I’ve never imagined a birth so serene and supportive, and I was honored to witness this miraculous gift from G-d. This is the beautiful story of Matan Hallel Katz.
Here are my photographs, followed by the mother, Ruth’s, incredible story in her own words below…
On Wednesday, August 6th (40+5) I stayed in bed after a sleepless night cursed with shooting hip and dulled lower back pain. The chronic hip pain of this pregnancy had produced many hard nights and groggy mornings. Between my sleep deprived daze and that with my other births I went through early labor without noticeable contractions, it actually took until almost 10am for it to dawn on me that the back pain was coming and going at regular intervals. I grabbed my iPhone and despite this being my third, I actually Googled “back pain contractions”, confirming that what I was feeling was most likely the beginning of labor. The next thing I did was download a contraction counter app (what a tech savvy world we live in!) and began monitoring these contractions, seeing that they were regular – every 3-5 mins and lasting for 25-45 seconds.
By noon these lower back contractions were radiating towards the front and I told Menachem, my husband, to wrap things up at work, call the midwives and come on home. I had two rather quick labors that progressed quickly and intensely and after a short few hours of contractions then a baby! So this early labor held my husband and I in suspense.
Shortly after my husband arrived home, my mom picked up my older children Evan, 4, and Lev, 3, from summer camp and brought them home. Menachem and the boys excitedly blew up the birth pool together while I relaxed on the couch, attached to my phone timing mild, non-painful contractions coming regularly. Once the pool was inflated, my very excited children jumped around the pool. They particularly liked taking turns jumping down from the seat inside the pool and exclaiming “Potch is coming!”. I joined in the fun with them, breathing through somewhat more annoying contractions until I was overwhelmed. After announcing to everyone that it was now time for pizza and a movie at my inlaws house across town, we ushered the kids out the door with my mom with plans for them to not return until bedtime unless instructed otherwise. The last thing I heard was Evan telling his younger brother that soon they would come home to swim with Mommy and the baby!
Utterly exhausted from the excitement of having the kids around, I returned to the couch where Menachem fed me a spelt almond croissant with ice cream and filled my glass with a special wine we had picked up at a favorite winery earlier in my pregnancy. I craved the sweetness of the food while I was resting and then with every contraction I was overcome with nauseous. I kept telling myself, next time I am requesting a savory meal, but continued to enjoy my overly sweet plate. After eating I tried to lay down and sleep. My last labor began as I laid down for an afternoon nap and I was absolutely drained for the duration. I refused to let that happen again this time around. My contractions slowed while I slept, waking me every 8 minutes for 25-35 seconds (I still had the app going!), but allowing me to sleep between them. After 45 minutes I decided that was enough and that I wanted to transition into the bathtub. Menachem created the most beautiful, calming atmosphere, replacing bath toys with candles and putting drops of frankincense in the diffuser. Before climbing into the fragrant warm water, I attempted to check myself, pretty sure I could fit two fingers in my cervix, but since I had yet to have a painful contraction I was in doubt I was that far along. In both of my previous births I went from 4cm to birth within an hour. The end was fast and intense and this labor had been so mild, peaceful and gentle that I wasn’t completely ready to admit I was in active labor.
As I sat relaxing in the warm water, my midwives called – by this time it was after 5pm. Menachem told them that everything was more or less the same and after hanging up tells me that they were heading back home and to call if things picked up. I felt like I was being deserted and I panicked. “What? They aren’t even going to come check on me? That’s ridiculous! I don’t even for sure know how to check myself. What if I am father than I think I am? What if the baby comes without them?” Menachem quickly called them back and they reassured us that they were on their way.
I was still in the bath when Leigh and Rachel arrived. They took their time coming in to check me, respecting the space that Menachem and I had created. Rachel checked me – 6cm! I was in shock. How did I get to 6cm without a single painful contraction? I had never been checked at 6cm. I had always gone from a 4cm check to birth without being checked again. This was uncharted territory.
At that point we decided to call our dear friend Rebecca, who was photographing the birth. Since this birth had already been longer than my other two cumulatively, I had surrendered to this birth being completely different. Menachem suggested to Rebecca that maybe she should come and take a few shots of the house set up for the birth and earlier stages of labor and then return later to shoot the actual birth.
