Clementine’s Home Water Birth
On a Tuesday afternoon in late October, Richard and I sat talking with our midwife Maureen after a routine prenatal appointment. I was 3 days past my due date we knew from past pregnancies that I could easily still be pregnant into the upcoming weekend. Normally Richard and I have preferred letting labor to start naturally as long as the baby and I are healthy and thriving. A “due date” is only a midpoint within a four-week period, with two weeks on either side being the normal range for delivery, so being three days “overdue” wasn’t a concern for us. However, Richard would be starting his on-call week at work on the following Monday, which meant long hours and carrying a pager that could call him back into work at any time of day or night. We really wanted to be able to have at least a few days off with the new baby before he started his on-call week, so on that Tuesday we were discussing plans for inducing labor.
Unlike at a hospital where labor would be induced through the use of drugs like Pitocin and prostaglandins and by rupturing the amniotic sac, at a homebirth midwives use natural methods which include stretching and sweeping the cervix, using homeopathics and herbs, prescribing castor oil, and using nipple stimulation with a breast pump. If these methods don’t succeed in bringing on labor, the mother will still be fine to continue pregnancy and not destined to a c-section.
Maureen felt confident that I would be responsive to these methods of inducing labor because I was already partially dilated and effaced, plus being past due. She offered to come over the following morning to start the induction and we agreed it would be a good day to encourage our baby to come. My parents, who live an hour away and were planning on helping with our older kids during the birth, would be nearby that morning anyway.
On Wednesday morning Richard left for work with the certainty that his laboring wife would call him home before his shift ended. My parents came over and Maureen arrived around 11am. We promptly began basic induction techniques. When two hours passed without a single contraction, Maureen reached deeper into her bag of tricks and tried some stronger homeopathics. Still nothing.
Richard called a couple times and got the same response: “Nothing yet, I’ll call you when something happens!” Lunch and afternoon naps came and went. My mom cared for the kids, including a crabby and sick Judah, as only a wonderful grandma can. Richard arrived home from work around 3:30pm. The afternoon dragged on with short spurts of Braxton-Hicks contractions, but no “real labor” contractions. Maureen surmised that because I had nursed Judah throughout my pregnancy, my body was not responsive to the ongoing stimulation of the breast pump that usually triggers contractions.
Finally I agreed to one last induction tool: Castor oil! I really didn’t want to take any castor oil (for a number of reasons!) but it seemed like if we wanted labor to start we’d have to try everything. I mixed a couple tablespoons with some frozen orange juice, swigged it down and soon felt the unpleasant effects - but no contractions!
Eventually it was time to put the kids to bed. As Richard and Maureen discussed what the remainder of the night might look like, being that induction efforts had evidently failed, I sat in the kids’ bedroom nursing Judah (age 20 months) to sleep. I was pretty discouraged and still feeling the uncomfortable effects of the castor oil. It was about 8:15pm. Suddenly, I felt it: a distinct cramping in my lower abdomen, growing tighter and then fading away. I waited. Minutes passed. Moses wiggled around in bed and I told him to settle down. Judah nursed. Then it came again! Not uncomfortable, but unmistakably a real contraction! Judah fell asleep and I tucked him into bed, but Moses was too excited from the activities of the day to fall asleep. The contractions continued regularly and distinctly as I unsuccessfully tried to get Moses to settle down and fall asleep. Finally after about 20 minutes I went downstairs. Richard and Maureen stopped their conversation and looked at me.
“I have good news and bad news.” I said. “The bad news is that Moses won’t fall asleep. The good news is that I’m in labor.”
