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the healing, unassisted freebirth of my fifth baby
This is the story of my last and favorite birth experience. Oliver was born at home, unassisted, and it was blissful, calm, deeply intuitve - definitely a peak experience of my life thus far.
Baby number five, a welcomed surprise, but coming fast on the heels of my mother’s death–I was not exactly in a receptive state of mind for being pregnant.
My due date calculations were also hazy this time, because I was in heavy grief, moving houses, and my cycles were irregular at the best of times. I had a very short cycle in February, but chalked it up to stress. Later, I decided that might have been implantation bleeding.
I finally took a pregnancy test at the end of March, and was pretty shocked to see the double lines. I had a henna belly client scheduled for that very evening - and I ALMOST cancelled it, worried that I would be too emotional to stay composed!
It turned out, that chance meeting was the start to one of my most cherished lifelong friendships. Carrie, I am so glad I met you!
Working with all the data we could collect, we figured that my due date could be late October at the earliest; mid-November at the latest. We went with the latest date, since I tend to have longer pregnancies (my 3rd babe arrived at 43 weeks).
I was having trouble integrating the idea of another pregnancy, another baby...
I knew that I had a lot of unfinished business to deal with mentally and emotionally, because of my traumatic third birth.
My third birth was intended to be an unassisted freebirth, but turned into a hospital fiasco at the last moment, due to my own fear, and bad advice from others.
Even though I went on to have a perfectly lovely homebirth after that, I didn’t feel like I’d processed what had happened to me prior.
I knew I couldn’t “just” have another homebirth with the same midwives in attendance - and I obviously wasn’t willing to birth in a hospital.
I had to face my pain and fear, and reclaim some of what had been taken from me during my 3rd birth experience.
Happily, my birth services put me in touch with a large number of people. As I became close with several midwives, doulas, and birth specialists in the area, I realized with delight that I’d found a tribe of women who felt similarly–and strongly–about birth empowerment, freedom, and even freebirth.
Several of these women were very positive and supportive of unassisted freebirth, and even said (off the record!) that if I wanted them to come to my birth, they were happy to be there in whatever capacity I wanted or needed at the time.
This felt like a wonderful balance–so we agreed that I might call any or all of them if I felt like I needed friendly support or assistance.
As for the actual pregnancy, I started showing early. Then I was measuring ahead, even though I wasn’t gaining a lot of weight.
We started joking about twins, and then thought about it more seriously as I approached 30+ weeks.
My birthy friends palpated me and listened for double heart tones, and eventually we all decided that nope, it was just “a lot of baby” in there–and perhaps some extra fluid.
It seemed that I was carrying this baby anterior as opposed to posterior (facing forward)–the first anterior baby out of all my pregnancies, so it made sense that I might appear larger. In hindsight, I also had an unresolved diastasis recti, separation of the abdominal muscles - which can greatly affect the shape and size of your belly.
We went to an unschooling conference in August, and I vividly remember feeling like I looked further along than another beautiful mama there who was in her due window already!
As usual, I started having prodromal labor pretty regularly in late September–quite a ways off from my due window.
I should have known that it was just warm-up contractions - but each time it feels more convincing, and I was already weary of being pregnant!
In all, I had at least six ’false starts’ where I was really convinced it was real labor, only to have it fizzle out hours–or even a day or more–later.
I was also dilating long before actual labor started. In the last week of pregnancy, I was able to check my own cervix, and estimate that I was dilated to 6-7 centimeters. I had bloody show start and stop several times as well over the last week.
I was very impatient by then!
I was also hoping to have an 11/11/11 baby, since that would be an astrologically significant birthday.
I was convinced I was in labor on the 10th, and well into the 11th, but then it fizzled out again, and I felt really discouraged. My current ‘baby's’ 2nd birthday was coming up as well, and I was nervous about their birthdays overlapping!
I’m glad he got to have his birthday as the baby once more, before his new sibling arrived…
During all of this waiting and wondering, my wild pregnancy and freebirth allowed me to be free of the feeling of being a watched pot.
It was such a relief to not be harassed about submitting to unnecessary, fear-driven procedures. I wasn’t perceived as a threat to some care provider’s comfort level and convenience.
I also finally let myself go back and really process the experience of my 3rd baby’s traumatic birth, over these long weeks and months of waiting.
I allowed myself to relive that experience in detail, and it was then that I was able to write down her birth story fully for the first time. It was incredibly healing and, I think, very necessary in transcending those ‘paper tigers’ that may have interfered with my having a peaceful birth this time.
Once my decision to freebirth was made, I never doubted it throughout my entire pregnancy.
