For many reasons, some lurking just beyond the threshold of consciousness, my husband John and I decided to explore homebirth as an option for the birth of our third daughter. Our first two daughters, Lucy and Nora, were born in hospitals with epidurals. Each of their births were magnificent, transformative and beautiful in their own right. And yet, I had a sense that I missed something. I yearned to be fully in my body as our last child was born. And in addition to that, I found hospitals to be incredibly stressful and even lonely environments, especially during the in-patient stay immediately following birth. I found that at the time when more than anything else I wanted to be snuggling in with my husband and new baby, I was instead checked and tended by nurses and doctors I barely knew in sterile rooms with florescent lighting and not very comfortable beds.
With a different vision in mind and with the advice and counsel of a good friend who is a labor and delivery nurse at CPMC, I set out to find a midwife who would deliver our baby at our home in Marin county. I visited web sites, read newsletters and sought advice on the Berkeley Parents Network and along the way, assembled a list of midwives I wanted to interview. I had a great initial phone conversation with Nancy Myrick at Rites of Passage Midwifery and after an in-person meeting, both John and I felt like she was the right person to guide us along on the homebirth journey. We felt confident in her wisdom, experience and training…and we just liked her, plain and simple. Throughout my pregnancy and pre-birth visits our respect and confidence in Nancy and the team at Rites of Passage Midwifery (Chanti and Gia) grew along with our excitement for the birth.
As my June 21st due date drew near, I started to notice signs of very early labor during the 36-37th weeks. I was contemplating skipping a long awaited spa day with girlfriends on Sunday June 3rd. However, after checking in with Nancy and assessing myself late Saturday and early Sunday AM, I decided to go for it. What the heck - Sonoma Mission Inn was only 45 minutes away and I wasn’t due for another three weeks. I spent the whole day at the spa – hanging out in the warm minerals pools, enjoying a massage and pedicure, soaking in the sun, laughing and chatting with the girls and eating delicious food. (I had a voracious appetite and ordered two lunches and ate every bite of both!) Heaven.
The next morning (Monday, June 3rd) I awoke to “bloody show” and felt sure that labor had begun and birth was imminent. John, a teacher, went to school to wrap things up, get a sub, and prepare for being out for perhaps the remainder of the school year. Lucy, our oldest daughter, went to pre-school and Nora, our soon to be middle daughter, was with the nanny as I got busy preparing last minute details – alerted work that I was in labor, picked up toys and cleaned house, set up the birthing tub (portable fresh water hot tub), prepared meals for the birth team, set up an alter with pictures of family and friends, poetry and mementos, set out candles. In general, I set a lovely, peaceful environment for what I hoped and planned would be a beautiful home birth.
Contractions began around 9 AM and were mild and building in regularity throughout the day. I kept busy and wanted to keep walking and moving to keep labor progressing. At about 1:30 PM, my dear friend Catherine Wolfers and I (along with her one yr. old Raney) took a little hike on Ring Mountain (said to be an epicenter for earth shifting and movement of tetonic plates which appropriate fro pre-birth hiking) while we tracked contractions and did some “pre-game” warm-ups, visualizing and sisterly bonding. At about 4:00ish Grannie Gay, fondly known as “Amie”, came to collect Nora and Lucy for a much anticipated sleepover. Lucy knew she would be meeting her new sister soon. Nora knew something was up that had to do with the baby but she had no idea how her life would be changing. After the girls left, I took a short but brisk walk on the path near our home with our friends and neighbors, Grier Mathews and Mary Barber along with a few of the kids on the block for more pre-game silliness. When John got home from school, we ate a light meal and headed back out on the mountain for a gentle hike. We walked up the Ring Mountain path again and walked a labyrinth layed out in stone at its peak. Contractions were about 5 to 8 minutes apart but still fairly mild (about 3-4 on the pain scale). After the hike, we checked in with Nancy, midwife extraordinaire, who suggested that I soak in the tub and we both try and get some sleep so we felt well rested and strong when active labor kicked in. We tucked in by 10:30 PM and I was awakened by a painful contraction at 1:45 AM. I got out of bed at 2:30 after three strong but well spaced contractions and started walking around the house and yard and by 3:00 AM Tuesday morning contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and intense enough that it was difficult to talk through them. Time to call in the birth team!
Nancy, Chanti and Gia - the most amazing, compassionate, loving and competent midwives anyone could dream to have attending a birth - arrived by 3:30 followed shortly by our dear, dear friend Lisa Ferguson. From there on out, I was pretty much in birth meditation (loose translation: altered state with moaning, groaning, keening pain). I really can’t recall everything that happened from there on out and haven’t watched the video yet. I can say that natural birth was by far, the hardest work I’ve ever done. The mental challenge of managing fear, despair, doubt and anxiety might have been harder than just dealing with the intensity and pain of the rushes or contractions. And labor was intense. I did all in my power to stay in the moment. If I thought ahead to, “how long do I have to go?” or “why in the world did I want a home birth?” or even to the next contraction, panic and despair would edge their way in and my experience of pain immediately increased. I was able to keep it together with the awesome support of John, the midwives three, Lisa and a good dose of faith.
I labored all over the house changing positions or rooms when things got too intense. I think I spent three good chunks of time in the labor tub which tended to mellow things out and allowed me to rest and recharge. I even drifted off to sleep in between a few of the most intense contractions of labor. Amazing! At any given moment, I really didn’t know what I needed but Nancy, John, Chanti, Gia and Lisa did - and they guided me perfectly. With the exception of one period when I just wanted to be alone, there was always someone, pushing on my sacrum, massaging my shoulders, stroking my hair, allowing my intensity and guiding me along.They tended to me in much the same way we tend to our newborns…with love and care and comfort.
By about 9:30 or 9:45 AM on Tuesday, I began to feel pressure and perhaps the beginning urge to push. I was in the birthing tub and everything felt so different this time around and I just wasn’t sure if I had to push or not. We agreed that Chanti would check me but I was apprehensive and afraid...what if I were only 6 centimeters after all that work? Then Chanti sweetly said, “Oh honey, you are fully dilated, the baby’s head is right here and you can push her out!” and I cried with relief and anticipation. We were gonna meet our daughter soon!
It was hard to imagine being able to push her out and it took me a few contractions and gentle pushes to get the hang of pushing in the right way. We moved from the tub to the birthing stool (a wooden u-shaped stool about 2 ½ feet off the ground with handles on either side for “getting a grip” - as if!) so Nancy could assess a little blood that showed with pushing. Lisa was behind the stool holding me up and supporting me. Nancy was in front coaching, doctoring and helping John who caught his daughter! After a push or two, my bag of waters broke and she started to crown…and then an incredible passion to push overtook me. Nancy called the feeling the “birth expulsion reflex” (I think.) The birth team was coaching me to hold back while some last minute doctoring went on and while John got into position to receive his daughter. I tried light breathing but after a few moments, there was just no way I could hold back from pushing. And I did! John seriously “caught” his daughter because she came into the world in the next push like a rocket - a warm buttery jumble of arms, legs, body, cord. She was immediately placed on my chest and the wild loving began. My placenta was delivered very easily and within minutes of the baby. Immediately after the placenta came, Chanti administered some herbal medicines and Nancy did some massaging to get my uterus to contract (feels just a little different without an epidural!) while John and I marveled at our baby girl – Willa Emeline Hampton Lynch.
Willa’s birth was everything I wished for and more! As we savor each minute of her life, we will always reflect on the beautiful way she came into the world and the wise, loving, supportive people who guided her and us on the journey. Our conception of birth, life and even death is forever deepened and transformed.