Indigo's Birth Story
I loved being pregnant. It was amazing to know that a new life was growing inside of me. I was mesmerized by feeling and seeing my body change. Seeing him on the sonogram at 20 weeks was riveting. A little later, it was thrilling to feel his movements. Each kick was a message that he was growing, that he has hands and feet. At 25 weeks, our friend Jessie, an obstetrics nurse, showed us how to palpate my belly to feel for his position. As she held his head through my belly, we felt him move his legs and it made him that much more real to me.
We felt incredibly confident in our choice of Sue Baelen as our midwife, along with her apprentice, Jen Madanat. We felt a really warm connection to Sue from the moment we met her for the initial interview, and we took an instant liking to Jen once we met her too.
As my due date approached, I started to get anxious to meet our little Indy. It seems kind of silly, but since he was going to be a December baby, I wanted him to have an early December birthday so that he wouldn’t feel cheated by Christmas. I always felt bad for kids with birthdays close to the holidays. I was mentally preparing for a later term baby, since my mom kept reminding me
that both my brother and I went 2 weeks past our due date. Then I read somewhere that 39 weeks is optimal, and so I felt validated in my desire to nudge our boy towards the outside. At the same time, my blood pressure readings had started to creep up. I’d had a pretty smooth and easy pregnancy to this point and I was determined to have a home birth, so I was nervous about what high blood pressure could mean for our plans.
Sue agreed that, given the blood pressure situation, we could try some non-invasive tricks to nudge the labor along. I used acupuncture, homeopathic herbs and castor oil packs externally on my belly. A friend recommended using a breast pump for nipple stimulation, and true to my “make shit happen” personality, I went for it all. Sue did a membrane sweep, and after a non-stress test at Kaiser, my OB did one too. Jen did the third sweep a couple of days later, and I went off to acupuncture, listening to Rachel Yellin’s hypnobirthing labor rehearsal tracks. I started to wonder if I was trying too hard to force my will on an this unpredictable event. The not knowing when the baby would come was driving me a little crazy! But a part of me kept thinking I should surrender to the unknown and just let things happen. My normal MO is to be in action, to do what I can to create the outcome I want. It’s hard for me to just let things happen.
Sue suggested I ask the baby what he has in mind. That night, as I reclined with the acupuncture needles poked in all the right spots, I tried to listen for my baby’s voice, in whatever form it may come. I felt him squirm around so intensely! But honestly, I wasn’t sure what that meant. Davor said, “I think that means he’s cramped and wants out!” I had to laugh.
The next morning I stirred in bed, barely awake at 6am. I had just started to come out of a dream when I felt a strong kick towards my pelvis that jolted me, closely followed by a pop sensation. I thought, “I wonder if that was my water breaking…” I reached down and felt wet. I rolled over and got out of bed and felt the water flow down my legs. Davor woke and I told him what was going on, and that I wasn’t really sure it was my water breaking. Then I texted Sue. She said it if it was my water, more would release as I moved. I got on the floor and did the cat-cow stretch and sure enough, more water came gushing out. This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, since I knew that most labors don’t start with water breaking. I also knew I needed more sleep if I was going to have a baby today! I forced myself to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. I convinced Davor to go to work, at least for a few hours, even though he didn’t want to. I wanted to make sure that labor was really starting because I knew it could take several hours or even a day or more to get going.
Sue said that some activity would be good, so I decided to stick to my original plan of going to prenatal yoga in the morning. I had one easy surge when I woke again at 8:30am, then a couple during the yoga class, but I wasn’t too concerned because I figured since this was my first, I was probably in for a long haul. I had also originally planned to get a haircut after yoga, so I went ahead and did that too. Our homebirth teacher had said it was good to go into a bit of denial at the beginning of labor, so that was my plan. The other mamas-to-be in the yoga class were excited for me, and my stylist was rather impressed that I was so nonchalant and getting a haircut. But, the surges were easy and not regular yet. I just kept thinking I had time to kill.
