Ephraim’s birth story
The days before my labor began were full and interesting. I was feeling really energetic and good, almost like my body was so used to the pregnancy that it had just become part of me, and that perhaps I wasn’t even going to have a baby after all. On Saturday, Seth and I, amazed at our ‘found time’ after my due date passed on Friday, spent the hot summer day in the Green Mountain National Forest. After a blissful air-conditioned drive in Seth’s car (the A/C in my car was broken so I’d been sweltering or windblown previously) along dirt roads for much of the trip down, we picked wild blueberries in the GMNF’s Blueberry Management Area. Someone had been through so we only got about half a pint total in an hour of picking, but I did get to bend over a lot which seemed good preparation for labor. Then we got ice cream at a convenience store in Forestdale where the guy was sure I would have the baby right in his store, and took a hike to the Falls of Lana and Silver Lake near Lake Dunmore. This 3 mile round trip hike wound up through a beautiful hardwood forest and a stream full of dolomite boulders, and it felt so good to be hanging out in the woods and be able to stop and put my feet in the stream. I later found out that my friend Megan’s mother did this shortly before giving birth to her! We talked about rock climbing and traveling and trees and coming back here on our bikes with our baby. As often happens on really relaxed days, Seth started to get a really bad headache after this, but he tried to sleep it off while I went swimming in the New Haven River and read my new Mothering magazine. Then we went to the Bobcat Café in Bristol, where I devoured their amazing burger and fries and had a few sips of Seth’s two sample size beers. The next stop was Papa Nick’s in Hinesburg where we got creemees and visited our friend Kristen who lives right next door. Kristen offered us brownie sundaes, which were to become a theme of the next several days, and as we sat on her porch eating them a gigantic thunderstorm rolled through.
On Sunday I went to prenatal yoga, where Sugar was substitute teaching for Susan, the regular teacher. I really enjoy both of these womens’ classes but today was especially grateful for Sugar who always includes a lot of rigorous poses like Dancer, and also push-ups (“for holding your baby”; Sugar was 35 weeks pregnant and teaching this class!). I still had a lot of energy and felt really strong and wanted to focus it so the class was great – however, I was really hoping it would be my last one. I stopped by Megan’s house on the way home and had toast and cucumbers with her and her son Khalil. She had gotten a half bushel of pickling cucumbers and was making refrigerator pickles, and she sent me home with the pickle recipe and about 1/3 of the box. That afternoon Seth and I picked 6 quarts of highbush blueberries at the Isham Family Farm and he worked on the bathroom, installing the faucet and tiling around the sink. We froze most of the blueberries for future shakes/baby food, but that night I made a savory blueberry Madeira sauce to go with some pan-fried pork chops and a salad of green beans and cucumbers from our garden.
On Monday, I woke up feeling mildly nauseous and made 6 quarts of refrigerator pickles, then went into Burlington to celebrate my friend Alicia’s 50th birthday at A Single Pebble, a delicious Szechuan Chinese restaurant. I had been convinced I would not be able to go to this lunch because I KNEW I would have a baby by then, but as the days kept passing I was really looking forward to it, both to be able to celebrate with Alicia and to eat a bunch of spicy food to get things going. Everyone was excited that the day might turn out to be a double ‘birth day’. On the way home I got my glasses adjusted, got a new pen and a pound of deli turkey, and a stack of books from the Williston Library. At home I picked some green beans and pruned my basil plants, using the tops to enliven some of our tomato sauce from last summer for that night’s dinner. In the late afternoon I talked with several people on the phone, and exchanged emails with some others, about how I was in such a weird mental space re. the baby not really coming, but even while I was saying that I was feeling that something auspicious was starting. I was feeling what I called Braxton-Hicks-plus contractions on and off, but nothing regular or really different than other episodes I’d experienced in the last few weeks. At dinner they picked up a little more. I made brownies and after dinner we went to sit in the room where I planned to have the birth, and read while we ate brownie sundaes with mint ice cream. At this point I was having more regular contractions but we weren’t timing them yet. I thought I might be going into labor, so I had seconds on the brownies! As I sat on the couch reading I asked Seth to start timing the contractions at around 9 pm. I had just started “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and Seth was reading “The Toyota Way”. For that hour the contractions were fairly regular, between 4 and 6 minutes apart. I knew there was something different about these, not so much the intensity but rather the feeling that once one was over I could expect another one.
