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. I had a very short cycle in February, but chalked it up to stress.
Later I decided that must 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 an appointment later that evening to do a henna belly design for a new client - and I ALMOST cancelled it, worried that I would be too emotional to be professional.
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 and your dear family!
(Yes, I had dreadlocks back at the time!)
Working with all the data we could collect, we figured that my due date could be October 26th at the earliest; November 11th at the latest. Basically a two-week window. We went with the latest date, since I tend to have overdue babies (having once had a 43-week pregnancy), and assumed I’d go in for an ultrasound if I ended up making it to the end of that two-week window.
To say I was having trouble integrating the idea of another pregnancy, another baby, would be an understatement.
I had been looking for work. The plan was that I would work while my husband finally got to finish school; find another, better job–something. Also, and just as important–I knew that I had a lot of unfinished business to deal with mentally and emotionally, because of my traumatic third birth.
Even though I went on to have a perfectly lovely homebirth with my 4th baby, 2.5 years later, I didn’t feel like I’d processed what had happened to me prior to that.
My third birth was intended to be an unassisted freebirth, but turned into a hospital fiasco at the last moment.
As time went on with this pregnancy, I knew I couldn’t “just” have another homebirth with the same midwives in attendance - and I obviously wasn’t birthing in a hospital.
I had to face my pain and fear, and try to reclaim some of what had been taken from me during my 3rd birth experience.
Happily, my freelance birthwork puts 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 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, midwifery assistance, or anything in between.
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.
Also, I was carrying this baby anterior as opposed to posterior (facing forward)–the first anterior baby out of all my pregnancies, so it stood to reason that I’d look larger.
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 “fake (prodromal) labor” - but every time it feels more convincing, and I was already tired of being pregnant!
In all, I had at least six “false starts”–in other words, times 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 dilating long before actual labor started–the last week and a half of pregnancy I was actually dilated to seven centimeters (yes it’s possible–especially in “grand multiparas”–women with 4 or more prior pregnancies). I was very impatient by then!
I had had bloody show multiple times, and even took castor oil twice (1/10, do not recommend), but to no avail.
I was also very hopeful and expectant of having an 11/11/11 baby, since that was at the latest end of my “due window”, and 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 was really discouraged. On top of it all, my youngest “baby’s” 2nd birthday was coming up that week, and I was really upset to still be pregnant!
Although, looking back, 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, freebirth allowed me to be free of the feeling of being a watched pot;
Grateful not to have to submit to unnecessary, fear-driven procedures; or worse–being perceived as a threat to some care provider’s comfort (or convenience!) level.
I also finally let myself go back and really think about my 3rd baby’s traumatic birth experience over these long weeks and months of waiting.
I allowed myself to relive that experience in detail, and I was able to write down a full version of her birth story for the first time. It was incredibly healing and, I think, very necessary in killing those “paper tigers” that may have interfered with my having a peaceful birth this time instead of a fear-filled one.
Once my decision to freebirth was made, I never doubted it throughout this 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 deal with some heavy contractions there due to the walking. 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 bad–at times barely there–and I was still feeling oddly zen and calm.
At this point, I knew that castor oil had only a very mild effect on me, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to get my bowels moving–so I took a very small amount, perhaps half an ounce, 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 3, we decided to go lay down–my hubby to sleep (for what he later said he knew would be a power nap!), and me to read.
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 was trying to obsess about in a given moment.
So I read, and dealt with contractions here and there by following the labyrinth pattern of a Celtic snake mandala on my wall, still not at all convinced it was labor–or if it was, that I had many hours if not an entire day ahead of me.
(I did my own henna belly art using a mirror)
However, around 4 or 4:30, my husband woke up as if his alarm had summoned him, and started asking how I was feeling, organizing things around the room, etc.
I was a little surprised he wasn’t sleeping, and just assumed he was having insomnia–I kept reading.
After a bit, he asked if he could do anything for me, noticing that I was having to pause and breathe thru contractions here and there.
This had happened before during “fake labor”, so I still wasn’t thinking anything was different!
I thought a moment, and said I wanted to take a bath. He ran a bath for me, and hung out 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 contractions.
Looking back at my last birth, I must have been tense, because I found myself having to yell through contractions for quite awhile–getting louder and higher-pitched, and having to be reminded to breathe and change my tone–keeping it low–to relax.
There was none of that this time–freebirth meant I was able to instinctively breathe and “ohhhh” and sigh my way through contractions.
At the time, I thought it meant I wasn’t that far along–but now I realize I was just in a much better mental state, and so was managing the sensations with more calmness.
Suddenly 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!’
At this point, I knew that the act of calling someone and trying to explain or label the moment we were in 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 with my husband in between contractions, because I knew how absurd that must have sounded.
I kept reaching down, hoping to feel the effects of pressure that signaled that birth was imminent, but still mostly expecting this to be another “pretend labor” that would soon end…!
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 handling about five contractions with the whining 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 calm down, 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!
You have no idea of the relief and gratitude I felt in that moment–finally, something that proved I WAS in labor–this was it, and it was happening fast!
When he came back in the room, I clumsily explained that the waters were bulging, with a huge, blissful grin on my face. I think it was around 5:45 or 6am at this point.
Another contraction with me in a squatting position, and the bag of waters practically exploded all over the bed – forcefully!
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 don’t see vernix with post-dates pregnancies.
I only had a second to have that thought 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 to assess my dilation, and the obvious thing to do was to just listen to my body and follow its cues.
I didn’t really push until I could feel the pressure of baby’s head at the rim–instead I breathed and sighed and allowed the baby to move through me.
Instead of feeling a frantic, crazed need to “get baby out!” as I had in prior births, my intuition told me that I needed to take it slowly and cautiously.
I felt the baby’s head as it put pressure all around, and I intuitively put my hand up to use gentle counter-pressure at the site of an old tear, concerned about it worsening.
I laughed inwardly as the absurd 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, making sure baby’s head came out gently and carefully. At this point I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but my husband encouraged me to keep going, that I still had to get the body out.
He’s excellent at knowing what to say without worrying me. Later he explained that he was concerned that baby needed to get out 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.
Another moment or two, and baby was born safely into Daddy’s hands!
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 that feeling of seeing for yourself the gender of the child you just birthed into the world. I’m glad my husband knew just what to NOT say in that moment. He gave me that joy, to see for myself–what an incredible moment!
I felt so incredibly blissful, empowered, healed, validated–I’d finally had the unassisted freebirth I always wanted–the birth that I scarcely believed was possible to have, especially after my 3rd birth.
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 we decided that now was the time to call someone! It occurred to me that it’d be really great to have a midwive’s assessment of my bottom.
Even though we hadn’t weighed him, we both agreed that this was a really big boy, and I didn’t really know if I’d torn or not.
I called my friend Olivia, who came right over to check me, 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 to my delight, I didn’t have any damage that needed stitches–which was even more impressive considering 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 a day overdue–despite my crazy dates. (Good thing he didn’t go overdue, or he would have been bigger!)
We didn’t cut the cord until over two hours had passed, so that baby could get all the benefits of the placental and cord blood before they disconnected.
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 great for me to pass up.
Placenta encapsulation helps tremendously with postpartum bleeding, increasing your milk supply, and keeping postpartum depression at bay–and all three of these are things I’ve struggled with in the past.
So, we compromised with a partial lotus birth.
Olivia had sterile 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!
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 not really a complete story without the consideration of my traumatic third birth (my first attempt at freebirth!) to highlight the significance of this experience.
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 the experience of this dynamic moment in time.
Love ~ Peace ~ Power ~ Oneness ~ Trust
Welcome to the world, Oliver!
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