What an incredible journey this experience has been, and continues to be; pregnancy, birth, parenting. I am so excited to share Clover’s journey with anyone who will listen!
I suppose the story begins a few years ago, (~2012) when Romain and I were on a drive up north, and I, after having an on-again/off-again conversations about baby names, suggested the name Clover for a girl we might have one day.
“I love it,” he said, “Will it bother you that it’s the brand name of milk that we buy?”
Ha! Hadn’t thought. “No, not at all!”
And our drive continued.
Flash forward to 2014, we prepare for our May wedding, and Romain and I discuss starting to try for a family as soon as the wedding is over. “I’m sure as soon as we try, it’s going to happen,” he said. I thought, yeah right, men always seem to think they have super-sperm. I’d had friends try for years and was ready to put in some time trying before we became pregnant.
But after our June honeymoon, I found myself in a yoga class during the end-of-class shavasana, when a very clear GIRL’S voice came into my head, “I’m here, I’m with you, and I’m here to stay…you’re stuck with me!” Tears came streaming down my cheeks as I did some math in my head… yes, I could be pregnant, in fact I might even actually already be a little late. Trying not to get ahead of myself, I told Romain we’d take a pregnancy test the following day.
Upon taking the pregnancy test and seeing it’s positive sign, I showed it to Romain who said “Yeah.”
“Yeah?!” I said.
“Yeah, I’m not surprised!” he said with a smile.
I guess he’d been right… I did get pregnant as soon as we started trying!
“Do you want to go to the beach?” he asked.
Still in shock, amazement, awe, I thought, ‘Well, I guess so… why not!?’ So off we went and marveled at the fact that our child was currently the size of a granule of sand on the vast ocean beach.
We decided to work with Maria mostly because of her directness - I felt she’d be great in an emergency, something you obviously want when having a home birth. We had the monthly visits, which turned into bi-weekly visits, which turned into weekly visits as we got closer to our due date. I also received concurrent care at UCSF which was easy and I found UCSF to be VERY supportive of homebirth, and of Maria in particular. EVERY SINGLE TIME I went in, the midwife on staff would see in my chart that I was planning a homebirth and would say, “You’re in great hands with Maria.” Not that I needed the reassurance, but it never hurts to hear this from hospital staff!
While we didn’t want to find out if we were having a boy or a girl, I started to believe we were probably having a boy (Romain refused to speculate on our child’s gender!) First, the ultrasound technician, who had told us to “look away” while she maneuvered her wand over the disclosing area during our ultrasound, said, “It’s a good thing you’re looking away!” I was convinced this meant she’d let it slip that we were having a boy. People on the street kept telling me I looked like I was carrying a boy as well (due to the old wive’s tale that if you carry more “in the font” it’s a boy.) Romain and I had a girl name clearly chosen, but couldn’t settle on a boy’s name, and I was convinced that this would mean we’d surely have a boy since naming him would be harder. For all these reasons, I thought it was probably a boy, but I never forgot my original experience of hearing that little girl tell me I was pregnant with her in that yoga class!
So finally, it was the evening of Wednesday February 18th (Romain’s mother’s birthday) and I found myself unable to get some persistent back pain to go away. I try to sleep, and accomplish to get some, but frankly, sleep in the last few months of pregnancy was never easy, and this night was no different. I woke at 2:00am with a contraction, but I was able to go back to sleep. Then at 5:00am, I woke with a contraction, and they kept coming, every 15-20 minutes. Once Romain woke up, I told him that I’d been having contractions for a little while, and while I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself, I’d feel better if he worked from home. I texted my music students and said I’d be unable to teach as I was experiencing what I hoped to be early labor.