By the time I got home around 2:30pm, the surges were starting to come more regularly and I wanted Davor to come home. I still kept thinking I was going to have a lot of time to kill, so I started cooking. I had fantasies that I would make a bunch of food and even a batch or two of cookies. But as I worked, I kept having to stop and brace myself during the surges. I started timing the them, and they were indeed coming about every 5-6 minutes. Davor got home rushed to get the birth tub set up.
The labor was ramping up faster than I expected, so I thought it was time to call Jean, our doula, to come. I didn’t want to call anyone too early, but it was starting to get intense and I knew it would take her a while to get to us since it was a rainy Friday evening. At that point, I had abandoned my veggie chopping and completely given up on making any cookies!
Davor and I walked around the house and he held me in a standing hug as the surges hit. I felt so safe in his strong arms, and so excited that we would be meeting our baby soon. Davor made a fire in the fireplace and Jean arrived, calm yet excited as well.
Jean took over finishing chopping the veggies for the chili, then served us each a bowl and a glass of wine. She was just amazing! She and Davor made a great team, walking with me in the breaks between the surges, then holding me and massaging me as they hit, coaxing me to open up, to be limp like a noodle. Jean rubbed my back with coconut oil mixed with aromatherapy, and Davor reminded me to soften and relax my muscles rather than tense up. We moved about the house, from the living room to the bedroom and for a while, even though it was getting more and more intense, I still felt like I was on top of it. Then it started to shift. I had a couple really painful surges and I got a little overwhelmed. Davor and I went to our bedroom and I felt this wailing cry overtake me. It wasn’t even the pain so much as this wave of emotion that swept me up. He kept whispering to me, “soft, open… you’re a jellyfish, you’re a noodle.”
In my preparation for birth, I visualized my labor as a strong ocean current. I have always felt so at home in the water, especially in the ocean, and I imagined that I would surrender to the surges like surrendering to the waves in the ocean and working with them, rather than fighting them and panicking. That moment of emotion caused my body to shake and this big, wailing cry to burst forth, felt like it crashed over me like a giant wave. I was disoriented and adrift for a moment until the surge passed. I sobbed into my bed as Davor held me.
Jean had been communicating with Sue and I kept thinking that I must not be progressing much if Sue isn’t coming over yet. I even heard Jean saying she thought it was time, but Sue must have said that I didn’t sound like I was ready, even though my surges were 4-5 mins apart and lasting more than a minute. I heard Jean say, “I think that’s just her nature, she’s so upbeat and positive.” But it sounded like Sue wasn’t buying it. She was waiting for me to lose it and get into that animal brain and I was still able to talk and reason.
But finally, when I hit that surrendering point and the giant wave crashing over me, the labor moved to a new stage and it was, at last, time for Sue and Jen to make their way over.
Davor also alerted Ellen, the photographer that it was time to come. Jean suggested that I might like to try the birth tub at this point. I was very excited about the tub because I love being in water. And, wow! It did not disappoint! I was amazed at how good it felt to get in and feel the buoyancy of my belly, taking the pressure off. Davor joined me and massaged my back though the surges. Finally I heard Sue and Jen arrive, and I was glad. It felt good to have them there, like I had reached a milestone in the labor progression.
The course of events gets a little blurry here. I tried my best to give over to the process, to keep my body limp, chanting “open and soft” to myself during the pain of the surges. I visualized my cervix opening up like a flower, making space for my baby to come through. At some point the tub started to feel too hot and so I decided to get out. I laid on the couch while Jean rubbed me and eventually went to the bathroom to try to pee. It was the hardest pee of my life! I could feel the pressure of the baby’s head on my bladder, but it just took forever for me to finally release. But what an incredible sensation when I finally did. It was amazing how something so simple can feel like such a major accomplishment.
