Finley's Birth Story- Fast Halloween Home Birth
I sit here with a fresh one week old on my chest, thinking just how very grateful I am to be writing this out. Finley’s birth story begins with her siblings’, as one birth story effects another. I feel like I’ve come full circle in this moment.
I gave birth to my first daughter by cesarean, after an intended unmedicated birth center birth. We had to transfer to hospital after 30 hours of labor, because the midwives felt that my cervical lip and exhaustion required an epidural and further assistance. All told, she was born at 9 lbs, 4 oz after 50 hours of labor including the surgery. I worked very hard to make peace with how her birth story unfolded as time went on, and I definitely had feelings of failure in my body.
After that experience, I knew that I wanted a VBAC in hospital, and so that is the route that we went with our second child, our son. His pregnancy was filled with hard work to make sure that the baby was in a good position, and when my labor started with him, I was surprised at how efficiently it went. His was a 13.5 hour unmedicated labor, where I felt him drop down as my water broke while sitting on the toilet. It only took 20 minutes to push him out, and he came straight to my chest, my little 7 lbs, 10 oz baby. Afterwards I felt so victorious! And while it was a healing birth, there was a small sense of trauma because of how much fear I carried with me of how a vaginal birth could/would proceed and if my body was capable. The hospital experience was also not my ideal, with instructions barked at me while my most vulnerable, and with being coached to push on my back. I knew that I could have accomplished that birth at home.
And so, with Finley that is exactly where we decided to be. She is our sweet rainbow baby, coming to us after a miscarriage and chemical pregnancy, and we could not have been more excited (and scared) to see a positive pregnancy test when we had frustratedly taken that month off from trying for a baby. She is such a happy surprise! My pregnancy with her was relatively uneventful, except for more discomfort towards the end. She felt like a big baby to me, and she typically measured a week ahead at checkups. It has always been the case in my pregnancies to carry past 40 weeks, and I joked that since my due date was October 23rd, she would most likely be a Halloween baby, and that the trick or treaters would come to our house while I was giving birth.
Forty weeks came and went, and after many evenings spent on long walks, I asked my midwife Tricia if she could do a membrane sweep, which had been a successful way of coaxing my son’s labor to start. She agreed that it was reasonable, and we tried that at 40+2; it seemed unsuccessful after a couple days had passed with no action. I rescheduled an appointment with Tricia for her to do a second sweep at least two times because either my family had a cold or I felt that my body may be starting labor on its’ own. We never ended up doing the second sweep. As is usual for my mental state at the end of pregnancy, I was caught between making the educated choice to help labor start, feeling somewhat nervous about carrying a bigger baby, while also feeling a sense of trusting my body and baby.
And so finally the evening of October 30th, at exactly 41 weeks pregnant, I felt the familiar small waves begin. The contractions were incredibly easy and sporadic, and we did what we had done every evening for a few weeks now- we made sure the house was clean! My husband Nate also went about inflating the birth pool, and making sure all the supplies were set out. After an evening of nothing progressing but contractions still happening, we went to bed with high hopes that we’d be waking up soon and calling our team to let them know it was time. I spent all night having contractions about once an hour, and needless to say I slept very poorly. As Halloween morning came without a baby, I felt really discouraged. This was nothing that I had experienced before, feeling contractions that were sometimes increasing in intensity, but not in frequency. I felt the familiar feeling of “This baby is never going to come out!” I called Tricia to update her, and she recommended that I rest. I let her know that, while I been losing some of my mucus plug for days now, I DID notice that there was also finally some bloody show that morning. She was encouraging, and said that she felt I would have this baby in the next 24 hours. She told me that sometimes moms of multiple babies have longer early labors, but fast active labors. After getting off the phone with her, I rested in bed, getting a little bit more sleep, and continued to feel contractions. I then did some hands and knees positions to make sure that Finley was still in a good position. Nate and I decided that since it was Halloween, and we were unsure of how the day would unfold, we should try to take our kids trick or treating in a different neighborhood (ours was in the evening) to make sure they still got to experience that. We all dressed up in costume, and took off to enjoy our day together. The car ride/walking around drove my contractions to finally start coming closer together. After a short time out, we headed home to put the kids down for quiet time, and I decided to start timing contractions out of curiosity. I did not think anything would happen until that evening, because