The birth story of my second daughter really starts with the accidental unassisted and unplanned homebirth of my first child. I was terrified to give birth during my first pregnancy. It consumed my thoughts the minute I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, and that fear hung on until she was born. I even considered an elective cesarean solely because the thought of going through labor and delivery sounded terrifying. I was seeing a hospital midwife at the time, but did not have any intention of having an unmedicated birth.
But, things turned out differently than I had planned. My labor with my first daughter started gradually and over the course of 35 hours got steadily more intense but never unbearable. It was all a rather beautiful ebb and flow. When I called the midwife to tell her I was in labor, she said to come when the contractions were under 5 minutes apart. I slept most of the day, and my contractions remained above 5 minutes. Then, at 1:20pm on that Saturday afternoon in August of 2009, my water broke and my contractions immediately got closer together.
Before we could even call the midwife, I felt a head between my legs and ran to the bathroom. There in my own home was my first child born, only ten minutes and two pushes after my water broke. It was beautiful and glorious and I had just done what I thought I could not. I thought I would not be able to deliver a baby without medication, and here I did it without even a medical professional present. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world – I felt like Super Woman. It also ignited my passion to encourage other women that their bodies were made to give birth, and not be as fearful as I had been.
Three years later I found myself pregnant again, with another girl. I was in a much different place – I had used my between-kids years to involve myself in the local birth community, volunteering with a birth center and being active on birthy forums. Mentally I was calmer and less fearful, though I did have one nagging thought. I had the Perfect Birth last time – how could I repeat it? And how will I bear it if the second birth is not perfect?
There was one major difference between last pregnancy and this one. A few months before I got pregnant with my second child, I found out I had two clotting disorders (Factor V Leiden and MTHFR). These clotting disorders are linked to stillbirths and complications in pregnancy (including IUGR). This time, my pregnancy would be considered high-risk and I would see a perinatologist in addition to my regular care provider.
God was with me though. Because of my knowledge of the birth community, I already knew which care providers would be the best for my care. I had been considering a home birth, but after finding out about the clotting disorders I decided instead to use the best hospital-based midwifery practice in my city. Their backup OB is also a perinatologist who is so supportive of women. I saw him monthly (and then weekly the last two months), as they monitored my baby’s growth and the placenta. I had to take a daily injection of a blood thinner called Lovenox, which was not very fun. I also took numerous vitamins to combat the negative aspects of the MTHFR. I hired a doula, and felt that I had done everything I could to have another beautiful, positive birth.
Tuesday, July 17
Tuesday marked two weeks exactly before my due date. I had my normal weekly non stress test at my perinatologist’s office in the morning, and he asked me how I was feeling. “I feel off,” I told him. I know the last few weeks of pregnancy can mean a lot of changes in a woman’s body, but I just felt that I was getting very, very close. I was moving very slow and had a hard time getting settled and comfortable. At the same time, I was restless.
Around 8:30pm, I was sitting at my laptop when I felt a sudden POP! It actually made me jump. I felt a little bit of liquid, and at first I thought it was sweat. (It had been so hot that I felt as if I was just pouring buckets of sweat all the time.) I then realized that it was likely my water broke, so I made my way up to the bathroom. As I walked, water gushed out, and I knew without a doubt that my suspicions were correct. I called to my husband downstairs and told him what happened. I think it took both of us by surprise, because it was different from the first time (where my water broke 10 minutes before she was born).
I knew my midwifery practice had a 48 hour policy about broken waters and labor starting, so I didn’t worry about calling them just yet. Instead, I called a friend of mine who has experience with PROM (pre-mature rupture of membranes = broken waters without labor starting). She told me to get on my hands and knees to work on the ideal position for the baby while there was still enough water for her to turn. She also told me to go to bed and get some sleep, and she would do the same because she was on call to pick up my older daughter when we went to the hospital.
I called my doula and told her what had happened and told her I’d call her back when I wanted her to come. The plan was for her to come by the house and provide support there before we went to the hospital together. Then, I went to bed.
Wednesday, July 18th
I can’t say I was scared or anxious, but I wasn’t really able to sleep much. I was somewhat expecting the same as last time, where the labor had started gradually over 35 hours. I started feeling some pressure, but not anything resembling contractions.
I don’t remember if I had been asleep or not, but the contractions hit me very suddenly around 3am. They were immediately intense. I tried to time them but it was difficult to remember all the numbers. I called for my husband to give some counter pressure on my back. The ultrasound Tuesday morning showed that the baby had flipped OP (face up), which was how my first daughter was. She had flipped in the birth canal (we think that’s why the end of her labor was so fast), and since I hadn’t gotten much chance to try to flip the baby with positioning exercises, I was praying for a repeat of that.
My contractions were in my back, and I lay on my side with my husband behind me. After only a couple of contractions, I called my midwifery practice and spoke to the midwife on call (around 3:30 at this point) to tell her that labor had started and already it was incredibly intense. I didn’t have a clue how far apart they were at this point, so I told her I thought it was 8 minutes. (Ha, don’t believe a laboring woman’s estimation of time.) In reality, I think they were already about 5 minutes apart.
