Arlo is over 5 months old already, and a friend recently reminded me of my intention to blog about our birthing experience. I absolutely love hearing others’ birth stories, so today I’m sharing ours for those of you who share my obsession.
At our final prenatal appointment on July 11 (at 40 weeks + 5 days), our homebirth midwives recommended that we schedule a non-stress test as a routine check for that late stage of gestation. So bright and early Monday morning, July 18, Caleb and I headed to a perinatal testing center for that appointment. We sat through the 20 minutes of monitoring for the non stress test laughing and talking because we were sure that our baby was totally fine and though it was starting to feel like he might never actually come, we knew he’d be born eventually and still felt quite content to trust that my birthing time would begin when it was meant to. The nurse told us that everything looked great and also asked if I was feeling any contractions, since they were showing up on the monitor every four minutes and lasting for 90 seconds each. Though I’d been having strong Braxton Hicks for the past three weeks or so, I wasn’t feeling a thing that morning, so hearing that made us excited!
We then headed in for an ultrasound to check fluid levels. We didn’t get a great vibe from the tech while she was with us, so we weren’t all that surprised when the doctor came in to tell us that there was “little to no measurable fluid” left in my womb around our baby, and that he needed to come out “today, not tomorrow.” The doctor said he’d call Kate, our head midwife, but that I should get in contact with her right away as well, so we called her as soon as we got back to our car. She said we could come over to her office right way and she’d fit us in between appointments since we were in her area and a bit far from home.
We tried our best to stay calm and positive, though I felt distressed that our baby might be in danger and there was now this pressure to get him out quickly and I was afraid my birthing time would be much less relaxed and peaceful as a result. I also had so badly wanted to “go into labor naturally” without the help of things like castor oil or herbal methods, and I was really dreading having to ingest anything gross. Caleb (who’s a self-employed farrier, for anyone who doesn’t know) canceled his shoeing appointments for the day right away. It was a huge relief to me that he was with me, since one of my fears had been that he would be far away and take a long time to get home once my birthing time began.
We arrived at the midwives’ office around 10 a.m. and waited in our car until they became available. They whipped up a castor oil milkshake for me right away that honestly didn’t taste terrible at all, like I had been dreading. My blood pressure was slightly elevated but “understandably so,” they told me. They gave me a dose of something homeopathic, and she “bothered my cervix a bit” (stripped my membranes, I believe). She told me I was 1 centimeter dilated; that was the first time I’d been checked. They sent us home with instructions to eat and stay hydrated, walk walk walk, and keep them updated.
We stopped for some lunch but I was unable to eat much of it at all. Once we got home I bustled around getting the house ready for the birth and working on my checklist of “early birthing time preparations.” By 12 we headed out to walk laps around the block. I started to feel like I was definitely having pressure waves, but they didn’t really feel timeable; I wasn’t always sure when they stopped and started. Around 1 we got a text from one of the midwives saying that she was on her way to check on me. She arrived around 2, gave me another dose of homeopathy, checked the baby’s heartbeat, and left again.
We walked around the block one more time and then took showers and crawled into bed to try to get some rest. Caleb got a couple hours of sleep and I listened to my HypnoBabies audio tracks. The pressure waves continued to intensify and by 4 or so we texted the midwives to let them know that I was “definitely in labor.” The hypnosis tracks were helping me to stay super relaxed and at ease. By 6:30 my pressure waves were coming two minutes apart and I was having frequent diarrhea from the castor oil (sorry for the TMI) so by 7 the midwife decided to head our way. Around the same time we decided to ask our doula and our sister-in-law/doula-in-training to make their way over when convenient. At some point we told my sister Krista she could come over now, too. By around 8 our entire birth team had gathered and we settled in for what we expected to be a fairly sleepless night.
I can’t remember what time it was when my midwife decided to do another vaginal exam, but I was only 3 centimeters. She didn’t want me in the birthing pool until I was at 6, so I got into the shower instead, which felt amazing. After that, my doulas applied warm compresses and essential oils as I lay in bed. Our sister-in-law Mary kept a cold washcloth on my forehead and Mary Ann, our doula, massaged my hand—both wonderful distractions. I remember being extremely HOT the entire time and needed a fan blowing at me almost constantly. Caleb told me later that he was freezing the entire time because of all the cool air I needed. I wasn’t actively using hypnosis techniques at this point but I know without a shadow of a doubt that subconsciously my mind and body were remembering the relaxation techniques I’d practiced. My water broke at some point but it was a little hard to tell when since there was so little fluid left in there to begin with.
When the midwife checked me next, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I was dilated enough to get into the pool. I distinctly recall exclaiming “Thank you Jesus!” as I sank down into the water and there being this collective sigh of relief from everyone in the room. It seriously felt heavenly and gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going. It only took a couple hours then before I was fully dilated. I didn’t know when I went through transition. I kept thinking, surely it will still get worse than this…but I was determined to focus on one pressure wave at a time. At some point they had me get out of the pool and onto my bed to check me again, and when they realized I was complete, they started coaching me to push.