At 10 pm I called my midwife, Chenoa, and told her the story and she said to call back around midnight and to try and rest. Somewhere around here I figured I wasn’t going to get the crazy nesting urge, but I did put in a load of laundry and sweep the floor in that room and in the kitchen. Resting seemed like a good idea. Amazingly, I lay down and fell asleep easily, then woke up for each contraction. Seth was doing things around the house but always there when I woke up, because he was predicting them based on the time with some sort of iPhone lap timer. He would sit down with me and breathe with me through the contractions, and I found that long, slow breaths out seemed to bring the contractions down like an elevator, like I could almost breathe them away. We put on the ‘baby soundtrack’ of the Fantasia track from our hypnobirthing class and two songs that Susan uses a lot in yoga (“Baba Hanuman” by Krishna Das and “Ong Namo” by Snatam Kaur). This playlist ran continuously from this point until after Ephraim was born; it lasted about an hour and is still playing in my head. Howard, our cat, was curled up by my feet purring, and we called him the ‘kitty doula’ – he had one unusual technique of distracting me from the contractions, biting my toe because it moved and woke him up! Otherwise he was very comforting during early labor and into active labor, staying close to us. Midnight seemed to come before I knew it, because I had been falling asleep so much. Contractions were very regular, about 5 minutes and 20 seconds apart. I called Chenoa back and she said that it seemed like my body had established a pattern of active labor and that their team would slowly start to arrive. I also called my friend Liz, who is training as a doula and midwife and who was going to come to the birth; she was one of the people I had talked to in the afternoon so she was surprised to hear from me only a few hours later!
We put sheets on the couch and kept trying to rest. Hearing that I was entering active labor made me feel really good. I had had a list of things I planned to do in early labor but realized now that with the time it made more sense to just rest. Later I found out that what Chenoa was calling ‘active labor’ really meant ‘early active labor’ but I’m so glad she didn’t say ‘early’ to me! I really treasured this time with Seth before anyone else got there. We had a very sweet, romantic time just being together and him supporting me.
Hannah, one of the midwife apprentices, was the first to arrive at maybe 1 am, followed shortly by the other apprentice, Annie. Annie had gotten pulled over on North Williston Road for going 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, but when she told the police she was going to a birth they let her go! Chenoa and Katina, the two midwives, came maybe 45 minutes later, and then Liz came at some point after that. As Chenoa and Katina arrived, I was throwing up my dinner, so I didn’t even get to say hi. Everyone gathered in the living room and worked out a strategy of shift-taking and sleeping, but Seth and I stayed in the other room and just kept doing our thing. We had a good rhythm and for the most part the midwives were very hands-off. There was usually one of them downstairs, plus Liz, while the others were sleeping upstairs. Annie was on call first, then Katina, then Hannah, then Chenoa at the end. Every 20 minutes or so someone would take the baby’s heart tone with a Doppler device and sometimes they would take my blood pressure and pulse. It was nice to have that approach as it made me feel confident and relaxed because I didn’t have too much information. They usually tried to listen to Ephraim’s heart while I was having a contraction. Everything stayed really normal, around 130 for Ephraim’s heart tone.
A good thing about being nearsighted is that once I took off my glasses early on, I labored in a sort of fuzzy state, I couldn’t exactly make out what or who was around me and I also kept my eyes closed or half closed much of the time. Though my brain felt very alert throughout the entire labor, these strategies helped me to ‘go inside’ and not be distracted. We kept the lights dim and our home was very comfortable, so that also helped. Also, because it was nighttime I was not aware of time passing like I would have been during the day. I found myself frequently hearing the ‘birthing affirmations’ from our hypnobirthing class in my head; I had listened to these pretty regularly in the mornings over the last few months. At one point Seth said I had made it through 50 contractions, which was great, but I was really able to be in the moment with each one. I found it most useful early on to be lying on my side on the couch because then I could just fall asleep between each contraction, but later on that was uncomfortable, so we used the ‘slow dancing’ position a lot and that felt great. Seth would tell me to breathe and then breathe with me, that was especially helpful because a few times after I found that breathing out made the intensity lessen, I started breathing out too early without breathing in first – so having Seth be aware of that was really helpful.