A little after Rebecca arrived and started shooting, I climbed out of the tub and tried to sit on the toilet, a position that had been a favorite in my previous labors. In this position I had one hard, but not entirely painful contraction and instead of this position providing relief, it intensified the contraction, making me want to climb out of my skin. I got dressed feeling like I wanted to spend some time on the birthing ball before moving into the pool and had another intense contraction, forcing me to hang onto the vanity in the bathroom. Rachel, witnessing the contraction, offering that if we wanted to birth in the bathroom alone just the two of us that would be fine but she just wanted to tell Menachem a few things. I actually laughed. I thought I still had a lot of time and I had no intention of giving birth in the bathroom with my kid’s hamper overflowing and my cat’s litter box needing a cleaning. I asked Menachem to read me my affirmations that I had posted all over the bathroom, ending with my friend Tzipora’s poetic rundown of the raw emotions of birth. “Inhale PEACE, EXHALE tension. PEACE in, tension OUT.”
Leaving the bathroom, with a renewed calmness, I headed to the birthing ball, expecting to find some comfort. Just like the toilet, I could not stay in this position and it was more painful than the contractions themselves. With one last strong and long contraction with Rachel squeezing my hips, I was ready for the pool – by now it was after 7pm.
The water felt phenomenal. Bathtubs are fabulous but the spaciousness and depth of a birth pool enveloped and welcomed me. In the water I had two very close together and painful contractions. After being blessed with only gentle contractions, these fierce contractions generated self doubt in me. I reached down hoping to feel my baby’s head, doubting my capability to survive another agonizing contraction. I couldn’t feel anything. No pressure from the head, no crowning, no head close to the birth canal. “I don’t think I can do this,” I whined to Menachem. Then I decided I would just try to push despite knowing I wasn’t crowning and not feeling a strong urge to push.
“I want this BABY!!!” I screamed as I pushed. And the next thing that happened was nothing short of miraculous, altogether otherworldly. I felt my baby’s head descend and crown and come into this world. And then without pause, his shoulders followed and the rest of his body. He was born wholly in one push inside his intact amniotic sac. One moment he wasn’t even in the birth canal and then he was just as quickly out. Rachel swooped in to release him from the sac and Menachem lifted him out of the water, giving him to me and checked the time – it was 7:45pm.
After a few special moments enjoying this new life with my husband, I realized I wanted my mother and children to come home. Moments after asking Menachem to call my mother and tell her they could slowly start making their way home, before he even picked up his phone, they walked in the door completely unaware of the scene they were descending on. The look of shock and excitement on the three of their faces will always make me giggle. My mother’s sheer awe at the unexpected was priceless. And my two surprisingly intuitive boys had deep wonder and timidness in their eyes.
By this time both my baby and I were getting uncomfortable and having a hard time staying in the water. I had desired to birth the placenta in the water because in my previous homebirth I had been unexpectedly forbidden to, but I could barely keep my bottom on the seat, baby was cold and the couch was looking very enticing.
In birth, my power truly astounds me. I am completely astonished and amazed at my raw strength and intuition to birth without any interference. When planning this birth I even flirted with the idea of unassisted birth, knowing that I do not need my midwives. Not really. Having midwives around even makes me somewhat nervous – it makes me want to be reassured that everything is “ok” and I want them to “do” something when there is no reason to intervene or do anything at all. In fact, I have never felt prouder of my solo accomplishments then immediately after pushing my babies out.
And then I get to birthing the placenta and bearing the afterpains, and everything changes and I emotionally need my midwives, someone to take care of me and “do” something. One moment I am completely unhindered, trusting, fearless, and powerful, in charge of my gorgeous, ethereal birth. And the next moment, I plummet back to the temporal world, fear my body is betraying itself and I want to skip this part, climb into bed with my newborn and just be done. It was good that my children were in the room and taking in the whole scene. It forced me to hold back my tears and prevented me from fully succumbing to the pain.
After the placenta was out, I basked in the sacred space of my family around me while my baby eagerly began to nurse. Evan and Lev excitedly described the activity around them over and over again always concluding with “… and Potch came out from your belly!” Intermittently they would peek at their brother’s umbilical cord and gently stroke his back and legs. After some time, Rachel prepped the umbilical cord to be cut and Evan and Lev cut it with Menachem’s help before being sent off to bed. As exhaustion caught up with me, I was corporally aware of the sticky blood between my legs and yearned for a shower. I left my baby to be weighed and measured – 3.85kg and 54.6cm! – and returned clean and refreshed and still blown away that this birth that we had spent months preparing and planning had come to its end. As I watched Leigh and Rachel attempt to siphon and carry buckets of water from the birth pool to the bathroom (they forgot their pump!), I couldn’t even begin to process what we had just experienced. This was the most amazing, beautiful birth. The fact is there IS perfect birth.
Simple. Beautiful. Peaceful. Perfect Birth. Birth without fear. Sacred Birth.
This birth was everything I had hoped it to be.