The contractions continued every 15-20 minutes for an hour or two, then they’d move to 10 minutes, then 5-6 minutes, and back to 15-20. It continued like this for all of Thursday, but I knew that since my water hadn’t broken, hadn’t lost my mucus plug or had any bloody show, that I’d need to hold off on calling Maria or my doula Lucy. I took a bath or two, and generally tried to distract myself by watching TV, reading, listening to hypnobirthing tapes or talking to Romain, all the while pausing to breathe and move through contractions.
Thursday night continued as had Thursday day…meaning I continued to have contractions every 15-20 minutes for the majority of the night, occasionally they spaced out to every 30-45 minutes. I got one spurt of 88 minutes of sleep and it felt AMAZING!
Friday morning contractions continued, and then at one point really backed off. I was starting to get frustrated and tired at this point, since it had been more than 24 hours with meandering contractions, and now it was backing OFF! I wanted it to increase and get GOING! So I suggested to Romain that we walk to lunch in Cole Valley, to try and get my contractions to start again. This seemed to do it! By the time we got to Crepes On Cole, I had to stand every 5 minutes or so to endure a contraction in the restaurant. Luckily, I wasn’t making a scene, but I’m SURE any mother in the place who might have observed me sit (uncomfortably) for 5 minutes and then stand and kneel on the chair (trying to look as normal as possible) would have absolutely known I was in early labor. We walked back home, all uphill, and Romain noted that I was stopping more and more frequently. We got back to the hose and sure enough, contractions were every 5-6 minutes consistently.
I think we called our doula Lucy at this point (not entirely sure) and she said she’d plan to stay the night in San Francisco with her parents in case things accelerated (she lives in Oakland). I was still growing increasingly frustrated that I hadn’t had any of the markers of “progression” - no mucus plug (I’d been checking for days), no bloody show, and no water breaking. I went to bed at some point, probably around 10:30/11:00pm, and continued to track my contractions on my iPad next to the bed. I knew they were growing closer together, but still didn’t want to get ahead of myself. But by the time Romain came to bed around midnight, he checked and saw that I’d been having contractions every 2-3 minutes for more than an hour. “I’m calling everyone” he said definitively.
Lucy and Maria arrived at the same time around 1:00am and I was so glad they were there…finally someone could maybe give me news about my progress. Maria checked me and said I was at 3cm with a bulging bag of water. She set up her stuff (I hadn’t realized how much equipment she’d bring with her! I felt even more confidence knowing she had so much stuff to facilitate the birth as crazy as that sounds). And then, Maria promptly went to sleep in our second bedroom, saying to wake her if there was significant change. Romain set up the birth tub, did some other things (so he tells me and of which I have no recollection) and then he himself slept for a bit (only 1 1/2 hours he tells me, though it felt like he was asleep the entire night!). Lucy stayed up with me as I labored through the night. Thankfully, I had my bloody show during this time with Lucy, I vomited once or twice, and both were welcomed signs of progress along with continuing contractions.
Romain woke at 5:00am and helped by reading me my birth affirmations, snapping some photos (including one of our cat, Hemingway, who was spending time near me during the labor), encouraging me to drink after each surge, and generally just spending time with me. He tried pressing on my back as Lucy had been doing, but at some point I said very directly, “Only Lucy!” You just can’t replicate the talent of a doula who touches HUNDREDS of women during labor and knows exactly how to help you. The two of them were INCREDIBLE though, working together extremely well and both getting me to drink, and taking care of everything without disturbing me while I was in my zone.
When Maria woke at 7:00am, she asked how things had gone during the night, and all I remember is telling her I SO wanted to get into the birth tub, but was afraid of slowing down the labor. (I’d read that if you get in before you’re in active labor, you can slow early labor down). But, Maria said that since it’d been 48 hours of “early” labor at this point and I was really tired, that getting in the tub might be the ticket to giving me a bit of rest and boosting my energy. So I climbed in and indeed my labor did slow down, but in a wonderful way that did indeed allow me to regain some energy. Maria actually asked me if I was still having surges…um, yeah! can’t she tell!? I thought to myself. I guess my birth breathing practicing was really helping me stay calm and cool during this period. Maria actually told me to alert her when I started and ended a contraction so she could track them.
