It’s hard to begin telling Lua’s birth story without first mentioning Hafiz’s birth. On the surface, I had the birth experience I wanted with Hafiz. It was vaginal. It was unmedicated. It was fast. He was healthy. I was healthy. I did consider myself one of the lucky ones. I was lucky.
However, there were negative aspects of his birth that I never got over. The intense fear that came over me while in transition in the packed waiting room, with none of the hospital staff seeming to care or acknowledge me at all. Feeling so unsafe, confused and on display while in active labor. Being alone in the hospital that first night with Hafiz. Constant people walking in and poking and prodding me and Hafiz and asking a million questions, preventing us from ever getting good rest while there.
I knew even before I got pregnant for the second time that I wanted things to be different when I had another baby.
I continued seeing the midwives at Pennsylvania Hospital throughout the beginning of pregnancy. Appointments were basically pointless. Just a different midwife looking at a computer screen and asking me a bunch of questions to check off some boxes. When I expressed that I felt some trauma over my experience in the waiting room during Hafiz’s birth, I was told to get there earlier. Cool.
After meeting with Christy, our home birth midwife, around week 14 of the pregnancy, I knew that was what we had to do. I would stay with Pennsylvania Hospital until the 20 week ultrasound showed that all was healthy with the baby, then would officially transfer my paperwork to Christy and pay out of pocket for a home birth.
My monthly prenatal appointments with Christy were completely opposite from my appointments at the hospital. They were 1.5 hours long of uninterrupted time to just talk. About self-care. About plans for the birth. About my physical health. Mental health. About the baby’s health. Preparing Hafiz for a sibling. Anything and everything! I would check out books from Christy’s little library about childbirth and newborns. She would suggest vitamins to ward off UTIs and yeast infections (which were an issue in Hafiz’s pregnancy), oils for my itchy belly or stretches with a scarf to help my lower back pain. We would check my blood pressure and listen to the baby’s heart with a fetoscope. Rarely did I have to step on the scale. I checked my own blood sugar twice each morning for a week to check for gestational diabetes. She tested my urine every so often and I swabbed myself to check for group B strep (it was negative). I would bring her two bags of coffee each time since we saved $500 on the home birth in exchange for my husband’s coffee at each appointment.
As the due date of April 25th neared, Husein and I prepared our home. We got the $90 box of birth supplies that included a liner for the birthing tub (which Christy lent us), a million chucks pads, sexy mesh underwear, peri bottles, etc. We put plastic under our bed sheets. Bought a brand new lead-free hose to go from our bathroom to the birthing tub, which was in our bedroom. A tarp for underneath the tub. We already had lots of towels.
We were ready to go by about 38 weeks, so in the nearly 3 weeks to come after that, we kept our house obsessively clean and organized. For me, it was my nesting instinct in full effect and a way to feel in control when, really, my brain was in constant “When will I go into labor?!” mode. The pregnancy itself felt so very different from my pregnancy with Hafiz that I was sure the way I went into labor would be drastically different as well. My belly was far smaller. I had no linea nigra down the middle. I was so much less active, yet felt physically far better. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl, so there was the cool sense of mystery the whole time. By the time I got to 40 weeks, I was still physically feeling fine, but mentally just wanted to meet our baby! And how many more times would I have to clean our house?!
On my due date, April 25th, the practice contractions started. I feared I was going into labor and left work early, and didn’t go back the next day (which was election day and a beautiful sunny day as well) because they were still happening. But they came and went the entire week. At times at regular intervals, then not. At times pretty uncomfortable, then not so much. I went to back to work on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday night I was up almost the entire night with contractions 7 minutes apart. Then Friday morning they were basically gone! Scattered throughout the day. Luckily I stayed home from work because the entire school was throwing up that day. Friday night I drank a glass of red wine before bed, as per Christy’s suggestion, so I could actually get some contraction-free rest. That did the trick and I slept through the night.
I woke up Saturday morning, April 30th, which was 40 weeks 5 days, with contractions 7 minutes apart. I was still very skeptical of the whole thing after so many false alarms, but they didn’t seem to be letting up so I called my parents to pick up Hafiz and texted Christy to be on standby. My parents came around 9AM and hung out while we fed Hafiz breakfast and a lady game over to notarize our car title so my parents could sell our car that day without me present. The notary lady was super excited to help us out while I was in labor. Contractions were about 5 min apart when she came.
After my parents left with Hafiz around 10:30AM, Husein and I started cleaning our house like maniacs. I was hoping the movement would inspire more intense contractions and it worked. When I timed the contractions the intervals were a little wonky — 5 min, 6 min, 4 min, 8 min — but I could tell they were coming consistently enough and feeling more intense. Christy suggested doing some pelvic tucks against the wall during contractions to get the baby down and make contractions more regular. That seemed to work, though I completely stopped timing around this time because that would have involved too much multi-tasking since I was also folding laundry.
