Late in the evening on his Uncle Jake’s birthday (October 7), Kai Terran Amaral joined his family in a celebratory and slightly riotous homebirth that his Mama is profoundly grateful is Over.
Kai weighed in at 7 lbs. 7 oz, 20 inches long, and has a head full of very short blond hair that will probably fall out but we’ll love him anyway. He is already much adored, is learning how to nurse (a fabulously exciting thing!), and since he arrived (just like his siblings) about three weeks before his due date, two quick orders were placed online for baby clothes - which, possibly owing to the rare event that is clothing shopping in our house, promptly caused a temporary block to be placed on our credit card by US Bank.
Kai is doing awesomer and awesomer every day - truly an amazing little guy, like his brothers and sisters before him, with possibly some more luck in the feeding department than they. I’ll begin to emerge from my bedroom and possibly even make some phone calls to friends and family…after our Babymoom. Right now I’m resting non-stop thanks to #TeamAwesomeFamily❤️❤️❤️
Kai means “ocean” in several languages. Terran means “earth.” And Terran and Amaral connect him to grandpas on both sides of our family.
The Story of Kai’s Birth
Preparation for the big day began with some light drama in September, because two and a half weeks before Kai was born we were exposed to Covid. This wasn’t a big deal for our family in terms of health risks, but it rapidly became a big deal by association: our homebirth midwife definitely wishes not to contract said virus nor spread it to her other clients. Several very tense days ensued, during which we contemplated our options if Marilee couldn’t attend our birth.
I have never wanted to labor in a hospital with any of my babies, and especially not in the age of Covid Restrictions. Plus, when I priced out a “vaginal delivery plus circumcision” (the chipper lady on the phone came down only one tiny notch when I asked for that circumcision to be removed from the estimate) at various local hospitals, the “cash pay discount price” for those with no health insurance...came to over $25,000. “...Does that all make sense?” the chipper lady asked me, after giving me a breakdown of the price. There was a long pause before I could collect my answer. “Sorry, I’m just scooping myself up off the floor after hearing that number,” I said, and then I thanked her and hung up. My distant third preference would also practically bankrupt us.
Absolutely my first choice: homebirth attended by midwife. Second choice: unassisted homebirth. Marilee would assess her comfort level based on results from our first round of Covid tests, among other factors (with the potential for all this being irrelevant if we were all negative and Baby waited to arrive till it’s due date of October 27). And meanwhile, I decided to learn to palpate my own belly, so I could at least determine the position of the tiny kicking human inside. After having birthed four of them already, it was time to learn some more of the basics.
The fact that my baby was head down but “posterior” (baby’s spine along mine, face looking forward and little hands and feet also kicking out in front) finally clicked in my brain as Something To Try To Address Before Going Into Labor. I found out a few interesting things, among which: mom’s posture is very important during pregnancy, and if she develops a sway back - the sort that I generally allow my pregnant self to lazily slip into - it can encourage baby to “cuddle up” backwards. A posterior baby is the primary reason for “Back Labor”, something I’ve experienced more or less with all my other kids’ births. A posterior baby’s head is aiming slightly away from The Exit, which means that each contraction shoves baby into mom’s tailbone instead. This is a set-up for searing back pain in addition to the normal intensity of contractions, and it also tends to continue unabated (rather than normal contractions, which let up in between).
Needless to say, I wanted to avoid back labor again if at all possible, and so better late than never(last Sunday, to be precise): I commenced exercises that I found on the “Spinning Babies” website. These included gentle stretching and inversions and various other movements, and on Tuesday I was delighted to note that I could finally feel baby’s back instead the collection of legs and arms that I’d been noticing for many weeks. I was additionally delighted when Marilee determined a protocol that she felt comfortable with even if one or more household members came down with Covid, so we could go ahead with our first choice of having an Assisted homebirth.
More good news came last Monday: six negative Covid test results, followed by another two days with no symptoms (bringing our total days since exposure to 13), and at that point it was Wednesday morning, when we were scheduled to get our final round of tests.
