Serafina’s Home Birth Story

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8 hours into labor, about two hours before delivery

A few weeks before Serafina’s birth, some dear friends came over to pray for us. One of the ladies prayed that I would have a “glorious” birth, and the word really stuck with me. What would that even look like? I’m not one to gush over how beautiful birth is. It’s amazing, for sure, but it’s also hard, and messy, and not something I romanticize over! Still, glorious, is a word I wanted to describe my birth. And looking back, I’d say it does! God showed up and answered so many of the prayers prayed that night, and in the nights to follow, as I dealt with fears, and pains, and hopes….

I didn’t quite realize it in the weeks leading up to birth, but I clearly had this idea of what my home birth would look like–probably from watching too many YouTube videos (“Please, can we watch another “coming out” video, Mama,” said my 3 year old). I was going to labor peacefully for at least a few hours in the birth tub, with candles in the background, and my birth playlist in my earbuds. I’d diffuse certain essential oils, depending on how things were going. I was going to relax this time. My breathing would be better. I’d know when transition was coming, and I’d spend a decent amount of time slowly pushing, unlike my first birth, where AnaBella was out in less than ten minutes.  The placenta would come out easily. My baby and I would hang out in the water for a bit before we moved into the bed. I wouldn’t need stitches.

I only realized those were my expectations when some of those things happened, and some, not so much…

Contractions started around 10am and were pretty intermittent for a few hours. I spent the morning doing crafts with AnaBella (most notably, lying on my back while AnaBella traced my life-sized  silhouette on the hardwood floor…not so f  un during a contraction), and then had a friend over in the afternoon. The whole time, I was charting my contractions through a free app on my phone. I was a bit in denial, as I had a few bouts of false labor in the prior weeks. The contractions were getting closer together though, so after about 4 hours, I texted my midwife, Sarafina. I could still talk through them, and was cheerfully hanging out with our friends.

At 6:30, after about 8 hours of pretty easy contractions, something changed a bit in the intensity. I texted Sarafina again and she asked if I needed them to come over. I still didn’t think so – I figured I had a lot longer to go if I wasn’t in too much pain. She said she’d be over within the hour. By the time Sarafina and Jessica arrived, I was kneeling during each contraction, as I couldn’t stand under the pain. Still, they were fairly short, and about 5 minutes apart. Mark and I were chatting, setting up the tub, preparing my labor drink and hanging out with AnaBella during this time.

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By 7:30, the pain was pretty intense. AnaBella rubbed my back and sang me songs during contractions, while Mark and the midwives tried to get the tub filled. Unfortunately, our hot water tank ran out of hot water, so there was a bucket brigade, trying to get the water level and temperature up. I didn’t feel an urgent need to get in the tub; I was hoping AnaBella would be settled in bed before I jumped in. She finally went to bed at 8:30, and the tub still wasn’t ready. At that point, I said to Kara, the student midwife, that I didn’t think I was dilated at all. She told me how to do a self-check on the toilet, and I reported back to Sarafina that I thought I was totally closed. I figured we all had a long night ahead of us…

During the next contraction after my self-check, I laid on the bed to get a bit of relief from the pain. As I was on the bed, I felt like my body was spontaneously pushing. Sarafina ran into the other room and told everyone to come in, “The baby’s coming!” HUH?! I just went through transition?? My waters hadn’t broken, and I hadn’t had any bloody show. I couldn’t believe it. Plus, it was nothing close to as brutal as my first labor. I remember walking around like a zombie for hours, feeling like I just couldn’t deal with the pain.

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Mark dumped two large lobster pots of boiling water into the tub, and I jumped in. After 11 excrutiating minutes, I was holding my baby. I will admit, while “Jesus, help me!” was the main focus of my attention during that time, the thought crossed my mind briefly that I should just get an epidural if I have another baby. The pain was so severe. Thankfully, it was so short as well. Serafina came out with her hand up by her face, which is why it took a few extra pushes (and likely why I tore a bit). I held her on my chest for awhile in the tub and caught my breath. It took awhile to birth the placenta, which was no fun. Sarafina gave me some Placenta Out while I was in the tub but nothing was happening, so I ended up out of the tub, and had to push out the placenta on my bed awhile later.

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I got to snuggle with my little lady, and AnaBella woke up shortly after. She came in (and stayed up til 3am!!) and got to meet her sister, and touch a real placenta–with gloves on, of course–before Kara prepared me a delicious placenta smoothie, and prepared the rest for encapsulation. AnaBella has been making playdough placentas ever since she read the book Welcome with Love!

