We planned to have a home birth. It was an idea probably planted in my head by my mom, who didn’t have that option, due to location, by the time she’d thought about it with my younger sisters. My desire for a home birth was solidified by some of my best lady friends – so strong and confident were they with their decisions and knowledge of what was right for them and for their babies.
We chose our midwives early. Kate and Clair came highly recommended by a number of friends, and as a bonus, they were willing to work out payments we could handle. They don’t believe home births should be limited to the rich (the idea of which is kind of an irony, if you think about it). We had our monthly, then weekly visits with them, and I received parallel care at the amazing prenatal clinic, located on the campus of the only local hospital that I would want anything to do with, were medical services needed.
I was told at 37 weeks that we should make sure Peanut (what we were calling the baby, whose sex was as-yet unknown) was head-down, and while I could feel that the baby was more diagonal in my belly, everyone – midwives and doctors – believed that to be the case. At 39 weeks, a clinic midwife followed a hunch that perhaps we’d all been wrong and that my baby was head-up, and sent me upstairs for a quick ultrasound, and I’ll be damned if she wasn’t right.
In our area, there are no midwives or other medical professionals that will knowingly attempt a breech home birth, so that very dramatic evening, we attempted the first external cephalic version. Afterward, I went home in tears, with a big ol’ bruised belly and a baby whose head was still up in my ribcage. At this rate, I would not only be forced into a hospital birth, but into a C-section. A week later, two days before my 40-week mark, we headed in for an even more dramatic second version, with an epidural this time, which despite the late-term odds, was successful. (More about the versions on my blog.)
Now head-down, and back on track for our home birth, 40 weeks came and went. I had a midwife appointment the day before 41 weeks (July 3rd) and when they asked me how I was feeling, I tearfully told them I was SO over it. I’d loved being pregnant, despite the aches, exhaustion and general hormonal roller coaster, but by about 40.5 weeks, I was ready to be done. I’m guessing my partner, Gabe, and two step-daughters felt the same way. Clair told me this was good. She said the baby needs to get the message that eviction is imminent, and to go home, take some hilly walks, relax, drink tea and spend some lovey time with my sweetie.
We’d kind of hoped for a 4th of July exit (“Fireworks, for me?!” says baby.), but despite our best attempts at overextending ourselves, that day came and went. My mom’s mother, my Grandma Aggie, was born July 6th, so I’d secretly hoped that might be the day Peanut would appear, and that morning at 7 a.m., I awoke with contractions. They were like strong menstrual cramps, but my Braxton-Hicks had been preparing me for them, so I called the midwives, my doula, and my mom and two sisters (all of whom were planning on attending the birth) to fill them in, and went on with my day.
We had my step-daughters until mid-afternoon, at which point we left the house to pay the rent (whoops! Baby brain!). I hobbled into the bank to get our cashier’s check and the pregnant teller, seeing the exhausted, cranky look on my face, asked me when I was due. “A week-and-a-half ago,” I told her. She quickly handed me the check and wished me luck. We drove over to the landlords’ house to drop off the check and I wasn’t willing to get out of the car by that point. Contractions were getting stronger and were three to five minutes apart. I had to concentrate through them and I really wished I wasn’t in the car anymore.
After a stop for miso soup – which I’d been craving since I saw it suggested on the birth supplies list – we finally arrived back home and I made laps between the couch and the birthing ball, timing my contractions. The last time I laid down on the couch and put my feet up on Gabe’s lap, a contraction hit that felt so much more powerful than all of the earlier ones, with so much pressure behind it. My water broke at 7:53 p.m. Gabe scrambled off the couch to grab towels and I hobbled, soaking wet, to the bathroom, where I asked Gabe to call Kate. I recall being pretty level-headed, thinking “Okay, now we’ve got 24 hours for Peanut to come on out. No biggie.” Then the hard contractions started. It was on.
We labored at home for six hours, and for whatever reason, around five centimeters dilated, I started pushing. The midwives asked why, and I told them I didn’t know. I wasn’t pushing, my uterus was. I moved from leaning on the end of the bed to laying on the bed to trying to relax with a warm shower, and breathing exercises led by Kate and Clair. Nothing I did stopped the need to push. Worse, every time I even thought about repositioning my legs or my body, another intense, pushing contraction would hit. I was howling through the contractions, trying my best to pant through the climax, and trying to relax in the brief intervals between them.
Come about two a.m., Kate told me that I was bleeding a bit more than the midwives were comfortable with and that during my contractions, my baby’s heart rate was dropping just below triple digits. They anticipated potential complications, perhaps brought on by the versions, and thought we should prepare to transport to the hospital.
It was a five-car convoy from our house in Eureka, Calif., to Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, Calif., with Gabe and I in my sister’s Scion (the only car they figured I didn’t have to step up or bend down to get into), with my dad as “ambulance driver” and Kate joining me in the backseat. It didn’t escape me that as we turned out of our neighborhood, we passed the turn to the hospital that’s less than two miles from our house, in favor of one more like 10 miles from our house. It was a six-contraction car ride, my dad going five more miles-per-hour with each one.
When we pulled into the Birth Center, my midwife jumped out of the car and started talking to a nurse, who met us outside. I (in only a bathrobe and undies) slid out of the car and made my way into the hospital, asking where I should be going. Another contraction was coming on strong and I leaned against the wall. “WHERE AM I GOING?!” I yelled, and was hastily directed down the hallway. I walked into the delivery room, told my dad he needed to get out of the room and dropped my robe and underwear. I climbed onto the bed and yelled through another contraction.
Soon, I was surrounded by my entire birth team, plus a doctor, a couple of nurses, an anesthesiologist and, I believe, a janitor (“Want to check my cervix? Everyone else has!”). I’d hoped for a natural, drug-free birth, but the doctor suggested to me that a shot of fentanyl, an opiate, might take the edge off of the contractions, as it was still too early to push. Exhausted, I figured anything that might stop the need to push was my friend.
The shot did nothing. For that I gave up my drug-free birth?!
I continued to breathe/yell through my contractions, until finally I was fully dilated and given the go-ahead to push. They told me to “think low and open” and visualize my baby moving through the birth canal. I tried, I really did, but all that came out with every intense contraction was yelling. My mom told me “Try it without yelling” and from behind the oxygen mask, I snapped “I CAN’T NOT YELL!” What I wish one person would have told me, and what my mom says she meant, was “poop it out.” Hearing that would have given me permission to do exactly what it felt like I needed to do, and rather than yell above the contractions, I needed to bear down with them and get that baby’s giant noggin out of me.
There were two-plus hours of the doctor telling me we were “almost there,” and at least two hours of me thinking she had to be full of it. How could we be almost there for so long?! I was so tired and just wanted to be done. In the end, after assurances that they could see hair (that’s Gabe’s side of the family – my side’s usually born bald), one of my midwives told me to push through the contraction and rest between, and I thought “Heck with that, I’m not stopping!” Two contractions later, at 7:46am on July 7th, Gabe deliriously laughed as he caught our beautiful 8lb 7oz baby in his hands and set him down on my belly. He cut Alton Chord Gabriel’s cord and the little guy instinctively bopped his head around to my breast and started nursing. Amazing!
Yes, we wanted a home birth, but in the end we got a mostly complication-free hospital birth and perfectly healthy baby boy. Until the moment my son was in my arms, I had never felt as blessed as I did when I opened my eyes between contractions and saw my entire birthing team surrounding me. That experience is exactly what I’d looked forward to with the home birth. Hopefully the next time around, the baby will be on the same page as us and will agree to be born at home.
~ By Monica Topping