The pool was surrounded by friends and family. They were invited to help with and witness the birth. It had been a long night, that seemed to fly by. At least until the last two hours. And now, it felt to me like time was standing still. Joni's face was complete determination and extreme exertion. She was grunting and pushing with everything she had. She was alternately holding onto the side of the pool or me. Ella's face was visible, and it had been for a couple of minutes. Our midwife, Jacque, had just told Joni to flip onto her hands and knees, because Ella had a shoulder dystocia (she was stuck) and that position widens the pelvis. Jacque said "Joni, give us this baby!" with calm urgency. She had to help free Ella from her shoulder being stuck. Finally Ella was free and out of the water. She came out pale bluish-purple, and limp. Getting her "started" was a chaotic couple of minutes but seeing Joni and Jacque deal with it like it was (somewhat) routine reassured me that she'd be fine. After what seemed in the moment to be an eternity, Ella sputtered and cried. A wave of relief and joy swept over everyone in the room. Ella Grace Edelman was born at about 1pm on September 12 2010 after 13 or so hours of labor (or two weeks of labor depending on your definition). She was born in a birthing pool in our kitchen in Hanford. Ella was 10 pounds and 7 ounces at birth. All three of her siblings were in the house during the birth. Two of them were actively involved and at the pool side. Just minutes later, Ella was having her first breastmilk on our couch. I took a picture with my phone and its been my wallpaper ever since.
The end of the birth wasn't what Joni or I had expected. Ella getting stuck was frankly the last thing we had considered. Joni had joked that Ella would be born very quickly. And the water births we had watched in various movies almost always depicted a peaceful entry for the baby, where the mother or partner caught the baby, and the midwife gently coached from the side of the pool. However, the birth was perfect. Joni and Ella were determined that she should come into this world safely at home, and she did. We had done the correct preparation in finding probably the most experienced midwife in our area. Also, if it had been a hospital birth, from Joni's experience as a labor nurse in the hospital we would have been in, it surely would have either been a c-section or a much more traumatic event that it had to be. So, as it happened, Ella was born at home, with the drug-free guidance of an experienced midwife. It should be an option that all expectant mothers are aware of. I don't begrudge anybody for wanting to give birth in the hospital. But I do resent the misinformation and lack of information that is available from health care providers about alternatives to the hospital.
I figured I'd get the white-knuckle ending and the soap-boxy piece out of the way. Now I'll start at the beginning.
Joni and I met in sixth grade at the county spelling bee. We weren't knowingly soul mates yet. At least I didn't know. She claims she did and I believe her. We had a couple chances in junior high and high school to become romantically an item but I screwed those up too. It was pretty much a way of life for me to bungle any chance of romantic success for the first, oh, 35 years of my life. Anyway, at 35 (both of us), we became reacquainted and our love was mutual and instantaneous. Things happened very quickly. For the first time in my life I wanted to procreate. If I could have gotten in a time machine and went back a year and told myself "you're going to be a father dude" then I might well have booked travel to Mexico. Anyway, long story short, love is amazing.
So we conceived in December 2009. That was fun… It's always fun. The pregnancy coincided with the foggy, cold, miserable portion of the central valley winter. Accompanying that was Joni's queasiness and reflux. This made her certain that the baby was a girl. Her appetite was up and down. She was hungry but had to consider that whatever she ate she'd be tasting again for the rest of the day. She was still working as a hospice nurse, so this show was always on the road. She'd be going to patients' homes and long-term care facilities as she began to show. People, being so folksily rude as they are in these parts, would comment that she looked much more pregnant than she claimed to be. And also touch her belly without asking. Though in my opinion you shouldn't touch, and you shouldn't even ask. But what do I know? She was a real trooper through all of this. I think I suffered more watching her symptoms than she did through them. And in addition to that the baby hormones increased her sex drive. I figure anyone who doesn't want to get excruciating details has already left so let me tell you that our sex life was alive and well during the entire pregnancy. We recently were talking about getting pregnant again. I said I wasn't sure I could watch her go through it again. She reminded me about the sex. I am not ashamed to admit that it may actually tip the scale.
I guess this is a "birth story" but when I think about the birth I think about our whole relationship. I'll try to stay on track from now on.
I knew from Joni's reading material, and from hearing many tales from labor and delivery, that she really wanted to give birth at home. Driving back from my parents' house at Christmas, right after we knew we were pregnant, we discussed the possibility of giving birth at home. Joni is one of the smartest people I've ever met. Far smarter than me. She gave me the lowdown on c-section statistics, the lack of consideration given to the mother in the hospital, the push towards epidurals by nurses and doctors, on and on. It seemed like a no-brainer that we should look into home birth.
Just an aside to any partners who are mulling over a home birth with their pregnant lady: Do you think she can do it? Does she think she can do it? If the answers are yes then you should do it. Home birth requires faith in each other and the human body.
We got a referral to a lay midwife, and set up a meeting with her. It went well, and wasn't a medical examination so much as it was a psychological evaluation of 1) our chemistry as a team (Joni, the midwife and I) and 2) our sincerity. I had 100% faith in Joni's ability to give birth at home, and I really wanted the most intimate possible birth for our child. We were totally on the same page. Our midwife could feel that it was a good situation and agreed to help us. We saw her about once a month. She'd come and sit with us. Talk about how things were going. How we were feeling about the pregnancy. We'd just talk a while. Towards the end of the visit there would be a brief examination to make sure things were tracking nicely. There never were any issues that would suggest we couldn't give birth at home.
Meanwhile, we also were going to another midwife to get ultrasounds and blood work. That was all looking good and we had no reason to need to be in the hospital.
At the end of July, we got married. It was the best day of my life up to that point. Joni was very pregnant and looked gorgeous in red. My friend and co-worker Myron Yeung was gracious enough to photograph our wedding. You should see the pictures.
