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"Iím really happy in the end that I felt every last bit of the pain, and was as present as I could be. Whenever you go through something terrifying and come out the other side, you grow and have more self-respect... I wanted that more than I wanted whatever sort of numbing the hospital would have offered." Ani DiFranco
Further Reading » Model
Model Mother
COPYRIGHT 2000 @ Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In this exclusive excerpt from her personal diary, the world-famous supermodel shares the intimate details of the experience that transformed her marriage.

Let me start by saying that I don't think home birth is for everyone; I wouldn't want to pressure anyone into it. I just want to tell women that they have choices about their births and to encourage them to educate themselves about those choices. That's how I came to my decision--which was the perfect one for me.

At 6:30 p.m. on July 2, 1999, after 17 hours of labor, my son, Presley Walker, pushed his way into the world. As I held him on my stomach, I collapsed back against the pillows, overcome with emotion for this little creature, as well as for myself--Wow, I can't believe I did this!--because I'd given birth to him in our home, in our bed. I'd never imagined when I got pregnant that I would ultimately decide to deliver my baby at home with the help of a midwife.

The very day my husband, Rande, proposed to me in March 1998, we decided to try to start a family--no more of the tiny pills I'd been taking for years. Five months later, we were thrilled when those two thin lines appeared on the pregnancy test. I had to read the directions on the box over and over just to make sure that what I thought was really true.

I called my gynecologist with the news and scheduled my first ultrasound. (I also kissed my last margarita goodbye.) Rande and I fell in love instantly with our little lima bean blipping on the screen.

As soon as my pregnancy was confirmed, I began to feel big-time morning sickness, morning, noon, and night. (My sisters never got sick once, so I thought I'd coast through as well--but no such luck!) I tried crackers, lemon water, those wristbands for seasickness. Nothing helped. I finally found comfort in Taco Bell bean burritos--and not just one. I lost about five pounds those first few months anyway, because I just couldn't keep food down. Thankfully, it was a slow time for me professionally. And when I did have to work, I'd just put on a happy face. One day, somewhere around my twentieth week, the fog finally lifted and I felt better.

I had an amniocentesis at 16 weeks. Even though I was only 32, I wanted to be sure the baby would be healthy. When we got a passing grade, it was a relief--and a joy--to share our news with our friends and family. Up until then, we really hadn't told anyone we were pregnant. Some people actually thought I'd gotten my boobs done!

My friend Carol told me about a prenatal yoga class taught by a woman named Gurmukh, so we both signed up. (You know you've got a good friend when she'll go with you to a pregnancy yoga class and she's not even pregnant!) When we all put our hands on our bellies and sang to our babies, Carol followed along, singing to her "inner child."

That class changed my pregnancy. We'd start each session sitting in a circle, each of us saying our names, how far along our pregnancy was, and where we were giving birth. So it became something of a joke as everyone watched as I went from saying I was going to have a conventional birth at a New York City hospital, to "I don't know," to "home birth with a midwife."

The idea of home birth had always struck a chord with me, but I didn't realize that it was even a possibility or that I had a choice about who was going to deliver my baby or how. What changed my mind was a book Gurmukh recommended called Active Birth, which makes a powerful case about how rewarding natural birthing can be. The book made me want to know more. I began to ask questions of my doctors: How often do you do C-sections? Episiotomies? Use epidurals? Why can't I squat during delivery?

Some women I met through the class told me inspiring stories of having their babies at home. One woman who'd had one baby at home and one in the hospital told me, "Cindy, I cannot tell you how much more transcending the experience at home was, even for my husband."

I also heard stories of women who labored fine at home, but then arrived at the hospital only to find their contractions had slowed down (along with the dilation) because they weren't comfortable there. I learned that some hospitals don't let you squat because of liability, and because it's easier for doctors to see what is going on if you're lying on your back. But I didn't want decisions about my labor made because of the hospital's insurance carrier or what was easier for my doctor. If I wanted to be on the floor, I wanted the doctors there with me.

So I started looking into other options. I visited birthing rooms, but some felt like motel rooms--not as sterile as a hospital, but not as comfortable as a home. Then I thought I'd meet with a midwife, just to hear what she had to say.

Before I met my midwife, Shelly Girard, I wasn't at all convinced that this was something I wanted to do. But at our first "interview," she gave Rande and me a lot of confidence. I was scared about all the "what ifs." Rande couldn't understand why someone would risk having a baby at home if the best hospital care was available. She helped us understand that giving birth can be a risky business no matter where you do it.

