Thanksgiving will never be the same for our family.
We welcomed our second child on Thanksgiving night via an incredible home birth. We knew our first home birthing experience was going to be interesting but we didn’t realize just how wonderful delivering a child at home could be.
I share his story below for three reasons: 1) this helps serve as my own memory keeping for our family, 2) it gives you a glimpse into the simple wonder of home birth and the amazing strength God gave to women to birth babies, and 3) hopefully it encourages you to to consider home birth if that that is something that would be a healthy choice for you (not all women can have home births due to physical, mental, or emotional limitations in or out of their control; birth is an experience where we need to extend each other grace, not judge others choices).
Choosing a midwife
After having a birth experience far different than we’d anticipated at the local labor and delivery center, we opted for a midwife-attended home birth for our second child. Well, I voiced that I didn’t see the point in leaving the house since we pretty much had a home birth in a hospital room (no interventions whatsoever) and Ben said something along the lines of “whatever you want, I’ll support you.” There was more to the decision but that’s the gist of it.
After lots of research and time spent interviewing a few local midwives, I settled on Melissa and Sarah at Snohomish Midwives. When cared for by their practice, I got more than standard prenatal care. For an hour every month – and more frequently as the pregnancy went on – I got to talk about anything and everything with them. They’d flip-flop appointments so I’d get to know each of them; on delivery day, I wouldn’t be guaranteed to have one or the other so it was great to establish relationships with both of these amazing women. While I loved the prenatal care I received from my ob-gyn during my first pregnancy, she wasn’t the doctor to deliver our daughter nor did I ever get to spend more than 20 minutes with her (typical medical practice).
Prior to Caleb’s birth, I was impressed by the work midwives do. After this experience, I will not have a birth with any other practitioner unless medically necessary.
Not wanting to have such a fast and furious birth the next time around, my midwives and I talked about paying close attention to anything prior to active labor. I was pretty sure I must have missed those signs of early labor the first time so I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Seeing as Serafina was born on her due date, I bordered on paranoia the week leading up to Caleb’s due date (the day after Thanksgiving, 11/28).
Three days in the week leading up to Thanksgiving – the Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday before – I had bouts of pre-labor contractions that piqued my pain sensors enough to warrant phone calls to my midwives. Each of these experiences included frantic phone calls, long walks to try to make the contractions subside or intensify (neither occurred), and a showing of Frozen so Serafina would sit and be quiet while I focused on what the heck was happening. I was a bit stressed, to say the least.
The day before Thanksgiving, Midwife Sarah had an open slot so I drove to their office and she checked me for dilation. 3 cm. All that work for 3 measly centimeters! With Serafina, my only pre-labor cervical check was upon admission to the hospital and I was already completely dilated to 10 cm. Needless to say, I was disappointed I hadn’t progressed more in what felt like daaaaays of contractions. My dear friend Kay – our designated Serafina entertainer for when I actually went into labor – happily drove the 45 minutes to our house twice through these encounters. Frustrated I’d inconvenienced her (my perception, not her attitude), I got even more uptight. In her wisdom, my midwife suggested I cozy up to the fire with a glass of wine and a good book or movie and just relax. So relax we did – to Frozen. Since Kay was already up at our place, and Serafina associated fun things like movies with Auntie Kay, animated Disney princesses it was.
Labor (and Delivery) Day: Thanksgiving
Not wanting to be stuck at someone’s house for Thanksgiving when I went into labor or my water broke, I asked family to join us at our house for the big day…but bring everything with them. I wasn’t about to bake a turkey, mash potatoes, or prep a pie but I was happy to open up my home and set the table with pretty linens and our wedding china. My parents showed up first thing in the morning to get the bird in the oven and Ben’s parents came soon after, having stayed at dear friends (who happen to live quite close!) the night before.
Wanting to get out of the house and just go for a walk, Ben and I went on what would end up being our last walk as parents of just one kiddo. We walked to the grocery store and purchased two important beverages: a grande, uncut, no water, extra pump ChEg (egg nog chai for those of you missing out) from Starbucks and a bottle of scotch to toast our son, whenever he decided to make his debut (I think the cooks back at home needed a few things so I’m sure we picked up other things but they were not as important ;) ).