I’m not sure whether it was his idea or someone else’s, but Davor decided to take a nap. I encouraged him to do this when we were prepping and mentally rehearsing for the labor, because I knew that post-birth was going to be a marathon for him and I needed him to be strong so that I could finally rest. I don’t know how long he was out (later, in our follow up visit, Jean estimated 3-4 hours) and it didn’t really matter, I was kind of just in my own world, going back and forth from the living room to the baby’s room with the birthing tub, to the couch in the baby’s room. Jean, Sue and Jen tracking me. I was starting to get discouraged. The pain was intense and I was feeling scared that it was more than I had bargained for. I was feeling scared that I couldn’t do it if it was going to get harder. I kept thinking I wish I could know when transition was coming because I knew that would be the hardest point and I wanted to know how much worse it was going to get from here. I wasn’t sure I could take it. At one point in the tub, I cried out, “What the hell was I thinking??” and “I’m only having one baby, damn it! I’m never doing this again!” My legs started to ache, shooting pain down both thighs. I couldn’t figure out how to stretch them or stop the feeling, it lingered way beyond the surges and it really, really hurt. I asked Jean to dig into my thigh muscles with her elbow and then helped a bit.
I began to feel disappointed in myself. I really wanted to do birth “well,” meaning, I wanted to have this transcendent experience where I was all zen and calm, and centered and glowing, master of mind over matter, just letting the surges wash over me, staying in a focused trance. I wanted to be good at it, and instead, I felt overwhelmed by the pain and I’m whimpering, muttering, “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…” and feeling like a fraud. I said, “I wish I knew when the transition was coming.”
Jean said, ”Maybe this is transition.” That gave me some hope and I let out a low moan through the next surge.
At some point, Sue took my blood pressure. It registered high, and I asked her what that meant. She said, “well….” and just trailed off. I knew it wasn’t good, but I was determined not to get upset or scared by it. I decided to just give myself over to her capable hands and not worry. Sue said we would check again later.
Later I went to the bathroom again to pee. I think Sue asked me what I would like to do next and it occurred to me that it could feel really good to crawl. She said, “I think that’s a great idea.”
I crawled down the hallway to the living room and it did actually feel really good. I felt like that moment I was moving through the forge and that no matter what, I would come out of this experience eventually, and I’d meet my baby on the other side. This was the turning point for me.
That was when Davor came out of the bedroom. I was so glad to see him! But then he came over to hug me while I was on my knees, and I smelled the wine from earlier on his breath. I suddenly got really angry. I thought he had maybe been overwhelmed by the labor and had a few more glasses of wine to calm himself and was now drunk. That thought irritated the hell out of me! I snapped at Davor, “Are you drunk?!? I can’t believe this...” and he was surprised (I’m not usually irritable or bitchy) and then he got defensive. He was taken aback and I saw him start to shut down a little. I saw that it would do me no good to get mad at him. Now more than ever, I needed his support. So I apologized for yelling at him. It didn’t actually seem to me like he was drunk after all, and I reminded him that we had discussed the possibility that I might not be my nice, normally sweet self during labor. He remembered that and thankfully, we got over that hiccup really quickly.
I crawled to the living room and the big poof pillow in front of the fireplace. The room looked so beautiful with the warm light from the Christmas tree and the fire going. It was a golden cocoon and Davor wrapped his arms around me and stroked my hair. Sue took my blood pressure again, and this time I used a breathing technique that Jean taught me, and thankfully, I got a much lower reading and it meant we could stay home rather than transfer to the hospital.
As the next surge started to hit, Davor rubbed my back and whispered, “soft, open,” and “I’m so proud of you, you’re the only one who can do this for us.” I tried to keep my body so relaxed and just let the pain happen, but it ramped up and reached a point where I jolted in reaction. I felt my belly convulse and I turned over and saw it move in a kind of rolling motion. I thought it was just my knee jerk reaction to the pain. But then I rolled over again and felt pressure on my pelvis and bowels. “It’s a lot of pressure,” I told them. And then, “Oh! I have to go to the bathroom!” I thought I was going to poop! So I mustered all my strength, got up, and hustled back to the bathroom, Davor and Jean trailing me.
I sat on the toilet, but didn’t actually feel like I was going to poop, though I still felt that pressure. I remembered that this is a good sign! It’s actually part of the hypnobirthing labor rehearsal, she talks about how it feels like the pressure you feel when you need a bowel movement.
