This story was shared by the father- his view of how things unfolded… quite a surprise ending to be sure!
Jen and I went to bed about 11:15 to 11:30 on Thursday night, November 19, 2009. I had just fallen asleep when Jen says “Jim?” in a strong, clear voice. I said “Yes?” and woke up. Jen informs me that her water just broke. I said “Are you sure?” She informed me that she was pretty darn sure. We turned the lights on and checked the bed and there was a nice little puddle, then she stood up and we got her a towel, because she was dripping everywhere she stood or walked. She wet through two pairs of pajamas/sweat pants in about half an hour. Jen said “What should we do?” and I suggested that she call our doula and ask for advice. Jen calls and talks to her (each time Jen called someone during the birth experience it was on speaker phone so I could also hear the conversation). Our doula asks if Jen if having contractions. Jen was not having any contractions. She suggests that Jen get back in bed and rest if she can because she will have a long day on Friday laboring and pushing to birth Libby. She also suggests that we call Jen’s midwife, to ask her what she thinks that we ought to do. Jen calls her midwife and the conversation goes about like the one with our doula – “Is Jen having contractions?” – No; “Okay, then get back in bed and get some rest because you will need energy for tomorrow for labor.”
Almost immediately after Jen finishes the conversation with her midwife, as she gets ready to get back in bed, she says “Oh” at the foot of the bed and puts her hands to her belly. She tells me “I think that was a “real” contraction.” That was somewhere around 12:15 on Friday morning, November 20.
Jen gets in bed and tries to relax and rest. Realizing this seems to be the “real thing,” I decide that I need to finalize our preparations for the hospital. While I keep tabs on Jen I am doing little errands like washing baby clothes for Libby’s going home outfits, making sure the things Jen wanted to be in the hospital bag are in there, putting my clothes and toiletries in there, putting accessories for labor and the potential water birth in the car, and putting her wet pajamas in the dryer. During this 45 minute to one hour period Jen does not fall asleep and she has contractions that are more obvious.
I get in bed with Jen about 1am or so. I expected to help her relax and sleep, because in everyone’s mind we are in early labor and we have a long way to go. Jen is not able to relax or sleep. I snuggle up close to her in bed and hold her, hoping this will relax her and we’ll both sleep. Because I am right next to her I can tell by her breathing when she is having a contraction. Her breath was much stronger and more labored when the contractions happen. I am able to tell the rhythm of the contractions rising, peaking and dissipating. I also try to get a read on where she is in her labor. A rule of thumb that we have learned is 4-1-1. That means when the contractions are four minutes apart, are one minute in length, and are consistent for one hour it is time to go to the hospital. When I first get in bed I time the contractions in my head – they are about 20 to 30 seconds in length – and I look over at the clock on my bed table to see how far apart the contractions are – at first about 5 minutes apart, but within half an hour they are consistently 2 to 3 minutes apart, but still the same 20 to 30 seconds long. This goes on for about an hour, and her contractions are consistent at the same interval. Jen is not able to sleep at all. I probably dosed off for a couple of minutes here and there.
About 2 or 2:15 in the morning, Jen tells me that there is no way that she can relax or sleep. She says “Maybe someone else can relax or sleep, but I just can’t.” So Jen gets out of bed and feels the need to walk around or to try to sit in different positions so that she can relax and rest. At one point she sits down on the toilet in our bathroom facing the water tank, with her pillow on top so that she can rest and possibly get some sleep. That lasts for about twenty minutes and then she is up walking around again. She appears to be having more intense contractions and is agitated. The thing that occurs to me now, though, is that at no time was the labor so intense or uncomfortable as to alarm me that birth was imminent. In other words, Jen is handling labor like a champ. Also somewhere in this stretch I bring Jen some wine we had in the house and she drinks about 2-3 ounces in an attempt to relax and calm down.