Upon arriving home, Ben’s sisters had made it over the mountains and were playing with Serafina and generally making merriment. The next few hours were a blur, with final preparations, more fun, and then, finally, a whole lot of us crammed around our table for Thanksgiving. We opted to eat around 1 pm so there would be time for the annual Zupke tradition of getting the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving. The guys (dads/grandpas) plus one of the aunties headed out for a Christmas tree farm in Granite Falls while the rest of us stayed at home. My contractions were only 10 minutes apart and very gentle at this point so I pretty much ignored them. I desperately wanted to finish up a sewing project so I worked on that while the remaining ladies played with Serafina and cleaned up from our big lunch.
After the intrepid tree hunters came home with a gorgeous spruce*, we had pie(s), at which point I started enjoying my contractions a bit less. Yes, I’m weird: those early contractions are strangely enjoyable for me in a wow-check-out-what-my-body-is-doing kind of way not in a I-wish-I-could-do-this-all-the-time way. We kept hanging out, some took naps, more cleaning up happened, and I kept working on the quilt I wanted to finish, all while my contractions got less and less comfortable and more and more real.
My midwife called an asked if she’d have time to go to a movie with her family. I’d already made her miss Thanksgiving with family/friends down in Tacoma and I felt terrible that now she was questioning whether or not she could go to a movie! She reminded me that this was her job and that she was more than happy to be ready at a moment’s notice (and very much meant every word). Yes, I didn’t think this baby was going to be joining us within the next few hours but I did think it would probably be good if she came and checked me after the movie.
The Seahawks-49ers kicked off at 5:30 and our birth photographer (who happens to also be a doula) as well as midwife and her birth assistant all showed up not long after. We left the football fans downstairs and headed up to our bedroom for Midwife Sarah to check me. 7 cm! Woohoo! I was elated. Ben brought the laptop upstairs so we could keep watching the game while I got my IV of antibiotics for Group B strep. Sarah went downstairs and my mom made her a plate of leftovers so she could still have a Thanksgiving dinner even though she had missed being with her family. Someone called Kay and Chris to come and they arrived sometime between 6 and 7. Kay was on Serafina duty but also on guard duty: I didn’t want ANYONE coming up the stairs except for our “birth team”. By about halftime, I was ready to focus on laboring (at this point is was about 7 pm) so the laptop went away. We were able to keep up with the game, however, by gauging the elation and volume of the cheers coming up the stairs.
The next two hours went very quickly. My water still hadn’t broken and I continued to say no to having her break it. A few trips to and from the shower at the end of the hall, changing positions, and working on a birth ball helped bring me to 10 cm around 10 pm. Ben was an amazing birth partner and thankfully has the physical strength to handle me at my full term weight (with each kiddo, I’ve been just shy of the 200 pound mark #noshame #imgrowingatinyhuman). Whether I needed him to help me up, hold me up, or just hold me, his comforting grasp was just what I needed. We’re not dancers by any stretch of the word but God gave us a physical connection that allowed us to navigate the laboring space with very little direction or verbal communication.
Within this space of time (8-10 pm), there were a few minutes when everyone left the room to get something, go to the bathroom, etc. The only one left in the room was Maya, our wonderful Siberian Husky. She had set up camp next to the bed and hadn’t left since we came upstairs for the initial check around 6 pm. I got off the bed and sat in a child’s pose with my head on her fluff, nestling in to her and enjoying her loyalty. It’s amazing the bond between a dog and their owner and she truly is a full-fledged Zupke family member (she did leave once I went into transition and for pushing).
Something I missed out on during my short labor with Serafina was listening to music. I had made an upbeat playlist, a relaxing one, and one with worship songs but held her in my arms minutes after arriving at the hospital. When we turned off the football game, I got to start listening to the playlist we’d made for this baby. It featured Christmas music! One of our joking battles centers on when you’re supposed to start listening to Christmas music but he conceded that whether this baby came before or after Thanksgiving, he’d be okay with surrendering the battle this holiday season. Thankfully for him, we technically waited until after Thanksgiving was over (at least the food part).
