Thomas Jackson Royse was born at home. Some people hear that and ask me, "Er…don't they got hospitals over there?" Yes, they do, and no, I'm not like that high school girl who didn't tell anyone she was pregnant and gave birth in the girls locker room at prom because she didn't have the foresight to get herself to a hospital.
Before Ava was born I did zero preparing for having a baby. I don't beat myself up about it too much. I think that was the only way I really knew how to cope with the triple whammy of: giving birth for the first time, in a foreign country I had only just arrived in, without my husband. One of those too-excited-for-college freshman psychology majors might have diagnosed this behavior as "avoidant coping." It's kind of like what you're doing right now instead of laundry, or e-mails, or showering.
Before I went into labor with Ava I couldn't imagine why someone would have a baby at home. Without turning this post into "Ava's Birth Story," let's just say that I totally understood the appeal of staying at home, after I delivered Ava. However, the German system of health care involves a pretty sweet set up for the labor and delivery ward of a hospital. Midwives attend all births, and the rooms are (typically) complete with birthing tubs (sign me up!) birthing balls, stools, comfy beds, low lights, you name it. So, originally I had intended to give birth in the small hospital in the town of Sulzbach-Rosenberg.
After I had Ava, (or perhaps after countless documentaries, books, blogs, and articles---which shall remain nameless for the this post) I decided I wanted all my future birth experiences to be different than what I had with Ava: a lot of confusion, a lot of exhaustion, a lot of pain, a lot of me whining, and a lot of intervention. With Ava I was induced early, and after a 30 hour labor, (which I completely understand is not long at all in terms of an induced labor ) I had an epidural, and then subsequently a healthy 8 pound baby. Yay :) ! So, I didn't really get to experience all the great amenities the German hospitals offer.
Shortly after I found out I was pregnant with Jack I had already imagined a very specific "birth plan." Once again Steven would be in Afghanistan, and I wanted someone there to help me carry out that plan. Even though my german is substantially better now, I knew I wouldn't be able to explain everything regarding my preference on saline locks, cord clamping, placenta delivery, circumcision, "no talking to me during contractions," and, "I'll push how I want and then you guys don't bother me,"and which flavor of tea I like best. The list went on forever, which is a big reason I liked the idea of a home birth. I went to check with my insurance about coverage, and I was pretty disappointed when I found out that they are currently NOT covering homebirths while we're stationed in Germany (as of very recently). I'll save that explanation and subsequent rant for another time.
So I chucked the homebirth plan. I hadn't even talked about it with Steven yet. I still wanted that natural, "my-body-knows-how-to-do-this" experience though. I opted for a doula. The only person I know around here though who could fulfill that role was actually a local, independent midwife. She speaks perfect english, and has worked with many Americans before Tricare stopped covering her independent services. We talked, and Steven and I decided to hire her out of pocket to come with me to the hospital. She's an incredible midwife, but she was essentially going to be fulfilling a doula role. She came by the house, and we discussed my birth plan. I told her that I was really more interested in the homebirth, but that I would have to wait until we were back in the states to have one. She told me if I changed my mind, that she would cover a homebirth for us, no extra charge. I was thrilled! I told Steven homebirth was back on the table. He was not so excited. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he wouldn't even be here. I definitely didn't want to do a homebirth if he didn't want to. However I REALLY wanted to, so we went round and round about it. Eventually he told me that it was up to me, and that he trusted me to make the decision. He wanted me to have the birth experience I wanted, and knew that it was important. One thing Steven was very concerned about was the distance from our home, to the hospital. Both of us knew that the odds of something going wrong were very slim, but of course those odds are always there. We also knew that Nina would be fully prepared, and capable of handling and predicting most of the "emergency situations," and could effectively arrange my transfer to the hospital. She can also do a number of medical procedures herself, on me--or the baby, if need be. All of that is comforting, except that the hospital happens to be twenty-five minutes away. Some people might think that's not far, but to me that seems very far when every second counts. I had been reading about how negative, or anxious feelings can really effect the progression of labor, and I didn't want that to happen to me. Thanks Ina May Gaskin, and Dr. Sears. ;)
Again, I chucked the homebirth plan. I told Nina that I wanted to do the bulk of my laboring in the comfort of my own home, and then transfer to the hospital just in time to have the baby. I decided on a waterbirth at the local hospital. My friend Emily was also going to be by my side--so I felt ready to take on anything.
