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“I’m Done Now, God.” A Home Birth Experience

“I’m Done Now, God.” A Home Birth Experience

I was completely in charge of my pregnancy. Such a wonderfully intimate experience between myself and my baby, God, and our family. Although yes, it was empowering, that is not at all why I do it. I do my pregnancies, and births, and babies this way because this is the choice my husband and I confidently make for our family. This was my third pregnancy, second unassisted birth, first unassisted pregnancy. We did not know the sex of the baby or an exact “due date”.

Hurricane Matthew was pressing in on Florida and I could not have been more relaxed…considering I was full term and possibly could have the baby in the middle of it. Hubby seemed stressed about the water situation and no heat or light. I was prepped to fill the tub and birth pool, got extra drinking water, and said my prayers. The night of Thursday, October 6th, Matthew began its landfall on us. I definitely felt something in me going on but wasn’t sure what. I did enough research to know that there was some truth about the barometric pressures ‘inducing’ labor in some women. I knew this could be it but didn’t want to get my hopes up so I just stayed calm about it all. That night I woke up in the midst of the storm, trees cracking and coming down outside as the storm beat on us, and I was having some major contractions. I stayed in bed and rocked my hips. The contractions stopped after a bit but there was a strange uncomfortableness. The baby was active and turning…yes, full on turning his body around. Ow. I just laid there. I didn’t feel the need to get up and wanted to listen to my body and baby; I felt no urgency. With the storm outside, it was calming in a way. I spent a lot of that time praying for everyone, for us, but a lot for those out there that needed it. Man this hurts. The baby started to settle down. I felt so tired but just kept praying; I fell asleep praying. Then I woke up the next day (still pregnant). So, did the baby turn head down last night, or breach…

Friday morning I awoke feeling inside my head. The baby was not showing signs of coming Earth side despite my feelings of exhaustion, and the immense heavy weight in my lower belly and vagina. I texted my husband in a state of desperation. I let him know that I had recalculated my “due date” and was obviously wrong the first time. The baby wasn’t going to be coming until October 16. At first he laughed. I told him that there was no way the baby was coming now if it didn’t come in the midst of a hurricane, so it was obvious I did my math wrong. There were no signs of labor at all. I didn’t feel as if anything was happening anytime soon, and although it was just an estimation anyway I just knew, down right knew, that we had more time… or more so knew nothing was my choice and finally surrender to God any ounce of control I pretended to have. He said he understood and supported me so if next week was it then we’d be ready for next week. As soon as he said that I relaxed; just completely relaxed with no timeline in my head. I felt sooo much better.

I went on about my day as normal. Nothing stands out in my mind about the rest of the day. After dinner and the girls bedtime routine (our 4 and 2-year-old), hubby and I sat down to watch a movie. As the movie went on I started feeling my normal uncomfortableness in my belly. This was a nightly occurrence for at least the last month if not two. My pelvis was killing me at this point and I was sure the thing was just going to snap in half any day now! It was pretty routine at this point that I’d start to feel those pains almost constantly, but especially in the evening… Then I felt some gas and needed to use the restroom. I let a little bit of my bowels go. When I wiped I saw some mucus and blood on the toilet paper. I knew it was my mucus plug, but also knew that it could be lost and regenerated, or be lost over a long period of time. I had been losing bits of it the entire last trimester, so in no way was labor immanent…mind you this was the first time there was spotting with it. So I returned to the couch.

After another 10 minutes or so I had to use the restroom again and let some more bowels go. I returned to the couch feeling a slight tummy ache. Hmmm, did I eat something weird or something didn’t settle right. When I returned to the couch this time, I felt the tummy ache had a rhythm that I unconsciously was rocking to. I laid on the couch just rocking my hips with small thrusts when I felt the uncomfortableness come on. I had to use the bathroom again but was stalling because I didn’t want to keep pausing the movie. Hubby asked if I was okay….I guess he noticed the rocking. I just nodded. Then felt nauseous and said no while I got up and went to the bathroom. I let some more bowels go with more urgency and pain this time. Hubby came into the bathroom and asked if I was alright. I told him what had been happening. He asked “are we having a baby tonight!?” with so much enthusiasm in his voice.

I scoffed, “No, even if I was in labor, it could be a day before a baby comes and I don’t even think I’m in labor yet. And I still feel the baby moving around.” I thought I read that babies get quiet before labor….didn’t I…?

I wiped and went back to the living room. I started the movie again. “I just want to finish this movie.” I was thinking; it was almost over and it was intriguing. I couldn’t sit on the couch anymore though. It was obvious I was having surges at this point. I grabbed my birth ball and sat on that through some surges rocking my hips, swaying, doing the figure 8 with my hips. It helped relax me between them but when the surges came I didn’t like it. I stood and then was squatting through one. Hubby was looking at me crazy and I said “I don’t know what to do.”

Then I decided to just kneel on the floor and hang my chest over the ball and rock that way. I could feel my body needed to be opened. That image of the flower bud opening kept popping into my head. I was on my knees but with them spread apart as far as I could get them. I was feeling kind of euphoric…and yet uncomfortable. I was dizzy, but not like the dizzy when you fall over; I had goosebumps and tingles all over my body.

Dang it, I had to use the restroom again. Hubby followed me in. He then proceeded to tell me that if I thought I was having the baby then he needed to set things into motion at work and make some phone calls. I was kind of ignoring him at this point. I didn’t want to be rushed, or put on a timeline. I told him “I’m not ready to say I’m in labor yet.” He still had this kid in a candy store smile slapped across his face when I looked up at him and I burst into a giggle looking at him. Then another one came…ouch! I realized that when the surge came I was gripping the towel bar and corner of the wall. I tried to stand but was frozen on the toilet and knew I couldn’t stay there. I immediately looked at him when it passed and said, “It’s real now. I’m in labor. Go get the pool ready!” I think my subconscious knew it wasn’t going to be long.

Hubby headed off to our bedroom. I went back to the living room. I texted my sister, “I think I’m in labor. Ssshhhh.”

Then I called my friend who was coming to photograph the experience for me. She lives an hour and fifteen minutes from me and we were concerned that she might not make it in time to catch the birth. My last birth was five and a half hours and I thought I had more time during that one. So this time we agreed at the first sign I’d let her know. She answered “is it time?”

I told her yes, then a surge came, moaning and breathing, then told her “Please come now.”

She asked how long I’d been in labor. I said just a little bit and she said “I’m on my way, wait until I get there.”

All I could say was, “Okay but leave now and hurry.” Again, all these little signs that I knew it wasn’t going to be long. It was 10:20ish when I called.

I walked to our bedroom, turned some lights off, made a water and essential oil mix for a wash cloth on my head, instructed hubby on a couple of things I wanted, then went to the restroom again but nothing was there except gas. I immediately got into the pool. Finally, some peace down there.

It felt so wonderful submerging my bottom and belly. The water covered over me and just washed away so much of that intensity. I gazed up at my birth affirmations on the wall and saw dead center, one that said “God is with me.” I immediately started praying. Not a prayer of dear Lord please help me…but a conversation. From that moment on I was in full dialogue with God. Just praising Him, thanking Him, asking Him for strength. The water felt like his warm arms wrapped around me. I felt so loved, so supported. Thinking back on that time brings tears to my eyes and goosebumps knowing how close I was with Him. How loved I am by Him.

Hubby started my playlist. “Ugh, it’s too loud.” Song playing. “Ugh, I don’t like that song.”

The way I was laying in the pool I could only see my candles and birth affirmations. I have no idea where my dear hubby was or what he was doing, and yet he was always right there. I would just say what I needed and it would happen. The volume was adjusted, the song changed, a straw with water in my mouth, a soothing hand towel on my forehead, a hand to hold. As each surge came I would rock, sway, breathe, talk with God. I know I voiced out loud a few times my conversation with Him. The surges were sooooo intense. I only remember them this intense with my last during transition and yet here I was an hour and a half in and owww! At certain points the surges were pushing me to the point of pain, almost breaking me. I’d whimper and ask for help, and I’d feel God there, holding me up where I was faltering in my strength. My wonderful, amazingly supportive husband reminded me to breath, to let it pass, to let it go, to exhale. His strong low voice spoke at the exact times I needed it. How amazing God is to provide the support we need, to guide us and all those around us, when we just submit to Him and trust in Him and His process.

