Our Fifth Born: Jack’s Home Birth Story
Jack Phoenix Maaser
Born: 3-3-2017 (Friday)
Time: 4:54 a.m.
Measurements: 7 lbs 9 oz , 21.5 inches long, 13.5 cm head circumference
In a lot of ways, I view Jack as a miracle or a gift. We really thought we were done with four children and even traded in our 15 passenger van for a bells and whistles minivan thinking that the diaphragm would keep us safe. It did not, however, and the entire pregnancy, birth, and time with our sweet little Jack has seemed so surreal, as if it were all part of a dream that I never want to awaken from. He is our bonus child. (Read our thoughts about finding out we were pregnant for baby #5 here.)
Finding out we were pregnant this time around was a shock, miracle, joy, and beautiful surprise. As we began making preparations for prenatal care and birth, we were thrilled that we would actually be having another baby in the same home and with the same midwives for the first time ever. (Ruby was born at the Mountain Midwifery Center in Colorado, Elliot was born at our condo in Colorado attended by DeAna Durbin, Ophelia was born at our rented Reed City home attended by Sarah Badger with Simply Born from Grand Rapids, and Julian was born here.) Laurie Zoyiopoulos with Faithful Guardians Midwifery and Jillian Bennett now with Family Tree Maternity attended Julian’s birth and would also be attending us during this new journey as well.
Just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was so busy with all of our kids, routine, and life, that I kept forgetting that I was pregnant! Life just carried on with the exception of a few additional supplements and a more careful diet. Also, just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was measuring quite large at first, so we scheduled an ultrasound to be sure there was only one baby in there. I was feeling a lot of morning sickness and fatigue, but it wasn’t because I was having twins, it was just that I needed more sleep and more food! I always love the idea of twins, but the reality scares me, and I was actually quite relieved that it would be just one.
The ultrasound showed that everything was normal and that my expected due date was Feb. 18th (we predicted Feb. 14th, so pretty close). Based on the way I was feeling and what I was craving, I was CERTAIN it would be a girl, but at our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we would be having a boy! We had never had two genders in a row and were very excited for Julian to have a little buddy.
The entire pregnancy flew by, and I started to feel like being pregnant was just a part of who I was going to be for all of eternity.
But just like with all of my other pregnancies at about 35 weeks along, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions very regularly. It made me fear that I would go into labor early and be forced into a hospital delivery, and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks that this baby was coming soon! I started getting more serious about doing my prenatal yoga videos, tackled a deep cleaning/organizing project just about every day, started gathering all of my birth and baby things, and most importantly, I started to visualize what my birth would be like.
As my due date drew closer, I was relieved that my little guy had made it full term, but devastated to see that everyone in our family was getting sick when we had worked so hard to keep everyone healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Scott got a REALLY bad stomach virus that made him miss a bunch of work and left him bedridden. I kept feeling like labor was right around the corner and thankfully my mom was able to stay with us and help me around the house until he was better.
We viewed each day that labor didn’t come as a gift that allowed everyone to gradually get better, for my mom and I to tackle more and more cleaning projects, and for our sweet little boy to continue to grow stronger inside my womb.
When I was about a week overdue, Scott got really sick again with a different virus that once again left him bedridden and with a high fever. At this point, I was getting a little mad. I mean, we were eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking high quality supplements…and I couldn’t figure out why he was not only getting sick repeatedly, but worse than I had ever seen him before.
It wasn’t until after the birth when I was rereading our old birth stories and noticed that the exact same thing happened to him right before Julian’s birth, and then it dawned on me the amount of stress he was under and how it really took a toll on his immune system. Seeing the way he is so calm and at ease now makes hindsight 20/20 as I look back and see all of the signs that he was getting stressed out. I mean, not only was he nonstop busy at work, but to have something looming in the future that is so life changing and that comes with such a huge responsibility, but you have no idea WHEN it is going to happen is enough to drive anyone mad!
At any rate, up until about 37 weeks, I would have truly been content to stay pregnant forever, but after that, things started getting really uncomfortable, sleep was difficult, my back was killing me, none of my clothes were fitting, my leg cramps were always just one bad stretch away, I was always cramping from Braxton Hicks and out of breath, and I was just ready for it to be done. As I saw my due date come and go, there was a part of me that was excited to tackle the birth and anxious to finally meet our sweet little guy, but happy at the same time knowing that he needed this extra time to grow and that he would come when he was ready.
Even though people kept asking me when I would be getting induced, I knew that being overdue wasn’t a bad thing, especially since the midwives were continuously monitoring me to make sure everything looked good.
