Betsy on Martha's Vineyard
I had always envisioned having my babies at home in a space that was warm and familiar, in a soft light with an orangey hue, and not in a sterilized feeling place surrounded by the strange and acrid smells of a hospital. However, when I found out I was pregnant and faced planning where and how I would have my first baby, it proved to be more daunting and stressful than I had foreseen. I felt a lot of pressure to accept a medical and hospital birth and had a hard time finding where to begin to plan a birth that was what I had imagined. I was grateful and relieved to find Sybille, and felt very lucky I had access to the option of having a homebirth with a knowledgeable and experienced midwife.
I was considering a number of places that I might be able to plan the kind of birth I wanted, and settled happily to plan the birth of my first baby at a family home on the Vineyard, with Sybille. As I was living in New York at the time, I came to the island several times to meet with Sybille in the early months of my pregnancy and then moved there a few months before my due date.
I read, among many other books that where recommended from all walks of life, Michel Odent’s Birth Reborn, which Sybille had loaned me. It happened to be the first book I read and it made quite an impression on me and, and I decided to reread it again as the last one I read on the subject. I declared that I wanted to have a water birth and Sybille was quick to encourage me, but also cautioned that we should plan for a waterbirth and also plan for a not-waterbirth. She pointed out that I may find that I was not as keen on the idea when the moment came as I was now, sitting at the kitchen table, imagining how it would be. So my partner, Ben, and I ordered a blow up pool on the internet and gathered up all of the necessary homebirthing supplies in a box and awaited the arrival of our first baby.
As March came around, and I felt the first sensations of contractions one evening, I must admit that initially I felt a mild panic, just for a moment. For one, I hadn’t finished making the crib mattress I was planning on having ready for the new baby and, two, my due date was still ten days away. I was up for most of the night with contractions that were not very regular and still quite some distance apart. My water broke at 9 a.m. the next morning and I phoned Sybille who immediately set me at ease and began making her way from her island home to ours.
Ben and I set up the kiddy pool turned birth pool we had ordered and I felt most compelled to get in. Sybille arrived a few hours later, still many hours before the birth, and upon examination, agreed that it was a perfectly good idea for me to get into the pool. I lolled around in the pool for some time; I was more comfortable there because I could move around at my whims, being relatively weightless in the water. This was a huge advantage in labor, because no position was ever good for very long. I was struck by sudden and clear impulses to move myself into different positions, and I was, like a beached whale, too big and cumbersome to achieve that very well out of the water. I would have said that I had been in the pool for about a half of an hour when I announced that I felt like getting out. Meg and Ben helped me out and onto the bed and informed me that I had been in the pool for about three hours. Sybille examined me and assured me I was making good progress. I was tired: from hardly sleeping the night before and from laboring all day. And I was kind of out-of-it at this point. I said I was tired and that I was going to lie down, which I did. My contractions slowed down a bit and I actually fell asleep for a while between contractions.
When I woke up about an hour later, Sybille suggested a big spoon of honey to get my energy up. I felt the need to push but I wasn’t quite dilated enough so I had to wait out a little more labor, on the bed. Maybe the hardest part of the labor, for me, was resisting the urge to push until Sybille gave me the okay. Then she offered the suggestion: maybe you want to get back in the pool again. And I did want to! I got back in the pool and Ben got in behind me; I sat between his knees and he held me up. I was beginning to get really tired by now. Sybille gave me another couple of spoons of honey and said, okay, it’s time to have your baby now. She climbed into the tub with us, standing in front of me to manage what was happening with the baby. Meg, our amazing doula, really saw to my mind: helping me with my breathing and keeping my head down and not arching my back. Sybille saw to the birth itself, managing more my body and the baby.
A few pushes later, I could feel the burning and stretching to let the head out that culminated in a tear. At the moment of the tear I said, “that hurts.” And with that, he was here; it was about 6 p.m. Sybille guided him up onto my belly so that Ben, over my shoulder, and I could see him. Just his face came out of the water and the birth was so happy and peaceful, he scarcely cried, he just opened his eyes and looked up at Ben and me. Of course we were completely taken with him: the most perfect child ever.
When I think back on that birth experience, I wouldn’t even say was painful. I think, “uncomfortable” more accurately describes it. I wouldn’t say it was painful except for the tear; that was brief and painful. But when we finally got out of the tub about half an hour later and I laid down to have Sybille stitch up the tear, I was so high on having a new beautiful baby and all of the chemicals that my own body had released, I couldn’t have cared less about a tear. Sybille examined it an told me this is what they would call a significant tear and she was preparing to stitch it but recommended, if I was up for it, that she not shoot it with Novocain first because the irritation that that would cause would make the stitching more difficult and less exact. I didn’t even flinch, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” I hardly remember being stitched up with no Novocain, if you can imagine that, I was so blissed-out.
In the days and weeks to follow, the tear was sore and it was the only thing about my birth experience that I would have changed if I could have. However, in retrospect, having the tear necessitated resting more in the days and weeks that followed, than I otherwise think I would have, and with a clearer perspective now, that was actually probably a good thing. And of course it did eventually heal up and left no residual irritation.
Two years later, I was pregnant again. We actually did consider having a hospital birth because the insurance we had this time would cover a hospital birth and not a homebirth. I had seriously debated this but when it came time to decide which route to take, the answer became perfectly clear to me: I was so happy with my first birth experience, why would I take a different route? So I called Sybille and planned a homebirth just like the first one.
Interestingly, my water didn’t break at the beginning of my labor the second time around. And when it came time to get into the birth pool, I didn’t really feel like it. I spent sometime in the pool but the labor was shorter, only about 2 and half hours of active labor and in the end, I didn’t feel like getting into the pool for the birth itself either. My water broke just minutes before the birth and I ended up squatting, leaning with my back against the side of the bed and Ben holding me up from behind again. I think at least in part, because Sybille was able to manage the moment of the baby emerging more exactly, since it wasn’t under water, she was able to help control the speed at which the head came out more effectively and I am happy to report I had almost no tear at all. There was a little nick of tear, but nothing compared to the first experience. And we joyfully welcomed another boy, who came out yelling, unlike the first. Just a minute or two after he was born, I decided I wanted to get into the tub at that point, and that was quite nice; it was warm and relaxing to both baby and me.
I really feel so happy and lucky that my birth experiences were just how I had envisioned them.