“Really?! Oh my goodness, that’s great!” Maureen and Richard’s faces brightened into excitement. Suddenly the waiting was over and the activity began! Our birth tub was already inflated but needed to be filled with water. I was planning on laboring in our bedroom again, which takes up most of the upper half-story of our house. The bedroom the kids share is also up there, but no bathroom. That meant filling the birth tub from the kitchen sink downstairs using a 50-foot drinking-water-safe hose running from the kitchen, up the stairs, and to the tub. It also meant, due to gravity, that it would take approximately 1 ½ hours to fill. (We had done a “trial run” the week before). With my previous labors all being quick, we wanted to start filling right away. A plastic tarp over the top of the tub plus the inflated sides would keep the water at the right temperature until it was filled.
Richard and the kids had already covered the carpet upstairs with sticky painter’s plastic some days before, so while the tub was filling we simply had to put the plastic sheets on the bed, switch our down comforter for an old quilt, light some candles, put in my “birth music”, and, as Richard so compassionately put it, “wait for things to start hurting”.
Maureen continued to encourage me to eat and drink, as she had been doing all day. Contractions were consistent and uncomfortable, but not to the point where I couldn’t talk through them. They were certainly not what I would consider “bad” yet. After a couple of hours had passed the intensity started to pick up and I asked Maureen to check how far I was dilated. I was hoping to be able to get into the birth tub, which was now filled with steaming water. Typically it’s thought best to wait until dilation reaches 5 centimeters to get into the tub because the warm water can stall early labor. Unfortunately I was only at a four and the baby’s head was still fairly high. No tub for me.
I was surprised at how my labor was progressing. With past labors, the “easy” contractions only lasted a short while and the killer contractions usually came on pretty quick, but then labor also progressed quickly. This time I felt like I was in a “manageable” stage for much longer, and it seemed I was dilating slower as well. As it was after 10:30pm, Maureen suggested we try to get some sleep. I didn’t think I could sleep through these contractions but Richard and I were both tired so we lay down together in bed. Downstairs Maureen rested and my mom slept on the couch.
Up in our bedroom the candlelight flickered in the dark and the steam from the birth tub made the room warm and humid. The children slept in the next room and I curled up next to Richard, feeling safe and cozy. I drifted off to sleep in our warm bed, apparently my tiredness getting the better of my discomfort.
I woke up over an hour later in the grip of a strong contraction. Instinctively I relaxed my whole body and inhaled deeply through my nose, exhaling through my mouth. “That was a good one!” I thought.
The next contraction was milder and I didn’t need to breath through it. A couple minutes later another “okay” contraction came and went and I was just thinking that that bad one was a fluke when another rough one hit me. Youch. I soon realized that every second or third contraction was really intense with milder ones in between. I thought I’d better let Maureen know about this change and hoped I could finally get into that birth tub!
Maureen’s assistant, a student midwife named Kate, had arrived by then and greeted me serenely. Maureen was pleased to hear that my contractions were getting more intense and when she checked me upstairs she knew immediately that things had changed drastically in the last hour and a half. I was dilated to a good 5 to 6 centimeters, my cervix very soft and open and baby’s head much lower. Things were definitely progressing now!
Megan, a good friend of ours who had graciously volunteered to photograph the birth, had also arrived by this time, but I was focused on one thing only: getting into that warm water! I stripped down and jumped in as fast as a nine-month pregnant woman can! It was 12:30am, now Thursday morning, October 22nd. The warm water enveloped my body and I relaxed into it with a sigh. I hardly noticed that poor little Judah had woken up crying in the other room, but I heard Richard trying to soothe him so I wasn’t bothered by it. Kate gave me sips of water through a straw and Maureen listened to the baby’s heartbeat after each contraction. It was galloping away at a perfect rate.
After a little while I had to get out to go to the bathroom (that castor oil still at work!) and had a couple contractions while out of the water. Wow, these were much more intense, much harder to handle! Suddenly the birth tub wasn’t just something nice, it was mandatory! I hustled upstairs again before another contraction could hit, fearing that the next one would floor me if I wasn’t in the water.
