Linden’s Birth Story
A VBAC story
Not knowing about MAMAS, my husband and I opted to receive prenatal and delivery services at a birth center when we were pregnant with our first baby. After 42 hours of back labor and endless vomiting, we finally transferred to the hospital, began interventions, and I eventually had a cesarean section. When we became pregnant with our second baby, we returned to the birth center with the understanding that our midwives would have to attend our delivery in a hospital setting given that we’d be attempting a VBAC. At 27 weeks, the birth center declared that their midwives would no longer attend births. I had struggled to find peace with birthing in a hospital, but doing so without my midwives was simply out of the question. I reached out to MAMAS resigned to the fact that it was likely too late in my pregnancy for them to begin care and that they would not attempted a home VBAC. I was elated to learn that I was wrong! MAMAS immediately began prenatal services, treating me like all the other mamas expecting to deliver in March. It didn’t matter that I’d be 38 years old when I delivered or that I’d be attempting a VBAC. Finally, I let my mind conjure images of the home birth I’d always dreamed of – based largely on childhood memories of watching my mother successfully deliver my two younger siblings at home.
Linden’s birth story:
For a week or so prior to my 3/27 due date, I’d been having lots of small contractions. Sometimes they became regular enough that I even once called Erin to let her know labor might be imminent. But on 3/29 in the evening, we were finishing up a playdate with friends and the contractions came on stronger than before. For good measure, I had a Haagen Dazs chocolate ice-cream bar – family lore to induce labor since that was also the last thing I ate before going into labor with my first baby, Amory.
I was pretty sure that I was in early labor, but had had so many false alarms in the days prior that I didn’t talk about it much with my husband, Jason, and simply tried to preoccupy myself with other things. But prior to bedtime, I called Máiri to put her on notice. I had a glass of wine (one of her suggestions) and went to bed around 10 p.m. Around 2:30 a.m., my contractions woke me up but I was able to manage them in bed and doze in between.
Around 3:30 a.m., I could no longer calm myself back to sleep. I got up, lit some candles, and began lazily pacing the bedroom between contractions. I began timing them and was surprised to see that they were lasting about 1 minute and were only 2-3 minutes apart. They were strong, but not anything I couldn’t breathe through with a bit of focused relaxation.
At 4:30 a.m., with contractions consistently 2 minutes apart, I woke up Jason to let him know. Since I could still breathe through them on my own and he was sure we had many hours of labor to go (my first, after all, was 42 hours before finally undergoing a c-section), he rolled back over to try to get a bit more sleep. 15 minutes later, I woke him again as the intensity had increased significantly. Soon thereafter, around 4:45, I called Máiri to let her know our progress. But because labor still didn’t seem too bad (I had no back labor or nausea like I had with my first), I told her we were ok on our own for a while longer. 15 minutes later, I called her back with a very different tone – “I think we need you! Please come now!” She readily agreed and said she’d be on her way shortly. (After delivery, Máiri said she felt she should come after my first morning call to her, but didn’t want to insert herself if we didn’t seem to want or need her. But she’d had a hard time getting back to sleep after hearing me moan through a contraction and was very relieved when I called her back so quickly.)
Things progressed rapidly and by the time Máiri and Kathy arrived around 5:30 or 6 a.m., I was so relieved to have them there that I shed a few tears of relief and then immediately got in the tub that Jason had drawn for me. Around 6:30, I heard a POP and called in Máiri. My water had broken. Although this was a small thing and completely expected during labor, there was a part of my mind that recognized this was something new (since Amory’s sac had been artificially broken) and that labor was indeed progressing.
I labored in the tub for about an hour – until about 7:15 or so. Just before I got out and was likely around transition, Amory woke up. Jason went to get him dressed, told him that the baby was coming, and that there were ladies here to help me, all of which I could overhear. After hearing me moan through a contraction, he said, “mama sounds like a humpback whale. Oooouuuuu.” This was a very funny reference to the story on the Octonauts cartoon about an albino humpback whale who gets a sunburn. In the few weeks prior to labor, we’d all joked around with the sound – doing our best impressions.
