Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Wonder of Waterbirth

Photo by Anthony Collins, all rights reserved

"Are you ever going to make a life decision that doesn't make me cringe?" That was my father's response when I first told him that I was going to birth the child I was carrying at home. Truthfully, if you had asked me four years ago if I would ever consider doing a home birth, my answer would have been along the lines of "Are you crazy?! No way! That's so irresponsible." Because that is what I had been lead to believe...not by any particular person or group, necessarily, but just by what I’d picked up from society at large. Now, however, I have completely changed my tune, and happily declare myself a huge supporter of home birth.

My parents have always been very supportive, respecting my decisions even when they didn't necessarily agree with them - as long as I can hold my end of a real discussion about the topic, of course - and this was no exception. I won't lie; having that support there makes a huge difference, and I can imagine this entire experience could have been much less idyllic for me if I had been doing this without the loving support of my husband and family. So before I get into it, I need to say thank you, to all of you, for being a part of one of the best experiences of my life!

My journey to home birth really began with my first pregnancy. I did copious amounts of research into pregnancy and birth, which is when I first consciously encountered water birth. I was immediately struck by how natural it seemed and I think some part of me knew I wanted it right away, but that was considerably clouded by my wariness and ignorance. The seed had been planted, so to speak, but I continued my search for the best possible care- in what I now know to be a decidedly American style: the most accomplished OB you can find, in the best, most technologically savvy facility available.

I found a fabulous doctor, who was quite knowledgeable and had a personal flair that I liked - however, the overall experience was awful. Jerked around, lied to, ignored and brushed off, rushed through everything and made to feel like a villain...not by the doctor, really, but the practice in general...I hated how they dealt with my questions, how they treated my body like a specimen and didn't listen when I objected to something or wanted to offer what I knew of myself to aid in their 'treatment' of my 'condition' - for example, the initial bloodwork they required was above and beyond the norm, and required a lot of blood. They got really annoyed with me when, halfway through, I told them I was too lightheaded and needed to stop...they insisted that I push on through and kept taking blood. If they'd listened they wouldn't have had to revive me after I fainted, and then wait for the grape juice they gave me to take effect before I could 'get out of their way'.

So, disgusted by the environment that came with that doc, and beginning to realize how, in this culture, pregnancy truly is viewed as an ailment that needs to be treated and cured rather than as a positive, natural, not inherently damaging experience, we left that practice and renewed the search for the right people to help us bring our new baby into the world. I changed tactics a bit at this point and decided to choose a hospital to deliver in and find a good doc that worked there...which is how I came to discover the midwifery practice within the Mt. Sinai hospital.

I was decently impressed with the maternity ward, it had recently been renovated and looked pretty, their stats weren't as scary as some I'd seen, and it was close by...but it was the midwifery practice that really captured my attention. Their philosophy on childbirth felt, to me, revolutionary - and right: That pregnancy and birth were about the woman as a whole, her child as a whole, and the symbiosis between the two, and not a series of individual symptoms and complications to normal life that had to be dealt with and struggled through.

I called with a list of questions literally as long as my arm, and the head of the practice, Christine Obremski, a dedicated midwife herself, agreed to meet with me to discuss everything in person. It was such a breath of fresh air...she didn't look at me as a sick patient, and took about an hour and a half with me before I'd even agreed to go with the practice. I really felt that it was about me and my child more than it was about her business, and that made a world of difference.

So I was won over, completely. I thought it was truly the best of both worlds, the care, compassion, and more wholesome approach to the entire situation we'd get with the midwife, coupled with the safety and security of being in a hospital.

The little bit of eye-opening I’d gotten through the experience of considering the difference in philosophy I’d get with a midwife instead of a doctor made me curious, and made me wonder a bit more about the validity of alternatives to the standard American birth scenario. (Though admittedly, I was delivered by a midwife which I always thought was really cool...but it was a totally superficial bragging point since I didn’t really understand what that really meant.) With further research, I found myself clicking even more with the idea of water birth, and decided to ask Christine about it.

Alas, Christine informed me that, even though she thought water birth was an amazing and underutilized tool that she wished she could provide to all her laboring moms, the hospital's 150 year old plumbing couldn't handle it. I could have done more searching to find a way to make it happen, but I decided that the lower stress (and more socially acceptable) option was to just go with Christine’s practice and give up the dream of having a water birth.

Cadence's birth went wonderfully, overall, and at the time I thought it was great, so I don't mean to take anything away from the wonder of that experience. However, the farther I got from the it, the more I came to realize that the hospital birth we had experienced was needlessly stressful and just not ideal in many ways.

At Christine's recommendation, I stayed home through most of my labor, and didn't leave for the hospital until my contractions were 3 minutes apart and lasting for a full minute each, and had been that way for more than an hour, and I'm so glad I did. The contractions were pretty intense by that point, and I'd begun having back labor (which SUCKS, just for the record) but, the whole time I was at home I felt great - happy, in control, powerful, comfortable (despite the pain)... It wasn't until we got to the hospital that I started to feel uncomfortable and scared, and it was largely due to the fact that I was in a strange environment, and the birth seemed to be something that everyone there was dealing with, that I needed to stay out of their way for, rather than something that I was doing, with assistance.

No one there would tell me what was happening, though they would talk about me and point in my direction while standing out of earshot, and would flat out ignore my questions when I asked what was up. I would have been able to handle the relatively benign truth -that Cadence was in a posterior position, which was causing the back labor - much better than I was handling the thousands of "what if"s that were racing through my stressed and hormonal brain.

Plus, most of our wishes were unapologetically dismissed out of hand without discussion or explanation, even things we had confirmed ahead of time - like being able to move around and labor in whatever position I wanted to, and checking in with the fetal monitor every 20 mins, unless an actual problem was suspected. Upon admission, I was immediately made to lay down and put the fetal monitor on, and I had to stay there for the entirety of my labor.I hated being on the table-bed thing, I didn't like being strapped down, and it all stressed me out even more and made it a lot harder for me to keep everything in perspective.

I did end up getting an epidural a couple hours before she actually arrived...which I think was a good thing for me, at that point. Since arriving at the hospital I'd been getting increasingly upset, feeling out of place and confused by everything that was (and wasn't) happening around me...I think that I really needed the break that I got with the epidural, and I don't regret getting it at all, in fact I think it was a necessity brought on by being in the hospital environment. Once it was in, I was able to doze for a while, rebuild some of the strength I would need for the pushing phase.

Pushing was bizarre, really, because I felt all kinds of pressure but no rhyme or reason to it. The epidural numbed just enough so that I couldn't really tell what was going on, but my legs felt all pins and needles-y and I couldn't tell if what I was doing was effective or what nuances would help or hurt my progress, so I had to rely on instructions from those around me. Everyone kept telling me to hold my breath while I pushed...something that, over the course of decades of physical training as a dancer, singer, physically-based actor, and martial artist, I have learned is not only terrible for you, its also completely counter productive, and will most likely lead to burst and broken blood vessels while seriously hampering your efforts. I tried to follow orders anyway, to no wasn't until I got pretty seriously pissed off at everyone giving me stupid advice and decided to do what I knew to be right for me that things really started moving.

