This is the story of my homebirth, told in three parts (to give your eyes a rest). I couldn’t cut it down or it would have been incomplete. And let’s be honest, a couple days of water breakage plus 16 hours of labor isn’t exactly going to be a quick tell. A word of reminder to my male and/or squeamish readers: the following is a birth story. I’m going to talk about my underwear and use words like “discharge” and “placenta”. You’ve been advised.
And to give a little more background, we had two midwives at our birth. Normally it would have just been one midwife and an assistant, but our midwife Stacey added another midwife to her practice halfway through our pregnancy. Ali started out working in hospitals (where Stacey also started out and where most midwives practice) and was attending Stacey’s births alongside her while she made the transition to being a homebirth midwife. So we kind of lucked out and got two midwives for the price of one. We also had a doula, Jax, present for our labor. We feel so lucky to have had each of these women as part of our “team”. They were all wonderful and each contributed to making the experience truly special.
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It was a Wednesday and we were having one of our end-of-the-run, weekly, at-home midwife appointments. It was Ali’s turn to visit and I mentioned to her that I had been experiencing some dampness in my underwear. It was clear and odorless and I was certain that it wasn’t urine but it also didn’t seem like discharge. She didn’t have any pH strips on hand to test it, but we decided that it was probably just a very watery discharge. I’d call if anything changed.
After Ali left, I went into the kitchen to make lunch for Chris and me. As I was standing there, I felt a couple of small gushes (like how it feels when you get your period) and started to feel very crampy and sort of sick. I told Chris and we started mentally preparing for me to potentially go into labor.
A little over an hour later, I had finished making lunch, eaten and was lying on the couch. The crazy sick feelings had subsided. Through the rest of the day, however, I felt a few more gushes and decided I would call the midwives if they continued to happen the next day.
Within an hour of waking up on Thursday morning, I felt three more small gushes and got on the phone with our midwives’ office. It still may have just been watery discharge, but I wanted to be sure. They squeezed me in for a 4pm appointment at the office. As the hours passed before the appointment, I had a few more small gushes and noticed that the fluid smelled a bit sweet, like wet dry grass or hay. I also had one gush, while dealing with the after-effects of another, that resulted in a small silver dollar-sized puddle on our bathroom floor.
I was about 90% sure at this point that it was amniotic fluid.
I called a car and headed down to Brooklyn for my appointment. Stacey first spent some time feeling and listening to the baby. Immediately she noticed that it felt like there was slightly less fluid. He felt good, though–head down and active. We listened to his heart for several minutes to determine if the loss of fluid (if that’s truly what it was) had led to any cord compression or if it was affecting him in any way. His heartbeat was strong and steady, and there were good accelerations when she’d manually move him around.
The first thing that she then did to check whether it was amniotic fluid was to (Gasp! Giggle!) smell my underwear. Often that’s enough, and if that’s all she needed to do, it would be preferable. Unfortunately she couldn’t really tell, so I got up on the table so she could perform a sterile speculum exam.
So here’s the deal with having awesome, conscientious midwives: you do not do an internal exam of any sort ever, unless there is a very clear reason for it. I never once had a cervical check at any of my weekly appointments. The truth is (and any decent Ob will admit the same), cervical checks tell you nothing. How dilated and effaced a woman is at any given time is not a good indicator of when she will go into labor or how said labor will progress once it begins. It is totally possible for a woman to be 0cm dilated and 0% effaced and have her baby a matter of hours later. It is equally possible for a woman to be 3cm dilated and 80% effaced and walk around that way for weeks. Unless a doctor is trying to determine how effective an induction may be, all that cervical checks do is mess with a woman’s head and expectations and increase the risk that she may end up with an infection.
So, since internal exams increase the risk of infection, especially if the bag of waters is broken, this was a last resort in the quest to determine whether I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid.
In some beautiful stroke of coincidence, about two seconds after I hopped up on the table so we could do an internal exam, out came a nice solid gush of fluid. I hopped down, catching another gush with my hand as I did. Stacey quickly grabbed a couple of pH strips and a microscope slide. The strips should have turned blue on contact if it was amniotic fluid. They didn’t. So she swiped the slide on the fluid, handed me a maxi pad, and left the room to look at it under a microscope while I got cleaned up.
The pH strips may not have thought so, but, sure enough, it was amniotic fluid. When dry, amniotic fluid makes a really pretty “ferning” pattern under a microscope. Stacey let me take a peek; it was like frost on a windowpane.
Since I hadn’t been having any strong contractions, Stacey wrote me out some recommendations for herbal tinctures (black cohosh and blue cohosh) to move things along and told me that she wanted me to see an acupuncturist that, in her experience, had been good at getting labor going for other clients. I started taking the black and blue cohosh that night and went to see the acupuncturist the following (Friday) morning. I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt. And whether it ultimately helped or not, it was a relaxing experience.
(Friday morning before the acupuncturist. Roughly 38 1/2 weeks pregnant.)
Nothing much changed throughout the rest of the day on Friday until that evening. Suddenly, at around a quarter to 7, the small gushes of fluid changed to big gushes. I was soaking a panty liner with each one, so I decided to crack open the massive overnight pads that we purchased for postpartum. Good thing too, because the gushes didn’t slow and just kept on getting bigger. I started cracking up at the amount of fluid—it felt completely ridiculous and I couldn’t believe how it kept on coming.
About half an hour to 45 minutes later, Chris and I decided to head out for provisions. I’d nearly soaked the overnight pad and decided to change it before we left.
As we headed down the elevator and out of the building, the fluid kept coming out in big, fat gushes. By the time we were two blocks away, it was like someone kept turning on a faucet full blast for a few seconds at a time. I wanted so bad to just enjoy the walk and the sparkly snow that we’d finally gotten, but I couldn’t. I was too busy cracking up and gasping in surprise. At one point, it poured constantly for three solid blocks. It just would not stop.
(Last walk as non-parents!)
We made it to our first destination and quickly grabbed only the necessities. I could tell that the pad wasn’t going to be able to contain things much longer. As we started walking back in the direction of our apartment, also the direction of our next two stops, it became clearer and clearer that Chris would have to go on without me. When we parted ways 3 blocks from home, I could tell that my pants were soaking through. And it kept coming.
I got home, stripped down, surprised (and also not) by how the fluid had soaked the entire pad and the whole crotch of my jeans halfway down my thighs. I gave Stacey a call before hopping in the shower. Usually a big water break like that means that labor is a few hours away. She told me to eat a good dinner and try to get some rest. I’d call her if anything changed overnight, or first thing in the morning.
Before we went to bed that night, I laid a large towel, folded over as many times as was still comfortable, on my side of the bed just in case. At around 1am, I was woken up by a large a gush of fluid that I could tell was overflowing the pad, and I leaped out of bed. It wasn’t stopping or slowing, so I yanked the towel off the bed and onto the floor between my feet. It was like someone turned a bucket over. I could literally hear the fluid splashing onto the floor.
I woke Chris up and asked him to grab some towels and waddled to the bathroom, still pouring water the whole way. The water was now cloudy with small white chunks in it; they had the rough appearance and texture of the hard lump that comes out when you pump a bottle of lotion for the first time in a while.
Once I got everything under control, I called Stacey to let her know what had happened. She confirmed what I thought, that the white chunks were vernix (the protective coating covers babies in utero and that they shed as they come to term), and told me to get some sleep because labor would probably be on its way soon.
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Continue reading My Birth Story, Part 2: Labor & Delivery