Friday, January 27, 2012

Alrik's birth story: Sweet surprise unassisted home water birth

Welcome to the first edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama!

In the month of January, we start afresh, a new year, new ideas. Hence, our participants have looked into the topic of "Birth and New Beginnings." Take a look at the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants.

This is the birth story of my second child, born at home into the water and his father's arms. I started writing this in May, days after Alrik arrived, and I've finally finished it for the carnival. I would apologize for the length, but I figure birth story enthusiasts will want the full picture. It was a good birth. A very good birth.

Well, I've been staring at a blank screen for awhile, thinking of how to tell the story of Alrik's birth. The problem is that I don't remember it all. Maybe Sam can help fill in the labor-daze gaps. At any rate, here's what I can grasp through the fog.

Amy of Anktangle came out to help me get ready for the birth. I'd been having very gentle warmup contractions that week, at 39 weeks, and I'd started losing my mucus plug. Amy confirmed the baby was sitting much lower in my belly as well. As I triumphantly posted on Facebook and Twitter, "Bloody show! And the baby's dropped!" Before realizing that might sound violent and distressing to anyone not in the birth-vocabulary know…

The warmup contractions that week were like mild menstrual cramps, and followed no set pattern. I didn't bother to time them, because they weren't coming in waves so much as clusters. But I did think: It will be soon. I knew soon was relative — it could be within a month, after all. But, then again, it could be within the hour. So we hurried to finish up our preparations, and I looked forward to meeting my little one whenever ze decided to show up.

Just as a note there: I know now of course that Alrik's got the regulation male parts, but at the time we were waiting to be surprised by just who was inside us. Early in pregnancy I had wishful thinking it was a girl, but by halfway through I was sure it was a boy. Boys run in our family, dontchaknow. Good thing I like them. I'll go ahead and use the masculine pronouns in this story, just for ease.

Last-minute attempts to install a bathroom before the baby fell on out.

Final midwife visit

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I had been thinking it would be lovely to have the baby while Amy was here, so I kept willing the cramps to intensify and regulate and telling the baby he could come out now, to no immediate avail. Amy set up our birth tub, I went on a traffic-heavy errand to pick up shepherd's purse in case of a postpartum hemorrhage repeat, and the three of us (Sam included) installed the new downstairs toilet. Finally, I felt truly ready.

Amy graciously inflated the birth tub…

…while I was out running errands. I stopped at Bratz to eat a good, protein-heavy meal in case I went into labor that night.

Mikko thought the tub was a bouncy castle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Amy had been thinking of staying till Saturday but Daniel had an unexpected infection, so they took off Friday morning to take him to his pediatrician back home.

I figured I should keep busy that day, continuing my pattern of taking a long daily walk. We had had a tile floor installed but hadn't yet sealed the grout. I decided today was the day, but first the floor had to be cleaned. I mopped it, but it didn't do the trick. So, feeling more than slightly old-fashioned, I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed. I kept thinking, This is good for baby positioning! I bet I'll give birth soon now.

(This is what they call foreshadowing, kids.)

Sam had big plans for us that Friday night. We had been so stressed with the renovations and trying to work hard in advance of the baby's arrival that we hadn't had much time to ourselves in ages. The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie was out, so Sam contracted with his sister, Natalie, to come over and watch Mikko while we had an actual date night. I'd been craving the salad bar at Round Table Pizza, so we chose a theater down thataway and were going to combine dinner and a movie, just the way we hear normal couples do.

While Amy had been helping me at home and around town, running errands and finishing up domestic tasks, our two boys in tow, Sam had taken advantage of her help to disappear into our new office space for those days and work work work to get as many boxes of DVDs ready to send to Amazon as possible. That Friday, he had finished 26 boxes and arranged with our friend Lindsey to help him transport them in her pickup truck to the UPS facility. (Poor Lindsey, who made the fatal mistake of having a helpful vehicle.) It took the truck plus a load in our own car to get them all there, but they managed, and Sam was going to come back to pick me up once they'd delivered them all.

Meanwhile, I was still struggling with the floor cleaning. It didn't go as neatly as I'd hoped. I got the crud lifted, but the cleaning was a pain, because I kept accidentally stepping on parts that were still wet and somehow leaving dirty footprints. And then Natalie came over after her work ended a little early, which meant walking right across the mopped floor in front of the door. I gave up then on the whole sealing idea. Part of the reason? I realized I was feeling crampier than ever (that hand scrubbing worked!) and I worried about telling the midwives, "No, you can't come in the door. I just sealed the grout!" (NB: It has still not been sealed. Sigh.)

