The birth of Alo'e and the growth of our ohana. Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language. When I think of my laboring and the birth of our son Alo'e, the word ohana is one of the first words that come to mind. Not only because Alo'e has made us his family but because our midwife, Karen, her assistant Jenn, and our doula Kathryn, also became our ohana.
Before becoming pregnant, I knew that I would birth at home. Humans have been giving birth for thousands upon thousands of years, especially with the true support of others, before hospitals as we know them existed. It is the most natural thing, as women and humans, we could possibly do. I'm completely aware of the need for intervention, when there is high risk or complications, so I am very blessed that my pregnancy, labor, and birth went really well.
In fact, I absolutely loved being pregnant. I'm 37 and considered by some, elderly primigravida or advanced maternal age. Karen never made me feel that way. She's been there for so many women of all ages and circumstances and is full of knowledge, positive energy, and a realistic outlook.
During pregnancy, I easily read over 50 books about being pregnant, all kinds of birth stories, what your body is going through, how the baby is developing, so on and so forth. I watched endless birthing videos from people who had home, hospital, birth centers, and even births that happened outdoors. I felt confident, excited, and ready to go through the process of labor and birth.
Preparing myself with all that valuable knowledge was gold; it enriched me in so many ways. However, during my labor, I couldn’t really apply any of that information to what I was going through, which was another reminder that we all experience things differently and your body will do what your body will do, so you must listen to it.
My water broke around 5 am on Friday, April 10th. This is about one week before my "due date". My partner, Davidson, and I weren't sure what to expect. Would contractions start soon after? Would I be giving birth right away? I contacted Karen immediately and she was currently at a birth, but assured me all is well and what to do with myself. Which was eat, sleep, relax, and let her know of any changes. I also spoke to Kathryn, who said the same thing. Davidson and I were so excited it was hard to really rest, so we cooked food and prepared our home. Of course during this pandemic, we had some glitches, our birth tub supplies wouldn't arrive until the moment Alo'e was born, (yes, the USPS guy dropped off the box in plain sight of me pushing Alo'e out in our kitchen). Fortunately, we have some very incredible friends who were able to help us (at a distance) to get the tub supplies before Alo'e's arrival.
Friday came and went with minor contractions. Saturday, I started to really feel them, nothing that close together until about 5 pm. We had been in contact with Karen and Kathryn throughout the day and when my rushes were about 10 minutes apart, Kathryn decided to make the trip down. Both Karen and Kathryn live over an hour away from us. By the time Kathryn arrived which was around 7 pm, I was in bed with my husband feeling the pangs of labor while he took notes and supported my every move. Kathryn sat on the bed with us and started timing my contractions all while listening as I was in and out of moaning from the surges, cracking jokes, and talking about the supernatural being natural. My rushes/surges/contractions started to take me to a place that felt utterly psychedelic. Moaning and breathing deeply with each contraction felt like I was doing a call of the wild. I had no perception of my volume or even the space and time in between it all. My inner instinctual self took over completely.
Around midnight, I got into the birthing pool that we had set up in front of our fireplace in hopes that we would have a roaring fire during birth. I, of course, was so hot that a fire was definitely not about to happen. So we lit candles and burned incense at the altar we created on our kitchen table with items from loved ones who have passed, from ones that are still with us, our travels, and little tokens from nature that we've collected over the years.
So from our bedroom to the birth tub, my contractions became closer and closer together. Karen arrived around 2 am and Jenn, her assistant, came shortly after. At this point, the laboring felt like the most animistic, instinctual, out of this world, mind-bending, fever trip I could ever be on. It was hard to keep my eyes open. I was pulsing, moaning, pushing, shaking (I didn't realize how much you can uncontrollably shake from hormones during labor), and having the worst calf cramp/charley horse of my entire life. Thank the universe for Davidson and Kathryn who massaged my leg for about 12 hours straight! I’m also so deeply thankful for Karen and Jenn for encouraging the space to listen to myself, at my own pace, while also offering their strong knowledge about how to keep me as comfortable as possible. Most of all, I’m grateful for Alo’e hanging in there, strong as can be, with a steady heart beat.
