Yes, my birth has a hashtag. No I’m not ashamed of it. Unlike the popular cultural phenomenon to have a wedding hashtag, there was never any intention to create a birth hashtag; this was completely spontaneous. Intrigued? Read on…
I have taken my computer out countless times over the past two months to write down the story of how my Milana entered this world, but each time I am so overwhelmed with the emotion of the experience that I can’t find the words. That’s right, me — lacking words! Or was it the fact that I have three little people (newborn, 18 months, and freshly 3) that need me around the clock? Perhaps a little of both. Many days and tears later, I present you the written version of my birth story, the dream birth of my daughter Milana “Mila” Grace. Thank you for your patience in reading…
I probably fell in love with the idea of out-of-hospital birth the same way most homebirthers do- watching the birth documentary of birth documentaries, The Business of Being Born. I watched it during my first pregnancy, and it began to inform my thoughts about the subject. I spoke in my previous POST about how I prepared for Mila’s birth, part of which included watching this movie a few times. Probably overkill- classic Krista. In a few weeks, I’m going to write about the top questions (and my answers) that I received from so many of you about homebirth, so stay tuned. But for now, it’s all about Mila. Her birth was as beautiful as she is.
As with my other two children, I knew my body was doing some early labor work in the days and weeks leading up to birth. I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions and several nights of prodromal labor, the latter almost every night in the week and a half leading up to birth. My goal was to swiftly determine if what I was feeling was real labor or not, which I did by taking a hot bath or shower or sipping on a glass of red wine. Each time, those rushes faded away within a few hours, so I was able to get back to the business of letting my body rest up for the big day.
On Saturday, July 6th, I woke up with a distinctly blah feeling. However, one of my very best friends was in town from Orlando and having her baby shower that afternoon, and I really wanted to go. By really wanted to go, I mean as much as any 39 week pregnant woman wants to do anything.
I planned on taking Nico to the shower with me while Dad had a day date with Gabriella (so, likely napping). I was really feeling off, though. I exchanged a few texts with my friend, and she told me to just stay home if I wasn’t feeling well. Again, with this not being my first baby, I knew that if I stayed home the baby would never come. And, as a little vain motivation, I distinctly recall thinking, “I’ll get myself all ready and then at least if I go into labor I’ll have had my hair and makeup done!” I swear that thought crossed my mind! We’re all entitled to our own little brand of crazy, and that was part of mine.
We arrived to the shower around 12:30pm and had fun with the mom-to-be and her guests, oohing and aahing every time adorable little baby girl clothes were pulled out. I seriously think looking at all those adorable baby clothes got that oxytocin flow going on in my body, nudging me into labor a bit more! By the time 330pm rolled around, I was pretty confident that I was going to be having a baby in the next 48 hours, and decided Nico and I should start to head home since we were over an hour way from our house.
Despite this intuition, I just smiled and nodded as three different people asked me how far along I was (39 weeks, 2 days) and told me that I didn’t look like I was having a baby anytime soon. Side bar: why do people feel the overwhelming desire to make unsolicited comments about a pregnant woman’s body? Nonetheless, I knew my body and that I was probably in early labor.
I should say- I don’t like to tell anyone other than my birth team when I’m in labor. I don’t like the pressure of people waiting on the baby to be born. I know it causes me to think more, and you don’t want to think during labor!
One thing that was heavy on my mind in the weeks leading up to birth was whether everyone would make it to my house on time. Not because I was afraid or unable to do it by myself- in fact, I had specifically asked my midwives to let me have an unassisted birth unless I requested their help at the time- but because that was how I imagined it. My midwives and birth photographer both lived about an hour away; my doula about 45 minutes. My mom had also just taken a new job and moved to Charlotte, NC, and wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh until the next evening, that of July 7. But my body was giving me lots of clues that I was going to be having a baby soon, but how soon was anybody’s guess.
Trying to figure out when to make the call to mom was absolutely stressing me out- I was worried both that I would make the call too late and my mom not make it on time, or that I’d inform her too early and she’d end up calling off work only for there to be no baby. And despite everything I was feeling, I tend to be a labor denier and not really believe I’m in labor. When Nico and I got home from the baby shower in the early evening, I did what I read so many times before in birth stories and affirmations: I trusted my body.
I let go of the stress and simply told my mom I was pretty sure I was going to have a baby in the next 48 hours, and what she wanted to do with that information was up to her.
