My name is Jennifer, and this is the birth story of my daughter, Luet. My son, Julian, was born in December of 2009, and his birth was an attempted homebirth turned hospital transfer for a c-section. I labored with Julian for over 36 hours, and then his heart rate began to drop with contractions and became erratic. We transferred for his safety, and he was born without any issues. When we decided to have a second child I knew I wanted an HBAC, because I could not imagine having another c-section and I knew that I could not get the care I wanted from an OB. I am a fat woman, I am a woman with Multiple Sclerosis and physical disabilities, and I had a previous c-section. On paper I am not the ideal candidate for a VBAC, but my midwife is amazing and she knew that my heart and soul were in this.
My midwife and I talked at length about my HBAC. We knew I needed to have a waterbirth so that I could actually move around. Because of my MS I have mobility issues and muscle spasms. I feel fine in the water and I can move without pain. We knew that in order to give me the greatest chance for success a birthpool would be needed.
Without further ado, here is my and Luet’s story.
Thursday (11/1) morning, I woke up and felt like crap. I was 42 weeks and 1 day pregnant, after all. I decided that I should try to get in to the chiropractor, because it had been about a week since I’d gone. I had canceled my Monday appointment because I thought I was in labor, and just hadn’t felt like leaving the house since then.
Nate stayed home with Julian and I drove to the office. My appointment was at 10:15. I had a few contractions on the way, but I had been having contractions for weeks, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. Everyone in the office commiserated with me and wished me luck. My chiropractor did a lot of work on my hips and he decided to adjust something in my upper back, too. He sent me off with well wishes and hoped that I’d have a baby soon.
It was about 10:45 when I left, and I called home to see if Nate and Julian were hungry. I decided to pick up food, and on the way I had a couple intense contractions that I had to vocalize through. I was still ok to drive, but I was surprised at the intensity.
When I got home I had a really strong contraction in the car, and Nate ended up coming out to see if I was ok because I took so long getting out of my van.
While we ate lunch my contractions started coming more regularly, every 15 or so minutes, and I had to vocalize through them. It freaked Julian out a bit, but he decided that he wanted to help me and wanted to hug me through the contractions.
Nate asked me if we should call Stacia (our lead midwife) and I told him I didn’t think so. Mostly I didn’t want to call her for a false alarm. However, apparently he didn’t listen to me and he texted back and forth with her for a bit while I was focusing on what I was doing.
He started setting up the birth pool about a half hour later (probably noonish?) and I asked him what was up. He confessed that he’d been talking to Stacia and she thought it was a good idea to get things set up. So he and Julian worked on that while I continued to vocalize on the couch. Julian started to get really upset because I was vocalizing more often and more loudly, so I decided to call my mom to come get him. My parents live ~70 miles away, so it takes between 60 and 90 minutes for them to get my our house. Julian has spent many weekends staying with my parents, so he is very comfortable with them. We had planned on this being a possibility, and my parents were planning on coming up anyway.
Around 1 Julian wanted to take a nap. My mom had meetings at work, and since we wanted Julian to leave the house she sent my dad up ahead of her and she said she’d leave about an hour later. I decided to lay down while Julian did to conserve my energy. I remembered my first labor was very long and I wanted to be prepared.
Stacia called to talk to me around 2. My contractions had slowed down a bit, so they were still 10-15 minutes apart so she said to just relax. She assured me that she believed this was real this time, so to just take it easy and then to call her when they were consistently 10 minutes or less. I stayed in bed and realized that the contractions were very strong, even though they weren’t close together.
By the time Julian woke up from his nap my dad was in town, so Nate called him to come get Julian. I was lost in a haze in the bedroom, trying to remember to time the contractions (luckily I had an app on my phone for it) and rest. My dad arrived and Julian left for the hotel. I told Nate to call Stacia because my contractions were 8-10 minutes apart but they were really strong.
I got in to the pool. While I was in the pool and Nate was continuing to fill it my mom arrived. She and Nate talked to me and worked on getting things more set up. I realized I felt pushy through some of the contractions, so we called Stacia again and she left Ann Arbor. She said Connie (midwife under supervision, now 1 birth away from taking the NARM exam) would be there in 15 minutes.