Then I was 39 weeks pregnant. Nina came by the house to check me. We both agreed the baby had a long ways to go. Jack was so high up, he hadn't really descended at all. Nina said sometimes that's common, and it's nothing to worry about, though it was unusual. I had zero signs of impending labor. I was happy about this news because just a few weeks earlier I had found out that Steven was going to be come home early, and might actually make it for the birth! All Jack had to do was come a few days past his due date, and all signs pointed that he wasn't going anywhere.
November 15 was so uneventful. Ava and I ran errands, and went to the park. I made dinner, and gave Ava a bath and put her to bed. Then I watched that new Great Gastby movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio; I remember thinking, "wow--this movie is so overstimulating." Right as the movie ended, and the credits were rolling, I remember getting online to do some last minute online shopping for Christimas. It was 11:00 p.m. I was thinking, "Oh geez…this promo code for 30% off expires in an hour! But does it expire at midnight my time, or midnight U.S. time?" I decided to send an email to their customer service to ask when I got a major cramp:
"OUCH!…What fresh hell is THIS?!"
It went away quickly. Ten minutes later I got another one. I sat on my birthing ball, which really helped. I like to call it a birthing ball, (instead of "stability ball" that it's marketed and sold as) because it makes me feel better about the fact that I only used it for labor, and never for my abs. When I got the second "cramp" I decided this must be Braxton Hicks. I should say, I never had Braxton Hicks contractions with Ava, and never had them with Jack either. But Jack was supposed to be late--way late--so this must be early labor.
|This was supposed to be my "39 Weeks" photo for Facebook.|
Instead of posting it, I went into labor.
"Great…this could go on forever…" because I had read about women having early labor contractions for days…daaaays. I got up to take a bath, and get ready for bed and had another "cramp," this time I was starting to get suspicious because it hadn't been another ten minutes. So, I texted my friend Emily.
That was the last thing I could do. Right after I hit "send" I got another cramp, only there was no mistaking it. I knew this was labor. I grabbed my bag for the hospital out of the bedroom and put it by the door, and started to run the bath water.
(Side note: since I was a little girl, nothing has made me feel more comforted then running bath water. NOT a bath full of water; RUNNING bath water. I know, I know, it's incredibly wasteful, blah blah blah.)
Only I couldn't get in the tub. Another contraction hit and I was rocking back and forth on all fours on the bath mat. It helped. The doorbell rang. I think it was 11:40 p.m.
|My text to Emily|
I let Emily in and quickly returned to the bathmat. Then I told her she needed to call Nina. I didn't know what she should tell her, "just call her!" I was down to three word sentences. A few minutes later Emily said, "Okay. Nina said we need to time a few contractions. She's on her way." "Whatever," I breathed, as I hopped back into the tub, then I instructed emily to pour hot water down my back. It helped. I also asked her to talk--say something! "Tell me about your trip," she had just got back from Spain. Only, Emily could NOT tell a decent story about Spain to save her life (sorry Em). "Okay, it looks like the contractions are four minutes apart."
"I don't think…that's probably not right."
"Are you having a contraction now?"
"….that's two minutes apart…I think we should go to the hospital."
"Why can't my friend time contractions? It's not rocket science." I thought.
"Fine," I said. "Pull the car." I really didn't think Emily was timing the contractions correctly. There's no way they could be two minute apart. The whole dance had just started an hour ago.
Here's where it became a homebirth. My then contraction had just ended and I decided to stand up to put my clothes on, (though I have to say, I did consider NOT putting on clothes) and I can't explain it, but with ever fiber of my being I had this intense, and very strange, physiological realization that the baby was coming---QUICKLY. I took of my dress and got back in the tub. Emily came in and I said:
"The baby is coming. We're staying here. Go downstairs and get Gerlinde. She's a nurse. Go."
On her way upstairs, unbeknownst to me, Gerlinde called the paramedics. She wasn't sure who would arrive first, the baby or Nina. Gerlinde came running in, and immediately grabbed the sponge and squeezed water down my back. It was so nice to see her. Then I heard the doorbell, (which apparently neither Gerlinde or Emily heard, but I guess active labor gives you special powers) and when I looked up Gerlinde was standing at the bathroom door with a fireman, dressed in an entire fire rescue suit--hat and everything! Okay, that was a labor hallucination. Apparently, he was just an EMT dressed in a standard EMT uniform. No hat. I'm not sure why I envisioned him as a fireman.
