Water has always been soothing to me. I grew up on a big farm with a swimming pool in the middle of it. From infancy on, I spent a lot of time in that pool. I’m the youngest of 8 kids so there was always someone to watch me as I first learned to swim without arm floaties, then progress to tricks like doing back flips off the diving board. A couple weeks ago my mom joked that I practically lived in my bathing suit in the summertime. My sister Beth let her know that I really did. That was news to Mom; she often sent me to change and I came back with clothes or pajamas on top of my bathing suit. I would swim all day, sleep in my bathing suit, then get up and do it all over again. When Mom sent me to get ready for church, I’d take a bottle of shampoo to the pool. Often I would just float. I could even fall asleep floating on my back in the pool. So peaceful.
In the first house my husband and I bought, my bathtub was my refuge when I had pre-menstrual cramps. The water relieved enough weight and pressure that I felt better as long as I was in the tub. That was a short, shallow little tub with rust stains from our rural well water. But it was still a haven.
When I became pregnant with our first daughter, Addy, it was back to the tub. I have a newspaper from the day she was born. A front-page headline reads, “Hottest summer on record.” My heavy, hot pregnant body again found refuge in the cool water.
My non-water, hospital birth
Addy was born in a hospital — I never heard of anything different. It was wonderful because my beautiful Addy came out of it, but once I learned I had options, I would never go back to a hospital to birth again. Intervention led to intervention and I was left with a newborn who couldn’t latch (many factors, but our birth experience didn’t help) and a spinal headache that pounded for a week every time my head was higher than my feet. My water broke before I went to the hospital, so my labor was augmented with Pitocin. (Had I been left alone I think I still would have delivered well within 24 hours, a guideline to prevent infection that I disagree with anyway since they stuck their hands in to “check” me many times, surely introducing new bacteria each time.) The Pitocin brought on hard and fast contractions that had me asking for relief, so I was given Demerol — yes, a narcotic. With all my reading, classes and prenatal visits, I had never been educated about what the stages of birth felt like, so the intensity of transition had me asking for an epidural. I thought, “This is what birth must be like.” I thought that part would never end. The anesthesiologist was unable to get the needle into the space in my spine, so I didn’t have an epidural anyway, only the lovely spinal headache afterward.
Fortunately Addy came out easily. Good thing because I was flat on my back in a hospital bed. I didn’t even really push with her. The doctor wasn’t there yet and the nurse told me to wait. I didn’t, and after three little pushes — none of them really bearing down — she was out and the doctor was there to catch her.
We moved to a new part of the state when Addy was 14 months. Our new house has a pool in the backyard, so Addy is quickly taking on my love of the water.
Planning for waterbirth
When I became pregnant with Addy’s little sister, Dori, I called the midwife in our community. When I heard she had a waterbirth tub, I was ecstatic. I had heard of waterbirth. I remember seeing a news report about it on TV in the ’80s. I didn’t think it was something real people did though. I had no idea it would be an option for me.
We’re lucky our midwife had the portable pool from Waterbirth International. As a rural midwife she couldn’t afford the tub herself, but a previous client had purchased it for her in lieu of payment.
Later when doing some reading in preparation for Dori’s birth (the right books this time, not the silly girlfriend and what-to-expect books I read before Addy’s birth) I read The Birth Book by William and Martha Sears. Martha is mother of 8 and a registered nurse. She compared laboring in water to taking Demerol, saying that both took the edge off. I was already game for waterbirth, but this was sounding even better.
I found a Yahoo group dedicated to homebirth and many of the women had used or were planning to use waterbirth tubs. We shared good information and stories.
Because Addy was born 11 days before her due date, I was certain Dori would be early, too. Dori’s due date was February 22. As Valentine’s Day approached, I began to get impatient. After a few more days I think I had actually given up on her ever being born. Silly, I know. I knew that due dates are simply best guesses, and I knew the baby could be born into early March and still be well within safe and normal ranges. Still, I was anxious. I went from wanting to get the baby out of me so I would feel better to only wanting to hold the baby and meet him or her.
