As told by Kaylah:
I desperately wanted to stay pregnant until at least 39 weeks. Certainly because it was best for my baby, but more specifically because that was when my midwife would return from her summer vacation and be available to attend the birth. We had hired her only a handful of weeks prior to my due date after wrestling with my apprehension around delivering in a hospital for the majority of my pregnancy. My primary prenatal care had been with the CNM’s at Midwifery Care Associates and my original plan was to deliver with them at Frederick Memorial Hospital. However, a tour of the Labor and Delivery unit early into my third trimester triggered me deeply, resurrecting feelings of powerlessness and fear from a previous birth in which I had experienced emotional trauma. It didn’t occur to me then that I needed to face those feelings, I just thought it was a sign that I really needed to pursue the home birth I had been secretly wishing for all along. Nathan and I loved Zaina when we interviewed her. Something about her quiet, gentle presence made me feel safe and comfortable, and her willingness to take me on so late in the game was a blessing. A lot of my prayerful and meditative energy went towards the intention of “stay in there, baby”.
39 weeks came and went, as did a full moon, a meteor shower, an acupuncture session on my “due” date, and lots and lots of contractions, but not much in the way of labor action. The end of my pregnancy was a psychological paradox. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. My ankles were enormous, my sacrum moaned with every trip up and down the stairs, my bladder was no help at all. And yet, when faced with the idea of an actual conclusion to the ride, I found I kept wanting to go hide. There were some big unknowns that created a low level anxiety in me as my due date approached; an ultrasound that had pointed to the high likelihood that our daughter would be born with clubfoot – a common congenital birth defect, our four older children were all in the throes of different stages of teenage development with accompanying challenges, and our landlord wanted to sell the house we were living in (and we weren’t exactly in a good financial position to buy). To say that I felt tempted to put my head in the sand on a daily basis would be an understatement.
Three days past my due date, while sitting on the birth ball and reading a brochure for a college my eldest daughter was considering applying to, the Braxton Hicks contractions that had been like a constant companion for weeks began to feel a bit more insistent. I circled my hips in one direction for a while and felt the next contraction intensify considerably. It commanded a kind of noticing that felt familiar to me. Three of my four previous labors had all begun slowly with that exact same kind of noticing. I kept the initial sensations to myself, just paying attention and staying with the circular movement that seemed to both elicit the intensity and simultaneously feel good. I couldn’t help but feel excited. Even more exciting, I was texting back and forth with my younger sister who was also pregnant and past her due date – and she was feeling the same. Her prodromal labor of days and days was ramping up that very afternoon and I began to hold hope that the end of the day would bring babies for us both. Cousin Twins, we’d call them. Both babies had Taurus due dates but were clearly Geminis through and through.
At some point, the regularity and continued intensity of the surges lead me to tell Nathan that I really felt like things were under way. My previous labors all had a long drawn out early stage, followed by a fast paced, relatively short active labor. I knew that once things kicked into high gear, we were mere hours away from meeting our little girl. We went on a walk in the park in the early evening hours to see if the activity would hasten things along. It worked. My contractions jumped from 8-10 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart. I was finding it necessary to stop and sway with Nathan to get through each one. After a loop of the park, I wanted to go home and get in the shower and be loud. We called the midwife and our birth photographer. My best friend, Victoria, alerted the women who had attended my Blessingway. Candles were lit. Prayers and good energy sent. Someone filled the birth pool. I felt as though I was being swept forward into the tunnel of my labor. I got into the shower and sighed with relief. The hot water felt so good. After a few minutes of swaying under the stream, I had the jarring sensation of stepping off of a roller coaster. I felt a little wobbly on my feet, but no more contractions. That’s really weird, I thought to myself. And then after many more minutes without another contraction – the anxiety set in. Wait, what just happened? What did I do wrong? And – Oh crap, we called the midwife too soon! Zaina lived over an hour away but was nearly to our house at that point. Lindsey, our birth photographer, was already downstairs readying her cameras. The