Finally, finally, on the 17th, (one day after my 4th baby’s birthday!) I was having my usual rounds of ‘annoying fake labor’, but somehow, my mental state was a bit different, a bit more balanced and calm.
I went to the grocery store and had to cope with some heavy contractions there, due to the walking involved. Deep breathing, pausing with eyes closed, leaning against shelves - I’m sure people were staring at me. I didn’t even have to ask for help out at the register, the staff were on it!
That evening the contractions were not as intense–at times barely there–and I was still feeling oddly zen and at peace.
In prior pregnancies, I had used castor oil as a constipation remedy, and I knew that it only had a mild effect on me when used in this way. I took a very small amount, perhaps a tablespoon, and continued to go about the evening.
We had fallen into a pattern of staying up late after the kids were in bed, so it wasn’t unusual for me to be reading or on social media at 2 or 3am–which I was.
I think around 3am, we decided to go lay down. My husband went to sleep (for what he later said he knew would be a power nap!), and I kept reading.
I’d been reading Starhawk’s The Earth Path, alternating with John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education-–both intellectual, non-fiction books that could effectively take my mind off whatever it wanted to obsess about.
So I read, pausing here and there to get through contractions by visually following the labyrinth pattern of a Celtic snake mandala on my wall, still not at all convinced it was labor. Or else, thinking that if it was, that I had many hours if not an entire day ahead of me.
However, around 4 or 4:30am, my husband woke up as suddenly as if an alarm had summoned him, and started organizing things around the room, etc.
I just assumed he was having a bout of insomnia–and kept reading.
After a bit, he noticed that I was having to pause and breathe thru contractions here and there, and asked if he could do anything for me.
This had happened before during ‘pretend labor’, so I still didn’t think anything was different!
I thought a moment, put down my book, and said I wanted to take a bath. He ran a bath for me, and sat in the bathroom with me as I soaked in the tub.
Very quickly–maybe before I got in the water–things picked up in intensity. I sat in the bath for about thirty minutes or so, and eventually I was vocalizing thru the waves of contraction.
Looking back at my last birth, I must have been tense, because then, I practically yelled through contractions for quite awhile–getting louder and higher-pitched, and having to be reminded to breathe, lower my pitch, and relax.
There was none of that this time! Freebirth meant I was able to instinctively breathe and ‘ohhhh’ and sigh my way through contractions - with an ease and calmness that belied how close I was to pushing.
At the time, I thought it meant I wasn’t that far along–but now I realize I was in a vastly different emotional and mental state, so I was able to integrate the sensations much better this time.
Quite abruptly, I decided I’d had enough of the water—and again, upon standing, things got even more intense.
My legs were shaking, and I could barely get wrapped up in a towel and back onto our bed, even with my husband’s help. My body didn’t quit shaking for a few minutes, and as I was sitting on the bed, my husband asked if I wanted to call anyone.
I responded from labor land with a panicked, wild-eyed ‘NO!’
I realized that the act of even trying to explain or label the moment would just derail the energy.
I started saying things like “No, no, no more….I don’t wanna do this anymore,” and “I just wanna go to sleep,” and then laughing and giggling with my husband in between contractions, because the whole thing just felt light, joyful, and surreal.
I reached down, hoping to feel the effects of pressure on my perineum that signaled that baby was moving lower—but at the same time, I was still unsure whether this was really labor!
I think it was at this point that our two-year old woke up and wanted to see what we were up to, which made things a bit stressful for my husband–but I was only scarcely aware of anyone’s presence or absence at this point.
After coping with about five contractions by whining, vocalizing, and shaking, I reached a momentary peak-point of panic.
I grabbed my husband and looked at him wildly, saying “I’ve got to get a hold of myself!” or something to that effect.
He said something like, “Yes, just breathe–you are in control of your body”, and in that instant, I WAS.
The shakes stopped and I was able to take a deep breath and found myself back in a place of calm, heightened awareness.
He left the room for a moment, and this time, when I reached down, I could feel something that was definitely not part of me…it was the bag of waters bulging from within!
I can’t describe the feeling of triumph and gratitude I had in that moment–finally, ‘proof’ that I WAS in labor—this was it, and it was happening fast!
When my husband came back in the room, I clumsily explained that the bag of waters was bulging, with a huge, blissful grin on my face. I think it was around 6am at this point.
Another contraction with me in a squatting position, and the bag of waters practically exploded all over the bed!
They were clear, with small speckles of something that looked like vernix—I remember noticing that, because I was supposedly 41 weeks at the very earliest, and you won’t see vernix with pregnancies that go very postdates.
I only had a second to contemplate that before I was absolutely consumed by the next contraction.
I threw myself forward into a hands-and-knees position, and before I knew it, my body was pushing.