(Our lack of symptoms - despite exposure that included hugging and sharing food from the same plate - lends credence to the likelihood that last February, when I was super sick and lost my sense of taste and smell for two days and also had a horrible cough and couldn't take deep breaths and my toes and hands turned blue (everyone else just had fevers)....it might have been Covid. Not coincidentally, my mom had just been visiting from NJ, and she got a strange respiratory virus at the same time we were sick with our second round of “flu” in California.)
All this good news was evidently very welcome to my subconscious birth clock, because early on Wednesday, one day past 37 weeks gestation, I woke up around 4am with contractions and couldn’t get back to sleep.
I was really hoping to Cook this baby a little longer than my usual 37-38 week timeline, but I was definitely awake and feeling surges that went beyond the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for months now. And when I got out of bed, they slowed but did not stop - irregular but strong enough that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Jeff took the kids to the Covid Testing Appointment without me.
When they came back, I thought I’d try a walk on the beach and a nap to slow things down, on the off chance this wasn’t The Day. The beach was lovely, the day sunny and glorious, Eliza and Ivy busy and happy building sand castles, but I finally had to slowly navigate the hundred yards back home because it seemed about time to get to work.
According to my friend, who called that morning to share what she described as a Very Cool Birth Move - something further to do with Spinning Babies - doing these exercises would not cause me to go into labor unless it was time, and everything else I read confirmed that. “I’ve always wanted to recommend this move,” she’d emailed. “Maybe it will help you!”
So I did some more lunges and inversions and stretches, and then followed the directions to take a nap.
When I woke up, the contractions picked up speed. They were still shorter than I remembered from the last four births, but they were not stopping. Through ten contractions, I did the Very Cool Birth Move, and as far as I could tell, it HAD worked - when I palpated my abdomen, I could still feel a tiny baby back, rather than empty space punctuated by kicking appendages. Plus, no back labor thus far! A nice plus, to have an actual break in between each contraction.
And then around 2pm I had a longer surge, and felt a vaguely pushy feeling. When Marilee heard that, she said she was heading over directly.
But despite the intensity and regularity of the contractions, they just weren’t quite long enough to do anything with, and I didn’t feel like the baby was coming down as quickly as it should be. Kate [our midwife with Jem, Eliza, and Ivy] always said to keep my voice low-pitched, so each time one came, I moaned as low as possible. When they seemed to slow down, I remembered: Kate told me to go up and down the stairs sideways. I went up and down the steps. I lunged. I sat on the toilet a lot. Marilee kept suggesting that I keep moving, and so I kept getting up again.
But whenever I sat down in a potential birthing position, or I stopped moving, things slowed down again. The afternoon dragged on. Marilee and Jeff kept behaving expectantly, but I couldn’t figure out why the baby wasn’t closer to coming out.
I’m forty this time! Really too old for this shit!
Kate says to keep my voice low.
Consolation prize: still no back labor…
I wanted to be in the bathroom. Too much white carpet everywhere else. Too many white everythings, everywhere. Why could I not get this baby out? I tried the empty bath tub - wrong shape. I tried the birth pillow - too squishy, my head bumped the towel rack when I sat up on it, and it had a funny smell.
I needed a step stool. “Hey Ivy,” I said, at the end of the next contraction. “Could you bring me two yoga blocks?” My helpful current baby brought them to me, and I stepped up and down for a while, side to side. I laughed in the middle because I was doing one of the nuns’ dances from Sister Act, with significantly less rhythm and costume. Then I placed the blocks on the floor with room for my pelvis, nice and firm for my sits bones. Kate says to keep my voice low. And then I had a little cry, because Anita and Jen had died doing this, and S.’s baby had died doing this, and I didn’t want me or my baby to die. “I’m with you guys right now,” I thought. “I’m joining all of you birthing people since way way way back, and here we go...”
Kate says to keep my voice low.
I stopped crying.
And then I slipped away on another contraction. And I tried an experimental push but it just wasn’t working. This was so frustrating!! The contractions were still too short, and I felt ready to push the baby out, but every time I tested it, nothing happened. What should I do? I asked Marilee. “You can try walking with Jeff’s support, and then through each contraction he will lift and pull your belly in. You want to lean back while he does this, so you can allow your baby to come down past your pubic bone.”