My girlfriend showed up right around two hours into labor. I remember faintly hearing her and hubby speaking, whispering. I opened my eyes (which are often closed while I labor) and smiled at her. We exchanged pleasantries and a couple quick questions…and then a surge started. I closed my eyes and started swaying in the water with my very low moan. Then I felt hands on my arm and shoulder. It was like my spirit was yanked back into my body, back into all that pain, I felt pulled away from that heavenly place. Then I heard hubby’s voice and the touching stopped. He took the time to explain to her that I like to pretty much be left alone and that I am vocal with anything I do need so only step in when I ask. My sweet friend, she was so understanding and respectful. My hubby knew she was trying to be helpful but also knew me and protected my space. I really was blessed with those two being present for me during this time.

I felt very uncomfortable with some surges, getting painful, painful enough that I started bargaining with God. “Uh oh, I’m done now, God. Please just get me through this birth. I don’t really want four or five children, I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want to feel this immense pain. I don’t want to be so out of control. Please, God.”

I asked hubby to put some essential oils on me. I was feeling the need to move and started trying different positions to ease some of the pain. I felt like my hips needed to be opened more. I flipped around on my knees and leaned over the pool. I had to be close and if not I needed to be because I. Was. Done. Then I tried the bed but it was awful. I knew as soon as I crawled onto it how wrong it was. I backed off and then was crouched on the floor at the foot of the bed and pool. This is getting painful. I need to go to the bathroom again.

{let’s pause for a commercial break} Since we’re sharing, let’s get personal for a moment. I have a fear. And that fear is very real for me. This fear causes me to run to the bathroom at the slightest bit of pressure down there. You know what I’m talking about. How “they” say “Lots, if not most women will pass a bowel movement on themselves while giving birth’. I know this. I’m not ashamed of this. I’ve known mommas who have done this, and I never even batted an eye at it. But apparently… I am terrified of pooping on myself. Yup. And my dear wonderful husband, bless his heart. He supported my every step in and out of that pool, in and out of the bathroom, every single time I crouch on that toilet. He stands there and holds my hand as I sit, then helps me up and walks me back. Mind you I haven’t actually passed any bowels since labor started and I was watching the movie. Since I’ve been in my bedroom and in the pool all I’ve done is gone into that cold ceramic room that echoes! to release massive amounts of gas. Such a good man that guy. So…

Off to the bathroom I go. Gas. Back to the room. I tell hubby I need him. Holding on to his arms I just start squatting. No idea why. I just decide now is a great time for a glute workout I guess. Oh the intensity. Now he’s pretty much holding me up and I’m turning into jello. I start whimpering and whining. Everything was so very intense. But it felt so intense right from the start and I just couldn’t imagine it getting harder. Back in the pool. But wait. Dang it, I have to go to the bathroom again.

As we go into the toilet closet hubby holds my hands and squats in front of me while I lower myself down. POP and GUSH!!! All over this wonderful, supportive, patient, kind man. Yup. but ohhh, excitement, my water just broke. Now I’m in a half squat just hovering over the toilet. Pain. Oh the pain. A surge and I feel it. I have to push. I need to push. My body is pushing. Oooowwww. The baby’s head is crowning. My husband comments on the presence of hair. My hand is on the head and oh my gosh. “It hurts, it hurts, he’s going to rip me.”

Hubby says “Then don’t let it, breath, pant, breath.” I’m panting. Holding on to the wall I push hard with the next surge. I’m supporting the crowning head, my perineum and clitoris all at the same time while finishing my push. Holy Jesus thank you!!!! The head is out. Whew. But ow. My legs are shaking. Hubby is grinning from ear to ear. I’m frozen. Now holding on to the walls again. A surge is coming. I start shaking and yell.

Hubby says “don’t let him drop in the toilet.”

“Well don’t let him!” and I heave-ho a push with all my might. And another one. Oh My Lord, thank you sweet Lord, my baby is out!!!!! Hubby caught the baby and lifts the little one into my arms while I sit on the toilet. Whoa! Hubby’s giggling. I’m giggling. “Thank you Jesus.”

“Wait, what is it” Hubby says.

“I don’t know, you caught him.”

I lift his leg and move my hand for hubby to see and he yells “It’s a BOY! It’s a boy!” Oh my gosh, my son! I have a son. “Sweet baby boy, thank you Jesus, my sweet baby boy. Oh, my baby boy.”

But my sweet little girls, they missed it. Hubby asked if he should go get them. “Yes, hurry!” Within minutes he brought them in to the bathroom. Rubbing their sleepy little eyes they stared with amazement and absolutely huge smiles. Hubby tells them with so much excitement that they have a little brother. We oooo-ed and awww-ed for a bit in the bathroom and then I felt the surge for the placenta. Ouch! I’ve got to get to the pool again. Everyone helps me to the pool while I hold the baby. I get in and relax. My little girls kept kissing me, rubbing my head and shoulders, giving me water. I can’t get over how unbelievably tender these two little girls were that night. We just had such a sweet time together gazing at the wonderful gift from God we just received. They looked at his adorable little toes and fingers; touched his hair and little ears; listened to his soft but oh so sweet little cries; gave me blankets and towels to cover the baby with. My heart was so full and just gushing with love in those moments.

But oh, those pains. The surges for my placenta were really strong! And after just giving birth I just felt so done. I gently explored the umbilical cord and gave it a slight pull to see if there was any give…nothing. I needed these surges to get that sucker out. I prayed for the placenta to let go and come. I gave the baby to my girlfriend while she hovered next to the pool and I did some squatting, went pee in the water, and a tiny bit of tugging while pushing (the tiniest bit, I know my body well) all while being as close to the edge of the pool as I could be because the cord was not that long. Finally it plopped out. It took an hour and forty minutes. Whew. Now I can relax.

After exploring the placenta and teaching my girls about it the baby and I got out of the pool and got all wrapped up on the bed. Nice and comfy. The girls took turns holding their brother. Hubby cleaned up a bit and joined us in bed after putting the girls back to sleep. Wow, I have a boy. I finally have a little boy. Blessed by God, such a wonderful and amazing God we have. I can’t get over how fast it all went; and how intense it was. And yet I made it through, and our little boy is now here. Zechariah Krzysztof Rogowski. Born October 8th, 2016 at 1:35 am. He was my biggest baby weighing 8 pounds and 6 ounces, and a whopping 21.5 inches long. Our family is complete.

The moment hubby caught and handed the baby to me
Our sweet baby boy, Zechariah
Our girls admiring their new brother

Birth experience submitted by Amanda Rogowski.

Pictures taken by Jennifer Last of Jennifer Last Photography.

PROM, Castor Oil, Precipitous Labor, & Home Birth

PROM, Castor Oil, Precipitous Labor, & Home Birth

When I got pregnant with my second child, my husband and I never questioned where she would be born – we both knew we wanted another home birth with our amazing midwife that guided us through our son’s birth in 2012. Aside from a small amount of erratic bleeding and a preterm labor scare that ended up being the stomach flu, my pregnancy was uneventful and flew by and before I knew it, I was out on maternity leave from work at 36 weeks and filling my calendar with social engagements to fill the days before my due date. My son was born at 39 weeks, 6 days and I expected our daughter would follow suit, give or take a few days. I had my home visit with my midwife at 36 weeks and everything was in order for the birth, which I figured was weeks away.

