home birth

In defense of the fat baby

Fat Felix. 

Fat Felix. 

"You poor thing!"

That's the response I get most often when I tell people how much my babies weighed.

Felix was 9lbs 6 oz. Amos was 9 lbs 11.5 oz. Griffin was 9lbs 7 oz.

That's over 28 pounds of baby!

People assume my boys were difficult births. I've even had a few people make references to tearing. But guess what? Don't feel sorry for me and my chunky monkeys. I'm hear to clear some things up, especially for all you preggos living in fear of anything over 8 lbs.

Fat babies are where it's at.

First of all, my births were not difficult. (Well, I wouldn't describe Amos's birth as easy but I don't ascribe that to his weight.) I progressed naturally, was able to manage the pain, and had minimal tearing. Now, I won't say their birth weights had anything to do with my easy births. However, I will argue that a high birth weight doesn't mean you will automatically have a difficult birth.

I'm not an Amazon. I'm only 5'5" and while I do have some pretty major birthing hips, you wouldn't look at me and assume I have huge babies. I simply don't think we give our bodies enough credit for what they can do. We would be a weak link in the evolutionary chain  if we regularly grew babies that we couldn't give birth to. Sure, we have better access to prenatal care (and McDonald's) but I know plenty of petite mommas who gave birth to anything but petite babies.

So, if you're pregnant, breathe easy. Big babies come out just like little babies. And believe me when you're pushing those little buggers out  you're not exactly thinking, "I bet this would feel SO much better if this baby weighed a few pounds less!" Giving birth hurts. Period. No matter the weight.

Second, in my experience, big babies are easier once they get here. My mother-in-law (and mother of five) has famously said that once a baby reaches 10 lbs they should be able to sleep through the night. And I have to say that has been my experience. Griffin was sleeping from 10pm to 7am at about one month old with one night time feeding about 3am. Now, you can't ask for much more when it comes to newborns. I thought maybe he was a fluke but Amos and Felix - although a very different babies - have  followed suit. 

And let me just state the obvious - when they come out weighing nine pounds, you get to ten pounds A LOT quicker.

I can't begin to imagine how often a five pound baby eats or as a result how little they sleep, but I'm pretty sure if I had one I would strap that little sucker (no pun intended of course) directly to my bare chest and leave them there.

Now, I have nothing against tiny babies...except the self-control it takes me not to gobble up their teeny little fingers and toes. In fact, I think I would really enjoy a newborn that actually cuddles as opposed to my boys who come out holding their heads up and ready for pre-school.

Alas, I think I am destined for giants. Although they DO SAY that girls are smaller...

Ashley Martin and "Picture Perfect Births"

Home birth is back in the news. In early December, the British health service released new statistics on the use of midwives at home and in birthing centers. Based on these findings, they concluded healthy women were safer delivering with a midwife at home or in a birthing center than in a hospital. These findings prompted the New York Times Editorial Board to officially recommend a more welcoming approach to midwifery and home births here in the United States

On one of her recent shows highlighting these findings, Diane Rehm noted that there seemed to be consensus among her guests and the medical community - midwives offer a better standard of care and real lessons for the medical community on how the patient experience. 

Unfortunately, despite the growing evidence that midwives and home births can be a safe options for mothers, my most recent discussions involving home birth have centered around a viral post on PopSugar entitled "What A Home Birth Is Like: My True Feelings Regarding My Home Birth Experience" by Ashley Martin. 

Amos's Birth Story

The contractions started at around 10:30am. The night before I was convinced I was about to go into labor. I could feel Amos dropping down into my pelvis. I went for a long walk, relaxing into every Braxton Hicks contraction. I tried other suggested activities (insert throat clearing here) to bring on labor. Finally, I went to bed.

I woke up still pregnant...and cranky as hell.

I tried to go about my day. I took Griffin to the park. My grandmother came over for a visit. Around 11am, I noticed the nonstop Braxton Hicks contractions had taken on the more distinctive characteristics of menstrual cramps. I called my midwife — at first, suggesting that she stop at another visit before coming to my house. Two contractions later, I called her back and said, “Scratch that. Come here first.”

My grandmother stayed with Griffin, while I went to pick up Nicholas from work. He dropped me off my mother’s, where I laid on my left side to slow the contractions until my midwife’s arrival. They were still completely manageable at this point. I had on Oprah’s Master Class in the background, which was sort of amazing. It was like Oprah was in the room coaching me. (Y’all KNEW I wouldn’t give birth without at least one Oprah reference!)