Leading Up to Labor
Scott came home from work about an hour early on Monday (Feb. 27th) feeling awful with a high fever. I put him to bed for the rest of the afternoon and we hoped that with the extra rest he would be feeling better on Tuesday. But on Tuesday he felt just as bad, and at 10 days overdue, I didn’t know how much longer our son could wait to be born! I was getting a little panicky because I really and truly didn’t think I could go through labor without Scott by my side, and I could feel that things were getting closer. All of the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having left me at about 80% effaced, at least 3 cm dilated, and I could feel that he was very low.
I mean, at some point, it felt like he was just going to fall out!
Scott took Wednesday off as well and was finally starting to feel better. That night, I was feeling a lot of cramping and thought things might progress in the night – but they didn’t. We figured that it was probably best for Scott to take Thursday off to ensure a complete recovery and so that he could watch the kids while I went to my chiropractor visit on Thursday at noon. I was trying everything I could to get our little guy out of his posterior position, but nothing was working, and I started to wonder if his position was preventing labor from getting started. My midwife, Jillian, thought that a chiropractor visit would help us get him into an optimal position. We had planned on keeping the big kids home from school on Thursday, but as luck would have it, school was canceled due to the snow and ice!
At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (March 2nd), I texted my mom to say that my contractions were coming back, but that it still felt like it would be quite a while yet. She said she was caught up at work and could come and just hang out with the kids even if things didn’t happen for awhile. When she got here and took over, I went and hid in our room to bounce on my ball during contractions and was determined to finish my blog about being overdue (12 days at this point) before our baby was born. Scott helped me edit my final draft, and I got it published just in time!
All morning, my contractions were very erratic and had no pattern. It felt like labor was in a cycle where it was continuously starting and stopping, and it was really messing with my mind. I even wondered if what I was going through was prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops…more intense than just Braxton Hicks contractions), and it made me feel like I was stuck in a loop that would repeat endlessly like in Groundhog’s Day.
It was nice having my mom around, all of the kids home, and Scott there to keep me distracted. At one point, Scott had all of the kids outside and was pulling them in the sled in our new (used) riding lawnmower, and I decided to take over. There is definitely something to be said for the whole “bumpy car ride” getting labor started, and I could feel my contractions spurred on with each jarring bump!
After that, Scott and I stayed bundled up and went for a walk to Vics to get a few groceries while my mom watched the kids. It felt like so many other pregnancies when we would try to “walk them out”. (We even went to Vics when I was in early labor with Julian!) Each contraction that came would make me stop, and Scott was there to support me through each one. Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says “She’s a thing of beauty”…love that man!
When we came home and still nothing was progressing, I started feeling really discouraged. I had been keeping my midwife, Jillian, in the loop and she really lifted me up when I started messaging her with all of my fears (i.e. What if the baby is posterior? What if he is stuck on my pubic bone? Why am I starting and stopping labor? What if I never give birth? etc.). I told her how I was trying everything under the sun to get him to turn if he was posterior, and she said that she saw no reasons for concern, and that I was doing all of the right things. This helped me to release most of my frustration, anxiety, and pending panic.
My mom took Julian and Elliot for an excursion to McDonalds which left the house considerably quieter with just Ruby and Ophelia who were playing independently. Then our friend LeeAnn showed up to deliver our milk, and even though I slipped into our bedroom to bounce on my ball during contractions, I stopped thinking about whether or not I was in labor. It felt like it was just another day as I putzed around in the kitchen while LeeAnn told Scott about her recent cruise. Then my dad stopped by, on his way home from doing business up in the U.P., my mom brought Julian and Elliot back from McDonalds, and as the house became full of tickles, laughter, and love, my contractions seemed to have been put on the back burner and totally subsided.
When my dad was getting ready to leave, I encouraged my mom to go home as well,
“I really don’t think anything is going to happen for awhile,”
I told her with defeat, but she insisted on staying nonetheless. By the time we put the kids to bed, my mom was already tucked in for sleep. The kids were very helpful during our bedtime routine.
After we put the kids to bed, Scott and I stayed up to watch most of La La Land and then headed off to bed around 10:00 p.m. I was starting to feel contractions again, but I just wanted to get Scott into bed so that he would be well rested if indeed the end was near. Even though I didn’t think that I would be able to fall asleep, I did. When the contractions came, they were enough to wake me up and I had to moan softly, but not get me out of bed.
