(hey everyone – this is a birth story – it’s perhaps a bit graphic – some real blood, adult themes, not for everyone)
Two days ago, Tuesday, July 30th 2013, my wife Carrie Lincourt and I gave birth to Maeve Margaret Linton Lincourt, a 21-inch long 8-pound 4-ounce daughter. Our first. We had Maeve at home, in the flat where Carrie has lived for the past 6 years. Below is my account of the incredible, intense and ultimately wonderful home birth experience we had.
Let me start by saying that I am a very imperfect witness. (This is a concept I borrow from Primo Levi, one of my favorite authors, who, in The Drowned and the Saved, states that, as a survivor his Auschwitz experience was highly unusual, and therefor he is not the best person to tell the stories he does.) As a male, I was there, was supporting, but I didn’t go through one-hundredth of what my wife went through… nonetheless, I am going to try to tell the birth story as I experienced and remember it… so we can share with friends, family, our future selves, and our daughter. (Another imperfection is that I didn’t take a lot of pictures. I was in the thick of it supporting Carrie… thanks to others for taking quite a few of the photos here.)
For the past months, we’ve been preparing for a home birth. Various friends of ours had successful home births (including my neighbors at L.A. Eco-Village), so from even before we became pregnant, our intent was to have our baby at home. This was welcome to a lot of our friends, but some folks who were less familiar with birthing at home were worried for us. Overall, though, it was a decision we knew was good, and the more read and listened and talked – we felt better and better about our choice being right for us (though perhaps not for everyone.)
We’re older – I am 49, and Carrie is 43, so there was some anxiety that being unconventional (for early 21st Century U.S. births) might be courting something possibly risky… but we’re both (mostly critical that Carrie is) healthy and in good shape, and it all worked out really well.
We’ve visited our midwife, Vicki Hedley, for months. We hired our doula, Raizy Goldsmith. We took birth classes. We stocked supplies.
Last week was our due date – July 25th. That day Carrie’s parents – father, step-mother, and mother – flew into town from the West Coast, and are staying nearby for a couple of weeks. We thought that were in labor the night before that, but it went away.
As we passed the due date, things got a bit anxious… when would the kid come? In time to spend time with the grandparents? We’d heard that, in New Jersey, it’s against the law to do a home birth after we’re two weeks late. All kinds of folks were emailing, texting, etc. asking if we’d had the kid yet. Some in very supportive ways, some getting on our nerves just a bit. We painted/lettered affirmations, including one that said “our baby knows how and when to be born.” (update 8/18/2013 see more of our birth affirmations posted here.)
Carrie’s blood pressure, though still within the realm of healthy/normal/average was edging upward a bit… which meant that our midwife told us to go have a consultation with her back-up at a suburban birth center further into New Jersey. If the blood pressure became actually high, we wouldn’t be allowed to have the baby at home. We’d planned to tour the birth center and consult the back-up obstetrics folks the next day – Tuesday. We were feeling a bit disappointed that our vision for a birth at home might be evaporating. (Though we felt like things would go ok at a birth center if there were serious clinical reasons we needed to be there.)
So… the day of the birth:
Carrie woke up very early – a little after 4am – on Tuesday. As I mentioned, she had been in a sort of pre-labor a few days ago, with plenty of lower level contractions since. This morning she felt almost sick – like she was in a cloud, she said. She was definitely having contractions, fairly regular.
We decided to go for a long walk. We’d been taking lots of long walks during the pregancy – and we’d discussed the idea of taking a long walk during early labor.
Being a river person, I suggested that we walk to the Hudson River – about a mile away. Carrie was a little unsure that we should, not because she didn’t think she could do it… but because she wanted to be near a bathroom, because in late-pregnancy women urinate frequently. We set off and she felt good to keep walking, so we walked farther. We arrived at the Jersey City Newport Hudson River waterfront and watched the sun rise over the Manhattan skyline.
We continued to walk south, along the waterfront. Carrie’s contractions were fairly strong and pretty regular. We decided to time them and they were coming every 4-6 minutes. Faster than 5 minutes is full-on active labor… so we texted our midwife and our doula, letting them know the situation. I had felt that we were about the kid earlier, so I was a little gun-shy to tell our attendants that this was it… but it seemed like it was getting fairly strong.
