It’s been six weeks, and I know if I don’t get this story written soon I’ll forget all the glorious details that I definitely want to remember forever. And you guys have been waiting for this haven’t you? I mean, I can’t possibly be the only birth story junkie out here, right? Well, here it is, friends. The story of #babyfive, and so far my favorite homebirth yet.
To really understand why this birth is my favorite, you have to understand where I’ve been. Now, if you’ve been following me all along, you’ll remember what led us to home birth, home birth #1, and home birth #2. Both of those births were perfectly consistent with who I was at that time- a career-driven, hard-charging, mega-hustler mama who put things on the list and got that @$%^ done. I was motivated to birth at home for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was proving a jerk doctor who said I couldn’t deliver my own children wrong. And that’s how this birth was different. After three years of trying to get pregnant, I wasn’t trying to prove anything anymore; I just wanted to have a baby. And in my quest to conceive #babyfive, I shifted from being a hustle mama to being a hygge mama.
You know hygge, right? It’s the super-trendy Danish lifestyle phenomenon that is essentially having a cozy home and having a lifestyle that allows you to slow down enough to enjoy it. Don’t let Pinterest fool you, friends. Hygge isn’t something you buy or something you curate- it’s something you do. It’s little rituals like pouring a cup of tea into an actual mug that would require you to sit down and enjoy it, vs taking a travel mug and getting out there to knock out that to-do list. It’s sitting down to read a book in your favorite chair underneath your favorite worn-out blanket, vs listening to an audiobook in the car in between your barre class and your late-night grocery run. It’s letting go of your side hustle so you have more time to sit and be still and enjoy what’s already yours. It’s really a beautiful thing. And it’s exactly what I need in this season of my life.
With babies number 3 and 4, I like to think I was the epic #bossbabe. I worked like a mother. I dropped my big kids off at school for early drop-off at 6:30 every morning, charged hard at my job all day, picked the kids up from after-school at 6:30 every evening, raced home to put dinner on the table, and still took phone calls and answered emails to the wee hours of the morning. Every single day. I was a ladder-climber, and I was determined to get to the top and be the youngest person in my field to have gotten there. But friends, it was exhausting. After giving birth, I’d put myself on a hardcore weight loss regimen and start a long list of projects that would let me “better” myself or prove to myself that even after all these children I was still the same me. The world was telling me I was amazing and I had it all, but you guys, here’s what I had: exhaustion, strained relationships, postpartum depression, and an eating disorder. True story. All that energy spent pushing myself was essentially me denying myself any sense of self-care, and it took its toll on my body.
We spent extraordinary amounts on fertility treatments before a doctor asked me to journal what I was eating and how I was spending my day, at which point he told my husband “your wife is starving. She needs to eat and sleep and you guys might have a baby.” Truth. And once I started eating and sleeping, and not pressuring myself to do all the things and achieve all the goals, we got pregnant. #babyfive for me is not just another sweet baby in our ever-expanding brood, he’s the redemption for my body after years of being mistreated and pushed beyond healthy limits, and he’s the proof that healing ourselves is the first step to healing relationships in our families. Fertility struggles are so hard, and they’re as hard on fathers as they are on mothers. It hurt so much to have this goal that we couldn’t achieve, this thing we couldn’t cross off the list. It took shifting our lifestyle into a completely different direction to make #babyfive a reality for us, and that’s what led to my hygge homebirth.
Here’s what hygge is for me. This time around, I’d already shifted my priorities so that I was slowing down enough to eat three meals a day with my children at my table (and not standing over the sink, or telling myself “later” again and again until my first two meals were coffee and water). I started spending time cooking with them. I play music in the background at home, and I diffuse lavender and rosemary to remind me of my front yard in Salt Lake City. We light candles at dinner and end the day with bath time and stories, and I do yoga when I wake up and go to bed. That’s hygge. So when #babyfive’s due date came and went, I leaned on my comfy cozy house and hygge habits to get me through the days of prodromal labor that followed until he made his big entrance.
So here it is! The actual birth story! One week after #babyfive’s due date, my hubs comes to me and lets me know the Falcons are playing the Browns in Cleveland (which is about 2.5 hours from Detroit, where we’re currently living) and that tickets for the game are $16 each. Naturally, like any woman who’s 41 weeks pregnant, I was tired of being watched and asked every second of every day whether or not the baby was coming, so I sent hubs and our four year old to Cleveland. I figured Murphy’s law would have me go into labor as soon as they left for a full-day adventure anyway, so what would it hurt? After eggplant and castor oil and pineapple-date smoothies failed me, maybe a football game in another state would do the trick. And it did.