At some point, I asked my husband to call my doula and tell her I wanted her to come. (She lived an hour away.) She listened to me during one of my contractions and suggested that we should get to the hospital – she would meet us there. (The hospital was about halfway between our houses.) I said okay, but I continued lying on the bed – I had no desire to move! I think this was when my husband called my friend to ask her to come get our daughter.
The contractions were so intense and on top of each other. They were coming every couple of minutes – I felt I had been given Pitocin. I was overtaken by their frequency and intensity, and I struggled to move. I’m sure lying on my side was not the best position for labor! I started feeling the urge to have a bowel movement, which is what had happened last time. This scared me. I forced myself to relax and not try to push as hard. I kept thinking, is this the baby? No, it can’t be. I can’t do an unplanned homebirth a second time.
My husband mentioned that he was starting to see a lot of blood, and that scared me. Thoughts of placental abruption filled my head (sometimes too much knowledge can be a bad thing!), and I anxiously told him to call the midwife who was on call. He tried both the midwife’s direct number to no avail, and then we had the answering service ring her (which they were unable to as well – when we talked to her later she said she had no idea what happened).
I felt a mass in the birth canal and I think that’s when I realized the baby was actually coming. My husband saw the top of her head, and told me, “Get on your hands and knees!” He prompted me several times before I was able to comply. He was behind me, and as the baby slid out he caught her and said all sorts of loving, soothing things as she started to cry. I couldn’t move at all – I felt like my muscles were gone. I looked over at one point and saw my 3 year old daughter standing in the doorway looking quite terrified. I asked my husband if she’d been there the whole time, and he said yes.
I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but everything was much calmer this time. My husband seemed to react as if he dealt with this every day. He finally was able to get me to lie down and handed me the baby, who I immediately put on my chest for some skin to skin. She was covered in vernix, which I set about rubbing into her skin while trying to keep her warm with my own body heat. My husband called our doula, who had just pulled up to the hospital, and she immediately got back on the highway and headed toward our house. (Fortunately, being 5:30am there was no traffic!)
My friend arrived about ten minutes later to pick up our older daughter (about 15 minutes after we had originally called her). My husband met her downstairs and told her the baby had already been born. I was SO relieved she was there because not only is she a dear friend who has delivered two babies of her own, but she is also an ER nurse. She was completely nonplussed at the scene in our bedroom, or the sight of me laying there completely naked and covered with blood.
My doula arrived shortly thereafter, and she also was completely on top of things. She and my friend checked the baby to make sure everything was okay, and set about wrapping us in towels and helping me deliver the placenta. My doula checked me for tearing, and confirmed that I would need some stitches, so we debated about what to do since we still hadn’t heard from the midwife. We finally called another midwife (the owner of the practice) and told her what had happened, and she told us she’d arrange things with the hospital so that we could get down there and get everything taken care of.
My doula and friend helped me out of bed and into some clothes, and helped me down the stairs. They collected all the sheets and towels we’d used and threw them in the wash. I was SO appreciative! And if you were wondering while all this was happening… After watching the baby being born, my older daughter went back into her room where my husband found her sitting on her bed staring wide-eyed. She was quite traumatized! He held her as much as he could while he walked around the house, getting things for my doula and my friend.
At one point I got a few minutes on the couch and I invited my older daughter over to come look at the baby. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of everything. She saw the placenta in a plastic bag next to me and said, “What’s that, Mommy?” I tried to explain the purpose of a placenta, which was a little over her head. I told her what was going on and that she was going to go home with my friend, and by the time it was ready to go, she went willingly which relieved me greatly.
We went to the hospital, with my doula following us in her car. It was SO nice to have her there – just another comforting presence to add to my piece of mind. (When things like this happen, I tend to prefer to be told what to do by someone I trust.) They wheeled me to L&D and met the midwife there. We told her the whole story, she apologized about her phone messing up, and then she checked me for tears. Like after my first birth, this was incredibly painful and I’m so grateful for my doula’s presence.
After getting stitched up, we were taken to a postpartum room. I am happy to say that I did not pass out this time!
One of the things I really feared about this birth was that I would hemorrhage, which I know is one of the risks of being on blood thinners. However, when the time came, I actually bled very little. My doula and my friend were both surprised at the small amount of blood on the bed, and I’m actually grateful that the sheets came clean in just one wash and nothing was stained.
It was an incredibly intense birth and not really as beautiful as my first, and it took me a long time before I was okay with it. I had really wanted a water birth at the hospital, but obviously didn’t get one and I’m sad about that missed opportunity. I had a very difficult recovery, still feeling pain until around 6 months postpartum. However, as time has passed, I have accepted it as still a beautiful birth but in a different way.
It was beautiful because I once again was able to push my child through my vagina without the aid of drugs. It was beautiful because she was caught by her daddy, and her first sounds were of loving words. It was beautiful because my firstborn got to watch a normal birth, and still talks about it almost a year later. It was beautiful because despite my risk factors, I did not have to compromise my desires for a normal birth. It was beautiful because my daughter is beautiful.
We do hope to have another child in a few years, and this time I will plan a homebirth with midwives. My perinatologist has been wonderfully supportive of me through all of this, even supporting my desires to homebirth. I am grateful, because at this point I can’t imagine a better place to welcome my child into this world than in the comfort of my own home!