It was Sunday. I was 9 and ¾ months pregnant and exhausted after having walked around several stores looking for planter box hangers for the flowers we had bought and planted just the evening prior. Dale wanted to take a shower and crush cans for his aluminum collection and, while I would have normally been left wondering, “well what am I going to do,” all I could think about was taking a nap, so before Dale even had his shoes off, I had laid down on our tan leather couch, using the poofy arm rest as a pillow, and then I was out.
When I woke up from my nap a couple of hours later, I felt great. I laid there for a few minutes, partly because I was comfortable and partly because it was so hard to get up off the couch at that late stage in pregnancy, where your core muscles are absolutely useless and you weigh more than you ever have in your entire life. As I lay there, just breathing and relaxing, I felt what seemed to be my baby headbutting my cervix and a pop followed by a contraction stronger than any I had previously experienced. However, it wasn’t until I moved to sit up that I even suspected it was anything significant. That’s when my pants felt wet, and as I stood up, amniotic fluid soaked down my legs and Dale stared at me in awe and watched as I waddled just as fast as I could to our bathtub and removed my clothes. As I pulled my pants down, a huge splash hit the bathtub like a giant water balloon shattering against pavement, and all I could do was smile and laugh. I hadn’t been this excited since I’d passed my mucous plug a few weeks before.
I called the midwives shortly after that:
“…I’d like for you to, if you haven’t already, do a squat test, just so we can –”
I interrupted Mia, the student midewife I was on the phone with, “Yeah, I can do that for you, but I don’t need to. I am telling you, there is no way my bladder could have held that much fluid. It was like a gallon, at least!”
This seemed to do, but since I hadn’t had anymore contractions yet, and the amniotic fluid was clear, they wanted me to eat, rest, and drink plenty of water. After I hung up with them, I showered while Dale washed my clothes (since by this point I only had the one pair of maternity pants left that still fit) and we began to make plans to go to my favorite restaurant, the Cracker Barrel, when Dale’s best buddy called him to tell him he would be over soon in hopes of watching the solar eclipse from our balcony.
By the time Derek got to our house, I had had only two or three more contractions and they were still relatively mild and erratic, with some being 20-30 minutes apart and others 10-15. I was settling in for the long haul when I had another contraction that was stronger. This time I had to lean over the corner of the table and sway my hips while breathing through it. Derek watched, maybe feeling a little awkward, and when it was over I asked Dale to go to the Cracker Barrel without me and get my dinner to go because I didn’t want to start a panic by laboring like that in public.
I closed and locked the door behind them, grabbed my laptop, and headed to the bedroom with the intention of listening to some hypnobirthing relaxation tracks. I opened my laptop and felt another surge coming on, so I got on my knees and leaned over the bed, breathing until it was over. I started to type my password, another contraction; I finish typing my password; another contraction, I open iTunes, another contraction. Suddenly, my contractions were one on top of the other and were now so intense that I couldn’t even time them. It took me totally off guard and I started removing pieces of clothing to try and get more comfortable.
Dale came home to what I’m sure was an alarming sound coming from our bedroom, and after checking on me, sent his friend home. He brought our food into the room and we used the bed as our table. I was starving, and I knew I would need the extra energy for the rest of my labor, so during the little time I had between contractions, I was snarfing it down. While I ate, I had Dale call the midwives back and tell them my contractions were super close together. They said they’d meet us at the birthing center in an hour. I got through most of my catfish, an egg, and a biscuit before I had to pee, and as I sat on the toilet, I started to feel the urge to push (just a little bit) and suddenly I knew we didn’t have an hour. I started to tell Dale to call them back and tell them I couldn’t make it to the birthing center, then I realized that if I had my baby here, on the bathroom floor, my midwives would have to come to my house, and it was a mess, and I didn’t want my midwives to see that mess, and I also didn’t want to have to pay extra for the home birth. This thought was enough to get me to suck it up, but I couldn’t get dressed without having a contraction, so I had Dale put my clothes on for me.
Forty-five minutes had passed since we last called the midwives and just as we were walking out the door, and I was finally convinced I could make it to the birthing center without having my baby, one of the student midwives called and asked for my address, and told me she was going to stay on the phone with me until we arrived at the center.