Christy arrived to our house at 12:40PM. Our house was immaculately clean and the birth pool was inflated. Our bedroom looked serene, all three window shades open and letting sunshine and trees be the background of our birth room. Clary sage oil from my friend Melissa was diffusing. My labor playlist was going both upstairs and downstairs.
Christy, Husein and I were all in the kitchen for awhile after Christy first arrived. I was leaned over the counter between contractions or holding onto the counter and squatting down, and during contractions I would do lunging stretches on our kitchen benches that Christy suggested to help move baby down. Husein brought out the entire contents of our cupboard and fridge for Christy and even made her soup. She listened to the baby with her doppler and took my blood pressure every so often. All good. Husein ate food. I just drank cold raspberry leaf tea with honey. Kept walking to our first floor bathroom to either pee or poop. In between contractions I was chatting casually with Christy and Husein. She liked a lot of the songs on my labor playlist which made me happy.
From the time that Christy arrived the contractions were coming 3-4 minutes apart. I wanted them to feel more painful and intense, since I knew that’s what had to happen for labor to progress quickly, but I also wanted to minimize the intensity by breathing really well through them. I focused on my breath and felt really quiet and calm. I never stopped moving.
Husein filled the tub up around 2:00PM (it took a long time! That thing holds a lot of water!) while I continued to pace around the kitchen and have contractions. I really loved the kitchen because the solid counters felt so grounding to lean into during and between contractions. And so much sun comes through the skylight. Christy suggested leaning back into Husein during the contractions to intensify them and move baby down, so I stopped the lunges and started to do that. If Husein wasn’t around then I’d just lean back on something else.
Once the tub was full I decided a change of scenery might be good so we went upstairs to the bedroom. I leaned on the banister upstairs for contractions or on Husein when he wasn’t doing something else around the house. He was a flurry of movement while I was laboring — typical Husein. He was preparing a lot throughout the house and helping Christy prepare her things as well. I tried sitting on the birth ball when I first came upstairs but didn’t love it. When I went to pee I tried some contractions on the toilet as well, hoping it would open things up since that is our body’s natural inclination on the toilet. I couldn’t tell if it was helpful or not though.
I didn’t feel a strong urge to get in the water but it was the perfect temperature around 2:45PM. I was worried it would slow the contractions down but Christy said if it was the right time it could actually help move things along. We wouldn’t know unless we tried. I think it’s interesting to note here that not once had Christy checked my cervix. In fact she hadn’t checked my cervix the entire pregnancy! She knew about where I was in my labor based on the sounds I was making during contractions. She even knew to call the assistant midwife, Janeyne, at this time, who was just down the street at a cafe.
Janeyne arrived at 3:00PM right after I got into the tub. The tub felt AMAZING and I was immediately happy about the decision to get in. It was big enough to move around and be in any position I wanted and the warmth just enveloped my whole body. However, part of me worried that me feeling good would mean a backtrack in my labor progress. Don’t get me wrong, the contractions were still intense, actually more intense than before, but in between them I felt so comfortable and able to just kind of collapse on my knees or all fours. Husein even has a picture of me at this time, in the pool, with a big smile, chilling out. When a contraction came I would lean into the side of the pool. This is the point where I was having to make some kind of noise to get through the contractions each time. This was also the point where my body and mind fully recalled the intense and specific pain of childbirth and I will admit that slight fear crept in; that little voice saying “NO, this is too much! Let’s get outta here!”
But there was no way fear could win out. I was so safe. In the most peaceful environment possible, my own bedroom, with two midwives I trusted fully and my extremely supportive husband (who I would order to get off of me when he tried to massage my shoulders, ha!). And things happened fast from this point. I kept reminding myself to keep my eyes open because my instinct in the face of pain is to squeeze them shut. With contractions I would moan loader and try to visualize opening down there. I pushed with a contraction and felt a release, which was my water breaking because soon little pieces of vernix were visible in the pool. I did feel opening and with the next contraction, a burning, the beginning of the “ring of fire” when the baby’s head is crowning. I felt like I was going to poop because that’s exactly what the urge to push a baby feels like, and if there is any poop it’s going to come out as well (and a little did – which the midwives would quickly remove with one of those aquarium nets that came with my birth kit) so I pushed once, leaned against the side of the tub on all fours, and felt the baby move down and apparently the head emerged a bit at this point and since baby’s hand was by its face, the hand poked out and held onto my midwife’s hand!
