A few days following the homebirth of our baby girl, which Michelle Welborn was present at, she stopped by for one of many visits, this one to weigh the baby and check to see how we were doing in general. It was a time of indescribable joy for me and I have never felt so much support. I looked up at Michelle before she was about to leave – she had just picked up that baby and they were having a loving exchange – and I asked “what is your favorite thing about what you do? Is it the babies?” She replied, “Of course I LOVE the babies, but my favorite thing is how powerful it is to witness women as they discover strength they never realized they had before.” I smiled and reflected on the strength I had found at my own labor and how fortunate I was to be surrounded by a team including Michelle who helped me find it and believe in it. My birth story:
Early labor started Wednesday night when I started to feel menstrual-like cramps every 10-15 minutes. We were so excited. I was four days post-term and ready to have this baby! We also happened to be feeling giddy after wrapping up a ‘mini photo-shoot’ which involved me dressed up in goofy outfits, accenting the large belly, of course. I hardly slept that night, mostly out of excitement, so when I woke up Thursday morning feeling exhausted, I decided to sleep as much as possible realizing this could take awhile and indeed it did. Thursday and Friday the contractions continued and I tried my best to distract myself from them, knowing I needed to conserve energy. Dorth, my fiancé, and I even saw a “funny” movie at the theatre (turned out to be terrible!) and shared a banana split. My contractions started to really speed up and gain intensity Friday at midnight, so we called Maria to tell her the news. While she was in route to our house, I soaked in a warm bath and to our disappointment, the contractions slowed down by the time she arrived. Maria said she would stay to see if they picked up again, but we sent her home and tried to get some sleep. She also had to call Michelle to turn around, who was on her way from across the city.
I hardly slept Friday night due to the intensity of the contractions. By Saturday morning, I was tired, confused, and feeling a bit helpless, but I tried to be patient. Sure enough, the contractions revved up again and by 4pm we were ready for Maria. She came to our home, provided me support with each contraction, walked around the block with us, and stayed for about 5 hours. At 9pm she had to leave to catch a plane for her planned vacation, which we were aware of from our first appointment. We were so excited to have Maria be our midwife that we took the chance that she may not catch our baby if I went post-term. The timing sounds very unfortunate, but I had a feeling that it was all going to work out as it was supposed to. Next to show up was Sue Baelen, Maria’s back-up, and shortly after that, Michelle, Maria’s apprentice midwife who we knew from prenatal visits and were so happy to see. The amazing part of this is that I met Sue for the first time that night, and had not a worry. In addition to Maria’s praises about her, I had a strong, warm feeling about her before we met. Indeed, the minute she walked into the door I felt at peace and her warmth overcame me.
Saturday night I have memories of Sue and Michelle’s hands and words of support as I tried to stay with each contraction, one at a time. As drained as I felt and as difficult as it was to cope with the surges, I felt enormously relieved to have them at my side. I tried to go to sleep several times, but the moment my body went into a horizontal position, the contractions would jolt me out of bed and back on my feet. By early Sunday morning, just before dusk, I experienced a new level of exhaustion and started to fear that this would never end. It was the first time I panicked. I hardly slept in the last two days and had seen the sun come up and go down so many times in this same predicament that I was losing track of which day it was. It really seemed interminable. Michelle and I were in living room when I looked over to her and asked, “May we discuss my other options? I don’t know how much longer I can take this.” What I meant, of course, was transferring to a hospital and getting pain relief. She seemed surprised at my question and said “But you’re doing so great! Let’s talk about it later.” She had such confidence about my progress, and with so much support surrounding me, how could I give up? I regrouped by spending some time in the tub and giving myself some positive affirmations. I found myself actively fending off thoughts such as “this is never going to end” and “I can’t take another contraction.”