I never felt Braxton-Hicks contractions. I didn’t with Addy either, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. I did have the lingering thought that maybe I had them with Addy and didn’t know it, but I figured as an experienced mom I should know this time.
Just before Bob got home from work on Monday, February 20, I hopped on the Internet for information about postdates babies and how to tell if the placenta is still supporting them well. I knew it was too early to worry, but I gave myself something little to worry about throughout the pregnancy. (Doesn’t everybody?) This was the concern du jour. While there, I decided to read more about the lack of Braxton-Hicks contractions and if this meant anything. I knew the answer, but it felt better to read what other women experienced. If it had been a true concern, I would have called our midwife.
On Tuesday, February 21, I woke at about 6 a.m. for one of my frequent potty trips. This time was different though. I was pretty sure my water broke, but it wasn’t a huge gush so I didn’t wake up my husband, Bob. It was clear and odorless, not to mention right on time. When Bob woke up, I told him and he asked if he should go to work. By then I felt confident we would be having a baby instead.
It’s hard to remember the rest of the details as I’m finishing this story 15 months later. I remember that I labored all day, with the contractions getting closer together and more intense. In between I made the birth announcements, leaving the inside blank to fill in the details. I sat a lot on my big exercise ball. Gentle bouncing and rolling felt better.
My sister Anita was here to take care of Addy during the birth. We wanted Addy to be part of it, but we also wanted someone to focus on her since our attention would be divided. Anita ended up with one of her migraines, so we called another of my sisters, Carol, to come over. She lives just over an hour away so they were both there for Addy.
The birthing tub had been at our house for two weeks since Deb, our midwife, finished attending another birth. We set it up in our bedroom a week before Dori’s birth. That day I was anxious for them to get it filled up. She didn’t have a heater, so I knew that if filled it too early it might cool off. Once Deb and my husband filled it, I pretty much hopped into the water as soon as she suggested I could.
At one point I invited Addy to join me in the water. She played around in it for awhile, and then I had her get out.
As the labor progressed, there was pain. It turns out I had an anterior lip of cervix that wasn’t opening on its own. I remember shouting, “Owww!” My midwife said, “Ow?” I was thinking, “Yes, ow. Haven’t you ever attended a birth before?” She was the wise one and knew I shouldn’t be experiencing pain, so she asked lots of questions to determine the exact source and diagnosed the lip.
While I don’t have anything to compare it to because I only experienced the anterior lip this time, I think the water helped a lot. I was free to move around and the water let me move however I wanted. The only thing I couldn’t really do was put my head down and bottom up in the air to take the baby’s weight off and help the anterior lip resolve, so I got onto the bed for awhile for that. It wasn’t comfortable, so I got back in the tub and felt better.
Later Deb offered to check me, and at that time she was able to manually pull open the lip with her hand. Relief! It also broke another spot of my amniotic sac, so more fluid came out.
While laboring, I kept my focus on the clock that I could see in our adjacent bathroom. I focused on the round shape. I kept my lips in a circle, and tried to envision my cervix opening up into a big circle, just like the clock. I hadn’t planned to find a focal point, but it was right in my line of sight and worked well.
I was able to move around in the water into various positions. Sometimes I leaned back with my knees floating up into the air. Other times I knelt forward with my forehead on the edge of the tub. It was easy to change positions even though my pregnant body was huge and moving on land was cumbersome.
By 11:30 p.m. I was in intense labor. Bob and Deb joked that if I could wait half an hour, the baby would be born on my oldest brother’s birthday. I felt like punching them in the nose. At one point I actually did tell them to shut up. I’m glad that both know what a woman says in labor might not be something she would otherwise say.
Addy was downstairs with my sisters because I needed quiet to concentrate. When I was ready to push I asked Bob to bring her up. My sisters were also there to witness the birth.
I did end up birthing Dori on my brother Duane’s birthday, which also happened to be Dori’s due date. She was born at about 12:40 a.m. I remember pushing HARD in the water for a few minutes. I pushed so hard and felt the baby come down the birth canal, so I thought sure she was almost out, maybe only hanging by the feet. I yelled, “Can’t you just pull her out?!?” and Deb said, “You’ve got to do this, Sue.”