"Noooooooooooooooooooo!" Is all I could get out when I saw him. Fortunately, for everyone, the doorbell rang again, and it was Nina. The paramedics seemed relived she was there. Nina came to the tub, and said very quietly:
(just imagine me answering these questions with my eyes closed, breathing heavily)
"Blayne, you are pushing now I see."
"I'm trying not to yet."
"No, go ahead if you want. We can't leave now. The baby is coming."
"Do you want me to check [for dilation] you?"
"Okay, you will have to turn around the other direction, or get out of the tub."
"Alright, it doesn't matter at this point anyway I think. We'll just wait."
Then that's just what we did. Emily, and Gerlinde, and Nina, and me. Then I had a few of the heaviest, hardest contractions ever. I held on to this cord that holds a shower head on the tub. I kid you not, I have no idea what I would have done instead. It saved me. I'll never look at that cord the same again.
I don't feel like I can really take much credit for what happened after that. I tried to remember what I read about breathing out, expanding my belly, not sucking it it. I tried to remember not to push the baby when he was crowning, but to the let the contractions naturally push the baby out. This was difficult, but fortunately went quickly, so there was no tearing (win!!).
Then right after his head came out, I felt this immediate and immense relief. I really thought that after the baby comes out, there must still be some pain, like when you slam your finger in a door; a residual ache. No, it's immense and total relief.
Total labor time from first contraction, to holding baby: just over 2 hours. It's like the fastest thing that's ever happened to me.
Jack was born at 1:10 a.m. 7 pounds, 7 ounces and 20 inches long. He was perfect. And sort of blue, (babies don't come out peachy and pink like in the movies, people. They were just squeezed through a birth canal. Bluish is normal folks. Cut the babies some slack). He took a minute to breathe, but it was fine because he was still attached to the cord. Nina checked him, and there was no distress. He was so perfect. The first thing I thought when I saw him was "Steven! He looks just like Steven!" Then he breathed and cried a little.
|We drained the water, which had gotten cold, so I could stay in the tub to deliver the placenta. We couldn't run more hot water because I had used it up, hence the blankets for warmth.|
|Emily on the left, and Nina on the right|
|Oma Gerlinde came back the next morning to check on us all.|
I have to say, I had no desire to leave the tub. But the water I was sitting in was getting cold, and I had used up all the leftover hot water. So we drained the tub and Nina covered me all the available towels (and blankets). I wanted to wait to cut the cord until the placenta was delivered, and that took about an hour. Nina clamped the cord, and I cut it! I felt like a proud papa. :) Then Nina and Emily helped me to the bedroom. Nina covered the bed with some disposable sheet-like things, and essentially created a little trail of those from the bed to the bathroom (ya know…for bleeding and such). I took a shower. Nina and Emily fetched me Raspberry Leaf tea, coconut water, and dates that I had been living on the last several months. Then I got to rest in bed while Nina checked Jack's weight, and height, and all that technical stuff. She stayed about five hours, and then told me she'd come back to check on me that evening. Emily stayed the night.
It was an awesome experience. I got to have the drug free, quick, calm, and uninterrupted water birth I was so wanting. I'm so happy it worked out the way that it did. I'm definitely on board with the homebirthing. Though, with our next child, I'd like to be closer to a hospital. That original concern is still there for me.
I so wanted Steven to be there. He was deployed when Ava was born, and he finally met her for the first time when she was four months old. Fortunately, he's been home to experience the newborn days with Jack. He's such a great dad. I know it's not his first rodeo or anything, but he really is a natural. Steven came home from Afghanistan exactly a week after Jack was born. Another wonderful, and very special moment for all of us.
My mom and stepdad and grandmother also came to meet Jack. They stayed three weeks with us. It was awesome to have a whole house full of family with us for the holidays, and tons of help! We miss them.
Ava had some mixed feelings about Jack when he first arrived. One morning while I was nursing him, she got quiet, looked up at me, smiled, and said "I wanna kick it." She's such a rascal.
Now she's better with him. She loves to help him, and fetch him blankets, or diapers. And she calls him, "a sleepy guy."
We are so tremendously blessed. Jack and Ava are very different babies, but lo and behold Jack has the same dairy allergy Ava had as an infant. So, get ready for posts about that nonsense as I cut out all forms of casein and whey AGAIN. Good times ahead folks.