All this time Richard had been unsuccessfully trying to get a now hysterical Judah back to sleep. The poor little guys was barely recovered from being sick earlier in the week and obviously just wanted to crawl into bed with Mama and Papa, have a little “nums” and curl up to sleep. Having Mama indisposed was not making him happy! When I came back upstairs, Richard came out of the kids’ room with a screaming Judah in his arms.
“Hon, can you help him out a little? Maybe nurse him…?” Richard asked apologetically, thinking I was still in “manageable” labor and that I was our only hope for getting Judah back to sleep.
“Sorry, I can’t.” I said curtly as I climbed over the side of the tub and slid gratefully into my watery sanctuary. Things were heating up now, big time.
Richard took Judah downstairs, hoping he would go to my mom. As I rested between contractions and listened to my crying little boy, I thought regretfully how ill-timed Judah’s waking was and that maybe giving birth at home in a small house with several young children in the next room wasn’t such a great idea. But then a massive contraction consumed all my focus. This one kept growing in intensity until I felt like I was at my breaking point. Frantically I mentally grasped for something to hang on to! Where were my birth cards with scripture and hymn written on them? Argh, sitting on my dresser, out of reach. I couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, I needed something to focus my mind on to get me through the pain.
“The Lord is my Shepherd.” Yes, my pain-numbed brain could remember that!
“I shall not want.” Ahh, I was over the worst of it.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters…” Yes, the contraction was definitely fading.
“He restores my soul.” Oh thank goodness, it was over.
Feeling completely wrung out, I hung limply to the side of the birth tub. I remember mumbling something like “the best thing about contractions is that it feels so good when they’re over.” I was attempting levity but in reality I knew I soon wouldn’t be able to talk at all. This was it, the rough part. This typically lasted a couple hours for me and I knew I had to gear up for it. Although laboring in the birth tub felt much, much better than my “land” labors, it certainly didn’t magically take away the pain! “I can do this,” I thought, but I didn’t feel totally confident. That last contraction had hit me hard and fast and I felt a bit shaken.
All too soon I felt the next one gearing up. Right away I began to mentally recite the 23rd Psalm.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
Again, the contraction brought me to the very limit of my strength and by the time it was over I felt as limp and weak as a wet rag. As I kneeled in the birth tub and hung my arms over the side I could barely muster the strength to lift my face from the inflated side to take a sip of water Kate was offering me. Indistinctly, I heard Judah still screaming downstairs and wished that Richard were with me. In my heart I asked God to comfort Judah, but I couldn’t focus my mind enough to formulate any words.
With the next contraction I couldn’t find my place of relaxation, couldn’t let the pain flow over me while I breathed through it. I found myself wringing my hands and whispering rapidly, “…makes me lie down in green pastures He leads me beside still waters He restores my soul even though I walk through the valley of the shadow…”
“There’s no way I can keep going like this,” I thought. “These contractions are more than I can handle, worse than I’ve ever experienced before, I can’t find a way to manage them!” I felt frantic and utterly weak. For the first time ever in labor, I felt close to tears of despair. I was sure I would have another two hours of this, at least, and I didn’t think I could make it through one more contraction. I was desperate.
The next contraction took my breath away as it grew more and more excruciating. I wanted to thrash around but was too tired to move a muscle. I chanted the words I knew by heart and waited for the blessed relief that would come when the contraction faded away. But it didn’t fade away. Instead it changed into a feeling of intense…pressure. Uhhh, I knew that feeling. I started panting and puffing out my breath, waiting for it to pass. I wasn’t ready for this yet! But it wasn’t going away. It…was…getting…stronger…oh…my…I…needed…to…..
“Oh my gosh, I think I need to PUSH!” I turned to Maureen in shock. I had only been dilated to five when I had gotten into the pool less than 20 minutes earlier! In that time I had had maybe 5 or 6 really insane contractions! Could those few awful contractions have caused me to dilate a full 5 centimeters? I was definitely feeling the need to push!
Maureen and Kate, who had been sitting quietly while I labored, began to calmly…scramble.
