Nota bene: this is very long birth story. With lots of photos. Long story short: we had our fourth baby (our second home birth, and third vbac) on July 22 and it was raw and crazy and painful and incredible and intimate and miraculous. Read on for ALL THE DETAILS.
I’m finally sharing our home birth story for Aletheia Faye! Our second home birth was different from our first (they do say that every birth is different, after all), but just as intimate and magical and miraculous as doing it at home the first time.
Aletheia was my third vbac; with our first child, Zoe, I labored naturally until I was 7 cm dilated and then had an “emergency” c-section. Naomi was my first vbac, and I delivered her at a lovely birth center in Northern Virginia. Jojo was my first vbac home birth, in September 2017. And then Aletheia was my second vbac home birth in July 2019. Got all that?
As I write this long overdue post, my little baby is bouncing next to me, with a vicious case of the hiccups, having just mastered thumb sucking this week, a little over THREE months old… Where, oh where, has my newborn baby gone?
OK, now for her birth story (I hardly know where to start!). I suppose it’s good to know Jojo’s birth story first. You can read his novel of a home birth story here. TL;DR: Jojo was born at home, 1 day early (my previous two were 12 days late and 7 days late) and this was a very welcomed new experience for me. After two relatively painless nights of prodromal labor, my midwife checked me around 10 am on the day he was born, and I was already 5 cm dilated (and she was able to easily stretch me to 7). #thanksprodromallabor She did a quick and thorough stretch and sweep. At that point, I was having mild contractions. At 11:30 am I went to my previously-scheduled chiropractor appointment. When I left her office, I was having a difficult time walking to the car and breathing through contractions. I was home by 12:45 pm, and the birth team was assembled by 1:30, at which point I was officially in active labor. Around 3:00, contractions got more intense and I needed Joe to help get me through them. I was 9 cm and completely effaced. At 3:40 pm I got in the tub, and Jojo was born in the water, about one hour later. He was born 1 day early, active labor had lasted under 4 hours, and he was born IN THE TUB. So keep these things in mind as we go on to Aletheia’s story….
My due date was July 17. From June 26 onward, I was considered full term (37 weeks), which meant we were in the clear to deliver at home. As with all of my children, I felt more than ready to give birth at 37 weeks. I had been traveling with my family a bunch in the weeks prior, but when 37 weeks hit, it was time to have a baby. Or so I told myself. Our home birth kit had been ready for several weeks, we had the birth tub ready to be inflated, and a plan for our older children (my mom would come down from NJ for the birth, and would watch our older children at our home, as she had done for Jojo’s birth).
I had gained more weight than any of my previous pregnancies, baby was measuring a little big. My belly was literally HUGE and I felt like it couldn’t stretch any more and that I couldn’t physically make it for any additional weeks. I wasn’t going to endure that 5-week torturous time from 37-42 weeks. So when I hit 37 WEEKS, I told myself I was going to have a baby, AND SOON. hahaha! As always, baby comes when baby’s ready. I asked my midwife, Kelly, to check me. I had convinced myself that I JUST HAD TO BE DILATED because I’d wanted it so badly. I wasn’t dilated at all. I had set myself up for major disappointment and I was majorly disappointed. I decided to just try to accept it and embrace it and take advantage of the last days/weeks of having just 3 children.
From that point on, on any given day, I either wanted 1) to stay home and do nothing and just clean up after the kids all day long and keep the house home birth ready (and maybe try a few natural induction methods) because SHE COULD ARRIVE ANY DAY/MINUTE/SECOND or 2) to go out and do all the things and savor my time with just three children, because soon it will be 4 kids and I’m going to have to take it easy for several weeks and I’m gonna be preoccupied with a newborn. I’d alternate between the two, feeling guilty that I wasn’t focusing on whichever I didn’t choose for that particular day. (Funny story: the day she arrived I had decided to bake with the kids and made plans for the evening and the house certainly wasn’t “home birth ready”.)
I had a prenatal massage on July 1, along with my 38-week prenatal appointment. The massage was nice, but I really wanted her to massage the baby out of me and that didn’t happen. I decided not to have Kelly check my cervix; ignorance is bliss. She did say Aletheia’s head was resting ON my pelvic bone, so I had my chiropractor work on that the next day. I had desperately wanted to have my baby on July 4th, and then I was going to name her Aletheia Liberty, and how cute would that be? Instead, I had a extra sweaty day, watching the parade in nearly 100° weather and then watching fireworks with our friends. There were a few babies in the queue before Aletheia was due. Other mamas were delivering their babies and it wasn’t technically my turn yet. As I look back at my texts with Kelly, I realized just how incredibly patient she was with my annoying pregnant texts.