“This still looks like early labor Sarah,” she said. I was probably only in the tub for less than an hour, and I started to sense/fear that Maria might leave and go about her Saturday, telling me she’d come back when it was further along.
“You’re not going to leave me are you?” I almost pleaded.
“Well…do you not want me to go?” she half chuckled, seeming to realize I’d sensed what she was thinking.
“Then I’ll stay…but do you think you can spare me for 2 hours this morning for a doctor’s appointment? I’ll leave at 9:00 and come back at 11:00am”
“Ok,” I said. I thought I could handle that.
“So OK then Sarah,” she said, “I want you to get out of the tub and either lay down and try to sleep between contractions, or walk the stairs in your building and really try to get things moving.”
I’d had the hardest time lying down during my labor, because while I could maybe sleep between contractions (for mere minutes), the pain of the surges was much greater when I was lying down. So I took to spending most all of my labor bending over things; either on hands and knees leaning over the bathtub, hands and knees leaning on the couch, hands and knees leaning over our coffee table, or standing but leaning over our entry hall table, over the bed, over the back of the couch. As the labor progressed, I needed Lucy to put constant pressure on my back during contractions.
Even still, I told Maria I’d try to lie down. I chose our futon in the second bedroom because our bed was too soft and I felt exacerbated the pain. So she left at 9:00am, and about 5 minutes after she left, my water FINALLY broke while I was lying down with Romain spooning me, and I immediately vomited again, more violently than before. Thank god, I thought, actual signs of progress! Lucy called Maria who said, “OK, just call me again if she has the urge to push.”
I got up and walked to the bathroom with a puppy pad under me but was derailed by a contraction and found myself on hands and knees on the bathroom floor. Lucy got in my face at this point and said, “In my experience, things will pick up greatly now.” BOY WAS SHE RIGHT!
The contractions I’d experienced for 2 days were tough, and I’d felt my uterus getting VERY tired. (That sounds strange…it’s like saying “My colon feels tired”…you never knew you could feel fatigue in this part of your body, but my uterus was definitely fatigued at this 48+ hour mark). That being said, once my water broke, during what I now consider transition, it was an entirely different level of sensation (read: pain). My breathing exercises were no longer as useful, though I tried to continue to use them. Before, I’d been able to control the sensation, more-or-less, through my birth breathing I’d so religiously practiced. But after my water broke, I could start off a surge with my birth breathing, but just like analogy everyone uses of a wave, the wave of the surge just took me with it and I could no longer control my breathing nor the sounds I was making.
I got into the birthing tub again without asking anyone if it was ok, and on hands and knees leaning over the edge, endured each contraction as Lucy pressed on my back. As a surge would end, she’d walk 5 feet away to get me coconut water or an ice cube, and I’d begin the next contraction and say, “Luuuuccccyyyyy!!!” And she’d come back and push on my back, abandoning the task of getting more water. (Though between Romain and Lucy, they pretty much made me drink after each contraction, which I begrudgingly obliged them.) I’d say the contractions were coming every 1 or 1.5 minutes at this stage, but I don’t really know. I’d start the contraction moaning low, and then crescendo into a higher-pitched yell and Lucy behind me would begin moaning low herself, and I’d emulate her.
At one point, I decided to moan, “This is hoooorrriiibbbllleee” at the peak of a contraction. Interestingly enough, this made the contraction EXPONENTIALLY harder…shows you what power your own thoughts have on your body. So after the contraction finished I was gasping for air and whispered/mumbled, “I mean, this is awesome.” Romain and Lucy laughed, though I wasn’t trying to be funny.
I knew it must be getting close to 11:00…
“What time is it? When is Maria coming back?”
“She’ll be here soon”
I worried that since I had some concept of time (something I’d always been told you lose track of during birth) that I actually wasn’t progressing as much as I thought I had.
