The Home Birth Story of Luna Anjali James

by Ravina R & Narada J

          We found out that we were expecting the day after Father’s Day 2014 and I remember feeling every emotion under the sun. I also immediately recalled the small(ish) - ok moderate - amount of bourbon I consumed the day before at the racetrack where I took my dad to celebrate and instantly experienced my first pregnancy symptom - nausea. It was in that moment that I realized that from this day on I would be responsible for another life. And that other tiny precious life was growing in my belly. Squeeee! Then came the happy tears! Each birth I attended as a doula always left me in tears and awe over the sheer power and beauty of birth. And to think that it was now my turn to be on the other end of things was utterly fantastic - and horrifying. But I knew what kind of birth I wanted and I was determined to have the best birth experience I could create. First and foremost - it was to happen at home. I would birth my baby in the one place that I felt safe, protected, and comfortable. And free from interventions, stress, wires, pressure, restrictions and limitations. Narada and I got to work and began planning our all natural home waterbirth. Luckily there really wasn't much convincing for me to do as he had heard me talk about the benefits of natural birth only about a hundred times already. We would make this happen however possible.

            I was lucky to have a fairly easy pregnancy. Each visit lasted at least an hour with our midwife and since I already knew her from attending births together, she wasn't just our midwife, she was our dear friend. We talked about my pregnancy, my body, our hopes and fears, and ended each visit listening to baby's heartbeat followed by big bear hugs. And then Vietnam Kitchen, always. The visit when our doula and midwife both came to our house and we all went over our birth plans together was so much fun. The excitement grew each day and we couldn't wait to meet our baby girl. We gathered our home birth supplies, cleaned and re-cleaned the house, meal prepped and froze meals for those first weeks, decorated our birth space, and ran through some very fun "wet" runs in our birth pool in the bedroom - mainly filling it with hot water and sitting in it eating ice cream talking about what our daughter would look like.

            As my estimated guess date approached, I was anxious but never actually thought that my baby would be born close to it. Mainly because it's just so rare that a baby comes on their guessdate and I never really understood why people got so worked up about it. I was okay with her cooking and taking as much time as she needed in there until she was ready to be born and tried to relax and enjoy my last moments being pregnant. Easier said than done but nevertheless I didn't physically assault people who asked why I hadn't had the baby yet or ever run out of tears.

             It was in the wee hours of the morning, around 2am, on the morning of February 24, 2015 which just so happened to be my guess date. I was awakened by strange urges to poop and some weird cramping. It started in my back then went around to my abdomen but didn't hurt. Just felt like I had to use the bathroom. Of course, being hugely pregnant and super tired, I had no desire to get up and move whatsoever. So I laid there for a minute or two and fell back asleep. Sometime later, could have been a few minutes or 20 (when a pregnant woman falls asleep they lose all sense of time) I was awaken to the same feeling again. This time I got up and went the bathroom. And pooped. And thought nothing more about it. Got back in the bed and fell asleep again. Then it happened again. On my third trip to the bathroom I became more annoyed, I started paying more attention. I noticed that each cramp lasted for about 20 seconds. Knowing that it was my guess date I just thought my mind was playing tricks on me and there was no way that this was really happening today. But the doula in me opened the contraction app on my phone and started timing my cramping while sitting in the bathroom. Narada was still asleep and I wasn't ready to wake him yet especially since I still didn't think it was the real deal and having a bubble guts conversation at 2am isn't appealing at all. I just kept thinking it was something that I ate mixed with all those late pregnancy feels. I timed a few more "feelings" while sitting on the bathroom floor trying to stay awake. By now they had slowed down and had no pattern. Around 6am(ish) I woke up Narada and let him in on my bathroom endeavor. He jumped right up and was eager to hear about all he had missed. My phone is crappy so he downloaded the same app and started timing some for me. By 7am there were about 7 minutes apart and lasting around 45 seconds. The excitement began. I switched gears and paced around the house talking to myself then baby girl then God, changed positions and took a shower and they were still coming so I knew that I wasn't making it up in my head. I started having all the emotions. I texted our midwife and called our doula to let them know what was going on. They were both super excited and encouraged me to get some rest. Rest?? Yeah right, I was way too excited. But I knew that I needed to for the work I had ahead. I had a quick talk with myself regarding shutting off my doula brain and settling into laboring mama brain - again, easier said than done.