Another week passed by and I had my 39-week prenatal appointment. Another mama delivered her baby that evening. I was growing very jealous and anxious. It seemed everyone was having their babies except me. Forget that I wasn’t even to 40 weeks yet. At 39 and a half weeks, I got a text early in the morning informing me I was at the top of the list and I was “free to move about the cabin.” Maybe that’s what we’ve been waiting for. Maybe Aletheia will come now. I started a group chat with my mom, sisters, aunt, and cousin to keep them updated with all things ALETHEIA’S BIRTH.
Early in the morning of my 40 week prenatal appointment, I texted Kelly anxiously asking if she thought I was going to be dilated when she checked me later. She responded, “I do think you will be but IF you’re not, it doesn’t really matter because contractions will solve that and we have tools to start contractions.” I told her to bring her tools. 😉
Turns out I was dilated, but only 1 cm, and I was 75-80% effaced. She did a stretch and sweep and then I went to the chiropractor where she worked her magic. I decided to start some stimming at home. I hooked myself up to the breast pump and started a 2-hour, 15 min on, 15 min off, homeopathic and tincture regimen. I had cramping while pumping, and a bunch of colostrum, but nothing lasting. I did another hour a bit later that afternoon, and felt more cramping and widening and discomfort, but everything stopped when the stimming stopped. So, I decided to stop and get on with my day. Before bed that evening, I texted Kelly to tell her I had lots of cramps and contractions but nothing “real” or timeable and that I thought tomorrow would be “baby time” (hahaha)! The next morning my text read, “Sad. Nothing all night.” At least I’d gotten a good night’s sleep…?
My mom was in town at this point. I so desperately wanted her to be there for the birth, as she had been for my previous 3. The day before my due date, my mom and I went to the pool and I just floated for hours. It was so lovely having her to help pass the time. We ran into my friend Marina at the pool, a mother of 10 and they were all home births. She gave me so much gentle wisdom & perspective. That evening we had a full moon and I was just convinced she was going to come the next day, her due date. Nothing happened that evening.
On her due date I had the breast pump going, homeopathics and tinctures like crazy, my belly was coated in castor oil and lavender essential oil. Then I wrapped my belly in cotton, plastic, a warm washcloth, and a towel. And I was bouncing on a birth ball like crazy. I was ready to kick that baby girl out and a sight to be seen. Nothing much happened. I went on a few walks and when I came back home after the last one, I lost my mucus plug (which is nice and all, but apparently it’s not a sign that labor is imminent).
Up until this point, it would have have been nice to have a baby early. But once my due date came and went, I started to actually wonder – as most “late” mamas do – if my baby was EVER going to arrive.
My mom left the next day, and I decided to take two days off from stimming. Of course, the next two nights, the 18th and 19th, I was awake during the night with mild contractions that did not get stronger or closer together or longer, but they definitely felt like more than just Braxton Hicks. I took lots of long walks. On the 19th, I was listening to the radio and someone called in to the show and it was her daughter’s birthday and the girl’s name was Aletheia. I thought it was a sign I was having a baby on the 19th, but it came and passed and I didn’t have a baby. More contractions, but they’d stop when I changed activities.
That night I had mild contractions from about 9 pm to 3 am and then they all stopped. That Saturday, July 20, I did another round of all the stimming: pumping, castor oil belly rub, homeopathics and tinctures. I had painful contractions during the stimulation, but they stopped when I stopped. I had another stretch and sweep and there wasn’t much change from the last cervix check. I debated for a few hours whether or not to drink castor oil, but having experienced castor oil with Zoe, I decided I’d save that for a LAST RESORT. I wasn’t that desperate yet. Castor oil had been unkind to me 6 years ago.
My family (mom, sister, brother and sister-in-law) visited Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday morning I texted Kelly that my night was “literally eventless.” I so desperately wanted to have my baby with my family in town, but Kelly told me maybe baby didn’t want an audience. 😉 My family left Sunday evening.