But this has got to be “it”…right? I mean, I am already starting to push without trying…I’ve got to be close!
“I can’t do this for very long,” I said sometime near 11:00am, feeling myself close to the limit of what my body could handle. I thought to myself, The alternative to doing this here, in the tub at home, means getting in a car…there is LITERALLY NO POSSIBLE WAY I could do that. Like, it’s physically impossible to move from where I am right now. This thought ended as the next contraction hit.
Shortly after 11:00am, Maria came back, and with one look at me, she basically said, “See, now you know why I was calling the other stuff ‘early’ labor!” She’s right, this was a totally different animal!
She asked if I wanted to start pushing.
I said I already had started.
She checked me and said I only had a lip of cervix left, and that if I kept pushing it would probably dilate itself away.
She called the backup midwife to come.
Hallelujah! I knew we must be getting close if she was calling the backup!
Romain asked if he could catch the baby, so Maria asked me if I wanted Romain to get into the tub with me. I said “no,” only because thinking about the logistics of how that would happen was much too much for me in the moment. Thankfully, as I got closer to birthing our child, Maria simply said, “Romain, if you want to catch your baby you had better get into the water!”
(Side note: Romain was all too happy to rescind his job up until that point - scooping poop out of the water after each contraction!)
Maria got up in my face and said, “My only stipulation for birthing in the water is that you have to be on your back.” Oh great, I thought. That’s the most painful position! But I was encouraged to know that the baby must be coming soon!
At one point, Romain turned to Maria and said, “Is that the head?!” and I remember thinking… WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK I’M PUSHING OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW?!
We were playing my “Chill” playlist, which included a live Bob Marley concert. Maria said, “Is this really the music you want your baby to be born to?”
“I don’t care,” I gasped.
But then, in the back of my consciousness, I realized a very loud cover of “Sexual Healing” was playing and thought, Huh, well that is kind of unfortunate. Luckily Lucy just got up and changed it without anyone asking.
So instead of “Sexual Healing,” our baby girl was born to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” right next to our piano in our little apartment! Romain caught her, put her on my chest, and he began crying immediately - something very powerful for me as he hadn’t even cried at our wedding! (He later said he’d been chocking back tears watching me for the last 2 hours of labor, so when she was born he just let it all go.)
I was instructed out of the tub onto the birthing stool, to wait for the placenta to deliver. After 5 minutes our baby was still quite blue and I heard Sue Baelen, our extraordinary backup midwife, say, “OK Maria, I think we either need to give the baby some oxygen or Sarah needs to do mouth-to-mouth.” As scary as this sounds (and it apparently did scare Romain) I wasn’t scared. I had full faith in our team and had read enough birth stories to know that this happens fairly frequently.
Since they laid the baby out on my knees (while they suctioned mucus out of her lungs and gave her some oxygen), I used the opportunity to look between her little legs.
“It’s a little girl!” I said to Romain.
“I know!” he said. “I already saw ;)”
After I delivered the placenta, we were whisked into our bed, so the 3 of us could continue to bond as a new family. Our team emptied the birth tub, cleaned up, and made us food. They were with us for 3 hours!
All in all it was a incredible experience, and I feel so lucky we were able to bring our daughter Clover into the world, into our home, in this calm, natural way. I highly recommend homebirth to anyone who has the desire for such an extraordinary, real, raw, emotional experience…I wouldn’t change any piece of it for the world!
Addendum: I wrote this about 3 weeks after Clover was born, but only got around to sending it to Maria 6 months later. I get comments every.single.day about how smiley Clover is and how calm and confident she seems. I know some of this is due to the fact that she is just an awesome little person in her own right, but I have to think that some (if not a lot) of it is due to her birth. In my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine a better gift to give your child on their very first birth-day, than an unmedicated entrance into the world. I feel so very lucky that we were able to do so.