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A Home Waterbirth

by Jeri Carr

I knew before I became pregnant with my second child that I wanted to give birth at home in a birthing tub. My reasons were many, but, most importantly, I felt that it would give my baby and me the greatest opportunity for having a safe and gentle birth.

During my pregnancy I eagerly anticipated having a home waterbirth. I believed that God designed women's bodies to give birth and that birth works, though I was not naive. I knew things could go wrong--even at home--so, while sometimes wondering how I could be so audacious as to think I could have a beautiful homebirth when many mothers have such painful memories of childbirth, I carefully prepared myself for giving birth at home in a birthing tub. Here is the story of my first son's birth (my second birth). . .

On my due date, December 16th, I went to bed at 12:30 am feeling extra tired and slightly crampy. I didn't feel like I would go into labor anytime soon.

I woke up several hours later at about 3:40am with mild contractions and went to the bathroom. I had loose bowel movements and knew that was a possible sign of labor. I felt cold, so I turned up the heat and cuddled up in a warm, soft comforter, being careful to lay on my left side. When my husband got up for work about a half hour later, I told him I thought I was in labor.

He figured that it would be a while before our baby's birth, so he got on the Internet while I took a bath and ate some tea and toast. My contractions got stronger.

After the bath I chose a pink nightshirt with kitties on it to labor in. Then I laid down on the couch and timed my contractions while my husband finished surfing the Internet. I called my mom and talked until I had a contraction. . . then I became quiet, and Mom asked if I was having a contraction. Yes, I was! She said she'd get ready to come over and suggested that I call the midwife.

I called my midwife, Suellen, and told her I was having contractions that were at the most four minutes apart and 45 seconds long. She said she would come if I wanted her to, but I said she could wait a while. She said to let her know when the contractions got more intense. Soon after I hung up the phone, they started lasting 60 seconds long.

My husband called work and told his boss he thought I going into labor so he probably wouldn't be coming into work that day. About 20 minutes later, I told my husband I needed something to throw up in. He quickly brought me a garbage can, and I promptly threw up. It honestly felt better throwing up some food and my tea rather than throwing up empty stomach acid, which is what I threw up in my last labor. My husband then realized that this was probably the real thing, and asked if he should fill the waterbirth tub. I said, "Yes!"

The tub, already inflated and cleaned and sitting in the living room, was ready to be filled, but my husband soon found out that he needed to wait until we had more hot water in the tank since I had used it up when I took my bath.

I called my friend Laurie who was going to come to the birth, and then I went and laid down on the bed. Mom arrived shortly afterwards. My contractions needed my full attention, but I talked to her for a short time between contractions. I mentioned something to her about not wanting to have the baby right now. The contractions felt so strong that I think I was asking myself why I had been getting impatient for labor to start--I had changed my mind and briefly wished I could go through labor on another day! . . . But of course once you start there's no turning back. Mom once again suggested that I call the midwife, so, because I found it difficult to talk, my husband called our midwife, and she said she'd leave right away.

John brought me some Recharge, a sports-type drink I bought at the health food store. It tasted delicious! Soon after I drank it I told John that I had to throw up. I promptly threw up on our wooden floor. When I threw up I remember thinking that some women dilate when they throw up, so I took it as a good sign. Mom cleaned my mess, and my husband went and got a wonderful cold rag for my forehead.

Suellen arrived at about 6:30. A few minutes later, Laurie arrived. Then soon after that my little three year old girl, woke up. I think she asked about me, but didn't come to see me. She must've been excited to see all those people at our house!

Suellen checked my blood pressure and, using the doppler, checked the baby's heartbeat between contractions and during a contraction. My blood perssure was fine, and baby's heartbeat was 140 between contractions--the rate it usually was at my prenatal appointments.

For quite awhile, I handled the contractions well by myself. I didn't panic like I did during my first birth. I just kept slowly breathing in and out. . . and then I began breathing a lttle faster as the contractions got stronger.

Before labor I hadn't been sure if I wanted anyone around me during labor except for my husband, but I felt relief when each person we had called arrived--even though they all had something they needed to do--and I didn't have someone who constantly stayed with me until I got in the birthing tub. As the contractions intensified, I really appreciated someone being with me.

I stayed for quite awhile in bed lying on my left side during contractions. During one of her visits to the bedroom to see how I was doing, Laurie mentioned that kneeling and leaning against the bed or getting on all fours were helpful positions for her when she was in labor. I really just felt like lying on the bed on my side, but I remember a particularly strong contraction when everyone was busy doing something and I was alone. I got on the floor on all fours to see if that would help. . . nope. Laurie and the midwife came in at that time to check on me.

Remembering that a full bladder can slow labor, I went to the bathroom again. When I wiped, there was blood and mucous on the tissue. Laurie came in to check on me, and I excitedly told her about my discovery!