“Okay, great, that’s just fine, just go with what your body is telling you” they encouraged me in calm voices as they leaped off the bed and dashed for their supplies.
Go with what my body was telling me? Oh, good, I was relieved! My body was definitely telling me to PUSH, so I pushed! The urge was overpowering, my whole being was taken up with pushing. It was with shock that I felt the baby’s head crowning - but still I pushed!
Maureen managed to get one glove on and plunge her hand into the water as the baby’s head emerged completely. At the same time she yelled, “Richard! Richard!!”
Richard was still downstairs with Judah and my mom! He wasn’t anticipating the baby arriving so quickly any more than the rest of us were! Shoving Judah into Grandma’s arms, he dashed upstairs just in time to witness the rest of his baby begin to emerge. Still kneeling and leaning forward against the wall of the pool, I pushed mightily again and felt that incredible slithering, sliding swoosh as the whole baby slipped out of my body. And just like that my baby was born!
Maureen caught the baby and, without lifting her from the water, slid her back in between my legs. I lifted one leg over and turned to a sitting position. Richard, who has competently caught our other babies, deftly lifted this wet little creature from the water.
“It’s a girl!” he proclaimed. A girl: Clementine!
We had been so sure this was a girl, as sure as we could be without “proof,” but still as Richard handed her to me to hold for the first time I asked, “Are you sure?” The umbilical cord ran between her legs and I couldn’t tell for certain.
“It’s a girl.” Richard repeated confidently.
I looked at my little daughter and joy welled up in my heart. She was pink and squalling loudly and healthily. We had been told to expect a “water baby” to be bluish for a while, as babies born in water normally take a bit longer to “pink up” and don’t always cry right away. This is normal but can be concerning for parents who aren’t expecting it. Richard and I had readied ourselves for this kind of first moments, but our little girl emerged from the water yelling and red! Her APGAR at one minute was a perfect 10.
Because I didn’t tear and hadn’t yet delivered the placenta, the water in the tub was still very clear. I relaxed back against the wall of the tub and greeted my little girl.
“Hi little one, hi baby girl,” I cooed as she wailed. Gently I swished her body in the warm water with just her head poking out. She began to calm down a little and I got to study her sweet face. She was covered – and I mean covered – in thick, waxy vernix, her eyes were very puffy and squeezed shut, her face was a little bruised. She was beautiful!
In the mean time, Richard had called my mom and Judah upstairs to meet the new baby. The transformation that came over Judah was amazing! His crying stopped immediately and he gazed wide-eyed at the little being in Mama’s arms. He was enthralled! He pointed, and stared, and pointed again. He hung over the side of the tub and didn’t take his eyes off the baby. “Hey, there’s a baby here!” was clearly what was going through his head.
When Moses (age 3) was woken from a dead sleep to come see his new little sister, he replied groggily, “I think I’ll wait till tomorrow.” My mom gently encouraged him to come see her now. Once awake, he too was enraptured with the new baby in Mama’s arms. How many times in the previous months had he asked if it was time for Mama to push out the baby? And now, finally, she was here!
Grace had woken up during the hubbub of the birth but wasn’t sure if she should get up or not. Now she came out with the boys to greet… a sister!
This was just an incredibly beautiful, magical time. The candlelight reflected off the water and threw rippling reflections on the wall. The room was warm and quiet and dim. Our whole family was gathered, all of us welcoming our new baby together. I stayed in the tub, holding Clementine, while Richard and the kids circled around. My mom and the midwives and Megan all watched quietly from the edges, awed I’m sure, as we were at the sight of this brand new, freshly-born little person.
After a few minutes it was time to cut the cord. Maureen asked Grace if she would like to cut it and Grace readily accepted. Once Maureen had clamped the cord Grace gripped the sterilized scissors and cut through the thick, rubbery cord that had connected me to my baby for the last nine months. We were now separated.