I’ve never started labor during the day, and I was in denial that I was really IN labor anyway. I started timing them around 2:30pm, and noted that they were starting to intensify, lengthen, and come closer together at around every 10 minutes. I had been in contact with our birth photographer Nicole since she lives the furthest from us, and I wanted to give her a heads up. I still did not think that things were actually happening, and so I didn’t tell her to start heading our way quite yet. After timing for an hour, I used the bathroom, and suddenly had a few close contractions while on the toilet, which was strange. I went back to the bedroom to continue timing and began working through contractions mostly leaning over the bed or getting on hands and knees. After an hour, we noted that waves were consistently coming around 4 minutes apart, getting much more intense, and lasting for a solid minute or more. I cannot emphasize this enough- I was in denial. And so, Nate decided on his own to call Tricia and to let her know that it was a good time to make her way to us; I overheard her on the phone saying that if I was starting to push, to make sure that I was near the ground or on the bed. I muttered “over reaction!” and insisted that we were probably calling her too soon. Nate also called Nicole to come, and texted our friend Kristen who was our designated child caretaker for the event. After he got off the phone, and amid my protesting that it was too early, he took me by the shoulders and started crying. He said “Rachel, I know you, and this is really you in labor. We are going to meet our baby so soon.” That of course made me start crying and think that maybe this really was happening.
We moved out into the living room to continue laboring, since that is where our birthing space was set up. After a little while, Alexis and Lochlan woke up; they sweetly came over to encourage me and also to ask for snacks. Kristen arrived shortly after they woke, and she took over their care for the day. Tricia arrived next, and she gave me some much-needed encouragement before going around setting up all of her supplies. Nicole made it in time soon after, and the whole team was gathered. I cried every time someone arrived because I realized that labor was actually happening, and the intensity that was building was making me scared. I have to admit that the next bit passed in a blur; my breathing through contractions changed to more of a moaning. I was aware of the kids coming in and out of the room, and they were always very sweet, but I found it difficult to focus on them because my focus needed to stay on working through each contraction. I felt some waves of nausea, and reminded everyone that I ALWAYS throw up in labor, but that actually never happened this time (miracle of miracles!). I felt so supported by my team, and was thankful every time Nate gave counterpressure to my back, or Nicole reached to hold my hand. Another thing I noticed is that I moved so instinctually, so differently from my previous labors. I always had such intense back pain before, but with Finley I was feeling all of the intense feelings in the front. I really wanted to labor sitting on the ball in the beginning, and then leaning against it on my knees. I did hands and knees on the ground, and leaning over the couch. Eventually I put all my weight into grabbing the back of the couch from the front, and squatting with one leg up, one leg kneeling. Those were all such unique positions that I previously would not have chosen, and I truly believe that my body was moving in the perfect way to bring my baby down.
I used the birthing tub to labor for a while, and I found the water helpful in relieving some pain. I began to hear myself make the familiar “pushy sounds” with each contraction. It was completely involuntary. I was still having a mental battle with myself if I was really as far along as I thought I could possibly be, and I expressed those doubts out loud. Tricia asked if I wanted to reach down and feel the baby; she reassured that if I could, my baby was indeed quite low. I never wanted to do that before but I thought “what do I have to lose?” and I reached to feel what just felt like a large opening and then an object that wouldn’t let my finger go very far at all. Baby was RIGHT there. In that moment I truly did want a cervical check, just to be sure that it was okay for me to continue pushing. Tricia obliged me, and did my only exam while I was still in the tub. She told me that there was a small bit of cervix left, and that there was a little lip, but that she was confident that I could push through it and that she had seen plenty of moms do that. It was SO incredibly empowering to hear that. As I said, with my first birth, a little swollen lip was a major contributor to the midwives transferring me to the hospital. It felt amazing to hear that it was possibly a similar situation, but that I COULD and would do this on my own. Shortly after that, I began feeling uncomfortable in the tub. I felt that it was too “squishy”, and I didn’t feel grounded. I needed to really put my weight into something. So, they helped me onto to the couch, where after one contraction, I immediately hated it, and moved back to hands and knees leaning into the couch. The kids came in the room at that point, and I remember Lochlan asking me if I had a good bath, which made me smile.