Finally at about 11:30 p.m. I couldn’t take lying in bed anymore. Not only were the contractions getting too strong, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t pooped yet that day (TMI maybe, but hey this is a birth story…what did you expect?). So first things first, I drank a Fiberwise and then putzed around the kitchen until I needed to poop. 🙂 After that, the contractions started coming on stronger and more quickly. I even had to get on my hands and knees to rock through them. It was really sweet though because our cat Storybelle would crawl under my belly as I did this, and focusing on the softness of her fur really distracted me and made the pain melt away.
After a particularly painful contraction, I hurried into our bedroom to grab my birthing ball and came out to the living room to watch the parts of La La Land that we had skipped. (Sidenote: I really love how this movie shows how love and family are more important than a career and dreams of individual happiness via external achievements.) I sat behind the couch in our living room, bouncing on my ball, watching the movie, and moaning softly with each contraction.
At about 1:30 a.m., I started to feel like I needed Scott’s support. The contractions were getting a bit more painful, but with all of the delays, I still wasn’t convinced that anything was really going to happen. When I gently woke up Scott and said,
“I need you now. I can’t do this alone anymore,”
he bolted out of bed like it was a fire drill and stumbled into his sweat pants and shirt in about 3 seconds. I gathered up a nightgown, told Scott to grab my birthing kit box, and we crept past a soundly sleeping Elliot and out into the living room.
As Scott sat on the couch watching me expectantly, I almost felt foolish when after minutes and minutes nothing was happening. He asked me if I had called the midwives yet, to which I curtly responded,
“Now with you here, I don’t think anything is going to happen again.”
But seconds later…something did.
All of a sudden, the waves of a very powerful contraction washed over me, and I yelled to Scott, “My hips!” He immediately sprang into action and expertly began rubbing my hips and back like he had done with every other birth. The pressure from his hands was strong and soothing and helped to dull the pain of the contraction, but it was still painful enough that I moaned loudly. When it was over, Scott sternly said,
“You need to call the midwives now! This could be happening fast!”
After another powerful contraction, I called Jillian and told her that things were happening and that they were happening fast.
“We might have the baby before you get here!” I stammered while completely failing to sound calm.
In between contractions, Scott started laying down chux pads while I unpacked the birth kit. As I visualized giving birth unassisted, my mind switched from just getting through each contraction to worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong. (Would he get stuck in the birth canal? How could I get him to rotate if he was indeed posterior? What if he got tangled in the cord on the way out? etc.) Jillian called me when she was on the road (later she told me she could hear the panic in my voice) and reassured me that they were on the way and to let her know if we needed her to walk us through anything.
Laurie and Jillian were each about 45 minutes away on a good day and now the roads were icy and it was the middle of the night. But just knowing that they were on their way put my mind at ease, and I went back to focusing on my Enya mix and getting through one contraction at a time. In between contractions, the pain melted away, and I continued putzing around. I really wanted to get more videos of me going through contractions and of the birth, but this (below) is all that we managed to record!
Laurie was the first to walk through the door at 2:30 a.m., and Scott and I joked that she was our babysitter there to give us a night on the town. She unpacked her bag and checked on me right away. The baby’s heart rate was good and after watching me have a contraction, I could tell by the way that she hovered that she thought things would be happening soon. Jillian arrived shortly after Laurie and after about twenty minutes, their assistants Sarah and Stephanie arrived. It was about 3:00 a.m. at this point, and frankly, I was completely surprised that he hadn’t been born yet.
Transition is defined as the dilation of the cervix from 8 cm to 10 cm and typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours with really intense contractions typically occurring every 2 minutes and lasting from 60-90 seconds. It’s hard to say when transition really began for me because right up until the end, my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. But even with my erratic pattern of contractions, I could tell with an internal check that I was pretty much dilated all of the way and just waiting for that pushing sensation.
The midwives kept coming in to check on me to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing, and at one point it dropped to 116 beats per minute (from about 138 I think). Scott knew that with the lowered heart rate, I needed to pick up the pace. He gently encouraged me to walk around in between contractions to get things going, and I did so with shuffled feet and tearful eyes.
With every contraction, Scott was right there by my side to expertly massage my hips and back, but it wasn’t making the pain melt away like it had with all of my other births. As each contraction came and went, I was getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t getting the urge to push. I started to feel a sense of panic creep into my psyche as once again that feeling of being stuck in this moment for ever and ever and ever penetrated every ounce of my being.