I felt so warm and peaceful, relaxing in the water and holding my new baby to my chest. Right away after the births of my other children I had always been overcome with violent, uncontrollable shaking and shivering. This time the warmth of the water kept my whole body tranquil and relaxed. For the first time I felt able to really connect with my baby immediately after delivery. I wasn’t so wrung out and exhausted from the pain and trauma of delivery this time.
I noticed a hint of dark, wet curls on her head (her hair dried straight, though) and her perfectly round, tiny skull. Her eyelids were so puffy and bruised that I couldn’t see what color her wide-set eyes were, although I knew they would be a deep blue. She had a cute little ski-jump nose and sweet rosebud lips over a tiny, very round chin. Offsetting the petiteness of her facial features were big, squishy, incredibly soft cheeks. I couldn’t get enough of her, of studying her face and touching her skin. This was the little person who had been growing and moving inside of me; I was finally meeting her face to face! The joy and love overflowed from my heart as I spoke quietly to my sweet baby girl, welcoming her into our family and telling her how happy we were to finally meet her.
“This is Clementine!” I told the kids.
“What’s her middle name?” Grace asked. Richard and I had already decided on a middle name but hadn’t told anyone. I looked to Richard and he nodded.
“Her middle name is Grace,” I announced. There was a chorus of “awww”s and Grace let out a little gasp. “Really?” Her eyes were shining.
“Yes, we thought Clementine should share a name with her marvelous big sister. She’s very privileged to have you for a sister, Grace! Even though there’s 10 ½ years between you, we hope that you two will grow to be friends, too.”
“I feel so honored,” Grace said. It was precious to see how much our wonderful oldest daughter already loved her tiny little sister.
Finally it was time for the placenta to be delivered. I had to push pretty hard, which surprised me, and then of course the water in the tub turned a bright pink as a gush of blood flowed into it. It was time to get out. The midwives wanted to be able to monitor my blood loss, but it was minimal. I stepped out of the tub, still holding Clementine, and slipped into my fluffy, warm robe. Two steps to the bed and under the blankets! Someone put my special orange “birth slippers” on my feet and I felt totally warm, snug and comfortable as I cuddled Clementine skin-to-skin. I put her to my breast to nurse and she latched right on, and then began nursing like a little machine, her jaw working up and down and her cheeks puffing in and out rhythmically. We were all impressed by her nursing skills!
Meanwhile Kate examined the placenta to make sure it was whole. The kids were pretty interested, so she actually did a little informational session for them, explaining how the cord attaches mother and baby, which side was the “mom” side of the placenta and which side was the “baby” side, etc. I noticed the kids and Richard were really interested, but I barely heard a word of it. I only had eyes for my baby, only ears for her little grunts and whimpers, and all my mind and energy was focused on her.
Then it was time for Maureen and Kate to give Clementine her newborn exam. I loved how the midwives waited until we had had time to bond before they took her to weigh, measure and examine. Kate examined her right there on our bed, with two little “helpers” eagerly lending a hand. Moses actually had his hands right on Clementine while Kate was checking her, examining her hips just like he had seen Kate do. Judah watched intently and was sure to show Kate that he had a tummy, too.
Clementine weighed in at 8 pounds even and measured 20 inches long. She was perfectly healthy and beautiful! The midwives gave her back to me and cleaned up from the birth. Richard emptied the birth tub. The children were put back to bed. After they had made sure I got up to use the bathroom, the midwives quietly left us with postpartum baby and mama care instructions, promising to see us again the next day.
Although the adrenalin rush from birth was still flowing through me and I could easily have stayed awake just watching my baby for hours, I knew sleep was the best thing for all of us. With Clementine still nestled skin-to-skin on my chest, a blanket wrapping over her back and tucking under mine to keep us cocooned together, I drifted off to sleep. In my own bed, in my own house, with my husband and children sleeping nearby, I drowsily thanked God for the beautiful birth and safe arrival of my little daughter Clementine.