The midwife on duty that day was very nice, but not someone I had met before, which made it feel a lot less personal, especially since she was bouncing back and forth between several simultaneous births. Honestly, I felt that the one person in the room other than James who seemed at all connected to us as a family and me as a person was a med student who was there to observe the birth, with my blessing. I don't remember her name or anything, and she mostly stayed quietly out of the way, but she actually stepped up to assist with things like fetching me more ice chips so James didn't have to leave my side and would make eye contact and smile, and looked more at me than at the print outs spilling from the machines I was hooked up to. I was really grateful for her presence there that day, and part of me felt sad that someday she’d probably view this like a job and a chore just like everyone else who was in and out and acknowledged anything above my waist as an afterthought.

Anyway, I think the thing that raised a big red flag in my mind (which I admittedly wouldn't know how to interpret for some time to come) was when the midwife (I think her name was Theresa?) exclaimed how excited she was to be part of our birth, since this was "the first vaginal delivery I've attended in more than a month!" Hearing that both scared me and filled me with a definite sense of pride...which I also felt weird about having. Shouldn't most deliveries be vaginal, and only the most dire be surgical? Why were most births surgical and the more natural approach was now an exception?

Fast forward now, past the grueling, awful recovery that took weeks and the stress of trying to get Cadence and me home from the hospital (an ordeal on its own!), the severe PPD and all that, to August of this past year, when, in the midst of moving back to NYC and all sorts of apartment drama, I discovered that I was pregnant once again. I immediately knew that I wanted a different experience this time around, and, having done a lot more research into the subject by this point, I was determined to get my water birth.

I began researching anew, and had just come across the website of a midwife here in the city that I liked quite a bit, when I got an unexpected phone call from my friend Liz, who is currently in nursing school and studying to become a midwife herself. We hadn't yet shared our news, so she had no idea we were expecting, and I guess it was just fate that she contacted me to tell me to pick up the book Labor of Love by a midwife named Cara Muhlhahn. It's her memoir, and Liz said she was just amazed by this woman's life and accomplishments, and just how inspirational she found her to be. She told me as a point of reference that this was the midwife featured in Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born - a film which she had told me to watch in the past, and reiterated to me in this conversation that I HAD to see it. After I got off the phone, I looked back at that website I'd been browsing, and who do you think it belonged to?

I took it as a good omen at the very least, and booked a consultation with her. In the meantime I had to seriously ask myself if this meant I was considering a home birth: Turns out I was, and it was only my social anxiety that seemed to have any objection. "People might not approve" just didn't cut it in terms of valid reasons not to do it, and so I found myself opening to the idea. Obviously this was something I needed to have James with me on, and though I think I was nervous about bringing it up, he'd been learning along with me and by the time we finished our consultation, he was just as gung ho about it as I was...if not more so, in the immediate aftermath of our decision.

The fact is, maternity care and the culture around pregnancy and childbirth in this country has rocked right off the track. In fact, Amnesty International recently declared the state of US Maternity care a “human rights crisis”

This is America where, supposedly, we have the best healthcare in the world, and we spend more money on maternity care than any other category...and yet, as of 2009, we rank 42nd the world in terms of the neonatal mortality rate, (Again, that’s first in terms of cost, and 42nd -not even top twenty material folks, we wouldn’t make it out of the audition phase if this were a reality show- in terms of mortality) and worse than any other industrialized country in terms of maternal mortality. If you want more details on these statics (and more) with a very clear explanation of them as well as their implications, I recommend watching Birth by the Numbers by Dr. Eugene R. Declercq,’s a roughly 20 minute video put together by the professor, who teaches maternal and child health at Boston University School of Public Health. It’s long, but definitely worth a watch: - B1RTH BY THE NUMBERS Video

(If that link doesn't work for whatever reason, you can also watch it here.)

Most people here truly believe, as I once did, that it is foolish and dangerous to consider any birthing options other than the standard doctor assisted hospital birth...and it makes sense! We are surrounded by images of women in labor screaming in pain, declaring their hatred for their husbands for doing this to them, and begging for’s what we expect. Horror stories about giving birth before the mother can make it to the hospital circulate like wildfire, and advertisements for antibacterial cleaners have us convinced that our homes are unsanitary cesspools. And besides, we are a developed country, and some of the things we associate with that term are technology, medical expertise and access to those things - so it makes sense that people assume that the only reason a woman wouldn’t have those things is because she lived in a third world country without any access to them...

This is a good place to explain my stance more clearly: First of all, I am a firm believer in the wonder, skill, and necessity of obstetricians. They are absolutely necessary and we are incredibly blessed to live in a society where we can have ready access to them. Especially when it comes to the care of high risk families, I am downright grateful for their existence. However, I do believe that they are grossly over utilized, to the detriment of everyone involved. They are surgeons, after all, trained in how to save lives in dire emergencies...but the problem arises because they are not, then, trained in how to deal with normal, non-emergent births, and thus they apply what they do know -ie, interventions- to situations that really don’t need them, and their services are also stretched thin, taking precious time away from those high risk cases that genuinely need the life saving touch of a highly trained doctor and giving it to women who don’t need it, and would probably be better off without the additional prodding.

Neither, however, am I a proponent of “free birthing.” Though I totally get the desire and perhaps even the rationale behind the choice, I find it to be a decidedly first world choice that I personally just can’t get behind...midwives, OBs, and all the overused medical interventions surrounding birth exist for a reason: Because its true that things can go wrong, there can be complications in even the lowest risk moms, and while, historically, death has always been a part of birth, many of those deaths are easily preventable if the problem is recognized and treated quickly by someone who has devoted their life to understanding the process. When we are privileged enough to have ready access to trained professionals, I think it’s a bit daft to refuse that experienced hand, who could potentially save both mother and baby before an untrained eye could even figure out the problem.

This is where midwives come in. They are trained in how to deal with those normal births- which are about 80-90% of all births - and trained in how to recognize a possible emergent situation in order to involve an OB. In most developed countries, midwives attend most births, and doctors only handle the high risk families. It works out for everyone-midwives are respected and have work, doctors’ skills are being put to proper use in the only most needed cases, (and therefore more attention and care can be given to those cases) and mothers are getting appropriate care for whatever their specific needs are. The maternal and fetal mortality rates in these countries are far better than our own. Again, the US mortality rates are the second worst in the developed world. That truly sucks.

There is so much more to this issue, and as much as I’d like to try to include everything, I can’t do so right at this moment. But the information is all out there, and I encourage everyone to look into it for yourselves. Liz was right, The Business of Being Born is indeed a great jumping off point for learning about these issues. Whether you have -or are planning to have -a family of your own or not, this is really important stuff, and has extremely wide reaching implications for our society. Ultimately, being informed is the most important thing you can do to help the situation - and save lives. I promise, while the birth movement may have started with “those crazy hippies,” you do not need to be a crazy crunchy granola hippy to understand and support these issues.

