My natural homebirth

March 1, 2011

Although I haven’t talked about it much publicly, home birth became an important choice for me during the last trimester of my pregnancy. Yeah, I know, I know – home birth??? Sounds so….pioneer woman!

That’s what I thought when I first heard about it. Plus, who wants neighbors hearing me bellow with labor pains? No thanks.

But after reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and watching The Business of Being Born, my husband and I changed our tune. I was lucky that our move to DC brought us in range of some excellent home birth midwives.

One meeting with the midwives was all we needed to feel the sense of comfort, patience and support that had been lacking at our previous hospital-based birth center. We were like, let’s do this!

After that, things fell easily into place.

A lot of the wishes I had for my birth were focused around bringing my baby into the world in the least traumatic, most healthful way possible. I would have to fight for this in a hospital. But the midwives’ values and ideas were totally aligned with my own.

Here was the plan:
– Going into labor naturally, no drugs to induce
– A quiet, dimly lit calm space where I could be comfortable moving however I wished
– No IV or monitors connected to me, no medical interventions
– Wearing my own clothes
– Being allowed to eat food when I was hungry
– Using a tub for labor and possibly for delivery
– Delayed cord clamping to allow the last important flow of blood between baby and me
– For baby: no Vitamin K shot, no antibiotics in the eyes, leaving on the vernix, no circumcision
– Keeping the placenta for encapsultion

If you don’t know what the heck placenta encapsulation or vernix is, don’t worry about it. Basically, I wanted a totally natural, hippy dippy earthy cruncy granola type birth! These things, like food to eat and keeping the lights dim are simply not the norm. If you are pregnant, totally discuss options with your birth team. Obviously there are different opinions on each issue, but these were my choices based on copious, borderline obsessive research. 🙂

My natural homebirth story goes like this…

Friday 2/19 – I was 42 weeks pregnant:
That’s right. Baby is 2 weeks past his due date, with no signs of wishing to exit. On the advice from my midwives, I got an ultrasound to make sure everything was ok. It was. Except the estimated size of the baby was 10 lbs. 4 oz. Holy heck that’s a big baby – and I’m only 5’3″ (now we know why my stomach was so incredibly huge…) Plus, we knew the baby was probably posterior – sunny side up position. That makes for a more difficult labor on its own. Oy.

After discussing with my midwife (Kim) we decided that a homebirth was now too risky, because of possible gigantic-baby complications, like shoulder dystocia. It would be better to be in a hospital than to have to transfer to one in an emergency. Makes sense, right? Also decided was that I needed to get this baby out before he could grow any more! We planned to meet at the hospital the next morning. Kim would be part of my support team, like a doula, helping me even though I’d be subject to hospital policies and medical staff. We planned to use Cervidil to help bring on labor. Fingers crossed, we wouldn’t need the more heavy duty induction drug, Pitocin.

I cried. My homebirth plans were over. But honestly, at that point…I was just worried about my big baby getting out safely.

On a whim I decided to try a blue cohosh tinture that was part of an herbal labor induction method. It probably wouldn’t work on its own, but hey, why not? I took the tincture at 9pm Friday night. At 10pm I felt a trickle…was that my water leaking? Sigh. Probably not. I went to bed.

Saturday 2/19 – 12:30am
I’d only been asleep for an hour when I woke up with mild contractions. I quickly downloaded a contraction app for my iPhone to help time them.

Note: The stupid free contraction app didn’t tell me up front that it only worked for recording 10 contractions! On my 11th I had to hobble downstairs, find my credit card, update my iTunes thingy and download the paid version. Seriously people??

A few hours later, the contractions were picking up steam so I called Kim and we decided to get to the hospital. My husband and I dashed around the house and packed the car. I mean…what are the last things you’d do in your house to prepare for baby? I decided to put out new, clean kitchen sponges. Ha! I don’t know why. And I grabbed some peanut butter and Lara bars to hide in my hospital room – I’d be damned if I was going to go into the hard work of labor starving! Hospitals don’t allow you to eat, you know. But I’d also prepared and packed some clear liquids to keep me going: homemade chicken broth, coconut water, etc. Finally, we grabbed the crockpot and washcloths for hot compresses. Maybe we could recreate the home environment somehow, I thought.