On the morning of April 13, at 37 weeks, 5 days, I woke up at 5:45 am after a surprisingly restful night’s sleep (I struggled with pregnancy induced insomnia the majority of my pregnancy). I rushed to the bathroom to empty my very full bladder and I noticed that there was something wet between my legs. I figured it was urine since I had been known to pee myself a few times during this pregnancy, but after I used the restroom, the liquid kept coming and I realized it wasn’t pee. I woke up my husband and told him I thought my water had broken. The instructions from my midwife stated to wait until normal business hours to call if my water broke but labor had not started, so I put on a pad and went about my morning routine, excited but also a little nervous that I had felt zero signs of labor and this was much earlier than I expected to be going into labor. My mother, who lives in another state, wasn’t scheduled to arrive for two weeks and she was going to be my labor doula and after birth support.

A few hours later, I called my mom and told her my water had broken. No sooner had the words left my mouth then she was looking up how to change her flight and arranging a ride to the airport. Her words of advice were to take it easy to avoid going into labor before she arrived that evening. I sent my husband to work and the older kids off to school, as I still had zero signs of labor. I called my midwife who said to keep in touch and practice good hygiene, etc. I realized we didn’t have any food in the house for the midwives, so I made some muffins, and took a nap, anticipating that labor would be starting at some point in the next 24 hours, as the internet assured me 95% of labor’s do, after PROM/SROM. The day went on without so much as a little baby contraction, my mother arrived and we all went to bed, expecting to be woken up overnight to some labor action. My husband stopped by my midwife’s office and picked up their labor induction protocol pack, which included castor oil, herbal tincture and a few other supplements. She recommended I start the protocol in the morning if nothing started overnight.

Overnight, I felt a few mild contractions, but I mostly slept through the night and woke up without incident. I got up early to start the labor induction protocol, which included nipple stimulation (pumping), tinctures and a castor oil compress. I opted to not do the castor oil internally and see if the nipple stimulation helped. I watched “Look Who’s Talking” on Netflix, which did not make me laugh, the tinctures were regularly making me gag and the nipple stimulation wasn’t inducing a single contraction. My husband stayed home from work and slept in, in anticipation of another long day/night. After 4 hours of pumping every 30 minutes and not a single contraction, I talked to my midwife who wanted me to come into her office to confirm PROM and do a sterile speculum exam and talk about options. My mom and I went for a quick walk around the neighborhood and I finally started feeling some back pain and little tiny contractions, which were slightly encouraging but still not what I would call labor.

As my husband and I headed to the midwife’s office, I was getting disheartened. We were approaching the 48 hour mark and I was dreading the thought of making the decision if we needed to go to the hospital or could continue to wait for labor to start on its own. The exam by my midwife didn’t help ease my mind. She estimated that I was less than 1 cm dilated and maybe 90% effaced. Considering how long it had been since my water had broken and all the labor inducers I had choked down, this was depressing news. We talked about what would happen if I went to the hospital and how long we were both comfortable waiting, the risk of infection, etc. We came up with a plan that if my labor hadn’t started by the following morning, she would accompany me to the hospital for an induction. Meanwhile, she gave me the protocol for internal castor oil and we decided I would try a dose of it when I got home, which ended up being at approximately 4 pm.

My husband and I left our midwife’s office and headed down to the beach to talk a walk and clear our (my) heads. I was feeling really down and sad that the birth I had been picturing for the last nearly 3 years (since my first son was born) was looking like it wasn’t going to happen. But as we walked and my husband made me laugh (This is why I love this man with my whole being), I had a sudden peace that no matter where my daughter made her entrance, it was going to be spectacular and that was the way it was intended, even if that was in a hospital bed with an IV antibiotic, a Pitocin drop and an epidural. We headed home where my mom had my castor oil chocolate milkshake waiting for me.

After I took the milkshake, we did another few laps around the neighborhood. Back home, as we were fixing dinner, I started getting a few regular and ‘real’ contractions. This was very exciting! I even had to drop to my knees a few times but they were still very short and not super close together so I figured this was all still pre-labor stuff. I explained to my almost 3 year old that this was normal, that mommy’s tummy had to hurt for baby sister to come out and this was a good sign. As they were finishing up dinner and starting bedtime, I attempted to do some squats on the stairs. That kicked my contractions into a much higher intensity and I immediately had to go up into our bedroom and shut the door so I could focus on relaxing through the pain. My mom and husband came to check on me and I said that i was ok but things were starting to get organized and I needed both of them to support me. The notorious effects of castor oil started kicking in and I (out of necessity) started laboring on the toilet. Although the contractions were intense, they were still short and I was getting a decent break between, where I could talk and even laugh. I was confused at why the contractions were so intense so we called our midwife. After talking to us, she concluded I was probably in pre-labor and should get some rest and baby would most likely be joining us in the morning. We took her advice and I laid down and attempted to get some sleep. I believe I slept for about 30 minutes. By this time it was about 830 pm.

I jumped out of bed when a particularly strong contraction hit and told my mom and husband that I couldn’t sleep anymore, the pain was too intense. I tried to labor on the birth ball, but it wasn’t helping. My mind started freaking out (in hindsight, I was in transition but didn’t know it, even the second time around!) that there was no way I could do this all night, the pain was too intense and we needed to go to the hospital. But then I would get another 2 minute break and I thought I was just imaging the intensity. My mom suggested I try laboring in the shower which helped dull the pain and I believe relaxed me to the point to allow sweet baby girl to descend into prime birthing position. All at once, I couldn’t stand up in the shower anymore, I nearly fell out of the shower onto the birthing ball and screamed “I HAVE TO PUSH”. That certainly got everyone’s attention. My husband started panicking and filling the birth tub while furiously dialing the number for our midwife. My mom said, “please Lord let her keep this baby in until the midwife arrives, I have delivered a baby before but I would really rather not”. The midwife was on her way and giving instructions to my husband who was still trying to fill the pool. My mother got me to lay on my side and said she could see the baby’s head crowning. With 1 push, her head was out and then immediately another push, she was out and my mother gently laid her on my stomach where she started screaming the most beautiful ear piercing scream you ever heard. She was tiny and pink with a head of thick black hair, long beautiful fingers and absolutely perfect.

I kept asking if she was ok and of course she was. When the midwife arrived, my husband cut the cord and I immediately delivered the placenta as soon as I stood up. Sweet Ella Grace started rooting for the breast as soon as she was placed on my chest in bed and began nursing like a champion (and 2 years later, still is a total mommy’s girl and loves her milky time!). I feel so blessed that I was able to have the birth I envisioned and her arrival still gives me chills when I think about it!

Story and photo submitted by Sarah W. 

I Am Wholly Here: The Healing Water Birth of Finn

I Am Wholly Here: The Healing Water Birth of Finn

There was a moment, just before Ellie reached a gloved hand inside of me, that I wondered if I was cheating. If my body was incapable of truly beginning labor on its own. 6 centimeters dilated, completely effaced, 42 weeks with him in my womb. I ached to feel the natural progression of things – the dance of intensifying rushes around my middle, the surprise of his waters leaving me in the middle of the night, or as I rose in the morning, or in the produce aisle of the supermarket.

“Are you ready?” Ellie asked, one hand on my thigh. I leaned against a stack of pillows and nodded. And just like that, with a swift poke and a tug and a pop, the fluid that held him for forty-one weeks and six days, was gone.

Rushes started slowly, climbing from my thighs, to the top of my belly and back again. Caitlin, my doula, diffused cinnamon and cedarwood, and KC reheated salmon and beans from the night before. The birthing room was warm and honey colored. The rain outside came and went in waves. I felt an overwhelming safety and a drumming readiness as I paced from one wall to the next. The tub rested in the middle of the room, empty and waiting.

Didn’t plan much for this birth. With Aspen still so young and needing, and labor being (generally) so unplannable, I hadn’t thought to make a music playlist or pack snacks for myself or pen affirmation cards. Instead, my bag was full of smoothie pouches for Aspen, and diapers, and footed pajamas. But the disorganization of it all was oddly comforting. I took the opportunity to trust, and to settle into the moment.

I thought that music might be nice, so I opened Pandora on my phone. The default station is Disney music for the toy shop, and a song from Mary Poppins began to rattle my bones loudly. I tried to remember what music I was hoping for, but my mind was getting foggy. I turned to watch the rain out the window and switched my phone to silent.