The drive was about fifteen minutes, and while it was uncomfortable, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. During the ride, I realized I had been hit with labor so suddenly that I had panicked, and that I needed to relax if I was going to get through the rest of it. I started to breathe during surges and was totally calm when we arrived at the center. When we first got there, there was only a student midwife there. She introduced herself and instructed us to go upstairs. The first thing I said to her is that I wanted to get in the tub, and I started ripping my clothes off again. She told me I had to wait until the midwives got there to do my vaginal exam but left to get the water ready while we waited.
I don’t know how long it took for the other student midwife and the two on call midwives to arrive. I was totally focused on my body and my surges, but I remember that I was mostly standing until the midwives came to do my exam. Lucky me, I got to have two (since we paid less to do the student program) so after the midwife did it, the student midwife did it, they discussed it outside of the room, then came back and told us that I was five centimeters dilated and fully effaced. And, more importantly, I could get in the tub now.
I stayed in the tub for a while, constantly changing position, and Dale put a relaxation track on for me to listen to. I remember hearing the soothing old lady’s voice talking to me, but I wasn’t listening to a word she said. I was totally in my own body and mind and even Dale’s presence in the room was only faintly recognized on a conscious level. I knew he was there and I knew the few times he left my side to use the bathroom or get something for me, but I couldn’t even tell you if he was touching me or even where he was in relation to my own position in space.
Eventually, I felt like walking, so I asked to get out of the tub, but I moved back into the bedroom, it quickly became very apparent that I was not going to be able to labor on my feet, so I labored on the bed for a while, and on the floor; squatting, on my side, on my hands and knees, and probably a number of positions I really can’t remember and have since never tried. I just did whatever was comfortable, and that was constantly changing. Poor Dale was lost, trying to help me through something he, himself, had never experienced and couldn’t possibly imagine, and there I was constantly changing position, and Dale right there moving around me, just trying to stay close without getting in my way.
At some point I started pushing, and after a while Jenn, one of the midwives, asked me if I’d like to get in the tub again. I thought that was a genius idea and headed straight that way. Everyone kept telling me to wait, that they were rewarming the water for me but I ignored them and climbed in anyway. It felt so good! I had a hard time finding a comfortable position (like I’d had one to begin with) but eventually ended up sideways in the tub leaning back. Every time I felt a surge coming I would reach up and grab the hand rail and use it as leverage to help me push. Every time I felt a contraction come on I pushed with everything I had, and every time it ended, and my baby hadn’t been born, I was devastated that I’d have to do it again… and again, and again, and again.
I had no concept of time. Between surges I quickly fell into what felt like sleep, though I remained totally aware of the people and everything going on around me. I was able to listen and respond when spoken to. I remember Jenn reminding me to make low sounds, rather than high-pitched screams. You would be surprised just how much better it felt to do this. I remember when they told me I should be able to feel the baby’s head if I used my fingers, then asking me if I could, and I remember feeling a slimy blob on it’s bath out. Soon, I was crowing. I remember Jenn telling me to put my hand on the baby’s head to help push it out slowly (which I deliberately ignored, desperate to get it all over with) and I remember sliding back, away from the side of the tub when she told me the baby didn’t have room to come out unless I did. I remember Dale moving into position to catch the baby when I first started crowning and, several contractions later, I remember him crying as our baby slipped out into his hands and he placed her against my own naked body.
The cord was short, and Dale wasn’t able to see if it was a boy or girl before handing the baby to me. I didn’t look either, just held the baby close to my body to keep it warm and comfortable. It was covered with lots and lots of vernix, and was totally calm as it lay on my bare chest and I started to sing a lullaby that I had sung often throughout my pregnancy so that the baby would know it. Several moments passed (I can’t be sure exactly how long as I had not yet regained my perception of time) and I kept hearing everyone asking and wondering what the gender was.
From the beginning of my pregnancy, I thought my baby was a girl. I could never explain it, I just felt it was. My co-teacher, Ellie, called it her niece from the beginning, and even bought girly gifts for each of my three baby showers that she attended. My mother-in-law, mom, and grandmother all thought it was girl until we got our 3D ultrasound and then for some reason decided it looked more like a boy.
