Dave and I tried to get pregnant for a year and a half, so I had plenty of time to read up on pregnancy and childbirth. Once I started looking into the rise of C-Sections in America, everything I read just led me further down the path of wanting a home birth. And I was nowhere near wanting a home birth when I started, but when the best birthing hospital in my area has a 47% C-Section rate, something is terribly wrong. Once I was convinced that home birth is just as safe, if not safer, for normal and healthy births, my mind was made up.
A quick search on the internet lead me to Karen, and I got an instant feeling that I found the right midwife. She recommended that I also find an OB for "back up" in the event any complications arose during pregnancy or labor. I felt comfortable that she wouldn't try to dissuade me if I decided to go to the hospital for any reason, even if it was only for pain medicine. This was my first baby after all and I didn't know what I was getting myself into. My only concern was that I didn’t want to risk my baby’s safety. And I sort of didn’t want to die either.
Besides the Midwife and OB, I also saw a chiropractor regularly, ate mostly healthy foods from a local farm and stayed active. I continued working out with a trainer in the beginning, and then tapered down my exercise from there. I also took a Birth Works class with my husband.
I decided not to tell my back up OB practice that they were only a back up. Since there are no known home birth friendly OBs in Baltimore, I chose a practice right by my house. I originally planned to tell the doctors about my home birth, but as I waited for the right moment, my intuition grew stronger that they would not be cool with my choice. I didn't like this deception, but I felt that for my baby’s safety, I couldn’t risk being dismissed from their practice.
At my 41 week OB appointment, the OB was concerned about a high blood pressure reading and ordered me to labor and delivery to be induced. The nurse ticked me off right before taking my blood pressure, so I knew the reading was only temporarily high. I also had my blood pressure taken earlier that day by Karen and it was fine. The doctor didn’t listen to me at all. Instead, he called down to labor and delivery and made my reservation. When I asked him for a non-stress test and a biophysical profile, he refused. He went on to tell me that my baby could die and that they had 4 fetal deaths there that month and didn’t want to take any chances. I guess that was supposed to make me want to rush right down there. What is up with him telling me that??
Karen was also concerned about the reading they got and said that it may be necessary for me to go to the hospital. Before I made my decision, I went to the fire station and asked them to take my blood pressure. Since they got a normal reading, I was convinced that the high reading was indeed due to the nurse ticking me off. Karen was much happier with the number the fireman got and instructed me to buy a blood pressure cuff and monitor my blood pressure through the evening. She also said if the baby was ready to come out, castor oil would get things moving. I drank a peanut butter and castor oil milkshake and yes, it tasted as good as it sounds.
Later that evening, the female OB called. She was pretty ticked that I never showed up at the hospital. We had a short conversation where she didn’t acknowledge anything I said and she treated me like I was purposefully endangering my baby. I told her that I wanted to give him a few more days to come out on his own. I also said I was refused a non-stress test and biophysical profile by the other doctor. If those tests showed any signs of distress, of course I would go get induced. She stressed that I HAD to come into the office in the morning, and if I didn't they would separate care.
After that lovely call, I went downstairs and watchedThe Business of Being Born with Dave, my mom and his mom. By the end of the movie I was having contractions and diarrhea. (TMI, I know, but that's what castor oil does!). I called Karen to give her a heads up, and we all went straight to bed to try to get some rest for the big day.
I labored by myself through the night. I started to notice how painful contractions are while laying down. The pain would make me jump out of bed, but walking around seemed to take away most of it. When the contractions started getting strong, I felt like I either had to poop, pee or puke. So I started a routine where every five minutes, I would jump out of bed, go to the bathroom and either puke or sit on the toilet. I also noticed that when the contraction was over, I would get this rush of euphoria that actually felt really good. I don't know what that was about, but it was awesome and helped me deal with the pain.
My mom, Dave's mom and Dave were all asleep and snoring and I remember getting pretty annoyed having to listen to it. I broke out my IPOD and tried to listen to my meditations, but they were snoring too loud for me to focus on them, so I started jamming to music instead.
I also took baths. I took about 4 over the course of the night. I was surprised how much the warm water (and singing to Ke$ha and Lady Gaga) took away the pain. It also helped kill time. Before I knew it, it was 8am and I called Karen. I knew that my baby was coming soon and that I wouldn’t need the non-stress test or Pitocin, so I also called the OB office and informed the nurse of my decision to drop out of their practice.
At 11am, Karen and Katie arrived. They checked my progress and found that I was at 5 cm already. I was so pleased that I was halfway!! I'd been having contractions for 14 hours or so, but I had mentally prepared for a much longer and torturous experience. Don’t get me wrong, there was pain, but all my research on relaxation techniques paid off. I was able to stay (mostly) relaxed during each contraction, letting it be strong and letting my body do its job. I also kept walking or standing to let gravity assist. Dave kept bringing me food, which I would immediately throw up during my next contraction, but I felt like it gave me some fuel to keep going.
We had all these plans that we would light candles and Dave would give me massages, etc, but when the time came, I didn't want to be touched. Both the midwives and Dave would remind me to moan in lower tones as my pitch started to climb higher in relation to the pain. That was so annoying and I finally yelled, "STOP!" because I didn't particularly care for being critiqued on my birthing sounds. It’s funny now because they were just trying to help, but if there is any time where a woman is going to take something personally, it’s then.
A few hours later, I was at 8 cm! Again I was pleased with my progress. At that point, I wanted to get into the birthing tub, but Karen said it was too hot. So she, Katie and Dave started a bucket brigade, taking hot water out and dumping cold water in.