Sue said, “Why don’t you put your hand inside and see if you feel the head?” So I did. My vagina felt like nothing I had ever felt before. The top wall was swollen and bigger than ever and further in I felt this squishy bubble. I said, “I don’t know what I’m feeling,” and Sue said, “do you feel something that doesn’t feel like it’s you.” I told her about the bubble and she said, “yeah, that’s it.”
I reached in again and pressed the bubble, and sure enough, it was firm on the other side. I could feel his head!
My heart leapt! I was in the next stage! The hell I felt when I was doubting myself and thinking that I was in over my head was, in fact, the transition... I made it through! Oh glory, hallelujah!
This was the shot of confidence I needed. Sue said, “If you want to have that baby in the tub, you better get in now.” So, right after the next surge passed, I bounded to the tub. Davor got in with me. I leaned over the edge and as the surges hit, my back ached like crazy. I only got through it by having Davor apply counter pressure on the small of my back. The quality of the surges changed. It was no longer just a feeling of intense, dull aching in my pelvis, it was coupled with the undeniable urge to push. I was so grateful for the tub and how easily it allowed me to squat holding the edge, first a half squat with one knee on the floor, then finally in a full squat. I wanted to make the widest, easiest opening for my baby.
My body convulsed with each surge. It felt like throwing up, only it was in reverse--throwing down. As each surge hit, I gathered my strength and bore down, pushing my baby out from the inside. It was a different kind of pain than the labor of opening up. The sensation was different than anything I’d felt before, and Davor’s strong hands putting counter pressure on the small of my back felt like the only thing that would get me through.
Soon, I could feel his head starting to emerge. “Ring of fire” is right! It stung and burned quite fiercely, yet my desire to get his body out outweighed the stinging. I just kept pushing as hard as I could through each surge, groaning and growling like an animal. I was determined! I did not want to be pushing for 3 hours, the thought of that motivated me.
I knew that his little head would retreat as the surge passed, but it was still a mindfuck to feel him slide back in each time. I was heartened to see that he would make it out a little further with each push. I asked for the mirror so I could watch him coming out. It was amazing to see the first little poke of his head. Davor suggested I turn around to face him, to sort of recline back a little so we could see him be born. I was afraid to do that, afraid it would hurt too much, but I did it. I was glad I did because I could look down and easily watch his head come into view. It was so surreal! And how it burned! So I tried to slow down for that surge.
I had been keeping my eyes shut through most of the surges, and when I turned around, I looked at Davor’s face and I couldn’t believe how much that helped. Then I looked up at the mobile we had put up. It’s a model of the solar system. In that moment it occurred to me that women have been birthing for millennia, and I was joining the ranks of all the mothers before me. I needed their strength and so I focused on Venus, the planet named for the goddess of love, and I called on her to help me.
When the next surge came, I just pushed as hard as I could again. I thought, “Well, I must be tearing, but I don’t care, I want this baby out!! I’m ready to hold my baby!” and I just kept pushing. Jen was close by, and she said. “He’s crowning,” and I got excited, but then she said, “wait, no, that’s not quite crowning.” But I didn’t let it bother me. I knew we were almost done. I knew the next push would get his head out, and it did.
I expected his body to come out quickly and easily, but he stalled a little at his shoulders. I reached down and hooked my finger under his arm. I pulled him ever so slightly during the next push and the rest of his body slid out. The last push was so satisfying! My heart danced in my chest and the next movements felt like a flash.
Davor caught the baby and lifted him out of the water and held him up. I expected him to cry or move or something, but he was so quiet and still. His eyes were open and he just seemed so calm, like he was taking it all in. I was scared. “Is he ok? Is he ok?” I asked. No one else seemed upset. Davor put him on my chest and within a few seconds he let out a little cough and started to cry. Well, I just collapsed in relief and joy! I held him close to me and wept.