Shelly told us she's helped deliver over 1,000 babies, and of those, fewer than 50 of the moms had to go to the hospital, and only two were rushed there. She explained that I'd have the benefit of experiencing continuous care from women I know--not just the labor-room nurse who happens to be on shift--and of being in a familiar environment. She repeated something I'd read in Active Birth: "Mothers birth best where they feel most comfortable."

Shelly was interviewing us as much as we were interviewing her. She made it clear that we both had to agree to this, that it wouldn't work if Rande was against it and I forced him into it. I think she also wanted to see what kind of relationship we have. In that intense, emotional experience, social niceties tend to get thrown out--home birth may not be a good idea for couples who have unresolved issues.

The decision to use a midwife wasn't made in one day, but after a few more visits with Shelly, we ultimately chose which risks we were willing to take, based on our research and my healthy pregnancy. (Contrary to some reports, privacy had nothing to do with our decision--we were only interested in finding the best way to bring our child into the world.) Still, I would always say that we were planning on having our baby at home, giving myself the freedom to change my mind at the last second. I also kept seeing my doctors. I was so scared to tell them my decision, that they were going to feel it was a criticism of them, and that they were going to talk me out of it. But they were very supportive. If I had changed my mind the day before, I know they would have welcomed me back.

We didn't tell many people about our decision because I was afraid they'd say we were crazy. I just didn't need that. I made a conscious effort to not be around people who I knew would have a problem with it because I didn't want their negativity to affect me. Once I made my decision, I wanted to stick with it.

Besides continuing to prepare myself physically (I kept up modified workouts and did yoga three times a week), I meditated and talked to the baby every night. We also took a childbirth class taught by Davi, one of our doulas. (A doula supports the mom during labor, soothing her, rubbing her back and feet. Yes, I know husbands are supposed to do this, but they have been known to pass out!) Her classes aren't about panting and breathing, but instead, about helping you understand what to expect. She told us not to try to run away from the pain, but to think of it as a huge wave: If you try to fight it, you're going to get slammed by it. You have to swim toward it and dive into it. She also suggested having our husbands practice what they were going to say to us during labor, to make sure that what they thought would comfort us actually would. Rande thought he'd say things like "It's no big deal" or "It's going to be fine." Rehearsing this was a good idea, because if he had said that to me during labor, I would have wanted to punch him. So instead he made a CD for me of my favorite music, named it "Angel Baby," and put our baby's sonogram picture in the CD case.

Shelly told me not to get fixated on my due date, but I couldn't help myself. Around June 16, a week before my due date, I started thinking, Okay, it could be any day now. But my due date came and went. My mother came to visit, but still no baby. I didn't even want to go to my yoga class at the end, because we had to say how far along we were, and they'd all look at me as if to say, You're still here?

In the end, I was almost two weeks overdue. I'd spent that day taking care of myself--I went to yoga and had a facial. Then Rande and I went out to dinner in Santa Monica and took a long walk along the promenade.

On Friday, July 2, I woke up at 1:30 a.m. with stomach cramps. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must have thought, This could be labor, but I wasn't sure. I tried rocking and walking around the house. After an hour, I woke Rande up: "Ran, I think I'm in labor." He looked so flustered and immediately asked for his watch. I'd already found it and had been timing my pains at five-minute intervals. Then we timed a few together. They were ranging between five and seven minutes apart, but not lasting longer than 45 seconds--too early to call Shelly.

I decided I wanted some fresh air. I wrapped a red scarf around my shoulders and started walking around the pool. Rande kept me company. At some point, I went back inside and cleaned up the kitchen, knowing that people would be in my house and not wanting them to think I'm a poor housekeeper. Finally, at 3:45 a.m., we called Shelly, who told me to keep drinking water and to try to get some rest. (Yeah, right!) She said she'd check back in a few hours.

We went back to bed, but I wasn't able to lie down during my contractions. Every five minutes I jumped up to lean over the bed and breathe into the contraction. My bowels were also emptying out, so between that and the contractions, I couldn't get much rest.

Around 8:15 a.m., I decided I wanted to get in the Jacuzzi; Rande got in with me. Being able to move around in the warm water was soothing. I kept talking to myself, saying all the things I'd learned in Davi's class: "Yes, I want this, come on baby, down and out, open cervix, as wide as the universe." An hour later, Shelly called. We timed some contractions, and again, she said to drink and try to rest. I thought she was out of her mind.