While I was in between contractions, Jason brought Amory into the bathroom to see me briefly. I summoned a happy, chipper face and jokingly said, “Mama sounds like a humpback whale, doesn’t she?” The midwives laughed. I told him to have a good day and Jason took him downstairs to watch some Cat in the Hat. Seeing him for that brief moment really did bring me energy and some levity – like putting on a smile even when you don’t feel like it.
Soon thereafter, I dry heaved once or twice, but never vomited (so different than the nonstop vomiting with my first!) and began to feel the urge to bear down. I got out of the bath. At some point, Máiri checked my cervix and discovered I was about “9 3/4” dilated but had a small lip. For a contraction or two, she pushed the lip out of the way and my pushing began in earnest. I then cycled through squatting, laying on the bed (I desperately wanted to rest), sitting on the toilet, leaning over the bed, etc. Just as the baby needs to spiral down through the birth canal, my midwives had me spiraling through each and every position. I would have a few contractions and make good progress and then plateau. But they never let me waste my energy for more than a contraction or two before softly suggesting a new position. Of course, moving was never easy, but I had completely given over to them and trusted them wholeheartedly.
For much of the labor, I experienced a feeling of tunnel vision and sometimes even a sense of blindness. Kathy was my emotional support – softly holding my hand through dilation contractions and urging me to relax every muscle, even those in my hands. Máiri was right there with hands on walking me through each movement and stage. Erin was a bit more in the background but often offering exactly the words I need to hear. For example, in early pushing, I distinctly remember her saying, “You have lots of space, Penelope. Let yourself open.” And Jason was my fighting companion, gripping my hands and taking in/sending force as I pushed with every muscle of my body. The next day, I realized how sore my biceps were (along with every other muscle) and I remembered that I had virtually arm-wrestled with Jason for close to an hour!
At some point in the pushing, the midwives encouraged me to glance down and look into the mirror, which Mairi was diligently using to monitor my progress and I saw the first glimpse of Linden’s head – about 2-3 inches long and about an inch wide. “It looks like a mouse!” I exclaimed in a bit of feigned horror. Everyone laughed, which helped me laugh a little too. Eventually, Mairi told me it was time to decide where I wanted to have my baby. I was sitting on the toilet, really didn’t want to move, and couldn’t care less – I had no grand image of where the baby would be born. But then I imagined having to move from the toilet to my big tall bed with a baby still connected to me and decided to make the trek towards the bed. Linden was very much crowning at that point; walking to and getting up onto our bed was no small feat! Once there, I pushed once or twice on all fours and then quickly went to my left side. After a bit, the midwives encouraged me to roll to my right side, which is how I eventually pushed my little guy out.
I was so surprised at how quickly he slid out after his head emerged! Máiri told me to reach down and grab my baby, which I apparently did with particular gusto. He was so slippery and small! He gurgled, whimpered, and was so purple that I think the first thing I said was, “”Cry, baby, cry!” He immediately did and celebration all around ensued.
I delivered the placenta about 15 minutes later and the midwives clamped the cord soon thereafter – a bit earlier than they typically do so that they could pull blood for the Eldon kit (due to my Rh Negative status). Eventually, Kathy helped me into the shower, and the midwives did a quick cleanup while Jason held Linden. They measured him, weighed him with the “fish scale,” and left us to relax and enjoy our little bundle!
All in all, my labor lasted 7 hours from the time my contractions kept me from dozing to the time of Linden’s arrival. I felt safe, loved, strong, and capable through every moment. Linden’s birth was the most empowering experience of my life so far and also helped me find peace with Amory’s birth story. Both are magical in their own ways – one teaching me the limits of what I can control and the other teaching me the extent of my strength. I credit Máiri, Kathy, Erin, and Katie for supporting me through my home VBAC. They will forever be a part of Linden’s birth story. But they also allowed the experience to be my own. Never was a choice taken away from me and never was I asked to yield control. I wish every mother a similar opportunity!