Meeting with Cara was phenomenal, and further proves that sophistication, education, and poise can also be a very strong presence in this process. Cara is no Inna May Gaskin (bless her heart, Inna May is a fantastically amazing woman and I have nothing but respect for her - I just mean that Cara does not share Inna’s decidedly hippy vibe.). She’s quite young for someone with as much experience as she’s got, she has perfectly manicured fingernails and wears high heeled boots and tastefully sexy dresses when not at a birth. She’s a working single mother who manages to bring a controlled enthusiasm to everything she does. She’s a Columbia nursing grad, is very well traveled, and is at least proficient in quite a few languages.

I felt like we clicked instantly. She really seemed like someone I’d like to have as a friend, which boded quite well for feeling comfortable with her. Her office was in her home, which I found very fitting, since she would be coming into our home for visits and the birth; it was an added nicety to be invited into her home for the initial vetting. I found myself being totally won over by her candidness and willingness to talk about anything, without judging the questions or the motives behind them.

I was also thoroughly impressed with how well she dispelled so many myths and concerns about home birth right from the get-go. One of the first things she said was that home birth wasn’t a good fit for everyone, and she mentioned a few things that would make her suggest a family go with an OB...mostly medical conditions or histories that raised the mother’s risk of having complications, but she also talked philosophy, and life issues not related to batches of nameless symptoms. She also talked about how important OBs were and what a privilege it was to be in a society with such ready access to them, but also how over-utilized they were.

She actually brought up the film, and said that the one thing that bothered her the most about the film is that it never showed her using the doppler to listen to the baby’s heart rate during the labors. She said she worried this would be misleading to people watching, who may think that she didn’t have any way of knowing if the baby is in distress. “I am absolutely in there all the time with the doppler, listening to make sure everything is ok. If there is any problem, we’re out of there so fast.”

She talked to us at length, about our philosophy, my medical history, our previous birth, why we were considering it, what research we’d done, etc., and then sent us home to think about it without giving us the opportunity to say yay or nay - she didn’t want to put us on the spot on her turf. Taking her advice, we left, took some time to think about it, which only made us want it more, and then called back to make it official. I was finally going to get my water birth, and so much more. it felt really comfortable.

Prenatal care was great. Responsive, thorough but hands-off whenever possible, Cara and her assistants Corinna and Katie all genuinely care about each woman under their care, physically, mentally, financially...and it really showed. Working with them I felt confident, supported, and ready. It was a great, celebratory prenatal experience that really accommodated our family rather than the typical office practices most care providers cater to, and I was satisfied and impressed right up to the big day. at which point all the positive feelings I had about this choice came together like freakin’ Captain Planet and and became far greater than the sum of their parts...I was of course hoping it would go well, and that it would be a good experience overall, but the actual event came and blew all of my expectations straight out of the water. It was mind blowingly awesome, almost euphorically wonderful, and left me wanting to do it again. (!!!) I spent the two days immediately following Hazel's birth chatting the ears off of anyone who would listen about how incredible it was, in part just to wrap my head around it all (which I don't think I've really done, nor do I expect to, at this point). But the event and surrounding emotions are so huge, it's been incredibly difficult to translate into words, especially since all I want to do is hang out with our newly improved family, so it has taken me a long time to get it out there. As best I can, without sacrificing the rest of life to commemorating that day, here’s what happened:

I woke up at 7:33 on wednesday morning, feeling like crap. I had woken up with bad stomach pains the last couple days, mostly from sleeping without my belly being supported, so this was nothing more than a mere annoyance to me in my mostly-still-asleep-state. As had become our routine, Cadence crawled into bed with me and James, and we played and chatted while I groggily came to. It was somewhere after the third bout of discomfort where I turned to a still mostly asleep James and informed him that there was a decent chance that I was in the early stage of labor, given that these pains were sharper than my braxton hicks contractions had been, and were coming 10 minutes apart. But, I wasn't willing to declare it labor.

Cadence and I got up and had breakfast, followed our usual routine, and the pains (which I was at least now willing to admit were contractions) continued to come steadily, but fairly far apart. After a while, I went in and warned James that they weren't letting up, and if he wanted to be able to file all the papers that were due that day he'd better hop to, just in case...He did, arriving downtown just as the office opened, but we still weren’t calling it labor.

I called my mom to let her know what was happening...but of course, not declaring it labor, yet. I spent a better part of the morning agonizing over whether or not I should go to the big group prenatal session I was supposed to attend that afternoon...there was going to be a reflexologist there to work on all the moms, and WOW did I want to get to take part in that!

James called me before he came home to make sure he didn't need to cab it back to us. He didn't, nothing had changed, Cadie and I were still hanging out, I was still contracting but no closer or stronger than I had been since we woke up...and I still wasn't willing to declare it labor.

Alas, Cadence was still coughing, and I didn't think it was really fair to bring a probably-not-contagious-but-still-phlegmy-sounding kid into a room full of almost-due expectant moms...and anyway, these pains...if they were real labor, I might make it there or I might not...and if it wasn't real labor, getting to Cara's place (which involves a lot of stairs and walking - often carrying 25 lbs of Cadie, to boot) might just set off the real thing...which, if it wasn't happening already, we were still hoping to avoid until James’s classes were done the following at long last I made the difficult decision to skip the reflexology (sigh!) and stay home with the bug.

Yet, I couldn't bring myself to call and cancel! I had a serious mental block around it, probably because I knew I really should just tell them about the contractions - it was my midwife, after all - but I still wasn't willing to declare it labor, and I wasn’t willing to say anything until I knew it was. So, I played with Cadence and putzed around getting various chores done, just in case.

Once James got back, we set to work cleaning, getting out baby clothes, making sure we had everything we'd need for the birth, and generally being giddy. But not declaring it labor.

James did not have a lot of sympathy for my admittedly silly reluctance to call, and while he didn’t force me to, he did finally peer pressure me into just making the darn call. Corinna, the office manager, was sorry to miss out on an opportunity to play with Cadence, but was very excited to hear that our Baby might be making her move and promised to alert Cara. That accomplished, I was on to agonizing over whether or not to go walk Charlie that afternoon. Because I still wasn’t willing to declare it labor.

James downloaded a contraction timing app for his itouch, which we certainly had fun with, if nothing else. The button was extremely sensitive and at one point I accidentally added in a 2 second long contraction (ha!) that proceeded to screw up all the averages the thing spit out for the next hour.

Time marched on, Cadence miraculously recovered from her phlegminess about 20 minutes after I spoke to Corinna, work got done around the house, we had a lot of fun just hanging out together, and the contractions kept coming...but no significant progress was made in terms of becoming more consistent in their length or distance from one another, and soon it was time to make the calls: Should James go to class, or stay home? Should Cadence and I go walk Charlie, or was this for real?

Well, we STILL weren’t willing to declare it labor, and after carefully mapping out the timing of everything we needed to do and assessing each option for risk, we decided to go ahead and do what we were scheduled to do that day, with some added precaution. If this was false labor, we figured, getting out of the house would likely stop it, and if it was true labor, walking and such would help things progress...and given how erratic my contractions were, it seemed extremely unlikely that I’d fail to make it home before things really got going. So, off we went.