I tried several times to get off the toilet, but I kept sitting there because I could handle the contractions on the toilet. Whenever I tried to get up and walk away, I had a contraction and quickly sat down again because it hurt too much! I sat with my legs apart and leaned back against the toilet tank with my head way back.

After a while Suellen came in and told me I could get in the birthing tub whenever I was ready. . . it was finally full enough. I got up and made a quick dash for the birthing tub.

Someone helped me into the water. I sat down and leaned back against the soft sides of the birthing tub with my legs floating in front of me. It felt good going down into the warm water. The contractions still felt strong, but the warmth helped my muscles relax. For a little while now I had been feeling the contractions down in my vagina--they started in my back and radiated around to the front and then down to my vagina. When they reached my vagina, that was when they felt the most intense and when I found it hardest to handle the intensity.

As I sat there enjoying the warmth of the water and breathing through the contractions, my husband continued filling the tub, and Laurie braided my hair so it wouldn't get in the way. The hot water in the tank had been used up, so John boiled water on the stove. He alternated pouring pans of hot water and cold water into the tub until he filled it high enough to cover my tummy. As he filled it up, my midwife splashed warm water on my tummy.

I suddenly felt I couldn't sit any longer, so I quickly turned around and kneeled and leaned against the sides of the tub. Apparently I moved to several differently places around the tub and ended up on the side of the tub near the couch. I had my right knee bent and my left leg extended out to the side. I leaned with all my weight on the side of the tub and relaxed as much as I could. I concentrated on relaxing my facial muscles and closed my eyes.

The midwife and Laurie and John took turns rubbing and pushing hard on my lower back to help ease the pain. It really helped. My sweet little reached down and tried to rub my back, too. She wondered why my back hurt. The midwife explained that it hurt, but that after the baby was born the pain would go away.

For a short amount of time, my mom sat on the couch in front of where I kneeled in the tub. I remember seeing her put her hands in front of her face, and then she left the room--she didn't like to see me in pain. At that time she didn't realize that many of the sounds I was making made it easier for me to handle the contractions, and that they were good. One time I--as my husband describes it--screamed like I was "in a rock concert." I had read, heard, and been told that it's best to make low noises during labor, so it was no surprise when the midwife suggested that I lower my voice. Then I started making a kind of grunting sound and was told that was good and so I really went for it with the low grunt! My mom remembers my saying, "My back hurts!!!! Ohhhhhhhhhhh."

Then my husband sat down on the couch in front of me. I had a cold rag on my head. After every contraction Laurie gave me a drink of water from a glass with a bendable straw. I was trying to relax my face so much that I found it hard to tense up the muscles in my lips enough to sip water through the straw. The water sure tasted good, though. Sometimes I burped, and then I would say, "Excuse me." They laughed at my politeness!

I grabbed onto my husband's hands and squeezed hard during contractions. The strength of my grip surprised him. My husband gave me strength. It was wonderful having him there. After each contraction, I would relax and then as a contraction came the people in the room with me could tell. I felt very supported by the people present at the birth. Sometimes my daughter gave me pats of encouragement on my arm.

I started to feel like pushing sort of, but wasn't really sure, so I gave a few gentle pushes and kept breathing. As time went by, the pushing-urge grew, though I never felt it intensely. My midwife said I could probably reach down with my fingers and feel the head, but I told her I really didn't care. I just wanted to get my baby out.

When we had interviewed our midwife, she had told us that she could usually tell what stage of labor a woman was in by the way she acted. I loved it that she didn't give me any internal exams. She came around behind me and, for the first time during my pregnancy, looked down there to see what was going on. She said my water hadn't broken yet. She gave me counterpressure on my perineum and told me I could push whenever I wanted to. By her pressure down there she gave me a place to kind of focus my pushing.

One time I said, "I can't stand it!" My husband remembered from my first birth that soon after I had exclaimed a similar sentiment, I had given birth to our first child. He rightly thought that perhaps I'd be having our baby soon.

The student midwife, Michelle, finally arrived and quickly got ready and kneeled next to the tub. We heard Mom banging dishes in the kitchen. She was busy cleaning and also baking cinnamon rolls. They sure smelt good! After a while, Mom returned to the living room, and I could hear her praying for me.

Soon after, my water broke. I felt a definite "pop." I still wasn't pushing really hard. I remember thinking that even if I didn't push, my baby would still come out, so I wasn't concerned about my not pushing very hard. But then I mentioned that I was afraid to push. The student midwife repeated what I had said to my midwife, and I think my midwife thought I was afraid I would tear, and she reassured me that she was supporting the area.

I started pushing harder and the "ring of fire" really started to burn. Suellen told us that the baby's head was wiggling, trying to help me out! She put a mirror in the water and someone held a flashlight in the water so they could see baby coming out. They looked in the mirror and could see his face.

I pushed hard because I really wanted my baby to come out, and it felt like he was right there! And he was! My baby's head came out, and the midwife told me I could reach down and feel it. I reached down and touched his hairy head for a couple seconds. I was amazed... but then quickly went back to the job at hand.

