“Oh, honey, we just don’t open up.” My mothers promise runs through my head, constantly. In three generations no woman in our family has had a vaginal birth. My twins were born via Cesarean. I wanted a home birth this time. I wanted it badly.
I wanted it for my family-aunts, sister, mother, and my daughter’s future births. I wanted it for my close friends that encircled me with positivity to venture into my birth journey. And for my doula clients that hired me to attend their natural childbirths. But bigger, most lingering…was that I wanted to prove to my mother that I could do it; that we could do it, and of course, to my own ever-doubting head.
As my due date approached, common thoughts included, “Who would hire a doula that has had only C-sections?” Worry ensued that I would have to retire as a doula, the only job I’ve ever really loved, if this home birth didn’t work out.
It had to work, proclaimed my mind. This determined mindset scared me as well, I had seen it rear its unfortunate head in clients before. I needed help. I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant.
The answer was vividly clear in my overripe state. I needed Heidi, my energy healer. On her table we worked on my worries. The fact that I was too hung up on the outcome of the home birth. I didn’t want to want it so badly. I was beyond worried that I would mess it up.
Heidi worked her magic as she always does. She released my pelvic floor, saying that it had been locked. I felt it. There was more pressure as I stood and steadied. I felt stoned and relaxed and amazing. As I left I said, “I might be back for more in a few days.” Her glance told me I wouldn’t be pregnant much longer.
Mark and I went to a friends birthday dinner that night. When people asked when I was due, I would smile and say, “Last week!” and inwardly laugh at their reaction. I loved parading around that restaurant, glass of wine in hand.
I awoke at 2:46 a.m. that night with contractions. I labored until morning and then shipped my twins off to preschool with my mom. She had finally ripened to the idea of my home birth, and drove away with my kids saying, “You can do it, Tara Rose.” Her simple statement stirred deep emotions inside me.
Mark and I spent the day walking, listening to music and laughing to ‘The Best of Chris Farley’ to help “do life” as I was taught, and ignore early labor. At dinner I tried to eat and couldn’t. I called my midwife and told her what was going on. She was nearby and came over to check me. I was at 1 centimeter and the baby was still high. I knew it would be awhile.
Around midnight, labor intensified. I began shaking, a lot. Contractions were manageable but coming every two minutes. I thought, “This can’t be transition, can it? This is too easy?” The grip of my doula mind would not cease.
Mark called Kim, Kelly, Melanie, and Mari, my labor support crew, to come over. My beloved yoga music played, just as I had wanted, and all of the candles from my Blessing way were lit, the room was enchanting.
I was in pain though. Melanie, my best friend, was the first to arrive; we told the midwives to take their time.. Then Mari, my back up doula and dear friend, arrived. She brought her doula bag of tricks and they began to massage me, it felt lovely but my mind started again….
“It ‘s 3 in the morning and they most certainly must want to be home sleeping and with their families.” (Although they had assured me they were so excited and honored to be there.) I remember telling Melanie the contractions really hurt.
She knowingly agreed and softly reminded me, “But you get a break. Focus on the break.” Her words were huge and true. I carried them with me through my labor, and as a doula ever since. Focus on the break.
When Kim, my midwife, arrived, I wanted to be checked. When she said I was dilated to three centimeters, it was as if every ounce of depression I’d ever felt in my life surmounted in that one moment. How could I be? I’ve been in labor over 24 hours now. I’m tired, and everybody is here. Candles lit! We’re ready to go!!
Everyone left the room and I wallowed in the birth tub. I cried in desperation to Mark that I felt like I was on stage with everyone in the room. I could not do it with anyone there. Labor was bigger than me and I was getting the first taste of her enormity and intensity.
I knew, in that moment, that if my labor support friends stayed, I would have another Cesarean. It came out of nowhere, but it was there, loud and clear. I told Mark that he had to go downstairs and tell two of my very favorite people in the world…that I loved them, thanked them, was sorry, but they had to leave. Now. It was 3:30 in the morning. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. (Or as Mark jokes, asked him, to do.)
But there was no other choice. I had to this ride solo, with my wing mamas in the distance and just my man at my side. After they left, the plan was for us all to get rest. I didn’t think I could sleep.
Kelly, my wise birth assistant and student midwife said, “I’m giving you permission to turn your labor off.”
My first thought was, “Yeah, right, uh-huh lady, I’m in labor here, it hurts, I can’t just turn it off.”
But I tried it anyway. As if Kelly was a genie granting a wish, my contractions slowed and Mark and I rested. I would awake for contractions and hear him snoring, it annoyed me a bit, but I was glad we all could rest. The midwives left us alone and slept in my children’s rooms.
Sunlight poured in and I woke up from a labor haze of sleep. I felt rested, ready for the day of my baby’s birth. The energy in the room was great. I wanted to be checked. I was ecstatic when my midwife, Kim, said I was almost six centimeters! I thought, “If I’m at almost six now, I can do this! I’m rested. It’s not so bad.”
I went through waves of labor. At times it did not hurt at all. It seemed to wax and wane. I was in and out of the birth tub; alternating pumping my breasts with the breast pump, and taking herbal tinctures that Kim told me were like “liquid pitocin.”
Then it got harder. And bigger. My yoga music kept playing the same songs. They were my clutch, stirring my desire and insides from a deep place I had never drawn strength from before.
I wanted to be checked again. It was early afternoon. I was seven centimeters. I felt an urge to push, the most surreal feeling ever. I felt painless, like I was floating in the water. I was rocking and swaying in the birth tub water to the ancient yogic music, feeling as if I was dancing with every woman who had come before me in labor. It was an indescribable high where I almost felt like I could have an orgasm.
And then it stopped. Damn it! This seemingly endless roller coaster was really getting old. It hurt, more and more! I was screaming in pain. “I can’t take it. I’m tired…Kim! Break my water!” She does.
Then it all goes totally nuts. I was in my living room, naked as the day I was born, walking around saying, “I can NOT believe anyone has ever hired me to be their doula and I hadn’t experienced this before. THIS is transition?! This is fucking nuts! Are you kidding me Kim and Kelly?! I can’t do this. I’m going to the hospital.”
The word epidural danced in my head like I imagine the sound of a needle drawing the crazy drug does to a junkie. (In reality, a VBAC-attempting mama entering the hospital from a home birth transfer with ruptured membranes was the fastest ticket to an OR birth. I knew that, but I saw no other option.)
Transition was lasting so incredibly long. Up and down the stairs I went, in an altered tripped out state. Mark walked behind me the whole way. I was shivering and scared.
“That’s it! You guys are CRAZY! This is nuts! Mark, if you don’t give me your car keys, I am walking my fat naked pregnant ass all the way to the hospital myself!” Every last ounce of my 180-plus pounds of über pregnant I-don’t-care-if-it’s-two-miles-self, meant it. I envisioned it, in fact.
“But look-you’re safe, our baby is safe, the midwives are over there on the couch chatting. If they thought we needed to go the hospital, we would go.” Mark chimes in.
And he was right. They were calm. I was the only one flipping out. It hurt. It was taking so long. Why is God making my birth so long? What did I do to deserve this?!
Kim told me, “But I know you, Tara. You don’t want to go to the hospital. That’s not the place you need to be. You want to stay home.”
I tried to believe her. The contractions would come and bring me almost to my knees and she would say, “Sway with Mark. Mark, put your hands on her belly and when she contracts, pull up and in on her belly.”
I thought I would die from the pain. In the middle of it, my head dropped back and I felt the soft caress of Mark’s neck and the stubbly beard I love. I focused on that and I got through.
Kim checked me. I decide I’m giving up when she tells me I’m eight centimeters. Kim says, “We can pray instead.” And pray we did.
Kim prayed to Jesus and my late father, asking them to wrap their loving arms around me and give me strength. As she held me while she spoke, I felt as though they were as well. Her prayers had definitely called upon an omnipresence to grace our room, and my withering body and mind. It gave me a sliver of hope.
And it was okay. For a bit.
Labor continued to pound me. Kelly, with her ever shaping ways, told me to try the shower. My contractions were spacing out again and we needed them closer together. (This was clearly a theme at this point. We knew my baby was in a funky position.)
The shower was the forty-five minutes I will never forget. That small time amount of time has shaped my life in ways I will never fully comprehend. Mark and I were alone. I was cascading in the darkness of transition, coupled with confusion and tiredness. The hottest water sprayed me and offered me glimpses of relief.