So Natalie was there, and I wondered if I should tell her about the contractions or not. Because they did in fact feel like contractions at this point: discrete waves that ebbed and flowed. Nothing too strong or uncomfortable, but obvious. She was chattering away as usual, so finally I admitted, "I think we might have a baby tonight." And, "Oh!" (she was excited), and she helped me get the bedroom the rest of the way ready for a possible birth.

I had been doing laundry, so we changed the sheets, then put plastic shower curtain liners over the whole thing. It took four of them to cover the king size mattress in its entirety, so Natalie got the good idea to seal the snot out of the seams with packing tape. (It held, too, until we took it off about a week postpartum.) Then we put the homebirthing sheets on top — used and mismatched ones I'd picked up at thrift stores. I had washed and sanitized them all per the midwife's instructions, so I did have a little qualm about opening them up to use, considering if I didn't have a birth soon I'd have to wash them all over again.

My belly was telling me the birth would be soon, though, so I wasn't too worried. I had a cloth pad in my underwear to catch all the mucus plug that continued to ooze its way out. Sounds disgusting in hindsight, but I was thrilled at the time!

Laundry washed and gathered.

Bagged and binned and ready for use. I had two Rubbermaid lidded bins (these honkin' ones, but you can get them much, much cheaper locally at Home Depot or Lowe's than on Amazon) full to the brim of homebirth supplies. It felt so right.

Our mismatched bed setup courtesy of the thrift shop and a lovely chux pad donator. I thought we'd have to throw out soiled linens — nope! They all came clean in the wash. Just goes to show homebirth cleanup isn't as onerous as some people think.

I had decided I wanted our house to be blooming with flowers for the birth. Bright Asiatic lilies for my birthing room.

Daisies (one of our wedding flowers, and what was in my mom's wedding bouquet) for the vanity in my private birthing suite.

A cheerful bouquet downstairs to greet visitors of the newborn. (I had high hopes when I bought these flowers that I wouldn't have to replace them before the birth!)

And this is particularly meaningful to me. My hardy mum, which has been a plant representative of rebirth after my miscarriage, bloomed in anticipation of the birth.

I kept thinking I should time some of the contractions, but Natalie was talking nonstop and having me direct her as to what preparations needed to be made. I appreciated the help too much to mind, but I did wonder how close together they were.

Natalie was happy it was Friday night so she didn't have to work the next day — perfect timing in case she ended up staying over to care for Mikko, as was our birth plan for the big-sib-to-be. Mikko was watching TV and ignoring us as we got things ready. I'm sure I let him know the baby would be coming soon, but I can't remember his reaction. Probably not much of one, except to let me know again he didn't want to see it firsthand. Fortunately, we had talked enough in advance about our plans to have Natalie watch him during the birth, and he was satisfied with that arrangement.

Sam pulled up down in the parking lot and called my cell for me to join him in the car. I bounded happily down the stairs — or as bounding as a very pregnant woman in labor can be — and settled myself in the passenger seat. "So," I said. "I think we're having a baby tonight."

Sam's reaction was suitably pleasing. He was excited, and he then wisely asked if we shouldn't stay home from the movie. "No, no," I said. I knew he'd been excited about seeing it, and I figured I should distract myself as long as possible anyway.

But as we were driving, I finally had a chance to use a contraction timing app I'd downloaded a few days before (the aptly [app-ly?] named Contraction Timer). They were currently 30-45 seconds long and about three to five minutes apart.

My first timed contractions. So you know what you're looking at, the earliest one is at the bottom, and those are the stop and start times on the left, the contraction's duration, and the lapse of time in between that contraction and the next. The 1:14 and 4:05 at the top are the very last ones, so you can ignore those for now. (This is a screenshot I took later, so ignore the phone's top timestamp.)

I conferred with Sam. His original idea had been to race to the next showing and eat afterward, but now we decided eating first was the better plan. That way, I could continue monitoring the contractions to see if they subsided once I'd had something to eat and drink — "false" labor can come about by dehydration, we'd been told. And then, if the contractions were the real deal I thought they were, at least I'd be sure to have eaten well to gear up for labor.

I was nearly giddy with excitement. The contractions didn't bother me at all — I was just happy to be giving birth so soon, and I felt peaceful to be out calmly eating dinner, knowing all we had to do was drive home at leisure to our prepared birthing space rather than rush frantically to a hospital to be jerked around. As we were ordering at the counter, the woman who worked there asked how far along I was. "In labor," I told her, enjoying the gasp she gave me. "Don't give birth here!" she warned jovially. She told me she had a newborn herself and said something about making it to the hospital in time. I smiled back and kept my sweet secret of a homebirth to myself.

