Having a home birth was my idea. Admittedly, I skew crunchy and can be easily swayed, so I watched just one movie (“The Business of Being Born”) and was sold. But Andy, my husband, motivated by reason and logic alone, provides wonderful balance in our relationship. If he’s expected to get on board with something he’s unsure about, a slew of research ensues. And he, like many, didn’t know the first thing about home birth. The first night I mentioned it he jokingly asked, “Are crystals and incense mandatory?”.
Reservations aside, Andy had always felt that while this was our baby, this pregnancy was happening inside my body and that I should have the greatest say in how I wanted to give birth. So he considered it seriously and together we did a ton of research. For someone as discerning as Andy, I was surprised how quickly he was convinced that this was right for us. The more he read, the more he said, “This just makes sense.”
But when it came to actually looking for a midwife in New York City we didn’t get off to the best start. The first website had a photo gallery. We were intrigued. What does a modern day home birth look like? The first image was a woman and her husband naked in a birth pool in a darkened room with their naked, flashlight-wielding toddler standing nearby. Andy snorted, “Is family nudity mandatory also?” In other photos I was captivated by the images of women holding their babies for the first time, that mixed look of relief and ecstasy on their faces, while Andy was fixated on why the people’s apartments were so messy – he was hoping it would all be a bit more clinical.
We contacted several midwives and interviewed one other, but when we met Kimm Sun for the first time it was immediately clear that she was “the one.” A certified nurse midwife with decades of experience and 500 births under her belt, Kimm had all the knowledge and training we could ever want. When we arrived at her Brooklyn home office we were impressed. Her supplies, on display, were in clearly marked bins. Her birth bag, packed and ready, was by the door. I loved what she called “the diva chair” a red leather recliner for mommas only during their appointments. Everything felt clean, organized, and ordered while at the same time warm and welcoming. And as we talked about her philosophy and the kind of care we’d receive, she answered almost all of our important questions before we even got to the Q&A. We loved her philosophy, her balanced belief in home birth with space for medicine and science. Mostly though, we just liked Kimm as a person – the connection was there.
After we walked out of her office that evening Andy and I paused outside the front door and looked at each other. “That’s the woman I want to deliver our baby” I said. He replied with one word, “Yup.” There was no question that she was perfect.
My appointments were at her office until I was 28 weeks pregnant at which point she came to our apartment every other Sunday. From 32 weeks they were weekly. During our hour-long appointments, she’d do the usual checks (my blood pressure and weight, baby’s heart rate and position, etc.), but she used the rest of the time to prepare me in other ways for labor and delivery. During my first appointment, we talked about optimal fetal positioning. She showed me how to sit and sleep to encourage the baby into the best position for delivery (that worked, by the way). She talked to me about the benefits of cutting sugar from my diet to ensure my baby was a healthy birth weight and thus easier to deliver (which also worked). Cutting sugar also prevented me from gaining too much weight.
At one appointment she explained in great detail what would happen immediately following the baby’s birth so that there were prepared. At other appointments she helped me mentally prepare for labor. We talked through my expectations, my hopes, my hang ups, and fears too. Because I knew we had an hour, I never felt rushed. Kimm did my glucose test, my GBS test, took blood samples when necessary, and did all the things that would have been done at a doctor’s office. By the time I was 37 weeks pregnant, Andy and I could not have been more comfortable, confident, and prepared as we waited for labor to start.
The Start of Labor
My birth story doesn’t start with that big Hollywood gush, it starts with a trickle. In the small hours of the morning on Monday, January 12, I woke up needing to pee as I so often did in the night. But when I stood up, I felt a trickle of warm liquid. It wasn’t enough to be my water breaking, but it was enough to know I couldn’t be that incontinent no matter how small my bladder had become. I managed to go back to sleep, but knew something was up when I woke in the morning and felt the same sensation again.