I was getting so impatient because I was in pain and I wanted IN THE TUB! I had to make a conscious decision not to yell at anyone. I took that time instead to think quietly to myself : "What the hell was I thinking?", "This is the worst idea I ever had", "I want drugs", "I want a C-Section", "I'm never having another baby", “Dave can’t make me”, etc. Thank goodness the midwives were there. I liked them and didn't want them to think I was a shrew, so I bit my tongue. Finally, Karen checked the temperature and said I could get in. I immediately ripped off all my clothes except a T-Shirt and jumped in. I didn’t feel like going full “National Geographic” in front of everyone.
I instantly felt better. The water felt so good, and I just floated and felt relieved for a while. The midwives went downstairs to drink coffee and eat the snacks I had for them, but it wasn't long at all before I felt like I wanted to push. I can’t really describe it, but I couldn't feel my contractions anymore. I just got urges every once in a while to push. And sometimes I got urges to rest for a few minutes or change positions. Dave and the midwives made suggestions on my position, but I just did my thing on my own.
I didn't feel like I was making progress with my pushes, but the midwives assured me they could feel a difference each time I pushed. They also kept monitoring the baby's heartbeat, which was annoying because I didn't like people touching me. Obviously I knew it was important to know the baby was okay, but the monitoring made me work harder during my pushes. That was partly because I wanted it to stop, but also because it gave me a sense of purpose. I wanted to make sure my baby didn't go into distress, so the sooner he came out the better. I used my puke bucket as a focal point. It had a warning printed on the side, a drawing of a baby falling head-first into the bucket. Something about seeing a head-down baby in trouble helped me focus.
At some point I bit the side of the tub. It helped muffle the increasingly louder sounds I was making. I wouldn't call them moans or screams. I guess a grunt is more like it. It’s the sound people make at the gym when lifting weights. And I know everyone says this, but it really does feel like you’re taking a really big crap. At some point I said, "I can't". I don't know why I said it. I heard there's a point near the end when every woman says it, so I just decided to say it, too. I didn't really feel like I couldn't do it, I just hoped if I said it, it would mean that it was almost over.
Soon after that, Katie said the head was really close to coming out. I just decided to quit messing around and push him out. I could tell he was really close and I was holding on to Dave's arms and pulling on them. I guess I was pulling really hard because everyone thought he was going to end up in the tub.
There was a pretty intense burning sensation as his head was coming out, but once his head was out I rested for a minute. Apparently the cord was wrapped around his neck three times! They only told me that much later, though. It was loose, so Katie just unwrapped it. Then I pushed again and he came out. Katie caught him and immediately handed him to me to hold him to my chest. The first thing I said was, "That wasn't that hard". And it wasn't, really. I had only pushed for 38 minutes, which is not bad for a first birth.
Dave was standing in the tub behind me and I could hear him sniffling a little. I was just in a daze as I looked at my baby. He was a little blue for a few seconds, which would’ve scared me if I didn’t already know that’s how they’re supposed to look. I heard Karen yell out, "Give him a minute! Give him a minute!" They were bustling around and taking his blood pressure and mine while I held my baby. They kept checking to make sure I was holding him above water level. I was like, “duh!” but they had to make sure I wasn't fainting or anything.
I was speechless. I just kept staring at him. He was a perfect, healthy and tiny baby. I babbled something to him about showing him all his stuff he had in his nursery. I didn’t mean it in a materialistic way, but kind of how you show a houseguest to his room with all the comforts you’ve prepared just for them.
Then we just waited around for the placenta to come out. After about 30 minutes, it still hadn't come out, so Dave cut the cord and I got out of the tub and onto my bed. After an hour it still hadn't come out. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was push again. Apparently I was supposed to feel a contraction and another urge to push, but I never did. She gave me something orally to take that was supposed to help. A few minutes later, I pushed it out. They inspected it closely, showed some things about it to Dave and me, and then collected blood from it for the baby's blood-type test.
They did a full exam of the baby, we named him Benjamin, right next to me, and then examined me as well. Luckily, I didn’t need any repairs. I declined the 1 or 2 stitches and opted to let my body heal itself. The worse part of the whole ordeal is the pain after birth, so I didn’t want any needles going through there.
They stayed for a few more hours, giving us all sorts of instructions for taking care of Benji and myself. They laughed at how my birth was a 9-5 job. They got there at 11am and he was born at 2:53pm. They were out the door by 7pm. They’re used to getting called in the middle of the night and waiting around for hours and hours. Of course Karen also came back on two different occasions the next few days to check on us.
Having my baby at home was one of the best decisions I ever made. Comparing stories, I honestly believe my birth was easier than what a lot of women go through in the hospital. I’m sure part of that is because one prepares more when they decide to have a home birth, but there are many other reasons I had a good experience. Part of it is luck, too. Some women just have to go to the hospital due to things outside of their control. It doesn’t mean they did anything wrong. I just kept my expectations really open. I wanted a healthy baby and was 100% willing to transfer to the hospital or get a C-section if that’s what needed to happen. People keep telling me how brave I am, especially since it was my first birth, but it really didn't take bravery. Maybe I was a little nervous at times because it was my first birth and I was out of my comfort zone, but that’s all. After researching what goes on in hospitals, I wasn't scared at all to stay home. It was such a beautiful experience. I felt so bonded with my baby because we were already working as a team. I wish more women wanted to give birth this way. I think if more women looked into it, some of them might make the same decision I did. I don't feel brave at all, just informed and empowered. All it started with is the belief I could do it, and I did.