This is going to be long because I need to preface my daughter’s story with that of my son, for you to fully understand why home was the best place for me to give birth:
I didn’t go into labor with my son with any real expectation. I had a birth plan that requested minimal interventions, but I was determined to be flexible to the occasion. After more than a day of laboring, I was given one bully of a nurse who turned the birth of my child into a torture session rather than a beautiful event. I’m pretty sure it isn’t normal to bargain with the hospital staff for them to give you a sip of water if you can only push your baby out. There was pitocin, epidurals (that got turned off before the pitocin got turned on), an oxygen mask, threatened c-sections, nurses telling me to stop screaming, hep-locks ripped out of my hand and an unmedicated episiotomy that caused months of physical and psycological damage. At first, I was just happy to have a healthy baby but after a few months went by I began to realize the lasting emotional effects of such a traumatic birth.
In the amazing way that I believe only God can work, I sold some items on craigslist to a woman who happened to be a doula. Being as it is her profession and passion to talk about birth, we ended up discussing my birth story. She told me about meetings held monthly throughout the valley of women interested in birth and in the birthing profession (doulas, childbirth educators, midwives, lactation consultants). She suggested it might be healing to go hear what people had to say. I didn’t plan on going as I didn’t know anyone, but when I mapquested the address, I realized the house the meeting was held in was literally the neighbor behind me! Certainly this was fate. I went to the meeting and low and behold, the topic of the evening was birth stories. I shared mine and was saddened to learn it wasn’t the worst story in the room. What was inspiring though was a new mom that sat across from me. Her labor was just as long and also included vomiting. The difference was that she had two doulas with her at the hospital. She had these people reminding her what her wishes had been before she was exhausted and nearly two days into labor. In the end, she had a totally unmedicated birth and felt amazing afterward!
The more I talked to these women and researched, the more I felt as though my downfall had been in getting the epidural. As I read about labor patterns I realized that I had probably gotten the epidural during transition, the hardest part of labor. Once the meds trickled through my body, my body shut down. I didn’t progress for 12 hours, until I gave in to pitocin. That made sense! I don’t take drugs (prescription or otherwise) because I don’t tolerate most of them well, especially pain killers, because I panic….so my body went into panic mode when I stopped feeling the contractions and therefore, I quit laboring! I will always wonder how quickly or slowly my labor would have progressed had I not intervened.
With each meeting I came home to my husband revived and energized and not quite so fearful of having another baby. We had previously discussed our son being an only child. Labor had been traumatic not only for me and baby, but my husband and mother who had been there as well. My husband brought up homebirth first. I initially pushed the idea aside…but not out of the way. I had yet to decide, if I did have another baby, if I just wanted to make sure no one ever turned my epidural off or if I just didn’t want one at all.
In total, it took about 6 months of meetings, books, documentaries (watch the Business of Being Born!) and online research and we decided that yes, we wanted another baby and we both believed it to be more free of interventions, complications and far more comfortable if we did it within the loving walls of our own home.
The national cesarean rate at nearly 40% seemed outrageous to us and thinking back on our situation that could have easily turned that way, it appeared to be a rate based more on convenience for doctors, hospital staff (and a lot of time, moms!) than out of necessity. (Disclaimer: There ARE valid, medical reasons for a small percentage of surgical births and I am grateful it is an option) From the moment I walked through the doors, everything was prepping me for surgery…no food, no water, hep-lock. Fortunately, even though women getting induced (I did go into labor naturally but they induced when labor stopped) are twice as likely to end up birthing by c-section, I was spared major surgery. I feel like by planning to have my baby at home, if I do end up in the hospital at least I know there is a valid reason and it is not out of impatience of labor progression. In the last 60 years our country has medicalized the natural process of birthing healthy babies to healthy moms, treating woman as though they are sick.
My mom came into town on the 2nd of December, 2010 as baby’s “due” date was the 5th. On the 1st (39 weeks and 5 days, the exact date at which her brother arrived) I began having contractions. They were irregular, 5-10 min apart for oh, about 20 hours. Yes, 20 hours. Well, fast forward a week and still no baby. Just lots of contractions on the road to nowhere. My mom was due to leave on the 11th, but decided not to chance it and switched her flight to leave a few days later. By the 9th, contractions were picking up again and they seemed “different” somehow and I debated whether to have my midwife come out or not. I ended up in tears on the phone with her because I just couldn’t decide if this was “real” or not and definitely didn’t want to waste her time. Up until about 39 weeks I had been good and patient and not at all ready for baby to arrive. It was the contractions tricking me day in and day out that started to wear on me to the point where I finally decided I WAS ready and needed baby here pronto. Well, after hearing my tears, my sweet midwife arrived at my door with a brownie and ice cream. We also decided to check my cervix (until this point we had done no checks) and I was dilated to a 2…we felt comfortable with everyone getting some sleep and checking in the next morning.