I tried getting in our bathtub which felt pretty good as I was actually a little chilly (for the first time in weeks!) but it wasn’t comfortable for dealing with contractions. While in the tub, Hannah asked me if I liked it and if I wanted her to fill up the birthing tub that they had brought. I was kind of like, oh, it will be a hassle so this is probably fine, but she insisted it wasn’t a big deal and set about doing it. After being in the bathtub, I spent some time on the toilet, which was sort of comfortable, threw up again, and then ate a whole wheat English muffin with honey (which I later threw up). I tried sitting in a wicker rocking chair which was comfortable, and I was actually able to fall asleep again between contractions, but then I started to worry that the labor wasn’t progressing if that was happening. I had a few contractions kneeling over the yoga ball with Seth sitting behind me; that was nice. Dawn was beginning to break and I went and asked Katina when they start to actually talk about moving the labor along. She said that it’s really up to me and that I could either try to get more rest or try some more aggressive strategies like going for a walk. I had noticed that whenever I was moving around the contractions got more frequent.
At this point I think I started to enter transition. I went back on the toilet, then went outside as it was starting to get light. I had started hanging more off of Seth during the ‘slow dance’ position, and he was doing a great job supporting me but Hannah suggested I try to find something else to hang on. In the yard we have a ladder leaning against the house so I hung on that (Seth has it there for ice climbing workouts). The contractions were really intense at this point and to make it worse, Seth had to go find the hose for the birthing tub so I was alone for a few minutes. When I initially went outside I thought I would do some weeding but when I was there I realized there was nothing I could do but deal with the contractions completely. I remembered a friend of mine talking about how she developed little routes and patterns in labor, so I started to just walk very deliberately and slowly across the yard, holding my belly and breathing deeply. I made it to the clothesline before another contraction hit, and then I had nothing to hold onto so I somehow made it to the cherry tree at the end of the clothesline and braced against that. That was actually one of the best supports for contractions. I then started walking back to the house at the same pace but began to have a contraction halfway. Luckily Seth came out then and I hung onto him. Then he walked with me back to the ladder and I had the next contraction leaning on that. I felt like the contractions were overlapping now, like one was already underway when the earlier one ended.
Hannah came out and told me she would like to do an internal exam because they had just found out another mom was in labor so they needed to make a plan to split up. I hadn’t had an internal exam at all yet; when I had asked about them earlier Hannah said she could do one if I wanted but that I might risk feeling frustrated by a number I thought was too small. I went inside and found out I was 6-7 cm dilated at about 8:00 am. I then went back onto the toilet which was the only place I could really deal with the contractions, but it wasn’t ideal. Hannah told me that she and Katina were going to go to the other labor, which they expected to be quick and they thought they might even come back. I had gotten to know Chenoa best over the pregnancy and I was happy that she would stay along with Annie. Around this time, from the toilet, I yelled out that something felt different, that I wanted to push, and Chenoa asked me if it was an uncontrollable urge to push and I said I didn’t know but I did want to push. She and Annie and Seth were all in the bathroom with me for a few contractions and I found it easiest to make it through these contractions when they all had a hand on me, like holding my hand or putting a hand on my knee. I guess I must have dilated the rest of the way in just a few minutes.
