Trisha & John called me a little after midnight on July 4th as Trish was in early labor (her first child, a baby girl)– I had been anticipating this call for some time and was excited to finally head over to their sweet manhattan apartment, which over the years John had tricked out with all sorts of customizations to make efficient use of their space. Their Doula was already there when I arrived and started shooting around 2am, and I joked that this baby would be “Born on the Fourth of July,” but little Klea held out until the 5th! All in all I was there documenting for 28 hours (don’t worry, I napped here and there when it seemed like I wouldn’t be missing much and they would have woken me up if things heated up while I was asleep!) You’ll see the time of day/night change a bunch over the course of this photo set, and when it was not by the window in daytime I was pushing the limit of what I can capture in very low light. Of course home births are almost always in dim lighting, so this was no surprise, and though I never use flash of course I do come prepared with very fast lenses, ready to shoot open wide at F1.2 or 1.4 and push my ISO to numbers I would never want to hit at a wedding…
Trish has written up her experience in detail, responding to my birth book project questions with great clarity and thoughtfulness, so I will post the slideshow below and then her story below. As I felt compelled to tell her during the labor, she is a champion, and I can’t thank her enough for sharing this incredible experience with me and those who are interested in my work, home birth, and birth in general. Congratulations, Trish & John!
How did you come to choose this path? We came to this decision after careful research. I had wanted to have a water birth or home birth for after I saw a lecture 7 years ago by a lady named Elena Tonetti-Bladimirova who created the “Birth Into Being Method”. What I connected with was how we are brought into this world, and the long-term impact it can have on the Mother and the baby. She spoke of how it doesn’t have to be painful and how gravity and spiraling of the hips can assist to decrease discomfort. I also feel that as women we are born with all we need to give birth. We have been giving birth naturally for over 200,000 years and over the last 30 years the medical community has taken away women’s confidence and trust to deliver naturally. In addition, to deliver in a space we are comfortable in and surrounded with the people we know and trust. We also read John Robbins book, “Reclaiming Our Health”, Ina May Gaskin’s books, and The Bradley Method to name a few. These helped to open our eyes to our options for the childbirth we envisioned.
After we saw the Business of Being Born, we decided we definitely were going to research our options of a home birth. The benefits to the baby and Mother are statistically supported to be just as safe if not safer, and after the birth one is in the comfort of their own home. Since New York has one of the highest c-section rates in the country, coupled with my age of 41, we were more convinced it was the right choice for our family. Today one-third of American women have c-sections. I do believe there is an absolute need for some and thankfully the option is available. However, there is plenty of evidence proving several unnecessary c-sections are performed. Some are elective and it seems that people forget that C-section is a major surgery and can increase the likelihood of many short and long term adverse effects for the mother and baby, in addition, can result in death.
Also around 22% of births are induced if one goes beyond 38-40 weeks. This rate has doubled since the 1990’s. Synthetic oxytocin can interfere with the delicate orchestration of the mother’s natural hormones during birth, and some research indicates it interferes with the baby’s brain and hormones as well. It can also intensify the contractions, resulting in more pain to the mother and stress to the baby, which can lead to an epidural for pain relief. If a first time mother takes longer than the hospital’s “allotted” time frame, they are forcibly encouraged to undergo c-section. Once admitted to the hospital, the mother signs away many rights to refuse, and must follow their protocol. This approach seems a much scarier route to me than home birth. So, in order to avoid all of this, and after interviewing 8 different doctors and midwives, we decided on a natural birth at home.