Freebirth meant I didn't have anyone to tell me to push or whether I was dilated ‘enough’, so the obvious thing to do was to follow my body’s primal cues. No thinking, no logic—just instinct.
I didn’t really push consciously until I could feel the ‘ring of fire’ - the pressure of baby’s head at the rim of my vagina. This was a time to slow down. I breathed and sighed and allowed my baby to move through me of his own volition.
Instead of feeling a frantic rush of pressure from others to ‘get baby out!’ as I had in prior births, my intuition told me to surender and allow things to unfold in their own time.
I touched my baby’s head as it put pressure all around, and I instinctively put gentle counter-pressure at the site of an old tear, to protect it from worsening.
I laughed inwardly as a thought crossed my mind: What if baby turned breech at the last moment–because this baby feels HUGE!
My husband watched and helped from behind, ready to catch him when he emerged fully. Once his head was born, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but my husband encouraged me to keep going, to birth his body with the next wave.
Another moment or two, and baby was born safely into my husband’s hands!
Later, he explained that he was nervous about baby needing to be born quickly because he had already started trying to breathe, but the pressure on his body from not being fully birthed yet was giving him trouble.
Since I was on my hands and knees, baby and husband were both behind me. I looked down between my knees and the first thing I saw was…a scrotum.
“It’s a boy!” I exclaimed!
Nothing can compare to seeing for yourself the gender of the child you just birthed into the world. I’m glad my husband kept quiet in that moment and let me see for myself instead of telling me, even though he saw before I did.
It was such a joy to see for myself that we had a baby boy—what an incredible moment!
I felt so incredibly blissful, empowered, healed, and validated—because I’d finally had the unassisted freebirth I always wanted—the birth that I scarcely believed was possible for me, after my traumatic birth experience.
The time was 6:20am–less than an hour after I finally decided it was really labor!
My Love woke up the other kids, and I decided that now it would be nice to call someone! I was pretty sure I didn’t have any tearing, but it occurred to me that I could ask a fellow birth pro for her opinion, too.
Even though we hadn’t weighed him yet, we both agreed that this was a really big boy.
Maybe just before 7am, I called my friend Olivia, who came right over to check on us, and we all happily chatted about our incredible birth experience!
As we talked, baby nursed, and he pooped several times before we had a chance to weigh him. He was 10lbs 14oz–over three pounds bigger than any of my other babies–and this was after the poo!
Then Olivia checked me, and confirmed that I hadn’t torn at all. This really shocked me, as I’d ‘needed’ stitches with my last baby—barely an 8-pounder!
It really goes to show that your emotional state directly influences the capabilities of your body—even in moment-by-moment situations like childbirth.
Also, Olivia and I agreed that due to the vernix all over him, and other telltale signs of gestational age, that this baby was most likely a 39-weeker!
Certainly not even 40 weeks–despite my confusing dates.
We didn’t cut the cord until over two hours had passed, so that baby could get all the benefits of the placenta and cord blood.
I love the concept of lotus birth (leaving placenta and baby attached until they gently and naturally disconnect, anywhere from 2-10 days after the birth); however, the health benefits of placenta encapsulation were too appealing for me to pass up.
Placenta encapsulation can help tremendously with postpartum bleeding, increasing your milk supply, and keeping postpartum depression at bay—and I’ve struggled with all three of these in the past.
So, we had a ‘partial lotus birth’.
Olivia sterilized a pair of scissors, and we chose a piece of embroidery floss to tie off the cord (white, cold and limp at this point), and she cut it for us. Neither of us wanted to do it!
She then left to bring my placenta to our friend Carrie, who encapsulated it for me. Later that day, Saba stopped by to bring over a lovely Moses basket and a small jar of cord care herbal powder, both gifts from our friend Nadja.
For most of the pregnancy, we felt like baby was a girl, so we had several names picked out:
Delilah or Natalie, Emma or Catherine…but not really any boy names!
We had considered Oliver for our last baby, but my husband had previously said he didn’t like it.
However, he immediately brought up Oliver for this baby, saying that our last one didn’t look like an Oliver, but this one did! He has dark hair and olive skin, like my side of the family–different from our other blondies.
My freebirth story is difficult to put into words, because so much more than can be described in words went into it.
It’s also so important to consider my traumatic third birth (my initial attempt at freebirth!), because I had a lot of baggage, fears, and heaviness to transmute during this, my last pregnancy.
I feel so incredibly blessed, fortunate, and empowered–in love with my amazing husband and all of my beautiful children, and in awe of my incredibly supportive friends. I’m so filled with gratitude for this dynamic moment of my life.
Love ~ Peace ~ Power ~ Oneness ~ Trust
Welcome to the world, Oliver!
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