The contractions were wearing on me, and I started crying when they came, not sure how much longer I would be able to hang on. “Why am I not feeling the urge to push???” I asked in exasperation. The midwives could tell I was having a hard time, and even though the baby’s heart rate was back to normal, they wanted to encourage me to move things along. I felt like I need to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I asked Jillian if I should squat she said, “NO!” (*If the baby was posterior…which we weren’t sure of at this point, but suspected, then squatting would have made him descend posterior and could have led to over an hour of intense pushing.)
Jillian recommended instead that with the next contraction I get on my hands and knees and sway my hips back and forth. So with the next contraction, I did just that.
With my hands out in front of me and my butt up in the air, I gently swayed my hips back and forth, and as I did, I felt his head turn about 90 degrees in my pelvis.
The pain was excruciating beyond all measure of belief, yet I somehow managed to bring my hands up to the edge of the couch and buried my face in the cushions so that I could scream with reckless abandon. Scott was still expertly massaging my hips and back, but at this point, nothing was helping with the pain.
It felt as though time was standing still and this pain and this moment were somehow holding me captive to live in this experience for all of eternity. But then a little voice inside me whispered,
“I promise that this is the last time you’ll ever have to do this.”
And somehow knowing that this would be the last time ever, gave me the grit to see that the end was near.
The previous contraction was about 90 seconds of the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life, and after that I was immediately racked with another one.
I felt like I was spinning out of control and that my body was being turned inside out, but I kept telling myself over and over that this would be the last time and that it was almost over.
With a pop and a gush, my water broke, and FINALLY I got the urge to push. It was such a relief!!! The feeling of his head coming down the birth canal consumed the cognition of every cell in my body, and I pushed with all of my might like a sprinter reaching desperately to break the final ribbon at the finish line.
I heard everyone frantically clamoring behind me trying to process the sudden uptick in the pace of things. Jillian asked Scott (who was still massaging my hips while I was on my hands and knees) if he wanted to catch the baby. “Yes, of course!” he said.
“Well then get ready,” said Jillian, “here comes the head!”
Scott looked down in shock to see that yes indeed here came his head! With every other birth, after the head is delivered I have waited until the next contraction to push out the rest of the body, but I just wanted things to be over so badly this time that I reached into my primal core and used the reserves of all the strength I have ever saved to push his entire body out in one go…and so out came his head, shoulders, and hips all in one big strong push.
After the Birth
After he was delivered, I awkwardly spun around while Scott listened to directions for how to hand him through my legs and up to my chest. I glanced at Jillian and noticed the look of concern on her face when he didn’t cry right away. Typically, the passage through the birth canal will help to aspirate the lungs, but with our little guy coming out so quickly, he was having difficulty taking his first breath. With the cord tugging at the placenta still buried inside of me, I brought him up as far as I could and patted his back while Jillian tickled his feet and massaged him a bit trying to get him to cough or cry.
After the longest 20 seconds of my life, he coughed a wet raspy cough, gave a little cry, and I could immediately see him pink up. Right away, I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.
I nestled him to my bosom, skin to skin, and finally said hello to my son. I cannot even tell you in words the feeling of elation, wonder, and joy upon first meeting a child after getting to know him over nine long months in every way possible except for sight. To see his little body, sweet face, and big eyes looking up at me, recognizing my voice, and feeling a complete flood of oxytocin love hormones as snuggled on my chest rooting for my breast, well it was enough joy to fill a thousand lifetimes with happiness. When I looked at our little boy and felt his warmth, I caught a glimpse of him taking his first steps, learning to ride a bike, falling in love, having children of his own, and being by his side every step of the way. What an endless miracle a new life is!
Scott quickly ran to wake up Ruby who had been anxiously waiting for this day to come. She came and sat down beside me simply in awe of her new little brother. I suddenly got the urge to deliver the placenta, and I could see her eyes widen in shock as she watched it come out. When the cord had stopped pulsing, the midwives clamped it in two places and handed Ruby a pair of special scissors. With one snip, a little blood spurted out and with a some encouragement, she went back in for two more snips to complete the job.
In that moment, I saw Ruby’s maternal instincts awaken and blossom…she was so tender and loving, and it made me remember what it was like to cut my sister’s umbilical cord some 30 years ago. It was a moment of pride for me and a special memory that I have not only cherished but that has helped to shape me into the person I am today.
The midwives helped me up to sit on a chux pad lined couch, and we gathered around our son as he latched on to nurse. I asked Scott to wake up my mom, and she was thrilled to meet her grandson! We enjoyed telling her all of the details of the birth, and she couldn’t believe that she had slept through it all! When we noticed the meconium poop all over our nice swaddling cloths, we realized we should have put him in a diaper. So we quickly cleaned him up, put him in a diaper, and continued to bask in the glow of what had just taken place.