I went into work as usual that day, but when I spoke to Kimm later that morning she told me that I had developed a “high leak” in my amniotic sac. My water hadn’t completely broken, but I was leaking fluid at a slow rate from somewhere up high or on the side. My first thought was, “What did I do to cause this?” She explained that no one knows why these leaks happen and reassured me that the baby was fine because as I was losing fluid my body was replacing it. “But” she said “we need to get you into labor. Let’s start with acupuncture.” I left work Monday afternoon and didn’t come back.
Kimm tried everything in the book to get me into labor. I had two acupuncture sessions over two days, drank four ounces of castor oil twice which caused me to be violently ill. Contractions started the morning after I took it, but then stopped. I used my breast pump to stimulate my uterus for fifteen minutes at a time, alternating with drinking blue and black cohosh (some kind of herbal tincture) which also caused some contractions. I walked miles in Central Park, I used the elliptical at the gym, I climbed stairs in our building. I did everything and anything to bring on labor from Monday afternoon through Thursday afternoon, but my body wasn’t quite ready. Those first few days we were excited, thinking labor (and our baby) was just around the corner, but as the week wore on and things weren’t moving we knew that my chances of having a home birth were diminishing. The longer my water leaked without labor starting, the more likely it seemed that I was going to have to report to the hospital for pitocin and other medical interventions to bring on labor. To say I was exhausted from all this labor-inducing activity would be an understatement. I felt run down, physically and emotionally.
Andy and I were both so disheartened. We had worked hard to prepare for this home birth. We had assembled an extensive birth kit. We had a birth pool set up in the baby’s room and had purchased all the attachments and hoses necessary for filling it. We had a fridge and freezer full of food, lovingly prepared by my Mom, ready to fuel me and the birth team through labor. But more importantly, over the course of months leading up to the birth, we didn’t just prefer the idea of having a home birth, we believed deeply that this was best for me and our baby. Of course, our son’s health was the most important thing, but we wanted to hold out until the last possible moment for the home birth we had committed to.
This is one of so many reasons I loved the care I received from Kimm. In the clinical setting I would have been induced on Monday, the very day my leak started, not because of real and immediate danger but to cover the doctor’s “just in case.” Yes, there are times when women need to be induced, but this didn’t feel like one of them.
Kimm’s specialized, daily care was all about us, about what we wanted and needed. She assessed both me and the baby every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to make sure we were both okay. Usually this meant her coming to our apartment, a 30-minute drive without traffic. My blood was drawn and tested, my vitals were taken, and the baby’s heart rate was checked. But with a small risk of infection, the clock was ticking. Kimm remained positive all week, she didn’t talk about what ifs (and I didn’t ask), but when I went to her office on Thursday afternoon she told me that she’d never had a woman go longer than five days with a leak. Even though she knew we were both fine, she was to some degree influenced by “common practice” and anything beyond five days was outside of research and her comfort zone. Andy and I trusted her implicitly and told her we’d go to the hospital for an induction as soon as she said it was time. To buy us a little more time, she started me on IV antibiotics on Thursday afternoon – just as a precaution against infection.
As a last ditch effort, Kimm and her wonderful assistant, Siobhan, came over on Thursday night and inserted a Foley Balloon into my cervix to help me dilate and hopefully get labor going. Up until that point they hadn’t been able to check me (because of the risk of infection), but now that I was on antibiotics, they could. When they checked I was already 3 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced and the baby, as I had known, was very low. They seemed very confident that this balloon would be effective. Once I had reached 4 centimeters, it would fall out. They were so confident the Foley Balloon would work they said, “We’ll probably see you later tonight!” Fifteen minutes later I went to the bathroom and the balloon fell out. I went to bed hoping to be woken by contractions. No such luck.
Siobhan was scheduled to come back at 6:00 am on Friday to give me the next dose of IV antibiotics (the antibiotics had to be administered every 8 hours once we started them). When she arrived I was disheartened that still nothing had happened. She encouraged me by saying, “Maggy! Some women start labor closed and high! You’re already 4 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced and your baby is down low. This will mean a much shorter labor for you.” Yes,” I thought, “but labor has to START!” This was the day. If it didn’t happen, I was heading for a hospital and an induction. She encouraged me to remain positive.
