Throughout labor, I had very little concept of time. At one point Kat came to tell me she was going home to nurse her little one. I found it a bit odd since she'd only just arrived, but figured she just hadn't had a chance to do so before leaving home. When she got back it seemed she'd only been gone for a few contractions but as they were coming on fast, I imagine she'd been gone for more than just a few. A little while later Keith asked me what time I thought it was; I said maybe 11am, he answered that it was after 5 in the evening. Later, someone said that Mairi, Erin and Kat were betting on whether the baby would come that day; I thought this very odd to be betting so early in the evening and didn't entirely appreciate the implication that I'd be laboring that many more hours. After all, it had only just gotten dark. I didn't realize it was so late - nearly 10 or 11pm at that point.
Eventually, I started feeling pushy. My body pushed a few times on it's own, surprising me. Mairi checked me again but I was only 8cm so she said to try not to push too hard, just enough to relieve a little pressure; I couldn't help it though, my body was taking over. I remember pushing a few times and crying out that I couldn't not push. She said that was OK, to let my body do its thing. The baby must have been making a big move at that point because I only remember that lasting a little while; after a few involuntary pushes, I was pushing only lightly on my own.
The next time I was checked, I was dilated to ten and given the all clear to push. I was eager to do so, but don't specifically remember having an urge to push at that point. At the suggestion of the midwives I got out of the tub and moved to the bed. I started out pushing on my knees, draped over the birth ball but the baby was positioned forward in my pelvis with lots of room towards the back, so Mairi and Erin suggested I lay down. They acknowledged it's not usually the best position but in my case it would help utilize the extra space toward my back. So I lay down against Keith and pushed...and pushed...and pushed. My contractions were odd at that point: I would have one big one, then another smaller one just behind it, then a bit of a lull. The pattern surprised the others; I remember Erin and Keith both asking me, "Another one, already?" several times.
Pushing was much harder than I thought it would be and I never quite got the hang of it. Mairi and Erin switched off helping me, pushing down on the area I needed to focus on, trying to direct me to push in a way that would make the most progress. I tried, but the only times I got reassurance that I was doing it correctly was when my body took over and the pushing became involuntary. I would start pushing when a contraction came and then my body would take over, pushing for me, then Mairi or Erin would cheer, "Yes, that's it!" At some point there was a small flurry of activity and I noticed everyone talking in hushed tones. Somehow I figured out that they'd seen meconium and though they didn't mention it to me at the time I was concerned and knew I needed to keep pushing hard and get the baby out as quickly as I could.
Three hours into pushing and the head was finally crowning; Mairi urged me to look at the mirror they were holding in place and see the little tuft of dark hair peeking out, to reach down and touch her head. I did, but only briefly. I was too focused on pushing and just wanted to get this done. No more distractions. Finally, Mairi said, "One more push and you're gonna see your baby!" I gave one more huge push, straining with everything I had, and felt something burst out. The way I remember it, she came out all at once, but we have pictures with just her head out, so it must have been two pushes at least. I felt her body slip out and Mairi called for me to look down and see my baby. I hadn't realized I was done and was a bit surprised that she was out.
Then she was in my arms, on my chest. I looked at my beautiful baby, speechless. I think I said something along the lines of "My baby" and then "I did it." "Yes, you did!" everyone cheered. Everyone helped me sit up a bit and take off my top so as to get skin-to-skin with my baby. They rubbed her off a bit and covered her up. I lay there with her for what seemed like hours, Keith next to us, both of adoring our new little girl.
The feeling of holding my just-born baby, covered in vernix and with beet red skin (which lasted for days), was like nothing I've ever experienced. I could not take my eyes off her. She was a gorgeous, dark-haired bundle of perfection. She lay in my arms, awake and content to look around and take in this new world. They made no attempts to take her away and even let me hold her while I pushed out the placenta (which they lay next to us, Ani still connected) and they stitched me up, saying it actually was more comfortable for mom if the baby was in her arms. I had to lay on my back for the stitches and Erin helped me get her in just the right position for nursing. She latched on right away, suckling eagerly.
Eventually Keith cut the umbilical cord and they took her and cleaned her up (she had several meconium poops in the first hour or two - apparently there was a lot in there, hence the meconium before birth; she had no side effects from this, however) and weighed her (8lbs, 4oz and probably closer to 8, 8 before the meconium!). I got up and showered and ate and Keith held her then for the first time.
In the end I labored for 20 1/2 hours, including 3 1/2 hours of pushing. Mairi and Erin thought Ani was probably posterior, explaining the long labor; they'd seen her move her head around quite a bit as I was pushing and thought she'd turned at the last possible minute. Mairi told me that from the time I'd questioned whether I could go on - at 6 cm - to the time Ani was born was 7 hours.
It was a long, intense labor. But the result - a beautiful, alert daughter, a birth high uninhibited by drugs or unnecessary time away from my baby, being the first to hold her, just moments after her birth, seeing my firstborn hours afterward and introducing her to her sister, recouperating in our bed surrounded by family - was amazing. Letting my body work in the way it was meant to and experiencing the full effects of the birth and birth and postpartum hormones led to such a feeling of peace and contentment. Even in the new-baby-no-sleep days following Ani's birth, I was so happy to be a new mom and to spend my days caring for her. Gaining the knowledge that my body is not faulty and can birth a baby and feed her without complications was incredibly empowering. Learning that I can birth a baby that is almost 1 1/2lbs bigger than the baby born by ceasarean was incredibly healing. It also showed me that the research I'd done that led me to choose homebirth was on target and that I was right to make the decisions I did. (Look for more on this research in the next blog post of this series.)
The following days were somewhat of a challenge to physically heal as I did have a tear that did not heal well at first and my hips, especially, were incredibly sore for a few days. Expecting to be able to jump right out of bed and go about my day after a homebirth, I was a bit surprised by the recovery time I needed. But the time I got to spend in bed bonding with my daughter was a complete and total blessing. In one post-birth checkup a couple weeks after the birth, Mairi told me I looked "serene". Though I didn't and don't always feel that way, I do believe this experience, this birth of my second daughter, has resulted in my own rebirth and an underlying serenity that was not there prior to Ani's birth. I know now just what I'm capable of, what I can do, if I just give myself the chance and insist that others do the same.
Ani Kathryn Nelson was born at 1:21am on November 7, 2009. She weighed 8lbs, 4oz and was 21 1/4 inches long. Her middle name, Kathryn, honors our doula and friend, Kathryn (Kat) Haines, without whom I may never have know HBAC is possible. Ani was born with dark hair and a darker complexion than Aria's but has her sister's eyes.