We rode the train down with James, minimizing risk of me going into serious labor while traveling alone with Cadence, and maximizing our together time before the new baby. Going out did in fact disrupt things - I think I went maybe 40 minutes at one point with no contractions - but it certainly didn’t stop. I brought the itouch along as we took Charlie out for his walk. We met some familiar faces along the way, spent plenty of time wandering around the block, brought Charlie home and played with him a bit - a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Then we left a note for Julie & Eric, in which I warned them - with a myriad of qualifiers such as “possibility” and “might” and “very early” - that I could be in labor. By that time, the itouch battery had died so I gave up the farce of tracking the contractions with it. They hadn’t gotten any more “active” anyhow, so Cadie and I headed out in search of some lunch.

As we passed Chiptole, Cadence declared that she DID want a burrito, so in we went. I held her up so she could see the counter and choose her own ingredients (pork, rice, cheese...) and of course all the servers were quite impressed with her. I got myself a veggie fajita burrito, and once we’d paid and gotten our drink, we set off in search of a place to sit.

There was one booth table open, but as I was headed for it, some guy walked into the restaurant, saw the table, ran to it (beating me to it by a matter of seconds), put his briefcase down to claim it and went to get in line. I was calmly annoyed, since otherwise there were only a few scattered seats at tall tables with very tall stools open...I didn’t feel comfortable having Cadence sit on them alone since they were twice her height, and, should she fall, she’d have no recourse in terms of catching herself. I envisioned myself bitching the guy out for stealing a safe seat from a a 2 year old child and a pregnant woman - who was in labor, no less! Wouldn’t that have made him feel small? But I wasn’t about to call attention to that fact that I was in labor - still not officially admitting it was happening, after all! - and anyway I didn’t want to mess up the pleasant afternoon we were having, and so I opted to take the high road and grabbed an open stool, helped Cadie on to it and just stood next to her while I doled out the food.

Happily, though, the Chipotle manager had seen what happened, and evidently sympathizing with our plight, came over to us with a little smile and declared “I’ll find you a seat,” beckoning us to follow. We did, and he lead us back to the table, where he removed the briefcase and pulled out the chair for me with a little bow. We thanked him, and he left us to our meal, taking the case with him.

Now, the current standard in the hospital is that women shouldn’t eat or drink anything but ice chips or water from the moment labor begins. I think this is bogus. I think that, if you are hungry, you should honor your body’s need for fuel...if your digestive system did shut down and become “entirely non-functional” during this time, as I was ‘taught’ during our childbirth education course before Cadence was born, well then you probably wouldn’t be feeling hungry, would you? By denying yourself essential nutrition right before you take on something as physically demanding as labor and delivery, you’re running the risk of being too weak and not having the strength or energy to do it...and at the very least, you’re going to be hungry in addition to everything else, which is going to add to the stress and discomfort of the overall event and lowers the possibility of an easy, natural birth.

And of course, if you don’t feel hungry during labor, I don’t think you should be force-fed, but to the same end, if you are hungry I don’t think you should be force-starved, either. It comes down to listening to your body and knowing what works FOR YOU.

So anyway, this time around I wanted to honor whatever my body was telling me. And at this moment, what it was saying was “EAT THE BURRITO, YOU NEED THE SUSTENANCE!” I figured hey, if I’m not in labor, it’s just lunch!

I have been going to Chipotle on occasion for several years, but I have never actually finished one of their burritos - I think the closest I’ve ever come was to eat 3/4 of one (when I was ravenous, and left feeling too full) - which is fine by me because I don’t overstuff myself and I get two meals out of it. I figured that with the labor going on I might not need even as much as I normally imagine my surprise when I finished it. Yep, I ate the whole darn thing, and felt just sated afterwards.

I was in the middle of sending James a text message debunking the women-in-labor-don’t-have-appetites thing when he called me to check in. Perhaps disappointed not to be called away from class but glad things were going well & all were safe, he agreed to meet us at home after he was done with class.

Cadence and I had a lovely lunch together, chatting and playing and taking pictures and enjoying our food. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to spend some serious quality time with her, where I got to honor her and tell her how much she means to me, while having tons of fun, right before such a big event, and to really make sure she felt like she was a part of what was going on. It was pretty perfect, and I can’t imagine having it any other way.

Back at home after having carried Cadence up and down the subway stairs without issue (she did some herself, ‘cause she’s a big girl and such a trooper), it was around 4pm when Cadence brought me my phone while I was using the bathroom. It was my mom, calling to find out how things were progressing. I told her what was beginning to feel like a repetitive story: I was still contracting, but they still weren’t any stronger or close together, so basically nothing had changed since we’d spoken that morning.

Looking back at it now, I think that trip to the bathroom was actually the ‘here we go’ moment for my it did with Cadence’s birth, my body made sure to clear itself of all unnecessary waste right before going in for the kill. I called my mom back less than half an hour later to report that, actually, I think things are picking up.

Maybe having emptied my bowels made way for stronger contractions or just let me feel more, but as soon as I left the bathroom, I suddenly had some incredibly intense contractions that didn’t really leave any room for doubt that this was the real thing. They were only 5 minutes apart.

James got home very shortly after that, and we all allowed ourselves to be a little bit more excited about the fact that this was happening. James wanted me to page Cara, which we did at about 5:00. We had the itouch plugged into the computer in the study to charge, and at this point I did find the app much more useful, since I could poke it now and again and not have to worry about remembering what time the clock had said when it started and all that.

They were coming faster and stronger, I was doing much more walking and sort of dancing through them, and had to put thoughts on hold in the middle of the strongest ones. Cara called us back at 5:09, obviously to find out what was happening, but she also kept me on the phone for a bit so she could just hear me, hear how my voice sounded, and how it changed during contractions, really is amazing how much the sound can tell you independently of the words.

After a brief time, we decided that we should check in again in about an hour, and see how things were progressing. I had asked her at what point we should start thinking about setting up the birth pool, and was somewhat surprised to hear her say to go ahead and set it up, and to get in whenever I wanted to. I knew that getting in too early could slow things down, and I was still feeling so good it didn’t seem like I would be anywhere near ready for it, but I was also determined not to wait too long to fill it and miss the opportunity, so I hung up the phone and told James that we should get going.

At this point I kind of just opened myself up to the experience. I can’t really find the words to describe this, [which is probably why, when I first reread this paragraph, I burst out laughing and declared that I sounded like I was high...I've tried to temper it some since then, but in the end...maybe I was on some sort of natural high; but whatever the case, this description can't really be helped.] and it wasn’t really a conscious thing so much as a physical and spiritual exhale...the mental aspect was kind of like saying “here we go, alright let’s do this!!” like a sports team about to break the huddle and spring into action, but the physical sensation that went with it was more akin to the ebb of the sea, undertow strongly and swiftly rushing back out to the great vastness of the ocean even as new waves rushed forward...Ultimately, it was basically a release of tension that sent energy out from every limb, where it hung for a moment before circling back and spiraling upward to form a single feed of energy that went right up my spine to the base of my skull, resting in a quiet power behind my eyes. I felt ready, open, capable, healthily awed, calm, excited...