And then, a rush much more intense than the others suddenly overtook me. I leaned against the glass and waited for it to be over, but it never quite left. The next was nipping at its heels, and the next, and the next, stacking atop one another like aftershocks from an earthquake. I found myself on the cool of the concrete floor, rocking and vocalizing through the cascade. I remember calling for KC, who was in the kitchen heating the salmon. I could hear a low conversation between he and Caitlin, and they both sounded worlds away.

I was somewhere else entirely, body and mind.

When they made it back into the room, the steaming to-go box made my stomach turn. I pushed it away and suggested a popsicle, maybe, because my body was telling me that I was both very hungry, and very sick. I took a few bites and then passed it back to KC.

It was time to fill up the tub. Just an hour after Ellie broke my water, I was now loudly vocalizing through rushes that lasted a minute or longer. I eased my body into the bean shaped tub and immediately knew that I wouldn’t leave the water until my baby was born. The feeling of weightlessness was a primal birthing need that I didn’t know I had until I gently moaned through a half-dozen rushes in the water. I closed my eyes. Caitlin held a cool cloth to my brow and Ellie’s nurse, Spring, pressed two hands down either side of my spine. I let my arms hang heavy over KC’s shoulders and inhaled the salty smell of his neck.

“You’re doing it,” he said into my ear, “You’re almost there.”

I was trapped in the in between – so close to the veil, where life splits and hangs in warm water, one side light, the other dark. Life meeting life meeting death. I knew a part of me was about to die, again, as it had when I gave birth to Aspen. I welcomed the death, and let it tear into me. Fire filled my belly, burning from back to front and back again.

From somewhere on the other side, I heard Spring say, “You’ve been in this position for fifty minutes now. Do you feel ready to try something else?” I felt myself nod. I waited for a lull in the pain and then pushed my body back, resting my spine against the curve of the tub. KC held my feet and massaged gently.

And then, just like that, I woke up.

When before I was barely breathing, barely awake, eyes closed, I now felt safe and alert and alive. I opened my eyes. I was smiling, laughing, talking between rushes that had mellowed measurably. The space between the bouts of pain grew longer.

“Something’s wrong,” I told Ellie. “I feel too good. Why are my contractions spacing farther apart?”

“It’s normal,” she reassured me, touching a hand to my shoulder. “Your body is resting, building energy. You’re about to meet your son.”

When rushes came, they were fueled by fire. They peaked in the middle and as they unraveled, my body heaved energy downward. The urge to birth my son was primal and uncontrollable. Each rush summoned screams wild and ancient to tumble from my throat. I have never heard something so loud. I shook the windows. Outside, the rain poured.

And with my wailing, the veil was torn.

I remember looking up at KC and seeing tears in his eyes. “I can see him,” he said quietly. “Here,” he grabbed my hand and guided my palm downwards. Just within me, there he was, the smooth round of his head pushing towards my fingers. We waited for the next rush with wide eyes.

And then, with the silent hum of a hundred thousand mothers before me tearing through my middle, my body revealed through a ring of fire a neat round head, and then shoulders, a belly, two arms reaching, and last, legs. One, smooth, involuntary push.

Just like with Aspen’s birth, there were ghosts in the room. I exhaled and heard the sound swim from myself as if I were holding onto my own body gently.

We did it.

We pulled him from the water and I held him to my heart. Ellie cleared his nose and wiped his face and we all slowly worked to move our still connected bodies from the water, to the bed. My faithful team tended and nursed and warmed and whispered. I drank a cinnamon tincture and hot cohosh tea. We cut the cord, changed a diaper, and welcomed family into the room.

Our sweet Griffin arrived screaming into the world at 3:51 PM on Wednesday, January 18th. He was 9 pounds and an ounce, and 20.5 inches long. Though I was bleeding heavily and weak in the knees, I felt almost immediately that his birth had healed some ancient, shattered part of myself. Maybe something I had broken when I chose to numb myself for Aspen’s birth. Or maybe the part of me that had torn in two when I first became a mother. She came alive again that day, in the water, roaring through the thin of the veil.

From mother of one, to mother of many. My edges have been sealed with warm milk and honey light. The veil is closed again, and I am wholly here, on the other side.

Story submitted by Kristen Hedges.

Photographs by Caitlin Wilbur.

Educated & Empowered: A Home Water Birth

Educated & Empowered: A Home Water Birth

My birth story begins a few years before my son was even conceived! While my husband, Jeff, and I were dating we discussed children multiple times. We both knew that we wanted to have kids but I remember clearly telling him that I thought I wanted to adopt since my fear of childbirth was too big. My husband is adopted and we’ve both always felt that it doesn’t take blood to make a family so that was our plan, we would adopt to spare me going through childbirth. Every time I thought about labor or giving birth my body would tense right up and I was filled with such anxiety about all of it. I’ve always thought that I had a very low pain tolerance and the thought of going through such agonizing pain from contractions was just too much for me! Not to mention that then there was getting that kid out – I’d either have to shove it out of my hoo-ha or get it taken out of me from surgery! No thank you! I knew that there was always the option of getting an epidural but I have severe scoliosis and was never quite sure if an epidural would work for me. Though I was confident I didn’t want to experience child birth, as my longing for a child grew, so did my interest in viewing birth photography.

I spent weeks looking at pictures of parents meeting their babies for the first time. My interest in birth photography then grew into an interest in birth stories. I read so many! Some stories of beautiful hospital births, some of brave women having cesarean’s (some by choice, some because of emergency), some of ecstatic parents meeting their adopted children for the first time, and some of peaceful home-births. Each story seemed to lessen my fear of childbirth a little bit more. My thinking slowly began to shift from this terrifying event to an empowering and beautiful process to be able to take part of. I decided that I wanted to be one of the “links in the endless chain of birthing women.”

When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a midwife! Where I live it’s possible to get a midwife through the health region but it can be very tough to get into the program since there are only six midwives to cover all of the city and surrounding area! A few people had told me to call as soon as I found out I was pregnant so I called the very next day. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted into the program a month later.

I adored Alison, our midwife, the moment I met her! Alison took wonderful care of me throughout my pregnancy and answered all of my questions. Our midwife always made sure that we knew all of our options and what the pros and cons were to each. Even on her busiest days she took the time to explain things to me in great depth, I really began to trust her. We had been planning a hospital birth throughout our whole pregnancy but when I talked about the birth that I envisioned I always gravitated to home-births. I wasn’t sure how safe they were and I was also scared of the judgment that we would get once people found out that we had a home-birth. Unfortunately, a lot of the time home-births seem to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths because they aren’t educated on them. Alison showed us a lot of research that had been done on home-births to prove to me that they were just as safe as hospital births in low-risk pregnancies. I came to her with a list of possible hiccups during the birth and she explained to us what the procedure would be in each one. I really felt like we were making an educated decision that was best for us, so we decided to plan for our home-birth!

As mentioned previously, I have severe scoliosis. I have an ‘S’ curve with a small curve to the right in the middle of my back, and a large curve to the left in my lower back. Since I had read so many birth stories, I knew there was a slight, but rare, possibility that it could affect whether or not I was able to get an epidural. Because we were planning the home-birth my goal was for a natural labor and delivery, but Alison and I agreed that it was important to cover all grounds so she arranged for me to have an appointment with the head of the anesthesiology department at the hospital. I didn’t get the best news there unfortunately! They weren’t going to have a problem getting the epidural into my spine (which was my original concern) but there was a decent chance that the epidural would not properly administer the pain medication because of the smaller top curve of my spine. It might work – but he couldn’t guarantee it. The head of the department and I talked about what that looked like for me. He explained that if I wanted it, there would be other forms of pain management that I could take. Ultimately though if I needed to have a caesarean I would most likely be put right under with general anesthetic. Nothing changed about our birth plan, but I will say that I had a lot of anxiety about that and worried about who would be there to greet babe if I was put under since Jeff wouldn’t be allowed in the room either. There was nothing else we could do but wait and see what happened.