Narada and I laid in bed and talked about the fact that we were soon to be a family of 3 and how excited we were to meet our daughter. After nine long months, the time had finally come! We talked about who she would look like and how great it was to not be in a crazy rush to the hospital and just enjoyed being in the peace and warmth of our own home. There was snow outside but the house was warm and bursting with energy.  All of a sudden I was starving and I wanted a giant bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich from Dooleys. We knew we needed a good big breakfast for our big day ahead so we threw on some clothes and headed out the door. The sun was shining and the air was brisk, and it was a beautiful winter morning. Narada helped me climb into the backseat and I remember looking at the carseat and getting butterflies. I had a few more light contractions in the car that got slightly more intense as I was walked into Dooleys. Aside from us, there was a giant table of old men who looked like they were enjoying some sort of early bird ritual they frequently had there. They paused to look at the giant pregnant chic but carried right back on with their conversation. I was kinda hoping for someone to ask when I was due or say that I looked like I was about to pop just so I could tell them that I was actually in labor RIGHT NOW.  We ordered and Narada got us matching smiley faced iced cookies to celebrate our exciting day. We ate then headed to Kroger to grab a few last minute things. I stayed in the car and had conversations with myself. When we got home my contractions had stopped. I decided it was a great time for a nap and ended up sleeping for 3 hours while Narada got some things ready around the house. I woke up in a daze and was sad to find that things had slowed down. Hours passed and my contractions finally picked back up that evening but still nothing regular. I was having a lot of back pain so I did some yoga, bounced on my birth ball, and went through the Miles Circuit routine to see if I could get things going again. Nothing happened. We ended up checking in with Juliet and Lorie and we all agreed to just relax and rest. I was sad and upset but reluctantly agreed. We made pizza, watched a movie and I ate a pint of ice cream before finally turning in for the night.

Around 1:00am the next morning I started having contractions again. Not painful but strong enough to be fully aware of them. And they were all still in my back. I got up to use the bathroom and found some pink drops when I wiped. Even though I knew it was normal, it's still slightly alarming to see anything colored after going 9 months period free. The funny thing about working in the birth field is that you have no shame in texting a pic of your mucous plug to your doula and midwife in excitement. When I could no longer sleep through my contractions I texted our midwife and doula again around 2am and let them know things seemed to be picking back up now. Contractions were now 7 min apart and fairly consistent. Around 3:30am I got in the shower and let the hot water hit my back while Narada called our doula and and let her know that I wanted her to come now to help with my back labor. She arrived at 4:30am and sat with me on my bed through some more contractions. My baby was moving all over the place during and between contractions and we just watched my belly move. My back was really starting to ache so we decided to do some rear facing toilet straddling. Lorie got some pillows and I sat backwards on the toilet and laid my head on them and was able to get a good back stretch. The only light in the bathroom was the soft glow of some candles. Narada sat behind me on the birth ball and alternated between rubbing my lower back and applying the hot rice sock - both felt great. But then things got a little too intense and the toilet was no longer my friend. My doula asked when the last time I had eaten was and reminded me that I needed to keep my energy up so around 5:30am I ate my first food of the day which consisted of almond butter on toast and apple juice. And then for the first time, I felt 2 contractions in my abdomen and I was so excited but then they went straight back to being all in my back.

We moved from the bathroom back to the bed and got into the Side Lying Release position to give baby some more room to move. Lorie put some of my favorite essential oils (lavender and clary sage) on a tissue and placed it by my nose to help me relax during the intense contractions this position can bring. And it did. Again Narada used the hot rice sock on my lower back. Soon I was in need of another position change and wanted to get back in the shower. Narada timed some more contractions while I stood in the hot water and he called our midwife to let her know how things were going. Contractions were now 2-3min apart and coming stronger. I got really hot and lightheaded in the shower so I got out and sat on the bed while Narada turned on the fan. Our doula asked if I would like a massage and sat on the floor below me and started a much needed foot and leg massage while Narada rubbed my shoulder and neck. I felt like a goddess. By 7:45a I was totally done with people touching me and things really started to pick up. I asked for our midwife Juliet to be called. I was ready to get in the birth pool. She arrived at 8:41am. It took a while for me to get up off of the bed as contractions were crazy intense during any position change and I started to hate moving. Before I got in, she checked baby's heart rate with the doppler and it sounded perfect. I was finally able to get up and pee then submerge myself in hot water before another contraction came. Narada got in too and sat behind me so I could lay back on him. It was so nice having him in there with me as I was comforted by just his smell. I laid my head back on his shoulder and he softly talked to me in my ear and scooped water over me. A few more really intense contractions came as our Juliet's assistant arrived. I breathed through them using more Clary Sage oil and then was encouraged to eat a snack. This time I wanted turkey sticks and white grape juice. Then coconut water. We all watched baby girl move around in my belly - she was so strong she was moving the water. But by this time I was starting to get tearful saying that she was never going to come out but everyone reminded me that everything was ok and that I was a goddess doing such a great job.