I ate. And ate. And ate. It was an all-you-can-eat salad bar, after all. I was trying to follow my midwife's orders to stock up on nutrients prior to the labor marathon. I prioritized protein, dousing my salad in beans, seeds, and bacon bits (hey, it was a salad bar — that's what was to hand!).

The waves kept coming, and I occasionally timed them, noting that they were not, in fact, slowing down or spacing apart, so this was no practice labor. This was the real thing. We were having a baby.

It was about this time that I was #twitterbirth-ing to ask what these numbers meant. Would it be soon? Would it be a long time from now? Who knew, but I got so much support and excitement on Facebook and Twitter that it was a joy to share the process.

Sam persuaded me it was all right to skip the movie — telling me it was the date night he'd been looking forward to more than the movie itself, and that I wouldn't be able to pay attention if we did go. It was a long movie, too, so we wouldn't have gotten out till maybe 11 or so. I agreed skipping was a good idea, as long as my labor wasn't ruining his plans. He was gracious about it and convinced me he wasn't disappointed. (Hee.)

Home again, home again. Natalie was surprised to see us back so soon. We told her it was ON, and Sam suggested she take Mikko to her home to pick up any toiletries and a change of clothes she would need to spend the night.

Natalie helps Sam with some last-minute preparations before she leaves. Sam's reading the midwife's water-stained instructions for filling the birthing tub.

Mikko pokes his head in but isn't sure he wants to go further. I think I reassure him he can't see anything yet. I was glad to see him here and there in labor but glad he mostly stayed with Natalie and made do with occasional downstairs visits from Sam. I nursed him once in early labor, but it was nice not to have to concentrate on him while I was working at the birthing.

Natalie snaps this last picture of us together before the birth.

Sam gets the last belly pictures in. Looking back: Bwahaha!

Sam and I decided it was a good time to take a walk along the beach, as we had done multiple times in Mikko's (long) labor. Sam wanted to pick out a birthing stone for me, and we weren't sure how much time we had for this birth.

Before we left, I wanted to begin filling the birthing tub. We had rented it from the midwife (a Birth Pool in a Box), and the instructions said to let out an entire hot water tank into it, then wait till the tank replenished itself to do a second one, then cold water to the comfortable level of 98 degrees. We had just had our hot water tank replaced (a 50-gallon electric one, in case anyone's curious about the birthing tub details), so I knew from conversation with the installer that it takes about 45 minutes for the hot water to refill. Sam was not as gung ho to fill the tub this early, but I was worried we'd otherwise run out of time before I needed it. Sam connected the hose to our vanity's faucet and started filling the tub with hot water while I distracted myself with swaying and being on hands and knees on the bed, and then he disappeared downstairs to prepare snacks or something. Eventually I realized the water was still running from the hose and felt it — ice cold now. I hurried to turn it off at the tap.

Sam starts to fill the tub.

Sam came back upstairs to collect me. We figured we'd take our walk while the tank replenished and put in the next load of hot water when we got back. It was around 9 p.m., and after a little discussion, we decided we'd better call our midwife, Z, to give her a heads up that I was in early labor — to let her know to get some sleep and alert her assistant (her daughter, L). As with the midwives in my previous birth, she wanted to talk to me to gauge how far along things were by the sound of my voice. And as before, too, she was skeptical that things were as far along as I thought they were. "Have you had loose bowels? Do you feel rectal pressure?" Those were the questions she was insistent on having answered. "Um…no?" I said. "You would know if you had," she replied, and said she would get some sleep. The implication was that, without those magical two elements, it would likely be awhile.

I was feeling the contractions now. They pinched a bit and took concentrating. After Z asked about the rectal pressure, I felt for it and realized: "Oh, that rectal pressure." But it wasn't severe, and she was right that I hadn't had loose bowels. The opposite, really, if you must know (all right, it's not like you were asking) — I was feeling a bit stopped up. Still, I felt like it would be much sooner than Z thought, and even sooner than Sam thought — but, I reminded myself, I had felt the same way during Mikko's birth, and I had been wrong wrong wrong that time. So who knew.

The contractions around the time we first call the midwife. It all seems … good, but apparently not too urgent to her.

Sam and I went out for our walk. When a surge came, I would stop and sway, my arms up around Sam's shoulders and my butt popped out in back — ungainly slow dancing, strange looking, I'm sure, but effective. I didn't at all care that people might see us; I had already entered the stage of labor where modesty and self-consciousness are thrown aside as alien and cumbersome distractions.