Then John and Laurie switched places. . . I squeezed her hands during contractions. . . so John could see the baby. He said he saw the baby's face in the water with his eyes closed. The student midwife later told us that the baby had his cord around his neck, but they just unlooped it and it was fine.

About a minute after his head came out, at 9:42 am, his body slid into the water and the intense pressure on my perineum disappeared. I felt immense relief and excitement. My midwife gently pushed him between my legs. I stepped back, quickly reached my hands into the water, and picked him up under his arms. With Suellen's help, I lifted him to my chest. I put my arms around him and sat down. His body felt smooth and slippery. He didn't need suctioning and breathed right away. He looked peaceful and content.

They laid blankets over his body as I held him in my arms while still attached to him by his umbilical cord. I could hardly believe that he had been inside me and had actually come out. I felt joy, elation, and amazement!

Our daughter said, "Hi, baby," and reached down to touch her new sibling. She had a huge smile on her face and excitedly commented that, "Baby come out!"

Our baby's first cried when Michelle put his hat on. It didn't fit quite right, so it didn't stay on very well. His head was funny-shaped... kind of elongated. His hat soon fell off into the water. We put a dry one on, and right before I got out of the tub that one fell off, too.

A few minutes after his birth, our baby brought his fist up to his mouth, so I tentatively asked him, "Do you wanna nurse?" Suellen said to go ahead and try, though he might not nurse right away. I lifted my shirt up and held him close to my nipple. After a few tries he nursed a little, but at this time he mostly mouthed my nipple.

When I first saw our baby I felt quite sure he was a boy, but we still hadn't looked to see whether he was a "he" or a "she." I moved the blankets to look and we saw that he was a boy!

Since I had already moved the blankets, and the cord had stopped pulsating, the midwife asked if I wanted to cut the cord. Our little girl tried to reassure her brother by saying, "It be okay, baby." They clamped it in two places, and I cut it in the middle. The cord was tough, like gristle. Some blood squirted on him, but the midwife washed it off with water in the tub.

I offered my sweet baby boy my breast again, and this time he nursed well with a strong suck. I started having mildly painful contractions while I nursed him. The student midwife looked to see if my placenta was ready to come out; it didn't seem to be ready as far as she could tell. Suellen assured me that it would be fine if it took up to two hours to come out. I appreciated it that she told me that, but I really wished that the placenta would hurry up and come out. The contractions made me feel tense and uncomfortable.

Finally I decided that I wanted to get out of the tub, so my midwife handed our baby to John, and she and the student midwife helped me stand up in the tub. Suellen said she thought the placenta would probably come right out when I got up. She took a look and asked me to give a push and it slid right out. After that, the contractions mostly stopped, though, for a few days, I had a little mild cramping while nursing.

They took my wet nightshirt off, so I was standing there next to the tub in front of everyone with nothing on... I might as well have labored without a shirt! To catch the blood, they put a couple large pads between my legs, and my friend joked that I looked like a sumo wrestler. They wrapped a towel around me, and I walked to my bedroom. I put on a nursing nightgown and sat in my bed and leaned against the pillows they had set up for me. Then John brought our baby to me, and I nursed him again. I held him for a long time.

Our daughter came in the room, too, and Mom brought us some food. John went to help empty the tub. . . with my next birth I'll ask him to stay with us longer.

After a while, John came back into our bedroom, and it was now time to check out our little boy. Michelle laid him on a warmed heating pad and checked his heatbeat, looked to make sure he had two soft spots, etc., and checked his reflexes. His didn't cry during his checkup and looked around with bright, alert eyes.

They weighed him in a cloth sling-like pouch that was hung on a hook that was part of the scale. The midwife held the scale. He weighed eight pounds.

Suellen had forgotten her tape measure, so we decided to wait until she visited the next day to see how long he measured, but then Laurie found a ruler in one of my junk drawers. The midwife held it up to my little boy; he was 22 inches long. She put a length of string around his head, and then measured the string to check the circumference of his head. It was 13 1/2 inches. She also measured his chest in this way, and it measured at 12 inches.

Then the student midwife examined the placenta while we watched. She wanted to make sure it was all there. She showed us how it fit together and made a sack. She also showed us how it looked like a tree. The placenta was the top part of the tree, and the umbilical cord hanging down formed the trunk. . . . She called it the "tree of life." Michelle explained to our daughter that she liked to call the umbilical cord the "food tube." It amazed us that our baby had lived in that perfect little home and had received nourishment through the cord.

They wanted me to try to go to the bathroom. Before I went, Suellen checked me while I sat on the toilet to see if I had any tears. I didn't have any tears, but I did have a prolapsed cervix. Apparently it was hanging down, so she pushed it back up and told me to stay in bed for a day.

Soon after that, Suellen, Michelle, and Laurie left. Mom stayed the day to help clean up and take care of our daughter. My little baby and I snuggled up in bed and went to sleep.


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