couch. They didn’t hurt, though; it felt like a lot of pressure, which I was able to breathe and walk through. This made me think that maybe I wasn’t actually going into labor after all, but I thought I should call Dana just in case. She said it sounded like the real thing and I should time the contractions for a while. I walked around the apartment for an hour as the contractions became three or four minutes apart. At that point, Chris and I knew our baby was arriving soon!

The next hour was a flurry of activity. I called my mom in Kansas City, who I wanted to be at the birth. She was super excited and began the five hour trip with my step-dad. I also called Dana to tell her it was definitely time. Chris called work to begin his two week vacation leave. Then Chris had to rush around with last minute preparations: making sure we had food available, getting the birth kit ready, setting up our bed with waterproof sheets, finalizing the accommodations for my folks, etc. By ten o’clock Dana arrived with her equipment and helped Chris finish getting set up. Dana usually had an assistant with her to attend births, but the assistant was out of town. This was fine with me; I preferred less people around.

I had still been pacing around the apartment. Walking was absolutely what my body wanted and needed to do! I was so thankful that the Naturally Prepared class has emphasized how important it is for birthing mothers to move around as they felt led. I NEEDED to keep moving. The contractions were now two minutes apart. They were strong enough that I had to stop moving and breathe deeply through them while swaying back and forth, almost like dancing.

I didn’t feel any pain. There was music playing in the background, a beautiful and intense set of pieces by Angels of Venice, which gave me something to focus on through the long contractions. Dana checked me, and found that I was seven centimeters dilated. I was excited to find that I was already so far along! We decided to continue with what I was doing, since it was working well so far. Chris brought me water, walked with me, let me lean on him when a contraction began, rubbed my back when I wanted to lean on the counter or dresser, and brought me little bites of food. He was the perfect supportive partner!

At noon Dana checked me again. I hadn’t progressed very much, and the contractions were coming one or two minutes apart. They were more powerful, but didn’t seem to be effective for dilation, so Dana suggested that we break my bag of waters to move things along. The instant she did, I dilated past eight centimeters and felt much more pressure from the baby’s head. Dana told me to keep working through the contractions and let her know when I felt like I needed to push. She also suggested we try several different positions to help the baby move down. I tried my hands and knees, sitting on the birthing stool, lying on my back, and kneeling against the side of the bed, all of which helped me progress little bit, but made the contractions much more difficult to work through.

The next two hours were hard. Contractions continued without any break, yet the baby was taking a very long time to move down. Chris and Dana helped support me in different positions over and over. I could tell that my body probably needed to begin pushing soon but the urge to push wasn’t coming. Plus, I knew that I was getting tired, which was the first time a worry crossed my mind. The best position at this point was for me to lie on my back on a yoga mat covered with waterproof pads on the floor, with my legs up and supported by Dana and Chris. I never thought that I’d end up in a typical hospital position, but that’s what was effective, so I wasn’t going to complain! It was certainly the easiest way for me to labor by then since I was running out of energy.

When Dana checked me again at two o’clock, she found that I was almost fully dilated, but still had part of my cervix getting in the way of the baby moving down into the birth canal. We made the decision that she would manually move the last lip of cervix over the baby’s head and begin stretching me to assist the baby’s movement. This was when I felt real pain instead of discomfort or pressure for the first time! I felt myself sinking into a place in my mind where all my focus went into “labor-land”, waiting for a contraction to arrive, pushing through it, trying to learn which muscles were most effective as Dana directed me, and then completely relaxing my body to conserve energy once the contraction had finished. This stage would have been much easier if my body had felt the natural urge to push, but for some reason the instinct didn’t kick in. Dana’s words of guidance were invaluable as she helped me figure out what I needed to do to get this baby out!

By three o’clock I was beginning to wear down. The saving grace was the arrival of my mom! She immediately came in and helped Chris support my legs so that Dana could concentrate on the baby. I was too far immersed in the birthing process to notice much, but I found out later that everyone was getting worried because my pushing wasn’t as effective as it needed to be.

An hour later, I was almost exhausted. The thought that I might not be able to get the baby out crossed my mind; I knew he/she was very close, just a few inches away from emerging… so why was the head stuck? For the first time, I felt a wave of fear. Then Dana looked at me seriously and said these magic words: “Alyssa, your baby is SO CLOSE to being born, I can see the top of the head. But if you want to get this baby out now, you need to really use your muscles, put your chin down, get your lungs full of air, and push for a count of ten through every contraction. If you don’t, then we’ll have to consider going to the hospital for possible forceps or vacuum assistance.” Hospital? NOW? No way! That was the last thing I wanted!

On my refrigerator was a picture I had drawn with my favorite quote from Samanda’s birthing class: “Rain, after all, is only rain; it is not bad weather. So also, pain is only pain; unless we resist it, then it becomes torment.” This quote had been running through my head the whole time. I realized now that I was resisting the pain of pushing because my body was having trouble. But once I re-focused my energy, my muscles, and breathing, and stopped fighting what I needed to do, then progress began to happen.

