Friday, March 9, 2012

Helps for a Happy Home Birth

This is Peter.  I met him two and a half weeks ago under the most extraordinary circumstances!  Sort of like magic, really.  Cameron and I entered our house, just the two of us, and the next time we emerged together, there was Peter with us!  We went for a walk, and after getting acquainted, we decided we'd keep him.

Wouldn't you?

I won't indulge right now by retelling the birth story.  But I did want to share a list of my favorite labor tricks and comforts that aided me during our natural home birth.  I would love to hear from readers about what (and who) helped you through labor!

Nothing is more important than trusting one's instincts during labor, submitting to your more primitive self who knows (like all other mammals) how to give birth.  But I tell you!  I was helped so much by reading a great number of birth stories, articles and books (my favorite pictured above), by attending a birth class, by talking to other mothers, by "practicing labor" with Cameron at our house, and by meeting often with our wonderful midwife, Richelle Jolley.  I did indeed refer mentally to many of the things I had learned as I progressed through labor.  But most importantly, they taught me what to expect and drove all fear out of me prior to the birth.  Fear is to pain as oxygen is to fire.

I especially encourage any expectant mother to read the birth stories (especially natural birth stories) of as many other women as she can.  She will learn what she wants her own labor to be, and learn to believe in her body.

The Rope
This was my favorite during active labor!  We got the idea from Ina May's research on a few traditional cultures in which ropes are used during labor.  Cameron and I bought a strong smooth rope from Ace Hardware, and he rigged it to the top of our stairs, so it was hanging down to the side of the staircase.  He hung it like the picture on the bottom left, hammock-like, but he also tied evenly-spaced knots in it.  He also hung it higher, so that rather than sitting on it I could loop it under my arms.  Oh, I loved this.  I loved it in so many different positions... hanging from the different knots, sinking my weight into it with it looped under my arms, or leaning forward into it.  Cam or Nonie often provided support from behind, or applied pressure/heat to my lower back.

The Ball
I didn't use this as much as I thought, but found I did like it in between contractions when they were getting closer together.  It was relieving to bounce up and down on it.  I did not like to sit on it during contractions, but Nonie says she loved that in her second labor.  So try it!  It also was great when I was using my rope and I wanted something to brace my knee against (I pinched the ball against the wall with my leg). My midwife said most women like to kneel next to it and slump over it as they rotate their hips around.

The Tub
I wish I had gotten in the tub sooner (which was actually a horse trough lent to us by our midwife).  But I rushed so quickly through active labor and transition I hardly had time to get myself into the tub before pushing.  (I hadn't planned on a water birth, but it ended up that way because I could not get out again once I was in stage two).  I believe it would have been more of a comfort had I gotten in earlier, because it felt just heavenly after the baby was born and they added some hot water.

Note: earlier in the day we folded a quilt into quarters and put it on the bottom of the tub, then lined the sides with pillows.  We then covered all of this in a huge sheet of plastic, and taped the plastic around the outside edge of the trough.  This made the trough much softer and more comfortable for me than it would have been --- and none of the bedding even got wet!

Descending Chromatic Scales
This was the best pain relief of the day!  Early on in labor I found a deep low hum that really helped ease my pain.  When I focused on the notes, their depth and their vibrations, I was able to forget about the pain of contractions.  Here is an excerpt from my birth story about what happened in active labor: "My humming had turned to singing, deep long low pitches.  The lower I kept my voice, the less I felt the pain, and the more pain I felt the louder I had to sing.  Soon I was singing long descending chromatic scales, to keep my voice moving lower through each wave rather than higher.  If my voice rose to higher pitches it meant I was giving into the pain and feeling it much more intensely.  Keeping my voice low and strong helped me feel that I had everything under control, that I was stronger than the pain.  I could feel it also helped me open up and relax, especially if I let a little vibrato in."

My labor lasted 31 hours, but until it was over I never reached a point of real fatigue.  One reason is that I made every effort (and Cam did too) to sleep when it was night, and catch naps in the day.  Granted, I could only sleep between contractions, but those minutes added up!

Eating and Drinking
I ate throughout labor, another huge reason I believe I avoided fatigue.  Pasta with a heavy beef/liver tomato sauce; fried eggs and toast; cheese and crackers; Nonie's homemade granola in raw milk... all good energy food.  And plenty of water!  Just remember to use the bathroom frequently as a full bladder does not aid labor.

I also took my vitamins, and a not-so-tasty shock tea (apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, etc.) to help limit bleeding.

Moving Around
Until I was in really active labor, I hardly ever took two consecutive contractions in the same position.  I leaned over furniture, arched over my hands and knees, swayed from Cameron's shoulders, leaned against a wall, sat on the edge of a chair, or squatted.  These upright positions not only help labor progress, the variety really helped the time pass!

Getting Outside
Nonie was responsible for getting me to put on my coat and boots and go outside (in my 27th hour of labor).  We climbed around on some huge metal pipes stacked near our property, walked the perimeter of the yard a couple times, and leaned against trees, etc. during contractions.  It was a really nice change of scenery, especially the crisp fresh air.  But most importantly, this is when labor really picked up!  It was a race to the finish from there.

I had planned on making two long playlists --- one more peaceful and relaxing, the other energizing --- to match whatever moods I might find myself in during labor.  I never got around to that!  Now I'm glad, because all I really wanted was simple Bach cello suites and some Thomas Tallis choral pieces.  These ran over and over throughout my labor, and I never tired of them.  I needed their simplicity.