Indigo reached out his little hands and touched my face. I was amazed how much he squirmed around. So, this was the guy who’s been kicking me all these months! He cried some more and Davor and I started singing “Baby Mine.” I’ve been singing this lullaby to him for the last few months and he seemed to recognize it because he quieted down immediately and just looked at us.
We stayed in the tub for a little while, just gazing at this gorgeous tiny creature, totally transfixed. What a little wonder! Indigo was, at once, completely beautiful and such a strange little alien. I was instantly in love. He was covered in the waxy vernix, puffy faced and disoriented, yet still the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
Sue asked if I would get out of the tub and onto the couch. I was happy to do anything now that I had this little guy in my arms. It was time to birth my placenta, and Sue was making sure that everything was still on track. It was easy to feel like I was done since the climax had passed and I was holding my baby, but we still had another stage, the third stage of labor, to finish.
They helped me out of water and I laid back on the couch with the baby on my chest. Heather Briggs, the assist midwife, gave me a dose of angelica tincture, to help the placenta along. I felt liquid gush out of me, but Sue and Jen said, “that’s not it.” A few moments later, I felt a little cramp and I pushed the placenta out. It was so much easier than the baby! Jen caught it and she and Sue inspected it. Thankfully, it was intact so none was left inside. They showed it to me, and the remnants of the sac where Indy had been growing all these months.
Then Sue “massaged” my belly. Massage isn’t the best word, since massages usually feel good, and this was more like kneading my belly to get my uterus to contract and shrink down.
Then the women gave us, the new little family of Davor, Indigo and me, some time alone to connect and reflect. Davor laid the couch down into a bed and snuggled up with the baby and me. We gave Indy a chance to try the breast crawl, and he got close, but I finally gave him a little help to find my nipple. After some bumbling around on both of our parts, he finally latched on and began to nurse. I just couldn’t stop looking at him!
Jean made a delicious breakfast for everyone and brought us some, along with a glass of champagne to celebrate. We ate a bit, but the Indigo show was just so compelling! Finally, Sue and Jen came back in and asked if we’d like to go to our bed. That sounded absolutely heavenly! I was again, just so glad we were at home! We got to go cuddle in our own lovely bed. Indy’s placenta was still attached, so they put it in a plastic bag to travel with him from his room to ours.
Jen took me to the bathroom to pee and Davor finally got a chance to hold his son. He was beaming! There’s just something so handsome about a man holding a baby, and Davor looked so sweet and proud and obviously so moved by the emotion of the event.
Then I got to crawl into bed with my darling husband and our beautiful son. It was the most cozy, comfortable feeling ever, to be on our own space, warm and cared for. Sue set it up and then Davor cut the umbilical cord. Then Sue and Jen inspected my bottom. Amazingly, I hadn’t torn after all. I did have a small cut near the top of my vagina, and a scrape on the left inner labia, but all in all, very minor.
Finally Indigo was examined, weighed and measured. All ten fingers and toes! And a whopping 7 pounds 11 ounces, 19 ½ inches! His perfect little body placed back into my arms and he fell asleep, skin to skin on my chest.
I was exhausted, yet so happy. Such a serene feeling. I kept nodding off as Sue and Jen went about their business, coming in and out of the room. Sue helped get Indigo latched on for another feeding and gave me some herbs to help my recovery. I was just so blissed out, cuddling with my boys, Davor and Indy, that I drifted off to sleep and didn’t even hear everyone leave.
Such a peaceful feeling.
While preparing in the weeks before, I shared with everyone my vision for how we would feel about the birth afterwards. I hoped we would feel empowered, connected, loving, peaceful and safe.
That, along with immense gratitude, is exactly how we feel.
We are so grateful to have had such a beautiful home birth and beginning of our love bubble.
We feel so incredibly blessed to have the love and support of such and amazing birth team. Thank you, Sue, Jen, Heather and Jean!
And we are eternally grateful to Ellen Keith Shaw of Wise Light for the beautiful photography. Ellen, you did an incredible job capturing the intimacy and emotion of such a profound experience for us (and with such low light!) Thank you for being the gentle “fly on the wall” and giving us these beautiful images as the companion to our memories.