In the early morning of October 4th, 1:48am to be exact, I received a text from my Germany-based, college roommate and close friend Kylie: "Sarah I JUST woke up from a dream you had your baby!!! So vivid! Maybe today is the day!!!". A few hours later, around 3:30am, I woke up to pee and read her text. I hadn't yet crawled out of bed as it took some mental preparation at this point in pregnancy to muster the energy to move my body and figure out the best method to go from horizontal to vertical. Grunts and groans are certainly involved in the process. As I laid there I noticed my contractions had a more distinct pattern to them than they had had for the days and actually near two weeks prior. There were a few occasions in the previous two weeks where I texted my midwives, Heather & Hilary of Loudoun Homebirth, thinking I was possibly in early labor. This time, I wanted to be sure what I felt was even more legitimate before waking them with a text. Although they always reassured me that everything I felt was important and to never feel bad about alerting them, I didn't want to call out another false alarm. I laid there for about 20 minutes before responding to Kylie and half-jokingly informing her she had quite the premonition. I decided to start timing and soon realized my contractions were 5 minutes apart, 45 seconds to 1 minute long and as strong as they'd been in the last few days. I was in denial it was anything true but decided to share this with Heather and Hilary. They said to check back in after 30 minutes to see if the pattern continued. I then crawled ever so gracefully out of bed, graceful as a 10 point turn with lots of sound effects, and headed to the bathroom. My contractions immediately jumped to a closer pattern and with greater intensity but still very manageable. Typically a 2-3 minute apart pattern would indicate active labor but because they weren't what I would call painful and they weren't increasing in length I was thinking we had a case of prodromal labor. This pattern could also indicate a wonky positioned baby, so I decided to do some stretching & movement and a few inversions to give baby a little more wiggle room. The pattern continued so the next step was waking up Kevin. He joined me in the kitchen while I hydrated, had a snack and continued some stretching. After awhile I shared my pattern with the midwives and ultimately decided to get back into bed. If this was true labor I was not about to go into an unmedicated home birth sleep deprived.
Around 7 am, I checked back in with the midwives to let them know I was able to rest but couldn't sleep through the sensation of the contractions. As I read it now it sounds obvious but at that point I still didn't believe I was in labor. I got up to hydrate, have a snack and take a hot shower.
Intuition told me to have Kevin's parents come get the boys. I felt a strong instinct to create a quiet, peaceful environment. Something about my boys' high
energy felt threatening and over stimulating. I sat and took one last picture on the couch with them, kissed them each for as long as they'd let me and sent them off with their Mimi & Papa. I was certain I'd see them again the next morning, still pregnant.
Before Kevin and I headed out for a walk around 9, I called Heather and talked through my contraction pattern with her. I dismissed my pattern as being unreliable and I told her she didn't have to come but her intuition and expertise reassured me it was indeed time for her to join us. While she worked her way towards our house, Kevin and I set out and found ourselves down by the creek on a path that trails behind our home. I remember it being such a beautiful morning, crisp enough to warrant a couple layers and as clear & sunny as a perfect fall day should be. I wasn't in labor, I told myself. If I was, I'd be walking and talking with more effort. I looked up at all the back porches that faced us as we skirted the creek and I joked with Kevin about the possibility of my water breaking right then and there and rapidly delivering our baby by the creekside. I imagined my labor roars echoing through the woods and through all the back doors and windows of the onlooking homes. We were approximately at the point where a dead body was found a few years earlier so I knew freak happenings in those woods no longer shocked the nearby homeowners, however I'm really glad that scenario didn't play out.
Back home, Heather joined us and then our lovely nurse Leslie, followed by our incredible birth photography Lisa. My contractions were coming about 3-4 minutes and I felt a stronger urge to work with them at this point rather than ignore them as I'd done most of the morning. Throughout these contractions, Kevin and I tended to a pot of potato leek soup and I did my best to keep up with hydrating and eating. I don't remember eating much in labor other than some really yummy energy gummies, some protein balls and a banana. I do remember trying to choke down a piece of peanut butter toast over the course of an hour or so. The gummies were way more enjoyable!