We cleared a space for the tub in the living room, feeling good and excited, and Cadence did an excellent job of helping James to inflate it. She was SO happy throughout the whole event, and was very sweet about every little thing...she kept asking “is the baby going to be coming out NOW?” and she kept me well supplied with good vibes, hugs, kisses, and encouragement. As did James - I cannot thank those two enough for being so wonderful during my honestly didn’t feel like “labor”, you two kept it really freakin’ fun.

James and Cadence inflated the tub, and then worked together to make sure it got filled. The adapter on the faucet was just on this side of being stripped, so the hose wasn’t connecting as well as it should have and James ended up standing at the kitchen sink holding it in place for most of the time it took to fill, while Cadence, bless her 2 year old heart, stood on her step-stool by the pool holding the other end of the hose, making sure it stayed in place and didn’t slide out the way it wanted to, and occasionally testing the water and telling James if it needed to be warmer or colder.

My contractions were becoming much more consistently intense during this whole process, but my attitude was still pretty happy go lucky at this point. I mean, what was to complain about? I was home with my family, and sure the contractions hurt, but they only lasted a minute or two and that’s easy enough to wait out (and really, I was enjoying the strength of my body and really felt, cliche as it may sound, empowered, and awed by it at the same time. ‘Waiting it out’ doesn’t really do the experience justice...I guess “relaxing into it” would be better)...and as soon as it ended I could go right back to laughing and playing and chatting with my family, and we were having our baby!! I was loving it.

I’d moved the itouch into the living room by then, so whenever a contraction started I’d return to poke the button. As they got more intense, I sat (sometimes gently bouncing! fun!) on the big orange pilates ball next to the pool during my contractions. It’s amazing how well that thing worked at relieving pain/ one point, while sitting on the ball and leaning over the side of the pool, I had the thought ‘thank goodness for plastic inflatable things!’

Who needs drugs? I had my inflatable plastic stuff. Done deal.

Anyway, my friend Lelia had given me a pack of Jasmine scented votives a few days back, and I decided I wanted to light them around the room for the birth. They were sitting on top of my dresser in the bedroom, which is on exactly the opposite side of the house from where I was hanging out in the living room...I kept starting down the hall to get them, but I’d inevitably begin contracting and run back to the living room, and promptly forget what I was doing and not return to the task at hand until it was almost time for the next the cycle would continue.

I did finally make it almost to the bedroom door - only to be met by a very proud Cadie running towards me, holding the candles. She’d known what I was after, and had gone to get them for me, which involved a decent amount of work for someone who is barely 3 feet tall. I was touched, and rather proud of her for figuring it all out.

The tub was filled, the baby was coming, James was being so supportive and sweet and both he and Cadence were taking such good care of me, I was tempted to tell them not to waste their energy - we still had a ways to go, and I didn’t need to be pampered yet, I was still having tons of fun with the whole thing.

I didn’t want to get into the tub too early, because I didn’t want to risk slowing down the labor or just getting tired of being in there too quickly, so I stalled a bit after it was set up. Cadence didn’t seem to like this much and kept asking me when I was going to get in...she seemed to think I needed to be in the tub. I don’t really remember making the decision to get in - or rather, I remember my conscious brain arguing with my decision to get in, and not really being sure why I was going for it, but also that it didn’t really matter.

I think I had successfully surrendered my functional base of operations to instinct at this point, so, while I could hear the protests, worry, and normal monkey-brain type stuff, it really didn’t matter, I was giving it no weight, and it was as if it wasn’t there at all. It was very cool. It was the sort of Zen-like existence I’ve always heard about, and even worked for in other areas of my life: I was able to interact with the rest of the world, but my mind was ultimately peaceful because it was just of itself, I was safe, comfortable, capable, willing, I was surrounded by was a totally enveloping, bizarrely subtle shift in my perception of the world.

April 21, 2010, Bringing Hazel Rose out into the world.

It was probably around 6:45 or 7:00 when I got in the tub, and at about 7:20, the phone rang. I assumed it was Cara, but in fact it was Liz, just calling to check in! Given that I hadn’t spoken to her in months, ...well I guess those midwifery instincts she’s working on are really kicking in. It was a fitting surprise to hear from her more or less out of the blue while I was in labor.

At around 7:30 I realized that I was probably supposed to call Cara and not the other way around...of course, I was in the pool so I had James page her (it was 7:42, according to my phone bill!), and talk with her when she called back (at 7:43!). By the time we talked to her we’d pretty much given up on timing the contractions; Lily, spunky cat that she is, had stepped on the button a few times, but it really didn’t matter because at that point, we all knew what was happening. (perhaps she was just telling us to let go of the unnecessary?!) By the time James talked to Cara, I was already feeling the beginnings of the urge to push. This time she determined that it was time for her to join us.

Cara arrived about 10 or 15 minutes later, and joined James and Cadence on the couch. Immediately upon entering she asked if I had just naturally found myself in the position I was in (which I had) and said it was a really good one, and would be a really good one for getting the baby out, too. I noted that it was a strange comment to make, so early on in the process, I was sure I’d end up moving into a new one well before that, and wondered if I would want to return to this one down the line.

Cara mostly tried to keep quiet and out of the way, and treated the entire event - and especially me, and my family - with such was of course something I had seen or sensed in her during the months leading up to this, but somehow, in the moment, it was still really flattering and humbling to see someone who is surrounded by this on such a regular basis, and had every right to be jaded about the process, so clearly respecting the power, wonder, and simplicity of it all. And especially the respect she gave me in that time...In those moments, it didn’t matter what blunders or offenses I may have committed in the past, she showed me nothing but respect, and was aware and respectful of the fact that it wasn’t me alone, it was our family as a whole, and she didn’t dishonor that by holding me on high and ignoring them...she lifted them so they could lift me, and took care of all of us.

I truly felt that we were all in this together, James, Cadence and I, and Cara was there like a mothering goddess, strong and in the background, loving and supporting us all without a need for personal glory...and she was there to hold and help my family as they were there to hold up and help me, release me to this miraculous event. It was wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

That said, I was again somewhat amused by the reverence - Cara’s respect, James’s gentle, earnest, grateful tone of voice, Cadence’s eyes - it was all wonderful and on one level I totally accepted it, but there was also a part of me that was like, “hey guys, you’re sweet but don’t waste your energy yet, we’ve still got a long way to go! right now I’m still just me, hanging out and having fun...break that stuff out a few hours from now when I’m in so much pain I can’t think straight and need to be held!”

Cara of course checked in on the baby’s heart rate frequently, using the doppler between contractions. She listened to the sounds I was releasing during each surge, and told me we were really close. I knew that already, but was afraid to let myself believe it. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust what she was saying, it’s that I didn’t trust my interpretation of what she was saying! I didn’t want to believe that I was almost done when in fact it was going to be another several hours. In terms of childbirth, it was possible.