I was really fine on my own through most of early labor, and took the contractions leaning against furniture or on my hands and knees.  But it was nice having Cameron for conversation and encouragement, and eventually Nonie as well.  By the time I was in active labor, I really needed them.  I needed to be touched (firmly) and talked to calmly.  I needed to be able to hang from Cameron's shoulders or have him supporting me from behind.  Feeling the presence of one who loved me made a great deal of difference in how I took the pain.

Heat and Counter-pressure
Let's just say the heated rice bags were heaven, especially when applied to my lower back.  And counter-pressure above my sacrum or against my knees was incredibly relieving... it cut the pain in half.  Probably part of that pain relief was due simply to the physical contact with a loving person, but the pressure really helped.

A Compassionate Birth Team
Richelle Jolley (left) and her attendants
My midwife and her two apprentices were efficient, practical, methodical... but above all they were humane, gentle, and compassionate.  They trusted me and respected me; they trusted and respected the natural process of birth; they were guided equally by their expertise and by their instincts and spiritual impressions.  My midwife asked permission anytime she needed to do something mildly invasive --- which was rare.  Above all, when they spoke to me they were kind and encouraging.  They were still smiling, even when they left the house at 5:00 am.

Why does this matter?  A woman who is uncomfortable with her surroundings --- particularly with any individual present --- cannot relax and open up as needed.  Her adrenaline is sparked and her labor is slowed; she is in defense mode.  The complete comfort I felt with these wonderful women, whom I knew very well by the time of our labor thanks to our many long appointments, allowed me to focus calmly on my body without worrying what anyone else in the room might be doing or saying.

Gratitude and Positivity
Nothing is more crucial than an accepting and loving attitude.  I was blessed to have a greater measure of love, acceptance, and gratitude during my labor than I ever do in the course of a normal day.  I wish there were some scientific way to measure and prove what I swear by my own experience: love and gratitude counteract pain.  Even during the toughest parts of labor, I felt a certain positivity and acceptance that kept me from frustration or fear, and greatly lessened my sensitivity to the pain.  I am so thankful for the prayers of everyone who thought of me during my labor, because I am sure it was their faith that lent me such grace.  One day I want to return to that place, where my heart felt so pure and my love so complete, because it brought me joy even in the midst of real travail.  But I still and will always intensely love the people who supported me, prayed for me, and believed in me. 

And I will always be grateful for Peter...


  1. I thought the Renaissance music was perfect too (your descending chromatic scales fit in nicely). I'll definitely be adding some to my playlist next time around.

    This post is so thorough, and covered most of what I did as well. I know some people enjoy a little aromatherapy, especially during stage 2.

    Thank you, Meredith! You were amazing in labor.

  2. Oh my oh my... you Marshall women are amazing. I love you! Thank you Meredith for going into such detail on your methods. I will use some of them next time... that is if I have time to. My most recent birth took 1.5 hours and very intense I could not move. They asked me to roll over onto my back and I couldn't do it on my own even in between contractions. I wish Nonie could be there for me too. I bet she is awesome to have around. My husband actually missed this last labor, and I dearly missed him.

    Also, I was shocked to see one of my dear friends in your picture. She must be one of the apprentices... Elizabeth. I love her. She would have been great to have around as well. We grew up together in Minneapolis and she has always been very into natural things- it doesn't surprise me that she is going to be a midwife. She will make a great one.

    Congratulations on your baby. He is beautiful and reminds me of my own.

  3. I found with my unmedicated births that I didn't want any noise, not even my own. I needed it to be quiet for me to focus on opening up. I found "my green place". Here I could let light in and blow the pain out. deep hula hips going round and round kept my lower back relaxed as much as possible. I did the cayanne pepper as well but found it very foul when I vomited!!! My labors were very short for the unmedicated ones, only 2 hours from ouch to out and it puts my body in shock. My planned water birth lasted all of 2 or three minutes before I was out of that tub and pushing next to the bed!!!! I love the pictures of tiny Peter, I hope he is gaining strength every day. Love you tons!

  4. What a lovely post! Thank you so much for sharing, Meredith. It is so fascinating to me how different women need different things while in labor. Labor was such a whole-body sensory experience to me I didn't want to be touched at all. I made a lot of open mouth vowel sounds, though. I wish I'd been more in the frame of mind to turn it into singing :) That's so lovely.

    I would really love trying some music for my next labor, as well.

  5. I had a hard time commenting last time I tried so I hope it works this time! Anyway, thanks for taking the time to write down all your helps for this labor and birth. I was praying for you the whole time. Peter is just beautiful and I can't wait to meet him. I have been praying for both of you, for your continual recovery and transition into this new beautiful phase! You are such a lovely person.

  6. Finally, a chance to look at my girls Daily Legacy. All of your posts evoke my love and admiration, and none more than this one. You have each looked deeply for the best ways to do all the good things. Childbirth being the best one of all. How blessed we have been as women in these latter days to bring children into homes that love and value them and the Father in Heaven that sent them. I am so grateful he sent you to me.

    Meredith, thank you for every little thing you wrote here; both the practical and the spiritual. That little bundle of love, Peter Marshall Nelson is an inspiring little soul. You are a diligent, thankful, cheerful, faithful, mother.

  7. Beautiful! Thanks for the tips!