I was very tired by this point (having been awake for over 24 hours) and weak since I’d had very little to eat (and wasn’t able to eat, largely I believe due to the upset stomach from the castor oil). I also was not feeling an “urge” to push, so the midwives had me lying on the bed to start pushing so they could help guide me with their fingers. At some point we switched to the birthing stool out in the living room, and then at some point I ended up just lying on the floor in the living room. I was super disappointed that they were having me do it out of the pool, since I had been anticipating and planning on a water birth.
After maybe 1-2 hours with what seemed to me very little progress, if any, my pressure waves started to slow. The midwives started timing them and checking Arlo’s heartbeat often and eventually told us that I was probably going to need Pitocin in order to get the contractions to pick back up enough to finish pushing him out. They recommended that we transfer to the hospital. I felt so heartbroken that I wasn’t going to have the beautiful peaceful homebirth I had envisioned, but I was almost too exhausted to care. Fortunately I had a bag packed just in case and we were able to quickly and smoothly make preparations for the drive to Reading Hospital. Once in the car, I was able to return to my center of peace, and it was Caleb that was having a much harder time with staying calm at that point. He called a friend to ask for prayer and drew comfort in knowing that we were being prayed for.
The midwives facilitated the transfer and contacted the obstetrician they work with as well as the hospital, so once we arrived, Kate wheeled me straight up to the room they had waiting for us in Labor & Delivery. I was SO tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open while the nurses asked questions. They put me on IV fluids immediately which helped me perk up a bit. I also received antibiotics since I’d tested positive for Group B Strep, which I had wanted to avoid but didn’t have that option since we ended up in the hospital. Then they started me on a low dose of Pitocin as well. When Dr. Heller, the wonderful OB that Kate works with, arrived, I started to push again. She coached me through the entire thing, and I tended to do better with her fingers inside for guidance. I used a pull-up bar over the foot of the bed coupled with a squatting pose for a while, but eventually ended up just lying on my back. I think I was just too weak and tired for any other position. That felt like a bummer to me as well, since it felt counterintuitive to be on my back and I had intended to give birth in pretty much any other position besides that one.
It took about 4-5 more hours of pushing to get him out, and it was the most intense physical experience of my life, but I was able to remain calm, focused, and mostly positive the entire time. A lot of my memory of that time is fuzzy…I don’t remember people coming in and out of the room or much of what was said. I would have never known it was actually that long if they hadn’t told me…you totally lose track of time in “labor land!” When Arlo’s head FINALLY emerged, his 9-pound body did too, all at once, at 2:42 pm. Such a relief! The doctor guided him into Caleb’s hands, and Caleb held him against my chest right away. It was a beautiful, wonderful moment…a feeling I can’t describe but will never forget.
We thank the Lord that Arlo’s heart rate remained healthy through all of that, and that we were able to avoid a C-section. We were blessed to have a very patient obstetrician attending the delivery who did not give up on me through all that time. There was some meconium showing in the fluid before he was born, so we were told that an ICU cart and team would be brought into the room “just in case” which ended up not being needed. The hospital staff at Reading were all wonderful and we really had an excellent experience there despite our stay being unplanned. Arlo never left my side, which was the most important thing to me, and all three of us were well cared for!
I’m also beyond thankful for the tireless support of our heroic birth team…our doula, Mary Ann Stoltzfus, doula-in-training & sister-in-law Mary Fisher, and my sister Krista Beiler, in addition to CPMs Kate Aseron & Tyler Wilson-Gorfti of Rising Moon Midwifery. Arlo’s safe arrival was such a group effort and Caleb and I were so grateful for the way they “held up our arms” (or in this case, my legs, haha) for such a long time. Family and friends were praying for us, too…and I felt acutely the extra strength that brought me! Caleb and I also feel that our HypnoBabies training played a huge role in the way I was able to stay so focused and calm throughout the entire 26-hour ordeal. Caleb especially is convinced that the relaxation techniques I learned and practiced helped me with breastfeeding and recovery, as well.
We had hoped to be able to head home that evening yet, and Arlo was discharged, but when I passed out trying to walk two feet from the chair to the bed, they changed their minds about letting me go. So we were in overnight, but ended up being really grateful for that. We came home around 1 on Wednesday afternoon then, and some of Arlo’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents came to meet him.
Arlo had a hematoma on the back corner of his head from being stuck in the birth canal, and my poor tailbone is STILL giving me grief, nearly half a year later, but otherwise the postpartum period was uneventful, at least once my milk came in and he figured out the sucking thing. He cried very little and slept 3-4-hour stretches at night right off the bat. I was blessed with strength and energy and not a single touch of the baby blues…which I credit to a combination of consuming my encapsulated placenta, taking some excellent natural supplements, and having wonderful help and support from my sister and sister-in-law.
All told, we have SO much to be thankful for…how could I possibly entertain feelings of disappointment or regret that my childbirth experience didn’t play out as I’d imagined? The past five months with our sweet son have been the best months of my entire life. I just have so much joy!