I figured there would come a time, as it did right before I requested an epidural during my labor with Cadence, when I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain of the contractions anymore, and instead of being comforting the thought of the break between contractions seemed like horribly cruel torture, lulling me into a false sense of relief only to slam me with even more pain than I’d just been released from. That was awful - and happened about 6 hours before she was actually born.

I was nowhere near that now, I was living in those breaks and the contractions were just punctuations within that existence, whereas I was focused on and living in the pain during Cadence’s labor. I mean really, when you’re in the hospital, how could you not? We’re taught that hospitals are places you go to when something is wrong or broken. You’re supposed to feel pain there...many people feel uncomfortable in hospitals when they’re merely visiting, so of course the pain is the focus, it is before you even feel it; the word and thought of the place alone evoke discomfort.

But anyway, things were certainly rolling rather merrily right along. The water was soon as I got in, I could feel the pain not being as traumatic. As I said at one point, the only thing I didn’t like about the pool was that it wasn’t big enough for me to actually swim in...I wanted to be able to actually stretch my whole body and swim between contractions. As it was, I was definitely playing in the water. I loved how free it was wonderfully comforting to be able to lay my face in the water, rolling slowly from one side to the other, letting the surface tension tickle my skin as it slid by. I did a sort of modified jelly fish float, I let each part of my body enjoy the weightlessness of the was really wonderful.

Cara kept offering me a towel to dab my face, but I never wanted it; I liked the sensation of the droplets slipping through my hair and down my temples, over my nose and cheekbones...The last time she tried to offer it and I refused, she laughed and said to James “I love how she’s just so one with the water!” It amused me in the moment...this was just a super-relaxing version of how I played in the water normally! But initial reaction subsiding, I realized how true that really was, I’d just never really thought of it that way before; but I really did feel a sort of one-ness with it, and always had, to varying degrees. Not that I WAS water or anything like that, but more of a symbiosis...understanding and respecting the power of it - of nature, and specifically to the miraculous substance that we all came from, that allows us all to live and certainly has the power to take that life away...I guess it could be what some folks would call feeling close to God, I feel humble and powerful and filled with a knowledge that this is something beyond my ability to fully understand or control...a sort of strength through surrender, but without giving up my own fighting spirit or self confidence, if that makes sense. So I suppose it was even more fitting that this is how I was choosing to greet my child. Physically and spiritually, it just felt right.

Photo by Cadence!

I gave Cadence a rather wet hug over the side of the pool. She seemed to instinctively get the reverence and importance of what was happening in the room, and was glad to be a part of it. I could sense her awe and excitement, and her life just inspired me soo much. I leaned into James’s touch, and felt like he was so present I almost didn’t notice him, we had a one-ness, too...his support felt like an extension of my own confidence and I could almost feel him listening to and taking in my sounds, my experience.

I have often given my friends and students the advice to let the voice be an unrestricted outlet for the inner life of the body...a classic tidbit in terms of success in acting and singing, but far less common in regular life. While I know that the physical state of the body has a direct impact on the emotional life, and therefore is part of what that sound would be drawing from, I have never experienced sound being quite so directly tied to the physical as I did during this labor. From the beginning, I gave myself full rein to breathe, and to just release whatever I was feeling into the breath, and to let sound fall in naturally when I needed it. Though I knew it could help, I was blown away by the degree to which it helped. I found that, if I really let go of conscious control or thought and just let the sound pour out of me, the contractions actually hurt less, the pain seemed to lessen and was somehow not at the forefront of my awareness; it aided me in that zen-like trance of just being. Being in the moment, being in my body, being in that sound, being in that tub, in that room, in that family...

The more I write, the more I return to how inadequate words seem in trying to communicate this. My mind tells this story in images, in sensations, in transcendences...there is no way to do it justice in this form; probably in any form. It’s just too big.

I’m sure that from the outside, the sounds emanating from me were not as divine, but I was enjoying listening to the operatic travels of my voice as it painted a picture of that inner landscape, and of this experience that I was reveling in. The nuance somehow helped me to understand what was happening inside my body, it was another tool I had to make this effort successful.

It really was amazing to me how much nuance actually came into play for me this time around. With Cadence, obviously I felt the contractions, but once the epidural was in any sense of subtlety was gone entirely and I was left sort of aimlessly hacking away at the effort. This time, however, being in the water, and at home, and feeling so comfortable and cool, I could feel those details I had previously missed out on. As I said, by the time Cara got there I was starting to feel an urge to push, and at first I was wary of that identification, but I was able to listen to my body and feel when it naturally needed me to put in a little extra effort. And by that, I really mean more that my body sort of started pushing on its own. It’s hard to started out being a strange sensation that I tried to relax into, but then realized that this tension was actually helpful, and so I let it develop, and then it became a situation where I was doing the pushing, but it was more because I had this sensation in my abdomen which let me know that if I were to bear down during the contraction, I wouldn’t experience it as pain, or at least it wouldn’t hurt so much. And at first, it was a very gentle pressure, but then it built up and up and the time I was really pushing with severe effort, She was almost here.

Cara guessed based on the sounds I was making that there might be a lip on my cervix, so, without making me move, checked me with one finger (which, btw, was the only internal exam I had during the entire pregnancy, labor, and delivery) and declared that there was, but it seemed like it wasn’t a problem, I’d already worked through it enough so the baby could get by.

At one point, as I rested the side of my face in the water, I stated that I didn’t want to move at all, but my arms were beginning to get tired of holding me up. It was true, but it also wasn’t bad enough for me to care just yet. It was more of an observation than anything.

I was still enjoying myself when I noticed something in the water. I reached out and picked it up. “Blood,” I said, though in my head it was more like “oh wow, blood! that means something’s actually happening! this is real!” with a backstory of me believing that I wasn’t in enough pain yet for anything I was doing to be effective.

Though I knew that I’d want to be completely unhindered by clothes for the delivery - if for no other reason than to feel my new baby on my skin, and let the first thing she feels be me and not damp cloth, I’d climbed into the tub with my top (a little black cotton nightie I’d adopted as a maternity shirt, but which still basically fit like a way too short dress) and bra still on, and now I wanted to rectify that situation. James helped me out of the saturated fabric, and I felt ready to go.

I was aware of the goings on in the room, but I was totally focused inward. At some point I heard Cara tell James that I’d be able to feel a pop when my water broke. A while later, after a push, I felt a definite Pop, and was amused at how almost comically accurate the description was. Literally, just “Pop!”

“Pop!” I said, playfully, my eyes still closed, rolling my head comfortably. “See? Told you she’d feel that.” said Cara. James smiled and laughed. Cadence bounced on the couch. From there on out, most of what I remember is extremely hard to describe, since it was almost like an out of body experience except that it was totally in- body, almost like I could feel the spiritual aspect of it pulling me along in the physical.

