With pleasure, I introduce to you a most charming woman and the tale of her firstborn child. Not only is Katherine the wife and mother of a sweet family, the writer of lovely stories, and a teacher of drawing and painting at Hillsdale College, she also is the creator of glorious works of art which may be viewed on her blog, Useful and Beautiful, and on Flickr.
Katharine, Ryan, and Lena
I met Kim during my very first pregnancy, which had been much longed for and prayed for, but, sadly, ended in miscarriage. I was heartbroken, and I’ll never forget Kim’s gentle voice on the phone, talking me through what to do in my grief and uncertainty. She had won my trust forever, so, when a few months later, I found, to my joy, that I was pregnant again, I contacted her right away.
This one was a perfectly smooth pregnancy, and I got ready for the birth with joy and hope. The due date was February 24, but I mentally prepared myself to go well past that date, since Kim had warned that first babies are often late. My dear aunt Sarah, who was born on Valentine’s Day, was holding out hope for a shared birthday, but I told her confidently it wasn’t likely. The weekend of February 11th, I had a lot of light contractions off and on. The thought crossed my mind, “I think it will be this week.” I didn’t say it out loud to anyone for fear of being laughed at as fanciful – in fact, I was laughing at myself for being fanciful. I should have trusted my intuition, because I was right!
About 5:30 on the morning of February 14, Valentine’s Day, I was awake in bed, having spent a restless night trying to get comfortable. I noticed about five or six contractions in a row, of a kind I would describe as light, but mildly uncomfortable. As the last one faded, I felt an odd kind of pop that I don’t really know how to describe. Still in disbelief, I said to my husband, Ryan, “Okay, something’s happening.” He said, “What?” And I said, “I think my water broke.”
I went out to the kitchen and got myself a big bowl of homemade yogurt, since Kim had told me to make sure to eat something nutritious as soon as labor was starting. I ate about half of it and had a couple more contractions, pretty strong ones. I timed them with an iPhone app I had just downloaded the day before – they were short (only about 30-45 seconds) but really close together, under two minutes apart. And they had started to really hurt, mostly in my back. I decided to call Kim right away.
On the phone, I explained to Kim that my water had broken and I was having contractions. She asked what the contractions were like, and seemed concerned when I said they were in my back (she was thinking maybe the baby had turned posterior again). She started to suggest that I call Carol, the chiropractor, right away, and have my husband drive me up for an adjustment. I kept saying, “Uh huh,” but in my head I was thinking, “There is no way I’m driving 50 minutes to the chiropractor like this!”
Fortunately, at this point I had a few more contractions on the phone with Kim, and the way I was moaning through them must have told her that I was a little further advanced than previously suspected. As one finished, I remember saying in a panicky voice to Kim, “I don’t see how I can relax through these!” She asked me if I could still talk through them at all, and I didn’t know, because it hadn’t occurred to me to try, but I didn’t think so. The strength of the contractions was astonishing to me because, although I tried not to have preconceptions about labor, everything I had read in preparation implied more of a gradual build-up. I had expected to be able to control my reactions a little more, at least in the beginning. Instead, I kept sort of collapsing on the floor and burying my head in a chair or the sofa, my body acting on its own.
Kim then said two things which turned out to be helpful. She has a very calm voice and she used my name a lot to encourage me, so she was coaching me through the contraction on the phone, saying “That’s good, Katharine, you’re doing great, Katharine.” Then she said, “Just remember what the contractions are actually doing. You’re opening up for your baby.” Of course I knew that – I had done a lot of reading to understand how birth works. But it was a helpful reminder at the time. She said she and Hannah were coming down right away, as soon as they could gather their gear together. And she said I couldn’t take a bath because my water had broken, but I could get in the shower if I thought it would feel better that way. (That was the second helpful thing.)
After I hung up the phone, I managed to finish my yogurt between contractions, but the sensations were very strong by this time, and the next hour or so starts to blur together in my memory. I know I did crawl to the bathroom and turn on the shower, and I pretty much spent the rest of first stage crouching in the tub. The hot water felt great on my back and I could brace myself against the sides of the tub. I was moaning a lot – throughout the whole birth I was way more vocal than I expected to be. It felt good to yell out the tension. But, in spite of feeling at the time like I didn’t have any control, I managed to keep my moans really low and deep, not high and tense like a scream. And thanks to Kim’s reminder, I kept saying in my head, “Opening, open, open, open,” which gave me focus.
Meanwhile, my poor husband was racing around, trying to prepare, since the intensity of labor was unexpected for him too. And, in between, we had discovered that it felt really good if he pushed on the small of my back during contractions. So he would hear me start one, run into the bathroom and press on my back, then as the contraction faded, he’d run back out to finish making up the bed.