Then with another push the entire body came out at 3:19PM, so just 19 minutes after I got into the pool. It was 4 minutes of pushing start to finish, I think 2 or 3 pushes in entirety. Christy was really careful to be there and guide the baby coming out because if a baby moves their nuchal hand (the hand by the face during birth) while emerging they can mess up your perineum. I felt the entire body slide out in one push and it was the the most incredible sense of pure relief. I reached down to pick my baby up but the cord was wrapped under my leg so I couldn’t pull them to my chest, Christy had to move my leg in a moment of awkward gymnastics, but then I put baby on my chest. I say baby at this point because I didn’t know if it was a girl or a boy and still didn’t once they were on my chest. I thought I didn’t see a penis in that flash of first pulling them up (and as I recalled from Hafiz as a newborn, the penis is super obvious – big and swollen from birth!) but couldn’t be sure.
Her eyes were open from the moment she came out (apparently her eyes were open when her head was out just a little actually and she looked right at Husein and Christy!) and she stared at me while I held her in the pool, HUGE eyes and lots of dark hair. I could tell immediately that she was smaller then Hafiz. She was perfection. I couldn’t believe that she was just there! In my arms! Like that! It happened unbelievably fast and almost casually!
Christy and Janeyne wanted to get me out of the pool quickly (not sure why – maybe they don’t want the placenta to come out there? Or maybe because there’s icky stuff from birth in there it’s bad to hang out for a long time? Though I have to say the water was remarkably clear – no blood at all) and that was super challenging because my legs were like jello and I was shaking all over. And of course Lua was still attached to me. But all hands in the room helped me move from the tub to our bed, where I realized she was a girl (which shocked me – I was really thinking boy the whole pregnancy) and I just held her, cuddled her, stared at her, tried to nurse her, etc. After maybe 15 minutes Christy suggested she help me into a squat on the bed so I could push the placenta out. So we did just that and it was no big deal, one push and it came right out in one piece. With Hafiz the placenta had been painful to pass because they gave me Pitocin to force it out, which makes contractions way more uncomfortable. I was therefore surprised by how easy this was.
Husein and I laid in bed with Lua staring at her and both feeling very “whoa, that actually just happened” and overwhelmed by how chill and relaxed the experience was. We sang Baby Beluga to her, which I was sure she would recognize since we sing it to Hafiz for naps and bedtime. Christy and Janeyne were cleaning and organizing things this whole time.
After about an hour they asked me to come over to the side of the bed, legs open, to assess the damage down there. I was fearful because I had so much tearing and super painful stitches with Hafiz. They looked me over and said it was just a small first degree tear to the perineum (with Hafiz it was second degree) and Janeyne put lidocaine then a numbing shot before putting 4 stitches in. I didn’t feel them at all. Again, it was no big deal compared to the aftermath of Hafiz.
Christy and Janeyne brought me coconut water and a plate of food since they wanted me to eat before taking some ibuprofen. I also took a few arnica pills. I had no appetite but couldn’t get enough to drink. I did force down a few bites of food so I could take the ibuprofen. The only discomfort I had at this point were the after birth pains while nursing. These are apparently more painful with each pregnancy, but the uncomfortable cramps are important because it’s the uterus contracting, getting back to normal size and getting all the excess clotting and blood out. I took “After ease” herbs every hour or so to help these as well, more arnica and more ibuprofen. They still hurt a lot though those first two days! My perineum didn’t hurt at all in the hours and days following, even with the stitches and minor swelling. Again, this was wildly different from Hafiz’s birth when the swelling down there was major.
It was then time to weigh and measure Lua! We took guesses to her weight and my guess was 7 lbs. She weighed 6 lbs 12 oz, so I was pretty close! Her length was 18.5 inches. Her head measured 13 inches (though the pediatrician measured it slightly smaller, 12.5 inches, at her appointment the next day since head shape does change after birth).
She was born at 40 weeks and 5 days just like her older brother, but weighed nearly a pound less. Just as healthy and perfect as Hafiz, and they definitely have a similar look about them at birth: jet black fuzzy hair, slight hair on shoulders and ears too, big BIG dark eyes. My little indian babies.
I am writing this 5 days after it happened and still feel like it could have all been a dream. It was more beautiful, peaceful and calm than I ever could have imagined. The midwives have come back three times already to check on me and Lua in my bedroom. Christy’s rule is that I basically can’t leave the second floor of our house for a week, so I can take time to heal and relax. I feel EXTREMELY good and could easily see myself getting over confident, so I appreciate this recommendation. I’ve been far more active around the house than she wants me to be, we have a toddler after all, but am still taking her advice to heart. Lua and Hafiz’s pediatrician has also come to our house twice already to check on Lua. We have the only home visit pediatrician in Philadelphia and he’s the absolute best.
I can’t believe that it was little Lua in there these past 10 months.