I received great news in mid-June. My cousin from Denver would be vising California around the fourth of July. I was elated to see her again after 20 years when my family drove cross country for our move from New York to San Francisco. Usually, I’d offer our guest room, but, on this occasion, I couldn’t offer her a place to stay. I wasn’t sure about when I’d go into labor, and the guest room was to play a part in our planned home birth. As her trip drew nearer and my labor didn’t seem imminent, I decided that there would be no harm in inviting her to stay with us for the 4th of July holiday, especially, since my actual due date wasn’t until July 19th. Our first daughter was born two weeks early, but everyone I talked to said to keep an open mind and not to necessarily expect that this baby would be as eager to enter the world.
THE “LAST” MEAL
Before the holiday I was almost at 38 weeks, and I decided to treat myself and get a last minute prenatal massage. When I arrived for the massage, the masseuse asked me if I was ok with going into labor and told her that it was fine with me. Joy, the masseuse, proceeded to give me one of the most amazing massages I had in a really long time. It was relaxing and therapeutic at the same time—a really nice treat for an achy body. After my massage, I decided to lunch at Zapatista Taqueria in the Castro and have the same “last meal” I had prior to giving birth to Tali, my first born. I had black beans and rice and doused them with two types of hot sauces. It was delicious. I don’t know why I decided to have this meal, but I must have intuitively known that I would be going into labor soon. Then, I headed home for an appointment with my midwife, Sue Baelen of Sacred Body Midwifery. Sue felt my baby and said she was getting lower and lower. I smiled, but I had no idea that within 12 hours, I would get to meet my little girl!
When we decided on a home birth, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a water birth. I’ve heard many wonderful stories about the experience and I read how much less painful the laboring was in the water. I didn’t want to commit, but wanted to make sure the option was available. I rented an AquaDoula, a portable water tub, and decided that I needed to set it up before July 4th. Of course, setting it up required a trip to Home Depot where I promptly lost the faucet adapter. The worst thing that could happen would be to go into labor and not have the tools necessary to fill up the tub!
I knew that after dinner with my cousin, who arrived at our house in the evening of the 3rd, I had to drive to a hardware store and find an appropriate adapter. I bought every single garden house adapter I could find and duct tape just in case none of the adapters fit. When we got home it was well past 10pm and I was quite exhausted.
We set my cousin up in the guest room and went to relax in bed. At around 11:15, I felt what felt like a huge burp and my daughter moving even lower in my pelvis. At 11:30, I felt a warm liquid oozing down my leg. I turned to my husband and said “Uh oh, I think my water just broke.” Then my body went into what felt like convulsions. I started shaking uncontrollably. The shaking terrified me. Here I was about to head into this amazing home birth journey and I was terrified, shaking in fear. From Hypnobirthing, I knew that fear is an impediment to labor and I needed to figure out a way to get out of that headspace.
Luckily, I had tools. Rachel Yellin, with whom I studied hypno-centered birthing created an amazing relaxation CD to aid pregnancy and labor. I laid down and listened to the CD. Additionally, I took a couple doses of Aconitum Napellus, a homeopathic remedy that has been very useful against fear and anxiety. I listened to the CD for two hours. During those two hours, I was in and out of sleep. I was barely registering my contractions as I concentrated on the Rachel’s soothing voice on the CD.
At 1:30am, I turned off the CD and listened to my body. The surges were coming on stronger. I downloaded an app to time my surges that were coming on often but sporadically. First it seemed like they were 8 minutes apart, then 14, and then I realized I was having a hard time concentrating on the numbers. I finally, decided it was time to call my doula. I hired the team of Alexis Cohen and Amber Dawn Hallet. They work together, one taking clients every other week. When I dialed their Google Voice number, I didn’t know who I was to get, but something told me it would be Alexis.