We continued walking, turning back inland at Exchange Place. Carrie felt like she might be bleeding or discharging between her legs. When we got to the middle of Jersey City downtown, her water broke. I wasn’t sure that that’s what had happened, because there was very little liquid – maybe a quarter cup, if that much. What I learned since is that there’s just a bit of amniotic fluid below the baby’s head. The membrane breaks, and a little fluid leaks out, then the baby’s head plugs the hole. So it was only a little liquid, but her water definitely broke.
We arrived back home around 7:30am, after walking 3-4 miles. At that point our doula and midwife spoke with us, and said that they’d get going and come over shortly.
It got really intense from there. It sort of felt like we’d hopped on a moving train. Carrie’s contractions were coming every 3-4 minutes by then, and it was just us two at home trying to keep things somewhat under control until help arrived. Carrie initially filled the bathtub and labored there on her side. At Carrie’s request, I got on the phone and urged the midwife and doula to come right away. We contacted two of Carrie’s friends, Marci and Maritza, and asked them to come as soon as possible.
Labor is hard to describe. I’ve certainly never experienced it, and never will. It’s intensely strong and painful for about a minute, then there’s a pause for a minute before the next contraction comes. Basically the muscles of the womb are pulling the cervix-sphincter open far enough for the baby to come out. It’s involuntary, but it’s incredibly taxing to the mom.
Carrie’s labor was pretty intense from about 8am on. The midwife, doula, and friends arrived later that morning. Carrie would try various positions (sitting, lying on her side) inside the bathtub, holding our hands, and letting out a loud shout – AAAAAAAAAHHHH! – with each breath – ~15-25 breaths through each contraction. It sounded, as she says, like a braying goat. Not a scream, but an intense loud bellow of a sound. I would out loud softly count each contraction. In between contractions, we’d help coach her to relax and hydrate.
After a while each position had done all it could do, and it was time to move to another position. Carrie was worried that in another position she might be in more pain… but the doula and midwife helped talk her through trying different ones. She started in the bathtub, then moved to a kneeling position, with head and arms on the couch.
By then we’d filled up a 6-foot diameter birth tub that we rented from our midwife. Carrie got in and labored in the water.
At a certain point, she wasn’t comfortable in there, and was looking for something to lean on in the tub, so I got my swimsuit on and got in with her.
After that it was back to kneeling, then standing with her arms around my shoulders.
During each contraction, she’d be shouting, and I would count and hold her hand, sometimes stroke her back. Afterwards, I’d coach her to relax her arms, her shoulders, etc.
In early afternoon, Carrie felt like there was pressure that was increasing. It stayed constant during the lulls between contractions. She said it felt like an incredibly bad menstrual cramp. This meant that the cervix was nearly open.
Soon thereafter, the midwife and doula laid Carrie on her back on the bed and found that she was fully dilated. The womb muscles had stretched out her cervix to the size of the baby’s head, so all that remained was to push the baby through the birth canal. This was only time in the birth process that Carrie actually had a lie-on-your-back pelvic exam.
On the advice of the midwife, Carrie started pushing sitting on the toilet. After a while she moved to the bed, initially on her back. Then shifting to her side, with one leg up, then, finally, on her hands and knees, which is the position in which she ultimately gave birth.
During pushing it didn’t seem quite as bad. For one thing, it seemed like we were almost there: the end was in sight. Also it was a little quieter – no shouting, just bearing down intensely, holding her breath… intense, full-body tension, without much noise. She could feel (and the midwife and doula could see) progress. Also, it seemed like the lulls between the contractions were just a little bit longer (maybe 3-4 minutes), time enough for Carrie to relax and regroup, at least a bit.
I was half-sitting half-lying on the bed behind her, she was lying face up with her back to me, and I could sense her whole body tensing and straining while she pushed through each contraction.
The pushing took a while – a couple of hours. Seemed long, but not as long as the opening of the cervix.
