The Home Birth of Adam Hiroki

Hello! I've been deep in maternity leave, and I'm so excited to finally share my birth story with you. Birth was really the most transformative event of my life, and I'm so blessed by this beautiful babe. Words really can't describe the enormity of the experience for me, but I'll try my best.

If you're looking for a story about unmedicated home birth, this one's for you. The story is long - I had about two and a half weeks of pre-labor before starting active labor. For all the women who experience this, my heart goes out to you! Thankfully, the active labor was only five or so hours. For that, I'm so very grateful.

If you're in the Bay Area, I highly recommend the services of Kara Engelbrecht and Murial Barkley-Aylmer. They are amazing.


The Journey Earthside Begins

On the morning of February 26th we had a team meeting with our midwife Kara and our doula Murial. I was just shy of 37 weeks pregnant, and Kara mentioned that we could have the baby today safely. 

In hindsight, perhaps our baby heard that...? 

I spent the day aggressively nesting, making a long list of “things to do before the baby comes” and organizing the house. I kept telling myself, “thank goodness I have at least two more weeks!”

Well, that night I woke up with contractions. I wasn’t sure what was going on...I really wasn’t ready to have this baby. I had only finished client work several days before, and I was really looking forward to having some free time before he arrived. 

Yet by the time sunrise rolled around, the contractions came to a complete stop. 

Then on Friday night, a similar thing happened. A few hours of contractions a few minutes apart, lasting a minute (or more). Then the sun rose, and they faded away. 

My midwife Kara stopped by on Saturday morning to check baby’s heart tones. She also did a vaginal exam. I was one centimeter dilated and baby was at zero station. The contractions were making progress, but I wasn’t in labor. Just labor-y. 

The medical term for my pattern was “irritable uterus,” which is a truly horrible name. She prescribed a glass of wine and a bath before bed to calm everything down so I could sleep. It was important that I sleep, so when active labor began, I would have enough energy to make it through. 

After months of no alcohol, I brought out my favorite wine -- a frappato by a female producer from Sicily who makes beautiful biodynamic wines (seriously). If I was going to drink something, it was going to be really good! Thankfully the wine and the bath were enough to calm down both my uterus and my nerves. It was really challenging to go through night after night not knowing if I was in labor, or if I’d wake up the next morning pregnant.

Thank goodness, I knew that in max five weeks, he would be out. 

But five weeks was a long time to wait...

The Irritable Uterus Continues

Because I didn’t know when I was going to have the baby, we canceled most of our plans. I told myself I was on “birth retreat.” And I tried to make the most of it, taking long walks, cooking good food, taking some flower essences, enjoying my nightly baths, and resting as much as possible. And I continued talking to my baby, letting him know that he was welcome whenever he was ready.

What else could I do?

I asked my spirit guides what was happening. They told me, “Low and slow, and then we go!” So I believed them, knowing that it might be awhile before the baby came.

This pattern lasted about two and a half more weeks, although the contractions stopped for a brief few days when my dad was in town. Thankfully, I was able to get a few nights of good sleep, which really helped my body and my spirit. 

Then I Wet The Bed

The morning of Friday, March 11th, I woke up with a huge amount of wetness in my bed. I texted my midwife that it’s possible my water broke, but I wasn’t sure. She did a test to see if it was amniotic fluid. 

Nope.

...I had actually peed myself. 

I texted my friend: “When you think your water broke but you just peed your pants.”

A little disappointed, I still couldn’t help thinking he had to be coming soon.

Tire Swings, Acupuncture, and a Healthy Dose of Denial

That afternoon, I started feeling more contractions. I went to the park and spent awhile on a tire swing, just swinging around and enjoying the solitude. My friend came over later, and as we were talking, I could feel the contractions starting to pick up a bit. She’s in acupuncture school, and I had her feel my pulses while I was having contractions (#acupuncturenerd). The pulse was definitely “scattered,” which is a pulse you feel if a woman is in labor. But I didn’t think too much about it, as I was so used to the surges by now. They had become my new normal.

I decided to take an early bath to see if the contractions would settle down like they normally did. I filled the bathwater with some mugwort flower essence and some essential oils for opening and expanding. Every other time, the contractions would slow down while I was in the bath, but this time they didn’t. I rubbed my belly with more flower essences and essential oils, and went to lie down in the bedroom.

At this point, I also decided to use some acupuncture needles to help with the crampiness and to move the energy downward. I used the acupuncture points Large Intestine 4 and Spleen 6 bilaterally. I’m in acupuncture school, and I promised my acupuncturist I wouldn’t needle myself in labor. But I didn’t really believe I was in labor at the time! The needles helped a lot with the intensity. 