Alexis is a doula and depth hypnosis practitioner. With my first birth, I had seen Rachel Yellin for several sessions of depth hypnotherapy to help deal with and clear any fear that I may have around birth and labor. At the time, my biggest fear was a C-section. It was my metaphor of not having control in my birth. The sessions with her were extremely helpful and really helped me be emotionally present for the birth of my first daughter. The hypnosis sessions also allowed me to connect with my power animal, the wolf. I harnessed the power of the wolf during that labor, giving birth in the position of the howling wolf.
During this pregnancy, my fear was a negative outcome during the homebirth. I was afraid that something would go wrong with my daughter or that I would hemorrhage and that we would not be able to get to the hospital in time to save us. My hypnotherapy session with Alexis helped clear this fear and helped me connect to a new power animal, the black bear. Bears give birth in their sleep. They are fierce protectors that teach us introspection and how to be fearless. I was excited to bring this energy into my birth.
Alexis picked up the phone. I apologized for calling at such an ungodly hour. We chatted and I noticed that I had about 4 surges during our 15 minute conversation. The sensations were manageable and the surges were mostly a short 20-30 seconds long. We decided that she would come over and assess the situation, and if my labor stopped progressing—crash on our couch. She suggested I go take a shower to relax. I intuitively knew that once I got into the shower, the show would be in full force.
After hanging up with Alexis, I called my midwife, Sue Baelen. It was almost 2am at this point. I told her about what I was experiencing and we agreed when Alexis would arrive and assess the situation, she’d let Sue know whether or not she should come over. I hung up with her and got ready to get into the shower. I had bought a number of useful essential oils and gathered them to take into the shower. At this point, it finally hit me—I am in labor and soon I will meet my second child, our second daughter. I texted Sue the news and she messaged me back that she could smell Jasmine in the air, which is a rarity for where she lives. Jasmine was one of the oils I took with me into the shower.
I knocked on our guestroom and told my cousin that I was in labor and we needed to use the bedroom and the adjacent bathroom. She of course was shocked. My husband helped get her settled in our upstairs loft. I brought in the myriad of adapters I had bought at Lowe’s, hoping my husband would find one that worked and could fill up the birthing tub. It was going to take 90-120 minutes to get the water level to a place where I could use it. I knew we didn’t have much leeway in terms of time. Then, I went to our master bathroom and got into the shower.
In the shower, the surges got stronger and stronger. As I would feel the wave of a surge coming on, I would relax every muscle in my body and sniff one of the essential oils: lavender, jasmine, and frankincense. I would moan and hum as my body was being taking on a ride. I let my mind go and concentrated on the delicious scents. I decided to take a whiff of clary sage, an essential oil that helped make surges more effective and as I inhaled the delicious woodsy scent, the next surge was so strong that I could no longer stand.
I fell to my hands and knees. The small tiles in the shower felt extremely uncomfortable underneath my knees and I asked my husband for a towel so that I could lay it under them. I could feel my baby’s head coming lower and lower. I had a need to push. My midwife was not there. I quickly grabbed my cell phone and called Sue: “I think you need to get over here now,” I said to her. Alexis arrived soon after. Her presence was soothing and I knew everything would be ok. She sprayed an essential oil spritz I made into the shower and it was so helpful because I could no longer stand to sniff my essential oils.
As the surges continued to get stronger and stronger, I began to chant “OM” through them. Then, they got even stronger and I would let out a visceral growl, tapping into the energy of my power animal, the black bear. I could hear Alexis’s voice providing me words of encouragement. During the breaks in my surges, I would lay on my side in the shower. Then as they would come on, I would brace myself for the wave, get on my hands and knees and growl.
At around 2:30, Sue arrived. She unpacked her things and got the room prepared. This is the point in the timeline, where things get a bit fuzzy. Sue came into the shower as asked me in the sweetest voice: “Gaby honey, do you want to give birth in the shower.” “No!” I responded. “Then you’re going to have to get out of there,” she instructed. Getting out of the shower and getting to our guestroom was going to be a daunting task, considering that every time I stood up, I got hit with a powerful surge. I decided I was better off crawling there. I got out of the shower and immediately asked about our older daughter. To my relief, my mom already picked her up. This news made me feel settled.