Morning of Monday, July 22, Kelly checked in with me to see if “things are quiet.” They were, and she told me to sit tight, because she had a mama that might be in labor. I decided I was going to “sit tight” and not do any stimulating. I accepted my reality and scheduled my biophysical profile ultrasound for that Wednesday, when I’d be 41 weeks. I’d just wait to hear from Kelly. I made an appointment to get my hair done that evening. I decided to bake with the girls; stimulating labor had been my only thought the past several days, so it was a welcomed mental break.
I was super tired that afternoon, so while Jojo took his nap, I decided to put a movie on and let the girls lay in my bed and watch it while I rested. At 3:46 I texted Kelly, “for the last hour I’ve been having ‘painful’ contractions w/lots of lower back pain and pressure in my butt. Juuuust wanna keep you posted! Praying for your mama right now! Contractions are 1 min long and about 7 min apart.”
She said her other mama had not actually been in labor, and “if you’re going to do it DO IT.” I told her the pain was starting in my lower back and moving forward and there was a ton of pressure in my butt. She suggested showering and trying some pumping, to see if things changed. I took a shower and the contractions had persisted. They weren’t getting noticeably longer, stronger, or closer together, but they were still there. I decided to do some breast pumping to see if I could get things to move along, but before I could do that I had chills and had to get warm in bed for a bit.
By around 4:45 pm, I was hooked up and started pumping. I had pretty intense chills and shaking, so despite it being in the 90s outside, I was wrapped in my warmest sweater. I began to have very painful contractions, and they were starting to be closer together and lasting longer. Yes! I pumped for 20 minutes and had to bounce through and intentionally breathe through the contractions. They were coming around 3 mins apart and lasting well over 1 minutes. I stopped pumping and the contractions persisted! At 5:30, Kelly asked if I wanted her to come with the birth team and I said “YES!”
A minute later, I texted her “I think we’re gonna have a baby.” She agreed.
At 5:50 pm she was on her way (and so was the rest of the birth team). She asked if Joe was setting up the tub. My response: “Yes, but painfully slow. He’s vacuuming the living room floor under the rug currently. A few minutes earlier he was cleaning the cast iron skillet. Stress cleaning.”
The kids were kinda unruly and the house was a “mess” and it was really bothering me. Joe put a movie on for them, and I texted my sister in law to see if she could come photograph/help with the kids. Kelly said I should go outside for a walk so I wouldn’t have to watch Joe slowly set up the tub and be bothered my messy house and loud kids! I went to the bathroom (TMI, but it was #2, which relieved a ton of pressure), and then walked. My last text to Kelly was at 6:02, and she arrived just a few minutes later and I greeted her in the driveway, back from my walk.
After getting settled, Kelly checked me at 6:20 and I was 4 cm dilated, not quite 100% effaced, and the bag of waters was in front of the baby, which was a nice change from previous checks. She did a nice and painful stretch and sweep. At 7 pm I texted my family group text that I was “swaying pressure pointing and tons of pressure. Might not get many updates.” Kelly had this amazing back massage tool that my birth team applied on my back throughout contractions for about 1 hour. It helped relieve so much of the pain and pressure. I always have very bad back labor, so pressure points or massaging has been such a blessing.
I wish I had known I still had hours to go at this point. I wish that we knew how long labor was going to be at the very beginning. It’d help so much with the mental battle. I was fighting against myself mentally the entire time. I had subconsciously set myself up to be disappointed, because I’d wanted to recreate Jojo’s birth story, and when things began to deviate from Jojo’s, I started to mentally decline and give up. I got in the tub around 7:40 and lasted about 2 hours in the tub. My amazing birth team took turns applying pressure to my lower back during contractions. The kids were eating dinner in the kitchen, then they got ready for bed and spent some time in the living room, watching me labor. We laughed, kissed, I’d have a contraction and they’d look super concerned, and then it’d pass and we’d smile and laugh again.
At 7:46 pm someone texted the group chat from my phone a picture of me smiling in the tub. At 8:19, Joe texted the group “doing well, relaxing and talking between contractions.” Somewhere between 8:19 and 9:40, the kids went to bed and fear began to take hold of me. I was thinking ahead to the pushing and experiencing the ring of fire. I told Kelly I couldn’t handle all the unknowns. I asked them to pray for me. We dimmed the lights and Abigail plays soft worship music.
I got out of the tub around 9:40 pm. I was eager to move things along with walking, going up and down the stairs, etc. Active labor with Jojo had lasted under 4 hours, and I delivered him in the tub, after being in the water for only 1 hour. Aletheia’s birth was already different. I’d been in active labor for almost 4 hours, and in the tub for about 2 hours, without delivering a baby. I kept asking Kelly “how much longer” and of course, she didn’t know. But she quietly and patiently reminded me to take it one contraction at a time.