This is where it got weird. Connie arrived and we talked. I labored in the pool and she tried to assess my “pushy” feelings.
When Stacia arrived (5ish? maybe?) I consented to a check. I was only 4-5 cm, and this news started to break my confidence. See, with Julian I felt pushy when I wasn’t fully dilated, either. I started flashing back to Julian’s birth and it got harder to focus on what I was doing.
By this point, the contractions were extremely painful and coming 5ish minutes apart. I couldn’t relax between them.
After another couple hours I asked Stacia to check again. She then suggested that they break my waters. She said that my water bag was pressing against my cervix and she thought that might be part of why I was dilating slowly. So different from before, because with Julian my labor started with my water breaking before contractions.
I consented to having my water broken. I was in a lot of pain and I was starting to lose faith. My mom was telling me how her waters had been broken with both her pregnancies, so she thought it was a good idea. Shortly after my water was broken my mom had to leave because Julian had been asking for her. I barely noticed her leaving.
I labored in my bed for awhile after my water was broken. This is where things started to turn south a bit. I was in a lot of pain. I was very frustrated. I was having a very hard time believing that I could make this happen. I started telling Nate that I wanted to go to the hospital. I started telling my midwives I couldn’t do it.
They got me to change positions. They encouraged me to move to the toilet for a bit and try pushing there. I was losing my mind at this point, crying and screaming and grunting. I felt like I couldn’t control my body, my body was doing things against my will. I was shaking and losing control completely, and I couldn’t get a grip.
Around 8:30 I told Nate, Connie and Stacia that I was done. I wanted to go to the hospital for a c-section. I was finished. I never felt like this with Julian. I was losing my mind in with how intense the contractions were, they were back to back and I couldn’t get a break to catch my breath.
Stacia asked me if I’d try a birthing stool for 3 contractions. I believe my exact words were “ok, fine, what the fuck ever.”
Sitting in the hallway on the birthing stool, leaning against Nate I started crying and sobbing and screaming uncontrollably. I said they weren’t listening to me. I told Nate if he loved me he’d take me to the hospital and make it stop. I told him I hated him and what was happening. I think I yelled at my midwives that they weren’t even trying to help.
Just after 9 pm Stacia told Nate to go turn on the van. She then told me “We can go, if that’s what you want. But remember that it won’t be instant relief. You’ll be in a hospital bed, in triage, it’ll take at least an hour because you are not an emergency case. It isn’t going to stop the pain. Just remember that.” I am SO GLAD, now, that the three of them repeatedly ignored my requests and tried to talk to me about what was going on. I didn’t really want to go t the hospital and they all knew that. I strongly believe that if I was truly done and if I told them I definitely wanted to go that we’d have gone. I was not being ignored, I was being given support and encouragement in the way I needed it.
Stacia went to do something and Nate came back. Connie and Nate were discussing what clothes to get for me.
I said “I’m getting in the pool.” and got to my feet. Connie sort of called out after me “Stacia! She’s getting in the pool…” Stacia’s response was “It’s going to be hard to transfer you to the hospital from the pool.”
I sort of jumped, sort of fell in to the pool. I had no grace left. I got in the pool and I ignored all three of them. I was so angry, so enraged, so… just absolutely pissed off. This is something that has helped me deal with my MS and my disabilities, and I think the three of them knew that and I believe this had been the plan all along. If I get angry, I turn that anger inwards and use it to push myself harder. I use anger and pain as fuel to do the things that others may believe I cannot do. I got mad at them and so I turned that anger inwards to find the strength to just keep going.
I pushed. I moved. I was half squatting (one leg up, on my other knee). I was on my side with one leg over the edge of the pool… I was just off in my own world. I kept screaming for water and then I about punched Nate because he gave me Gatorade.
Somewhere in all this it started working. She started moving down. My midwives commented on it. Someone asked if they could check and tried to get me to reach down and feel her head. I refused because I was too focused on what I was doing. I was told that she was definitely working her way down, and that the midwives could feel her head. Nate said he could see something, and they had him behind me watching.
Stacia tried to check her with the Doppler and since it was dark she missed and I roared “That’s my clit!” She quickly took the Doppler away.