About an hour and a half later, my midwife and her assistant arrived. She checked me and said I was between 2-3 centimeters. I spent the next hour walking around and squatting into the contractions. Working very hard to move things along, I knew I could get in the pool once I was at about 6 centimeters — anything short of that there was a chance the pool would actually slow down my labor.

Another hour or so later, my midwife checked me again. This time I was a solid three centimeters and much more effaced. More walking. More squatting. I was finding it difficult to get in a relaxing position. Finally, I got on exercise ball and braced myself on the side of couch. My midwife’s assistant would push hard on my lower back during every contraction. That pressure and my breath was all I had to get me through and things were starting to get intense.

I started to complain. I didn’t remember it hurting this much last time I said. This baby’s head must be huge I said. I wasn't getting time to rest because they were coming two at a time. The complaining turned to moaning turned to more than a couple of screams.

I kept waiting for my midwife to say it was time to check me again. Finally, I was at the end of my rope. I wanted to get in the pool. I didn’t care if I was 3.5 centimeters and my labor came to a screeching halt.

Pool. Now.

I made the long walk back to the bedroom for my midwife to check me.

9 centimeters! HOLLA!

And this is where things get exciting. My midwife yells out, “Anyone who wants to see this baby be born, better come now!” I walk back into the foyer where the pool is. Inexplicably, Griffin is in the next room doing a puzzle. (He had been taking a nap up until this point.) After some pretty serious rushing, he and my stepfather leave.

I get in the pool. At my next contraction, I feel the urge to push and my water breaks. I start pushing and screaming. Minutes later, Amos is crowning. I’m leaning over the side of the pool when his head emerges. My midwife has me get on my back (and by that I mean she and her assistant pick me up and flip me like a pancake). One more push and Amos Edward Holland was born.

Despite being in an enormous amount of pain, I felt that instant sky-clearing-ray-of-light-shining-down moment of pure love for this baby in my arms. I would describe Griffin’s labor and delivery as easier but I didn’t really have that intense bond with him the moment he was placed in my arms.

It was completely and totally mind-blowing.

Maybe it was because the labor went so fast — a mere six hours from first cramp to his birth. Maybe it was because the labor had been so hard. Let me tell you — going from 3 centimeters to 9 centimeters in a little over an hour AIN’T EASY. My first birth was a lesson in trusting my body. My second birth was a lesson in trusting my gut, which was screaming, “Get in the pool! This bloody hurts!”

Either way that moment was worth it all.

Griffin's Birth Story

This post was originally published on my personal blog in 2009.

When I was in college, I took a religion course with a professor who was passionate about birth. I don't remember exactly how he fit it in but we read several articles by Michael Odent a home and water birth pioneer. I remember being completely overwhelmed by how powerful birth could be if it was given the respect it deserved. Since college, I continued to read more about the history of birth, watch and learn from my friend's births, and dream of the day I could have finally have this experience for myself.

I haven't really written about my journey to home birth on the blog for a lot of reasons. For so many months, when we were still working out the logistics of the move to Kentucky or even wondering if it would all happen, I wasn't sure how the home birth would work out. Family members had to be convinced and I had to find a midwife in a notoriously anti-midwife environment. However, in small ways and piece by piece, things fell in place.

The only time that my dream seemed in jeopardy was the week before I went into labor. I had had such a healthy pregnancy up until that point and had been vigilant about maintaining my weight. However, as the due date approached, I basically decided I was out of the woods and started eating whatever I wanted. My blood pressure skyrocketed and my midwife told me point blank that if I didn't get it down by the next day I would have to go to the hospital. She looked me straight in the eye and said they would put me on a magnesium drip and induce me with pitocin. At that moment, I felt my entire being say NO and I knew that was not going to be my reality. Thanks to my friend Elizabeth who was visiting and bought about a thousand pounds of fruits and veggies, I was able through diet, meditation, and yoga to drop my diastolic by almost 20 points in 24 hours. Now, I have a hunch my little guy was not so happy about the sudden absence of all cookies, cake, and donuts because as we all know he decided to arrive after about 2 days after my diet change.

I woke up at 5am on Saturday morning with what felt like bad menstrual cramps. I'd had those a couple of mornings over the past two weeks but I usually fell back asleep and they would stop. Well, these weren't stopping so I decided to get up and walk around the house for awhile. I paced for about an hour before I woke up Nicholas and told him we were taking a walk around the neighborhood. He definitely seemed confused at first but I told him not to get too excited because I kept thinking it could end at any moment. We walked around for about 45 minutes and he attempted to time the contractions but they were all over the place. We came back in and I tried to distract myself by watching some TV and putting stamps on announcement envelopes. After a while, I even tried to go back to sleep but the second I would fade off another contraction would come on.