I don’t really remember realizing that I could feel the baby in the birth canal, I just know that at some point, without any major epiphany, I knew it was really happening. Something deep in my gut was incredibly giddy, something in the poetic center of my brain was freakishly excited, but most of me was calm and concentrated. I had my sounds to listen to and to take away pain, I had the sensations in my body giving me a physical map of what needed to happen, and I had the love and support of everyone in the was blissful, and intense.

I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t taxing, because it sure as hell was, but I was ready for it, in a wonderful place mentally, and (forgive the analogy) like really good sex, it was totally worth it.

I could feel her descent. I could tell where to focus my effort. I could feel when she’d slide back during a break, and it would just spur me on. I could almost see, in a sort of mental static, what was happening, how she was facing, which sensation was an arm, a head, a nose...It actually felt like it was going very fast, which I wasn’t expecting. And then I could feel the burning; it was like a finish line glowing in the dark. Cara reminded me to expect the “ring of fire” a few moments after it had started...even in the moment i was somewhat surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined...

I could push, and could feel the progress. I could feel how my body was reacting to it, and was in control of my body and what was happening with it. I could feel her crowning, and I remember telling Cadence that this was it, the baby was coming out now, and if she wanted to see she should come over, and I remember her scrambling down from her perch on the couch and leaping onto Baba’s back, close enough to be part of the action but with the safety of a Baba shield...

She was just about here! I could feel everything that was happening, but in a good way (mostly, you know..yes, it hurt, but it was informative pain, oh descriptions have been lost in a wave of sleep deprivation!) There was a moment at which I could tell that I could either continue with that push, and the baby’s head would emerge possibly to the detriment of my perineum, or I could let it rest, let her slide back, and then bring her forward again with the next push...but at that point, I was ready to make it happen, and thus I made the decision to just go for it. There is no way to describe the sensation...sudden, sustained, relieving, awkward, overwhelming, awe-some (hyphenated for emphasis on the awe)...With the next push I could feel her shoulders, then arms legs and...suddenly it was over. feet, toes, and then it was all instinct; without thinking about it, I leaned back enough to see the miraculous shape of this little person floating up towards me, and I was reaching down to scoop her up. In a single motion my body began mothering while my brain sat revving in an amazed stupor, just going, “oh my god, we did it. holy shit. that was birth. this is my child. baby, in arms, not in belly. labor, delivery over...done...holy shit HAPPY!” I felt myself scoop her out of the water and draw her to my chest, sitting back against the side of the tub, my face I’m sure looking goofily, happily stunned, the water at the perfect level to have her at my breast while most of her body was still submerged comfortably in the warm water. I was mystified. I was having so much trouble believing that this was all real...this wasn’t a story, or a fanciful dream or hope anymore, this was me, and my baby, and my the worst point in this labor, my pain was nowhere near as bad as it had been when I was still six hours away from Cadence’s birth. I had been prepared for so much worse, my paradigm had to shift somewhat dramatically to accept that what had just happened was real.

She was here. I’d done it. We’d done it. My baby was in my arms, James was at my side with Cadence on his back, and all three kitties were in the room. It was a perfect birth.

Our first family photo; Hazel's first photo ever.

She cried one good hearty fuss as I lifted her out of the water that first time, but then was quiet, wide eyed but calm. Though I offered it she wasn’t interested in nursing just then, opting instead to look around and cuddle against my chest as we all stared in amazement, gleefully reveling in her arrival. Seeing her, her unique features, her reality, her very being suddenly becoming its own entity - I was in complete awe. My baby! unbelievable! but so real!

Simultaneously, though, there was a sort of anticlimax. Of course it was my baby. Of course she’s here. Its Hazel. She’s part of our family. Immediately, it was as if there had never been a time when she wasn’t there. We were just hanging out in the living room, reveling in the awesomeness of our family. Bliss.

After checking the baby (still in my arms), Cara grabbed the camera Cadence had been toting around and snapped a few pics for us while we enjoyed our revery...I’m so grateful to have them. They are too dark cause we had mostly candle light in the room and no flash, but they are from our first moments together, and are therefore awesome. “by the way,” she said, “the official birth time is 9:04.” 9:04?! She had only been there for about an hour, and the birth was already done! I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy, and I felt great.

It had taken me a little while to remember to check the sex...The moment of truth after months of everyone and their mother stopping me in the street to tell me I was definitely carrying a boy, despite my deep rooted sense that it was a girl...And mama’s instincts were right again! “James!” I cried, “it’s a girl!” though in my head I was thinking, “It’s Hazel.”

“So its our Hazel then?” James said. I nodded. “Hi Hazel! Welcome!” Both he and Cadence had smiles plastered to their faces, and I was very proud when Cadence reached out to touch her new baby sister for the first time and said “Hi Hazel, I’m your big sister!”

Cadence's sweet little hand touches her new sister's foot for the first time.

I was getting uncomfortable, so Cara got the clamps and set everything up for James to cut the cord. In his excitement he ended up holding the scissors upside down, so it took a bit more effort than it normally would have, and he said afterwards that he was also nervous because it was more personal this time around; I was still holding her and there wasn’t much slack at all, and so he was cutting between us (Cara had her hand there as an extra measure of protection, but it wasn’t needed.) whereas with Cadence, it was all so sterile and prepared that it didn’t feel like a big deal.

The cord cut, we wrapped Hazel in a towel that had been warming in the oven, and James got to hold her for the first time. He and Cadence sat with her on the couch while Cara helped me deliver the placenta...which was super easy, it only took one relatively easy push.

I opted to rest in the tub for a bit, and we were all just hanging out, enjoying the moment when Andrew came home. “Hi Andrew! You missed all the screaming!” said James, proudly displaying his new daughter for his little brother to see.

“The baby’s here already?!” was Andrew’s reply. He was the first one who hadn’t been there for the birth to meet her-it was just about 20 minutes after her arrival.

So here’s the part where I inadvertently become an example against free birthing:

Cara started getting everything ready for me to get out of the tub, into the shower and then into bed. As I readied myself to get out, I started to realize that I wasn’t going to make it. I told Cara I was feeling a bit dizzy, and while she didn’t outwardly panic, she did suddenly shift gears. She told me she suddenly didn’t think the shower was going to be a good idea, and began setting up a place for me to lay down on the couch. I had to agree, since I suddenly felt like I was about to faint. I remember saying that, and I remember deciding to drape myself over the edge of the tub to get my head below my heart, and to make sure that, if I did faint, I wouldn’t fall into the water. James told me later that I actually narrated that decision, and then promptly fainted. Evidently Cara just looked at him and said “put the baby down and help me get her out of the tub.”

I woke up without really being aware that I had been out at all, with James on one side and Cara on the other. Seeing that I was awake she asked if I thought I could stand...I didn’t necessarily ‘feel’ like it, but I knew I could, so I mustered everything I had and got myself to standing, with their help. I stepped out of the tub and laid down on the couch and immediately felt better, but even before I got down my main thought was “where’s the baby?”

After checking me out and talking to me, Cara determined that there were clots in my uterus, and I have to give her credit for keeping us informed while still taking immediate action and managing somehow not to totally freak us out in the moment. Turns out that there was some clotting in the cervix that was blocking the uterine opening, so that all the blood that should have been expelled was filling up the uterus and making it impossible for it to clamp down and cut off the bleeding the way it should have...essentially I was hemorrhaging internally.