And there were plenty of people out to see me, too, but I think they were lost in their own worlds. Yes, it was a rather pleasant Friday night in May, but I was still astonished at the amounts of partying college students on the beach. It was a boisterous, firelit atmosphere, very different from the deserted and foggy daylight of the beach walks I remember from Mikko's birth. We made our slow way down the sidewalk and to the beach path, meandering then onto the sand and down to a log to sit and watch the waves, ignoring the ruckus behind us. I kept wondering at the contrast between blithely partying young things and me in labor. It wasn't an accusatory comparison, either, just one of those moments where what you're doing is so meaningful, and yet the world continues on, unaware.

Listening to the waves.

We walked again, stopping for the surges, and I enjoyed the swaying, the sound of the waves, the feel of the cool sand kissing my feet in my sandals. I channeled hula dancers and let my hips do figure eights to a gentle tropical rhythm. I closed my eyes and hummed a little.

Sam tried to find a birthing stone along the way, but the good cache was down the beach quite a bit farther than we had yet made it. I felt the need to pee, and we were about halfway between the nearest public toilet and the rock area. I sent him along ahead to look for a stone while I went back to the toilet. Unusually enough, there was a line for the single stall, of young women in nighttime party outfits. I was in my maternity skirt and comfy sandals, and I would occasionally close my eyes and sway through a wave.

Fortunately, I had my eyes open when the girls behind me for some reason assumed I wasn't in line and made a move to cut ahead. And as I was entering the stall finally, I heard another girl sweet talk her way to the front of the line by saying she really just couldn't hold it. I was glad I was already firmly closing the door behind me, or I'd have had to play my "Look, chica, I'm in labor and I waited my turn" card.

The peeing task behind me, I walked as quickly as I could to find Sam again, calling him on the way to make sure I was still heading the right direction. I passed a little hot dog cart with a huge crowd of customers still around it. I saw on the sign they sold bottled water and realized how very thirsty I was, but I didn't have any money on me.

I met up with Sam, who had a few choices for a birthing stone. He narrowed it down to two, but one he was pretty certain was smoothed concrete rather than stone, so we chose the darker birthing stone that looked most like Mikko's.

Trying to keep my friends apprised.

Walking to meet Sam by the rocks through the mild night. (These are cellphone pictures, obviously.)

The birth stone candidates. We went with the smaller one but took the other along for backup.

We passed back by the hot dog cart, much less crowded now, and stopped to ask for water. (Sam had his wallet.) "We're closed," they told us unceremoniously. I once again had the urge to chastise them that "I'm in labor, dang it," but resisted. We were only a few minutes from home, after all. So we headed that way.

We looked at the time: It was just after 10:30 p.m.

Contractions around that time. I keep showing these screenshots not because I'm obsessed with contraction timing but because we had no idea what they meant and were just trying, over and over, to gauge when we should call the midwives to come to our house. We had been told things would be officially heating up when contractions were "longer, stronger, and closer together." Stronger was there, but the rest of it kept seeming kind of the same. (NB: That 2:59 was obviously when I forgot to press Stop in between two contractions and they blended together on the timer.)

Natalie and Mikko were away when we arrived back home. I scurried up to my lair. It's all very mammalian of me, isn't it? I just read in Mother Nature how most mammals are biologically conditioned to birth at night, when they're most likely near a safe haven. I was in mine.

We had prepared the bedroom with the protected bed, the birthing tub in the corner, my birthing ball available. And now I closed the bedroom door and opened the bathroom door that leads into the bedroom, closing the one that leads into the hallway, creating a little private master suite. I was in peace.

Sam started the next dose of hot water into the tub while I stripped down to some comfortable shorts and a sleep bra. I had this idea I'd be modestly covered during most of the birthing, at least my chest — as mentioned before, though, modesty becomes less valuable the longer you're in labor, so this resolve didn't last long.

I played the relevant Hypnobabies birthing tracks on repeat: Birthing Day Affirmations and Easy Birth #1, but mostly the latter. Unlike in Mikko's birth, I tried to actually concentrate on what was being said and respond to it instead of having it be background noise. I focused on relaxing my muscles during the waves and releasing tension, but danged if I could get the anesthesia to take away the discomfort. That's all right, though — after my back labor with Mikko, I hadn't been expecting a discomfort-free birthing this time either. And, no, I don't think I failed some sort of mind-over-matter test either time. For me, having the Hypnobabies training and scripts keep me calm and focused was the point, and they were doing their job.

I even managed to sing some of the time to the baby, out loud, though softly: "Mahalo," a gentle and water-based lullaby. I rocked on the floor and bounced on the birth ball and stood up holding onto the wall to sway. The waves were becoming ever more intense. I wanted that birthing tub to hurry up and be filled.