About 3 in the morning, Jen says that she just feels like she can’t relax and there’s no way she can rest and what should we do. We decide we need to call the doula and midwife again to figure out what they advise. Jen is pacing in the upstairs hallway during her conversation with our doula and it goes something like this – Jen apologizes for waking her up again and she, of course, says that it is no problem. Jen tells her that she can’t relax and that her contractions are consistent. She can hear that Jen’s breathing, even when she is not in contractions, is very fast. She also times a couple of Jen’s contractions during their conversation and they are 23 and 28 seconds long. She knows that sometimes in early labor contractions can be close together and can be intensified if the mother is tense, as Jen clearly is. Our doula, having just been awakened and not being able to see Jen in person, assesses that this is still early labor and that Jen needs to relax and slow the labor down. She recommends drawing a warm tub and Jen getting in it to relax. Jen also calls the midwife’s answering service and she calls back. Their conversation goes about the same.
As I write this now, almost a week later, it is much clearer to me what was actually going on. Honestly, there are times when I think about this experience now and feel like I was stupid, not protective of Jen, and a bad husband because of letting things happen as they did. It seems like any husband in their right mind would have been headed to the hospital. At the time, though, I had no inclination to think that this was active labor and Jen was close to birth. In the end, though, God was watching out for Jen and Libby and me and He overcame all the circumstances, including my stupidity.
Jen, in what I would now categorize as resignation and disgust, starts running the bath. She also mumbles something about “I guess we’re not going to the hospital.” While I watch over running the bath, Jen tells me she is going to get in the shower. I am trying as best I can to attend to Jen, and I try to talk with her while she’s in the shower. Two things occur to me in this minute-long stretch that now seem obvious: one, Jen was in Laborland because our conversation was pretty one-sided and Jen was not very coherent (she was standing in the shower with the door open and water was going all over the bathroom floor, when I asked her if we should close the door, she just shrugged); the second thing is that she had a contraction that was at a different level and her perspective changed. I now think that she was in transitional labor from this point forward.
As Jen goes from the shower to the tub she mentions to me that she feels like she has to poop. Another indication that she was not coherent – I asked her what was on the floor and she says “blood” and gets in the tub. I checked it and told her it was poop and cleaned it up. Again, she just shrugged.
The water in the tub is not very warm at this point. One, it’s a big tub and two we had used hot water in the washing machine and the shower before the tub was filled. Jen tells me the water is not hot enough. So what do I do? I fulfill the stereotype of the clueless husband and go downstairs to boil some water.
I keep asking Jen if there’s anything I can do, trying to be as useful as possible. I am standing in the doorway between our bathroom and bedroom, still trying to get Jen to relax and slow her labor down. About five minutes in Jen tells me that she doesn’t like me standing there and watching her. The next 30 to 45 minutes Jen labors in the tub by herself, with me listening from the other room and checking in occasionally. I am praying for Jen’s comfort and for her to relax. Jen has now told me that she was praying and reciting memory verses to herself. The verse she repeated most often was ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13). During this time I can tell that she is having some uncomfortable contractions by the sounds from the tub, but still nothing like screaming or unbearable pain. She is also changing positions as it seems her body tells her. One moment I find her on her hands and knees, another kneeling in the tub, another leaning against the tub wall. Jen also uses the faucet in the tub to splash cold water on her face at regular intervals. And by the way, she never used the hot water I had boiled.
Between 3:30 and 3:45 or so she mentions to me a several things: “I just don’t see how I could do this for 18 hours” “There is no way I can get in the car right now” “I’m exhausted.” Of course my answers were extremely helpful and insightful.
As it gets closer to 4am I notice that Jen is putting her had between her legs a couple of times. Later I find out that she feels something down there, and that it is not hard as she expects, but is soft and squishy. At exactly 4am she asks me what time it is. I remember because I looked at the clock on my bed table and it said 4:10 and I set that clock ahead by 10 minutes. Little did I know that the next five minutes or so would become the most amazing thing I had ever experience and change my life forever.
Jen is still in the tub and the water is dirty because of the various things that have been coming out of her. I am standing in the doorway again watching over her. While I’m watching, Jen reaches between her legs and announces to me ‘There is something coming out of me.’ Jen seems upset, but honestly my first thought is not yet panic; it’s more skeptical of this really happening – maybe it was just denial. Very quickly, though, the adrenaline kicks in and my heart rate accelerates rapidly and my mind is racing. I look back at Jen and she seems very frightened and it occurs to me that I need to provide some sense of assurance, that everything is okay.