Someone then said the birthing pool was ready so I went and got in it around 8:30 and sat against the wall and had a contraction or two, but then at Chenoa’s suggestion positioned myself into kind of a squat with my arms over the edge and Seth sitting on the outside with his arms around my back. When I had a contraction I would grab onto his shirt really tightly. After awhile my calves and feet started to ache or fall asleep, so I tried kneeling with my feet flexed, and finally would stand up in a sort of forward bend between contractions and then slowly lower until I was actually pushing in the water. I pushed during most contractions but didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere and was really frustrated. Chenoa then suggested I take a deep breath as I felt a contraction begin, then tuck my chin and make a C shape around the baby and push that way, and do it 3 or so times during each contraction. This specific piece of advice was really helpful and I did it each time, as she and others would repeat parts of it to remind me especially to breathe. At this point I didn’t feel intensity in the contractions and actually had to reach down to see if my uterus was hard. I remember the entire baby soundtrack going on at this time so I was aware of pushing for at least an hour, in fact it was almost two. It’s funny how I was still very much aware of what people were saying around me at this point – I remember someone saying to someone else that it would be nice if they had a straw so I could drink water more easily, and then I was directing them to where we actually had a bag of straws in the kitchen! People were trying to get me to drink at every opportunity, which definitely made things better and was not something I would have done if not strongly encouraged (by having a glass/straw put to my mouth, for example!).
Near the end Chenoa asked me to reach down and feel the baby’s head and tell her how far it was in my cervix. It was less than the top knuckle of my finger so everyone said that I’d be seeing the baby very soon. It turned out that this rock-hard thing I was feeling was actually my amniotic sac which was still intact. People were saying he might be born in the bag which is rare and considered lucky…I remember thinking that would be cool but that it didn’t matter one way or the other at that point. Chenoa then started talking about how the head has to make a turn around the pubic bone and would update me after each painful, difficult push about Ephraim’s progress. For awhile he would kind of slide back and then she told me he had made a turn and wasn’t going back as much. This was great encouragement. My water broke about 5 minutes before he was born, then I reached and felt his much softer head and got more determined, and decided I just had to do this. I was screaming though I knew I should be making lower pitched sounds and just wanting it to be over. I felt the ‘ring of fire’ for several contractions and finally his head came out, followed by his hand, which grabbed Chenoa’s, then in the next push his body slid out, and Chenoa caught him behind me, and slid him under my legs as I sat back in the tub and cradled this strange new being in my arms. I had been wanting to do that and picturing how nice it would be throughout all of this pushing to just sit in the warm water and hold my baby. It was so wonderful and so surreal to see him, as I hadn’t had any ultrasounds since 13 weeks and really didn’t have any sense of what he would be like.
Ephraim cried once right away and then settled down with a concerned yet curious look on his face and we spent awhile just looking at each other. Seth came around and we sat there for awhile, remarked after a few minutes that he was a boy, then Seth cut the cord and took Ephraim while I stayed in the tub and birthed the placenta. I needed to focus to do this and couldn’t do it with this beautiful baby in my arms. Then I got out, took a shower, and an hour after the birth lay down on the couch to nurse Ephraim for the first time. I had read about how infants will make their way to the nipple if placed in the center of the chest, so I wanted to try this and it was amazing to watch. This tiny baby knew exactly what to do and had so much strength to find the nipple by crawling to it and even lifting his head. He latched on perfectly and nursed for what seemed like an eternity. Liz made me a plate of French toast with blueberries and maple syrup which I devoured and it stands out as one of the best meals I can remember.
Hannah did arrive back shortly after Ephraim’s birth – the other labor had lasted only 2 hours with the baby being born about 45 minutes before Ephraim. All these babies decided to enter the world during a blessedly cool spell in this otherwise hot summer (later that day the midwives would actually have a third labor begin, that baby was born at 6 am the following morning, so 3 in 24 hours!). Hannah, Chenoa, Annie, and Liz helped Seth and I get settled in the nursery where we camped out for the next several days. They put sheets on the futon, set up Ephraim’s co-sleeper, made my postpartum sitzbath tea and even brought up that pile of library books. We sat and talked about postpartum care for over an hour and when everyone had left we felt like we had made as seamless transition to family life as possible.
We are loving every minute with our son. I had at times been a little nervous about our choice to have him at home if something were to go awry or if we had to make a difficult decision to transport in the midst of labor. I feel so fortunate to have been assisted by such caring and competent midwives, who helped us to have Ephraim at home and to stay home with him from the start. We could not have done this in this way without them, but they were truly facilitators who let us have our own labor and birth experience.