The Beauty of a Home Birth | Henley's Birth Story | Pekin, IL
I’ve had a fair share of best friends in my very long 26 and a half years of life. I’ve had friends I let go, I’ve had friends that have broken up with me, I’ve had friends that I don’t even know what happened to. We just… stopped. When I became a mom, that feeling of being friendless magnified tenfold. New and young moms understand. You just sort of lose yourself despite all efforts to not succumb to the draw of beautiful baby gurgles.
When life changes, your relationships somehow manage to change with it. The friends that stick through it all, they aren’t heroes by any means. You look back and you wonder, how did we even make it this far? This friend, she’s your Underdog. She’s the one you put on the back burner but can talk after a month, two months, a year like nothing in the world has changed between you. You pick up right where you left off and you don’t miss a beat. The Underdog is pretty cool like that. I don’t know about you, but my underdog isn’t the girl that drinks all the wine with me. She doesn’t go out to dinner with me and take selfies. I actually think the only pictures we have had together in the last several years have been our annual Fourth of July selfie! If we’ve done it two years in a row, we can call it a tradition, right?
My Underdog and I go way back. Not like Kindergarten way back. That was another friend I ungraciously left behind in life. Chrystal and I met in the fourth grade when I moved to Marquette Heights. My early memories of our friendship are probably what all of us in that “squad” remember: she had THE BEST birthday parties. That’s a bit of a feat when you have a December birthday. I remember before Kohl’s in East Peoria was a department store, it was a hotel. We were in the 7th or 8th grade and there was this high school basketball team we all kept trying to flirt with at the pool like a bunch of complete idiots. Us, a bunch of 13 year old girls, flirting with 17 and 18 year old boys. Complete idiots. Stephanie, Heather, Jeana… you ladies remember this? I’m literally crying right now thinking about it and seem to have fleeting memories of maybe Nikki Dowds mooning someone? It must have been 7th grade, because 8th grade was the Holiday Inn party.
But that’s what childhood is for, right? Chrystal (The Underdog) and I had the great American childhood together. We were bullied together, we walked to school together in the snow, played volleyball together, and had a nearly identical school schedule through junior high. Some of my very best memories include Chrystal right by my side in the Advanced Art room. Parents divorcing. Moving to different towns. Transitioning to high school. Breadstick lunch line every day of Freshman year. Boyfriends. And boy did that high school boyfriend change Chrystal’s life.
Junior year Chrystal and I still manage to have classes together in a school with over 2200 students in it. And the biggest thing she could have ever told me, she told me right there at school. Sitting in the digital media lab, trying to walk me through Photoshop CS3 (go ahead and laugh fellow photographers!), she very nonchalantly turns and says, “So I think I might be pregnant.”
WHAT THE SUITCASE.
“Uh, you think you might be?”
“Well, I mean I guess I am. I took a test and it was positive.”
And that’s how you give a 17 year old girl a heart attack. YOU CAN’T HAVE A BABY. WE’RE IN HIGH SCHOOL. But here’s the very wonderful thing about Chrystal. Despite how much her world was about to be turned upside down, ripped apart, stitched back together, covered in witch hazel pads and nursed back to health, she was just Chrystal. She was talking like being pregnant was the most natural thing that could ever happen to a 17 year old. I can’t recall any more of our conversation. I can tell you the TERRIBLE portrait I was editing on Photoshop CS3 though. It was awful.
Chrystal and Joey did all the things after that. They had a baby girl. They got married, they bought a house. They had a little boy. They got a dog. Joey pursued and completed his bachelor’s degree. And then somewhere along the line, Chrystal and I fell back together again as we always manage to do. I think her husband has regretted it. HA, just kidding!
You see, Chrystal and I did the thing all great besties do: we had babies together! Two of them. First came Clark and Hudson, then Alanna and Henley. Or in husband terms, first came moby wraps, then came cloth diapers, last came tulas (and ring slings, and woven wraps, and amber teething necklaces, and Norwex…). Chrystal was my experienced mom friend. And when Hudson was born, I was sending her selfies of me with a frozen turkey, telling her that her 11 pounder would arrive any time now.
Through our many playdates, McDonald’s trips, library outings and general 12 phone calls a day (seriously, we call each other sometimes 12 times a day), our sons have become fast friends. There’s no denying that. They even facetime each other now. So naturally when I found myself expecting number two, I heavily pressured Chrystal into making my little Alanna a best friend! And Chrystal did not disappoint!
That, my friends, brings us to the real story here: Henley.
Chrystal is nearly unrecognizable from the teen mom she started as. She has an Attachment Parenting focus now. She advocates breastfeeding, babywearing, and all things crunchy. So as her pregnancy with Henley progressed, it was the most obvious conclusion that a home birth was for her. And Joey, being the awesome and supportive husband and father he is, backed this decision despite a little misgiving in the beginning. I don’t even know how we really came to the agreement that I would photograph Henley’s birth, but at some point (just after posting Jen’s story) we did agree that birth photography was a MUST this time. Chrystal was going to do it all, no regrets.
And arrive Henley did… over several days… with a couple of false alarms for me. I think twice I ended up calling my handy, dandy sister-in-law to come sit with my kids in the event I would be whisked away in the night by the call! Uh no. Negative ghost rider. Henley took his sweet time.
Just after midnight I arrived across town to Chrystal and Joey’s home. Because I’m super cool and we’re the best of friends now, I just waltzed on in and got myself a glass of water and cracked a couple of jokes. Chrystal had just gotten into the birth pool in her living room and was doing really well. She may not have felt that way, but she certainly was. I distinctly remember her being upset Henley had the hiccups. Womb hiccups are the worst! Haha.
It’s a grand thing to see the people you love most conquer their own fears, achieve their goals and live out their dreams. Chrystal was doing that on both a very large scale by having the home birth she had been envisioning for months and months and on a very small scale by getting to eat during labor! She delivered her fourth child in exactly the way she imaged though: at home, with the loving support of her husband by her side. And she needed it with a baby who didn’t have the easiest head presentation. She powered through around 50 minutes of uncoached pushing, meaning she listened to her body and what it needed. A push here. A push there. Me cracking a joke. Joey applying much needed counter pressure. A push. A position change. A push.
And in those very last moments, when you are not sure that wonderful and perfect baby will ever come through to this side of the world, a baby is born. A life pushes through. A mother powers through her most broken and jubilant selfs simultaneously to hold that precious life in her arms for the very first time, against her chest… head resting right back on the heart he just heard beating from the inside.
Childbirth is a beautiful and miraculous thing. A home birth especially. You just curl up in your own bed, a plate of mozzarella sticks at 3:00 a.m. and just be.
I am so happy for my best friend who was able to end her birth story in exactly the way she wanted to. She had unending support from her midwife Amie Hernandez (currently of The Bloomington Birth Center) and says:
I loved Amie! She was such a nice genuine person who really loves her job. She always made me feel like I was her only client/patient. She always made sure I had everything and every question answered. She was always willing to come out and check progress of labor even though I wasn't sure I was in labor lol. And always encouraged me with the right words at the right time.
Amie helped Chrystal feel like she had control over her birth and fueled her with hope, with education and with determination to have a safe and gentle birth for Henley. Is there much more you could ask for?