By this point I was moving slowly. I had to stop every 3 or 4 minutes to breathe and work through a contraction. The drive to the hospital felt like forever. Luckily my husband wasn’t freaked out by my contractions, he just kept telling me what a good job I was doing. Love him.

Saturday 2/19 – 5am
I labored on. I have no idea the exact hours, I really couldn’t tell you much about Saturday once we got to the hospital. All I know was that my husband and Kim were invaluable for getting me through each contraction. I moaned, I groaned, I loosened my jaw and tried to breathe. I had something stuck in my arm – hospital policy – so that an IV or drugs could easily be hooked up if needed. Ugh.

I was offered an elective C-section based on the baby’s projected size. No thank you.

By the way, everyone at the hospital kept implying that I’d grown a huge baby because I’d refused the gestational diabetes test back in my 2nd trimester. It’s true, I did refuse that test. I refused to put my body and my baby through it because I know damn well I don’t have diabetes. The treatment for gestational diabetes is to eat well and exercise. I mean…duh. I didn’t need a test or a diagnosis to get me to do those things. But even now in labor, I was being shamed and told I needed to follow up with my doctor because I might have Type 2 diabetes.

Big baby = diabetes?

I didn’t believe it but I started to doubt myself. Did I make the wrong choice? Had I caused this problem? Self doubt was leaking in. Thanks, hospital staff! That’s really helpful when I’m trying to do the hardest work of my life! Asshats.

Anyway. After, oh, I don’t know, 18 hours of labor (?) I was only at 3cm. All the pain and effort for very little reward. Kim quietly fed me spoonfuls of yogurt to keep up my energy. She also gave me tinctures and homeopathics when no one was looking to increase my contractions.

I still thought I could do this naturally. I felt hopeful.

But…I was exhausted. Delirious. Claudia, part of the midwife team, came in the room. I knew she was there but I didn’t see her or speak to her – it was like I was on another planet but mildly aware of her presence. They put me on my side to try and “rest” between contractions.

More hours passed. My cervix wouldn’t budge. If it had, I would have had zero energy to push. That’s sorta a problem.

Saturday 2/19 – 9pm(?)
I accepted an epidural to help me rest. They said it might relax me, relax my cervix. Maybe help things open up without any further drugs.

I was afraid of that big needle in my spine. I was afraid of side effects from the epidural (They are rare but exist, you know. But no one tells you about them). The only side effect I suffered was the shakes. My whole body trembled ridiculously from the medicine. But the pain subsided quickly. That is, except for the baby’s feet up in my ribs. They really hurt no matter what position I was in. Sleep was nearly impossible.

Devastated as I was to be on an epidural, I clung to the idea that I still had a chance to deliver my baby vaginally. Please, please, please.

Sunday 2/22 – 3am
They checked my cervix again and I’d only progressed to 4cm. That’s 4 out of 10, people!! I was convinced the doctor was lying. I must be at 8 or 9 by now! She just wants to rush me out of here and not give me the time I need! I couldn’t believe it. How many more hours could I labor? The baby was undergoing as much stress as I was.

I felt, in a word, despair.

To my husband I whispered, “Maybe we should just have a c-section?”

Was I giving up? I was feeling like such a failure. No one seemed to think that I was going to be able to deliver this baby. I could read the writing on the wall – this wasn’t going to happen. I was going to end up with a c-section one way or another. He was too big. He was in the wrong position. I was exhausted beyond belief. It wasn’t going to work. If this birth had been totally natural, a real pioneer woman might die, or the baby might die, or both.

How natural is too natural?

Tears flooded my body, but I had little energy to cry.

Kim told us what we already knew – that at this point a vaginal delivery was so risky we’d probably end up as an emergency c-section situation. I didn’t want my baby to go through that. If I was going to have my abdomen sliced open, I at least wanted it done in a calm, unrushed manner.

