Clark’s birth took less than one hour, but the greater birth story encompasses a full month of Divine unfolding, relentless attachment to expectations, sweet surrender, and some (not-so-awesome) surprises.
In my previous three birth experiences, I had never made it to a due date, let alone beyond 41 weeks. So, when I made plans for birth doula and postpartum doula support, I mistakenly assumed we would have a “standard” Hemphill birth experience. We chose to fly out our birth doula, Dr. Erica Boland of BIRTHFIT Wisconsin, just days before my due date. In all honesty, I feared the baby would come before she arrived. The plan was for Erica to stay with us until baby came or for one week (whichever was later). At the end of that week, our postpartum doula, Karen Sapp (aka “Cakes” and mother of Dr. Lindsay Mumma, BIRTHFIT NC), would arrive and stay for about 10 days. I thought it was so beautifully timed but Clark had other plans.
My due date came and went and took my calm resolve with it. I became present to my shadow self in a major way. My expectations were violated. My sense of control was lost. I couldn’t stop overanalyzing why I was still pregnant and struggled to surrender to the brilliant, innate wisdom (for which I’m eternally grateful as I write this). During the 40th week, Erica was my guardian angel. Her patience, grace, and unconditional love saw me through some dark days. Although she had to leave before Clark was born, her spirit and mala beads (crazy story for another day) were present for his birth.
The 41 week mark also came and went. I had a hard time receiving what I had labeled as “postpartum support” prenatally. Thanks to some graceful Mumma intervention, Cakes finally arrived at our house and quickly got to work loving on and supporting our family. By this time, the culminating effects of daily meditation, self-love, movement, and utter exhaustion from fighting the timeline, I finally surrendered. I let go of my expectations and started living again.
I woke up January 24th really, truly at peace with the fact that I was still pregnant. Around 1pm, I was upstairs in my bedroom when water suddenly dribbled to the floor. For a split second I thought I had peed myself because it couldn’t have been amniotic fluid… my sac had always remained intact until transition with my other three births. But, again, I would be wrong to predict this current experience off of past experiences. A gentle contraction pushed more fluids out.
I notified my midwife, Jenny Green of Organic Homebirth, that I was leaking fluids and contractions were starting. It wasn’t active labor but I would keep her updated. I called my husband, Anthony, who said he would leave work around 1:30. Finally, I called our birth photographer, Sally of Hexagon House Studios. The next few contractions quickly moved me into active labor. I called Anthony back and asked him not to wait until 1:30. Things were moving along.
Anthony arrived home just in time. It had only been about 30 min of labor but I was having to use my sounds through the peak intensity of the contractions. During this time, I became fixated on the Birthing from Within mantra, “relax, breathe, feel the Earth, do nothing extra.” I felt totally in the present moment; a timelessness, an emptying, a conduit of life force. Unlike my previous births, I wasn’t trying to avoid or change the sensation of each contraction. I simply allowed it to be. I got out of my own way. Each contraction was incredibly productive. The intensity and closeness increased at a faster rate than I had ever experienced before. And my amazing husband was ready for it.
Anthony supported a contraction then completed a task to set up our birth space during the rest periods. I felt incredibly loved and supported by him during this birth. He matched my sounds so that we resonated together. He applied his firm touch and spoke sweet words of affirmation. He moved with confidence as he finalized our birth space.
One contraction gave me the shakes and I started to feel the expulsion reflex. Anthony had only been home for about 20 minutes but I felt that our baby was coming. The next contraction I dropped to all-fours and pushed out our baby. Only 53 minutes had passed since the dribble of fluid on the floor.
The speed of the birth was overwhelming. It was the first time I experienced the birth pause–a drawn out moment immediately after giving birth and before gathering up the new baby. I could hear our baby crying. I could hear Anthony saying, “Hey little guy! Mel, we have a little boy!” For months, I had been so anxious to meet him and yet I felt frozen. At BIRTHFIT we talk about a woman leaving her body to bring a new soul Earthside. It seemed I hadn’t returned to my body yet.
After a short time (thirty seconds? A minute? I’m not sure), I was able to meet our new love, Clark Harris. Anthony and I locked eyes in total disbelief that our baby was here. We called our midwife to update her that our baby came flying which added a third person to our party of shock and disbelief. This was the first birth she ever missed.
Amazingly, our photographer walked in the door as Clark was crowing and she captured some of the most beautiful pictures of our family. The midwife arrived. Cakes picked up our other kids from school. Anthony, Clark, and I snuggled on the floor.
When the placenta came, we discovered it had a velamentous cord insertion. Instead of the umbilical cord inserting directly into the placenta, it inserted into the fetal membranes where about 6 inches of exposed blood vessels ran through the membranes before entering the placenta. When my water broke, it was in a perfect location between two exposed blood vessels. Clark descended between them without issue. Whie the velamentous cord insertion is rare, it’s even more rare for it NOT to cause any problems. More shock and gratitude.
The next surprise came on February 5th, 12 days postpartum. At the 24-hr check, our midwife detected a slight heart murmur so we scheduled an appointment with our pediatrician. The pediatrician also heard the murmur and referred us to a pediatric cardiologist. After a number of tests and a full echocardiogram, we learned that our sweet little babe has a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot and needs open heart surgery at ~3 months old. We are still completely shocked. I feel sad for what my baby will have to endure, scared of complications and the potential for repeat surgeries, frustrated that it wasn’t caught during a prenatal ultrasound, so grateful that we had a beautiful, uncomplicated homebirth, and indebted to our midwife.
Reflecting on the last month, I see divinity in the unfolding of each event. By allowing the pregnancy to progress on its own timeline, Clark found a safe exit route between two of his critical blood vessels. He also had the opportunity to start life as our biggest Hemphill baby (8 lbs vs the traditional 6 lbs). This is meaningful in light of his heart condition where his continued growth is super important for surgery.
Reflecting on the last month, I’m reminded that I don’t have all the answers and that so much of what I think I can control is actually outside of my control. I’m reminded to be present because the NOW where life happens; all of my problems are either reenactments of the past or anxious anticipations of the future. Right NOW, though, there’s warm snuggles with a beautiful, red-headed little boy and that’s most definitely not a problem.
We love you so much, Clark. You are only 2 weeks old but have already taught us so many beautiful lessons.