Spoiler alert: she made it!
An hour later, Mom was on a plane and landed in Pittsburgh at 8pm. She arrived to my house around 9:15pm, and didn’t seem too amused when I told her I was going to lay down for awhile. Looking at me like I had six heads, she was probably wondering why I told her to come to town if I was comfortable enough to lay down. Well, because this is a homebirth, baby! In my experience the best way to proceed through labor expeditiously (and isn’t that better than slowly?) is to distract yourself. I think it was an episode of the Birthful Podcast that aired in the week or two before Mila’s birth that eloquently stated: ignore it until you can’t. So that’s what I tried to do.
However, anyone that knows me knows that rest or being still is not my strong suit.
I reached out to my doula, Bethany, to check in around 9:30pm. I’m not sure if it was my pure excitement about this homebirth experience or my friendship with her, but my choice of words to alert her to what was going on was, “Hope you like to party, because there ain’t no party like a home birth party.” Those words summed up the atmosphere I had created for this birth and exactly how I was feeling. Excitement. A Party. I was ready to meet my baby in the most spectacular of ways.
I called my midwives next. I found it so calming that my midwife maintained her normal level of goofy as I was alerting her to early labor- she was just as lighthearted as ever. Her sense of humor also kept me blind to the reality of what she later confessed she was doing — urgently grabbing her bag and heading for the door at my mention of the words “rectal pressure.” Bethany and Dana, my birth photographer, were en route as well.
I chose to labor in my bedroom, not even bothering to get in my jetted bathtub that I envisioned laboring early on in. While laboring, I could hear the sounds of Brandon filling up the birth pool, and the occasional opening and closing of the bedroom door. I was sitting backwards on the red chaise lounge in the corner of the bedroom and listening to the playlist I had specifically made for birth- worship songs from my favorite Christian music artists as well as some of my favorite songs as performed by my church’s worship team. I began my journey into labor land.
Some amount of time later, I felt two hands on my shoulder and a soft whisper of, “Hey rock star.” Despite not realizing she was in the room until feeling her hands and hearing her words, Bethany’s gentle approach in letting me know she had arrived didn’t startle me in the least. I stood up to give her a hug and ended up wrapping my arms around her neck as another rush passed through me.
That was when I realized that my entire birth team had arrived and completely set up without my having realized. That’s how dark and quiet it was in my labor space! There was no unnecessary noise, only the sound of the music playing quietly from the corner of the room. My midwives were set up in the office space connected to my bedroom, and were knitting in the corner a few feet away from my chaise lounge under a small red light. That’s right, my providers were knitting during my labor; how awesome is that? My birth photographer was ninja-ing around the room taking photos as labor progressed, but I had absolutely no awareness of her being there. I only know she was a birth ninja because i have these amazing photos! Looking around, I saw the 20 or so candles lighting the room, along with fairy lights hanging along with red sheer fabric near the birth pool.
I was told my mom was in the kids nursery, popping in and out occasionally to see how things were going while also listening in case the older two kids woke up, but I didn’t see or hear her at any point. Brandon was attentive to my needs, grabbing me water, gatorade or chopped walnuts (protein!) as I requested. He also was gently providing counterpressure as time pressed on and the intensity increased.
While still laboring backwards on the chaise lounge, I kept feeling the overwhelming need to stretch my hamstrings and hip flexors. I’m sure my body was simply trying to remain loose and make room for Mila to pass. Listening to my body, I tried a few stretches on the floor and two spinning babies daily activites on the bed to relax my muscles. Continuing with the atmosphere of this birth party, as I called it, Bethany joked that my labor was starting to look like a Cirque du Soleil show, to which I retorted back that we should call this particular show Cirque do SoLabor. And therefore my birth hashtag #CirqueDuSoLabor was born. We only have one photo from this stage, and it’s a bit blurry, but I just love that I can look back and see myself stretching like a crazy person during labor.
I moved to the birth ball to do some pelvic tilts and hip circles, occasionally leaning on the bed through a rush. I recall Bethany asking me whether I could still hear the music during or between contractions. I answered yes, and thought- what a weird question. Why would I not be able to hear the music? Of course, I realize now she was trying to determine how far into labor land I was.