About a week later, just two days before my due date, Jeff had just finished working around 9:00PM we walked over to the drug store across the street and got a frozen pizza. We came home and watched a terrible show on Netflix then decided it was time for bed. Usually we are in bed by 10:00 but since he had worked much later than usual we ended up staying awake until midnight. Every night in the last two weeks of my pregnancy I had gone to bed a little anxious, I really didn’t want to be awoken by labor – I’m not sure why, but I liked the idea of being awake when the process began. I had just finished brushing my teeth and was sitting down to pee one last time before bed. I was sitting there and suddenly felt this pain in my back. It lasted around thirty seconds but the pain wasn’t super intense. I had back pain throughout my pregnancy so I thought it was probably just that – plus it was still two days before my due date and I had convinced myself that I was going to be overdue! I was getting up from the toilet when my water broke. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was my water or not, but it kept leaking so I had a fairly good idea. Jeff remembered our birth classes and Alison telling us to check for COAT (color, odor, amount, and time) and it seemed everything was normal so far. Jeff asked me if he should fill up the birth pool but I just couldn’t believe what was happening so I said no. Was I really in labor?

My contractions started out five minutes apart but only lasted about thirty seconds. I called a girlfriend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse and she assured me that I was in labor! She told me to hang up the phone and call my midwife, so that’s exactly what we did. We explained to Alison what was happening and she told us that although my water broke, I could very well be in labor for another 24 hours. She asked me to take a Tylenol, get into the bath tub, and try to get some rest. She explained to us that the bath would probably space out my contractions but have them become longer. She asked me how the pain was and I said it was tough but manageable. At this point I was still able to move around and talk on the phone. Jeff had set up the birth pool while I was on the phone and asked if he should fill it up but I told him to hold off for now. I got into our bath tub and the water felt so nice but I didn’t like that I wasn’t able to move around much. After about half an hour in the tub my contractions sped up to 2-3 minutes apart but lasting between 30-45 seconds. The pain was getting intense! I got out of the tub but my body was not happy. I felt like I was having a terrible flu, I started throwing up that darn pizza! My contractions were getting more and more intense. I was still having mostly back pain but I remember being able to feel my hips literally separating so we decided to call Alison again.

We explained to Alison that my contractions were 2 minutes apart now or less, but they still weren’t lasting quite a minute. Some of them were as short as 30 seconds, and some were 50 seconds, but they didn’t last longer than that. Because of the strange pattern in my contractions she was fairly sure that I was in early labor still, but she asked if I would like her to come check me and I did. I told her that the pain was getting very intense and if I was in early labor then I wanted to talk about what my options were for pain management. She told me that it was going to get a lot more intense and I would really need to focus if I wanted to have the home-birth that I had hoped for. At this point I had decided that if this was early labor I was definitely going to the hospital for some kind of drug, so I once again told Jeff not to fill up the tub.

I labored on our bed while we waited for Alison. I didn’t feel like I could move around much at this point so I tried to just stay as calm and comfortable as possible. The contractions were still quite random but on average were 1.5 to 2 minutes apart. While I was laboring I felt a little chilled and said “socks” to Jeff. He ran out of the room and came back with the small bin of baby socks that we had purchased! Jeff and I are “How I Met Your Mother” fans and if you’re familiar with the show you’ll remember an episode where Lily decides she wants to have a baby because she sees some cute little baby socks. Throughout my pregnancy that was a little joke that we had when we bought baby clothes! At this point though I wanted socks for my feet, not to look at. I still laugh whenever I think about that!

Alison arrived around 3:00 A.M. We talked for a little bit about how I was feeling and she coached me through a few contractions. The pattern to them still wasn’t consistent, she explained that one of two things was happening: either the baby was in a strange position causing the irregular contractions or the baby was coming very quickly. My family has a history of fast deliveries so although in my head I was preparing for the worst, I was really, really hoping that I was fairly far along. I’ll never forget what Alison said when she checked me! “Tessa! Oh, Tessa! You’re having this baby at home.” I replied, “Yeah?! Really?” And she said, “You’re a 7!”

And that was it. If I had gotten to 7cm dilated with thinking that I was in early labor, surely I could see this through! That was the confidence boost that I needed. Since our baby was coming quickly, we needed to prepare! Jeff now had to hurry to fill up the pool since I kept telling him to hold off. Alison had to bring all of the birthing and emergency equipment into the house and set it up, and she needed to contact another midwife to come for the birth. I moved from our bed to the couch so I could soak in the hustle and bustle of the night. It was so exciting. I had read so many books on labor and written cue cards for myself to meditate on. I didn’t use the cards in labor but I had read them so many times beforehand that I was still able to think about them during contractions.

That time between 3:30 and 4:30AM are some of my fondest memories from my birthing experience. Our sweet dog, Timothy, came and snuggled up beside my leg. Since the baby was coming quickly Jeff and Alison were both busy and couldn’t spend much time with me but I never felt alone. As cheesy as this sounds, Timothy was the sweetest birth coach! One of the best notes that I had read was to really take time to enjoy the moments between the contractions. I thought about celebrating their birthday a year from then and how excited I was to plan the party. I thought about seeing their little face and holding them for the first time. I thought about all of the women around the world birthing with me at the same time and how incredible it was to be a part of the circle of life. Although the pain was intense when I was contracting it was just such a beautiful thing to be able to experience. My body knew what to do!

I started to feel the urge to push but the second midwife wasn’t at the house yet. Alison had tried to call the other two midwives on her team but neither of them were able to make it there quickly so she called a midwife on the other team who agreed to come right away. Alison told me that if I felt the urge to push not to resist it and asked if I was able to move into the tub. The tub was full enough to get in so I slowly made my way into it. The water felt phenomenal! I know everyone says that, but it’s true!

When I got into the water I remember thinking that labor is just so weird. At that moment I felt completely, 100% normal and was not experiencing any pain at all. It’s hard to believe that there are moments like that in labor but there really are! I started pushing shortly after 4:30AM. Pushing felt great. Pushing took away almost all of the pain from the contractions. I remember the other midwife coming into the house when I was in the middle of pushing. I hadn’t met her before and I didn’t want to be rude so I grumbled out “helloooo” to her! Jeff had pots of water boiling on the stove and between staying with me he would run to get a pot and dump it in to keep the water warm. At one point while I was pushing he dumped the pot of water partially on his hand but decided it was best not to mention that while his wife was in labor – smart guy! I pushed slowly and only during contractions. I put my hand down and felt lots of soft hair, the baby was getting closer. I had read about the “Ring of Fire” and I totally get why they call it that. There really is no better explanation for that pain. Our sweet babe was crowning and I was making sounds that I didn’t even know I could make. I kept my eyes shut the entire time I was pushing so I had no idea where anyone was. Jeff and I had talked about the birth numerous times before and he always said he didn’t think he would watch the baby coming out but, to my surprise, he did! At 5:20 AM I felt instant relief from the pain.

I looked down and there was this tiny little babe in the water. The chord was wrapped around his neck and as Alison unwrapped it she told us that that was actually very common. It made me so happy that she wasn’t concerned in the slightest about it. And there was our baby! After all of that: all of the hoping, dreaming, and praying – our baby was here. They placed the baby on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin. We looked down and saw that it was a sweet little boy. We did delayed chord clamping. Alison let us feel for the pulse in the chord to slowly disappear; while we waited, it was so cool watching the colour come into his body from the chord. When the pulse was gone, Jeff cut the chord. He says that it was firmer to cut than he had been anticipating. It was all so magical! In our birth plan I had agreed to a shot of oxytocin to speed up the birth of the placenta. After a few minutes, I was feeling ready to push again so I gave the baby to Jeff for skin-to-skin. Pushing out the placenta was a breeze compared to the baby.

