We were actually planning for Benji to be born at a hospital about twenty minutes from our house. We were planning this until, in a prenatal session three weeks before Gwen’s due date, the hospital’s midwife asked if Gwen wanted to give birthing at home another try.
After Gwen’s six-day labor with Noah and our hasty transport to the hospital, we had become wary of another home birth. But, at the midwife’s suggestion, Gwen lit up. She hadn’t realized it, but this was exactly what she wanted.
We scramble to interview home-birth midwives. Cecilia, the apprentice from Noah’s birth, is now a midwife and part of a practice in a nearby town. We decide to work with her. We had already hired Ananda, a local doula, to help out both during and after the birth. At a hospital she would communicate with staff on our behalf. At home, as well as assisting with the birth itself, she can play with Noah, cook a meal, fold laundry, or mow the lawn — whatever needs doing.
We have one meeting with the midwives and one meeting with Ananda. Ananda asks us to delineate our birth plan — how we see it all going down. We throw up our hands. Last time our birth plan had not included a six-day labor. Some things, we’ve learned, cannot be predicted.
The night after Gwen’s due date, I am in the den working on my laptop. With the calm of a second-timer, Gwen walks in to let me know: “The contractions started a few minutes ago. I’m going to bed.”
“Okay, get some sleep. I’ll be in soon.” No drama; we are old hands at this. I plan to finish up my emails and make arrangements to be out of touch for a few days. Soon I head to bed. But Gwen stops me at the door. “Let’s walk a bit. Things are picking up.” We pace the hallway for a few minutes.
Gwen rubs her belly, surprised by the intensity of the contractions, and says, “I think you should call the doula.”
I call the doula. Whereas midwives focus primarily on the birth, a doula’s role is to support the mama in all phases of birth—to rub her back, get ice pops, and offer inspiring Marianne Williamson quotes. Ananda says she’ll be over in forty minutes.
Gwen and I walk for a few more minutes.
Somewhere between the bathroom and the kitchen, Gwen leans over, palms the wall, and says, “I think you should call the midwives.”
I figure the midwives will just send us back to bed, but I call. Cecilia says she’ll come by.
We walk a few more steps and Gwen says, “Go to the kitchen. Look in the menu drawer for the green folder that Ananda gave us. Find the sheet on rapid birth and read it.”
Unless you are a midwife, a doctor, or a big fan of YouTube instructional birth videos, you do not want your wife to send you to the menu drawer to study up on rapid birth.
I find the folder. I read it. It mentions blankets, towels, and a hot water bottle. It might as well be dated 1823 and include recommendations for a good leeching. But frankly, I don’t believe we are that close, anyway, so I’m not too nervous. Noah took six days to crawl the half foot of the birth canal, and today we are only an hour into our first night.
While I am in the kitchen reading, Gwen relocates to squatting in the den. She calls out to let me know that her water has just broken. I rush in, leaving the folder behind. Gwen is down onto all fours, swaying her body and using her hypnobirthing breathing.
She’s in the zone and seems oblivious to my presence, except when she looks over her shoulder to ask, “Can you see anything?”
“Like what?” I don’t know what she means.
“Like a baby.”
I almost laugh. I don’t see anything.
That moment the midwife arrives. Thankfully I had had the foresight to unlock the front door. Okay, Gwen had had the foresight to unlock the front door — she told me to do it, right after she told me to call the midwives.
Cecilia finds us in the den and kneels down next to Gwen. She takes one look and says, “I can see his hair. This baby is coming out.”
Fifty-seven seconds later Benjamin is crowning.
A minute after that, he is in Gwen’s arms. I hold him while Gwen births the placenta.
I had gone to bed at 11:00 pm, and Benjamin was born at 11:52. He beat his big brother, Noah, by about five days and twenty-two hours. When Gwen had sent me to read about rapid birth, I doubted her, but I hadn’t argued. I knew rule number two: Never argue with a woman in labor, but apparently I did not know rule number one: Never, ever, doubt a woman in labor. She knows exactly what to do.
I had read the rapid-birth instructions, but I’m glad our midwife made it. The instructions said to have something soft for the baby to land on, but I didn’t imagine that he would actually fall out. I’d only really ever seen two births: three years earlier, when Noah was born, and a calf in the film City Slickers. I really can’t say if I would have caught Benjamin. I like to think yes, but I just don’t know that I would have seen him coming. Plus, he was so slippery.
Twenty minutes later, the rest of the team of midwives and the doula show up.
I post a photo on Facebook. In minutes we had twenty-six comments. Though my sister makes a good point. “Wait, I just got an email from you an hour ago about your new book. Did you email while Gwen was in the middle of active labor?” Amazingly, I had not.
Benji nurses and the midwives look him over. We all finally go to bed at three in the morning. At six-thirty Noah wakes up and calls me in, as usual, with, “Dada, I’m awake!” I sit on his bed and tell him, “Noah, sweetie, during the night, your new little baby brother came out of Mama’s belly.”
His eyes go wide. He smiles.
I say, “Let’s go into the other bedroom to meet him.”
Noah leads the way. He gets up onto the bed and coos to our little baby.
“His name is Benji,” I say.
“Hello, Benji. I love you,” Noah says.
Noah is three and never without his Little Sweet Monkey stuffed animal, whom he has never, ever shared with anyone. He places Little Sweet Monkey onto Benji’s tiny chest. Gwen and I cry.
“Can I hold him?”
Noah holds his baby brother for the first time.
And then business as usual. Potty. Breakfast. By seven-thirty we are on the driveway drawing with chalk. At 9:00 am, Noah and I are at a local mini–golf course for a round of putt-putt.
It is very unusual for a hospital midwife to recommend a home birth. So I wonder if she had a feeling. An intuition. Because, really, she saved us. There’s no way we would have made it to the hospital. Benjamin surely would have been born on the side of the highway.
And perhaps Gwen knew, too. Once the hospital midwife suggested it, even colored by her previous epic six-day home labor, Gwen knew a home birth was best.
The moral of the story?
Always trust a pregnant mama. She truly does know best.
Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting and Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, as well as the owner and director of the holistic New Leaf Learning Center in western Massachusetts. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online.