true dread that accompanies performance anxiety flooded my body. I got out of the shower and got dressed and had another contraction, but it was a wimpy little thing. When I emerged from my bathroom, I found my bedroom filled with people; the midwife setting up her supplies, Lindsey with her camera, Victoria in the rocking chair telling funny stories about her dogs a little too loudly. The lights were dim and the room was clean, but I began to feel claustrophobic and my impulse was to run away from that space. I don’t remember what I said or if I even spoke, but I managed to leave the house with Nathan to go on another walk. I had an enormous welling of emotion and cried as we walked, feeling both broken and embarrassed. We stayed out for a long time and eventually the contractions returned, irregular but painful. I wanted to get into the birth tub but we needed to check in with Zaina. Before we returned to the house I asked Nathan to makes sure no one was in my bedroom. I needed privacy and quiet – the exact opposite of what I had envisioned before labor started – but I didn’t know how to ask for it myself. I needed to enter my birth space vulnerable, open and ready to work, but my head space was still fixated on fulfilling perceived expectations about how things would unfold, including my own. Zaina was concerned that if I wasn’t quite in active labor yet, getting into the tub might stall things again. I asked her to check me to find out where things were. At that point I was sitting at 3-4 cm and not completely effaced. The contractions had spaced way out again after returning to the house. We agreed that I would stay out of the tub and try to get some rest. The rest of the night I tossed and turned, flopping my enormous belly from one side to the other, trying to get comfortable, still experiencing incredibly uncomfortable contractions every so often. By morning they were completely gone. It was like waking up from a dream about being in labor. I got up and found Zaina in the living room. Nathan made us breakfast and coffee. We talked for a bit about my fears and the other emotional components that had come up the night before. I voiced that I felt embarrassed. Like the “Little Girl Who Cried Labor”. As she packed to leave she assured me that it was okay. I really wanted to believe her. I felt frustrated with my body but worked to let it go. My one joy that morning was the news that my sister had given birth to a beautiful baby girl the night before. Welcome to the world, Scarlett Stone Collins!
I had to avoid Facebook after that. The concerned friends and family and their unanswerable questions only mounted my anxiety. After a bit of messaging back and forth with a friend, I tried to really do some digging into my fears in a concrete way. Something big and emotional was holding me back but the list of possible contenders to choose from was crowded and complicated. I decided to address one of the most potent and pressing of my stressors head on. My eldest daughter, Madeleine, was finishing her junior year of high school and had expressed her own anxiety about the baby entering our world many times. She feared being replaced and our very established family routines and rhythms becoming mangled. She feared losing my presence in her life during her last year at home. This mirrored my own fear of there not being enough of me to go around, which is really an echo of one of my oldest and most persistent fears; that I am not enough. I sat down to write her a loving letter, expressing every single thing that my heart needed to say to her before the baby came and shifted our shared landscape. Something in me softened as I hit send on the email. Shortly after, the cramping in my low back returned in earnest. The sensations mirrored the false start from three days earlier. I tried not to get excited. Stay calm, stay open, stay relaxed. Nathan and I moved to cover our bases…dogs were sent to a friend’s house so they wouldn’t be under foot, Victoria took off to NoVA to fetch my big kids from their father’s house, midwife called (again) just to touch base and report on action. I tried not to rush to judge the sensations but just be present with them. The kids arrived home. Nathan cooked dinner. I had been looking forward to eating it but lost my appetite before I was able to ingest much. Everyone wanted to stay up and party in preparation for baby, but I insisted that we would wake them all up when it was really go time so they could be present. When I could no longer talk through contractions we called Zaina to come. Lindsey also got the heads up and Nathan and I took a walk. I loved being outside. The air was heavy and warm. Nathan helped me hold up my enormous belly with each surge, taking some of the pressure off my pubic bone and lower back. We kissed a LOT. I could have spent my entire labor in the arms of my husband, lips locked, surrounded by dark, warm night. I marveled at the analgesic effect that making out had on the pain of my contractions. I have no idea how long we were out. Probably hours.