Shortly after I slowly stood up out of the tub. What a weird feeling! It was almost as if my insides were all falling back into place. I distinctly remember feeling my organs shifting. I walked over to our bed where Alison had set up a cozy and clean area for all of us. She assessed me and determined that I had a second-degree tear. I snuggled our new babe while she stitched me up. They asked us what his name would be – Everett! After I was stitched, Everett found his way to the breast to nurse. He latched on right away and was happy to be eating. Alison then took Everett’s measurements, heart rate, and got his weight. He was 20.8” and weighed 8lbs, 6 oz. Jeff and I both thought that he looked so small when in reality he was a fairly big baby! The midwives stayed with us a while longer to examine Everett and I then they left us alone as a new family of three (four if you count Timothy). The experience of having a home birth was phenomenal. I loved the comfort of being in our own home. Our family came over the next few days to make sure we were well fed, our house was cleaned, and our garden was even planted for us!

Having a baby is strange – beautiful, but strange! When I saw Everett for the first time I knew that I loved him without a doubt, but I remember thinking that I loved my dog more than him. Yup! I remember lying in bed thinking, wow, I love my dog more than my baby, I probably shouldn’t have a kid! The first night we were getting ready to go to sleep and Everett started to scream at around 10 PM and all I could think was “what have we done?” It took time for me to fall deeply in love with him and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. I felt somewhat disconnected from the whole thing, Alison assured me that that was normal, but I wish that as mothers we talked about that experience more! I think that’s why skin-to-skin is so important for parents and babies. The next few weeks were challenging, my hormones were somewhat everywhere and I was a little nervous to be responsible for a tiny human. Jeff took two weeks off of work when Everett was born and I’m so glad we had that time together as a family. Jeff took the lead with diaper changes and would walk with Everett in the night while I was healing from the birth. Jeff was the more patient parent right out of the gate, it all seemed to come really natural to him but it felt like a bit of a struggle for me. I had never been around baby’s much and even though we took a lot of classes, I still felt like I had a lot to learn.

Breastfeeding was hard! There was a lot of pain but I was determined to keep going with it. Everett had a tongue and a lip tie which at the time we decided to leave but in hindsight I think that was part of the reason we had such a battle finding a good latch. Luckily our midwives were great for showing us some different nursing positions and the lactation consultants were wonderful resources!

Everett is eight months old now and I really do love him more and more every day. Watching him grow and learn new things is so exciting. Birthing him was challenging, but by far my greatest accomplishment in life. I am so proud of what my body has done. Having a home-birth, for me, was the ultimate way of conquering my fear of childbirth. I absolutely loved the experience of it all. Before I had him, a friend of mine said that she wished she could birth a baby every day – I thought she was crazy! But I understand what she meant now as I, too, wish I could birth a baby every day. It is the most wonderful and empowering thing I have ever been a part of. What a beautiful gift, and honour, it is to be able to grow and birth a human being!

Story and photographs submitted by Tessa N. 

Surrender to the Ocean’s Tide: a Water Birth Story

Surrender to the Ocean’s Tide: a Water Birth Story

I had begun having Braxton Hicks contractions at regular intervals starting at 36 weeks. Every day I would contract at 5 minutes apart and end the day at 3 minutes apart. So on May 4th, 2017, which happened to be my due date, I didn’t think too much of my contractions, which now felt stronger. After picking up my daughter from school at 1:30 I came home and got in the bath tub, at which point the contractions slowed to 10 minutes apart. At 3 pm l decided to call my midwives to talk about my symptoms.

Once I got out of the tub the contractions picked back up at 5 minute intervals. This time they seemed crampier, more intense. They accelerated very quickly and within minutes I was making what my husband calls “tribal” sounds that signified it was real this time. However, I was still in denial that this was really “it”, and didn’t call my husband until 3:45pm. My 4-year-old daughter was watching a movie in the living room and periodically came to check on me back in my bedroom. Despite the noises that I was making, somehow, I was still in denial that this was really it. Thank goodness, I DID decide to inform everyone on my birth team, including my photographer. Little did I know how soon the baby would come.

The midwives arrived around 4:15pm and announced that I was fully dilated. I was so relieved! Soon after my husband walked in from work. If he would have left his office just 10 minutes later I’m quite sure he would have hit traffic and not made it to the birth.

I then texted my photographer who lives close by. She arrived at my house at 4:45, just in time to photograph me working through a few contractions. The pool was quickly set up and I stepped into the warm water. It was so comforting. In between contractions I felt fine. I carried on conversation and even told the photographer to open the blinds so we could get better lighting. We smiled for a nice family picture, and then I resumed my work.

With the next contraction, I felt what I can only describe as a “pop” of a rubber band. It took me a moment to mentally register this feeling, and a few seconds later I announced that my water had broken. With the water breaking came an undeniable urge to push. I focused inwardly, pushed gently, and out came little Levi! I did not feel a “ring of fire” this time, instead I felt what can only be described as getting kicked in the crotch with cleats.

After that moment I felt his head, then his neck, then shoulders, then body, all squirm out of me. That part was not painful at all! It was such a neat feeling that I do not recall feeling with my first birth. It was such an “out of body” experience, pun intended! I birthed him on all fours, and he slid out behind me. My daughter whispered, “Look Mama, there’s the baby!” My midwife picked him up as I rolled over into a sitting position, resting my back against the side of the tub. He immediately let out a strong, loud cry. I rested him on my chest and took in all the wonder of what had just occurred. A few minutes later, I got out of the tub and crawled into bed with my family. I laid him on my chest and he found and latched onto my breast. Soon after I pushed the placenta out. I did not bleed very much, neither in the tub nor post-partum.

I was so much more “present” for this birth than my first water birth, which was also swift and peaceful, however, I must have mentally escaped to “labor land” with my first. For this birth, I felt so clear minded in between and even during contractions. This must be why I was in such denial that I was in labor until right at the end, because I partly expected that mental fog feeling of labor land to come over me if it was real labor. My first birth was nearly 4 hours long, and I hadn’t had even a twinge or a cramp until I went into obvious labor with her. With my second birth, I had so many contractions for many weeks leading up to the birth. I had become like the boy who cried wolf, thinking every single day that the baby was coming, and eventually doubting myself, feeling more confused than ever about what real labor even felt like.

This birth confirmed what I already knew to be true from my first: birth can be so very simple, if we just allow ourselves to surrender to the ocean’s tide, instead of swimming against it.

Story submitted by Mackenzie A. 

Photographs taken by Kat Reiser

Labor in the Shower, Babywearing, & Anxiety is a Liar

Labor in the Shower, Babywearing, & Anxiety is a Liar

In case you missed our Instagram this past week…

Sending you love and good vibes only. ❤ Quote by @januaryharshe. ✨

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Harry Potter, Zumba, & a Home Water Birth

Harry Potter, Zumba, & a Home Water Birth

In December, I got to shoot my very first birth session. Let me start by saying—nothing in the world can prepare you for something like that! The birth was set up to be an at-home, water birth. And, boy, I did my research. I read articles on what to expect when birthing at home, the process of having a water birth and looked up tons of different styles of birth session photography.

I was lucky enough for my first birth session to be for dear friends; Charity and I have been friends for over a decade! So when I got the call, she was very early in labor. I packed up my work and headed over to their house to keep her company. The room was set up with an empty birthing pool and the necessary emergency equipment. That was when it got real for me. I took photos of EVERYTHING.

Throughout the day, we ate pretzel Goldfish, watched Harry Potter movies and even did a little Zumba to get her moving! We timed contractions and practiced breathing exercises on a birthing ball. I learned that we want contractions to become “longer, stronger and closer together.” Charity’s mother-in-law, Kelli (aka the most wonderful woman on the planet), told us what to expect and how to pass the time.

Now this part is going to sound like I’m exaggerating—I’m not. This was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Charity and Jake clung to each other through the long hours, family was there to help and cheer them on and, of course, the midwives and midwife assistants were there to guide the parents-to-be through the process. It was such a wonderful show of community, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Through the hours of intense contractions, Charity persisted. She was an absolute trouper—I’ve never been more proud of this woman and the strength she showed! Through each round of pushing, it became clear that little Eisley could be born at any time. I took pictures on pictures on pictures! After a full day of labor, Charity successfully delivered a beautiful baby girl.