Despite not having those hours of peaceful tub labor, (which, really, who needs a longer labor?!) I am thrilled with the way things went. My midwives were awesome. They were encouraging, but not intruding. They supported me, but didn’t stifle me. They also cleaned up beautifully!  The environment was calm and cozy, and…normal. Everyday. Familiar. And yet–Glorious. Although I am glad I was able to have both hospital and home birth experiences, being home blows the hospital out of the water. No one woke me up to try to take my baby to be weighed, take my blood pressure, or scold me for sleeping with my newborn. I didn’t have to get in a car, eat hospital food, or be ridiculed by the pediatrician on rounds for not doing a Vitamin K injection. It truly was a perfect fit for me, and even my husband, who was a bit skeptical, said he would certainly have another home birth if we had more children.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

It’s OK Not to be Psyched About Pain in Childbirth

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Me with AnaBella, a few minutes after birth. See, I look like I forgot all about the pain, right?

Can I start by saying, of course I am eager to hold and hug and nurse and love my baby? We all are. But I don’t want to minimize the other, not-so-eager feelings that some women (myself included) have regarding childbirth. Not everyone falls into this camp, but for those who do, come join my club.

My EDD is 6 days away, and I’ve been eating 6 dates  a day for 4 weeks now, my supplies are all in place, and I’ve had more Red Raspberry Leaf Tea infusions to make me want to never want to drink a hot liquid again. I’ve done pelvic tilts by the 100s, my baby is in the “right” position, and I have a pretty rad birth tub ready to be set up in my bedroom. I’ve done this birth thing before.

Yet I’m nervous. Or reluctant. I can’t quite figure out the emotion, but it’s not the same blind excitement, the same “I’ve-got-this-in-the-bag!” I had the first time around. There’s something in me that knows. Knows the pain, the intensity, and isn’t looking forward to it.Yeah, there are women who have orgasms, and super fast, super fantastic childbirth experiences, where they purr, and just gush about how amazing/wonderful/crazy awesome childbirth is. (If that’s you, congrats. Tell me your secret in the comments.) I wasn’t one of them.

Most women aren’t.

For the vast majority of us, there is some degree of pain involved in childbirth. Given the fact that epidural usage estimates are 80-90%, it’s pretty safe to surmise that most of us aren’t eager to experience the intensity of childbirth. Maybe we feel unprepared, not confident, exhausted, or just can’t understand why someone doesn’t want to take away the pain. STAT. It’s hard for many around me to understand why I don’t want to just head the hospital, pop in an epidural, and watch a movie while my body goes through labor.

This isn’t a post about why I don’t want an epidural. I don’t take tylenol (though, to be fair, I can’t envision a time in the last few years where I’ve actually needed to), because I prefer to keep what goes into my body as clean as possible. So, an epidural doesn’t seem like a great fit for me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about epidurals, you can head here. Instead, I want to just encourage you, in a weird sort of way.

My first birth was pretty “average.” I went to a hospital. I was in labor for 17 hours. No induction, no epidural. I walked around, went in the tub, had massage–that part of it was pretty decent. But it hurt. A lot. I hated it.

This might be news to some people. There seems to be a generalization that if you’re having an unmedicated birth, especially a home birth, you’re some kind of birthing bravado. Like you’re fearless, confident, or have a really big pelvis. Nah. Not me. I’m having a home birth this time around because I love the care of my midwives, because most births (and pain) are normal and natural, and don’t need to be treated like emergencies, and honestly, I just didn’t want to fight anyone this time. I can keep my baby with me in my bed, don’t have to explain my decisions to a dozen people–an hour–and will be in the comfort of my space, away from the sterile, and yet not-so-sterile, hospital environment.

All that said, though I’m hoping for a glorious, pain-free birth, I’m expecting and preparing for some pain. I’m breaking the rules of the natural childbirth community by saying that, I know. For those who want a natural birth, it’s all over the place – don’t listen to negative talk about birth. Fill your head with positive images of birth, don’t watch A Baby Story, don’t use the word contraction–call it a “surge,” read Ina May, take hypno-birthing–it’s FEAR that allows pain in, they say. And those are valid points, and I do whole-heartedly encourage you to look into ways to manage your pain, learn skills that will help in childbirth, don’t watch silly Hollywood depictions of birth, and rest, rest, rest in the weeks before your birth.

For many women, it’s really hard to bridge the gap of what could have been possible, and what actually happened. Yes, you *could* have had a pain-free, unmedicated labor. But what if you didn’t? Does that mean you didn’t “do it right,” or practice enough or visualize enough? How can we have a conversation about the reality of pain in most women’s birthing experiences, and yet still remain positive and encourage each other to press on and feel empowered, regardless of what is happening in your body?

I’m still mulling over that question, but in the end, if you are one of the women that experiences pain during labor, know you’re in good company. You didn’t fail. I give you permission to loathe your labor. Maybe you won’t, but if you do or if you did, it’s OK. Now you have a precious, precious baby.

And you’ll never have to deliver that baby again.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.