When we returned home we found our extra guests sleeping on couches and we retreated upstairs to the quiet of our bedroom. Zaina came in to check my vitals and listen to our baby. It was then that I noticed a drastic decrease in the intensity of my contractions. Baby was doing fine and Zaina suggested I sleep if at all possible, in case I woke up to active labor. Nathan fell asleep and I stayed up a while longer to meditate and talk to my baby. I told her that I was ready, that she could come when she was ready, that so many people loved her already. I must’ve dozed during my meditation because when I opened my eyes, my birth music playlist had completed a full 120 minute cycle and was beginning again. I went to bed only lightly cramping, feeling resigned.
The next morning I said goodbye to Zaina who left to attend a few appointments nearby, Lindsey had departed before we all woke. I was starting to feel like a really bad birth joke. My mood wasn’t great. Later that afternoon, my mom arrived. She had come up from my sister’s house in Durham where she attended the birth of Scarlett and was excited to learn she just might be present for the birth of our baby as well. Mom is a retired labor and delivery nurse and attended the births of two of my other children. I was grateful for her presence. We tried to enjoy her visit without focusing too much on the possibility that the baby might not come during her stay. She was scheduled to fly on to Maine about a week later. Meanwhile, the midwives at MCA, who I continued to see for co-care (just in case) had asked me to come in weekly for a non-stress test (NST) since I was already past my due date and in the “advanced maternal age” camp. My mom accompanied Nathan and I for our appointment the next day where we encountered an office nurse with a truly unpleasant bedside manner.
“Bottoms off and get on the table!” she snapped, kind of the way I imagine I’d be spoken to if I were spending the night in jail. I raised an eyebrow and questioned the necessity of removing my pants for a NST and she looked at me like I had asked the dumbest question she had ever heard. “Don’t you want to be checked?”
“Um, no, actually I don’t.” She held my gaze and then shrugged, her irritation with my lack of obedience was apparent.
When she took my blood pressure, no surprise – it was elevated. The whole exchange triggered me. I sat in stony silence while we waited for the midwife to come in. Baby passed the NST beautifully but the midwife was concerned about my BP, combined with being 41+1 and 35 years old. She told me it was her duty to advise me to go straight to the hospital. I shared with her privately that I felt sure my elevated BP was due to the interaction I had with her nurse and requested that we retake it at the end of the day before deciding on a trip to the hospital. She agreed. After a grounding meal of pizza at Pistarros and some processing with my mom and Nathan, I returned to the office just before it closed. I felt calm and relaxed when I walked in only to become triggered moments later when the same rude nurse from earlier came out to call me back for my BP recheck. I couldn’t believe it. Again my BP was high and there was nothing to do but go to the hospital for monitoring. I sort of expected the trip to exacerbate my anxiety, remembering back to the tour of L&D earlier in my pregnancy, not to mention the implications of elevated BP late in pregnancy. In fact, it did just the opposite. We were cared for by incredibly compassionate nurses at FMH who were both funny and kind and the two hour monitoring was a breeze. My BP was only slightly elevated when we arrived and had completely normalized by the time the monitoring was complete. It was a relief to know everything was fine and that we could go back home. We met with the midwife again before leaving and she suggested scheduling induction of labor for the following Wednesday, which was the date I would be 42 weeks exactly. She joked – “If we put it on the calendar, we won’t end up needing to do it!” She told me to go home, eat a spicy meal and have sex, and with any luck I’d go into labor over the weekend. I hadn’t shared with her my plans for a home birth. I figured it was my business where my baby was born and I had covered all of my bases for various potential outcomes. I understood that the policy of Simmonds, Martin and Helmbrecht, the OB practice that served as an umbrella for the midwives of MCA, would not “allow” me to go beyond 42 weeks without intervention, but that wasn’t a battle I was interested in taking on in that moment, as I fully envisioned having my baby at home. I set my intentions on that outcome as we went into the weekend.
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