I crawled to our guest bedroom and got onto the bed. Immediately, I began asking about the tub. I hadn’t really planned on a water birth, but once on the bed, I knew that I wanted to give birth in the water. It wasn’t ready yet. But I was. I screamed loudly: I have to poop!! Sue gently said: “Go ahead dear.” This was not going to be easy, considering that I was on my hands and knees with my butt up in the air on a very soft mattress. I was super uncomfortable. With every surge, my baby’s head was trying to get out and I could feel my muscles stretching and opening for her.
The surges were coming closer and closer together. I continued my loud growling through the wave of sensation and then I would lay and rest on my side during the calm. I kept asking about my tub. I could feel Sue checking the baby’s heartbeat with her Doppler. “She sounds great,” she would proclaim. It was music to my ears.
At around 3:15am, I asked again: “Is the tub ready?” Finally, it was. It was perfect timing because I had a baby getting ready to push through me into this world. I had a very short window of time to get from our guest bedroom into our living room with the tub. I jumped off the bed and ran into the tub, my team running after me. I jumped into the AquaDoula and my whole body relaxed. A strong surge came on and I began to push my daughter’s head out. “Oh FUCK!” I yelled! And then Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” came on in my head, because it “burned, burned, burned, the ring of fire!”
Half of the head was out, when Sue told me to stop pushing. This was the scariest part of the labor for me. My daughter’s head was halfway out being squeezed tightly by my muscles. It was because of my deep trust in Sue that I was able to be calm and know that everything was fine. Another surge came on and I pushed again, this time releasing my daughter’s head into the water. I felt a great sense of relief, but it wasn’t over yet. “The head is out!” exclaimed Sue, “now for the shoulders, another push sweetie.” I gave another push and could feel the rest of my daughter’s body enter the water. I saw her swim in front of me, between my legs and quickly picked her up from the warm water. I was surprised at how slippery her body was, covered in vernix and moistened by the pool. When I picked her up, she slipped from my hands and gently fell back into the water, but I quickly grabbed her and held her tightly this time. I did it! I gave birth to my little girl!
Sue and my husband helped me out of the water to the couch, where Lauren, Sue’s assistant, and Michelle, the midwife assist had laid chux pads to protect the couch. Right away I noticed the intense discomfort of the after pains, my uterus contracting to get back to into its pre-pregnancy form. To me, this was the first sense of actual pain I experienced. It was non-stop cramping that I had to remind myself had a very significant purpose. I could also feel the soreness of my tailbone and muscles.
I still needed to birth my placenta which was still attached to my daughter. I laid on the couch for about 15 minutes, the pain and discomfort making it slightly difficult to revel in the amazement of the reality that had transpired only steps away. I decided I deserved a large dose of Ibuprofen for my troubles and gladly took an 800mg dose. A few moments later, Sue tugged at the umbilical cord and said, “can you give me a little push, sweetie?” Exhausted as I was, I obliged and birthed my placenta. My heart shaped placenta. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was beautiful and it was what had sustained my child for the past 9 months.
As the ibuprofen kicked in, I was able to focus more on the miracle that lay near my breast. Rivka Mayim, born at 3:31am on July 4th, 2013, measuring 21 inches long and weighing 7lbs. She began to nurse with great vigor, which only made the contractions of my uterus more intense. I reminded myself: there is a purpose to all this. Shortly after, the midwives began offering me food, but I had no desire to eat. I just wanted to lay and enjoy my gift. I finally agreed to have a smoothie made with a small piece of my placenta. Michelle Welborn looked through my fridge and made me one of the most delicious smoothies I’ve ever had and I gladly drank it, replenishing my strength.
I had worked hard that night, but I had worked even harder during the 9 months that preceded the labor. I dealt with my emotions, my fears, my health, and everything else that could interfere with my labor. When my daughter was ready to come into this world, I was open to her and we worked together to make the transition easy and smooth. We partnered together to make this miracle happen and, all along, I had the most amazing, supporting birth team.