Siobhan left at about 6:30 am and I went back to bed. By 7:00 am I started to feel tiny, but timeable contractions starting to roll in. During the third contraction I felt “the pop” and I knew my water had fully broken. I woke Andy and we were both cautiously excited. My parents, who had come in the night before to bring dinner, flowers, and moral support were sleeping in the next room. I knocked on their door and told them. We got up and Mom fixed a hearty breakfast of eggs on toast before Andy and I went to Starbucks and for a walk in Central Park in hopes of getting things moving.
We called Kimm to update her and she literally whooped with joy! I could feel her smiling through the phone as I told her about our morning. She told us to keep her posted, but we were all excited. We were all in this together.
I labored throughout that morning and into the afternoon. My contractions were very manageable, it never felt really unbearable or even what I would personally describe as “painful” (I suppose that’s subjective). It was uncomfortable, but I was trying to lean into the contractions and just go with it. I had been so desperate to go into labor all week, my attitude was “Bring it on!” In fact, one of my mantras that I kept repeating to myself was “I invite the pain.”
I didn’t think I could have progressed all that much, but around 3:00 pm Kimm came over to administer my antibiotics and see how I was doing. When she checked I was at 6 centimeters dilated. I was still feeling good, eating and laughing and talking with Andy and my parents. Kimm stayed for a while to get a feel for my labor. She enjoyed a bowl of soup with us and made us laugh with funny midwifery stories, but as she was leaving she told Andy and my parents “This is where it will get hard. She won’t feel like joking anymore.” But this type of moderate labor carried on for only an hour longer – stairs, walking, hydrating, and bouncing on my ball. But it didn’t get worse. In fact, the opposite happened.
Just as fast as it had started, all labor stopped around 5:00 pm and I completely freaked out. I did everything I could to bring on the contractions and everyone told me not to worry, but my mind was racing, trying to understand what was going on with my body. I eventually went and laid down, Andy came and held me and we dozed off together. I was scared that this would mean a trip to the hospital and every intervention under the sun.
Kimm texted Andy and told him to let me nap, but when I got up that we should go walking. Around 7:00 p.m. we walked to a local restaurant (we had to eat, right?), but there was no way I was going to enjoy this. In my mind, my baby was supposed to be coming! How could we be having a drink and some apps?! Fortunately Kimm called just as we were ordering and said she had assembled my birth team and to meet them at home in 15 minutes. I didn’t understand how she could make it from Brooklyn to Harlem in 15 minutes, but after leaving our apartment at 4:00, she hadn’t gone home. She had a nap in her car, and then called in Siobhan and our doula, Anna, to be at the ready. They were across the street from our apartment having dinner!
I was never so relieved as when these three confident, kind, intelligent women walked through our front door. I immediately felt safe and in good hands. They checked me and even though I hadn’t been feeling contractions, they learned I had dilated to 7 centimeters. Again, I had not been more than moderately uncomfortable up until this point. I was so confused. Where was the agony?
With my birth team there, priority #1 was to get me back into active labor. Kimm pulled out her bag of magic tricks and by 8:00 p.m. I was having regular contractions. Again, nothing excruciating – I was standing the whole time, bent over and gyrating through contractions. They told me to let my mouth hang open, so I did. I hadn’t planned on making a sound, but what came out was this throaty, soft “Ahhhhhhhhh” noise I had learned in Birkam Yoga. It felt good to be home, in my terrycloth robe, with the lights down low and with soothing music on. I felt safe and comfortable and completely free to do what I needed to do, even though I knew I looked (and sounded) silly doing it.
