My Birth Story – Fast Natural Water Birth at Home

My first birth almost three and a half years ago was an unmedicated vaginal birth in a hospital. We had a doula and everything went well. He was born just under 12 hours from my first contraction which got steadily faster and stronger until he was born.

My birth mantra banner Birthing attendant cat

I'll post more about the process of deciding on a homebirth another time, but this baby was born in our bedroom. I loved birthing at home. I'm also glad I hired Ariel Dolfo Photography to capture our birth since it went by so fast I barely remember it!

My first son was born at 40 weeks and 6 days, so I wasn't in a rush. I didn't feel "ready" yet when my due date rolled around.

Sunday I was 40+4, and the first time I felt like the baby was coming very soon was at 4am when I woke up to a few mild contractions. I didn't bother waking my husband up as they subsided and I went back to sleep.

We got up fairly early and I let him know that I thought "today is the day."

Husband filling up my birth tub

The three of us took a long walk around the neighborhood after breakfast. I had lots of Braxton-Hicks contractions, and a few real ones, but when we got home they died down. I couldn't decide if I was disappointed or not. That point of pregnancy is a lot like that momentary pause at the top of the first hill on the roller coaster, and there's only one way off.

I messaged my doula, Lisa, and my photographer to give them a heads up. Ariel guessed it was prodromal labor and he wouldn't arrive until Tuesday.

I disagreed. I can't say exactly how, but I felt confident that he was coming soon.

Husband using a woven wrap to rebozo sift my belly during labor

What surprised me the most was how calm I felt. My first labor started after a stressful morning at the hospital (I'll post that story another time). This time I just took it easy. I snuggled my 3-year-old. I read part of my book and tried to relax. It was "hurry up and wait" at that point.

After lunch we went for yet another walk. Braxton-Hicks kicked up again, but died down back at home. I updated Lisa and Ariel so they knew what was going on -- it wasn't much, but I had a feeling it would be soon.

In case of another overnight labor, I decided to take a nap before we headed to dinner. (Kids dine-in for free on Sundays at the Kebab Shop, so that was our plan.)

I laid down to rest, but after a few minutes I started having contractions. Out of curiosity I started timing them at 10-15 minutes apart, but irregular. They were mild, and we all had to eat dinner anyway, so I got up and suggested that we go eat.

My worst nightmare would be laboring with a hangry inconsolable 3-year-old.

Laboring on the yoga ball Updating Facebook in between contractions so no one suspected I was in labor!

After I told my husband what was happening, I said we should still go to dinner. It was only 15 minutes away and if things got serious, we could leave. I promised him I wasn't going to have a baby on the sidewalk outside the Kebab Shop.

By the time we arrived, my contractions were closer to 7 minutes apart. We ordered (mmm, falafel) and ate our last meal as a family of three.

During dinner I messaged Lisa and Ariel again. They both asked if I had called my midwives, and I said no, not yet, I will when contractions are 5 minutes apart.

By the end of dinner, they were. My husband was starting to look at me nervously. They were more frequent, but still not painful.

It was just before 7pm when I called my midwives from the car on the way home. Donna was the midwife on call, and she suggested trying to rest and checking back in about 2 hours with an update. I agreed.

My yoga ball was my base camp during labor

Part of me felt like it wouldn't be that long, but she's experienced and has 8 kids of her own. I could always call earlier. She lives near us and could arrive quickly if need be.

A big question mark was our 3-year-old. He said he wanted to be present for the birth unless he was asleep, in which case we were NOT to wake him. He let Daddy put him to bed without arguing or stalling for the first time in his entire life, and his last time as an only child.

Meanwhile, Lisa asked if she should come over, and I said yes. Ariel said she would come, too.

I thought it was too early, but if he was going to be born at 4am, they'd be up all night anyway. We're friends, so it would be nice to have them there to hang out and keep me company at least.

My doula squeezing my hips during labor to help me through contractions

Lisa arrived around 8:30, Ariel just after 9:00. My contractions were about 3 minutes apart and more intense, but I was still walking around and talking with ease. My husband was setting up the birth tub in our bedroom and filling it with hot water.

Contractions were getting stronger, but walking helped. I paced back and forth between the master bathroom and the birth tub. We brought the yoga ball in and leaning on it was comforting. Every night I post three "daily positives" on my Facebook profile, and I knew if I missed the post, everyone would know I was in labor, so I wrote them up in between contractions.

I had my woven wrap to use as a rebozo to "sift" my belly which took some of the weight and pressure off my body. Lisa and my husband took turns to give their arms a break. Labor was still not painful, but uncomfortable for sure.

We were basically just hanging out, except I was in labor. I don't remember what we talked about, but it was comfortable chatter and lots of laughing. Contractions were intensifying, and Lisa was squeezing my hips for counter-pressure which helped considerably.

Counter pressure from my doula, contraction timer for my husband Working through some intense contractions

Lisa suggested taking a shower if I thought it would feel good, and it did. Our master bathroom is an extension of our bedroom and I hesitated for a moment before getting naked in front of everyone, but figured it would happen eventually anyway. Things were still progressing, but I was still walking and talking through contractions.