“I apologize for this, it’s going to hurt” she said, genuinely apologetic but without wavering, before swiftly and carefully placing her hands on my belly and manually expelling all the clots and blood in three strong and steady pushes. There was a lot of it. And it did hurt. I tried hard not to resist the aid, but even with the conscious restraint I did find myself instinctively clawing at her hand once, and then willing my hand to lay off the attack and apologizing for it. “That’s ok” she said, and it was done. A matter of seconds of intense pain, and the problem was fixed. She had the pitocin standing by, but thankfully we didn’t need to use it; as soon as the clots had been expelled, my uterus clamped down just as it should have and we were in the clear.

I think it says something about the incident and how it was handled, especially in the context of the overall event, that even when it was happening it didn’t seem particularly scary or big or dramatic, and half the time I forget to include it in my retelling of the evening.

This is why I’m not a proponent of Freebirthing - I wasn’t a supporter even before this incident, but the experience really drives the point home. There was a problem, we had a skilled practitioner there to identify and help us fix it immediately, and I am so grateful for that. This is why midwives are important, especially in underprivileged countries where they don’t have immediate access to doctors, or the technology doctors in this country have come to rely on. Our problem had an easy, noninvasive fix, but, had it been left unidentified or untended, could quickly have become fatal. Anyway:

Cara cleaned me up, and checked me over, reporting that I did have a tear-a teeny one, but a tear nonetheless - and gave me the option of leaving it to heal on its own, in which case I’d have to stay in bed with my legs fully closed for two days, or she could give me a single stitch and I could forget about it. As much as I hate stitches, I figured that was the best way to go.

She used a topical lidocaine, letting it set while she tended to Hazel, and then returned to do the single stitch...She had all the usual tools there, but set them aside, opting to do it with just her hands. She said it made mothers feel more comfortable not to have so many poky metal things sticking at such a sensitive area; and I had to agree. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was quick and as gentle as a needle to the genitals can be, and I didn’t feel it at all once she was done. In fact, I didn’t notice stitch nor tear from that point onward. It was like it never happened.

While the lidocaine was setting, the focus had moved on to Hazel. She’d pooped in the towel she was wrapped in, so they had to clean her off, and then Cara did all the measurements. She even included Cadence, having her assist with the scale while they weighed Hazel, much to Cadie’s delight. (Cadence also liked that Cara used a bag of chocolate chips from the kitchen to calibrate the scale and make sure it was working!) Cara noted aloud how round Hazel’s head was with its lack of cone headed pointy-ness with a hearty “good job, hips!” After that, Cadence got to hold her sister for the first time. She was SO proud. They gave me the baby, now diapered and wrapped in a warm, tye-dyed receiving blanket that was made by a friend of the family. I got to nurse her for the first time, and all was wonderful.

Cadence eventually fell asleep in James’s arms, and he carried the brave, sleepy girl to bed. Cara wanted to make sure I got some protein in me, as well as plenty of iron and more water than I thought I needed in order to replenish all the blood I’d just lost. Andrew set to work and made a warm meal of rice with chicken and veggies, and he also made me some tea which hit the spot exactly right...I love tea, and have had many meltingly wonderful cups, but this, in that moment, was the best cup of tea I’d ever had in my life. Don’t know what it was about it, exactly, but it was exactly what I needed right then. I think it was blueberry with honey...anyway, I was very grateful for Andrew’s help that night, too. It meant a lot and really helped us all out.

We all talked about the experience, and how amazing it was, and how happy we were...Cara told me that, while she’d had her hand right there, ready to go, she hadn’t actually ever touched Hazel, she hadn’t technically delivered her, she let me do it on my own. And I admit; it was a phenomenal feeling. The experience of doing it all on my own was amazing, but having her there provided a level of saftey I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and was, frankly, a privilege. Cara was there, watching and listening attentively, and checking in with the doppler now and again, but otherwise she left me entirely alone, and didn’t interfere with me or my process in any way unless I asked her something. It was awesome.

Cara stayed with us, and helped us to clean up and get settled in, making sure we were all doing well. Honestly, the scariest part of the entire thing, the labor, the birth, the hemorrhage, the stitching, all of it - was when our neighbor knocked on the door to report that “there was a cat climbing down a hose in the window” and I was terrified that we were going to lose a family member on the day we were adding one. Thankfully, though, it was a false alarm; all three cats were present and accounted for.

I recovered just fine, and never felt the anemic fatigue Cara had been worried about and was working to prevent, and though I felt like I could and wanted to walk to the bedroom, Cara didn’t want me to overtax myself and so I had the rather amusing (and oddly relaxing) experience of being dragged down the hallway on a spare bedsheet. Cara helped me to bed, gave James specific instructions on how to care for me, and was just about to leave when I felt like I needed to pee, so she came back and helped me with that, got me cleaned up and changed, and resettled in bed before heading home. She finally took her leave around midnight, and we all went to bed. James walked and calmed Hazel when she woke up and was done nursing, and eventually fell asleep propped up on a pillow against the wall, tiny sleepy baby cuddled against his chest. It was beautiful.

The most amazing thing was, when we got up in the morning, that was it! It was just morning and we were hanging out, a complete family, at home. No stressful running around or worrying about visitor’s hours, no waking up in a strange place or hospital food or waiting to be reunited with family. We just were, and it was perfect.

Recovery was spectacular; I was up and walking around and able to do things that very day, and other than the weird sort of can’t catch my breath feeling of normal diaphragm atrophy, I felt rather grand. I hadn’t even lost my voice; I did feel a slight tickle in my throat but I hadn’t blown it out, and that tickle was the worst pain I had...seriously, if you can go through natural, unmedicated childbirth and within 12 hours have your worst complaint be a slight tickle in your was awesome. I loved this experience, and contrary to making me glad to be done with it, it ended up shaking my resolve to limit our family to two children, as we had agreed. I’d tasted something truly powerful and wonderful, and I wanted more. And, as I keep telling Hazel, she’s not helping much either; she’s such an amazingly sweet, wonderful baby, and she’s growing up SO FAST (seriously, tangible change from one day to the next! incredible!) that it’s making me realize that I’m not going to have a Baby for long, and then that’ll be it...its hard to imagine never having that new baby love again. Plus Cadence was such a good baby...I thought that if you had a great kid first, the second was supposed to be hell...but Hazel is just as awesome as Cadence, and so far (knock on wood!) she’s considerably less colicky than Cadie was, which makes her much less inconsolably fussy. I love my kids.

So in conclusion, Home Water Birth = Awesome. I feel like I’ve experienced some sort of enlightening, it was a deeply spiritual, totally personal, reaffirmingly physical, utterly fun experience, with the best prize ever at the end. There is nothing better than family, but bringing that into being in this way makes it feel even more precious. Thank you all for being a part of this journey with me. I totally loved it, and I love you all.

Photo by Anthony Collins