Bob said, “You ARE doing it,” which was just what I needed. I heard Addy’s little voice say, “Good job, Mama.” Deb checked and said the baby’s shoulders were rotating, so once I knew what was happening I had the strength to keep going. I pushed really, really hard, and kept pushing.
Finally Dori was out. She was born in water into her daddy’s loving arms, with her big sister watching every moment. I couldn’t ask for anything better. That two of her aunts and my midwife, now a friend, were there made it even more special.
Dori was a little blue at first, so Deb deftly milked the cord blood with its life-giving oxygen back into her and she pinked right up. It seemed like forever and I was asking, “She’s OK, right Deb?” with Deb not responding since all her attention was rightfully on Dori. My sister says it was only about 5 seconds before she was pink and healthy. Deb had oxygen on hand, as well as other emergency tools that she didn’t need to use.
I brought Dori to my breast, Bob undid my nursing bra, and she began to nurse like a champ. Addy came over and gave Dori her first kiss.
As she nursed I delivered the placenta, then Deb showed Bob where to cut the cord.
I entered a picture of us gathered around Dori, still in the tub, in a contest. It was selected as a winner by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. Their hope is to educate people that a million babies’ lives can be saved if every baby is breastfed within the first hour of life. I titled the photo “Dori’s First Minute: Breastfeeding at Waterbirth.” See it at: http://worldbreastfeedingweek.net/wbw2007/wbw_2007_photo_contest.htm
Later we all snuggled into bed as I nursed Dori to sleep for the first time.
My sisters stayed awhile to help with Addy and meals so I could concentrate on Dori, then my mom came and helped for a week. Everyone was surprised how chipper I was. I was able to get up and get dressed from the beginning. Sure I was tired, but I wasn’t wrung out like a dishrag. It was truly a gentle birth for everyone. So that’s what normal birth is like!
With Addy’s hospital birth, I had a small tear that required a stitch or two — and she was only 6 pounds. Dori was a 9-pound baby and I had only a superficial tear. The water must have made the difference.
If we are blessed with another baby, he or she will be born in water, in my home, where I am in control.
After the birth
One of my friends thought birthing at home might be messy. It wasn’t. Deb strategically placed pads throughout our bedroom and we had a shower curtain ready to use as a tarp on the carpet. The only mess was my own fault. I read that some people keep their baby’s placenta. I decided we would keep Dori’s and plant it in our front yard with a special tree over it once our Michigan winter was over. I planned ahead and set out a bucket with a lid so we could freeze the placenta until springtime. I managed to choose a bucket with a crack in the bottom, so our carpet still shows a couple blood stains. It was worth it. Dori’s redbud tree is flourishing in the yard. It is as tall as she is. The redbud is a perfect tree since she is a little red-haired girl.
The funniest thing about our home waterbirth was that we had to do something with the 100-plus gallons of water and associated blood and stuff once we were done. Deb said we could pump it into the toilet, but unbeknownst to me, my husband just sent it out the bathroom window. We live in town, our tub was in our second-story bedroom, and there was snow on the ground. I’m just glad no one walking by could have possibly guessed what was coming out of the hose.
My football-player nephew attends college just down the road, so he was the first to come visit the morning Dori was born. Our midwife seized the opportunity to have him carry the tub in its carrying case out to her car. Later he asked what had been in the big black case. He was grossed out to learn it was the birthing tub.
Dori is now a toddler. As a baby she only used her little plastic baby bathtub three or four times. Each time she screamed. She has had a few showers with Bob or me, but mostly we bathe in the big tub. I remember being scared to bathe with Addy when she was an infant. How would I hold that slippery little body? The morning after Dori was born, my midwife had us bathe together with an herbal infusion in the water. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, co-bathing, what could be more natural?
We teach sign language to Dori, now 15 months old, so we can communicate before she can talk well. One of her first dozen or so signs was BATH. She loves our bathtime together. It’s cute to watch her rub her two little fists on her chest every morning, signing BATH, BATH, BATH. I think, “Baby, you were born in the bath!”
Dori is on the “I Was Born in Water!” list on the Waterbirth International web site at: http://www.waterbirth.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=38562&orgId=wi