I had taken a shower during labor with my oldest son, and I was annoyed afterward that no one told me I had terrible raccoon eyes from my mascara washing off. My first photo with my baby looks like I'd lost a boxing match. This time, especially with a photographer, I put on makeup between contractions. Not sorry!

A little after 10pm we discussed calling the midwives. Again, I was still able to walk and talk, but I was probably slightly in denial. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together, starting to overlap each other.

Transition is not my favorite part I needed help to walk to the tub in between pushes

My husband called Donna at 10:26pm according to my phone log. It's a good thing she only lives 1.5 miles away.

What was probably obvious to everyone else was that I was in transition. I was too busy being in transition to notice. It was remarkably similar to my memory of my first birth. Fine, fine, fine, fine, NOT FINE NOT FINE AT ALL OMG I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE.

The rest of my labor I was focused, my energy directed into my body. Suddenly I came un-moored. If contractions are waves, transition is the tsunami. It was like I wanted to panic but didn't know how.

My midwife arrived in the nick of time I spent about 4 minutes in the birth tub

I had been to the toilet frequently, but not much was coming out. Not uncommon with a bowling ball baby head crushing your bladder, and part of the deal.

My pacing became almost frantic as the strength of the contractions overwhelmed me and I couldn't find a way to get relief. I tried to walk, to lean over, to hang, but nothing helped. My sense of time was completely gone.

Finally I told everyone I needed to go to the bathroom again even though I knew I didn't really need to go. What I do remember clearly is when I got up from the toilet, looked up at them and said, "I need to push."

He was born in the caul

The midwives weren't there yet. I remember Lisa and my husband looking at each other. I could hear their conversation, but have no idea what they said. In the hospital they had directed my pushing which only took 18 minutes. I remember it being hard, but I didn't remember it feeling like this.

The urge was so strong that I pushed once standing up right there in the bathroom. Then I said, "I need to get in the tub!" with a sense of desperation. I have no idea why I suddenly decided that, but Lisa and my husband helped me walk over, basically as the baby was crowning.

Keeping the baby out of the hot water

I managed to climb into the tub but was overwhelmed by the urge to push again. I couldn't figure out where my body wanted to be, but ended up kneeling on the floor of the tub and leaning against the edge. I had been talking through much of my labor, but hadn't been incredibly loud or vocal until now. It was a combination of growling and yelling as my body took over completely.

I pushed 3, maybe 4 times total.

My husband had been timing contractions on my phone. He hit "start" the last time at 10:49 and the baby was born at 10:55, maybe 2 minutes after my midwife walked in the room.

Hello baby!

I heard Donna's voice as she came in and I said, "Just tell me what to do." I was caught off guard by the intensity and speed and was feeling out of control. Donna coached me to lower my voice and reach down to feel my baby. And out he slipped into my hands.

He was born in the caul, meaning my water never broke. The midwives moved quickly to get him out of the sac so he could breathe. Ariel couldn't get into position for a shot, sadly, but it was cool to see for a moment. Apparently it happens once in about 80,000 births!

I did it! I spent about 4 minutes in the birth tub

My first baby came out pink and screaming. This one took a moment, which seems to fit what we've seen of his personality these last 10 weeks.

Since I hadn't been in the tub during labor the water was too hot for the baby. We had to hold him up and move me out of the tub onto the bed fairly quickly - a whopping 3 feet. I felt very focused on that task since I was worried about the baby.

We moved onto the bed so I could deliver the placenta. I barely remember it, I was just focused on this new little person suddenly there in my arms in my own bedroom who wasn't there a few minutes before.

Meeting my little man Daddy looking on

The midwives checked him out and his breathing was a little labored, so he did need some suction to help clear his lungs. He didn't spend much time getting "extruded" due to his speedy arrival.

I did have (another) second degree tear since the pushing stage went so quickly and the midwives weren't actually there to do anything about it. I never had a cervical check or monitoring. I was about a minute away from having a technically unassisted birth!

Baby's first selfie

We just got to snuggle for at least an hour other than the brief suctioning still on the bed. Eventually they did weigh and measure him -- 8 pounds, 6 ounces, 20.5 inches long.

No transfer from L&D to postpartum. No pressure for a bath or testing. Just snuggling. One of my midwives took our vitals every once in a while.

Soaking up skin-to-skin time

Skin-to-skin with Daddy

It was a little strange to have my tear stitched up at home, but Daddy got some skin-to-skin time while we did that.

In the middle of the process, our 3-year-old woke up to use the bathroom. The only midwife not wearing gloves helped him as he squinted against blazing hall lights at 2am. He put himself right back to bed. My husband and I asked whose child was in our house.

The midwives stayed until about 4:00 and scheduled a followup on Tuesday morning. They had cleaned everything up and left us there to fall asleep as a family, much different than our hospital experience of a shared room and frequent wakings.