Caleb was due the following day – on the 28th – and with Serafina having been born on her due date, Sarah jokingly asked if I wanted to wait until midnight to have him (it was about 10:15 pm). My water still hadn’t broken and she asked again if I wanted to have her break it. I felt really in tune with my body and again declined. At this point she also asked if I thought he’d come fairly soon or she’d need to consider giving me another IV of antibiotics. I knew we’d be meeting him soon so I declined that as well, though she left the port in (it was already in place from the prior IV). She encouraged me to change positions again but before as I got on my hands and knees to get off the bed, I realized this was the position in which I’d deliver Caleb.
Ben was at my head, supporting my shoulders, while I started to push. My water still hadn’t broken and finally a trickle of water started leaking, at which point I felt his head crown. Whoever named it the ring of fire wasn’t joking. I started to yell and Sarah reminded me to make my sounds purposeful so I deepened and focused the yell on my core and pushed. Hard. My water completely broke and Caleb’s head came out. I waited until the next contraction to push again and got his shoulders and torso out. Sarah asked me to keep pushing so they could get him all the way out so I did.
As soon as she had him in her hands, she handed him to me under my elevated torso and I collapsed down onto the bed in a seated position. Ben helped pull me up to the headboard so I could relax into it and cuddle Caleb into my chest. Over the next few minutes, I delivered my placenta (that uterus “massage” is the farthest thing from a massage I can think of!) and focused on letting Caleb root around on my chest. Sarah waited to do the newborn check until after everything had been cleaned up and we had a chance to introduce him to the family members that had stayed up to wait to meet him (he arrived at 10:30 pm). Ben and Chris opened the bottle of scotch and toasted our new son while Kay sat with me and admired God’s exquisite handiwork in such a small package. It was a truly joyous occasion.
It was an amazing feeling to already be in my own bed, in my own home, holding my first son. I can’t express in words the euphoria of holding a brand new little baby and watching our firstborn look at him with such love and longing. Serafina had been to all the midwife appointments and had listened to his heartbeeps (her word) his entire gestation and she had been anticipating his arrival almost as much as we were. My heart swelled with joy at having this version of our family all together for the first time.
The best part of the whole thing? Spending the next 72 hours confined to the upstairs of our home. Sarah forbade me to go down the stairs for at least 2 days, if not longer (and made Ben promise to hold me to it). It was a glorious time of soaking in every inch of the little blessing God gave us in Caleb. I’ve never felt God’s generosity and abundance more than in those first days. Ben was an amazing husband and caretaker, Serafina was a doting big sister, and carefully chosen family and friends came and shared in our joy. To top it all off, it snowed. I am tearing up just remembering it. I truly understood what Mary was feeling when the New Testament authors speak of her storing up these things in her heart.
*Ben’s family’s tradition is to get the tree on Thanksgiving while ours is to get the tree via heading up into the mountains and finding the best Charlie Brown tree possible. Since that wasn’t feasible this year, we went with their tradition instead, especially since they were at our house to enjoy the holiday with us!
And in case you want the snapshot version, here is what my husband remembers!
“You had two weeks of false labor. I remember you telling me to keep certain people at arm’s reach to keep your stress level down but also being adamant about having Thanksgiving here. Caleb listened to me when I told him to wait until Thanksgiving to show up. I also remember you telling me to not take too long getting the Christmas tree.
Thanksgiving made the most sense to have the bay since everyone would already be here AND I would be able to take off just the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas break without having to take unpaid days. Somehow, if we want something to work out that perfectly that bad, it seems to work out that way. The only bummer was that he wasn’t born an hour earlier because my sisters would have been there too. I also remember the cheering downstairs during the Seahawks-Niners game.
It (home birth) wasn’t exactly a relaxing experience but it was way better than the hospital. There were just as many people in the room as there were in the hospital but we knew these people, they were a lot more supportive. It also felt cleaner than the hospital in terms of the actual delivery and aftermath but there wasn’t any postpartum punch. I was glad to sleep in our own bed rather than being on a windowseat and it felt nice because everyone was already here whereas with Serafina, we had to call everyone to come.”