Describe the journey you’ve been on (during her pregnancy) a bit… WE were lucky that we conceived pretty easily, thank goodness, because we aren’t spring chickens. What a gift to be able to bring a human being into the world.I was relatively healthy throughout the pregnancy. I stayed active practicing Pilates, walking and maintaining a healthy diet. Although I did indulge in the occasional sweet :). I experienced morning sickness though for 18 weeks, had a severe case of eczema for about 2 weeks, the occasional indigestion towards the end, and sore feet which my husband rubbed almost nightly. Every week was different. I mostly experienced joy and gratitude that we were pregnant. We became a closer team while researching and attending birthing classes, dreaming of what she would be like, what day she would arrive, what she would weigh and whose features she would have. I can remember when we discovered we were pregnant, and the night we found out we were having a girl. I still remember first time I felt her kick, and the first time my husband felt her kick. The feeling of butterflies when she would flip around inside, and later when we saw her move inside. It’s an incredible gift and sensation. The process for me was mostly happiness, some shock and fear. The first trimester was rough. During the 2nd and 3rd trimester I was filled with excitement and couldn’t wait. The challenges are different. It became more difficult to move and carry around the weight. The fear of the unknown became greater once the last 2 weeks hit. It would occasionally set in and I would have to notice it, feel it and let it go. I would do my best to trust and imagine everything going well and to get back to the present. My husband went into a major nesting period making sure the house was ready and safe. I compare the excitement to Christmas time as a kid, however, you don’t know what day Christmas is going to fall on. We just really wished for a healthy baby, like all parents.
How did your labor go?
My labor went better than I could’ve imagined it to be. What a phenomenal journey and feat of the mind over the body. I was told I had the ideal labor because it was slow and long.. However, it was 50 hours. Twice as long as I had anticipated. I felt completely comfortable, free, safe and powerful most of the time. I felt like this is how it is supposed to be. There were definitely moments of fear, doubt and pain. I was surrounded with love from my husband and 4 incredible women. It was hard physical and mental work. The first 20 hours or so, however I was able to smile, joke, laugh and enjoy the journey. Once the contractions became 5 mins apart the mental capacity to manage the physical was the most challenging. I really had to stay in the moment and focus on my breath and do my best to surrender. I never knew it was possible to get so much rejuvenation from 3 minute naps. Sometimes they were 30 seconds. I remember hearing from our Bradley class teacher Mary Esther to really rest in the time between contractions. She wasn’t kidding. I had envisioned having my child in the pool, which didn’t end up happening. Describe your birth experience as you remember it… I remember being so overcome with emotions. We went to bed after midnight and I woke around 3 with cramps & began to bleed at 4am. I was mostly excited and in good spirits for the first 24 hours. I spoke to family, friends, read, journaled to my daughter, laughed with my husband and we took pictures of my belly one last time. I sat on my medicine ball spiraling while there was a thunder storm outside in the evening and I remember trying to sleep when the contractions were 15-20 mins apart, however I was so excited I couldn’t. I felt as thought everything was in slow motion. My husband went to bed and I just enjoyed the smell in the air and the sound of the rain. I meditated and envisioned the birth going well and easy. I cried with anticipation and the joy of meeting my daughter soon. It was around the 24 hour mark when our doula Terry Richmond showed up. She brought immediate relief. I was starting to worry and fear what was next since I had been in labor so long already. She was reassuring and nurturing. She never left my side for the next 28 hours. AMAZING!! My contractions were 3-5 mins apart finally by 28 hours in, so we called the midwife. However, when she showed up they had spaced out again. My midwife, Barbara Bechtel, said she’d be back in the evening. I remember feeling a bit of defeat at that moment… My doula suggested that we dance, squat and do some exercises to speed up the process. I took a few showers too. We also took a stroll around the neighborhood. I remember the weather being cool and it was just sprinkling a bit. I would use the stairwells, and railings along the buildings, to hang off of and spiral and squat through my contractions to try to encourage her to descend.
I remember at one point I was crying and feeling that this would never end, going into doubt, when just then a mom walking by with her 2-3 year old boy in a Nike tee-shirt that said, “Just Do It”, and I was re-inspired and boldly told myself to keep on truckin’. Now this went on until dark, and I remember hearing fireworks at one point and I knew it had to be 10 pm. I can remember just looking at that pool in our kitchen, and asking when I could get in, but I wasn’t granted access until the baby changed positions. Once I got in I saw the clock; 12:30 am. I remember feeling overwhelmed and doubtful she was ever going to come. I couldn’t believe I’d been laboring 45 hours. This is when the mental fatigue really became significant.