Once the wedding was complete, we had nothing to focus on but the birth, which Joni was convinced would happen at the beginning of her due date "window." Joni had stopped working a few weeks prior to the wedding due to the physical nature of her job, the lateness of the pregnancy, and the wilting central valley heat. The late term was physically difficult. Joni had aches and pains, and was experiencing frequent contractions. None serious enough to make us think it was labor. But it was a constant thing, and Joni was ready for it to take shape and turn into labor. For weeks, it didn't.
It got so that we would look for anything we could do to jump-start the labor. We would drive to the coast. We would go see movies (The Other Guys, twice). We thought the travel or the laughs would move things along. They did not. They say sex can bring about labor. So of course we tried that on a pretty much daily basis. Sadly it didn't bring on the labor but it was still fun. So that's a consolation.
In one of my more regrettable moments I suggested we go to the pound and get a dog. We did. We brought home Lucy who I felt I had a connection with. Several months later and it looks like World War I trench warfare has erupted in our garden. She's just a terrible, terrible dog. Truly awful. Want her?
So on Saturday, September 11th, a strange thing happened. Joni had a really long nap in the morning. It was strange because she rarely was able to sleep for long without a contraction waking her up. Some part of my brain knew something was up. When she woke up in the early afternoon we decided to get Chinese food. We went to Hong Kong Chop Suey and ordered kung pao chicken, figuring spicy food would maybe work some magic. I was tracking the US Open (tennis if you don't know) on my phone. Roger Federer was in a five-set battle with Novak Djokovic for a spot in the final on Sunday. It was 2-2, and I said "if Roger loses, you're going to have the baby tomorrow." Roger was the favorite but Novak ended up winning. So here was another hopeful sign.
We got home, and tried watching some TV. Arthur was on and we tried watching it. But Joni was in a lot of discomfort so we went to bed. When the lights went out it was about 9pm. What seemed like a moment later (but it was actually around midnight) Joni woke me up and told me her water had broke. I was instantly wide awake.
I regret that I don't have a photographic memory. A lot of the next 13 hours is lost in my cranium somewhere. But I remember certain things vividly. Filling the birthing pool with water. Joni walking around talking to Jacque on the phone telling her her status. Walking up and down our street in the darkness of early morning with Joni, pausing every three minutes while she had a contraction. Contractions getting stronger. Friends showing up to help cook, clean, photograph, whatever their defined job was. As Joni's contractions got stronger, she requested that I stay right there with her. We would look right into each other's eyes, and I would match her breathing. We didn't take any breathing classes. But I instinctively just tried to help her focus on deep calm breathing. There were a couple contractions where I wasn't there right at the start and had to hurry back from whatever I was doing to help her through.
I was pretty grateful that she was relying on me so much and that I seemed to be doing a good job. I had a real fear of becoming a useless bystander at Ella's birth. After all, I'm a guy with no medical training, what do I know about birth? But I'm told I was quite helpful. Again I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that I was helpful in the successful birth of our baby daughter. I can't look at her and not think about it. Her birth day is without a doubt the most amazing day of my life. Now the wedding is a close second.
So, the hours passed. It got lighter. The other kids showed up around 10am. Staci cooked breakfast in between photographing events. Joni and I were in and out of the birthing pool now. Every contraction had us very close together. Our breathing was now accompanied by her vocalizations. I was whispering whatever came to my mind as being possibly helpful at the time. Jenn was applying pressure to Joni's lower back which also seemed to be helping. Kelsey and Owen were always close-by in the room. Kelsey more actively present at the poolside. Owen was there from time-to-time but otherwise within eyeshot and earshot with his game boy. Sean was upstairs. He wanted to be there, but not *there* there. That was fine. We were glad everyone wanted to be near.
At some point the contractions were the overriding event, and the pauses in between seemed like very very brief moments. In between contractions I'd notice what song would be playing on the playlist Joni had put together. Lots of Jack Johnson, Bob Marley, The Commodores (Brickhouse), some classical music. I'd also notice the other people there. But only briefly. For the most part my world was looking at and listening to Joni, and going through each contraction with her. At some point I had tears streaming down my face. I don't know what brought it on. They were just tears of joy as I was there in the pool with Joni. It was the most I've ever cried for any reason I'm pretty sure. The tears came and went a few times that day.
Things felt as if they'd reached a crescendo. The contractions were not getting any stronger or longer, the pauses were not getting any shorter. At first I thought that the birth was imminent. But then when this seemed like a holding pattern, I became inwardly concerned. I didn't want to betray that concern to Joni. If the midwife didn't see an emergency then I shouldn't create one.
But Joni's progress seemed to have stopped. She was not getting any more dilated, and the baby didn't seem to be dropping any more. We got out of the pool. Joni got examined on the couch. We walked up and down the stairs. We got in the shower. We got back in the pool. We got out of the pool. Joni got examined on the hallway floor. Still no progress.
Joni started expressing some doubts. I don't remember exactly what she said. But there were some cracks of doubt showing up. It was understandable. She'd been up all night and in active labor for over 11 hours. At some point she'd just be too exhausted to push Ella out and we'd have to go to the hospital. That was the last thing either of us wanted. Owen was close enough to the pool to hear some of her doubts. It would prove useful later.
After that, Jacque cleared the room to give us some space. It was just Joni and me (and Ella) in the pool. Joni started to nod off between contractions. It worried me, but she groggily explained that it was fine to do this. It seems the body and subconscious mind always knows what to do even when reason does not. Because after a couple of these, Joni came to life with an energy I've never seen in her before. Her face changed. The next couple contractions brought out a whole other level of Joni that I'll never forget.
She told everyone to come back into the room. It was time.
Please read Joni's version if you haven't already.