“We don’t know the gender yet.” I heard one of the midwives say, so I gently lifted my babies leg and stated in an isn’t-it-obvious sort of tone, “It’s a girl. Just like I told you all!”
The midwives started rubbing her feet, then instructed me to keep doing it to make her cry a little so she could cough up the fluid in her lungs. I looked at Dale who had moved to the other side of the tub but was still crying, and the midwives asked her name. “Sage,” Dale told them, “Sage Nerys”
If our baby had been a boy the response would have been, “we don’t know yet,” because at that point, we had yet to settle on a boys name we both liked.
I stayed in the bathtub just holding and looking at her for quite a few minutes. I still hadn’t delivered my placenta, and the umbilical cord was still unclamped, intact, and pulsating healthily, but the midwives suddenly became determined to get me out of the tub and onto the bed, so they wrapped me and the baby in towels (including one between my legs) and walked me to the bedroom, instructing me to get down on the floor if I felt at all dizzy. They helped me into bed and got busy doing what I assumed was just “after birth” business and I ignored it, totally lost in my new baby.
I can’t be sure if I delivered the placenta before the cord stopped pulsating or if it was the other way around, but eventually the placenta was out and gone, and the cord was clamped, and Dale was allowed to cut it. It was not long after that that I realized there actually was cause for concern, and saw it emerge on Dale’s face as he went totally silent and all excitement drained out of his expression. It was then that I noticed the midwives were no longer happy and excited either, but had instead taken on a very serious, git-er-done kind of attitude. I was bleeding a lot more than I was supposed to be. Jenn kept saying, “Kali, you need to tell your body to stop bleeding” (I know this probably sounds like a funny thing for her to say, but I really liked it because I believe so strongly in the power of the mind) but I wasn’t worried at all, and chose instead to ignore the problem. I can’t explain it, I just always felt 100% confident that everything was going to be okay, even after Mia (a student midwife) told me that if the last shot they gave me didn’t slow the bleeding, they’d have to transfer me to the hospital.
During all this commotion I was hooked to an IV for fluids and my other arm held my baby girl. I wanted to nurse her, she was trying to nurse, and the midwives wanted me to nurse her because it would cause my uterus to contract which could help the bleeding, but since my free arm was stuck in a straight position with a needle in it, Trinette, the other on-call midwife, took the initiative and got my baby to latch. Soon after that I passed a blood clot the size of a goose egg (which surprised Jenn who had at that moment been vigorously rubbing my uterus) and the bleeding slowed to a healthy level.
I might also point out that during this time they had brought me orange juice, yogurt, pizza and coke, and when I finished getting my IV fluids, I handed the baby to Dale for his skin-to-skin time. He held our naked baby against his own bare chest for another 45 minutes to an hour before she was taken from him to be checked out.
Sage Nerys (Nur-ees) Norton was born at 1:58 am on May 21, 2012. She weighed 8lbs 11 oz and was 21.5 inches long. I actually had no tearing since, despite my greatest effort to get her out as quickly as possible, she took her sweet time emerging.
From the time my water broke until my baby was born was about eight hours. My total active labor time was about five and a half hours, and of that the midwives tell me I was pushing for an hour and thirty-five minutes, but I think I was pushing long before they realized I was.
A lot of people think I’m crazy for wanting a natural birth. Even more people think I’m crazy for doing it out-of-hospital. I think everyone else is crazy for doing it in the hospital, and while I don’t know what it’s like to have an epidural, induction, or c-section, I somehow feel those who don’t know what natural birth is like are missing out on something truly amazing. I didn’t have a doctor at my birth or machines to help me make sure I was breathing and my baby’s heart was beating, and I ate food and was offered water constantly throughout my labor, and I almost had to transfer to the hospital because of a bleeding problem, but I can’t help but feel that if I had had my baby in the hospital with the same problem she would have been taken from me, her cord cut prematurely, and we would have, in the very least, missed out on crucial skin-to-skin bonding time. Yes, it hurt, in ways only women who have been through it themselves can even imagine. Yes, it was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, but it was also the most sacred and beautiful and empowering experience I could have ever imagined. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, and I have every intention of doing it that way again… except maybe next time we’ll plan a home birth.