My amazing birth support team

About 6:00, our firstborn stumbled sleepily into our bedroom as usual, but stopped short in the doorway.

"Why is the birth tub in here?" he asked. Then it clicked as he ran to my side of the bed.

The baby was laying on my chest, asleep. "Come meet your brother," I said.

He climbed up next to me, nose to nose with his baby brother. "Hello, baby," he said. Then my heart exploded into a million pieces.

Family of four

Photo credit: Chris Wojdak

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Playful Parenting Techniques That Work

If you've ever found yourself sweating and on the brink of tears in the back of your car trying to shove your child as gently as possible into their car seat after 30 minutes of struggle and hysteria, you're not alone.
I've been there more times than I care to admit.

Then I read the book Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. I tried a few of his suggestions. Within a few days, it got easier. He didn't struggle as much. It didn't take as long. I wasn't crying.

Sold.

Cohen is both a play therapist and a dad. I appreciated his perspective as a professional mixed with his personal experiences at home with his own daughter.

Power Plays

Cohen explains that children often feel powerless. They're small people in a big world with little control over what happens. Any chance to be in control, cause a reaction, or test a limit, they will take.

(My note: The only things young children truly control are what they eat, and going to the bathroom. That's why avoiding power struggles in those areas is so important, because when it's a battle, no one wins.)

For adults, play means leisure, but for children, play is more like their job.

Children play not only to learn, but also to process what happens in their world. Make believe and fantasy play are extremely important because kids can act out various scenarios and learn empathy by being different characters.

Tantrums and Testing Limits

The transition to toddlerhood can be a challenge for both kids and parents. You've spent the last year or so responding to your child's needs to build a secure attachment and feeding on demand.

Suddenly you're both learning to navigate the difference between needs and wants which may not be as urgent, and the emotions that come with unfulfilled desires.

So. Many. Big. Feelings.

This is also when parents who have been very committed to gentle or attachment parenting can start to feel a bit lost. "Do I need to discipline my toddler for doing bad things? Am I being too lenient? Do I ignore the tantrum so I'm not rewarding the behavior?"

For most difficulties between parents and children, the real problem is lack of connection, so the solution is more connection.

Often children act out as a bid for attention or due to an overload of emotions they can't process alone. When they feel frustrated, can't communicate, and don't have enough control, they melt down because they don't yet have the coping skills to handle it.

Playful Practices to Implement Today

There are two specific techniques suggested in the book, and one inspired by it, that have worked really well for us starting before the age of 2.

My husband was actually doing one of them with our son last night while I made dinner. The hysterical giggles coming from the living room were music to my ears.

Pushing Games

There are two versions of these games: one for giving power, and one for testing strength. To give power, we let my son "push" us over. We invite him to try, and even if he barely touches us, we do our best stage fall.

"Ahh! You're so strong! You got me!" we call, limbs flailing as we hit the ground. Then we act like a turtle on its back so he has to "help" us get up. Then he does it again.

Yes, I know it sounds horribly embarrassing and undignified, but no one ever said parenting was going to be like having tea at Buckingham Palace.

The win-win is that he feels in control. He feels strong. He's pushing over big people in positions of authority above him! Yet everyone is safe and he can't actually do any damage with this power.

The other version is testing strength. Make sure to gauge their reactions so you're not making it too hard, but make it hard enough to push you over that they really have to try. The benefit is that they feel strong because they ARE strong, but they can test that strength on you instead of another child.

Some people worry that encouraging kids to push you will lead them to push other kids by implying that it's OK. Cohen advises parents to "follow the giggles." Make sure kids know it's a game and that everyone is having fun. If at any point, either of you isn't having fun, it's time to stop.

Children need to come to terms with aggression - their own and others - and if we don't let them do it through play, they will do it in real life.

Chasing Games

In addition to strength, chasing lets kids test their speed. Same concept with two variations: ask if they want to chase you, or if you should chase them.

You can't possibly catch them - they're too fast, or you trip and fall. Alternately, sometimes they need you to challenge them a bit, but not so much that they feel like a failure.

If they want to chase you, same thing - trip and make it easy, or make them work for it a little based on what they need.

Hide and Seek

Playing hide-and-seek with our 3-year-old is another way we incorporate playfulness, and he loves being the director of this game. He hides and we "can't" find him (even when he tells us where he's going to hide, or is in plain sight).

Letting him outsmart us and spending focused time in his world goes miles towards his cooperation with everything from putting on shoes to going to bed.

When he declares it our turn to hide, he often instructs us where to go. We start out easy, then gradually increase the difficulty. If he gets frustrated, we know to back off.

Immediate Impact

Like I mentioned above, car seat struggles quickly became a thing of the past. I still have to enforce consistent limits. He still pushes boundaries. But those are our jobs.

And when I find myself in power struggles with my son, I make it a point to connect, to incorporate these activities, and buy into his world. Understanding why it happens help me empathize better when I start feeling frustrated. It makes life easier which is always a good thing.

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Let's be honest - you'll forget to check back. Because mom brain is real.

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