Things were certainly “happening,” but the mood was relaxed and calm. I was the only one who could do the work that would bring our baby into the world, but I wasn’t alone – I was constantly surrounded by love, care, and support. My birth team was close, not in my face, just right there to provide whatever I needed, watching and witnessing as I worked through each contraction.
The pressure of the baby meant I couldn’t sit anymore and it felt good to move, so that’s what I did for a couple hours. The few times I had to lay down during a contraction were the most uncomfortable moments of labor and I remember questioning how anyone could spend their labor in bed! I was either gyrating my hips with my arms flung around Andy’s neck or I was kneeling and rocking from side to side with my arms flung over my ball.
I was very focused and “in the moment” but I was very aware of my surroundings and could hear that Anna and my dad had started inflating and filling the birthing pool in the baby’s room. I knew this was only done at the very end of labor, close to delivery. I knew this meant my baby was coming, but I thought, “Surely we can’t be at that point already. It hasn’t been awful enough!” I had heard that the transition from 8-10 centimeters in natural birth was really excruciating and that I would be filled with self-doubt and fear. I’d heard that many women shiver uncontrollably and even vomit, but I hadn’t experienced anything like that. I asked the birth team, “Am I transitioning? Or have I transitioned?” And they responded that I was something of an anomaly – “usually women don’t have to ask and midwives don’t have to check.” Sure enough, they checked me and I was fully dilated.
Around 10:15 p.m. Kimm put and acupuncture needle in the cartilage of my left ear and almost instantly, I had the urge to push. As I was told it would, the urge to push felt like I had to poop bad. Kimm and I had talked about this, so all I had to say was “poop” and she knew. So we went to the pool. Nothing has ever felt so good as stripping down and stepping into that warm water.
This is where the manageable part of labor ended and the “I don’t think I can do this” self-doubt started. Perhaps because the discomfort hadn’t really “built,” it felt like zero to sixty in no time. Pushing my baby was harder than I ever imagined it would be. It wasn’t exactly pain, but the sensation of discomfort was so extreme that it was, in a sense, painful. It just wasn’t the kind of pain I had been expecting. What was incredible was the sensation, outside of my control, of my body expelling the baby. Like the feeling you get when you throw up (but from the other end). The books are right when they say that an animal instinct takes over, that you must access a part of yourself you don’t use in daily life.
I had an incredible team of five people around me urging me on: the birth team, my mom, and of course, Andy, who could not have been more incredible as a labor partner. After the fact the birth team said they’d like to hire him out as a “dudela”! As I felt that urge build with each contraction, Kimm instructed me to wait until its crescendo, and then bear down. But she didn’t let me just push my baby out – for risk of tearing my perineum – so, there were stops and starts. There was “wait, wait, wait” and then “Ok, now push.” I remember getting frustrated and saying, “Just get him ouuuuut” but they kept me calm and helped me to follow Kimm’s instructions for a smooth delivery.
Early Postpartum Care….
I pushed for 1 hour 20 minutes and Dashiell was born at 11:27 pm (hard to believe we were at a restaurant just 4 hours earlier!). The extreme discomfort was immediately replaced by pure relief and absolute euphoria as I brought him to my stomach, covered in vernix like a thick buttercream frosting. That moment was worth every burst blood vessel in my forehead, chin, and shoulders from the strain to push him out. Andy and Mom were right there, and as soon as he heard Dashiell’s first cry, my Dad’s head poked around the corner and he knelt by the pool too.
While I was pushing, I had little bandwidth to think of anything other than what was happening in that exact moment and the very specific instructions I was being given, but as he crowned (for what felt like forever), I had a sense that my pushing experience was not longer, but perhaps more difficult than other women’s, and I wasn’t wrong.