While Ruby and my mom went to boil the herbs for my herbal bath, Scott and I talked about names. We originally really liked the name Reed and thought about Reed Scott or Reggie Reed. We also liked the names Kurt, Easton, Bradbury, Landen (Ruby’s idea), and Alex or Alexander (Elliot’s idea). But when we were driving to Chicago for Christmas, we heard one of our favorite bands come on shuffle right while we were passing under an overpass with the street name the same as the band’s name…Phoenix. We both looked at each other with eyes wide saying, “It’s perfect!” But then we remembered some friends of ours had a son named Phoenix, so we were torn. A few weeks later, Scott finished a Steven King book about JFK whose nickname was Jack. He really loved the story and we have both always been in awe of JFK, not to mention Jack White from the White Stripes and all of the nursery rhymes featuring Jack. Plus, Jack has such a versatile and regal resonance to it that can allow for any path that our son may choose in life.
When we met our little boy, we knew that the name Jack Phoenix Maaser suited him perfectly.
Jack passed the newborn screening with flying colors, and after inspecting him (practically no vernix, just a little in the crease of his thigh) and seeing his placenta (many spots of calcification showing its age), we knew that he was definitely overdue!
After going over some information with the midwives, Jack and I took a nice relaxing herbal bath. He nursed hungrily on both sides and soon we were all tucked in bed right as the sun was rising. Ruby cuddled up inbetween us as we reflected on the birth.
After awhile, she went to go play, Scott and I stayed in bed to sleep, and my mom stayed up to take care of all of the kids as they woke up one by one. (We had the big kids miss school.) I was prepared this time around with my After Ease Tincture and a heating pad to help with the after pains (which started to become tremendously painful after baby #3.)
At about 9:30 a.m., Elliot crept into our room like he always does on the weekends to cuddle us in bed, and he was thrilled beyond belief to discover that there was a baby in there with us! He was so sweet and kind as he snuggled up to his new little brother, and then he ran through the house saying, “There’s a baby! Mom had her baby!” The other kids soon came in after that. Ophelia was so happy to see the baby, but right away wanted to call him Jude (her friend Adeline’s little brother’s name) and said, “Awwww, he really likes you!” Julian was excited too and said, “That’s a baby in mom’s tummy!” When Ruby came to cuddle us, she didn’t leave for hours, and we had a very sweet conversation. Scott and I were able to take another nap and woke up feeling very rested. My mom stayed long enough to help put the kids to bed, and then she went home. Life was feeling very sweet.
Life with Jack
Since Jack was born on Friday, we were all happy to head into the weekend together. Scott took over the house on Saturday and let me rest and stay in bed. On Sunday, we had our two day visit from Jillian. Jack was looking really good, and Jillian was happy to see that I was resting and mostly staying in bed. (I can’t even tell you how amazing it has been to have had all pre and post natal appointments at our home.) Most babies lose weight at first and then come back to their birth weight by two weeks, but Jack had already gained 3 ounces! I was kind of having difficulty getting him to latch at first (which all started right after we gave him a pinkie to suck on, which soothed him at the time, but probably created a bit of nipple confusion), and so I had been pumping and feeding him colostrum in a dropper which probably really helped him to gain some weight!
Just like after Julian’s birth (and all of the others probably), but to a WAY worse extent, my hips and lower back/top of my butt were in terrible pain following the birth. This made any type of sitting very painful and difficult. (Someday when I’m fully recovered, I’d like Scott to rub me again like he did towards the end of the birth to see just how hard it was.) At any rate, after going through about 3 hours of intense contractions with Scott’s special hip, back, and butt rubs plus going through a posterior labor, it just took a toll on me. When my midwife suggested a chiropractor visit, I was determined to get an appointment. We went to Family Chiropractic Health Center with Dr. Tracy Morningstar, and I was overjoyed that she was able to bring my pain level down significantly and immediately. (My pelvis was really out of whack.) She was also able to do some work on Jack who was having trouble latching on the left side, and he went from being a calm baby to the calmest baby ever who could now nurse on both sides!
Not only has Jack been our sweet little miracle bonus baby, but he has been the easiest baby, and what a wonderful gift that is to have with baby #5! He nurses well, poops and pees like a champ, is alert and awake during the day, sleeps wonderfully all night, sleeps in most days so I can shower, naps wonderfully, takes a pacifier, doesn’t spit up, hardly ever cries, and brings joy to every single member of our family and everyone he meets. We love you Jack Phoenix Maaser! Welcome to the family.
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