I was finally so tired that fear set in when my back pain intensified. However, my heart rate and the baby’s were great, and I finally got some relief from the pool. Everyone was so encouraging still, so I kept on. But suddenly we discovered the baby turned transverse in the pool. The doula took great lengths to manipulate her, and finally an hour or so later she was back in position. But lack of sleep, and mental fatigue no less was overtaking me. My water was broken, and the urge to push came naturally. The midwife checked me and said to wake my husband who was catnapping for a second. At this moment, I felt such exhilaration, I knew we had to be close. I can remember telling myself its time and you are coming out.. Here is our time. There was no way I was going to get this close, and not make it to our finish line.
A bolt of energy came from my core, and I pushed for a couple minutes on our daybed, and then went to the pool but I needed the gravity to help, so finally went to the birthing stool. I began to push and felt the ring of fire that I read about. I read that when you feel that, the moment to meet your baby is almost here. So I pushed with all my might and the crown of her head emerged, and she paused for a few moments, then turned to the left. My husband saw her little face. I can remember everyone being so shocked, then a couple more pushes and her shoulders came out, and then in one quick swoop her entire body came into my husbands hands. All in all it was just under 11 minutes of pushing. I finally held her in my arms I couldn’t believe I didn’t cry. I was in shock and had to register what had happened. I looked her over and tried to really take her in. I was amazed by her. Then she cried once, and I looked into my husband’s eyes and we both cried. It was the most extraordinary experience. Then I delivered the placenta just a few moments later. I walked 3 steps to our daybed and laid there in awe with my husband and our new daughter.
How did you feel about the care you received? The care I received was tremendous. My midwife Barbara Bechtel, was absolutely incredible throughout the entire pregnancy. We’ve adopted her into our family. I would see her 1x every 4 weeks, then it went to 2x a month, and then 1x a week the last 4 weeks. Barbara answered my call personally almost every time I called and greeted me with a “Hello Trisha, how are you?” If she didn’t answer I would hear from her within an hour or so and could always call her assistant if need be. She has all of our visits documented and I had access to the information immediately via the internet. I would receive an update of each visit before she left our home and could check them at anytime. During the birth Barbara was always checking the baby’s and my vitals. She was nurturing, patient and encouraging. We absolutely love her, and enjoy her company like family. My doula, Terry: wonderfully amazing.. She was by my side for over 28 non-stop hours during the birth. Astounding!! She was either rubbing my back, hips, guiding me through the contractions, helping me to focus on my breath, and encouraging me. She was the wind in my sails when doubt surfaced. I will always be in awe of her talent, persistence and perseverance. She did all this with a smile. I can’t imagine how exhausted she must have been. Our photographer was just remarkable. Thank you for your encouragement. There was one time when you told me I was a champion, and that just lifted my spirits and echoed in my mind. Did you feel safe? What went well? What didn’t? I felt safe and peaceful in my own home. Most everything went well. What didn’t go well was when Klea turned, however it was quickly noticed, and the team rallied to get her back into position.
Describe the experience of pain during your labor and if possible describe how you handled it in your mind, and what, if anything physical, helped you manage it.
The pain was like nothing I’ve experienced. It became more intense with the amount of time I endured. That is what became overwhelming. Mentally I knew there was more to come, and sometimes the breaks weren’t long enough if at all for me to recharge. I really had to do my best to focus on each contraction and each breath. I can remember changing positions frequently and that required a lot of energy, because after each move those first few contractions were most intense. The pool gave my back relief toward the end, but the most relief came from my doula and my husband rubbing me and helping me focus on my breath.
How did the reality compare with the birth plan? What surprised you?
I was surprised first by the length of time I was in labor, and surprised how well I handled the birth! I am so proud of myself for what I did. I feel like I can do anything now that I birthed my child.
Describe the moments after birth, and/or what went through your mind when you were meeting your new baby for the first time.
I experienced shock, disbelief and immense joy.! I couldn’t believe I was finally holding our little girl. I felt a sense of immediate connection and a rush of energy through my body. It felt as if time was standing still as I held her for the first time. I looked her in the eyes and couldn’t believe she was here. I remember she was so slippery and I counted all of her fingers and toes. I also remember feeling so relieved I did it and was finally holding her. Although I was exhausted, I didn’t want to close my eyes. I wanted to savor and revel in the joy.
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