Much of what I remember from Sunday seems scattered. I know I went in and out of the tub a few more times and took a few showers. I remember thinking as I took each shower, “This may be the last before I have the baby!” but then I would find myself in it again, hours later…still no baby. At some point, my contractions slowed and we all realized that I needed to do my best to get them closer together. It was possibly the most difficult part of the entire experience, because I had to purposely bring them on. Climbing stairs, doing squats and sitting in a rocking chair we have renamed “the wrack” were all effective. Fortunately, Sue promised tub time if I got my contractions up to speed so there was incentive. It worked!
The hours passed and I was positive that another night would pass and still no baby. I panicked again that I couldn’t do this, and a decision was made to break my water. Sue and Michelle discussed it with us and we all agreed to it. Almost immediately, the contractions intensified. Michelle was with me as in the bathroom when I began to push and gave me words of advice that stuck with me until the end. She said to move forward, I needed to stop being polite, saying things like “sorry, excuse me, please,” and worrying about others. She urged me to tap into my animal side and make noise, let it all out, and surrender. When those powerful contractions began, and when I really started pushing, I had no idea where the energy came from, but it came! My body shaking violently from the endorphins; I fell back into REM sleep at each break between the contractions, sometimes for just a few seconds. My body took what sleep it could get. At one point I remember thinking to myself that I must have resembled Rocky, between each round falling into the corner of the ring as I was pumped up for the next fight, in my case contraction. Michelle, Sue, and Dorth were ready at each break with water, Gatorade, spoonfuls of Cream of Wheat, watermelon, cheese and cashews, and canned peaches. Sue added flower essences to my water and administered homeopathic medicine into my mouth. Michelle bent down to check the baby’s heartbeat at every pause; breathing with me to help relieve the tension at the end of each surge.
The baby was moving down, but slowly. When I was told that I could expect the baby to move about 1mm per contraction, I remember thinking “are you kidding me?” I didn’t say it aloud, I just sighed and I prepared myself mentally for another night. Jessamyn arrived shortly before dusk. Since she was the midwife in charge of the baby after birth, it was encouraging that the end of this long labor might be in sight, but I tried not to get too hopeful and set myself up for disappointment. Sue, Michelle, Dorth and now Jessamyn surrounded me. I pushed for quite some time in the tub, but the buoyancy of the water did not seem to be helping. At the suggestion of the midwives, I tried a few squatting positions just outside of the tub and made some progress. We decided to move the operation into the living room. After I was helped up and in route to the next room, one whopping, powerful contraction sent me leaning into the wall of the passageway. After the contraction, something felt very different. Michelle, who was helping set up a spot for me to push in the living room, looked back and began to smile. She said “Sarah, your baby’s head is out!” She motioned to the floor where a spot had been set up and Dorth was ready to for me to lay down in front of him. Sensing my hesitation, and with a huge grin, she said “You CAN walk.” So with a John Wayne swagger I made it down to the floor, leaned back and with everything I had, pushed the baby out.
A healthy, bouncing baby girl was placed on my chest and my life will never be the same. Michelle positioned her hands behind the baby’s tiny feet to help her climb up my chest and self-attach. On her journey this adorable baby opened her eyes, looked at me and uttered all kinds of precious sounds. Sue told me that the baby had a story too, and she was telling it. I listened and my heart melted. Moments later, Michelle who was at my side said “Sarah, how about some peaches?” Before I knew it she was pouring canned peach juice into my mouth, which may as well have been the drink of the Gods. I looked around the room, and in a state of pure joy and relief thought to myself “we did it.” Dorth, the midwives, the baby, and wow, me! I did it. I have more strength, more power and more determination than I could have ever imagined. I would not have done anything differently, as tough as it was. This birth is the best gift I have ever received and I feel truly blessed to have had this opportunity… thanks to all of the incredible individuals who supported me and believed in me.
Baelen Welborn Raphaely (named in honor of Sue Baelen and Michelle Welborn) was born weighing 8 pounds, 3 ounces at 9:26pm, August 12, 2007.