Check out Mamasana’s YouTube channel here and the video version of this home birth story at the end of this post.
The Little + Sign
Less than two months after my husband Kwadow and I got married we found out we were pregnant with our first child. I was already about 6 weeks pregnant when we saw the little “+” plus sign on the at-home test. Kwadwo and I had dreams of growing our family and felt excited to start the journey. To be honest, I felt some fear too. We had just moved to the Midwest where I was in graduate school and both our families were in the East Coast. Endless questions raced through my mind: How will we do this? Who is this baby? Who will be our home birth midwife? Do you have to ask a landlord to have a home birth? Surely the neighbors will hear the screams during labor and call the police!
Thinking back I want to say to myself: “Amanda, you need to chill, girl.” Seriously. It was hard to just “chill” because I had experienced a lot of change and challenges during the previous year: Were were newlyweds. I had just graduated from college and started a graduate program. I had taken care of my mother in the end of her life and lost her and then others in my family. Stress had set my health back and I was underweight.
I was also feeling pretty nauseous and exhausted already. Morning sickness had begun and had prompted us to take the test. Soon I realized that my morning sickness was more than just that. I actually found out that I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) and felt nauseous constantly and couldn’t keep anything down which led to dehydration, fainting, and more weight loss. I had a tough time in those first few months and felt happy to return to New England at the end of the academic year. Here I felt at home and soaked up the beauty of summer during my third trimester.
Regardless of the difficulty I was incredibly grateful to be carrying our first baby who I was CERTAIN was a boy because I had been dreaming of lots of blue and I just had that feeling. We decided we wouldn’t find out the gender of the baby until the birth. It was a lot of fun being “team green” although I have to admit the suspense was hard at times. At my 20 week anatomy scan we were happy to hear that our baby was growing beautifully and doing well. I was so grateful to hear this after the uncertainty I felt because of the HG.
Wanting To Relax…
I didn’t do much research during my pregnancy, which is VERY unlike me. Regardless, I didn’t feel unprepared thinking about labor or my home birth motherhood or breastfeeding. I figured women and all of nature had been doing this since forever and it would come naturally. Ha. I think I also didn’t do much research because I didn’t have a lot of mental capacity, first, because I was in graduate school, also, because I was sick, and after that, because I just wanted to relax as much as possible and focus on enjoying this precious time with my husband.
I was so relaxed that I didn’t put a lot of thought into preparing for my home birth. My midwife had given me a home birth kit and list of supplies I needed for labor day. It included everything from chuck pads and a suturing kit to swaddle blankets and baby clothes. I figured I had lots of time to get the hand-me-down baby clothes we had been given out of storage so I waited on that. But I finally got around to ordering the home birth kit after some gentle pressure from my midwife at around 37 weeks and it arrived two days later. It arrived just in time too because I went into labor in the next couple days.
My Peaceful Home Birth
11 days before my due date I woke up at exactly 7am feeling…different. We had plans to gather with friends that Saturday at 10am. I told Kwadwo he should go ahead and I would stay behind and rest. At some point that morning, too, I called my midwife and let her know I was feeling different – a bit restless, maybe some cramping, but definitely not labor.
I rested in bed and dozed in and out of sleep until about lunch time when Kwadwo called me from a seafood restaurant and asked if I wanted some fish fry. That sounded like a terrible idea so I requested scrambled eggs instead. He came home and after eating a few bites of eggs I told him I was going to take a warm bath and see if this weird feeling would go away. I fell asleep in the tub for what felt like an hour or more (I really love a good warm bath). Eventually when the water became cold I my skin wrinkly I decided to hop out and rest some more. A friend had advised me to rest as much as possible in case labor started, so that’s what I tried to do.
Around 7pm my midwife called to check on me and she suggested she could come by our house and see how I was doing but again I told her there was no need – I wasn’t in labor. A few more minutes on the phone and she was telling me that she was coming over after hearing me make some deep sighing noises. I kept opposing because I had nothing ready. I hadn’t set up the birth kit, hadn’t laid out the sheets or the towels, didn’t have any clothes or blankets ready… You get the picture.
I so vividly remember the moment when I asked her, “Do you think I might be in labor?”
And her reply, “Amanda, you are in labor.”
A few weeks prior to this moment I had Googled “how do you know when you’re in labor?” And everything I read said, “TRUST US, YOU’LL KNOW!” Well, I must have been in denial, because I honestly did not know. It all clicked when I heard my midwife say “Amanda, you are in labor.” The minute we hung up the phone I felt my first real contraction – the kind you struggle to talk through. It was over a minute long and the next one came a minute later. I started contracting every two minutes and things progressed quickly.
My Labor Dance
The contractions were very manageable and mostly pain-free. They were definitely uncomfortable, but I moved, rocked, and swayed with them and rested in between and something about this “labor dance” felt…amazing! I really enjoyed laboring – I was somehow very present in what was happening and in tune with the waves of the contractions, but also in a half-asleep, out-of-this-world state. Time and space seemed abstract. I knew there were others in the room but they seemed very far away. I loved this setting – We were in a small, quiet and dark room, surrounded by trees and farms, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of New England. And everything, including me, was silent. Those last few moments before I became a mother were so special. It was glorious!