This didn’t make sense to me, but I tried it. Things certainly got intense when I leaned back, and I hated it. I tried for a few more contractions, but came back to the bathroom and the yoga blocks. And then it all slowed back down, the contractions shortening. Why should I have to lean backward to make things move forward? It didn’t make sense.
If you're curious about what was specifically happening during all this, like inside my pelvis in terms of baby’s position, this article makes it very clear with diagrams - so now I retroactively understand. Instead of baby’s head turning sideways upon entering my pelvis and then back to face down upon exiting the birth canal, my baby was halfway in between those two positions - and at some point seemed to have lodged firmly, up just a bit too far, asymmetrically applying not quite the right level of pressure on my cervix. This asynclitic presentation happened with Ben too, but his bag of waters broke later in the process, and perhaps cushioned his rotation, allowing for a speedier exit once my cervix had been manually pulled aside by my midwife.
This time, my bag of waters broke after about seven hours of active labor - intensely, kind of like a water balloon that happened to explode right into my supportive husband’s lap. And instead of a baby zipping out to follow, my contractions slowed again - assumably because baby got further wedged in that same asymmetrical position atop my pubic bone, with no cushion of water to help him rotate, and he proceeded to stay that way for two more hours.
I didn’t fully understand what was happening at the time, and instead my thoughts were sinking. Why wasn’t my baby coming out?
I was starting to get really, really tired. I had been more active in early labor than I ever was with any of the others. I had been more energetic for the past seven hours than I had ever been during active labor before. I was ready for this goddamn process to be over, with a healthy baby OUT of me already! The bag of waters had never broken so long before one of my babies was born - it was so annoying to be dripping. I felt a large urge to rest, but the contractions were too close together for that. I did more movements, walking, hip lifts, trying to follow Marilee’s advice. But I was so, so, SO tired. And every three minutes, over and over, another and another contraction, still frustratingly NOT pushing things down, but instead IN, and in was exactly where I didn’t want my baby to be anymore.
If you happen to be experiencing this crazy sensation - of regular uterine surges that are pushing an asynclitic baby down onto your cervix with increasingly forceful bursts, to nearly but not quite entirely 10 centimeters of dilation, at which point the contractions seem to lose any downward power and instead begin to feel like they will explode your abdomen...there is a chance that your baby’s head has lodged into a position in your pelvis that is similar to how my baby’s position was. And it just doesn’t work well for exit.
Meanwhile, my birth team was indefatigable. Eliza literally stayed by my side from the moment she woke up in the morning until the baby was finally born. She brought her Kindle along, and either lay next to me on the floor, or camped out in the bathtub, or - by the end - had put down the book so she could zoom the camera in to take photos as the baby came out. For the first six hours or so, I kid you not, she praised me through every. Single. Contraction. Often she’d get lost in the book in between, and then couldn’t help exclaiming over some plot point or other, so my individualized birth coaching went something like this: “Oh nooooo….it’s Buckbeak!! I love Buckbeak! …Good job, mama, you’re doing Awesome and you’re the best in the world!!” “Yes! Yes Yes YES!!! Sirius Black is going to stay forever! …That’s great, Mama, you’re doing so so so so good, you’re doing so awesome! Is the baby going to come out soon?!?!”
She made it through almost all of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban before her baby brother came into this world.
Ben played piano. Jem made lunch. Ivy drew pictures. Jem played cards with her. Ben read to her, then helped Jem make a kickass beef stew for dinner. Eliza ate her dinner in the tub. Jeff ate his dinner in between my contractions. I had eaten breakfast and lunch, but my dinner was definitely going to have to wait till Later.
Jeff told me I was doing great and was awesome and doing a really great job so many times, and with such conviction in his voice every single time, that I believed him for about the first five hours.
Except it was getting late. And this baby was not coming out. And I really, really, really wanted this baby to come out, and I wasn’t doing good at the getting-out part this time.
When I’m in labor, people around me might think I don’t hear them, but if they’re next to me, I hear every word they say. I am aware of everything in the room. But there is a part of my brain that filters, so that I can understand humor without needing to laugh; I can hear things but only respond if it’s important; I can see inside and outside my body without opening my eyes.