At 11:40am I wanted to know what progress I had made so far because it felt like it had been forever. I had taken all the clocks out of my bedroom a few days before because I did not want to have time as my enemy. And no one ever mentioned the time to me. This would be my first vaginal check of my pregnancy. Midwives are great about that fully understanding that they are so not necessary. Juliet confirmed that I wanted to be checked and reached into the pool and checked me in the same position I was in without me having to move. She initially didn't say anything and I remember thinking "what the hell, why isn't she saying anything"? She kept her fingers in during one more contraction and by making a simple "V" with 2 fingers she was able to easily stretch my soft cervix to 6cm. I felt some pressure but no pain then she excitedly told me that I was 6cm. (I later learned that she initially found me to be only 3cm and wanted to try to see if I would stretch before breaking that dreadful news to me).  I was so relieved but I still knew I had a lot of work ahead. I relaxed back into Narada and we continued to labor together in the water while Juliet, Lynn, and Lorie moved into the living room to give us our space.

            By 2:00pm I was ready to give up started talking about getting an epidural. I knew I really didn't want an epidural - but at the time I did. My lower back felt like someone was jack-hammering into my sacrum. I tried the hands and knees position while still in the pool which helped some but not enough. I then started some crazy talk about how I could not do this anymore and wanted to go to the hospital or anywhere for that matter to just make it stop. I just needed a break from the crippling back labor. I even remember asking my birth team to just call the ambulance bc in my delusional mind I was hoping they could come to me with pain meds asap haha! My team started getting ready for a transfer - everyone except for me. I wanted a break but I also did not want to move or get up. Nor was anyone going to make me. They all came in and sat on the bed while I laid on my side and we went over options. No one said a word while I found my breath again and started a deep chant that turned into an almost 3 hour rhythm that got me through my wanting an epidural phase. During that time Narada, Lorie, and Juliet all took turns deeply rubbing tennis balls into my lower back. It was literally the only thing that felt good although it did hurt after a while but I didn't care. The pain from the balls was sort of a distraction from my other back pain and something new and different to focus on. If they stopped for even 3 seconds I was irate, screaming and cursing for them to keep rubbing. They continued doing this for 3 whole hours without any complaint. Did I mention how great my birth team was? Everyone was still dressed assuming that I would now be ready to go to the hospital as I had earlier requested but I had a talk with myself and knew that I could do this. Narada reminded me how strong I was and that no matter what I wanted he was behind me. I remember thinking fuck it, I'm not about to get dressed or sit in a car for however long it would take to get to the hospital and I've already made it this far. I knew I could do this, I just needed to get my mind back into focus. As a surprise to everyone I loudly stated that I wanted to get back in the right that instant. I remember hearing everyone scrambling around to refill the pool with fresh hot waterwhile I mumbled on about how I hated everything and dropped lots of "F" bombs. I asked to be checked for the 2nd time before getting in so I could get a grasp of my progress and was now 8cm. As soon as Juliet finished checking me my water broke and now I knew that things would start to really speed up and there was no turning back. I headed back into my pool of relaxation with a new mindset.

Around 5:30pm I remember feeling her head drop lower and I was starting to feel pushy. It felt good so I went with it. But then I started having abdominal pain. Juliet said that this meant that baby was most likely either not in a good position at the moment or that I still had some slight cervical lip. She checked and sure enough my cervical lip was swollen and with me pushing it was just not productive. Baby would come down and bounce right back up. She gave me some options to help. While still in the pool I got on my knees and hung over the side. During several contractions she stretched my cervix while I pushed and was able to help drastically. Now the lip was gone and we were able to start making more productive progress. As all laboring mamas know, transition is the worst phase of labor ever. I was the most vocal during this time and my team was right there for me through every contraction. I was still on my hands and knees leaning over the side of the pool with Narada behind me and Lorie in front talking me through them. She read me my birth affirmations that I had hung up in my room and was I was able to go deeper and just concentrate on allowing my body to open. All was quiet and I again laid back onto Narada. Lorie continued to softly read my affirmations along with some hypnobirth visualizations. I laid in the water under the soft glow of the Christmas lights and went deeper inside myself. By 7:00pm I was finally 10cm and pushing felt so good but I wasn't making productive progress with pushing in the pool. Baby was having a hard time getting past my pubic bone. Juliet asked if I could get up again to use some gravity and maybe sit on the toilet for a few contractions. I'm pretty sure I cussed out everyone in the room for mentioning the words getting up. I was NOT sitting on the toilet for anything. Gravity meant pain. And I was in enough pain. But my doula brain knew they were only trying to help me. I reluctantly got out and went sat on the toilet and sure enough baby dropped even lower. Narada stood in front of me and I buried my head into his shirt and stuck my hands into his pockets and squeezed during some crazy intense horrible contractions. My legs started shaking but I reached down and could feel my baby's wet curly hair as I pushed. This was exactly what I needed. Feeling her sweet head gave me a whole new sense of energy and excitement and I knew I would be meeting her very very soon. I proclaimed that I could feel her hair and then starting balling because I just wanted her to be out and in my arms already. As much as I wanted to birth her in the pool, I decided to get in the bed so Juliet could continue to help.