Leading up to the big day, I knew I wanted this birth to be different. I didn’t want to power through anything or prove to anyone what I was capable of. I wanted this to be about me and my baby, enjoying and savoring everything that led us to this place. My mom’s health is not great these days, and so she couldn’t be with me for this birth. In fact, we’re so far from home we haven’t seen any of our family in a long, long time. But in prepping for baby’s arrival, I brought my mom in by stocking my freezer with her best recipes. I made a pot of her famous chili to have on the stove for the midwives, and I had her breakfast casserole to celebrate the following morning. I also made recipes from my grandmothers, like my Mimi’s molasses cookies and my Nene’s cornbread, all from cards they’d written in their beautiful crawling script, and I felt like they were with me. I put candles around the house in scents that reminded me of home, and I kept the house clean and neat so there would be no distractions or worries when the time came. As I waited in the days after our due date, I started practicing hand-lettering with scripture and hymns to post in my bedroom as birth affirmations, and I drank red-raspberry leaf tea and watched the snow fall with Miles Davis playing in the background. It made the waiting easier.
So as soon as hubs and James hit the road, I started on another batch of molasses cookies while Cora and Kent put on “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” I put the chili on the stove, and savored a bowl with the kids before cleaning up the kitchen. And then, while washing the dishes, at about 3:00 in the afternoon, the cramps started. For me, the precursor to labor is the equivalent to really awful period cramps. Once those started I knew I needed to wrap up my chores and go relax before anything crazy got underway. Birth is a marathon, and you can’t afford to waste energy beforehand. So I dried the dishes, set the chili to simmer, and put out the bumbleberry pie I’d made ahead and frozen. And then, around 4:30 pm I went upstairs to lay in my bed and watch Seinfeld. Which is when my water broke. And then came all the things that people tell you should be scary during birth (but are actually fine).
I had meconium in my amniotic fluid, which, for those of you not up on birth lingo, means when my water broke, it was full of baby poo. Not a terribly big deal, except if it gets into baby’s lungs, in which case it’s a huge deal. It can also be a sign that baby is in distress- like some other trauma made him poop and is triggering labor. Luckily my midwife came right away and checked baby’s heart tones and all was good, so the meconium was most likely just the result of him holding it in for 41 weeks (post-term babies often have this problem). We called the hubs, and he and little man made the 2.5 hour drive home, and Cora and Kent settled in for more tv watching and cookie noshing. I lit my jasmine candles, dimmed the lights, and set Miles Davis on in the background (I feel like whatever mood you’re in, it’s always enhanced by Miles Davis). I rocked on my birth ball and did hip-opener yoga while breathing through contractions that were about 6 minutes apart. My midwife Nicole was just amazing, and we just sat on my bed, telling funny stories, pausing for me to breathe through the worst of each contraction, then picking up right where we left off, to kill the time until hubs got home. She didn’t check my cervix, didn’t time my contractions, and didn’t do anything to disturb my own natural process- she just let me labor. It was amazing. I sipped on coconut water and put warm compresses on my back and cool cloths on my neck and waited for my body to do what it needed to do. By 7:00, my hubs and James were back home, and our family close-by went to the airport to pick up my mother in law, whose flight landed at the same time.
With baby #4, my water broke at 6:30 pm, and by 10:45 pm he was born. I fully expected the same, or even faster, with #babyfive, but it wasn’t the case. This time, my labor progressed rapidly until about 9:00. My midwives went downstairs to let my husband know we were ready, and told me I could push whenever I felt like it. But I just didn’t feel like it. I had no urge. Nothing. The contractions were strong, but nothing was telling me it was time. I started getting really chatty and making jokes, and at one point Nicole had to remind me to focus and remember what we were there for- seriously, my contractions stopped for a bit, like they were enjoying my humor as much as I was. By 11:00 I started feeling defeated. I knew I was fully dilated, and the contractions were awful, but I just couldn’t push. I tried doing some pushes during contractions, even directed pushes when my own sense for it wasn’t there, but nothing would move my baby. They kept track of his heart tones in every contraction, and he was never in distress, but he literally would not move down. I talked to my baby, encouraging him to move toward mommy. “Let me see you baby, that’s all I want.” I told him I loved him and that I was ready for him, he just had to come to me. Finally, around midnight, I was there. I was at the end. That’s what it’s like. Transition.
In the transition stage of labor, it’s important to remember that “I did it” is just on the other side of “I can’t do this anymore.”