But why wasn’t I progressing? WTF? I was so angry! I did everything in this pregnancy to be healthy and deliver safely. I felt so…wronged.

Within an hour I was wheeled into the operating room. They didn’t even let me kiss my husband before whisking me inside. There must have been 15 people in that room, all very chaotic, brightly lit. The anesthesia was making me shake uncontrollably – they had to tie my arms down. My husband was waiting outside but Kim came in, which was tough choice to make but I was only allowed 1 person and I hoped she could advocate for my last few remaining wishes about cord clamping and vernix.

It went by very fast. The anesthesiologist was annoying, asking me questions like where I grew up and how long we lived in Boston. Really? Small talk? I felt like I was going to pass out. I could barely breathe through the shaking.

Within minutes they held a baby up – wait – MY baby! He screamed his first breath and simultaneously took his very first pee pee! Good boy. I wanted to hold him, to feel him and kiss him and let him nurse and comfort him after such a dramatic entry into the world.

Instead, they took him to the other side of the room and suctioned, cleaned and checked him for what felt like days. Kim was able to bring him over to me, let me nuzzle his cheek. I said, “Danny, you MADE IT!” and cried and cried.

He weighed 9 lb. 1 oz. (See, not as big as they thought! Still big though.)

He measured 22″ (See, a tall boy like his daddy, not the overgrown diabetic baby they kept warning me about)

I didn’t really get to see him until they finished sewing me up and wheeled me to my room.

I’ve never been so heartbroken and so heartwarmed at the same time as that ride to post partum recovery. The turn of events was just dreadful for me. I’m a planner. I don’t like my plans to fall through, especially when they involve the health and wellbeing of my baby.

I’d felt like giving Danny a beautiful birth was what he deserved.

Now I’d given him the exact opposite.

But before the pity party could get rolling, I got to my room and was able to hold my baby Danny in my arms. That perfect, sweet, innocent little nugget. I loved him so much. I couldn’t believe it! This was the little man I’d been waddling around with for months? He’d made it, one way or the other.

And I did hold him, and I did nurse him, and I did stand by my decision to refuse the shots and antibiotics and further insults to injury they like to subject newborns to in the hospital. I let doctors shame me about these decisions and got through their lectures by nodding and smiling without listening, in case scare tactics might work in my compromised state.

Again, I’d done the research. I knew what I wanted and I stuck by every last bit of the plan I could.

But – did they save my placenta like I’d asked? Well, yes. But it had to be held in the hospital morgue to the tune of $200. We’d have to find and pay a funeral home willing to come pick it up. (WHAT?) The list of funeral homes they gave us was bull – after calling around and waiting for calls back over the next few days, none of them were willing to do it.

It’s like the hospital said, “Sure, you can have your placenta, but you have to find a rainbow unicorn to pick it up for you!”

I wish they’d just said no. It’s now been in their morgue, refrigerated, for over a week. It should have been frozen. They’ve let it go bad, it no longer is useful to encapsulate. I feel like they stole it from me by creating ridiculous hoops to jump through and not caring for it properly in the meantime.

But I digress.

I have my sweet Danny. And yes, he’s a “juicy” baby – a c-section kid who didn’t get squeezed out properly, thus has a lot of extra mucus and such. But he’s so cute! And yes, I’m hobbling around unable to fully care for him because of my incision. But I’m stronger every day.

I’ll always have this scar. Though the doctor said I could try to deliver vaginally next time if the baby is smaller. The midwives deliver VBACs all the time.

It’s too soon to think about that.

Let’s think about this instead:

Little Danny darlin’, I did the best I could. Thank you for teaching me a powerful lesson: I can’t control everything and I certainly cannot control the path of motherhood. I really think the universe has given me this particular baby because he’s exactly who I need. He’s gonna keep teaching me things, I’m positive.

So, my natural homebirth was neither natural, nor at home. But if I could do it all over, I wouldn’t have changed a single decision.

And that alone feels like a healthy victory, doesn’t it?

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