When I edited the photos, I tried to keep the dark and raw electricity of the moment (well, hours). There was also a point in the evening that the room was so dark I had to use an external flash.

This story is a such happy one. It ends with two very tired and happy parents, over 600 pictures to remember the experience and one beautiful, strong little girl!

Story and photographs submitted by Jude Anderson

Born En Caul, Majestic Spirit, & Family Before Everything

Born En Caul, Majestic Spirit, & Family Before Everything

In case you missed last week on our Instagram

Sweet dreams.🌙 📷:@elisehurstphotography. #nicubaby #birthwithoutfear

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“I spent the night in the company of a remarkably intuitive woman. Alongside her equally amazing partner, I was privileged to witness a birth unlike any I have seen before. It was by far, the most connected, the most primal, the most sexy, the most vibrant, the most intense, the most wild and the most fulfilled birth one could ever hope for. Dancing, moaning, furiously moving, screaming, ecstasy – a lioness in her full power. In a day where mainstream birth culture commands a deep disconnect and rigid chill, where red tape and politics cloud the core message, where parameters of what birth needs to be restrict birthing people from living their truth and transformation…I feel encouraged. What I experienced in this space – what this woman experienced in her birth – reaffirms that the wisdom and knowledge of wise women who have come before me, the knowledge they have always tried to pass down – this secret…that somewhere along the line, the majority of folks decided to stop listening to…it is still alive. In the darkness of nights, where people like me and people like you fight relentlessly for birthing people to be TRULY and UNCONDITIONALLY supported, I feel encouraged to keep doing the right thing and to continue to use this space to raise awareness for what my heart calls me to. I don’t care how you birth, my wish is to see you feel like THIS. If I could bottle the twinkle in her eyes and the linings of the clouds she is walking on, I would hand deliver it to every ripe and round woman I know and say, “You DESERVE this.” ✨Words and image by @angelawombwarrior. ✨ #birthwithoutfear #optionssupportrespect

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Seven years of waiting and then this moment. @elisehurstphotography #birthwithoutfear

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An Unplanned, Unassisted Home VBAC

An Unplanned, Unassisted Home VBAC

My birth story begins three years ago when at 35 weeks pregnant we discovered, much to our surprise, our baby girl was in a frank breech position. Following a consult with maternal-fetal-medicine (MFM), we ultimately decided against moving forward with an external cephalic version (ECV) and instead opted to wait and see if she would turn on her own. Unfortunately, as the weeks passed, baby girl remained snug inside, head up and bottom down. Not once did the option of a vaginal breech birth present itself and I was told the protocol was to schedule a cesarean section at 39 weeks. Although I hadn’t made any specific plans for an intervention-free or non-medicated birth (my personal philosophy was a more “go-with-the-flow” approach), something deep inside me (call it a mother’s intuition) told me labor was an important part of the birth process for me and for baby, even if it ended in a surgical delivery.

Although maternal-fetal-medicine supported us in not doing the ECV and instead awaiting spontaneous labor, my regular OB was not supportive of our wishes threatened me to either schedule a cesarean or sign a waiver (“Against Medical Advice”). I left that appointment feeling bullied, powerless and unheard. Eventually, after push-back from my end along with the support from my MFM OB, my regular OB backed off and agreed to us awaiting labor as an acceptable alternative to scheduling a cesarean at 39 weeks.

At 40 weeks and 1 day I woke around 3 o’clock in the morning to a ping in my stomach that resembled a period cramp. I told my husband I thought I might be in labor but that he could keep sleeping since it would probably be awhile until we’d need to head out for the hospital. Around 6am I decided to call the hospital when my contractions were about seven and a half minutes apart. By the time we got checked into triage at 7:05am contractions were closer and a lot more intense. It had been about four hours since my first labor pain; after a cervical check, the attending OB shouted out, “She’s an eight!” From there, I was prepped swiftly for labor and delivery and although my OB told me she didn’t have time to check me again, she said she suspected I was nine to ten centimeters dilated. My beautiful daughter was born in a belly birth with Apgar scores of nine and nine. She weighed 6 lbs., 3 oz., and measured 18.5 inches long. Surgery was respectful and straightforward; the OB explained to me what she was doing at every junction; she even told me as she sewed me up I was “the perfect candidate for a VBAC.” I knew my body could birth a baby and I was already planning my VBAC in my head.

Skipping forward nine months, I watched the movie The Business of Being Born for the first time. I was so moved by the film that it spurred me to search out more information about midwifery care and natural childbirth. The more I read and watched, the more and more I realized how little I actually knew about birth and maternity care in the United States. I was more determined than ever to attempt a vaginal birth when I fell pregnant again (which I did another ten months down the road) and I knew I had to re-educate myself if I really had a fair shot at a trial of labor and a VBAC.

When I found out we were pregnant again in March 2016 my next big step was changing providers; I switched from the OB practice I had been with while pregnant with my daughter to a midwife practice. As part of my care plan, I was required to meet with an OB from the midwives’ consulting obstetrician group. I specifically scheduled a meeting with the head OB from that group who I had heard good things about and who I was told was very VBAC-friendly. Upon reviewing my health records, the first question he asked me was, “So, why didn’t you have a vaginal breech birth the last time?” My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe he had asked me that since the topic never came up once as a possible option. I knew this time around I was with the right group of providers; a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I felt I could finally start to enjoy my pregnancy.

From that point on, my pregnancy progressed much like my first (complication-free and uneventful). Starting around 14 weeks I began doing twice-weekly prenatal yoga to ensure better body balancing in hopes of giving baby the best chance of getting into an optimal position. Around 30 weeks I started seeing a chiropractor certified in the Webster technique one to two times a week for adjustments. Baby luckily got into a head-down position around 28 weeks and we never looked back. During this time, we also hired a doula/birth photographer. In the final weeks before my baby was to be born, I felt I was as prepared as I possibly could be for a trial of labor and knew every single person on board supported me and believed in me. Although I felt deep down in my core I was going to have a VBAC, I still came to peace with the possibility of having another cesarean section (I even created an amazing cesarean birth plan if we needed it).

My “due date” of 11/24/16 came and passed along with the Thanksgiving holiday. We had family in town and everyone was excited and eager to meet our new addition to the family. I had been having increasing Braxton-Hicks contractions the couple of days surrounding the holiday, but nothing that took up a consistent pattern. Early morning on 11/27/16 I woke up around 3:30am with period-like cramps. I got up and decided to start timing to see if these were the real thing or just pre-labor. I woke my husband and told him I was going to the living room for a while to time them and I’d come wake him if it looked like they were turning into something more consistent. After timing contractions for about an hour, I texted my doula to let her know I was awake and contracting but that there was no distinct pattern. She suggested I have some water and lay down to see if they might go away. I took my doula’s advice and eventually contractions dissipated around 6am and I was able to catch a couple of hours of sleep before getting up again to officially start the day.

I woke again around 8:30am on 11/27/16 and contractions picked back up soon after, although still spaced out and not very intense. I called my doula in the morning and gave her an update. We decided since they were still infrequent and mild to keep an eye on them to see if they would turn into something more consistent. Around 1pm my husband, daughter and I headed out for afternoon brunch. At around 2pm while at brunch, the contractions started to become more uncomfortable, coming about every fifteen to twenty minutes. This is when I suspected it was the real thing. My doula called me while at brunch and I filled her in. Since contractions were still fifteen minutes apart, we decided to stay in touch about progress. She suggested I go for a walk and see how they progressed from there.

After brunch we gathered our daughter and decided to head to a nearby reservoir that also had a big play area and park. It was an absolutely picturesque fall afternoon; it was crisp and cool and the sun was shining. The multi colored leaves on the trees provided a beautiful fall back-drop to my labor. After we got parked and unloaded, we enjoyed a stroll and fed the ducks in the park. As contractions got more painful, I began to hang back a bit from my husband and daughter to work through them. From behind, I watched them playfully frolic in the afternoon sun as I labored. As we made our way for the play area in the park, the contractions began to intensify and started getting closer (about thirteen minutes apart). As we approached the playground, I told my husband I was going to follow behind them so as not to cause concern for my daughter. As they came and went, I began my deep breathing, moaning, and movement to handle the intense sensations; I was squatting on park benches and leaning on park structures while swaying my hips from side-to-side. After arriving at the play area, I continued to explore on my own; I remember watching the colorful skyline and thinking that the energy I was feeling was helping to bring my baby into this world.