Around 10 pm I was feeling increasingly defeated. I had wanted to recreate Jojo’s birth so badly. I had wanted my mom there, to be with me and to take care of our other children. I had wanted Aletheia to arrive a day early to be a day early. I had wanted her active labor to be under 4 hours and I wanted to deliver in the tub after being in the water for under an hour. Nothing was going according to my plan.
But I should have known better than to set myself up for such unrealistic expectations. After Aletheia’s labor surpassed Jojo’s in length, I just wanted to KNOW when she was going to arrive and how much longer I was going to be laboring. I was tired, fearing the inevitable pushing, and generally beginning to feel like I was losing the mental game. And did I mention I was exhausted? My wise midwife had me lay on the couch on my side and try to relax/rest between contractions. Joe laid behind me and provided counter pressure on my lower back during contractions. We both nearly slept between contractions. Our birth team was gathered around us on the living room floor with just one small light on, resting, watching, encouraging, patiently waiting.
My mom was facetiming the whole time, and at 10:07 pm she texted the group, “checked her a little bit ago. She is 7 cm. Please keep praying. Contractions every 2 min or so. She is tired because she normally goes to bed by 8!”
Around 11 pm, after about 60 minutes of resting and laboring on alternating sides on the couch, I got up to walk. Although I was exhausted, I wanted to try to move things along. I was so upset that I hadn’t delivered yet. I peed, walked, labored in the kitchen and dining room, and eventually moved up to my bedroom. Kelly checked me and a 11:05 text from my mom to the group text read, “She’s at 9 cm now.” I was so so so tired and wanted it to be over. I really needed encouragement to keep pressing on.
Althought all I wanted to do was lay down and let the baby magically work her way out of me, I knew I needed to do something. They had me sit on the toilet, lean back, and do belly lifts during contractions. This was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was so uncomfortable. But the progress was undeniable! I began to feel SO MUCH PRESSURE as she made her way down down down. The back pain was almost unbearable, and no one was able to easily reach my back to apply pressure during contractions. My desire for it all to just be over and the constant prayers and encouragement kept me as strong as I needed to be as each contraction rose and fell. Anne and Joe took turns holding my hand and supporting me. Kelly was right there, observing me, listening to baby, coaching me through contractions. I had some urges to push while on the toilet but I was full of fear and was holding back. The groaning was getting loud and low. I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d meet our daughter and I was so scared.
Around 11:39, Kelly moved me from the toiled to the bed because she wanted to check if I had a cervical lip, which I had with my two previous vbacs. My water was artificially broken 3 minutes later, and the contractions and pressure were almost unbearable. I felt myself slowly shift from being able to communicate with my body what needed to be done.
Kelly started directing my pushing at 11:43 pm when they detected slight decelerations in the baby’s heart rate. Two minutes later Aletheia’s head was crowning and I felt like I couldn’t go on. I could detect some concern but couldn’t quite connect what I needed to do. I didn’t know where to push or how to bear down. I didn’t know how to communicate to my body for effective breathing and pushing. And I was so fearful of the “ring of fire.” 11:45 pm text from my mom: “She’s pushing. Please pray.”
Kelly basically had to gently and firmly “bring me back” and tell me to listen to her. She directed my pushing and breathing. In that same minute, Aletheia’s head came out, all 14.5 inches. Holy ring of fire. As suspected from the decelerations, her cord was wrapped around her neck twice. They wanted her out, quickly, and with one final giant push, she was born. 11:47 text from my sister: “Born. Crying. Making noise. 9lbs, 21 1/2″ long, 14.5″ head.”
I never experienced so much pain and utter despair and trust and joy and relief and raw emotion in one minute of my life, but as they lifted her up and placed her in my feeble arms and she laid on my mushy belly, nothing else mattered. She was here, it was over (except for that darn placenta!), and I was just so incredibly thankful!
I am so thankful for a second incredible, safe, loving, and intimate home birth. My midwife Kelly (of Blue Ridge Birth) and her team are so, so experienced and take such good care of their mamas and babies. They know what to do in every situation and can read our bodies so well. Despite my pain and my fears (as expected in childbirth), they were so loving and knowledgable and attentive and oh how I love them so! I’m confident my birth story(ies) would be very different had it not been for this group of women!
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