Midway through pushing, I shifted to Carrie’s side. It was an incredible moment when the baby’s head began to show – in her vagina. Carrie was on all fours, so the midwife used a mirror to look upward into the vagina. At first the head – with hair – was visible through an opening the size of an almond, then, with an intense push, it opened to the size of a lime… progress!
Then, with one intense push, the head appeared. Little Maeve was facing upward toward me, her eyes closed. She looked like a perfect little religious sculpture – unmoving, calm and collected – at the eye of the storm. Carrie thought that she had delivered the entire baby – to her it felt huge, but it was just the head.
The midwife let Carrie know that on the next contraction she will deliver the body.
I put my hands in with our doula’s – and we caught the warm wet baby as Carrie pushed her out. Amniotic fluid, mixed with blood, gushed out onto the bed. Under the sheet, there was a plastic liner to keep the mattress pristine, but right then, there were puddles an inch deep around each of Carrie’s knees…
But it didn’t matter.
Because there was this living breathing baby before us.
The baby was covered with blood – not in a scary way though. The baby was intact, smooth, beautiful. She was visibly active, breathing, tensing her arm muscles, moving about. Her milky-white umbilical cord was still attached. I couldn’t tell if she was a boy or a girl. Her knees were up around her stomach hiding her genitals. She was punching, stretching, moving, and my first though was that she’s (or maybe he’s) long and lithe and athletic and graceful. Her arms looked long and strong.
Carrie said “she’s a girl.”
The doula put her down on her back next to Carrie. The midwife and doula briefly checked to make sure she was doing ok. They toweled her off a bit (though even a day later she had a small chunk of blood in her hair.)
Soon thereafter, the midwife and doula had Carrie deliver the placenta. It’s a disk-shaped organ that looks a bit like liver, though with the umbilical cord sticking out of it, attached with a network of connecting tubes sort of like the branches of a tree. Carrie pushed one last time and the placenta dropped out into a bowl the doula was holding. The baby was still attached to the placenta, via the umbilical cord. There’s no rush to cut the cord. It’s better for the baby to leave it attached while the cord is still pulsing.
Soon after the placenta came out, Carrie lay on her back, with the baby on her chest. I laid next to her. Maritza and Marci and Carrie and I rested on the bed together. We were admiring how perfect and red and alive the baby girl was. Carrie and I were hoping she’d use her early breastfeeding reflexes to climb and latch and feed. Baby Maeve attempted to get there, but didn’t quite nurse immediately.
When it was time to cut the cord, seemed like about an hour after the birth, the doula squeezed the cord to push its contents back up into the baby. This calmed the baby a bit.
The midwife clamped the cord, and handed me scissors and I cut it off.
I sent a text to Carrie’s parents to congratulate them. I let them know to come visit in an hour.
After this, there was a lot of clean-up. Lots of messy stuff all over by then. I siphoned the birth tub into the back yard, then I got to hold baby Maeve a while Carrie took a shower, after which she put on special pads to absorb the relatively-small normal amount of bleeding she was experiencing.
In our clean bed, with Carrie and I lying alongside our baby girl, the midwife and doula checked reflexes, etc. They measure the baby girl, and weigh her.
Then the grandparents arrived. They came for a brief visit – only staying for about half an hour, because we’re all pretty exhausted. After they left, the doula helped the baby do her first breast-feeding. She latched fine then, and has done well breastfeeding frequently since.
At that point, we hadn’t completely decided on a name yet. Carrie wanted to meet the baby before we decided on the name. We didn’t know the gender of the child, so I was pushing a bit for “Max” – a gender neutral name that I like that could have fit a girl or a boy.
I want to post the announcement to Facebook, so we decide to call her:
Maeve Margaret Linton Lincourt
We’d been talking about names for a while, so Maeve was one of only about three leading candidate names for the previous couple months. Maeve is a warrior queen name that we like the sound of. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t easy to pronounce – hint: it rhymes with save. Her middle name, Margaret, is my mother‘s name.
Maeve was born 5:46pm on Tuesday July 30th 2013. At birth she was 21 and 1/4 inches tall, and weighed 8 pounds and 4 ounces.
It was a crazy intense beautiful experience… and we’re really enjoying this precious new addition to our family.