Somewhat ironically, I’m not sure I remember hearing any music from that point on. I asked if we crossed midnight and one of my midwives chimed in that we were just a few minutes into July 7th. Some time later I asked for my TENS unit, which I credit largely for my ability to labor naturally with Gabriella. However, just a few minutes later I felt the urge to make my way to the birth pool, wondering aloud if it was too soon. I recall one of my midwives stating that this seemed like the perfect time, and they moved to take the cover off the pool so that I could enter. Their logs tell me that I entered the water shortly before 1am.
A lot of things happened in the next 28 minutes before Mila made her way into this world.
I got into the water and was immediately calmed by the warmth. There is really nothing like the water while in labor. I leaned over the edge of the pool for some time, talking to Bethany and telling her what I thought I needed in this next phase. I was fairly certain I was fully dilated and transitioning to the next phase of labor. However, unlike my birth with Gabriella, there was no doubt this time around. Perhaps a little fear, though. I didn’t find the water to be as helpful as I expected it to be during surges, only in between them. And having just taken off the TENS unit, which really makes a difference during, the intensity was fierce.
I looked up at the room at one point and asked whether they thought I’d still be in labor on July 8th; meanwhile, we were barely an hour into July 7th. Probably a sure sign that I was about to push. After all, “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.” [Bob Parsons] A few moments later, my mom and Nico entered the room and sat on the side of the bed facing the birth pool. Nico and I had watched countless home waterbirth videos on youtube, and he was calm and cool. My mom looked a bit more nervous, but her and Nico were comforting each other and watching as I continued to work to meet Mila. His presence did wonders for me in those final moments.
I spoke aloud that I was afraid labor would continue to drag on because my waters hadn’t broken. In both of my previous labors, my waters were manually broken. In Gabriella’s birth, she was born just two minutes following waters breaking. Perhaps sensing that I needed a good rush of oxytocin, Brandon came over between the midwives and me and kissed me. It was a really special moment, which caught me completely off guard because he’s not exactly Mr. Spontaneous and, well, we’re in the middle of a divorce. But, maybe he listened to me talking about the hundreds of birth stories I read that reiterate the idea of what gets the baby in, gets the baby out. Whatever it was, it worked. Moments later, at 1:23am, my waters broke.
The waters breaking gave me a little adrenaline rush. Despite adrenaline usually being a negative thing in labor, cancelling out the effects of the oxytocin, Mila was close enough that it probably didn’t matter. Three pushes later, at 1:28am, Miss Milana Grace was born into my hands in the water while Elevation Worship’s “Do It Again,” as performed by David Bowens and my church worship team, was playing in the background. A link to the version I was listening to can be found HERE.
As I had requested, the room remained nearly silent. In what my mom described as an agonizingly long time to see a newborn under the water without diving in to get her, I took about seven seconds to gently guide her out of the water, into the air, and to my arms.
Like many babies born in the water, she didn’t cry. Her chest was moving up and down, showing us that she was breathing just fine, but she didn’t cry out for about two minutes. I gently stimulated her, and then stopped, remembering that many water babies don’t cry and that APGAR looks for breathing OR crying in evaluating. This is one of the many benefits of preparing for birth. Despite having no medical training, I knew from both reading and listening to birth stories, that this was normal and she was fine. Since she was breathing regularly, I was able to relax and take her in. Nonetheless, it was still wonderful to hear her first sounds.
Brandon was over my right shoulder and my mom and Nico came over to my left side, taking her in. Nico was radiating joy, asking everyone, including myself, if they could see the baby that was in my arms. These moments, like the labor, are forever seared into my mind. And in case they weren’t, Dana captured them for us for posterity.
At this point, we still did not know whether this beautiful baby was a boy or a girl. You might wonder how or why this is even possible. Well, when you are given your own space to birth the way you wish – for me, that being one where no one was touching me, I could catch my own baby in the water, and hold her close to me without anyone touching, drying, etc… – no one gets a chance to see the gender of the baby.
After about ten minutes of doting, I decided I was ready and took a peek. In utter joy, I realized I was holding my daughter. I announced that the baby was a girl, and that was the first time there were excited cheers in the room, breaking the gentle silence that previously held space. We were all so thrilled. A few moments later, I shared her name- Milana “Mila” Grace. Everything about this time was beautiful. And then she pooped on me, making her presence known and felt. But hey, at least I was in a pool, right?
