Homebirth story submitted by Cora’s mother, Christine Cassella. Photos by birth doula Rachel Mueller
On Monday, October 28 I woke up with some pressure waves that felt unlike anything I had experienced as “practice” before. I wondered if this could be the day, but the waves subsided as I went about the day. I took a long nap and went for a walk in a nearby park. The fall colors were quite lovely and it felt refreshing to breathe the crisp air.
I headed toward the field where I first began dreaming of this baby over a year ago and which is also the field that inspired the song I wrote for her. I found a bare piece of Earth at the edge where the field meets the forest and grounded myself, soaking up energy from the Earth and feeling very aware that the birth would be happening soon.
I went home and prepared a hearty noodle soup and salad. As I was doing this, the strong pressure waves that I felt that morning returned. In fact, they were getting stronger. Some of them began requiring my full attention.
When Michael came home I hugged him and told him that I thought the birth was imminent. He let out a big smile and remarked on how wild it is that our lives could be changing so much in the course of a day. He sat with me as I went through some waves, but we decided that we should try our hardest to get some rest. We both went upstairs to bed, but I wasn’t there for long because I was too uncomfortable. I began timing the pressure waves, which were coming anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting for about 45 seconds to a minute. Early labor for sure, but something was definitely happening.
I wandered around and rested when I could between them all night. Eventually, I put on a Hypnobabies track and was able to rest better, but the waves never completely stopped. Cora was on her way.
In the morning I warned doula Rachel that something was happening and I also called my midwife, Pam. Her advice was to rest as much as possible because there is no way of telling how long this type of labor would go on for a first-time mom and fatigue is often the biggest reason that first-time moms leave home for the hospital. She assured me that rest would only help the labor progress.
So I rested the best I could. Some parts of the day were easier than others. I checked in with Rachel in the afternoon and told her that things were stalled at semi-regular contractions happening 5-10 minutes apart. She gave me confidence that everything was normal and that my cervix was just taking its time thinning out.
A few hours later Michael brought dinner home, but I could not eat more than a few bites. I didn’t feel very hungry and I felt something shifting. I needed to be on my hands and knees to focus on the pressure waves more often and they were consistently coming 5 minutes apart. We were getting closer.
I called Rachel and she started to head over around 7PM. Michael began preparing the birthing tub. I went around the house between waves lighting candles and setting up my birth alter. The atmosphere was peaceful, calm, and welcoming.
It was nice to have Rachel there when she came. She set up a calming aromatherapy diffuser and we could play around with her relaxation tools – massage paddles, a head massager (my favorite), a birthing ball, and more. She helped to remind me to stay relaxed and to let out low moans instead of anxiety-filled high-pitch ones.
As things became more intense, we decided that I could get in the water. It felt nice, but our hot water tank had run out so it wasn’t quite warm enough to stay in long. I got out rather quickly and warmed up by our fire.
Soon after, I was laboring on the toilet which is a surprisingly nice place to work through these sensations. Midwife Pam arrived about this time and brought an additional sense of reassurance and calm to what was happening. She reminded me to let my body do the work, to relax fully as the sensations overtook my being, and to moan low.
I’m not sure how long this went on, but eventually Pam offered to check my dilation and I accepted: five centimeters with the sac beginning to bulge through. My contractions were around 3-5 minutes apart at this point.
I have to admit I was a little disheartened when Pam suggested that she and her assistant leave for a while to get some rest. She suggested that I drink a glass of wine and try to get some rest because I still had a long road ahead. I wondered how I would possibly rest when I was having contractions 3-5 minutes apart. It seemed impossible. I also felt scared by the prospect of things getting so much more difficult. I was already bowled over and very vocal with each wave. What was still ahead? Despite the concerns, I went ahead and tried to rest. I don’t know that “rest” is quite the word for it, but we went to our bed and I tried to relax and slow things down as best I could.
That may have lasted for an hour and a half or so, although I was often on my hands and knees in the bed trying to “let go and let my uterus do the work”. When I emerged, the “rest” appeared to have done its job and my body was really ready to get going with this baby.
It wasn’t long until I was ready to try getting in the tub again and Michael called Pam to tell her she and her assistant Monica had better come back. The water was warmer and there were pots of water boiling on the stove that were being added frequently. It felt nice to have the warm water flow toward me. However, this time in the tub was extremely challenging. I had to completely focus on moving and moaning through each wave. My body swayed from side to side, I lifted my pelvis up and down, and I kicked my legs back so that I looked like a frog. Somehow I needed to move this baby down.
Eventually, the waves were coming very fast and intensely. I remember thinking that there was no way out of this but through. Somehow I just needed to be patient and let my body do its work. I knew that this was the time that women who had every intention of birthing naturally might slip and ask for drugs. It took every ounce of courage and strength to make it through these feelings. I asked my doula several times, “Are you sure I am doing this right?” and she assured me that I was doing just fine. I was very thankful to be in the comfort of my own home and to work through this time in my living room. It would have been very easy to ask for pain relief at this point had I been in the hospital!
At times, I would throw my arms around Michael because it was very difficult to keep my shoulders loose. I remember Pam saying, “Look into his eyes, let him give you strength.” I certainly needed it! I felt like a wild animal, my body had completely taken over. There was nothing I could do but surrender to it. And it was challenging!
At some point while laboring in the tub, I turned so that my belly was pointing up and I felt the strangest popping sensation, like a balloon had just shot out of me. “I think my water just broke!” I exclaimed. They confirmed with a flashlight that there were bits of vernix floating around suggesting that it had broken. Little did I know that I still had another 3 hours of this journey left!