Around 10 am, my midwife and her assistant showed up. I think at that point I realized that there is no way this was false labor and that it was really happening, especially when she checked me and said I was 3 centimeters dilated. At this point, I was beginning to have trouble handling the contractions by myself so they couldn't have arrived at a better time. I just felt like I didn't have a real strategy but my midwife came in and immediately began coaching me. She would tell me when to change positions and what positions to try. The best part was her and her assistant began massaging my back, which was not only a relief but seemed to really move things along. Her coaching totally allowed me to relax and stay out of my head. I knew I didn't have to worry about my breathing or my position and all I had to focus on was bringing him down into my pelvis.

At the time, I had no real perspective on time. I remember once looking out the window and wondering if it would start to get dark soon. However, in reality, things were moving along incredibly fast. My midwife checked me again about two hours later and I was already up to 7 centimeters. My mom and Nicholas had been sitting up the pool this entire time which was perfect, because the contractions were getting really intense.

I spent about two hours in the pool. The most comfortable position was doubled over the side with my midwife or her assistant applying pressure to my hips and rocking them back and forth. Again, I can't emphasize enough how instrumental all the support was in allowing me to handle the contractions and move forward. There were a couple times I would feel a contraction coming and no one had their hands on me. It was really scary to feel like I was alone and I would just yell HELP! Suddenly, all these hands were on me and people were whispering in my ears.

My midwife's assistant was the one I needed the most towards the end. She had large, strong hands and would push my hips back and forth. There came a moment when I realized that I didn't have to use any of my muscles to move my hips and that she would do it for me. It was such a relief to stop moving. Again, it was just another thing that let me stay out of my head and just relax into the contractions.

I also remember my midwife looking me in the eyes and telling me every contraction I had was one fewer I had to have. She told me at the perfect moment because I think I was starting to anticipate the pain and tense up. Her telling me that reminded me the pain has a purpose and that I had to move through it in order for it to end.

I started having the urge to push towards the end of my time in the pool. It was so exciting to know I was approaching the finish line. My water had still not broken and was bulging out of my body. My midwife decided to go ahead and break my water in the pool. I don't remember that making a huge difference in the intensity of the contractions. They were all pretty intense at that point. My midwife decided that moving to the bedroom might be what I needed to make him crown. So, I made what seemed like a very long walk back to our bedroom.

At first I was basically squatting off the end of the bed but my midwife informed me that she couldn't hold me and the baby. We tried a couple of pushes on my back but the baby's heart rate would drop. I started to get frustrated because I felt like every time everyone would yell how close he was to crowning but nothing was happening. At one point, I yelled at my midwife to get him out! She yelled right back that I was the only one that could do that. Finally, I was squatting into the contractions and then standing back up. It started to burn but I knew that I had to push into the burn to really make it happen. Then, sort of when I least expected it, I heard a blop and heard Nicholas's voice full of emotion yell, "He's out! Oh my god, he's out!"

Because I was standing, I sort of doubled over and they put Griffin on my back. So, everyone could see him but me. I was crying, "Let me see my baby!" After what felt like forever, I laid down on the bed. They handed him to me and my life changed forever.

Now, I cannot emphasize enough that this birth would have been impossible without my midwife and her support. I trusted her with every ounce of my body. If she told me to get a ladder and jump off the roof, I would have done it. I knew that she was there totally and completely for me. She had no other patients. She wasn't thinking about her own liability. All she wanted was for me to have the birth I'd dreamed about and to keep me and my son safe. I remember registering when she would take his heart rate and couldn't find it for second or two. However, it was literally just a passing observance. I never remember feeling any fear or doubt that either of us weren't safe in her care. Because I didn't have to think of any of this, I could focus all my energy on giving birth.

I wish I could fully express my feelings about that day. The birth of your first child changes everyone's life but for me his arrival is inextricably linked to how he arrived. The journey through the pain with no medical intervention or drugs was essential to the perfection of our first moments - even days - together. Griffin wasn't groggy or traumatized. My body and my hormones were allowed to flow naturally so I felt (and have continued to feel) so happy and mellow.

I fought hard for the home birth I wanted and I worked hard through the birth itself. All of it was worth it though for the perfection of moments like this.