The next half hour was full of beautiful moments, many of them involving Nico, who I’m so glad was present. He told anyone and everyone in the room that he had a new sister and her name was Mila. “Do you see my sister? This is Mila! Did you see Mila? Do you want to touch her?” Perfection. He probably told me her name 25 times alone. A true Montessori kid that loves cleanliness and order, he shared “Mom! That water is SO dirty! You have to get out so we can clean it! It’s making me SICK!” I can’t wait to tell him about that when he is older.
And finally, he decided that he wanted to use the toilet, and in the coolest this-can-only-happen-at-homebirth moment ever, sat on his little toilet that was in the corner next to the birth pool before casually strolling back to bed. This just absolutely represented real life, and I loved it.
Gabriella came in next, taking her own time to fawn over her new sister. She was a little more pensive in her observations than Nico, but equally adoring. Especially for a 16 month old in the middle of the night.
Unlike the births of Nico and Gabriella, Brandon and I opted not to privately bank cord blood this time around, and left MIla’s umbilical cord unclamped until it stopped pulsing and turned completely white. #waitforwhite Studies show that the placenta holds approximately 1/3 of a baby’s blood in it at any given time, which could be up to 1 pound of blood that would be “wasted” should the cord be immediately clamped. We instead let all that blood return to Mila’s body. With no one pushing on my abdomen or attempting to inject pitocin into my leg, I delivered the placenta with a gentle push 52 minutes after Mila was born, and the cord was clamped and cut by dad a few minutes later.
The midwives helped me out of the water and into my bed, where Brandon and I doted over Mila while the birth team drained and deflated the birth pool, charted and made their notes, and returned my bedroom back to normal. I nursed her for the first time while laying in the very spot where I sleep every single night. It was beautiful.
Around 3am, while still holding my vernix-covered baby that hadn’t been touched by anyone other than me, I gently dried her so that we could do her newborn exam.
I absolutely loved this part- there we were, still in the dark room with just candles, fairy lights, and a small flashlight disturbing the peace of the night. Mila weighed 7lbs, 12 oz and was 19.5″ long. A few moments later, with coffee in hand, everyone was headed back to their respective homes and we were simply able to, undisturbed, go to bed with our newest baby.
We then carefully examined the placenta, which is always one of my favorite things to do after birth when things settle down.
Mila enjoyed that newborn sleep coma for about four hours, awaking around 7:30am to happily eat. I’d love to say that I took those four hours to sleep, but I simply couldn’t. I was taking in the magic of the experience and praising God for allowing me to have what I could only describe as a dream birth.
I sent a text to my girlfriend, the one that had the baby shower the day before, letting her know that Milana was here. Her reaction, “WHAAAAAATTTTT are you kidding you were just at my house not even twelve hours ago?” was hilarious and perfect. Before she and her husband left to head back to Orlando, she was able to come out to see baby Mila. In one of my favorite photo series ever, here is a photo of us on July 6th, and another on July 7th, with Mila being in utero in the first and earthside in the second. How awesome.
I end this story with my very favorite photo from Mila’s birth – one that captures the essence of how I left her birth feeling. Nothing short of triumphant. I did it. Exactly the way I wanted.
This birth experience was everything I could have imagined. In fact, it was exactly as I imagined and planned for it to be. The people that were present, the atmosphere, the mood. Four hours of active labor. No lights, no beeping noises or monitors, no strangers looking on. Beautiful music, movement as my body saw fit, and food or drink when I wanted it. Belief by me and my providers of my body’s ability to birth and the birth process itself. No amount of money could give me what I received on July 7th- a truly empowered birth experience.
I respect each mom’s decision in how they choose to birth, and I love hearing every single birth story that people share. This story isn’t about the way I chose to birth my daughter, but simply about the experience that I created and how it made me feel. For me, it was absolutely magical. I wish that for each and every mom out there. Your birth, your way.
I am so happy that you have entered our lives. I am abundantly grateful that you gave me this experience, and I can’t wait to talk endlessly about it as you grow. I wish that you and your big sister will recognize that birth is a normal and natural thing, and that your bodies are strong and capable. I hope that your natural birth experiences and entry into this world will resonate somewhere inside and help shape you into fiercely strong, independent, informed women. I wish that your brother Nico will somewhere inside retain the experience that he had in attending your birth and that it will somehow make up for his own entrance into the NICU when I was less informed about my choices. And I pray that all three of you will discover early on your purpose in life and work earnestly to become exactly who God designed you to be. I love you, my dream birth baby…
All photos copyrighted 2019 with credit to Dana Monticelli Photography.