At some point during the night, I found out from Sam that Mikko and Natalie had eventually sacked out on the sleep sofa downstairs together. This was the first time Sam or I hadn't put Mikko to bed.

Sam tried to tell me the tub was full with two water tanks of hot water, but I disagreed. We determined the line the water was supposed to go up to, and he conceded that we could add a little more. I wanted to make sure my belly would be covered. We added a third and final dose of hot water when the tank had refilled.

Once three hot water tanks were in, we didn't really need any cold water to get it to 98 degrees, since the original fillings (with some cold mixed in from not being turned off right away when the hot was depeleted) had had time to cool. I tore off my clothes (goodbye for good, modesty) and got in.

Just a note on the modesty thing: See, I knew I'd want pictures to show my family and put on the blog, so I thought covering my boobs would be a good start. But in the moment, in a dark room alone with Sam, it just seemed so … pointless. Maybe next time? Heh.

The water felt good, but it didn't take away the intensity of these contractions. I had been #twitterbirthing up till now, a mix of on my phone and on my laptop, but now I was in a tub and my hands were wet and, well, dang it if I wasn't in honest-to-goodness labor. Getting a towel to dry off to tweet seemed well beyond my capabilities. Even telling Sam to tweet for me was a challenge. I did have him tweet once on my behalf, but after that I kept composing tweets in my head that somehow never made it past my lips.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I forget when exactly this was tweeted, but apparently I was still afraid this was all a big mistake. I think this might have been the one I dictated for Sam.

Another thing I kept formulating in my head that refused to become verbal? A suggestion that we call the midwives.

It just all felt so very intense. I felt sure this baby was coming soon — and, if not, I was in big trouble.

But there was some disconnect between thinking and speaking. My head kept thinking thinking thinking, We should really call Z. And my mouth just kept — not — talking.

Finally, finally, I hesitantly asked Sam, "Should we call the midwives soon?" He didn't actually say "Pshaw" and wave his hand dismissively, but he was pretty certain there was no need as of yet. It would be awhile still, he was sure. The contractions weren't getting closer together; if anything, they were further apart, up to 4 minutes. Again, my head started whirling with all the arguments of how it would really be a good idea to call them anyway, but none of them came out. And, being in labor, I was feeling very suggestible. Sam didn't think it was time — so probably it wasn't. And, as I was thinking, wasn't it nice to be all alone together in this dim and quiet room? It was, in fact. And, as I was also thinking, did I really need anyone to attend the birth? I felt no great fear on that account. I was sure we would manage.

I don't know exactly what time it was. I'm saying it was after midnight, but I lost track of what happened when at this point. Sam and I did agree that it was more awkward to call Z in the middle of the night if you weren't sure it was time for her to come. If you're going to call someone at 1 in the morning, after all, you want it to be Important — you don't want to wake someone up just to dither. (Note to other birthing parents: I do not recommend you take to heart this train of thought. It is very silly.)

The last timed contractions, up to 1:30 in the morning, as we were (or, Sam was on my behalf) trying to decide whether to rush the midwives on over. You can see that, timing-wise they still didn't look particularly … different. (You can ignore the 30:13 gap, because we had just set it down for awhile.)

So I kept laboring. It felt like it was lasting forever. I want to point out that, as I said, it was about 10:30 p.m. when I looked at the time on our walk back and things were just beginning to pick up steam. Alrik was born at 2:25 a.m. Clearly there was no forever about this labor. But in my head time was suspended, and I started worrying about just how intense these surges were becoming. Remember, if you will, that Mikko's birth had lasted 42 hours. I think part of me had a fear that there was no way I could endure this level of intensity for that long, and of course you don't know till hindsight how long the endurance has to last.

I had true moments of panic, but apparently they were all internal, because Sam was still calmly waiting things out with me, offering snacks and drinks, helping me transition from one position to another if asked. He also monitored how long I could stay in the tub before I needed a break — our midwife had recommended a rotation of no more than one hour in, then at least a half-hour out. During one of my out phases, I took a shower, even though I believe he expressed doubt that that counted as out of the water. At one point, Sam suggested watching some episodes of a comedy show on DVD (My Name Is Earl — great show, but I was so not in the mood). I agreed, but soon after I started grunting and groaning in earnest and the DVD never got turned on. Good thing, too, since I would have paid it zero attention.

Our carefully selected snacks to sustain energy and cut down on nausea — I hoped. I ate as much as I could stand in earlier labor and tried to keep drinking at least as time went on, but nothing sounded appealing.