Between each wave, I could do nothing but rest. I felt someone pouring water over my shoulders and chest, but I didn’t even know whom it was. Someone else was putting warm compresses on my forehead. In each period of rest, I tried to focus on finding strength to ride the next wave. I prayed that my body would relax and stay calm through each one.
When one overtook me, I remember groaning and shouting various random comments like, “THIS FEELS SO WEIRD!” Reflecting back on my time in the tub feels like a dream.
It was a time of the most intense physical sensations and challenging mental space of my life. I am in awe of myself that I could do this.
Eventually, I could sense someone looking for the head with a flashlight and I also remember the baby’s heart rate being checked. The baby was totally fine, but this was taking quite awhile. Pam suggested that she check to see how far dilated I had become. Perhaps there was a cervical lip holding things up. When she said this, I couldn’t imagine getting out of the pool or moving anywhere. However, I managed one more contraction and then got out and on to the couch.
She checked me and said right away, “You’re 10 centimeters. This baby is ready to come out. Do you want to get back in the pool or try something new?”
I had no ability to make a decision, but I think I must have agreed to try something new since I had just dried off. Someone suggested the birthing stool, which sounded like a decent plan so I hobbled to it.
I was really feeling pushy at this point and ready to move the baby down. However, she was still taking her sweet time. “Please come down, baby!” I pleaded with her, but despite many pushes on the stool, we still weren’t getting much closer.
Pam suggested pushing on the bed with my knees up. What the heck, I would try anything at this point. I tried moving toward the bedroom, but fell to my knees at the door to the room. When you’re body says push, it says push! Everyone came quickly to me and placed chuck pads beneath me just in case. But I just had one round of pushing there before I was in the bed.
I remember recalling from other birth stories that many women enjoy the pushing stage because they feel more in control of what is happening. However, I’m not sure I felt that sense of relief – it still felt like this was extremely difficult! But I knew we were closer. I just had this one last hurdle.
Finally we reached a point where Pam and Michael said they could see the top of her head. She was coming closer! With each push, there was a little more of her visible, but then she would go back in. We soon learned that she had an impressive amount of hair!
While everyone was thinking about her hair, I was feeling some very intense sensations of pressure and stretching. I’ve heard people refer to this as the “ring of fire” and although I’m not sure that’s exactly how it felt, it was certainly very intense and I was looking forward to her head coming out to feel some relief. I couldn’t believe how this felt! I was given a mirror and told to look – sure enough, I was opening and my baby’s head was right there! Pam told me to feel for her – she was warm and wet and it felt unbelievable!
Pam had olive oil out and really helped me to push at a good pace (in the end, I didn’t tear at all!). I was just trying to stay focused and give it my all when each wave came to help me. Doula Rachel continued to put compresses on my forehead and made sure that I was lifting my legs appropriately.
I remember looking out the window and seeing the crescent moon. It was a beautiful reminder of who I was doing all this for – my baby whose middle name is Luna. That was quite a special moment.
I don’t know how long after that it was until her head finally crowned. With a few more total-body, completely concentrated pushes, I birthed my baby’s head. What relief! Almost done. I pushed her shoulders out quickly after and Michael scooped the rest of her out of my body. He placed her right on my tummy and I felt her warm, wet, wiggly body for the first time. Her cord was a bit short so she needed to stay on my belly, but I was in shock. My baby was here!
She breathed very quickly and began her newborn cry soon after. I began singing her special song and she seemed to recognize it right away. It made her slow her crying significantly. I couldn’t stop looking at her – who was this person with these wide eyes?
Unfortunately, I got a little distracted from my bliss during this time because part of my placenta was not coming out. Pam was rubbing on my uterus as her assistant Monica was gently tugging on the cord. She gave me some herbs to help my uterus contract and soon I was back on the birthing stool trying to expel the rest. It finally came, but it did scare me that something bad might happen after I had just made it through such an intense birth!
It all came out, however, and I was fine with a new baby in my arms. Wow! Michael was beaming and was so proud of me. He had done such a great job coaching, especially through the pushing phase as he could more easily report on what was happening and exclaim, “You’re doing it! Great job!” He was such an important part of feeling calm and supported throughout my entire pregnancy and the birth. He never let me doubt myself and he had amazing faith in my ability to birth naturally. He is amazing!
After we were settled back on the bed, Michael and I spent some time gazing at our new baby while doula Rachel cooked us a breakfast of eggs and toast, and Pam and Monica were cleaning up after the birth. I could barely eat I was so excited, but I was also extremely hungry and the eggs tasted great. Our baby was finally here! I had actually achieved my goal of an all-natural, peaceful homebirth to start my baby’s life in the most gentle way possible. It was very challenging, but it was very worth it. I am so proud of myself and my abilities. I have never spent so much time, emotional, and spiritual energy preparing for anything as I had in preparing for this birth and I achieved my goal. I feel like I can do anything! I also feel so proud for sticking with the way I wanted this birth to be (i.e., natural and at home) rather than falling victim to the fear and uncertainty that exists around natural birth in our culture at large.
I see why people choose to birth naturally and I love what I have learned and who I have become. I am now a mother. Not only was my baby born, but I birthed myself into my new role very confident that I can do anything I set my mind to.
* * *
Thank you Christine Cassella for sharing your story and photos (many taken by doula Rachel Mueller)!
Christine is a permaculturist, herbalist, and biologist doing her best to follow the rhythms of the natural world. She likes to write about herbalism, backyard farming & permaculture projects, simple living, and finding spirit in nature. She is also an attachment/gentle parent and natural birth advocate. Visit her blog at http://theselightfootsteps.com/.
Leave a Reply