My contractions were shifting from being close together to further apart to shorter lengths and then back again. None of them felt like I could get a really good push in. After hours of pushing in different positions, rooms, and taking breaks in between it all. I was dealt a few options from Karen. One being, eat and rest and try again, but if that doesn't work we have to consider going to the hospital. I finally started to really rest in bed and do breathing exercises with Davidson and Kathryn. It was one of the most difficult things to do. My body just wanted to moan. Karen and Jenn helped me transform the vocal energy into concentrated pushes when I would have a rush. So after resting and focusing on my surges, it was suggested to me to try to use the bathroom. Davidson and Jenn came into the bathroom with me and I was able to urinate and with that came a really strong contraction. Jenn said, push like you've been constipated for a month. Which honestly, after her saying that, something clicked. I had been pushing but trying to keep it contained to the front rather than towards the back, if that makes sense. I'm not sure how much time had passed from the bathroom to the actual crowning but it felt like no time at all. After pushing on the toilet, I wanted to push in the kitchen. On the way to the kitchen I had a contraction and got on all fours in the hallway to push, then the same in the kitchen. Karen suggested the birthing stool again which hours earlier it felt uncomfortable, but this time it was exactly what I needed. I also figured out how to get my body to contract by standing up a certain way, which was making it easier to have longer and stronger pushes. With Davidson and our birth team holding me, rubbing my back, and giving me counter pressure, within minutes Alo'e was crowning and what then felt like seconds, he was in my arms and on my chest.
That moment, right there, of Alo’e on my chest and Davidson holding me, is absolutely the most beautiful moment of my entire life. Being able to birth at home with my remarkable life partner, our silly cat, six baby chickens, and the knowledge of three magical women, who helped create the space and time for me to be in tune with my labor, was by far the most incredible experience both my husband and I have ever had. It's now approaching six weeks later, with the pandemic in full force, and being new parents without the continual physical presence of family or friends, and our birth team being our only visitors in over two months; we are still feeling the high from our love for Alo'e and our experience of giving birth at home. Sometimes before bed, with Alo’e on my chest, I close my eyes and think about the day that Alo'e can look at our home and say, "I was born right here, Mama". We are all truly grateful for the love and support by Karen, Jenn, and Kathryn, our forever ohana.
Alo’e Phoenix Nalu Thomas
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020 at 14:52
8.3 pounds & 21 inches
I was due with Jude in early June 2014. He was my second, and I delivered his big brother at Lifecycle Women Care in Bryn Mawr. During his brother’s birth, I arrived at the birth center fully dilated and was told it was time to push, so I didn’t get to labor there or wait for my body to have an urge to push. Going into my younger son’s birth, those were the focus of my birth hopes - I really wanted to labor in the tub, and I really wanted to wait to feel the urge to push.
My son was due on June 4, 2014, and I woke up that morning feeling “weird”. Nothing I could describe but it was noticeable to me. That evening, I began to feel crampy, but no contractions. My mom was in town for the birth and was driving me a little crazy asking if I felt anything, so I kept my crampy feelings to myself. Around 12:30 am on the 5th, I began to have actual contractions. My husband checked me* and I was slightly dilated. I labored in bed for a while, relaxing between contractions. Around 3:30 in the morning, we called our friend to come watch our son, called our doula Jessica, and decided to head to the birth center. We arrived there around 4:30, and I was dilated to 8 cm. I immediately got in the tub, and was so relaxed. I was falling asleep between contractions in the tub, so soothed by the smell of Jessica’s deodorant .
I started to feel “pushy” in the tub. I really did not want to get out of the tub, so the midwife and I agreed that I would labor through one pushy contraction in the tub. After that contraction, I got out of the tub and felt a contraction coming as I moved out of the bathroom and towards the bed. The midwife got me a birthing stool to stop to take a break during the next contraction, and my son was born during that contraction on the bathroom floor. We moved to the bed, amazed that he was here and that it had gone so smoothly. I was so grateful to my midwife, and doula Jessica for such a dream birth. I’m now I expecting my 3rd and hoping for a similarly dreamy birth
*Her husband is a doctor.
This blog post was originally posted 2/23/2018
It is such an honor to be invited to the birth of a baby. Whether you are the soon to be grandparents, aunt or best friend, to be there for such a special time in the expectant family's life is truly special. With that great honor also comes the responsibility to help keep the birth environment safe, secure and one that will allow the pregnant person to labor the way needed and desired. The people around the laboring person can have a huge influence on the labor, the birth and the entire experience. There are so many things you can do to help the family during this time and there are somethings that, even though well intentioned, might discolor the experience for the new parents.
This blog was originally posted on April 9, 2019.
Cesarean Awareness Month was started by ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) to shine a spotlight on the number of cesarean births in the United States. ICAN also wanted to bring attention to the lack of access women have to VBAC supportive medical care. In 2016 the cesarean rate in the U.S. was 31.9%, going down from 32% in 2015 but still not where we need to be. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a target of 10-15%. Research shows that most pregnant people want to deliver vaginally and half of the Cesareans performed are not medically necessary. So, what's up?
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