The morning of slow, steady contractions allowed me a chance to be fully in tune with what I was feeling. The slow progression of intensity had me wanting to find ways to get things kicked into high gear. So, I found myself spending a lot of time sitting on the toilet. My contractions felt stronger and more effective on the toilet and I found excitement and satisfaction in that. It helped me believe that this truly was labor. With each contraction, I would switch putting a foot up on a stool to help get some asymmetrical movement to my pelvis. This helps create space where space is needed and encourages baby to rotate as needed. To be honest, having everyone at the house combined with my denial of labor had me feeling like a watched pot. Being in solitude in the bathroom helped me quiet my brain and reframe my mentality to focusing on the progress each contraction was bringing. I connected with my baby and talked to her as each contraction rolled through. I was committed to not losing sight of the journey she was also taking. We were doing this together, mama and baby, and I reassured her of that. I also found it tremendously helpful to go inward with each contraction and note every physical sensation that came with each contraction. I would ask each surge to send my baby down, to open up my pelvis and to melt away my cervix. This deep connection to my baby and my body I believe whole heartedly is what kept so much of the pain of each contraction at bay.
Around 1:30pm my contractions spaced to about 5 minutes, despite intensifying in strength. I shared with Heather my mental distraction of feeling like a watched pot and how it was impacting my ability to focus on my labor. She eased my worries by reminding me they all chose to be there to support me through the entirety of my labor and that no one had any reservations about being with me in my home. I felt so supported and encouraged by her words and relieved by the new mindset that all were there to support me, not rush me. This was a physiologic birth and all in attendance desired that outcome for me! Heather suggested Kevin and I go for a walk and thats just what we did. I remember not wanting to go back to the house until I was in transition and 100% convinced this baby was coming out...instead we found some hills, walked some curbs and after about a mile settled back inside the home. My instincts told me it was time to hunker down. I went back to the toilet, where Kevin joined me. It was my happy place.
I took a break from the toilet, where I had finally and excitedly started to see some blood tinged mucous, to stretch my legs in my bedroom, hang for a little with everyone in the living room, hydrate and eat something. I soon found my way back to the bedroom where things took a little turn. It was about 3:45 when I swayed with Kevin in our bedroom through a few contractions and then laid my upper body on the bed and rocked my hips through a few more. When I stood up again and looked at Kevin, Heather nearby, I unexpectedly told him I felt emotional and then began to sob on his shoulder. It felt like a burst of emotion that had been building and building and eventually overflowed. The overflow of which sent a message to my body and my brain to buckle up and prepare for baby. Heather leaned in, rubbed my back and reminded me that an emotional release is often necessary and usually what it takes to set things in motion. I remember vividly telling Kevin I finally believed it was happening. For weeks I had false alarms and for months I waited patiently to meet our baby. I had been so afraid of being disappointed that this was another bout of prodromal labor that I didn't allow myself to fully embrace the reality that I was deep into active labor. My baby was coming and I finally, fully accepted that liberating truth.
Labor truly is a mental game and in the most counter intuitive way, the more you welcome contractions and the deeper you try to feel them the less they overpower you. In an effort to stay on top of my contractions I decided it was time to sink into the warm tub. This lasted about 10 minutes because, believe it or not, I didn't like that I couldn't feel the intensity of my contractions in the warm water. The relief it brought disconnected me from the ability to feel deeply the progression of each contraction. Back to the toilet I went. At this point the contractions were becoming all consuming but not in an unmanageable way just in a more primal, normal active labor way. I noticed sound working its way into my exhale and I welcomed it, intentionally keeping my jaw, face and shoulders relaxed as I sighed through each contraction. The contractions I gave the most of my attention to were the ones that felt the most efficient. I read a text from my friend Katie with one of our favorite birth affirmations: "My surges cannot be bigger than me because they are me." It came at the perfect time. I told Heather on a few occasions how cool it was to feel the baby descend with these more intense contractions, I had never been that in touch with my body in labor before and was blown away by what I was able to feel.
Around 5pm I worked my way back to the living room floor. It felt so good to lean my elbows onto the couch and sink down into each contraction. I knew baby was low so I focused on opening my pelvic outlet at this point: knees in, ankles out and sinking my hips back. I decided to get back into the tub for good around 5:15pm. Kevin sat by the tub edge while I draped my body over the side. By now I needed him close and was becoming more vocal through each contraction, which I felt were spaced about 5-7 minutes but in reviewing Heather's notes I know now they were closer to 3 minutes apart. At one point I remember Kevin got up to go brush his teeth and I felt panicky. I don't even remember him getting up to do it, I just remember focusing hard on holding back my next contraction until he returned. Leslie stepped in to check baby's HR, which helped distract me from Kevin's absence. As soon as he returned the next one came.
Just before 5:30 I looked up at Heather and told her I felt a little pushy but wasn't quite sure. She encouraged me to not hold back or fight my body but rather follow its cues. With the next contraction I paid close attention to whether or not it was truly pushy, which it was, so I decided to take it slow and visualize my pelvic floor relaxing down and opening. I wasn't ready to actively push but I needed to prevent the fear of pushing from creeping in by giving my body permission to labor down. This permission felt like a floodgate opening.