They kept talking about checking my blood pressure. I kept ignoring them.
At some point they started telling Nate to get water out because they wanted him to get in the pool with me. I tried to tell them no, but I couldn’t speak.
I realized I was on my last reserves. I could feel my body giving me the cues that I was about out. My muscles were burning and I was shaking. Labor and birth are like a marathon, the amount of energy that is expended is intense. My MS can only be ignored for so long, and my muscle spasms were getting worse and worse. I was quickly losing the strength to hold myself up at all. I had no idea how they would get me out of the pool and to the hospital if my body gave out before Luet was born.
I reached down and I felt her head. I knew it was now or never. All I could think was that I needed to use every ounce of strength I possessed and I had to get my baby out. It didn’t matter what would happen to me; I was unconcerned with any consequences to myself. But my daughter? My daughter had to be born here, in to the water, in this room full of love and beauty, in this place full of feral and primal power.
I somehow heaved myself in to a full squat. I don’t know how, but I did. I held on to the sides of the pool and I squatted and felt my body doing things that I had no idea it could do.
I pushed, and I started feeling the Ring Of Fire. At this point I think they realized what was going on and I guess Connie got in position next to Nate to catch the baby.
And then I pushed with every ounce of strength I had. I didn’t have the strength to stay in position. I had to get her out and out THAT SECOND. One push from “she’s starting to crown” to “OH MY GOD.” One push.
Connie yelped. I am told that “Luet rocketed out of you and bounced off my hands…” I said “Is she out?” and the reached behind me and picked my baby up out of the water before collapsing against the wall of the pool and weeping.
Nate was crying. I was crying. My midwives were grinning from ear to ear.
All I could hear was Nate saying “You did it. You are amazing.”
I couldn’t speak. I’m crying thinking about it now. I tried to give up. I almost missed out on the most amazing experience of my life.
But they didn’t let me. My husband and my midwives refused to let me give up. I know in my heart that if they had truly believed I wanted to stop, they would have. But they all knew how much it meant to me and they wouldn’t let me sabotage myself.
When I could finally speak I just kept telling Nate “thank you” over and over. All he said was “I know you better than you know yourself. I knew you could do it.”
Stacia asked me if she could give me a shot of Pitocin. She said that she was mildly concerned that I may have issues bleeding because of how quickly Luet came out. She said she just wanted to do it as a precaution. I consented and got a shot in the arm while holding Luet. I also wondered if the speed of her birth had caused any tearing, but I was still in the water and we couldn’t check that yet.
Finally the cord stopped pulsing and the placenta released. Connie encouraged me to push and the placenta came out easily. She told Nate to cut the cord, and he did. He said it was much more challenging than he thought it would be.
I gave Luet to Nate and Connie helped me out of the pool. I was very shaky and weak. Connie helped me get to my walker. Stacia went to get me some fruit juice out of the fridge while Connie helped me to the bed. Nate and Luet and I cuddled in bed while Stacia and Connie began to clean up. Then Connie came in to talk to me and help get breastfeeding started.
Finally all of us were in the bedroom and they began to do Luet’s assessment. Stacia also checked me over and that’s when it was discovered that I had a second degree tear and she recommended stitches. I got the stitches in my bed, while Nate held Luet.
I think everyone finally left around 5 am, and Nate, Luet and I went to sleep.
Luet Levoil was born at 12:09 am, November 2nd, 2012. She was 20.5 inches long and weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces. She had a 15 inch head, a record for my midwife. She was 42 weeks 2 days gestation.
Giving birth to my daughter was the most difficult and most amazing thing I have ever done. I could not have done it without my midwives and my husband cheering me on. I did all the hard work, yes. But I had an amazing team who believed in me when I doubted myself, who held me up when I felt defeated, and who gave me so much love. I needed all of them to help me achieve this goal. And they were there. I can never thank them enough.
My body has many challenges. But I was able to give birth naturally. Physical disabilities or not – with determination and with people who were willing to work with me I made it happen. And I am so grateful I had the chance to try.
Note from Ruthie: Check out this picture from earlier in Jennifer’s pregnancy! This is not photoshopped, you can distinctly see baby Luet’s foot. SO COOL!