At some point I remember thinking, “first stage labor can last ten hours or more! How am I going to survive, if this goes on for ten hours?” Because the contractions really hurt at this point. Ina May Gaskin says you shouldn’t think of it as pain, just as an interesting sensation that requires your full attention. Well, it felt an awful lot like pain to me. But, little did I know, I was actually in transition at this point. As Kim and Hannah were arriving around 8:00 am, I had a contraction that felt a little different. I thought, “That felt sort of like pushing. But I must have imagined it, because I can’t be at that stage yet.”
Kim and Hannah helped finish getting the bed ready, and then Ryan helped me out of the tub, and I went to lie down on the bed. Kim sat down at the foot and coached me through the next couple contractions. Then I said, “Um, that one felt kind of pushy to me.” So she checked me, and I was already complete!
As the pushing contractions took over, I felt much calmer. It helped to have Kim there, and the contractions themselves were much easier to control. I won’t say pushing was exactly comfortable or easy, but I felt on top of it in a way I hadn’t been earlier. They were also farther apart – I was even able to joke with Kim a bit in-between. However, nothing much happened for a good, long while. Kim and Hannah eventually went into the other room and left Ryan and me to work in privacy. One of them came back often to check the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler and to make sure I kept eating and drinking. I must have drunk gallons of juice and milk during this stage. Thank goodness, or I wouldn’t have been able to keep my strength up.
Eventually Kim suggested I try some different positions. I did hands-and-knees for a while, and she said to let some contractions go by without pushing more than I absolutely had to, so my body could work out whatever was slowing me up. I didn’t like that very much, though. I tried a lot more sitting on Kim’s birthing stool. This was the best for me, because I felt I could focus my energy more. Ryan got a footstool and sat down just in front of me, and that way I could lean forward and grab him by the shoulders through the contractions while he supported me. He was amazing, very calm, and stayed right with me, either rubbing my back, or just hugging me in between contractions, wordlessly telling me he believed in my ability to keep going.
So pushing had been going on for a very long time, and I had started to be able to feel a little more pressure, and when Kim checked me again, the baby had moved down, little by little. But all the same, I was getting a bit discouraged. At one point I asked Ryan what time it was (I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t see the clock) and he refused to tell me. Smart man. At this point, Kim could see I needed some help because, although I was still physically on top of the contractions, and the baby was still fine, I was losing steam mentally and emotionally. She coached me into a squatting position where I could grab onto the frame of our bedroom door, with Ryan supporting my back. Here things finally started to happen. As the baby started to crown, we moved back to the birthing stool. Kim told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head, which I did – and I know I got a huge grin on my face, pain and all. I was so anxious to finally meet the baby!
Lena was born at 3:13 pm, with her hand up to her face. Ryan caught her and handed her up to me, but neither of us had looked to see whether she was a boy or a girl. I said, “Oh baby, my baby, baby, baby,” or some such babble. Kim and Hannah helped me hold her face-down over my leg, but she didn’t really need help breathing. She cried just a little, right away. As soon as they were sure baby was okay, they got us up on the bed and covered us with blankets. Then we DID check and I saw she was really a girl. We were so happy!
Then I got to relax leaning back on the pillows holding Lena, with Ryan beside me. This is the absolute best moment of a home birth, because Kim and Hannah just left us to bond for quite a while, cord still intact and all. I got Lena to breastfeed a little bit, and we talked about what her name should be, because we hadn’t absolutely decided yet.
Giving birth naturally is definitely the most demanding thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally. I must admit my first thought reflecting back on it was, “I’m glad I won’t have to do that again any time soon.” But it’s demanding in the way that makes you feel amazing and powerful when you do it, like an extreme athlete. (Not that I would know, since I am most unathletic.) I’m proud of myself and proud of Ryan and incredibly grateful that we got to have Lena this way. Home birth was just what I wanted. I wished for a birth that would be focused on me and the baby and on allowing my body to reach its full potential, and not on checking off procedures according to an outside schedule. And that’s what I got.
One moment that will stick with me forever was a conversation with Kim at a follow-up visit, when she told me that our birth, with almost seven hours of pushing, had just expanded her knowledge of the wide range of normal in labor – that she could use my story to encourage other women who have to push for a long time. Her words really touched me. They transformed what could have been a feeling of weakness or failure, into a moment of triumph and victory, of trust in my body and my own capabilities. They transformed me.
by Katharine Taylor
All photographs provided by the Taylor family.
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
If you enjoyed this article, let’s stay connected! I welcome you to subscribe to my blog, and to join in the conversation by commenting below! And be sure to poke around here a bit, as there are lots more stories awaiting you.
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
Books by Kim: