I am a nurse, I worked in labor and delivery for five years. I currently work for a high risk maternity home health care company. Not only have I seen a lot of births- I've seen it all. The good (a beautiful normal delivery), the bad (a full term baby that passed away for no reason), and the ugly (labor wards are full of drama).
Given my experience I think it blew everyone away when I decided a home birth was the way to go. Thankfully, my husband was great and backed me 100% as did my family. Everyone else thought I was nuts (and said so) but I knew it was right for my baby and me. I never once questioned my decision.
What’s ironic is that had I had a baby 6 years ago I would have thought I was nuts too! When I first started working LD my attitude was "If you don't have to be in that amount of pain, why would you be? Bring on the epidural- can they meet me in the parking lot???" Then a few years ago three things happened in under a month that changed my mind.
Now, before these three things ever happened I had already noticed something. The LD unit I worked on induced a lot of women. I worked on a small unit with five labor beds and Monday through Friday we induced two to three patients A DAY with the doctors pushing to add more patients to the schedule. It can make one think that babies wouldn't come out if we didn't kick them out! However, my favorite patients were those who came in on their own in labor which, given our induction rates, were few and far between. Those were always the best labors though- the babies almost always looked beautiful on the monitor, the mothers very rarely pushed more than 15 minutes, and the babies almost always came out without assistance and were healthy as could be.
The first of those three things that happened to start to change my mind was not so much a "thing" but a patient. I came on shift one night to a woman having her fourth baby. This woman was from Jamaica and had all of her other babies on the island completely natural. Her doctor had sent her over for induction because she was 40 weeks and the doctor was going to be out of town that weekend. My orders were to watch the patient and start Pitocin in the morning to get her delivered. I felt so bad for this woman because I knew there was no reason to induce her but come 5am we would start Pitocin. Thankfully, her body wasn't thrilled with the thought of being induced either because she went into labor on her own around 2am!
Standard protocol at our hospital is to ask all patients what kind of pain relief they want. Once my patient went in to labor I asked her if she wanted an epidural and she said no and kept breathing through her contractions. I was fine with this and helped her cope but when my charge nurse came in the room she practically brow beat the poor woman about an epidural. Finally the woman said "What is this epidural!?!" So we explained what the epidural was and when I got to the part of "A needle goes in the space around your spine" she looked HORRIFIED. "In my spine!?! No, no... I'm ok." The woman delivered within an hour of this conversation but something in my head had clicked- an epidural isn't normal. I saw it every day and assisted with starting them all the time but it was not normal. Light bulb on- somewhat dim- but on.
The second thing that happened was stumbling across a documentary called 'The Business of Being Born' directed by Ricki Lake. I'm not going to lie- I had heard of it and thought to myself "What does a talk show host know about birth that I don't already know?" Apparently- a lot. I had never seen a homebirth before and the only experience I'd had working with them were those brought to the hospital that needed assistance of some sort (IV fluids, vacuum assistance to deliver a baby, c section, etc.). In my head they weren't safe and working every day in LD with women who “needed” constant monitoring supported this. Now I realize how faulty this logic was- it's like sitting outside a mechanic shop seeing cars brought in and thinking all cars are going to break down at any moment. Wrong- they were only there because they needed to be and I never saw the other hundreds of women who delivered just fine at home because they didn't need to be brought in. Light bulb was starting to glow a bit brighter now...
The final thing that happened to push me over the edge was a conversation with a fellow nurse. It was one of the rare slow nights we had and we started talking about inductions and how few normal deliveries there were and she just casually said she planned to go all natural when the time came. We talked for a couple hours about unnecessary inductions, how epidurals affect labor, c sections, the birthing documentary, my Jamaican patient- everything. Light bulb was now fully glowing and by the end of the conversation I had decided when I gave birth it would be all natural- and I was instantly petrified. It might be how nature intended it but I just knew I was in for a world of hurt.
Fast forward a few years and I had gotten married and my husband and I decided to start a family. I honestly don't even remember the conversation we had about doing a homebirth once I was pregnant- it just wasn't a big deal after all the research and statistics I had seen over the years. Kind of ironic considering the fear I used to have over a natural birth. Sometime in the previous few years the fear had dissolved and now it wasn't this eccentric, risky thing- it just seemed normal and felt right. I didn't want to pack a bag to go be delivered- I wanted to prepare my home to birth my baby in.
Once I was pregnant the reading began in earnest and I read everything. I requested and checked out a stack of books from the library then went and bought my favorites. I devoured tons of homebirth stories online- I couldn't get enough. I also read birthing preparation books including Hypnobirthing, The Bradley Method, Birthing From Within, Ina May's books- anything and everything on natural labor. My husband asked me why I was doing all the research since I knew what to expect and what to do. It was something I couldn't put my finger on and then I finally figured it out- I was preparing for a right of passage and I wanted to hear everyone else's stories now that it would soon be my turn. I wanted to know what worked, what they wished they had done more or less of, how they felt during birth, EVERYTHING. I was no longer afraid- I was excited and could not wait for my turn.
One birth story I read a woman said she had envisioned her birth and it went exactly how she had imagined it. I've never been one to meditate or envision anything and, even though I do believe there is a very real mind-body connection, I don't think anyone can bring on labor just because they're ready (it's a nice thought though and I know many women would LOVE that). This being said- it did make me think. If I could envision my perfect birth what would it be? In a perfect world my labor would be on a Sunday because that's the most relaxing day of the week. I would labor all day at home with my husband while cooking (in early labor) to keep busy. I would watch a Dallas Cowboys football game to keep me distracted and maybe go for a walk (I was due in November and we live in Ohio- I may not have thought that through all the way). Then, once I was far enough along, I would get in the birthing pool in the living room and labor while overlooking the lake out of our back window. I also wanted a fast birth but not so fast it was overwhelming- I figured 3 hours would be good. Who was I kidding though? The average first time mom labored for 14 hours and I figured I would too.
The Birth Story
A few days before I went into labor I just felt off. Not bad or anything- but off like something could happen any moment. Even with this feeling though and only slightly increased discharge (which I attributed to my husband and I trying to speed things along by remaining active in the bedroom) I was only 37 1/2 weeks pregnant and the average first time mom delivers at 41 weeks, 1 day. Knowing this, I chalked it up to wishful thinking and the only people I let know about my little off feeling were my parents who lived 14 hours away and planned to be here within 24 hours of the baby's birth (we didn't know the gender) and my birth photographer since we still hadn't nailed down a few details. In hindsight, I also should've told my midwives but I really did think I was being silly. This baby wasn't coming for another few weeks!
Sunday morning I woke up around 5/530am and went pee. When I went back to bed I felt like I could've wiped a little better but I was 9 months pregnant and tired and didn't care- I would take a shower when I got up in a few hours. 830am rolled around and I finally get out of bed and when I pee I see what discharge that looks like amniotic fluid. Not a lot, just a smidgen that I probably would've missed had I not worked LD. I coughed and nothing came out so I decide to take a shower. After my shower I put on my thong (yes- I wore thongs my whole pregnancy) and then a few minutes later I thought to myself “if my water breaks, I'm screwed.” So I grabbed a pair of underwear I bought the week before and a pad and as I went to change I felt a pop and managed to plop on the toilet right as I gushed fluid. I called my husband and told him my water broke but we could still go to his parent's house for lunch... which was about 45 minutes away... in the middle of nowhere. Once again, in hindsight, I may have been in denial and there was no way in hell I should've been suggesting that but my logic was I was a first time mom, no contractions, water just broke- I figured the baby would come in the middle of the night sometime. Thankfully my husband very nicely said no to my suggestion.
At this point I let my parents and the birth photographer know what was going on. I don't suggest this, but I delayed telling my midwives for a couple of hours because I wanted to see if contractions would start soon and then I could tell them how far apart they were. Around 1030 I realized I was having contractions that were no stronger than the Braxton Hicks I had been having for the last three months but they were about five minutes apart- so mild I almost missed them. At that point I let the midwives know what was going on and that baby was moving well so they didn't need to come. They said ok and to let them know when something changed.
I started cooking (banana pancakes, honey roasted sunflower seeds, bacon, general yumminess) and my husband scrubbed the house down- and I mean SCRUBBED. I think he nested for me! At 1pm the Dallas Cowboys game started and I got on the birthing ball still only having mild contractions and watched the game while snacking and texting/calling a few friends and family. I told my husband I thought the baby would come in the middle of the night and since I wasn't hurting anyway he went and took a nap to make sure he was nice and refreshed later on. I should've joined him but my team was playing and my best friend was available to talk so that wasn't happening. I believe it was while he was lying down that I remembered a girlfriend of mine had given me a few essential oils- one of which was clary sage. Once again, in hindsight, I should've mentioned to the midwives I was going to use a bit to see if it would bring on stronger contractions- oops. Anyway, I mixed the clary sage with some coconut oil and applied a few drops to my wrist as well as my lower abdomen in hopes of bringing on stronger contractions. It was time to meet this baby!
At 3:55pm (I checked my phone records) I was on the phone with my best friend when she said I stopped talking in the middle of a sentence. I said "No, I didn't" and kept talking. Then she said I did it again a few minutes later. At that point I realized my contractions were getting strong enough to distract me but they still weren't even as painful as period cramps. She had to go anyway so I got back on my labor ball and continued to watch the football game. About 45 minutes later the contractions were a bit more uncomfortable so I text my midwife and photographer to update them that the contractions were a bit stronger- maybe a 3 or 4 out of 10 on the pain scale but not horrible. My photographer was super nice and offered to come and I insisted no because I wasn't even really hurting and I didn’t want her to have to sit around for 12 hours waiting on me. By now it was almost 5pm and I got in the shower to relax a bit and clean up since I had been leaking all day (icky feeling) and shave my legs. About 20 minutes later I got out of the shower and the first contraction I had out of the shower I got on my hands and knees in the hallway and swayed my hips- I felt like that was my first real contraction and I thought “Here we go!” My water had been broken for 12 hours and I finally felt like I was in labor!
*Side note: Most hospitals insist on augmenting labor if your water breaks and you don’t start contracting within a couple of hours to prevent infection- numerous studies have shown that as long as vaginal checks are kept to a minimum (I refused all) the risk of infection is quite small and 95% of women will start contracting on their own within 24 hours of their water being broken. To expect a first time mom to be delivered within 24 hours of their water breaking is very unrealistic. Now back to the story.
My husband and I had a blow up mattress in our living rook from the time I was about 6 months pregnant on because it was better for my back so I laid down on it to rest and listen to the rest of the football game (he was next to me in the recliner- he asked if there was anything he could do but all I wanted was to breathe). During my next few contractions I would get on my hands and knees and sway my hips and breathe until it passed. I tried staying on my side for one contraction and it was horrible and I don’t know how women in hospitals strapped to beds do that. At one point I was in the middle of a contraction when the Lions quarterback snuck the ball in for a touchdown when everyone thought he was going to take a knee and won the game… and I dropped a F bomb. My husband thought it was a contraction until I told him I was just pissed we lost! On a scale of 1-10, my contractions were about a 6 and more intense but kind of a weird pattern where two would be close together and then nothing for about five minutes (on LD we called this 'coupling') and it can sometimes mean the baby is in a funky position so I asked my husband to text the midwives and have them come over to check me (this was at 545pm).
Right after this my contractions went from intense to painful so I got in the birthing tub. I thought to myself that I was being a baby and getting in way too early and I would probably have to get out again once the midwife came and checked me and said I was 3 cm but I didn't care- I was hurting and I was getting in.
After my husband got off the phone I had a few more contractions and started to feel slightly nauseous and asked for a bowl. I got a bit snippy when he put it on the floor instead of the tray he had set up next to the birthing pool but I didn't think much of it. The next contraction I had I felt myself start to bear down and push. I thought I was imagining things since I had only been hurting maybe an hour so I put my finger in to check. I didn't feel anything but then it happened again with the next contraction. That time when I checked I felt the baby’s head! Shocked doesn't even begin to cover how I felt in that moment. Well- shocked and elated! I was almost done!
I told my husband to call the midwife back and tell them I could feel the baby’s head an inch in. He said her response was "Oh shit, we're on the way." My husband came and sat next to me and I had him feel the head. At one point in between contractions I looked at him and said "don't get me wrong- this hurts but it isn't near as bad as I thought it would be!" A couple contractions later the apprentice midwife showed up and she could see about a quarter of the baby’s head crowning. With that contraction I finally fully pushed- I felt the head go out then slide back in a bit which was actually fine with me because it had just dawned on me- a head... a SKULL was coming out of me. For a split second I faltered. From that moment until the baby delivered (which wasn't long) I thought to myself over and over "6.5lbs, the baby is only 6.5 lbs." I had no way to know if that was true or not but mind over matter, right? The apprentice told my husband once the head was out she would check for a cord, then with the next contraction he could deliver the baby. The next contraction I pushed again and got her head half way out then I had to wait for the next contraction. While I was just hanging out waiting for another contraction (with a head half way out of me) the other two midwives arrived and asked how I was doing. Of course they were talking to the apprentice but I looked at them and said "the head is half way out." When the next contraction finally came I pushed and out shot the baby- I turned over and she had a loose nuchal cord (around her neck) that my husband and I unwrapped and then I brought our baby out of the water. Arms spread out, eyes wide open, and blue (very normal). I rubbed the baby's back and a few seconds later we heard a healthy scream then saw a nice pink color. The apprentice asked me to get out of the tub because I was bleeding more than she would've liked and my husband helped me out and onto the mattress which the midwives had covered with a chucks pad and towels on top of our sheets. I felt like I was high as a kite- those endorphins are amazing!
After a few minutes of bonding my husband and I figured we should look and see if the baby was a boy or girl and as I held the baby up we realized she was a girl! I didn't realize how much I thought I was having a boy until I double checked for boy parts. I then looked at my husband and said "What the hell are we going to do with a daughter?" Don't get me wrong- I was thrilled, but teenage girls scare me! I was immediately in love with Scarlett though- all 6lbs 12oz of her. About 10 minutes after Scarlett Deja was born the photographer arrived and got some great shots of our first hour together. I still hate that I waited too long and we missed getting the birth on video but I am so grateful for the pictures we do have. Apparently my husband was even sneaking pics of me in labor so I have those too!