At least I look peaceful.

I kept having random thoughts like, "Ugh, I really hate this. It's way too intense for me, and I want it to stop now, please," and, "Won't all my blog readers be so disappointed in me for how badly I'm handling this?" But mostly, all I could do was relax through the two-minute pauses (and wish they'd last forever) and then grunt and move into position and breathe and try to relax my muscles (against all instinct to the contrary) through the 30-second to minute-long waves.

I felt a surge of nausea move up inside me and hoped I could tamp it down, but there was no use: I asked Sam for the mixing bowl we'd brought up that I hoped I wouldn't have to use, and threw up. I really hoped this wasn't a repeat of Mikko's labor, where I vomited repeatedly until I was dehydrated and feverish.

It was around this time that I sort of accidentally pushed during a contraction, and it felt … better. It didn't take away any of the intensity, but it felt like I was doing something with it. I didn't want to tell Sam, and I was worried about having him tell the midwives, so I kept mum. I didn't think of it as "I'm starting pushing." I thought of it, if I were thinking at all, as "I'm doing some pushing movements that make things feel better." (And I will say that this article was hovering at the back of my mind to reassure me.)

From then on, at every contraction I contracted my own muscles in response and pushed against that pressure. It really did feel so much better. Again, it didn't make any of the intensity of the contraction dissipate, but it felt right, like I was countering the intensity with my own.

I preferred to be on my knees, leaning over the side of the birth tub, for these contractions. I definitely didn't want to get out of the water, for whatever good it was doing, and I couldn't concentrate on anything else at this point. Even when I had to pee, I asked Sam to please help me hold the mixing bowl underneath me while I stood so I didn't have to leave the tub. (TMI? When I told the midwives this later, they laughed and said they always just recommend for women to go ahead and pee right in the water.)

I threw up a second time, which discouraged me again. The midwives during Mikko's labor had kept saying, "Every time you throw up is good for another centimeter!" But I was always at about 5-6 centimeters for 30+ hours, so that was bologna as far as I was concerned. I had tried hard this time to eat the right labor snacks and prepare myself beforehand, so I was feeling low that maybe the same vomiting chain reaction would kick in again.

Sam finally suggested calling the midwives, and while I was thinking, Well, duh, I just agreed with him. He played it all cool on the phone, apologizing for waking them, letting them know how to buzz in, and saying that things seemed to be moving along. I didn't say anything about the pushing. I didn't want to get yelled at to stop.

Sam said they were on the way, that Z had told her daughter to stay over at her place and be ready to go, but they had to make it from the northwest of the city, through downtown, to the southwest. With light middle-of-the-night traffic and a speedy departure, it would still be at least half an hour before we could expect them.

When he hung up, I felt brave enough to tell him I'd been pushing. Things were feeling really, really intense at this point, and I leaned my back against the side of the tub for the next contraction. The tub we had rented had handles and an inflatable seat (it was pretty awesome), so I felt like I was in a supported sort of squat, hanging onto the handles for dear life. I couldn't keep the grunts from coming out of my mouth; it was all so powerful.

I'm finally ready to admit I'm pushing.

In between waves, I asked Sam, "Do you see anything down there?" I was past pretending I wasn't really pushing. I knew I was. I just hoped there was a baby coming out to show for it.

"No," he said.

Oh, no. My heart sank. I was doing this all wrong. I probably had swollen my cervix and tired myself out, pushing for no good reason. I knew we should have called the midwives earlier, to talk some sense into me.

"Let me turn on a light," he said. He flipped on our little desk light and came back around the pool to peer into the water.

"Oh!" he said. "Oh, oh! There's a head!" Sam re-aimed the video camera and took a couple still pictures, now that there was some light in the room. He was so excited.

So was I!

I hadn't realized he'd meant, "No, I can't see anything" because it was too dark, not, "No, there's nothing there." Ah.

I felt down there, gingerly. On the next pushes, Sam talked me through what he was seeing. I was literally growling at this point as I pushed. I had dim moments of wondering what the neighbors were thinking.

"Oh! The head's out! Push! Keep pushing!"

He didn't need to tell me twice. I knew, in the semi-paralyzed rational part of my brain, that there was no reason to push so quickly just because the head was out, and that Sam wasn't really a labor coach, just excited. But I had my own desire to get this baby out, already. And so I did.

I just didn't stop pushing, and so out came the baby. Sam dropped the camera and fumbled toward the water. I don't think either of us truly "caught" him, but Sam scooped him out of his soft landing and brought him to my chest.


Here he was. Only we didn't figure out it was a he for some slow, timeless moments.