Having taken childbirth education classes that emphasized natural birth, Jen and I had seen video footage of several dozen births. I had gotten pretty accustomed to the idea and knew that if Libby’s birth was imminent I should see the head crowning .
So I asked Jen, as calmly as I could, to stand up in the tub so I could see what was happening and provide the reassurance I wanted to give her. When Jen stood in the tub, what we observed was not only totally unexpected, but most unsettling and even terrifying. Jen did not have a baby’s head crowning from her body, instead she had what looked like a water balloon protruding from her about 3 or 4 inches. At this point Jen looks at me with a most terrified look and asks “What is that? Is that normal?”
The next ten to twenty seconds are the most completely terrifying moments I have ever experienced. I know I keep using forms of the word terror, but I can’t think of any other word that fits as well. For the first few fractions of a second after Jen stood up I am looking into the abyss. It is one of those life-defining moments that I will never be able to fully describe. The thoughts that flash through my mind are that one, there is something very wrong about what I am seeing and two, it seems very possible that I could lose not only our baby but also my wife in this process.
With these thoughts still passing through my head, I look back to Jen. In my mind I hope she sees a look of reassurance, but I’m pretty sure that what she actually sees instead is complete and absolute terror in a very poor disguise. For a millisecond an impulse to run away passes through me. Keeping up the brave front, I try to assure her that everything is going to be okay and to help her out of the tub. Jen gets out of the tub and I help her walk the four or five steps to the doorway that separates our bathroom and bedroom. Jen still has her hands between her legs and we are both looking there trying to figure out what is going on. I get Jen’s attention and tell her as calmly as I can that we are going to get her dressed and head for the hospital. In my mind, though, my own words sound hollow. Internally I am in a world of fear. I feel like I am a million miles away – somewhere in outer space.
Jen is still standing in the doorway, I think partially using the frame to lean against. The brilliant idea to call someone occurs to me, so I start looking for Jen’s phone. Jen’s phone is the only one that has the doula and midwife’s numbers in it and Jen has recently used the phone to call them, so I figure I can just hit redial. I look in Jen’s purse and on her bed table about five times each in quick succession. It’s obvious the phone is not there, but I am not exactly thinking in a coherent fashion at this point – I am still in outer space, not really present at all. At this point Jen says something that brings me back to the present and reality. I don’t remember what she said. She thinks she said, ‘Here’s the phone,’ pointing to the bathroom counter. Whatever she said was enough to bring me back to where she was standing. I don’t remember whether I was kneeling or just squatting, but I was eye-level with the business at hand. I couldn’t see anything other than a now-bigger water balloon from Jen’s front. Again having seen birth videos it occurred to me that sometimes midwives or nurses sometimes were behind the mother for help, so I went around behind Jen.
The next two seconds or so are kind of a blur and I’m not exactly sure what happened. Since all I have seen at this point is the water balloon (which, in retrospect was probably part of Jen’s bag of waters being pushed ahead of Libby through the birth canal) I was still not sure that Jen was giving birth. Part of me was still thinking that this was some part of Jen that was unnaturally coming out (I was still at the edge of the precipice, looking into the abyss). Somewhere from the subconscious part of my mind, though, came the thought that I ought to catch whatever came out, so I put my hands up under Jen’s rear end.
This is the point at which God did His miracle. In an instant He drove the darkness away and the dawn arrived; He pulled us back from the precipice of the abyss and brought us to His breast and comforted us; He performed His powerful work and proved Himself trustworthy and true.
Just after I put my hand up something soft hits me in the left hand – Libby’s bottom, I’m pretty sure, but it was still covered by part of the membrane, so it wasn’t obvious. The next thing that happens is Libby unfolds and her legs come free into my right hand. Only now can I see recognizable parts and understand that this is indeed our baby being born. I can now hold Libby as the rest of her body proceeds from inside Jen – her torso comes out and then Libby is out up to her shoulders. As her head comes out she hesitates for just a little bit; I think from instinct Jen lets out a quick scream and Libby’s head comes free and she is totally out. I let Jen know “I’ve got her, I’ve got her,” with Libby resting in my hands.