Well, by 3 am the contractions had picked up enough that I felt ready to call in the team. My girlfriends had all had very brief second labors and I wasn’t taking any chances that my support would not be here!
Uh…”short” for me turned out to be 8 hours, not the 1 or 2 my girlfriends all had. During labor I actually mentioned this to my midwife and MAY have called these girls a not-so-nice name…maybe…
Like my labor with my son, I vomited. Unlike that labor, I was encouraged to eat (which I did not want to do) and drink (which they forced me to do) and they held peppermint oil under my nose to stave off the worst of the sickness. My doula reminded me at one point to just focus on the contraction at hand, not to worry about the ones to come. I didn’t say anything but inwardly I thought, “There’s going to be ANOTHER contraction?!” I had all the intentions in the world of studying hypnobabies (a self hypnosis technique to help with relaxation during labor) but never found the time to complete the program. I guess I picked up enough of it though because in between contractions I would drift off into a deep rest. It wasn’t quite sleep, but it helped.
The funny part of all this is that 5 feet away, our son was sound asleep in our bed. When he awoke at 7am to a room full of people he was completely unphased. He said hello to everyone and then went to find my mom who kept him busy all morning. Occasionally I heard him in the other room and later found out that my mom had told him I was “singing” and so he also decided to “sing” to baby to come out.
Around 8am things picked up for me. My poor husband…every time I needed to use the bathroom I would nearly cry because standing up I would have a contraction, have another on the way to the bathroom, another before I sat on the toilet, would have to stand up WHILE I was on the toilet to have one…the whole time gripping his shoulders with my life yelling at him to push my back, which he said he was doing but I totally couldn’t feel it. Sidenote: the next day I had horrible aching in my back from all that counterpressure I “couldn’t feel.”
I hadn’t slept since I had been awake with contractions, so I decided to lay in bed and just ride the contractions out there…they slowed a bit and again, I drifted off between contractions that I got enough rest to make it through, thank goodness. I remember at one point looking at my doula and almost panicking, saying, “I’m getting a break. Why am I getting a break? I don’t want a break because it will suck soon!”
My midwife asked me to get up from the bed because clearly my labor progressed faster when I stood. I went into the bathroom and at one point was holding onto the faucet thinking how mad my husband would be if I pulled it off because I remember how expensive and hard to install it was. Eventually, I somehow ended up on all fours. Apparently I made a different sound because all of a sudden my midwife, who had been in another room, was there asking if I wanted to have my baby in front of the toilet. I had been getting SLAMMED the last few minutes with contractions and couldn’t see an end in sight, so I really didn’t know why she was asking me that, but I logically said, “Well, THAT doesn’t seem sanitary!” At this point I still had not lost my plug nor had my water broken. On all fours, though, I was involuntarily pushing at the end of the contractions and could feel a strange bulging which I assumed was my bag of waters.
I got into the tub and on the second contraction there was a POP and my water broke. Then my midwife started giving my husband directions on how to catch the baby…I remember thinking, REALLY? NOW? I had worked so hard for so long, though I refused to look at the clock, but was somehow surprised that it would actually be over soon. I pushed for 10 min and yelled, “COME ON BABY!” and out came my 8lb 12oz baby girl at 12:15 pm. My husband caught her (he did not even look “down there” when my son was born), actually describing her to me as she came out, telling me she had hair and that he was touching her nose. Everyone told me I should try to look…but I couldn’t because I was clinging to the side of the tub with everyone behind me and I was afraid to let go in fear I couldn’t get my balance, mental or physical, back again. As soon as she was out we called my mom and son in, who said, “Hi baby!” He was so excited!
Holding my baby in my arms for the first time washed away any tiredness I had. What an amazing rush! The moments after a home birth are like nothing I experienced in the hospital. No mayhem, no bright lights. More importantly, I was never made to feel scared or threatened with a c-section if things didn’t progress on an abstract timeline. Lying in my bed, I suddenly looked down and said, “I have a BABY!” I gazed into my baby’s eyes and she gazed back and I was so overwhelmed that I began to cry…shortly followed by my midwife, her assistant and my mother. It was truly one of the best moments of my life and my husband remembers catching her as his, too.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant I highly recommend watching The Business of Being Born and reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Happy fifth birthday, my sweet baby girl!