I put on an old pair of Rande's sweatpants and a T-shirt and got back into bed. Then he left me alone in the bedroom. I could hear him on the phone, trying to get everyone organized: my assistant, Naomi (to make sure there was food in the house and to cancel the pool guy and the gardeners), and our security guy, Bill (to chase away any paparazzi and to provide emergency transportation to the hospital if necessary). I also heard him call his brother, Scott, at their office. Part of me was annoyed that Ran was able to conduct business as usual while my body was racked with pain. But I was also glad he wasn't there, because it helped me focus inward.

Ran came back to check on me at 10 a.m. I was finally ready for my support team, so he called Seannie, our other doula. When she arrived at our house about an hour later, we were sitting on the terrace outside our bedroom. I remember being happy to see her. I could still talk, but I was quickly moving toward active labor. Since it was a warm, sunny day, Seannie moved me back inside; she was afraid I would overheat.

Seannie set me up on the bed in such a way that I was finally able to get some "sleep": Kneeling on all fours over three big pillows, I would pick myself up for the contractions, then sink back into the pillows. She massaged my feet and made sure I had lots of water and chicken broth. At one point, she offered me chamomile tea for the pain. I thought to myself, That's it? Breathe, breathe, breathe, count to ten.

When Shelly arrived around 1:15 p.m., she wanted to give me a checkup. She had me roll onto my back between contractions and bend one leg up. She started to examine me internally, but it hurt. I said, "Ow, do you have to examine me?" She said she did, and reported that I was dilated 8 centimeters (cm)--wonderful news. I'd been afraid she would say I was only 2 or 3 cm. Knowing I'd gotten that far gave me the confidence to keep going.

All along, Rande was in and out of the room, tying up some loose ends in his business and around the house. It was hard for him to just sit with me without being able to help. He tried to joke with me, but I told him not to pull me out of the zone. I remember at one point Shelly asked if anyone had any gum. Ran went into the kitchen and came back with a few packs, and handed pieces out to everyone. They all then started having a discussion about whether it was better to chew one piece of gum or two at once. It was absolutely surreal. There I was, in active labor, and they're debating about gum! I wanted to tell them to shut up, but at that point, I couldn't even talk.

I labored on in various positions until about 3 p.m. Finally, I asked what we were waiting for. Shelly said, "You." She examined me again, and I was dilated 10 cm. She said I could begin pushing whenever I felt like it. I didn't have the urge to push, but I thought we might as well get on with it.

I had trouble finding the right position for pushing. I tried on my side, then in a squat at the end of the bed, then back in the bed on all fours. I started getting frustrated and scared that I wouldn't be able to do this. I remember saying, "I don't think I can do this." Someone said, "Yes, you can, you are doing it."

Shelly had said the worst part was over back when I was finally fully dilated. During the pushing, I remember saying to her, "You lied--this is the worst."

Finally, around 4:30 or 5 p.m., I connected with a more effective push, and I started making some headway. Shelly encouraged me to reach down and touch the head, hoping that would help me push. I remember feeling hair and a lumpy, fleshy thing that felt nothing at all like a head.

I pushed for another hour and a half while lying on my back. Rande was great, wiping my face with a cool cloth, holding me, telling me he could see our baby's head. I was overwhelmed by the sense of burning and stretching--the ring of fire. Pushing into that pain was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life. That's the only time I remember crying.

Breathe, breathe, breathe, a few more pushes, and out popped the head. A flurry of activity down there, then out came the shoulders. Finally, the rest of my baby slithered out. Rande asked, "What is it?" And someone said, "It's a boy." I looked down at my baby, then at Ran and said, "I gave you a son, I gave you a son." I don't even remember the baby crying, but his mouth is open in some of the pictures, so he must have been. We h

ad discussed names like everyone does, but when we saw him, the name Presley just seemed to fit. Now he's Pee Wee and P-Man. Would I give birth at home again? Definitely--if I were having a healthy pregnancy and if I were close enough to a hospital so I could get there if I needed to. It was an incredible experience for all of us. Presley was born in our bed, and he slept in our bed, between us, that night. He never had to be around bright lights, cold surfaces, or strangers. From the start, he was very alert, but also very mellow. Maybe that's just his personality, but I like to think that how he came into the world has something to do with it.

As for Rande, he was right there. Because he hates hospitals, he might have been just a spectator there. But in our house, he felt comfortable--he was the male energy in the room. He took a lot of convincing, but in the end, I know he much preferred our home birth to what we would have had in a hospital.

I think Rande is proud of me for going through it, but I also feel proud of myself. When you're pregnant, women ask, "Who's delivering you? "--meaning, who is your doctor? But I delivered our baby myself, with the help of these experienced women. For me, after going through the pain, there was such an incredible high.

But as any mother can tell you, having a baby is a high no matter what.