my birth stories :: hazel june
June 1st was the 7th birthday of our firstborn. Here is her birth story. Its LONG because her birth was, too. ;)
Note: all the photos in this post are courtesy of Jennifer Holshoe, who was a birth photographer and student then, and is a wonderful midwife today.
THE BIRTH OF HAZEL JUNE
when we found out we were pregnant, we had just moved into our new house, a house we plan to settle down in and stay in a while. for a long time i had been drawn to the idea of a home birth, and it was especially appealing now that we had a home (as opposed to a little rented apartment). but it didn’t seem financially possible given our income and the fact that my medicaid wouldn’t cover a home birth in MI.
but, we are people of faith, and this story has the fingerprints of God all over it. His hand in things started with leading us to jen holshoe, who i hoped would be our doula for a hospital birth with nurse midwives (whom we had chosen because insurance would cover it). jen read the hesitation between the lines as i told her about our plan to give birth in the hospital, and gently pointed it out to me, encouraging me to pay attention to it. she told me that she was apprenticing under a home birth midwife, Sara, who may very well be open to working out a payment plan or a barter. she had already given my name to this midwife because she suspected i needed to get in touch with her.
after meeting with sara a week or so later, we decided to put ourselves into her and jen’s care for our prenatal care and birth. this was when i was already 30 weeks into my pregnancy. great peace and relief followed that decision. we adored our appointments with sara and jen because during them our sense of friendship and trust with them grew, and we felt empowered and excited about giving birth in our own way, in a home that felt very safe and special to us.
sunday, may 28, 2011
on a sunday morning, exactly one week after my due date, during worship at our little neighborhood church, i became aware that my body was gearing up for something. i thought, “this might be the day”. a few friends at church thought so, too, and prayed over me that it would be so. we had planned to have people over that afternoon to plant a community garden in our yard, and because i knew pre-labor could last a while, or this could be a false alarm, we decided to continue on with that plan. i figured it would be a happy distraction. we spent the sunny afternoon in the garden, planting and digging in the dirt. tim and i decided to cancel our house church meeting that night, and took a long nap instead, followed by a walk at riverside park. by night fall, contractions were increasing in intensity, and by midnight, i was pretty confident that i was officially in labor. still, we waited until 1 a.m. to be sure a pattern was established before calling our midwife, sara, and texting our prayer team to light their candles and begin praying.
monday, may 29, 2011
sara and her apprentices, jen and kathy, quietly let themselves in at about 3 a.m. and set everything up downstairs, while i continued to labor upstairs in our bedroom. i sang through each contraction, mostly a song called Psalm 23, which i had discovered in someone elses’ home birth video on youtube. the song invited peace and the presence of God, which is why it seemed like a good choice.
eventually, once the contractions seemed strong and i felt really intense and focused, tim helped me downstairs to where the birthing pool had been set up, and we greeted sara and jen and kathy (another midwife apprentice). i got in the birth tub and worked a little while, but by the time it was daylight, we realized that my labor had slowed down significantly. thinking that perhaps it was their presence that had somehow stalled me, our midwives decided to leave for a while and let us work on our own a while longer. so much of this is a blur, but i remember just moving around the house, riding out contractions by singing, swaying, sitting on the labor ball, on all fours, hanging from tim’s shoulders, or in laying down positions... all the time trying so hard to focus on opening, on moving into the pain. i was remembering all the bits and pieces of all the home birth stories i read, which had led me to believe that my body was made to do this work, and that it needn’t be painful or awful.
jen returned sometime that mid-day because tim assessed that i was really close to or already in transition. i got into the tub again, and i felt the first really strong pushing urge. it was almost completely involuntary, drawing me in to cooperate with it, like it or not. i think i exclaimed in surprise to jen about it, and she assured me it was normal, and good progress. she instructed me to focus on opening and downward movement. meanwhile, she texted sara to return because i think she thought it wouldn’t be long before we’d get down to some serious pushing and delivery. however, something in me froze up, perhaps because i had been so startled and frightened by the pushing impulse, and by the time sara arrived, labor had slowed down significantly again. later, we realized that the birthing pool always had the effect of slowing down contractions, so we stopped using it!