I kept telling my team that while I looked forward to this birth for so long, I was NOT enjoying this part, and it was NOT fun. I knew that the only way past this was forward, but I hadn’t yet felt like she was making progress and dropping, and I felt that I just wanted to be on the other side of the pushing phase. When I moved out of the tub to the floor, I got a much-needed pep talk from Nate (where I don’t even remember what all he said), but it buoyed my spirits to continue working to meet our girl. I very quickly began to feel what felt like a small ball coming down, and as it got bigger, I thought “this is either poop or my baby”. I soon realized it was finally the baby, and I was so encouraged. At this point my contractions and the heaviness of actively pushing her out were getting so incredibly intense. I told myself that I wouldn’t scream with this one, but I definitely started getting louder and louder. I was super mindful to try to make low sounds, and continue breathing through the intensity, and that felt empowering even though I was being louder than I had hoped. This is truly the point where I used the couch like never before, putting all of my weight into leaning from it, and the intensity building was incredible. I lost focus during one contraction and began to move up and away from the pain, growing more high-pitched. Tricia reminded me “don’t go away from it, sink down into the contraction, work with it” and in response I moved my butt back down and really anchored myself into finally getting this baby out. It was probably 10 minutes of active pushing. At the last moment, I threw myself back into hands and knees on the floor, and experienced a series of contractions happening rapidly. I pushed into it, while also very much feeling a lot of my body pushing on its own, and I felt Finley crowning. I felt the ring of fire, and I looked down between my legs to see her coming out. It was another really cool moment that I had not experienced before. I didn’t feel this, but Tricia said that she had reached a couple fingers inside because she thought Finley was stuck for a second; what she felt was a little bit of her cord in the way, and she pushed it aside while I pushed and then Finley came summersaulting out all at once. Tricia caught her while I swiftly sat back and moved my leg so she could pass the baby underneath and bring her directly to my chest. It was perfect. In that moment, the most amazing thing happened as well- Finley cried IMMEDIATELY, a hearty cry that made any fears that I had remaining about her safety wash right away. She was here and she was STRONG. I began crying from relief and exhaustion. She had her eyes open to see us right away as well, and she was covering me in birth fluids. I held her close, and looked at Nate, and we both cried happy tears. It was one of the best moments that I’ve ever experienced. Right away Kristen brought the kids back into the room, and they came over to meet their new baby sister. Lochlan came and went quickly, just checking out the situation. Alexis said so many sweet things over and over, “She’s beautiful. That’s my sister. I love you Finley.” It was an overwhelming and amazing moment to have my whole family around me. Finley was born at 7:19pm, making my active labor only around 4 hours! That was unbelievable to me, given my previous longer labors. She was indeed born on Halloween, while the neighborhood trick or treating was in full swing.
The whole homebirth experience was everything I could have asked for. I was being watched carefully right after, and given sips of water and bites of honey for energy. I gently birthed my placenta, and we waited probably 20-30 minutes before cutting the cord. Alexis had previously asked that she could cut the cord, and I really wanted to honor that request. So, she and I held onto the scissors and cut the cord together. It was such a cool moment. Tricia gave us a tour of my placenta, which I had never gotten to enjoy before, and Alexis was fascinated. Tricia even let the kids put on gloves and touch the placenta; Alexis poked and played with that amazing organ for a while. Eventually I gave Finley to Nate while I was helped to the toilet and then tucked into my own cozy bed. Kristen put the kids to bed after the excitement wore down, and the midwives cleaned up everything. Nicole stayed and chatted with me as people came in and out of the room. After a beautiful newborn exam (She was 9 lbs, 8 oz! I couldn’t believe it!!), everyone started trickling out, and leaving us to enjoy our sweet baby girl. I could not have slept for the life of me. I was riding so high on adrenaline and pure joy.
Thinking about it later, I feel amazed to think back on my individual birth stories. I truly believe that each of my children came the way that they were meant to, and I came on such a journey of growth with each of their stories. After feeling that my body had failed me in not being able to push out my 9 lbs, 4 oz baby, I pushed out my even bigger baby a few years later, and I did that all from the safety and comfort of my home. I truly feel stronger and more empowered in my body after Finley’s birth than I ever have before. And I am so thankful for what each birth experience taught me. And most of all, I am so thankful for my three children: Alexis, Lochlan, Finley.