Things were not relating to my other births in some important ways, and it was hard to make sense of it. At 2pm my body felt like it was moving very quickly, once contractions began rhythmically picking up speed. But post-dinner time, the lack of progress was a growing dread in the back of my brain (and sometimes in the front, when Eliza or Ivy would politely inquire whether the baby was coming soon).
When I have ideas in labor, I use them or discard them. When something isn’t in the room or relevant, I let it go. I am in the moment. And yet there is still a hint of forebrain because I am paying attention to other people and still making up stories: Marilee left the room - that means I still have a long time to go. The shadows are longer, and everyone’s tired - why is the baby not here when everyone is expecting it?
When I have thoughts, they are straightforward, and if I speak them, they come out that way too.
“I am too old for this shit!”
“Birth is payback time for having lots of awesome sex.”
“The baby who is the hardest to birth is the one you’re currently birthing.”
“This is fucking awful!!!”
But maybe I don’t always say everything I’m thinking. That part does get hazy.
I wanted to give up. Except it wasn’t actually an option. “I don’t know what to do next,” I said to Marilee. “What should I do next?”
Marilee had been watching for a long time now, and I wanted some direction. Preferably resulting in a baby. Preferably Right Away. “There are three things you can try,” she said slowly. “You can do a lot more of that walking with Jeff, and lift your belly and and lean back during each contraction.”
“No!” I said. I hate that.
“Or, you can lie on your side in bed and let your upper leg dangle….for twenty minutes on each side.” I moaned. “I know. Otherwise, you can lie flat on your back and angle your pelvis up so your baby can com down to meet you.”
I tried to lie on my side and “dangle” but there was no way in hell I could make it 40 minutes in that position. I couldn’t even make it 40 seconds.
“You need to lie flat on your back, Dear,” said Marilee. “I know it isn’t comfortable, but that’s the only way it will work. You need to imagine bearing down so that gravity can help your baby dive down under your tailbone. You’re going to put your hands behind your knees and pull them up as far as you can, so your butt is in the air. It might sound strange to push your baby up, but it will actually help bring it down and out to meet you. I will hold back your cervix to allow your baby through. And you won’t feel like pushing, but you will have to anyway.”
I moaned, partly in agony and partly because this sounded like the worst idea ever in the entire history of ideas. But it was too late for the expensive hospital visit, too late to have decided not to actually have a baby. “Will it get the baby out?”
“Yes, dear. It won’t be fun, but I’m going to reach in, pull back the lip of the cervix, and I’m very sorry, but then you have to push really well.”
I moaned again. I could feel the next contraction coming.
“NOW, you’re going to have to push. I know you don’t feel like it, but you’re going to need to push with everything you’ve got, and mama bear your way through it. And then you’ll meet your baby!”
Basic premise: Push a bowling ball uphill through my personal average-size vagina, while lying on my back and holding my knees to my chest, and THEN push it up and under my pubic bone. Why hadn’t I come up with this delightful plan on my own?!
I thought I might hurl or explode but instead when the contraction came, I screamed.
Kate says to keep my voice low.
I tried again with a lowered voice but I had no more breath, and so I screamed again instead. All my energy went into the screaming, and although at some point I birthed the fucking hemorrhoids, the giant enormous stuck baby stayed inside.
I have to push without making noise, I thought. “Try to push without making a sound,” Marilee echoed out loud. And with that intention I waited for the next contraction and pushed like an insane person, as quietly as I could, trying to keep my butt in the air, behaving like a pregnant mama who doesn’t want to be pregnant for one. Single. Second. Longer. I felt the baby’s head come loose from wherever the hell it had been lodged, and I could hear everyone seeing it, and I screamed again.
“Gentle, Sara, take three breaths! Breathe!” Marilee kept saying. But what was the point of goddamn breathing? I pushed again, and yelled with relief as more baby came out, and this time I could feel the squishy body about to follow, so I pushed again, as quietly as I could (which was now about as quiet as a roaring wild human), and as horrible and godawful and crazy as it had just felt, the giant enormous baby was OUT.
The giant enormous sensation was gone. And there was my baby, it was announced he was a boy, and Jeff was lifting our son to my chest after he’d caught him, and the baby was tiny and purple and making wee baby sounds, and Eliza was bellowing with excitement because in this moment he was the cutest baby in the world, come to join our family and enter the fray.