the rest of this day is a blur again. more of the same working through contractions, which at this point were pushing contractions. the baby had not yet even descended far enough to put pressure on my cervix to encourage dilation, which meant that i was doing “pre-pushing” just to move her down to the cervix (for most women, i understand, the baby is usually already descended onto the cervix before labor starts, so i was playing catch up).
i remember sara made us go for a walk around our neighborhood, which i was nervous about because we know so many of our neighbors and i didn’t want to have to talk to or interact with people in that state. but we had a good long walk at a rather brisk pace to try to get things moving.
i also took caster oil at some point this day, which gave me horrible diarrhea for hours. with every push i was leaking watery fluid/blood, urine, plus liquidized stool. it was so messy! i couldn’t believe how messy it all was, even though i theoretically knew that it would be.
i was becoming increasingly exhausted. i had hardly eaten anything and wasn’t drinking enough water for a 90-degree day. i just wanted to escape the pain and intensity and have a good long nap. i kept trying to lay down, and would even fall asleep between contractions, which was never more than 5 minutes at a time.
at one point sara did something she doesn’t normally do: she checked my cervix to see how dilated and effaced it was: 3 centimeters. i couldn’t believe we’d only made it that far. however, she said i was “stretchy,” which is a good sign, and reminded me that one can move from 3 cm to 10 cm in a really short period of time. i tried to believe her. and i prayed and begged Jesus for some encouragement, which He gave, and i had a bit of a fresh wind shortly thereafter.
tuesday, may 30, 2011
all of this was so much harder than i had expected, and it was STILL GOING ON. i had been so sure that labor would only last a day at most, and yet i remember looking at a clock at one point and realizing it had been 36 hours since we determined i had officially begun labor, and i was so disheartened. i was feeling incredibly sorry for myself, and very whiney, and very tired of it all. i started saying things like, “i just want this to be over” and “i just want to go to the hospital and have them take this baby out of me.” i wanted so badly to escape from the pain, and i felt like such a wimp because i hadn’t yet succeeded in giving birth, and on top of that i knew i was being whiney and pathetic. but sara kept reassuring me that the baby was still safe, and that she and the others believed i could still do this.
somewhere along the line, another midwife came! i had never met her before, but jen and sara had asked her input and for her prayers, and she felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to come be with us. she was a breath of fresh air for us all, and a gift! she and the others prayed with us when she arrived, and she sang worship songs periodically throughout the day. this meant a lot to us, and had the effect of giving me lots of peace.
again, sara checked my cervix: i was at 3 or 4 lousy centimeters... still! i just laid down and cried a while after this. it felt like i would never give birth, and like all my work was wasted and useless.
at one point, sara sent me to my room, saying that i needed to ask myself some hard questions about what was keeping me from really owning and doing this work. “you seem to want us to do it for you,” she said, “but we can’t; only you can do this.” so, up i went, alone. even tim stayed away. i don’t know how long i was up there. at first i just tried to sleep and rest, but then some small bit of decisive determination rose up in me and i decided to try pushing with all my concentration and might through each contraction. i worked alone like this for quite a while, i think, growing in confidence and focus as i did so. and then i made my way back downstairs. later, jen, sara, and tim would tell me that i emerged as a completely different woman; it was a turning point.
we considered breaking the amniotic sac, because it was still in tact. but first, we had another walk in the back yard. earlier that morning tim had noticed that one of our many peony buds had opened. this is something i had wished for: that the peonies in our yard would bloom on the day our daughter was born. i stopped in our walk to take a look at that single boom, and to smell it, and i think we all knew that that flower was a little promise from the Lord that she would soon be born. it definitely encouraged me to press on.