With my last reserves of energy, I began using all my might to push. In between contractions I asked my mom to feed me bites of fruit leather and honey, and Chris continued to give me sips of water, which gave me a burst of strength. Dana was still trying to stretch me in order to give the baby room to come down, which was absolutely important, but it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. Every time I would have a contraction, I would try to take a deep breath from my diaphragm and push for ten seconds straight or longer. In spite of my attempt at self-control, I couldn’t help shrieking as the pain became too much. This was the hardest part. I began to think, “I can’t do it ANY longer.” Then, in the back of my mind, I realized, “If I can’t do it, then nobody can! I’M the one who has to get my baby out! Yes, I CAN do this!”

I was dreading every contraction, but once it came I would direct all my energy into it. The seconds in between contractions were full of scattered thoughts and silent prayers that I would be able to continue; the phrase “this too shall pass” kept flashing in my mind, which was a comfort. What made it more difficult was that the baby kept kicking me with his/her feet all the time; my mom said it looked like the baby was trying to swim out, and you could see the feet pushing against my stomach constantly! When I would try to take a deep breath to push, the baby would kick against my lungs and knock the air out of me. I kept asking if my pushing was doing anything. Dana said that every time I really applied my muscles to pushing a little more of the baby’s head came down.

Even though my eyes were closed I could sense that my mom, Chris, and Dana were getting more and more nervous and excited. Dana kept checking the baby’s heart rate, since his/her head had been in the birth canal being pushed for so long, and the heart rate was always normal, thankfully. Suddenly the contractions burned like fire and I finally felt like I had to PUSH! Everyone was yelling encouragement, and I pushed so hard for the next minute that I thought I might black out.

Then, after a huge release of pressure, something warm and wet was placed on my stomach. I was still pushing, not realizing that anything had changed, when I heard my mom and Chris crying, and Dana said, “Look at your baby!” I opened my eyes (swollen from pushing) and saw my baby looking up at me on my chest. All I could do was cry with joy and relief and say, “My baby! My baby is here!” I couldn’t believe it! The baby cried a little, wiggled a lot, and was beautiful and pink and perfect.

A few minutes later Dana said, “Is it a boy or a girl?” and lifted the umbilical cord up so we could see… we had a daughter! I was so happy to have my baby in my arms that I hadn’t thought to see the gender. We already had a name picked out for her: Harmony Emelia!

JudeMy mom said later that as Harmony’s head was emerging, you could still see her feet kicking wildly in my stomach! She was such a trooper the whole time. Once her head was out, my mom said that Dana reached in and pulled under her arms to bring the rest of her body out too, because I was already almost too exhausted to push any longer.

Harmony was breathing well right away. She was so very alert, looking around at us and only crying a little bit. After enjoying some time together, my mom cut the umbilical cord when it had stopped pulsing, and Chris took her. I was bleeding quite a bit, so Dana immediately gave me a shot of pitocin in my leg and some cytotec; my body was almost too tired to get the placenta out, which worried us for a few minutes, but after sitting on the birthing stool the placenta finally came. There wasn’t the danger of hemorrhage since Dana made sure to control the bleeding right away.

We were surprised to find that Harmony weighed eight pounds, four ounces and was twenty inches long! I am a fairly petite person with small hips, and the baby hadn’t seemed that big while I was pregnant, so to find out that she weighed that much was funny.

Due to Dana’s wonderful care, I didn’t have any tears! My labor was only about nine hours long, another blessing for a first time birth. Harmony was so well developed that Dana thought we might have had the due date off by a week, so that she was closer to forty-one weeks rather than forty.

There were no complications with Harmony or me. I was very weak from blood loss, but I was expecting that since my blood pressure has always been very low and I used to get sick from donating blood. My mom helped me clean up in the shower while Chris and Dana took care of Harmony and cleared the bedroom. This was my favorite part: I was able to crawl into my own bed, clean and happy, with my family around me and my new baby girl, in the comfort of my own home! My step-dad brought Dewey’s Green Lantern pizza with lots of feta cheese to celebrate; it was the BEST pizza I’ve ever tasted!

Chris was grateful for Samanda’s class because he wasn’t surprised or unprepared for anything that happened. He knew how to support me even without me asking for it, because we had planned and discussed everything beforehand. Even if I had needed a hospital transfer at any point, I knew that Chris would have been able to help me decide whether to receive any interventions, since he knew the pros and cons of medical interventions in the hospital. We felt like a team throughout the entire birth.

I feel so very blessed that Harmony had a natural, smooth transition into our world in the security of our home. Everything worked out so well. In spite of the pain and difficulty towards the end, I can definitely say that it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. The majority of my labor was intense but manageable. I was prepared for a long labor, with lots of techniques and “tools” to get me through many different situations, but everything happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to use most of them! I’m thankful that I felt prepared for anything, but absolutely grateful for a quick, fairly easy labor : )

During our first night together with Harmony, Chris and I read Psalm 23. The last few verses brought tears to my eyes again as I hugged my new daughter and snuggled next to my husband: “…You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”