On Friday, I had the privilege of watching Dan's sister give birth to her first child. The only other births I'd attended were those of my own sons. My SIL was there for my births, but she's a L&D nurse/possible future midwife and played a quasi-doula role. My only use was to do whatever menial jobs I could find and be moral support as someone who has survived the birthing process. Her plan was to give birth at home, although her tolerance for risk was lower than most of my homebirthing friends' and she said later that she fully expected to transfer to the hospital at some point.
Instead she had the perfect home waterbirth.
The birth itself is her story to tell and I hope she writes it out someday before life gets away from her. I can only speak for what it was like to sit, and wait, and watch, and count out contractions just to feel like I was accomplishing something. As the day went by (my MIL and I arrived around 8am) and she retreated more into her own space, it was easier. I could just stay out of the room unless she wanted someone around and no one needed to chat. There was never a point where we had anything to fear; she was progressing, there weren't any warning signs. She labored much like I did and it felt almost like a window into my own births, but as an observer.
By the time she was pushing, without the crazy pain overwhelming me, there was a lot more time to be overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all. There was a baby, right there, she could touch the head, but we didn't yet know anything about this person. A midwife would check for heart tones with each contractions and I'd hold my breath until the thump, thump, thump came.
As she pulled the baby up out of the water and announced it was a girl, I had immediate visions of little sewn dresses and knit things. 30 seconds later when that baby let out her first cries, I totally lost it. I was jumping up and down and sobbing. To experience the birth of a healthy, breathing baby was so wonderful -- I can't describe the joy I felt. That is how birth is supposed to be.
I'll never know why my boys struggled to breathe. It wasn't that they didn't breathe at all -- they were okay with oxygen and we didn't transfer to the hospital for multiple hours because it seemed like they'd get better (at least it seemed with Peter -- with Leo, we acted more preventatively because of the previous experience). I was riding a birth high and figured everything would be okay. Dan dealt with the brunt of the fear and stress and made the transfer with the baby while I rested awhile. The NICU doctors told us Peter's pneumonia was a fluke -- we had no reason to assume anything similar would happen again. And Leo's wasn't as pronounced -- he didn't have pneumonia, didn't need to be intubated, and within 24 hours of his birth, slight jaundice was a bigger worry. My SIL thinks he probably would have only been in a special care nursery if he'd been born in the hospital.
I'm not sure what I'll do for a potential third birth. Dan would be more comfortable with a hospital birth, just in case it happens again. I feel confident enough in my ability to labor and deliver that I think I could cope with a hospital and its unknowns if it takes the fear away. As a third-time mom, I think I could come late enough and assert myself enough to know what interventions were really needed. But I mourn the loss of the midwives' care. I loved the hour-long prenatals, being forced to track food for a week to admit my overconsumption of cookies and ice cream, the postpartum checks at home during the first week. I loved that they knew me, that I could call anytime, that they'd be there when it really mattered. The only waiting room was a living room couch with boxes of toys for my toddler to play witih. I never had to deal with contractions in the car, or answer annoying questions during labor, or fill out paperwork. I don't need a hospital for me, I just need a mini-NICU available for my babies. My world wouldn't be crushed if I had to transfer again, but Dan might be stressed beyond what it's fair to ask of him. After two second degree tears without stitching, followed by 6+ weeks of sitting with discomfort and multiple baths daily, the idea of getting stitched up appeals to me. Both my boys were born in the caul and I might opt for AROM if my bag is bulging, to see if it helps avoid swallowing anything on the way out.
For now, I'll enjoy my beautiful, perfect new niece and watch my BIL and SIL settle into parenthood. There will be many weeks to make big decisions and getting pregnant first is a critical first step.
I'm off to find the perfect Christmas dress pattern.