"Sweet baby," I said, over and over. "You're here. You're all right. You did so great. You're with Mama." I rubbed his back and felt the slight vestiges of vernix coating his skin. After Mikko (11 pounds, 13 ounces), this one looked so small. His folded-up frog legs, especially, seemed so wee, that I had these thoughts of, "Where's the rest of him?"

Since the midwives still weren't here, I was relieved he was crying and pinking up, but I continued to rub his body and talk to him to keep him alert.

Sam helped us both out of the water and onto towels on the bed, and put blankets over us both as I instructed. We cooed at our baby — Alrik, as we now knew to call him — and at each other, so deliriously happy it's hard to describe.

Z and L arrived about eight minutes after the birth (as we calculated later from the camera's timestamps) and buzzed our cell phone from the outside door. Sam answered calmly enough and went down to let them in. "I thought I heard a baby in the background!" Z exclaimed as she came into our bedroom a few minutes later. I smiled up at her, pleased as punch.

Z and L did their jobs from then on, and I was glad to have them there, calm and non-interfering, to make sure all was well. I had been afraid of hemorrhaging again, so I was relieved to have someone competent present to supervise the afterbirth. All went well, though, with no extra measures needed to stop the bleeding. The placenta was a lot smaller than with Mikko, of course, and Alrik, as we discovered, was only eight pounds, eight ounces. A tiny little thing!

I needed a few stitches for the weird way a piece of skin had torn during the pushing. It wasn't a bad tear, but it was a jagged strip that would otherwise be in the way. Color me grossed out. I let her put the stitches in and felt a renewed sheepishness for pushing so hard and so fast.

Z kept saying she had suspected we wanted and would have an unassisted birth. I really believed no such thing. I think it was just the confluence of circumstances that brought on our unexpectedly unassisted birth: our previous history of an embarrassingly long labor, our genteel horror of waking people for possibly no good reason, our own cluelessness about what a labor progression might look like, and my labor-land mental state where there was a large chasm between my brain and my mouth. I'm really glad nothing went wrong with the baby or with birth or postpartum; for myself, I much prefer to have an expert on hand to help out with the unforeseen. That said, I wasn't displeased to have had an unassisted birth. It has always been a secret wish of mine (don't tell Z), one I figured I would never fulfill.

Alrik tested out great in the newborn exams. He was 21 inches long and 8 pounds, 8 ounces, born at 2:25 a.m. on May 21, 2011.

The midwives check out our perfect baby.

Weighing him up.

Z and L watched the birth video on Sam's laptop, since they'd had to miss out on the real deal. They thought it was very impressive but made fun of Sam for failing to properly catch the baby and of me for trying to breastfeed Alrik right away while we were still in the pool. I think it's just reflex: Crying baby = offer boob. They told me I was a birthing superstar, so of course I believed them.

He takes right to it.

Natalie sneaked up at some point. She had been woken by the midwives' knock at the door, and then heard what sounded unmistakably like newborn crying coming from above. Nothing can keep Natalie from a baby.

Eventually everyone dispersed for what was left of the night, and Sam and I, too pumped to settle, ate some of the snacks I hadn't been able to stomach during the labor and bided our time until we could plausibly call our families, on Eastern time. They were surprised to hear from us, considering we'd lied about the due date by a week (to preclude antsiness and premature visiting), and here I'd ended up giving birth a few days before the real one. I didn't tell my parents the birth was unassisted, but they ended up hearing it from my father-in-law (in a mass email he for some reason sent to them as well). I knew my parents were nervous about a homebirth, never mind one where the midwives didn't make it in time. Ah, well.

He had that concerned look down from birth!

Finally, families called and the news given out, we were able to release and grab some sleep with our little one. I couldn't believe how calm it was to slip into our own bed, the three of us, nobody else around. I had had my home birth, and now I had my second son. Alrik as a sweet and gentle surprise — it's fitting.

Indulge me with a few more photos?

Mikko meets his brother later that morning.

Visit Authentic Parenting and MudpieMama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!
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Herman said...

Incredibly beautiful story and so many elements of it took me back to my own home water birth. It's left me feeling incredibly calm and peaceful and even excited about the next birth. Thank you for sharing your amazing story.

I think in my heart I'd love an unassisted birth, but since we have people flying in from all over the world, I don't know if it will happen, so am not putting my hopes on it... I'm just so in love with this beautiful story. It clangs at my heart.

Jamie said...

amazing. beautiful. awe.some.

nice work lady, even though it was sort of by accident. in my own labor i was so amazing that my body always knew just what to do. it's pretty incredible.

