by Summer B., Dallas, TX
Mother of Aviel Levi (02/26/10)
I don’t remember when or why I decided to have a homebirth, except that I had met several women who I respected who shared their stories, and I have a strong cynicism toward the medical industry as a whole. I imagined myself hooked up to equipment, trapped to a bed, wearing a white flimsy robe, under fluorescent lights, with masks and stainless steel around me and it all felt a little too science-fiction to me.
Instead I wanted a calm, quiet, dark environment with candles and guitar music and aromatherapy and a big pool of water and just a few other women I trusted there to help me. My husband Jerome, quite the naturopath, supported my vision wholeheartedly.
When I got pregnant with our first, I immediately started researching midwives in the area, looking at their websites online, making phone calls, and scheduling interviews. Since my mother lives out of state and wouldn’t be close to support me through my prenatal care, I wanted someone motherly with a lot of experience who had children of her own. Something about Ginger’s picture made me so comfortable – her sweet spirit and sense of humor and down-to-earth nature came through, and I had a feeling from the start that she was the one.
At our first interview when I was around 12 or 13 weeks, she immediately asked me – “Have you heard the heartbeat yet?” I had not, and she pulled out her Doppler and let my husband and I hear our baby for the first time. I found this gesture to be so thoughtful for her to do for someone who wasn’t even her client yet – and yes, it was a good sales tactic on her part! We clicked with her on a personal level as well.
Through the process, my husband Jerome (who loves cereal) came up with a way of classifying the midwives – Multi-grain Cheerios, Kashi, or Wheat from the Ground. These categories told us “how natural” we felt each midwife’s philosophy was. (We even met with one midwife who he called a Fruit Loop!) Ginger was somewhere between Kashi and Wheat from the Ground, which matches us perfectly.
My pregnancy was awesome, with the only problems being a bit of nausea and lots of heartburn. (Some people believe the heartburn happens when the baby has a lot of hair, and seeing my baby’s head-full for the first time, I believe it!) The prenatal visits were comfortable in my living room, with us sharing tea and chit-chatting. I felt completely at ease and able to ask Ginger anything, my husband was able to be there for most of the appointments, the three of us laughed a lot, and not having to leave the house was a huge perk because we only had one car at the time!
When I got closer to full-term, Ginger gave me what I think must be her “New Mom Don’t Do Anything Stupid” speech. She warned me that first-time labor could be up to 36 hours, to not get too excited, to eat and drink, to get lots of rest, that she would come when I couldn’t speak during contractions and that if I wasn’t dilated enough when she got here, she would leave so I wouldn’t be a “watched pot.”
My own mother had a nightmare story from my birth, which ended in a C-section after 22 hours of unbearable pain and the doctor telling her she was the type of woman who would have died in childbirth before modern advances in medical technology. So I was really psyching myself up that this would not be easy, fast, pain-free, etc.
A book that really helped me prepare for natural childbirth was “Labor of Love” by X. It emphasized the importance of positive affirmations during your birth, and I made a list of all the things I planned to think and say out loud during labor like “This feeling is normal. I’m okay. I’m helping my baby. My baby will be here soon. My husband loves me. God is here with me. I’m safe. This is normal.” Etc.
I also had the beautiful privilege of being at a friend’s homebirth when I was five months pregnant. My friend emphasized relaxation throughout her contractions, and made having a baby without meds look very possible if not easy! I so wish that more young women had the opportunity to witness normal women giving birth at home under natural circumstances. It gave me so much strength and preparation for my first time!
I went to Sam’s Club and other errands with that same friend the day before I went into labor (three days before my due date), and I felt my body doing interesting things as we walked a lot. More tired, more crampy. I hadn’t really had Braxton-Hicks with this pregnancy and I wouldn’t say that I was having them then, I just felt like something was going to happen soon. I came home exhausted and told my husband I was skipping our Wednesday night class and went to bed at 8:30 (“just in case I go into labor tonight”). I took Ginger’s advice seriously, partly out of fear of the unknown, partly because I tend to be an overachieving student.
I got wonderful sleep and woke up around 6:45am (much earlier than I usually do) and found some pink in the toilet. Mucus plug? Yay! Something is happening! I was so excited, but forced myself to lay back down until my husband got home from his morning prayers at synagogue. When he got home, I told him that I was having come-and-go cramps and had lost my mucus plug, so he suggested we go to Wal-Mart and “just act normal”. This was more of Ginger’s advice to just go about your day and do what you need to do to help the time pass.
In Walmart and throughout the rest of the day I felt a little whoozy, like I was on drugs of some kind, and I think it was my body’s natural hormones getting me ready. We got home and I tried to take a nap, but was way too excited (and not tired after my ten hours of amazing sleep the night before). My husband said, “Why don’t you get up and do something, then maybe you’ll get tired enough to take a nap?” So I decided to go to the library and check out some movies to watch while I was in labor (yeah right!). I rented a whole pile of flicks, thinking we’d watch any leftovers in the days after the baby came with family who was visiting (yeah right again – nobody wants to watch movies when there’s a new baby in the room). But it gave me something to do. I then went to TJ Maxx to buy holiday gifts for our friends for the Jewish holiday of Purim, which was scheduled for Sunday.