we came back inside and got ready to break my water, only to find that it was broken already! the small “leaks” i had experienced in the yard were apparently amniotic fluid. we got set up to do the pushing upstairs on my bed, but ended up pausing - i don’t remember why - for a while. at about 8 pm, i think, i guess we all knew it was time to get to work. i got settled in on the love seat in the living room, with jen holding one leg and kristin another, while sara sat between my legs, instructing me with her fingers where to push into. tim was napping upstairs even as i was growling and grunting loudly, but he returned a while into it and took over holding one of my legs. with every push, everyone would exclaim about what a great job i was doing, telling me that the baby was moving down further with each one. productive pushes! i loved the pushing part because i could tell things were moving; i felt like i was finally doing something. i sorta liked growling, too! :)
wednesday, june 1, 2011
it felt like such a short period of time, though i was informed later that it was nearly five hours, that her head crowned. there was that famous “ring of fire” feeling that i’d read about. staying with it and not prematurely pushing against it was challenging, but i did it. and i reached down to touch the top of her soft head. and then, so quickly after the ring of fire, her head was out, with her hand pressed against her cheek, and the rush of her slippery body quickly followed. Hazel June entered the world at 1:11 a.m. i think i gasped and looked rather shocked that that was it; i had done it. sara placed her on my chest, all slippery, bloody, and hollering. she yelled and yelled for a good long while as tim and i stared at her and talked to her, telling her how glad we were that she was finally here, and acknowledging that her yells were understandable given what an ordeal she’d just endured.
then it came the delivering of the placenta, which was easy compared to all the rest. one of my favorite moments of the physical experience of birth was actually the moment the placenta came out: glorious, empty feeling! it felt like such a relief. i bled pretty heavily for a while, though i hardly noticed. sara looked up at me and said, with great seriousness, “brooke, i need you to tell your body to stop bleeding now.” so, i did, and i prayed for a moment, then returned to staring at my beautiful girl. but the bleeding stopped a moment later, and so we were spared needing to go to the hospital for complications.
hazel was measured and checked while laying on my chest or in tim’s arms, and she breast-fed for the first time within an hour of being born. she was a champ at it! we didn’t clean her up right away, just bundled her in blankets, and then we were all sent to bed to get some rest (though i don’t think we went to sleep until dawn, too busy we were, staring at this new little person). later, well into the daylight hours of wednesday, sara and jen and kathy returned to check in on us, and to help me give her her first sponge bath, which she naturally hated.
and, in the yard, there were several more peonies in full bloom. tim cut some and brought them into the bedroom for me to enjoy. we spent the next week on bed rest, due to some tearing, blood loss, and a sciatic nerve injury incurred during the pushing phase, so hazel had all her first visitors and snuggles in that room. it was so hard for me to stay put, even though my body wouldn’t have let me do otherwise, but i look back at that week as sacred space, and as very important to my bonding process with hazel and the success of our nursing relationship so early on. and during that time i was so well taken care of by my mother, tim, and our community, who prepared and brought me food, kept up the house, helped me to the bathroom and with bathing, and held hazel when i needed breaks. it was good not to have to be super woman.
i am incredibly grateful to have been able to give birth at home. i know my story would have ended very differently had we been in the hospital; almost certainly with a c-section. and though i know c-sections are sometimes necessitated, i don’t believe it would have been in my case. because i was at home with women who believed in me, and who believe in the capability of women to do the impossible work of giving birth, i was allowed to walk through weakness, fear, and whimpering, emerging on the other side with a confidence, strength, and patience i may not have otherwise gained.
as for hazel, who is 11 weeks old as i write this, she is an unspeakably precious gift. and she is healthy, joyful, and growing like a weed. one day i’ll be able to tell her, “you were born right here, on the day the peonies bloomed.” and that’s a good story to be able to give one’s daughter, i think.