Joella said...

This was so beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing so freely! <3

Lindsay said...

I'm glad you posted this-I had a super long labor (I lost my mucus plug and had bloody show and contractions for over a week before they eventually forced me to have a c-section 24hrs after my water broke...I never got to the pushing stage or dilated above 7)and anyway it is nice to hear from someone who had a long labor but still was successful at a natural birth. It gives me hope that even if I don't have 2 hour labors like Code Name Mama I might still be able to VBAC next time :)

Sarah said...

Beautiful birth story! What a small world--we know your midwives from early in our marriage. Some of the best women to share your birth with. Congratulations on such a peaceful & good birth.

Unknown said...

It's so lovely to finally read this, Lauren! The photos are beautiful and the story is just wonderful. Maybe the next time one of us has a baby, the other one will be there for it! =)

mudpiemama said...

such a beautiful story Lauren - love how you shared it all, so many of the pictures are amazing too!!

Madame Saslow said...

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.
In other news, because of your blog, today I bought Mama Cloths for my period (which unexpectedly started about an hour later).

Megan said...

So beautiful! I really enjoyed reading your birthing story and seeing all the pictures of newborn Alrik.

Jenny said...

Wonderful, beautiful story and photos! It brings back so many memories of Robert's birth--I, too, had inner OMG moments, wondering at the intensity of things while remaining or at least appearing calm and not making a sound. It was hard putting that strange experience into words. I love the flowers, especially the mum and its meaning. You have such amazing pictures. That first photo of you and Alrik is especially gorgeous. What an awesome birth! Thanks for sharing, it was lovely to read.

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

I love the details in your birth story! This post will be great to look back and share with him when he's older. I'm impressed with the quality and quantity of your photos documenting your labor and birth. All of our birth pictures are too blurry or I'm too naked ;-). Even our video camera ended up pointing to the ceiling. ha! You have such a beautiful story to share, it was worth the wait!

melissa said...

I'm so happy to have finally had the chance to get the full story. It's like a dream - just perfect, perfect. Your story and a few others I have read today have me seriously thinking that a home birth *is* what I want this time after all. I love your mention of just slipping into bed, the three of you. The most natural thing!

Unknown said...

Oh my gosh!!!! I just love this post! The pictures are awesome and the blow by blow was really thrilling. I absolutely felt like I was there with you! Your birth story is pretty amazing...especially the round table pizza part. Ha! I remember when you posted that comment. Thank you for sharing and letting us all live one of the most important moments in your life with you!

Momma Jorje said...

Visiting from the AP Carnival!

Ah, once again I am envious of your home birth. We had the birth that was right for us, but I have also dreamed of a home birth.

I hope you feel less silly and more empowered by the entire experience, it "sounds" pretty awesome!

Also, I *love* the weighing photo! Hell, I love the scale! I hate the hard plastic scales they use in the medical industry. :-P

Momma Jorje said...

Oh, I meant to ask: Did you manage to keep Natalie for stealing him away from you?

Jenn said...

This may very well be one of my favorite birth stories ever. And I love the flowers in preparation of birth. Beautiful.

melissa v. said...

This made my day. WOW, was that perfect and I'm so glad to finally read the whole story. Yay! Don't feel sheepish about anything babe, it was an amazing and wonderful birth and you were a birth champion. =)
I had the same mind-mouth disconnect when I was in labour with Riley. My second birth, but first vaginal birth. There were quite a few things I could have changed or been reassured from if I had been more verbal, and so with Amarys I resolved to try and communicate more. I think I didn't trust that I could get deep into hypno relaxation mode, pop out, and then get back in again. But I could!

Seriously, this birth was amazing. You describe it so well, and so real and so authentically. Rock on, mama. ♥

melissa v. said...

p.s. make more babies. I want to live vicariously through you (those photos of Alrik at the end made me pray my hubs' vascectomy fails. Actually pray. Lol)

PageAndKatie Housel said...

homebirth is something i wish every woman could experience. this is a beautiful story! thank you for sharing

Erin said...

this is a beautiful story. i love that you have so many photos! i also had an unexpected unassisted homebirth, last september with my 3rd child (didn't leave for the hospital in time - thankfully, or she'd have been born in the car!), and i loved what you said in your story: "I'm really glad nothing went wrong with the baby or with birth or postpartum; for myself, I much prefer to have an expert on hand to help out with the unforeseen. That said, I wasn't displeased to have had an unassisted birth." i feel exactly the same way, and you have summed it up perfectly with those words! i was worried people who knew me would say, "oh, you did that on purpose!" nobody said it, thankfully!

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