This is rather personal, but it’s worth noting that I did not tear. Both Siobhan and Anna said they were amazed that Kimm had prevented me from tearing – they said if I’d been in a hospital I would have definitely had an episiotomy or experienced a severe fourth degree tear, the kind that often requires reconstructive surgery. Anna knew about Kimm’s legendary methods used in protecting her mother’s perineums but she thought there was no way around it and that I would ultimately transferred to a hospital, not to delivery my baby, but to suture my tear. One of the many reasons I had signed on with Kimm was because of her method of gently helping the baby’s head to pass through the vagina. It took longer and more work, but she would do anything to help her “mommas” as she calls them. I remember in the immediate moments after Dashiell was born feeling gratitude that I would not have stitches, sutures, or a prolonged recovery. It also made me grateful I had listened to Kimm’s advice on cutting sugar from my diet! He hadn’t been weighed yet, but I could tell Dashiell was not a big baby and I couldn’t imagine what would have happened if he’d been a few pounds heavier.
In the minutes following Dashiell’s birth it was quiet, we were all whispering or speaking softly as we inspected every inch of his perfect little body and looked into the depth of his eyes, which struggled to open even in the soft light. We were all completely riveted. I just kept saying, “He’s so cute!” We couldn’t take our eyes off him as he seemed to change from second to second. I relished every moment of this long awaited skin to skin time which was more important to me than any other aspect of the birth experience. This is more of a factual account of my labor and delivery, but it goes without saying that nothing in my life compares to that moment of holding our baby for the first time, meeting him after nine months of wondering what he’d look like and who he’d be. I was so grateful to be able to relish that moment in a way that felt so right and good to us.
The birth team observed him as we had that time together. They were there, but in the background. We just got to enjoy watching him sputter to life – coughing, crying, opening his eyes, I think even sneezing. I delivered my placenta about 15 minutes later, still in the pool. When it was time for me to get out of the water, Andy took our baby, skin to skin, while the birth team helped me to the bathroom (so I could slip into those sexy giant pad underwear!) and then into my own bed.
Andy, Dashiell, and I got into bed together and then the door to our room was closed, giving us some quiet time alone to get to know our baby. While we stared into Dashiell’s eyes and held him close, we could hear everyone in the bathroom, baby’s room, and living room, cleaning up and putting everything back together. It was so wonderful to have peace and quiet after the chaos and discomfort of pushing and the exhilaration of delivery and everything we’d been through all week. Our room, with low lights and clean sheets on the freshly made bed, was so cozy.
After the “Sacred Hour” was over, the whole team and my parents came in and gathered around the foot of the bed to do all the fun stuff like weighing and measuring him. Dashiell was 6 pounds 14 ounces and 20 inches long. Andy cut the cord (Kimm delays cord clamping not by minutes but by hours), which was more of a ceremony than a “snip and done” procedure. Afterwards, she checked the placenta to make sure it was all there and that nothing had been left behind. I was also given a crash course in breastfeeding. All the while, my doula was feeding me a small bowl of soup and giving me water to drink and rehydrate.
Checking Dashiell out, weighing him, and cutting the cord.
Around 2:30 a.m the birth team left. The house was quiet and Mom, Dad, Andy, and I went into the living room with Dashiell wrapped in a receiving blanket. We had a small glass of wine and tried in vain to process what we had just experienced. It wasn’t quite what I had expected (is it for anyone?), but we declared the experience utterly perfect.
Though our research pointed us clearly in the direction of home birth, I remember how hard it was to cut ties with the midwifery practice and hospital birthing center we were registered with. We’d made up our minds, but pressing send on that e-mail made my palms sweat. All the cautionary tales, all the “advice” (read: misinformation), all the “what if’s” came flooding back. But I wasn’t going to let fear or doubt make this decision for me. I trusted myself, my body, my baby, and my midwife.
I am grateful to Kimm for caring for us so wonderfully from start to finish and for helping me to have a birth experience that left me feeling proud and strong. I’m grateful that I was able to give birth at home surrounded by people who knew me and cared about me in a familiar, comfortable setting. Above all, I’m grateful for our healthy, beautiful son.
In those famous words of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
If you have any questions about home birth, please feel free to write me.