“I can’t do this Mark. This is too long. Too much.”
“Tara, you are doing this. You don’t want to go to the hospital, we are here, in our home, safe with our own midwives. Our baby is safe. You are the strongest and most amazing woman I have ever met.” And he didn’t stop. He became a tape recorder, those words and ones like them repeated over and over and I hung to them, clung for dear life like a rescue to a raft in the middle of the ocean. “Draw strength from your Dad. He is here with us. He knows you can do this, Tara. You are doing it.”
I could bring myself to believe every word, then would mentally give up during the contraction. And he’d get me right back on track. Mentally, I wanted to stay home. That was our plan after all, even though I was trying to sabotage it, I didn’t see any other option.
“I want to get into the birth tub.” I parade out of the shower and my birth team follows.
I have Kim check me. I think, if I am still at eight centimeters, I’m going to the hospital. Enough is enough. Everyone held their breath.
“All you have to do is push your baby out.” Kim said. I was complete. No cervix at all. None.
The energy shifted. There was palpable glee in the room.
This is great news, but I still can’t do this. I’m technically a primip, (first time mother,) I still have to push. These people just don’t understand. This is so hard. So big.
I try to push and it hurts. I don’t feel the urge. “I’m scared.”
“I know. But it’s okay. Go there, Tara. Go into the pain. It will bring you your baby.” Kim’s soft voice echoes.
It was so intense. I needed someone to meet my fiery gaze. I look up at Mark and no, it couldn’t be him. We are too connected. Then Kim, and no, she is my friend, my midwife. I know her too well. And then there is Kelly. It is her. She and I lock eyes. I give her my crazy-mama-transition-pushing-intense stare… I knew what I was doing, I’ve loved meeting women there in my work, but now it was me, and it was all I could do.
I needed Kelly to meet me there, to rock me through each wave, and help me surrender. She does. She cups her hand and raises it as the contraction climaxes inside me. She lets me down slowly. I keep pushing and it feels awful.
Kim told me to check my baby’s head. I felt it inside me. I pushed more. I checked myself again and my baby was right there, right inside my lips, moving on down. I started to just maybe, the teeniest bit, think, I can do this.
For the first time in almost 40 hours, my baby’s heart rate began to dip. I knew what that meant. I sensed the slight urgency in Kim’s voice as she said, “Tara, give us your baby. Push!” And I did.
The head came out and it burned. Burned. Then I pushed again and the whole body slipped out of me. I felt every little crevice of my baby and I was on another planet. I lifted my baby out of the water. I saw his parts and held him to me and screamed, “OH, MY FUCKING GOD! MY BABY! It’s a BOY!!”
My husband, the savior of the day, came to my side and cried. I looked at him and said, “It’s a boy, isn’t it?” And he cried and shook his head yes. I finally, finally believed I could do it. Out of shock, I think, I kept saying, “My baby! My baby! I can’t believe I just had a home birth and I DID it!! He’s perfect!”
For me, I didn’t learn the biggest lessons from my birth right away. It took time, just as babies need time to gestate in their mothers. But there are a few things that I know now are true. Don’t believe your mind. Our minds are the most limiting force we have. The truth, in its boldness, lies somewhere deep within our hearts, simultaneously bigger and quieter than it all. This is what birth teaches us. The respect. The surrender. The strength.
Don’t believe anyone else, including family. Your heart shows you the way. Your baby guides you into the safest way that he or she needs to be born. Allow him the space to do that.
Surround yourself with unwavering support, whatever that may look for you. Make sure they know you and your wishes. I am incredibly blessed with an amazing husband who knew, with every fiber in his being, that I would be devastated to have gone to the hospital for pain relief. He kept us home. He knew me and he knew our plan. Our baby was safe and so was I.
We didn’t know his name at birth, but knew within moments he had to be named for my Dad, who had been present not only in the tangible prayer flag which bore his name and I clutched the entire time, but in the unspeakable in-betweens as well. So Thomas Hopalong Luck it was, our little “Hoppy,” named after my Fathers childhood hero and longtime nickname, Hopalong Cassidy.
Everything came full circle for us. The Cesarean to the home birth after Cesarean. From the death, to the birth.