By this time it was around 3:30 in the afternoon, and as I was walking to my car feeling more whoozy than ever and a little bit crampy, a lady said, “That baby’s coming soon!” And I said, “Yeah, I think tonight!” Back at our apartments, a neighbor asked me, “When are you due?” and I said, “I think I’m in labor right now!”
My husband works from home and he was steadily pounding at the computer when I walked in and needed me to find his college diploma for some kind of proof of insurance. So, cramps and all, I dug through our guest room closet (the room where the baby would be born) pulling out box after box of stuff, getting more and more irritated, until I finally decided that it could wait until another day. Eight months later, we still haven’t found that darn thing!
Then it hit me – are these contractions? Should I be timing these? They weren’t what I expected contractions to feel like, but they were getting more and more regular. It was around 5 pm. I sat in the bathroom and timed them for a while. Still not painful at all, still nothing to call Ginger about, but I wanted to see if they were any kind of regular. They weren’t. Some were 4 minutes apart, some 20 seconds, and anything in between.
Jerome went to evening prayers and I began making a breakfast casserole for the birth team. I figured it was happening tonight. At one point, Jerome’s sister, an ER nurse and my doula-at-a-distance, called from Baltimore, and when I told her I was pretty sure I was in labor, she started coaching me to “envision you’re on a beach” during what I still refused to call contractions but was calling “cramps.” The pain was increasing by this point, but nothing unbearable just like hard period cramps. At one point, I was a hilarious picture to myself – I was holding the phone in one hand, oven mitt in the other, leaning my bare belly over the open oven for its comforting heat, with my uncomfortable pants waistband sagging down under my butt. I told my sister-in-law on the phone and we laughed.
I guess it was around 6:30 when I called Ginger for the first time. We live in Dallas, and she lives about an hour away, so I wanted her to at least know all this was going down. She told me to call her when I couldn’t talk during contractions.
In the next couple of hours, all my plans for a hippy acoustic homebirth went out the window. Ginger had mentioned a client who birthed on the toilet, and I found that disgusting to have your baby on a toilet, but guess where I wanted to be at this point? On the toilet. By myself. Complete quiet. No, honey, I do not want you to play the guitar or spritz me with frankincense. I felt like I had to poop something massive, and I wanted the toilet to be there when I did. I occasionally called my husband to bring me water or juice or a handful of almonds, but other than that I wanted him to stay back! I had read somewhere along the way about “unassisted childbirth” where the woman goes away by herself like a mama cat to birth her babies alone, and I began to see the beauty of what I had previously feared. I kept saying my positive mantras to myself and breathing deeply.
Even though I could still talk during contractions if I made myself, I definitely didn’t want to, so I told Jerome to call Ginger again. We still hadn’t filled the birth pool, because I didn’t want to stall my labor by getting in there prematurely. Jerome called her around 9, 9:30. I had told him beforehand that I didn’t want any clocks or mentions of time during my labor, because I didn’t want to worry if things were going too slow or too fast. I just wanted to be in the moment and go with the flow. I also didn’t really want to know how dilated I was until I was THERE. Jerome called Ginger, and after their conversation started filling up the pool. “What did she say?” “I don’t know if you want me to tell you.” “Well I see you filling up the pool, and I’m not stupid, she must think I’m progressing a little bit!” He said that she was sleeping in her truck because she had lost power at her house, and when I heard that I said, “Why didn’t you tell her to come sleep here?!” “I didn’t know if you wanted her to come yet.” “Yes! If she’s sleeping in her truck, she might as well come sleep here and be warm and comfortable, because she’s going to have to come sometime tonight anyway.”
Thank G-d Ginger lost electricity, because I don’t know if she would have gotten here on time otherwise. I probably wouldn’t have told her to come until it was too late. In some ways, though, my first-time, clueless status played in my favor, as I had absolutely no idea how far along I was or how much worse it could get. So it helped me keep psyching myself up mentally like, “hey it might get a lot worse, so deal with this and relax.” Jerome suggested I get in the shower and labor a bit. In there, I finally spritzed myself with some of the aromatherapy scents I had purchased for pain relief. They were refreshing, but at this point the pain was pretty bad and I was way past calling them contractions. I am so proud of how calm I remained during all of this. I was groaning and breathing hard, but I felt completely in control and at ease. I was not fearful or worried or psychotic in any way.
