Photos by Shea Hardy Baker

It Takes a Team: A Sunrise Homebirth

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 122, Summer 2017.
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I was two days shy of my due date with our first child—a child we had wanted for what seemed like an eternity. This would be our double rainbow baby, because we had previously suffered two losses.

We had been at the beach and I had experienced a leaking of fluid. As we started the two-and-a-half-hour drive home, I casually told my husband, “I’m still leaking. Do you think my water broke?” We talked about how Holly-wood portrays it—the big gush—and that was definitely not my experience; but I should call my midwife just in case.

It turned out that my water had broken, but labor (consistent contractions) had not actually started. My midwife felt comfortable waiting only 48 hours from the time it broke—Thursday night at 11 pm—for my labor to start before she recommended that I go into the hospital for Pitocin induction. Having committed to and physically and mentally prepped for a homebirth, I was on a mission to get labor started any natural way I could. I wanted nothing more than to avoid going to the hospital. (I had practiced as a doula in the past and felt safer birthing at home than I would at the hospital—not to mention more comfortable.)

The countdown was on. My husband and I were excited that my water had broken, but nervous about getting la-bor started. The two of us and our dog enjoyed a brisk, sunny walk on our favorite river trail. I got on the treadmill for an hour at a time, while also manually stimulating my nipples, but still was not in labor. Consistent contractions had kept me up some of Friday night, but then went away. Lastly, as the 48-hour mark neared, still determined to stay home, I drank a cocktail of vodka, orange juice and castor oil. Luckily for me, the castor oil didn’t really take effect, but my body was doing the work anyway and labor started around 8:30 pm that Saturday night. (Just two hours from the deadline my midwife had recommended. Whew!)

My husband lit candles in our sweet country home and strummed on his guitar. I rocked my hips on the birth ball to his tune. I moved to my hands and knees on the couch, swaying my hips and breathing and vocalizing through the contractions. My husband timed my contractions and placed a comforting hand on me. When the contractions had been about four minutes apart and lasting for a minute each for about an hour, my husband called our doula and our midwife. They knew by hearing me in the background that I was indeed in active labor.

Our doula arrived first, perfectly placing herself in the moment by calmly yet excitedly connecting with both my husband and me. Our midwife and her assistant joined us soon after—entering like birth angels—and by candlelight they quietly set up everything they needed and checked in with me. While breathing through a contraction, I looked around my cozy living room to see my whole birth team present (even our sweet dog). I felt loved, supported and safe. With them, I felt I could do anything—like birth a baby naturally at home! (Prior to childbirth I believed I had a low pain tolerance.)

I was dilated to 4 cm and 80–90% effaced, baby at -1 station, when my midwife first checked me at 12:03 am. I noticed the time and started to get nervous about having the stamina for an overnight, potentially much longer labor. I had tirelessly worked for the previous 46 hours to get labor started, so when it did, I was already spent.

From the beginning of active labor on, I didn’t stay still. I moved the way my body told me, and my birth team supported this. I was on my hands and knees on the couch, on the floor, rocking on the birth ball, standing while swaying and leaning into a member of my birth team. I was begging to get into the birth tub early on, but because my water had broken my midwife didn’t feel comfortable with that until it was time to push. (She was concerned that she would not know whether I was warm because of the water in the tub or had a fever due to an infection.) My doula encouraged me to get in the shower and sit on a stool. It was the only time I felt any pain relief. She also distracted me by talking about other things, made me laugh a time or two and was great at keeping my husband involved.

At one point my contractions seemed to space a bit and my midwife set me up in bed with pillows between my legs and my husband snuggled up to me. That didn’t last but a minute before I shot up, violently vomiting.

The next time my midwife checked me, at 3:15 am, I was 5–6 cm dilated, 90% effaced and baby still at -1 station, though her head was well applied to my cervix.

A few times throughout the night I let the fear of not having the energy for an overnight/potentially longer labor take over. I told my team I was probably going to need to transfer to the hospital for maternal exhaustion anyway, so I should go then and get an epidural. I thought, in all honesty, that I couldn’t do it. Each of them assured me I could. I needed their continual reassurance and unbridled belief in me. My midwife gave me the details of what a transfer would entail, so I knew it was an option. I didn’t want it, but verbalizing the fear was my way of telling my birth team what a hard time I was having. I had spent months during my pregnancy reading empowering natural childbirth books, listening to HypnoBirthing CDs and natural childbirth podcasts and watching countless positive homebirth videos. I thought if I could let go of the fear of pain and accept it, I would be able to relax and birth my baby naturally! My mantra was: “Relax, breathe, open.” In the beginning of labor, I repeated this mantra in my head, but then fear took over. I was having a hard time accepting the pain, feeling that it was beyond my maximum threshold. I shook my head during a few contractions, saying “No, no, no.” I pleaded “Help me; help me!” during a couple of them, too.

My birth team was rock solid, and each in their own way was there for me when I was not there for myself. I re-member my midwife holding me at one point, reminding me, “This is the work we do to birth our babies.” The idea of “we” helped. We—strong women—do this incredibly hard work for our babies! She, her assistant and my doula had all done this! I was among the great.

I again begged for the tub. My midwife had an excellent way of keeping me in the present moment: “Let’s do three contractions on the toilet, then we can talk more about the tub.” I had my feet up on my Squatty Potty while seated on the toilet, and those three contractions were the most painful and intense of all. “That’s three!” I stated as I quickly stood up.

My midwife suggested the shower again. Just as she was helping me step in, I felt the urge to push. “Really?” she said. She had checked me an hour and a half earlier and I was 5–6 cm. I involuntarily started pushing. It was 4:57 am and, sure enough, I was at 9 cm, 100% effaced and baby was at +1 station. It was time to get in the tub and push! This was the turning point for me. I was able to drop my fear of having to transfer for exhaustion, and the end was in sight. I could do this! Now to just dig deep and push my baby out.

When I got into the water I felt undeniably animalistic and just listened to my body on when and how to push. My doula had switched hats at this point and was taking pictures. The midwives encouraged me, but were mostly impressed that I just seemed to know exactly what to do to get my baby out. My husband was in awe as he quietly supported me. I got to feel my baby’s soft head minutes before she was born. After about an hour of pushing, Goldie Estelle Coleman (our shining gift from above) came Earthside at 6:03 that Sunday morning—as the birds chirped and the sun rose. My husband caught her and placed her on my chest. That feeling, that moment, is indescribable. I was beside myself with elation and the pain was instantly gone. I teared up as I held my beautiful baby on my chest. My husband’s tears fell past the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen on him.

Goldie was alert and peaceful, and oh-so-healthy. She never cried. We moved from the tub to the couch, snuggled in blankets as one unit, like a mom and baby should be. Goldie had a perfect latch and our bond was unequivocal. My heart was so full I felt it could explode. To be home, soaking up our new family, was wondrous.

Blissful is how I would describe my postpartum period. The care I received from my birth team was superb. And without their continued support for months postpartum I would not be successfully breastfeeding today—10 months later—because I had a low supply.

Goldie’s birth was my most excruciating, yet beautifully transformative, experience. I have never felt so powerful and I have never been prouder. I still feel powerful and proud! But I could not have done it without every member of my birth team. As my husband and I talk about trying for baby number two, I hope to birth at home again—with the same birth team: my heroes.

About Author: Amber Coleman

Amber Coleman is enjoying her most important title yet: mother to her incredible infant Goldie. Amber, Goldie, husband Grant and dog Tucker live in beautiful Eugene, Oregon. Amber has practiced as a doula and studied journalism on a graduate level. She has been amazed by birth from a young age and is a passionate homebirth advocate.

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