Around this time, I felt as though I couldn’t be in public any longer and needed to go home. I tracked down my husband at that point and told him we needed to go soon; I asked for the key and told him I’d be waiting for him and my daughter in the car. Once in the car, I texted my doula that we were heading home and that contractions were about nine to eleven minutes apart. During the fifteen to twenty minutes I waited for my family, I had to get out of the car to work through my contractions; I squatted and held onto the car’s frame near the foot of the car and moaned deeply as they came and went.

On the way home I had several other intense contractions that required me to unbuckle my seatbelt in order to move through the surges. I knew this was the real thing and we were having a baby that day. As we approached our home, I told my husband that since my contractions were still rather far apart (about ten minutes) we still had some time and so I wanted him to take my daughter out for a car ride to see if he could get her to nap before we left her with my cousin to head to the hospital. Once we pulled into our garage, my husband told me he needed to run up quickly to use the bathroom; in the ten to fifteen minutes I waited in the car with my daughter, I had another strong contraction that required me to get out of the car. Once my husband got back to the car, I said goodbye to him and my daughter and told him I’d call him when it was time for him to come back home. As he headed out with my daughter I hurried up the stairs to get our final items together for the hospital. I also called my doula and told her contractions were about seven to eight, minutes apart by that time but were very intense. She said most likely today was going to be the day and that I should start making the necessary calls to arrange for my daughter’s care. She also said I should try to relax and use the last little bit of time before we left to reflect on my pregnancy journey. After I hung up, I plugged in our Christmas lights that hung across our living room windows; as I was about to put on some relaxing music. Then I had a monster contraction that shook me to my core; all of a sudden I felt a trickle of fluid and then a full gush; it was my water! Simultaneously, I felt a major shift inside of me – the baby was crowning and I was home…alone.

As the physical sensation overtook me, a moment of panic set in; I guided myself down to the living room floor into a side-lying position; I quickly spotted my cell phone on the couch and reached for it immediately. I dialed my doula to let her know my water had broken and the baby was coming. Sensing the panic and urgency in my voice, my doula told me she would be there in five minutes (luckily, she literally lives five minutes from me). I told her the front door to our apartment building was locked, but to ring every neighbor’s bell and that someone had to be home who could let her in. As I laid on my side, my contractions started to space out. I reached my hand down and could feel the top of my baby’s head; I could feel he had some hair and remembered that my daughter was also born with hair. There he was! Right there! I knew this VBAC was going to happen.

I then called my husband. Twice. But he didn’t pick up. So then I called my cousin who was supposed to watch our daughter when we went to the hospital. She answered, and I immediately blurted out, “the baby’s coming!” I also told her the baby was crowning and that I couldn’t get a hold of my husband; she told me she was on the way before I hung up and tried calling my husband again (to no avail). In that moment, I realized I needed to calm down and pull myself together. I told myself someone would be there soon, but that it was likely I was going to have to deliver my baby on my own. I knew I needed to be focused for my baby and remember telling myself to breath, that I needed to be there for him. Then, I remembered the breathing exercises I had learned in my prenatal yoga classes. I found my calm and tried to take some good, deep, cleansing breaths.

During this time, my cousin called me back and stayed on the phone with me as my body began to push. I remember my cousin trying to help me with words of encouragement while I started pushing, but she was understandably at a loss for words and just continued to listen from the other end of the phone. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a pounding on the door – it was my doula. The college-age girls that live across the hallway from us had let her in our building, but I had forgotten the door to our apartment was locked as well and my doula didn’t have a key! She shouted that the door was locked and that she needed me to let her in, but, at that point, there was no way I could physically stand up to let her in; the baby coming then and there and my body was pushing all on its own. Locked out on the other side of the door, my doula continued to talk to me. When she realized I was bearing down, she told my neighbors to call 911 for an ambulance. At a certain point, I stopped registering the words she was speaking and completely focused in on the task at hand. It wasn’t more than another push and my son’s head came out. Almost simultaneously the rest of his slippery little body followed. Incredibly, in that moment I don’t remember feeling any pain but rather relief. As he slipped out and softly landed on the carpeted living room floor, he began to immediately cry; I remember being so incredibly amazed that he came out of me so quickly and easily; the second I saw him land softly on the carpet, I scooped him up and shouted to him, “I got you! I got you!” I brought him immediately to my chest, hugging him tightly since I didn’t want to drop him (he was so wet and slippery!).

Then, it was as if my mind transported back from whatever far- off planet it had traveled to during the delivery, and I heard my doula ask me, whenever I could manage, to get up to unlock the door to let her in. After drying my feet, I quickly headed for the front door. In almost the same motion, I unlocked the door and headed back to the living room floor to lay down with my baby boy. My doula came in with the happiest glow on her face; she quickly helped guide me back down to the carpet and grabbed me two pillows from the sofa to help prop my head up. She also grabbed the throw blanket off the sofa and thoughtfully covered me up while doing a very quick check down below to make sure I wasn’t showing signs of excessive postpartum bleeding. After a quick glance over, she told me we both looked great and that the paramedics were on the way. She kept telling me how awesome I was, how proud she was of me, and what a rock star I was. She also assisted me with our first breastfeeding session, and the energy in the room was incredibly peaceful and serene. I felt an immense sense of calm and accomplishment that we both felt as we waited there for the paramedics.

As we waited, my doula warned me that when the paramedics got there it could be a little crazy; luckily, though, when the paramedics arrived (about ten minutes after the birth of my son) they were incredibly calm and professional (because both my doula and I were calm and everything was stable). The three older men looked me over to make sure I wasn’t showing any signs of hemorrhaging; luckily, other than the blood from the delivery, I wasn’t bleeding. They also looked at the baby and saw he was breathing great and was pink in color. One of them even commented that you never see babies look that good after birth. When it came time to cut my son’s cord (all of his cord blood had transferred by that point), I asked the paramedic if my doula could cut the cord instead; he had no problem with letting her cut the cord, and she happily accepted the honor.

After a few more moments, my husband arrived with my daughter in tow and my cousin arrived just a few minutes later. As I glanced up at my husband, I could see my daughter, fast asleep on his shoulder. Within a minute or two, my daughter awoke in a sort of fog; she was quiet but curious about the strangers in our home but did not appear scared or frightened. It was at that moment I especially appreciated the calm and professional demeanor of the first responders. Then, I could hear my husband ask my daughter if she wanted to see her brother; without hesitation, said, “Yeah!” She gave him a look over as the paramedics got my son buckled into his car seat and got me strapped onto the gurney. As we arrived at the hospital, I was greeted with the same professionalism and calm from the ER team. After a quick look-over, my son was returned to my arms; I was congratulated and told he was beautiful and perfect before they took me to my labor and delivery room to deliver the placenta. Once in my room, the team began to transfer me to a bed from the gurney when, all of a sudden, I felt a dull but intense cramp that pushed out my placenta. Finally, the sense of relief was immense and I realized not only did I birth my son without drugs, but my placenta too!

Although I had not planned for an unassisted home VBAC, I felt I was as prepared mentally, emotionally, and physically as anyone could be for this kind of experience. I am in absolute awe of the female body and am certain all women have the same instinct and ability to birth their babies unhindered just as I did. The love and respectful care I received from the first responders, medical team, doula and my family was priceless and I wish that for all birthing women, everywhere, under all circumstances. I have never felt more, powerful, capable, womanly, transformed and healed as I have as a result of this birth. I hope, if anything, my experience shows other moms who are on their VBAC journey that their bodies are not broken and that we all have the intuition and strength to birth naturally.

Birth story submitted by Erin D.

Photographs by Jessica Thomas of Under My Heart Birth Services.

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