            Pushing was by far the easiest part because it gave me something to do. It didn't hurt at all felt so amazingly productive. I felt like a rock star and kept thinking "I'm a bad ass - I'm freaking pushing a human out of my vagina"!! Soon enough I heard what I had been waiting for. Juliet calmly told me to slow my pushing and concentrate.  She let me know that this next feeling was going to be unlike anything I have ever felt before - and boy was she right x 1000. Baby girl was crowing and it burned like hell. The ring of fire is REAL you guys!! The hardest part was trying not to push while your body wants to but I knew better. Instead I reached down and felt her whole little wet head. There were so many curls. I will always remember Narada leaning in close and softly whispering in my ear that I was the strongest person he knew. And then, with one more push I felt her little body leave my mine and it was so amazing. To feel her pass through me was indescribable. I pulled her up onto me. All the pain was gone and I had my beautiful baby girl on my chest. I did it!! She was perfect. She cried a for only few seconds and then opened her eyes and looked into mine. It was love at first sight - a feeling one can only experience when looking into their child's eyes for the first time.

Luna Anjali James was peacefully born into my arms at 8:05pm February 25, 2015. She was born in my bedroom under Christmas lights and candles after 40 total hours of labor (16.5 active). She came out with a nuchal hand (up by her face) just as she had been seen doing in the few ultrasounds we had done. No wonder she took so long to be born along with the fact that she just wouldn't stop moving and turning. Shortly after she came out I began having some cramping again and immediately thought OMG there's another one in there that's been hiding haha. But Juliet reminded me it was probably time for my placenta to be born. Oh yeah duh, at least this didn't have bones. It was almost bigger than Luna. I was given a shot of pitocin in my thigh bc I had a fair amount of bleeding and it immediately stopped. Juliet checked me as Narada and I swooned over our daughter and found I had a 2nd degree tear from Luna's nuchal hand but didn't require any stitches. Narada had already climbed up into bed beside me and our birth team all left the room for us to have our bonding time as a new family. No tests were done, no one took the baby from my chest, and no one bothered us for anything. We were left as our new family of three got to know each other for as long as we needed.

When we were ready they came back in. We all watched as Juliet showed us how beautiful Luna's placenta was as she examined it. It was truly a tree of life. We waited until the cord stopped pulsing and turned white so she could have all her blood back before Narada cut it and gave Luna her first real breath. She stayed on my chest skin to skin until I was ready for her to move just a few inches down on the bed so Juliet could weigh and examine her. Narada and I watched as Juliet asked for baby weight guesses. Daddy guessed she weighed 8lbs but I was too in my zone to gather real thoughts for my guess. She weighed 7lbs 12oz and was 21 3/4 inches long with a full head of curls. She was absolutely perfect. Juliet carefully packaged up the placenta to save for our placenta prints she would be doing the next day as Luna and I figured out breastfeeding.  My birth team ooogled over our new addition and I tried to find words to match my emotions. I couldn't believe that this was real. I did it! I birthed my baby at home with no drugs and it was truly life changing. Daddy also did some skin to skin and Luna loved it so much she pooped on him making him the first one to put on her diaper!

Without my amazing team I know that things would have gone quite differently.  At the hospital with my stalled/prolonged labor and baby in weird positions, I would have probably been cut open or never given the chance to birth my baby the way I wanted to. I know that I may not have been allowed to move around, eat, or get into all the crazy birth positions I needed to to help her out. I know that my chance of having an OB work with me and my body through every contraction helping to stretch my cervical lip would have been slim. Birthing at home gave me privacy, comfort, familiarity, quiet, space, time, and peace. I can't say enough about midwifery care and the role of a doula. Birth is natural and does not need to be medicalized. It can happen without intervention, drugs, or constant monitoring. And I would not have done it any other way. I will be forever grateful for my midwife, doula, and amazing partner who helped me achieve my best birth experience.

Juliet came back daily and weekly for 6 weeks to check on all of us. It was so nice never having to leave the house, especially in the snow, to go anywhere. Recovery was great and I was up and walking shortly after the birth. Our planned home waterbirth could not have been any more amazing. It was hard, it was rough, and it was long. But it was worth every second, every contraction, every tear, and every breath. It was THE most amazing, rewarding, and fulfilling thing I have ever accomplished in my life and I will remember it always. I trusted my body, my baby, and my birth team the entire time and none of them ever failed me.