I don’t remember when, but at some point my midwife whispered to Kwadwo that he should ask me if I wanted anything to eat or drink. It sounded hilarious (and crazy!) when he said, “Midwife says you should eat.” It was just a suggestion, but for some reason I wanted to make them happy so I tried some yogurt. It was the worst two bites of homemade yogurt ever. And I promptly threw it up.
You could say that’s when transition happened. I felt several contractions right on top of one another, with hardly any break between. It felt very intense and I “vocalized” for the first time, whispering “Wow…wow.” My midwife was perfect in that moment. She didn’t touch me, or talk to me, or move. She just made low “hm” sounds in response. It reminded me that she was there, and that she had been through this experience six times herself, and that was comforting.
Soon after transition I felt my baby’s head descend very low and it must have pressed my bladder because I had the sense I had to use the restroom. Well, my poor bladder had to just hold it because I quickly realized my baby wanted to come first. Things happened quickly from there. I didn’t do any pushing but all of a sudden I felt that intense burning sensation known as the ring of fire. I was down in a very low squat and minutes later our baby was in my husband’s arms. He caught her, lifted her up to his chest and said, in wonder, “It’s a girl!” Boy, was I shocked!
I honestly couldn’t see very well at this point. Life seemed blurry. Everything had happened so quickly! All of a sudden there was someone new in the room and all I could see were her big, round, beautiful dark eyes. Kwadwo held her close as we waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating.
This is the point in my story where things become difficult. It’s lovely to remember everything before this turning point. What happened next was scary and emotionally painful. I delivered the placenta soon after birth but had retained membranes. My midwife instructed me to cough to facilitate their exit but I felt exhausted and had a hard time coughing. But I tried for what felt like 20 minutes or so, hoping they would come out on their own and the midwife wouldn’t have to go in and get them to prevent hemorrhaging. I said I needed a break from coughing and I felt very uncomfortable and wanted to stand up. As soon as I did the membranes came right out. Thank you, gravity.
For some reason, my first instinct was to hop in the shower and this is what I did. Then I was finally able to empty my bladder after a long time trying and I felt a slight burn – I figured it was a small tear. After that I held my baby for the first time and nursed her. She still hadn’t cried or made any sound besides a little cough. She was just starring around at everyone in the room with her huge black eyes. I thought she was amazing!
Transferring to the Hospital
What happened next was not fun. As my midwife checked me for tearing she lost her characteristic at-peace expression. I had tearing and she wanted the hospital’s opinion on it. She wasn’t sure if it was third or fourth degree tearing which would require surgery with the OB on call. I started hearing things like “infection” and “septic shock.” At this point, I may have gone into mental shock. Adrenaline overwhelmed me. I absolutely could not believe that my peaceful, wonderful, painless labor had caused this. How could this have happened? How could my body have failed me?
I resisted going to the hospital but my midwife insisted. So around 2 or 3am we packed up a few things and drove to my backup hospital. They already knew me there and we had called beforehand so they were expecting me. I arrived and received such a warm welcome. The staff and midwives were so kind and congratulated me on my baby girl. I felt thankful that my backup hospital was supportive of my choice to birth naturally at home and step in when needed.
I Chose Not To Stitch
It was a quiet morning in the birthing center of the hospital and we may have been the only family there. The on-call midwife was lovely. She was gentle and kind and very compassionate. After checking me she let me know that the tearing was actually not a cause for concern and there was no need for surgery. She even said that she believed it could heal well on its own without any stitching if I mostly rested for 6 weeks. I felt elated and said I definitely did not want to add insult to injury with stitches. And so we went home.
Postpartum Love & Blues
We arrived back at our home just as the sun was rising. I felt totally exhausted. I also felt a bit wired and delirious. My head felt like it was spinning as I sat back in our bed with my newborn baby in my arms. Then I looked at her beautiful face as she slept so peacefully in my arms and I just loved her. I was so thankful for her life. I was so thankful to be her mama. And I was so thankful we were safe and at home.
In the weeks following my daughter’s birth we faced other struggles as a family. There were breastfeeding issues, digestive issues, isolation and lack of support, and the baby blues. How I longed to be closer to family in those days! After a very difficult initial 4-6 weeks postpartum we figured things out and found our own routine. My amazing daughter also started sleeping 12 hours every night and napping wonderfully too. The initial period was tough and if I could change anything I would have done one thing – asked for help and reached out to friends! I’m thankful, though, to have had my husband, who wasn’t perfect, but he was there.
My post-birth difficulties were traumatic and over two year laters I still feel that pain. I’ve now accepted that this is my story. I embrace it and am thankful for all that it has taught me and for how it had shaped me. Yes, I experienced physical and emotional trauma, but I am thankful for what my body affirmed: that I am fully equipped to carry and deliver life, heal from the experience, and have joy in the end.
I’d love to hear your birth story! Please share any story or positive word in the comments below!