Quantified home birth


Timing contractions, 04.11.2014

On November 4th, 2014, my wife gave birth to our son Liam James, at our home, or more specifically on the floor of our bedroom beside the night table, at 16h36, along with the help of two midwives. That was more than six months ago and I thought I would have a look back to see what I quantified that day, both in a nostalgic way and to analyse whether on such an important day, quantifying teaches me anything.

That day, I took 3967 steps, wrote 4 pages in my log book and took 1597 photos with my narrative camera. Normally, during a regular work day, I take about 8 to 9000 steps a day, write 6-8 pages and take around the same number of pictures, so looking at it objectively, only the numbers, the birth day looks like a typical Saturday or Sunday. I even took fewer steps than a typical weekend, on November 4th I don’t think I left the house all day (see Figure 1).


Things got a bit restless early that morning, starting around 1h30 (according to my wife, I was asleep), and we both got up around 5h30, when it seemed like the contractions were not just visiting but were going to stick around. All this was a bit earlier than we expected, but within the normal time frame (38 weeks). Based on the midwife’s instructions, I started timing the contractions (and writing down the numbers in my notebook), to see how far we were into labour already. Apparently there are preliminary contractions first (passive labour) which occur every few minutes but not consistently, leading up to active labour, where contractions last longer (about 1 minute) and are consistently every 3-4 minutes. Of course at the early stage (read, six o’clock in the morning), you always think that birth is imminent, but we still had a bit more to go.

I had heard that there were apps to help time contractions, but had not realized there were so many! Today, if I search for “birth contractions” in Google play, I get 48 apps. Since I was in a hurry, I used the first one (1 million downloads), Contraction timer by James Ots (thanks James!). I couldn’t figure out how to export or print the data, so l keep them there on my phone for old times sake. The next day I also thought that I could use the contraction timer for other things, as an easy way to time certain repeated short events, that are not easy to time using a watch or log book. For example, when taking the metro, you could time how often you spend sitting vs. standing. In any case, I enjoyed using the app, but I think I had a better time timing the contractions than my better half.

While timing contractions I found out a bit more about my favorite long time friend quantifier, my Ironman watch. I’ve had one for years and can’t get rid of it as much as I try (it was even on my wrist during our wedding, and kind of messes up the photos of the putting on the rings). So I found out that day what 30 laps means to the watch. If you time something and press the split button, that’s one lap (or in this case one interval between contractions), press again and a rest period (or a contraction time), and so on. I thought it only could split 30 laps, but actually it can do much more, the only thing is that only the first 30 laps are kept in its memory. So I was timing for about 50 laps, and then found only 30 data points.

My log notes about that day are mostly full of contraction times, when they started and how long they lasted. There are some notes about my wife’s back pain (I forgot about that), phoning the mid wife around 10h30, and then about half a page summing up the main events, after all was said and done. The two midwives arrived around 12h30, we set up a pool (no log book, fitbit or cameras in there!), around 14h00 the contractions were more consistent, every two-three minutes, Liam was born at 16h36 and the midwives left around 18h00. There was quite an amusing part, not caught by any logging device, when, just as Liam was crowning, about to come out, the doorbell rang. I was completely out of it, but my wife, always in control, remembered it was our local CSA box with organic veggies. “It’s the veggie box, you’ve got to give him 12 euros!” she told the helper midwife, while breathing and pushing. Mario (our veggie box provider), who had to wait just a bit, was delighted to know that he had somehow participated in the birth.

The narrative photos of that day are quite nice to have. I left the camera in the living room from about 14h00 to 18h00, so there are no “explicit” pixels but it is interesting to see what things we were doing the day before, that morning, and afterward. However, during the active birthing, say 14-16h00, the idea of quantifying just wilted away, it just did not seem appropriate, necessary or even welcome. There were a lot of emotions in the air, things hard to explain or grasp unless you were there. When holding my wife in my arms, as she was pushing, wondering who I could pray to so that everything would turn out ok, I tried to make friends with the contractions, breathe with her and tell her how much I loved her and how everything would be ok. During those moments no quantifying crossed my head, my watch was timing something, but that was far away.

Between the log book, the fitbit and the narrative photos, the photos do a better job of taking us back to that day, even though they are a long way from explaining the real thing. But then again, there may be no need to, a unique experience, an unquantifiable experience.



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