Cravings for Cheese, Julia Roberts

Around this point, my husband came home and I was seriously craving some gluten free cheese flavored crackers. I’ve never had this sort of craving in my entire life, and my cravings had largely gone away during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I remember how delicious they tasted, even though it sounds gross to me now. 

Around 9pm I asked my husband if we could watch a stupid Julia Roberts romantic comedy. Notting Hill was available on Netflix, so he turned that on. By this point, I was using a TENS unit to help manage the intensity of the surges. At this point, I was still in complete denial that I was in labor. I was sure that morning would come, and I would still be pregnant. 

The Toilet Time

After a certain point, I said, “I can’t watch this anymore.” I made my way upstairs to the toilet where I would labor for the next four or so more hours. My husband sat in the dark next to me, and with each surge, he said “You can do this.” 

To this day, “You can do this” has been my mantra for motherhood.

Deep in labor land, I remembered the miscarriage I had before conceiving this child. I cried away the deeper layers of grief I hadn’t yet healed. 

When the doula Murial came around 2:30am, I was vomiting. I have blurry memories of thinking the contractions were going to kill me. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to physically handle twelve (or more) more hours of this. But she coached me through each surge, and she held the bucket as I continued to vomit. I was either really cold and shaky, or overwhelmingly hot. I didn’t know this at the time, but at some points the contractions were back to back, up to four minutes long. Each one would come and surprise me with its intensity, but I was able to sink into them and let the energy course through me. 

I had a memory come to me of a miscarriage my mother had when she was seventeen weeks pregnant. I was twelve years old at the time, and I remember holding the baby and being so sad. I held my doula’s hand as I cried it out, continuing to labor on the toilet. I had yet to move. 

I have so much more to say about this emotional space. The intensity of sitting at that portal between life and death. But that is for another post.

After this cry, everything started to speed up. After awhile, I decided to try moving to the bed. I had tried moving to the bed once before, but the contractions had intensified, and I moved back to laboring on the toilet. At this point, I moved to the bed and prepared for another super intense surge. But they didn’t intensify at all, and I took a 15 minute nap.

Quiescence.

I Finally Believe I’m in Labor

I woke up to the sound of my water breaking (pop!) and very intense pressure in my pelvis. I screamed out, “What’s happening?!” because it felt like there was a sharp pencil scraping the inside of my birth canal. I also had an uncontrollable urge to push. 

At this point, we called our midwife Kara who arrived at 5:15am. We were lucky she only lives two blocks away!

Pushing was quite a different sensation. When Kara arrived, she asked me to use my fingers and tell her what I felt. I could feel my baby’s hairy head, and also a bit of tissue. There was still a lip of my cervix that had yet to dilate (causing the pain), and she helped maneuver his head over the lip so I was free to push. After a few pushes, I had a vision of him being born in the birth tub. My baby made it very clear that he was going to be born in the tub! Thankfully, the tub was just full enough, and I made my way into the most delicious water I’ve ever been in. I tuned into my body and my baby and pushed whenever they wanted me to. It was such a physical, primal, intuitive process.

Water Baby is Born!

Around 6am, Kara asked me to move to hands and knees. I pushed on all fours as his head came out, when Kara helped somersault him through the cord. I went on one knee and the rest of him came out in the water, so beautiful and blue. As we pulled him out, he just reached his arms out to me as we cuddled and I sang to him a song I wrote for him before we conceived him. It was the most beautiful moment of my life. 

Hello my darling I want you to know
You are loved
Hello my darling I want you to know
You are safe

You are surrounded in a circle of light
As bright as the sun
You are surrounded in a circle of love
As round as the moon

Hello my darling I want you to know
You are loved
Hello my darling I want you to know
You are safe

After gazing into his eyes, we moved to the bed, where I held him skin to skin and let him make his way towards my breast. Kara and Sue helped me birth the placenta. I needed to talk to the placenta, to tell her that her work was done, before she was born. When the placenta came out, I felt a huge sense of relief. 

We had done it!

Reflections

Throughout the process, I had so much doubt. How could I ask my baby to be born vaginally, when I didn’t do it myself? But I trusted my body. I trusted that the story of my birth was separate from the birth of my baby. I made peace with my own birth story (thank you flower essences!), and that made all the difference. 

Adam Hiroki Swartz was born at 6:07am on March 12th, 2016. It was absolutely transformative. Absolutely beautiful. And I would do it all again. 

To this day, whenever I’m having a challenging moment as a mother, the mantra still comes back to me. 

“You can do this.”