With each following contraction it felt my body had entirely taken over. The contractions began to roll in one after another and my awareness took a back seat. I allowed the reflexes of my body to take the reins and work my baby down and out. Kevin's original plan was to get in the tub with me but by now there was no leaving his station. Gripping his hands and occasionally his chest/shirt was my go-to coping mechanism. My vocal tones turned primal as I diverted the overabundance of energy in my body outwards with deep, guttural roars. I felt as in control as I needed to be to keep tension from building in unnecessary places but as out of control as necessary to allow my body to efficiently birth my baby. I committed myself to ensuring each contraction would be as effective as possible to keep this transitional stage of labor short! At one point I looked up at Heather and asked, as serious as can be, if it was possible to pass out. She reminded me that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do and that my baby was almost here. Based on the sensation in my vagina, I believed her. With the next contraction I felt the onset of the ring of fire, my baby was crowning and I whispered under my breath, "I can do this". I wanted the fetal ejection reflex to be over as it felt overwhelming and all consuming and I hated the feeling of desperately wanting a break while my body chugged forward like a freight train actively sending my baby out. I knew the only way to catch a break was to send this baby out with the next contraction. Just prior to it coming on, Heather asked if I wanted to feel her head. I already knew she was coming and was so focused on sending her out that I let out a drawn out "noooo" and hunkered down for the delivering push.
Just before her head came through, my water broke with a pop. Soon after, at 5:54pm, I pushed with all my might and out came her head. I flipped over as the rest of her body came through. Heather quickly snagged her and laid her right up on my chest where all three of us cried and delighted. At this point we had no idea whether she was a boy or a girl and we didn't care. I just wanted to breathe and recover and soak it all in.
I looked up at Kevin and told him to reveal baby's sex. He lifted her up and shouted, "It's a boy!!" I wasn't seeing what he was seeing and moved the cord aside, which had been blocking the genitals. This revealed that she was actually a girl and I could not believe it, I was so overjoyed I got my girl that I just threw my head back and briefly sobbed. I love being a boy mom and would have loved adding another but man I wanted a girl!
I relocated to the couch where I delivered my placenta about 15 minutes later. Madison latched immediately and breastfed for about 45 minutes. Her cord was clamped and cut by Kevin about an hour after birth. This was the first time I had witnessed my baby attached to their placenta! I was so in awe of what I had just experienced and what my body just accomplished that the time after birth feels somewhat of a euphoric blur.
I felt so weak getting off the couch and heading to the bathroom, shaking terribly as women often do after birth. I managed to get in the shower and rinse off before crawling into bed. One of the biggest draws to home birth for me was the vision of crawling into bed after birth and let me tell you, it was glorious. I didn't have to stress about my husband curled up on a cold, hard couch or being bombarded all night long with unnecessary medical checks, blinking lights and beeping machines. Everything was accomplished right there on our bed, while baby girl remained in our arms or near our side as her vitals were taken. She weighed in at 7 pounds 10 ounces, just as Heather and I had predicted, and measured 21.5" long!
After the newborn exam and ensuring I was recovering normally, everyone headed home and we were left to bask in the incredible experience we had just had. It was everything I had hoped and prepared for and I couldn't help but feel an overwhelm of gratitude that my birth plan was executed flawlessly. Birth can be so unpredictable and can change with the wind so to have experienced exactly what I had dreamed of is so sacred and special to me.
I envisioned welcoming our third child at home, in the water, fully in tune with the innate & physiological process of childbirth. I wanted to truly feel all of it without fear, without distraction and without intervention. Our midwives facilitated this beautifully by supporting our plan, offering advice and guidance upon request and placing unwavering trust in my body's ability to birth my child at its own pace and in its own way. I wasn't told how to labor, I wasn't told how to push, I wasn't told where I should be and how I should be doing it. I was given space to labor in the purest, most primal form. Above all, having Kevin by my side gave me the security and intimate support I needed in order to keep fear at bay and focus deeply on my labor. His love was felt not by his words but by his presence. I am so grateful for a husband that knew exactly what I needed when I needed it, nothing more and nothing less. I couldn't dream up a better birth team. Because of them and because of my own preparation for labor I have the joy of reflecting with positivity and gratitude on the birth of our daughter, Madison Elizabeth Vogel. She joins brothers Jackson (4) and Bennett (2) as the greatest gifts we've ever received from our good and loving God.
Midwives: Loudoun Homebirth & Healthcare https://www.loudounhomebirth.com/
Photographer: Lisa Phillips https://www.lisaphillipsphoto.co/