When I got out of the shower, I freaked for a moment that things were getting intense and Ginger still wasn’t here yet. I yelled out for Jerome, “I need you to call Ginger NOW!” As soon as he called her, she was literally walking up to my door. She came into my bedroom, where I was having a contraction, leaning over my sink. She entered gently, scoping out the situation, and waited for me to finish the contraction before asking if I wanted her to check me. Her presence was so comforting, but I was afraid that all of this might just be pre-labor and I might only be dilated to a 2 or something. It really hadn’t been horrible yet, and I was expecting hell. She said, “You’re at 8 centimeters.” Oh my gosh, this was the best news I have ever heard in my life before or since, almost including my baby’s birth itself! I was so relieved to know that all I had gone through was real labor, I had progressed well, and I was nearing the end. There would be no 22-hour or 36-hour labor for me. It was 11pm. Ginger said I could get in the pool.
I have to say that having the midwife there, and her assistant Ame who arrived shortly thereafter, made me a bit more of a big crybaby. I mean, yeah, the pain of transition was definitely worse, but I think I may have handled it better if I was still alone. Having someone there to hear you scream and cry kind of gives you the liberty to scream and cry. They’re there to take care of you. I don’t know if this makes sense, and I definitely wanted and needed them there, I just let my wimp come out a little more with them there. So at this point there were a few screams and louder groans and fish-flails around the birth pool, but still nothing worthy of an Oscar.
My husband Jerome was in the other room making phone calls or home videos or something when Ginger said I could start pushing. I never wanted my husband in the pool with me, as I felt like I needed space to do this myself, but at that point I got a little scared like – Oh My God, I’m about to push out a baby, and I’ve never done this before. So I called for him to come in – “I need you to sit here and say something and I don’t care what it is, I just need to hear your voice.” I have no clue what he said but it was soothing and sweet and reassuring and his presence helped me gain the strength to start pushing.
He said later that he was never really sure if we would “actually” have a home birth or if we would transfer to the hospital at some point. He has seen two sides of me – the big baby side and the stubborn mule side – and he didn’t know which would win out. At the point of pushing, I said, “I can do this, I’m going to do this! This baby is coming out soon!” (Thank you, mantras.) And at that point, he said he knew it was actually going to happen. Later I watched the home video he made in the living room unbeknownst to me, where he filmed the candles and the quiet (he was having a hippy homebirth while I was on the toilet evidently), and where he whispered into the camera, “She’s doing AWESOME!” and I was so happy to see the reverence in his eyes and know that I had made him proud too.
Pushing was frustrating because the baby’s head kept slipping back up in there, which Ginger had told me would happen, but in the moment seems so annoying when you’ve worked so hard to get it there. Ginger was encouraging me to push a certain way, and it helped a lot. I was on all fours in the birth pool and my head would go under water every time I pushed and breathed out through my nose, which felt kind of good, like an escape. Then she said, “I see your baby’s head.” She told me to feel down there, and I did but was a little too preoccupied to care or take my time with it. Ame said, “Your baby has blond curly hair, I love your baby!”
The weirdest feeling was when the head was out and everything else was in – just a huge plug in you. The shoulders and everything else came out pretty easily and the baby was born at 2:09am, just three hours after Ginger arrived. I will brag and say they called me a Super Mom and told me how great I did for a first-time mom. Listen, this is a huge accomplishment and I’m proud of myself! And I’m so happy I did it the way I wanted, at home, with no meeds or interventions. The stubborn mule won.
I was sitting there still on all-fours, breathing, in a bit of shock that it just happened, and my first words were – “Is it a boy or a girl?” They showed my husband behind my back and whispered, “Do you want to tell her?” Jerome said, “We have a beautiful baby boy.” He was a whopping 8 pounds, 10 ounces, and 22 inches long!
I turned around and they handed him to me, and I noticed his huge beautiful hands and his full head of hair and his little bird-face, and I fell in love. I nursed him for the first time, which was a little awkward and slippery leaning up against the pool walls, so I wanted to get out pretty soon.
Ginger and Ame stayed for another 3-4 hours and helped me get washed up, fed, and in bed. I also had to be stitched up, because I tore. I think it happened because I let my mind get ahead of my body and I decided that I wanted him to come out right then for various reasons and I just made it happen, instead of taking my time with it a bit more and letting my body stretch more. Ame gave me a tour of my placenta, which was very interesting. And a bit gross.
No one really told me that you’d feel like you got hit by a truck in the days after the birth. Ginger gave me a postpartum instructions sheet, but I guess I didn’t put two-and-two together. Thank God, my mother arrived from South Carolina at 9pm that night, less than 24 hours after the birth of her grandson, and was able to stay for 2 whole weeks to help me get adjusted.
We finally settled on the name Aviel, which means God is my father, and I call him Avi for short (pronounced “AH-vee”). It has taken me eight months to make myself write this birth story, and he is now crawling and chewing on everything with his 7 teeth, and wearing blue jeans and corduroys and starting to look like a little boy instead of a baby. I am so deeply joyful to have him in our lives, and Ginger will always be a special part of our lives for the role she played in helping me have a successful homebirth as a first-time mom.