Jen asks me immediately the thought that is going through both of our minds, given the extraordinary birth process we just experienced, “Is she okay? Is she okay?” I look closely at Libby and my unspoken prayer is “Please, God, please let her be okay.’ Within a moment Libby starts to wriggle around and move her arms and we can relax and rejoice as I let Jen know “She’s okay, she’s moving around.” At that point there is the realization that not only did God watch over my wife to give birth to our daughter at home, but that our daughter was born in a breech presentation at home – miracle of miracles.
At this point Jen is standing just inside our bedroom from the bathroom and I am holding Libby, still very close to Jen’s bottom. We realize we need to have Jen lay down, and there is enough blood and other stuff to make me realize that it would probably be better to have her lay down in the bathroom on the tile than to lay down on the carpet in the bedroom. Jen lays down while I hold Libby and we try to get Jen as comfortable as possible on the bath mats on the bathroom floor. Having covered such a scenario briefly in our birth education classes, I know that the best thing I can do is lay Libby on Jen’s tummy and cover them both with towels, which is what I do. Libby seems to be doing fine and everything is going to be okay. Libby does seem to have some congestion, so I try to get a bulb syringe to get stuff out of her mouth. The thing comes apart while I’m trying to use it, so I just decide to not use it. While I am already up getting towels, I call our doula and tell her Libby was born safely; I also call the midwife’s answering service and ask her to call back. Our doula says she is going to go ahead to the hospital and she will meet us there.
Jen, Libby and I lay together on the bathroom floor for the next five or ten minutes trying to figure out exactly what we’re going to do. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen happens during that time. Libby, all of ten minutes old, is inching her way up Jen’s stomach to her chest to get something to eat. At that point, I knew Libby was going to be okay.
Jen’s midwife has not called us back, so I make another call to the answering service and tell them we had our baby at home can she please call. She calls back in the next minute or so. I describe to her that everything seems okay. I tell her Libby has some congestion and she says that should work itself out and she’ll be okay. I also describe what’s going on with Jen and that she seems to be fine as well. She and I talk through how to get Jen off of the floor, which would entail cutting the umbilical cord. We discuss how to do this and I proceed to tie off Libby’s cord with dental floss, sterilize a pair of scissors with a lighter, and cut the cord.
Our doula tried to call while I was on the phone with the midwife, so I call her back after we have cut the cord. We tell her that we have decided not to go to the hospital, and ask her to come to our house. I hold Libby briefly and help Jen get to her feet. We are expecting the placenta to come pretty quickly, but it does not. So Jen goes and sits on the toilet. While she is sitting on the toilet, she starts nursing Libby for the first time. The placenta had not yet come, now about an hour after birth. Our doula suggests we call Jen’s midwife and get input, and while she’s dialing the placenta comes out. She helps us get Jen to the bed so she can nurse better. She also cleans Jen and the baby and helps us start to clean the bathroom. She stays with us until we have everybody ready to go to Jen’s appointment with the midwife, which was originally scheduled at 9am on that day for Jen’s 41-week checkup.
We get Jen to her appointment with her midwife – not exactly on time, but we make it. She checks Jen out and finds that she only has one small tear and surmises that it should heal okay without any help. She also gives Libby a brief checkup and tells us we have to find a pediatrician and get Libby there before the end of the day. Jen calls around to some friends, gets a recommendation for a pediatrician, and gets an appointment. We are in the doctor’s office at 2 that afternoon. She checks Libby out and confirms that she is healthy and fine. She also urges us to get Libby a Vitamin K shot, most easily available at a hospital. The only unpleasant part of the birth experience was this whole hospital visit. We were extremely excited for how miraculous Libby’s birth was. The ER docs, nurses, etc were not nearly as impressed. In fact I would say the general assessment ranged from moderate disapproval to looks that indicated having a baby at home, even accidentally, was most certainly criminal. We survived that episode, though, then got some food and headed home from one of the most miraculous days I could ever imagine.