It’s the truth. I was done. I was crying to my husband that I physically could not keep going. But I’ve done this enough times to know, even in that moment, that I was in exactly the place I’d been waiting for all along. The only thing left for me to do was to lean into the pain- to go for it whole-heartedly, so that I could get to the other side. I’d tried all the positions I knew from my own doula training and from my previous births- but the only place that seemed to work was for me to squat over the toilet in my teeny-tiny 1960s bathroom. I didn’t prep that space as a birth sanctuary, but in the moment, it was the only thing that worked. Squatting low I actually felt my baby drop in my pelvis, and I called (screamed) for Nicole to come into the bathroom because this was where we were going to have the baby. She brought in a pillow and some blankets for the floor, and I got on hands and knees, with Nicole behind me to catch him. For many women, the urge to push is one that comes in waves over the course of several contractions. For me, I get a surge of energy that tells me to push with everything I have all at once. It’s absolutely hell on my body, but it’s extremely effective in getting my 8+ lb babies out quickly. With James, I pushed twice, and with Kent, I pushed once (and both boys weighed over 9 lbs!). I’m a good pusher. But this baby was tougher. I needed so much more juice. I pushed four times, five times, six times, and finally I screamed “Help me, Nicole!!!” and on the seventh push, there he was. My sweet boy. My gosh it was hard. So much harder than my other births.
It turns out this fella had his cord wrapped tight around his shoulders. I know, every time you hear about a cord being wrapped around something it’s terrifying and it means emergency, but that’s actually not the case. Babies are aquatic and don’t have to breath air until they’re earthside, so it’s no biggie to have a cord wrapped around them, so long as your birth assistant unwraps it quickly after birth. In this case, his breathing wasn’t ever obstructed, and his heart rates never dipped. The only trouble was in his exit from my body. In a typical vaginal delivery, baby comes out in this order: head, shoulder #1, shoulder #2. Their heads clear the pubic bone, they shift to one side and bring down a shoulder, then they shift again and bring down the other shoulder. But with my baby, because he was tangled in his cord, his shoulders couldn’t maneuver under my pubic bone independently. They had to come down together. And when I did that squat position over the toilet, it moved my pubic bone just enough to allow him underneath, at which point I felt my typical overwhelming urge to push. It took me seven megalithic pushes to get him out because I wasn’t pushing a head and then two individual shoulders- I had to push his little head and both shoulders together at the same time. Yikes. Yes, it hurt like hell. But then there he was! My sweet little angel baby, all eight and half pounds of him.
I cuddled him up and laid on my bed and nursed him while the midwives did all their checking to be sure I was okay and he was okay. It was wonderful. The high that comes from natural childbirth is one that I’ll never get tired of. It’s just miraculous. I even held him and nursed him while they stitched me back up (and yes, 90 minutes and 34 stitches later, I was still feeling on top of the world). It was a hard labor, filled with things that WebMD would make me feel terrified over, but because I had amazing midwives who’ve seen it all before, it was beautiful and surrounded by all the things that make me feel comfortable and safe. I spent the night in my own bed wrapped up in my favorite cozy blanket snuggled next to my brand new baby and my sweet husband, and I woke up to eat my favorite foods that I’d made in my own kitchen. Everything about it was as calming and soothing and healing as it could be.
Ezekiel Tobias, “Toby,” is the sweet answer to so many of our prayers, and his name reflects what he means to us. Ezekiel because I truly believe he is the fulfillment of God’s promise after the brokenness and loss that come with struggles in a life that hasn’t always given us what we’d hoped, and Tobias, which in Hebrew means “God is good.” I had to put so much trust in God this time around- trust that we would get pregnant, trust that I would stay pregnant, trust that a move across the country and a big change in our family dynamic wouldn’t ruin us, trust that leaving all old goals and dreams wouldn’t be the end of me, trust that I could do this again after all this time, and trust that I could deliver him safely at home surrounded by family. I didn’t do this blindly- in finding my midwife I asked her questions about the very things she wound up dealing with- how would she handle shoulder dystocia and how did she feel about suturing? I got my asthma under control and spent 11 months in recovery from an eating disorder. I built relationships with mental health providers and made plans for my children in case things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. But in the end, it was all perfect.
So what made this a hygge homebirth? As much as I enjoyed the candles and the cozy blankets and the mug of tea and the mood music, the hygge in this was that I was present for the whole thing. I didn’t race through it. I didn’t try to escape it or conquer it. I lived it. I experienced every single part of it with my whole being. When it was easy, I was laughing and smiling and dreaming of my baby, and when it was hard, I was crying and begging God to be with me, but I was still thinking of my baby. I was in my body and feeling every single pain and every centimeter of progress and marveling at the strength that is in us when we allow our bodies to do what they are made for. I was there. Not a single moment of it escaped me, and it was the most existential experience of my whole life. I’ve never felt more alive, or more overcome with gratitude. And now, as I write this, cuddling my baby for what seems like the twentieth consecutive hour, with no makeup on and having lost zero pounds in the last four weeks, I can tell you I’m still 100% in it. I’m loving this baby and loving this experience and not putting any of it aside for the sake of becoming something else. I want to be this. That’s hygge. And it’s beautiful, just the way it is.
Cheers, friends. To finding beauty in where you are, wherever that happens to be, right now. Thank you for being in this with me. Life is just a collection of individual moments, and it’s amazing when we can experience them together.