mable is here: the hippies saved us.

It feels difficult to convince anyone of the virtues of a home birth experience spanning a full Monday-Friday workweek and lasting over 96 hours, but here I am and I'm going to try.

Contractions, for me, were a horizontal band of burning muscle centered across my back dimples combined with a dull ache in my lower torso; often punctuated with a sharp ice-pick jabs where my ovaries are. People say they're like bad period cramps, but period cramps don't come in any sort of rhythm or cycle. You just can't turn these things off, they aren't sporadic, and you have a few seconds warning every time before they come. I wonder how many thousands of contractions I breathed through.

My first hint of them crept up and kept me awake for a few hours on Sunday night. I knew they were no big deal and went to bed when I could. Monday morning, I headed to work along with Wayne, just to pick up a hard drive to help me potentially work from home. We walked all around Manhattan for the rest of the afternoon, running errands and stopping for lunch, my uterus contracting here and there. In the early evening at an appointment with our midwife, she noticed how tired I seemed.

"I guess you'll be sleeping well tonight!"

Of course I woke up two hours after bedtime with contractions coming every 7 to 8 minutes.

Prodromal labor, like mine, that dipped and escalated and dipped and dipped and dipped again is often blamed on emotional hangups, on the baby's lack of active engagement in the labor process, or that they're not quite positioned to descend into the pelvis correctly.

I called the midwife finally on Wednesday morning after being up for two nights. We'd been timing the contractions, watching "My Neighbor Totoro" and "The March of the Penguins" from the birth pool, singing Neil Young and Lee Hazelwood songs, just hoping things would pick up to the steady, consistent 511 pace that everyone talks about and escalate from there.

"Why didn't you call me earlier?!" was her first response.

I cried after we hung up feeling failed and exhausted.

The first hippie she sent by our apartment, a doula with wavy graying hair and a giant, confident smile, demonstrated how to make my contractions more effective and showed me positions to help move the baby into a more active spot. She begged me to go outside and get a pedicure, but contracting in one of those big bacteria-infested reclining chairs while some scared esthetician massaged my feet sounded stressful at best.

Not long after, the midwife came over. I was dilated to only 3 cm after all of that laboring. She stripped my membranes and recommended that I take 3 Benadryl and try to nap.  After a torturous toss in bed, breathing through contractions for about 2 hours and trying to doze in the interim, I was instructed to take some castor oil along with some pulpy orange juice to see if it'd speed things up. Castor oil and contractions! What a combo. I'll spare you all the details, but castor oil is serious business and there's a reason we never hear about people using it as a laxative much these days. It lasted til Friday and took its toll all Wednesday night.

Thursday morning we hired a doula, Emma, with short hair and two nose piercings, sent over from the reception desk at the midwife's office. She was shy at first, but not when it came to putting pressure on my back in the right spots during contractions.

The acupuncturist arrived next with a bag full of chinese medicine. She wore long hair parted down the middle, a nose ring, and tattoos in tibetan writing down her arms. Her dress looked comfortable and her presence calmed me. She administered cohosh and little sugar pills. She used big glass suction cups on my lower back, lit tiny sticks of incense on my legs that she warned smelled of "bad weed", and delicately stuck gold-plated needles in my ear, back, hand, feet, and toes. Its magic worked. When she left, Emma made me lie down on my side and breathe through contractions as she applied pressure to my hip. Things never ached worse and were probably never more productive. My water began leaking after a while and she called the midwife again. The midwife I'd planned to deliver with was out at another delivery, so her partner showed up in her place.

I was finally dilated to 8 cm but because my leak was slow, the backup midwife pierced my bag of waters more thoroughly and told me to hop into the birth pool. I bent into the least comfortable positions possible to make the most of every contraction. I whimpered and breathed and groaned. When I asked the midwife if this was ever going to actually happen, she told me to reach up and try to feel the head and it was there! All soft and and little slimy! I couldn't believe it. She also told me that my contractions had slowed and urged me to try sleeping again before the final pushing phase. No! It killed me; I was just so excited to wrap things up. But I took the 3 benadryl again and obeyed. And this time, I actually managed to rest for a full two hours. I can't even remember feeling a contraction the whole nap until the really mean one that finally woke me up. Emma rushed into the room, declaring that I sounded a little "pushy"and soon I was pushing in a semi-reclining position on the bed with the whole team in place.

I had no idea what pushing would be like. I didn't know I'd see stars or feel worried about hemrroids. I didn't know that it sapped every drop of juice from your system. I didn't know it'd make my vision blurry and that everyone would just tell me to go even harder and longer. Wayne was worried and kept telling me to breathe. After an hour of this the midwife said, "Seriously, I think she'll be out in just 2 or 3 more." An hour later, with sweat dripping everywhere, she explained that there was one really tight spot where the baby was stuck. 

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think if I just gave you one cut, she'd be out."

"Yes. DO it. I trust you. If you think I need it, just do it." I didn't realize my midwife had never cut an episiotomy in all of her years of practice.

"Just push one more time and we'll think about it."

I hurt my eyes and lungs and saw so many stars and my sweet baby arrived in a sudden burst with that push. Emma and Wayne both cried, but I was too excited. I kept saying things like, "Hi baby!" "We did it!", "Oh, my baby; Hello my baby!" Mable Jane Leavitt was born on July 26, 2013, 12 days past her "due date", weighing 8 lbs. exactly, and measuring 22 inches tall (which is a little funny, because both Wayne and I are a little on the short side.)

The amazing thing is that despite all the being stuck during pushing, my sweet midwife worked enough magic with her olive oil that I only tore slightly in one spot and required no stitching.

Morals of the story:

Hire a doula. Seriously. I mean it. There is no birth education class or amount of reading that can make up for experience. You won't regret it and you might regret not doing it. Plus, you'll have made a friend.

There is no industrialized system or business model that can benefit from prodromal labor without turning it into an operation or emergency procedure. I am so grateful to all of the talented, patient hippies who helped me birth in peace.

I don't know how midwives have time and energy to care the way ours did. My midwife was amazing and I only wish I did my job for as many of the right reasons as she does hers. I am grateful and inspired and astounded.

I am so grateful for Wayne, who never left my side even to catch up on a few minutes of sleep. He cooked throughout the whole thing, fed me water and gatorade through a straw, and applied so much pressure to my lower back during those five days that his own back and hands and arms started to hurt. I never felt like I carried the weight of birth alone.

Mable is the best. I just can't get over her.


nursery tour!

The nursery is ready! It's complete with Montessori floor bed, mobile, and wall paintings.
 Props to Jess Smiley for the cool framed print on the wall.

 Baby bonsais! Yes, we'll move them when she gets mobile.
 Here's the floor bed, mobile, and paintings of lilac-breasted rollers.

 The panorama view: