A Footling Breech Birth Assisted by a Midwive & Observed by Paramedics

This is the story of one’s exciting entrance into the world. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would one day have such a fast and furious labor, especially after the perfect labor and birth of Joby a little over one year ago (yeah, I know. We certainly didn’t waste any time, did we?).

Oliver William was born on August 4th, 2012, a whole 5 hours from the moment my membranes spontaneously ruptured while I was peacefully sleeping. I was 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant and certainly not  expecting that to happen so soon. The night prior, Joey and I had gone to dinner before he went to a wrestling match with his sister and nephew, and I knew something was off then. I was ravenous, didn’t have any patience, and I didn’t quite feel like myself. In fact, one of my friends saw me driving home from dinner and I was oblivious to her trying to get my attention with honking and waving. I was concentrating on getting home as I had an odd pain in my abdomen that I just couldn’t shake.

Joby and I played for a while and I bathed him once we arrived home. I noticed I was exhausted and we decided to go to bed early. By 9pm, we were both cuddled up and enjoying our slumber together. Joey made it home and quietly slipped into bed shortly after midnight. Little did we know the adventure that the next morning would hold.

I was suddenly awakened at 1:00am by the “gushing fluid” sensation that is so comically portrayed in movies. Laying on my left side, I felt it completely bathe me, front and back, until I convinced myself that my water had actually broke and I knew what was coming next. In disbelief and fear, I called Misti (my midwife), then Jenn (my doula, who lovingly texted “Relax. Everything is as it should be.”), then my parents to let them know that we were having a baby. I roused Joey to let him know my water broke and to make sure Joby wasn’t laying in it and he sleepily acknowledged me and nodded back off as if nothing had happened (when I came back into the bedroom later, I discovered Joby snoring away in our new waterbed, right where I had been laying before. Apparently Joey didn’t quite get what was going on).

Misti asked if my fluid was clear and odorless (which it was) and calmly advised me to relax and go back to sleep since I was going to need the energy soon enough. For those of you who’ve never birthed a child before, there is no way a pregnant woman can fall back asleep after her water has broken given the anxiety and excitement that has overcome her thoughts at that point, not to mention any contractions that may be starting. I was trying to wrap my mind around having  a baby so early and how much I still needed to prepare (mentally and physically) to make that happen. Instead of sleep, I relaxed my thoughts under the warm water of a shower, got dressed, packed my suitcase (and by “packed my suitcase” I mean I basically dumped my top 3 dresser drawers into a suitcase. Seriously, who has time to color coordinate when you’re in the Oh-my-gawd-I’m-about-to-have-a-baby mode?), packed Joby’s suitcase, drank a lot of water, found an app on my fancy phone to time contractions.

I finally attempted to lie down and meditate to rest, all the while hoping contractions wouldn’t start for another couple hours like they did with Joby. During my meditation I saw a vision of a medicine man painted in black and white face paint and a newborn baby laying on the ground with medical tubes and wires all over him. Naturally, that alarmed my subconscious and I quickly tried to clear the vision and go to a more peaceful place. Little did I know it was a vision of what was to come over the next week.

With my pile of suitcases in the living room, I went to the bedroom to wake Joey up at 3:20am because I knew it was getting closer to the time I would want to be at my parents’ house to labor so I wouldn’t be stuck riding in a car when contractions were at their peak. That 7 minute car ride can feel like an eternity when every muscle in your body is attempting to squeeze a child into the world. I had started timing contractions at 2:45am and noted that they were irregular and not lasting long enough to have Misti come over yet, but strong enough that I was ready to get moving. While Joey was washing up, I took advantage of the opportunity to snuggle up with Joby in bed, wrapping my arms around this bittersweet moment knowing that it would never be just me and Joby again. After Joey showered and packed, we got Joby up and situated in the car and by 4:15am, we were at my parents.

Imagine the surprise on my mom’s face when I quietly woke her up to let her know it was time. After telling her my water broke at 1am, she asked if I had called and I said, “Yes, for the last 3 hours.” My sister was due to arrive in town that morning (wasn’t that lucky timing?) and she thought the phone ringing was from her phone calls, not from me as no one was expecting a birth on a Saturday morning that early in August. Mom got out of bed and went into “go” mode to get things ready for the birth. We still needed to put sheets and shower curtains on the bed, make sure the bathtub was clean, get all the towels and linens ready and warmed, etc. At that point, I realized that all I wanted was a cave to labor in (well, a yurt would’ve been awesome as well). I found the quietest, darkest room in the house and closed the door behind me as I breathed and repeated mantras to get through each contraction that was building more quickly than my mind was ready for. Joey held space for me outside the door and was there whenever I needed a hug or a reassuring look from him.

With everything and everyone getting prepped, I ventured into mom and dad’s bedroom, since that’s where I intended to birth my baby, while things started moving towards a more rapid pace. With Joby, I remembered contractions getting stronger and longer, but I also remembered feeling like I had plenty of time in between each phase to know that my body was transitioning. This time around, I felt like I was flying through the phases and I could never get a handle on getting to a relaxed state between contractions. I mentally started to panic and remember tearfully looking at my mom and telling her, “I don’t think I can go through this again.” Those seemed to be the words that sent everything flying into chaos.

During this time, Jenn had arrived at the house and was doing things to help get the birth space ready as well as seeing what she could do to make me comfortable. I did not find the birthing ball to my liking (which surprised me because that was the only comfortable position I could find while laboring with Joby) and I kept wanting to squat but knew that if I did that, I would be hugging a baby sooner than I felt i needed to be. I could feel things changing so quickly and I just couldn’t mantra my way out of the pain at that point.

Like my first birth, every time I had a contraction I would get the chills and my body would start shaking. It’s like every ounce of warming blood I had in my body was being sent to my uterus to make it function like a rockstar leaving the rest of me nice and cold. I had to don socks to keep my feet warm and I made sure to regularly use the restroom to keep my bladder empty to make space for the baby to venture through the birth canal. I sent my dad to the store to get cherries and grape Gatorade (my favorite post-birth snack) and tried to make sure I included Joey in on my laboring since he felt neglected the first time around. (Joey actually asked when he would be able to use all the stuff he learned in the Bradley class while I was in labor with Joby. Neither of us knew I would be the type to want my space and to be left alone during that time until we were actually in the midst of it all. Sorry Joey.)

All the while, I had been keeping in touch with Misti about my progress and she was gauging when she needed to head to Orange Park from St. Augustine to be with me. We sure got that timing wrong. 🙂 I texted her at 4:44am letting her know that I’d had 4 contractions in 7 minutes. She asked me if I wanted her to get the liner for the birth tub that I’d asked her to bring and I said, “Yes.” We would later discover that was the wrong idea. At 5:16 I got a text asking how I was doing. My response: “In labor, feel like puking. hot and cold and having to remind myself I can do this.” Transition time? 🙂 As Misti was on her way to me, I texted her at 5:37 telling her, “It’s changing. my body wants to push.”

That was the beginning of a very frantic 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe how quickly things had progressed and how it actually hurt to NOT push. Once I realized that I couldn’t help it and that it would feel better to bear down, I asked Jenn if I could get in the tub and let her know that I was pushing. Joey wasn’t excited to hear that news at all since neither our midwife or her assistant had shown up yet.

Getting in the warm cocoon of the bathtub felt wonderful and familiar. The contractions kept coming and I just knew something wasn’t right. Joey was on the phone with Misti letting her know I was pushing and as they kept losing reception and the connection with each other, I felt a foot emerge from me.

Insert expletives, panic, whimpering, adrenaline, and fear here. Holy Sh*t, my baby was breech.

According to my last ultrasound at 31 weeks, I had known I was carrying a breech baby. Being an acupuncturist and doula, I knew different techniques to employ to get baby to turn. I also felt like I had plenty of time before the arrival of baby (I really expected to carry him to 40 weeks) and he would turn when he knew it was time. At that point, I had done moxa, inversions, spinning babies.com, swimming, hypnotherapy, and chiropractic care to get baby into optimal position. Apparently he had his own plan because none of those worked for us.

At my last prenatal appointment, Misti was convinced he was head down and I had come to terms with getting another ultrasound to confirm that. We ran out of time before that could take place and my decision to birth at home was based on confidence that baby knew exactly what he was doing and that he was in the best position possible.

“Jenn, that’s either a foot or a cord!” As I reached down to feel exactly which part was hanging out, I started going through everything that could happen with a breech birth. I was laboring on my back to get better leverage to feel what was happening, and I have never felt sensations like I did every time a contraction came in that position. I had resigned myself to being transported to the hospital so I could have this baby cut out of me at that point. I was D-O-N-E! Jenn had to snap me back into reality and make me stop running through all the complications that were possible so I could bring my focus and awareness back to effectively birthing a baby. After my next push, she looked down and said, “Yes, that’s a foot,” and that’s when I saw a panic stricken side of my best friend that I had never seen before. I knew we were in trouble then.

Joey (who was freaking out at this point) announced he was calling 911. (I later learned that my sister was on the phone with the dispatcher and her statement was, “My sister is in labor and there’s a foot sticking out of her.” Oh, how much I would give to have a recording of that phone call, haha.) Within minutes, paramedics were standing around the bathtub looking at me and then at each other asking what they should do. Apparently this scene wasn’t something they were familiar with.

Luckily, (cue superhero music) Shea showed up just as the paramedics did and she flew right into the house past them to get to me. She had been conversing with Misti as Misti was still a ways away from me, and they spoke about what needed to happen to get my baby safely into our arms. She quickly assessed everything that was going on and as my inner coward came roaring out, she told me to look her in the eyes and take a deep breath. She reassured me that everything was going to be fine and that confidence was exactly what I needed at that point. From shouting, “Help me!!!” mere minutes before to being relieved that someone was finally taking charge, I was ready to get this child out of me! I was told to get on my hands and knees and to keep pushing, and the next thing I knew, a slippery baby was born and I was being urged to turn around and see my baby.

“It’s a boy!” We didn’t know the sex of the baby throughout the entire pregnancy so I was extremely happy to be able to hold my son and let the world know what he was before anyone else could. My sweet creation came into this world as backwards as he possibly could (breech and facing posterior, having to have had his chin tucked down with Shea’s finger in his mouth through my pelvis while I was pushing him out) and as perfect as perfect gets.

At 6:10am on August 4, 2012 (about 3 hours after true labor started), we welcomed Oliver William Barbieri into our family as astonished paramedics looked on (minus the one who was laid out on our family room floor because he threw his back out getting out of the truck!!!) and family members started surrounding us with love. My parents missed the actual birth of Oliver as they were directing paramedics to the scene and didn’t make it back into the room in time to see him born. This was as different as you could possibly get from my peaceful, perfect waterbirth of Joby, but I’m not sure that I would’ve done it differently if given the chance.

I still get flashes of feeling a foot pushing its way out of me and I still feel the trauma and fear that encompassed Ollie’s entrance. But looking at my little guy who is so amazing and sweet and beautiful, I just have to believe in miracles and that indeed, “Everything is as it should be.”

(Side note: my meditation vision proved to be true as we admitted Oliver into the nicu the evening he was born due to severe bruising of his legs from the way he made his entrance. He then had a couple apnic episodes in the hospital and developed jaundice so his first week of life was spent confined to an incubator with tubes and wires all over him. Thank the Universe that he is now very healthy and strong and I can hold and love him like mommies were meant to do.)

(Oh, and another side note: there were 6 planets in retrograde the day of Oliver’s birth. I blame that for his backwardness. lol.)

Thank you to all of the people who held it together when I could not, and for making sure both Oliver and I were safe and able to stay together during his chaotic birth day. And a huge thank you to Shea for being the rock that I needed when I was falling and for making a perfect catch at such an epic birth. I really don’t think the outcome would’ve been the same had she not shown up right when she did.


  • Samantha

    Amazing! A fast thinking and capable midwife, and paramedics who got a lesson in normal birth (though a very interesting variation of normal!). <3

  • grace

    AMAZING! My second baby was breech and because of the laws birthing a breech in CA my midwife and I went to the hospital. Lucky for me I had a wonderful doctor who allowed me my vaginal birth (albeit all the drugs for the “in case’s”), and my little girl Rowen came into the world the way she wanted. (we also tried everything to turn) Lucky for me I finally got my “home-water birth” with my 3rd….as your’s QUICK! Wow!

    I love the lesson the paramedics got….and I love your strength and focus! Congrats!

  • KC

    Great story, thanks for posting it! And goodness, what a handsome fellow he is! On the astrological note: the planets are harbingers of events, their alignment does not cause events, and the little soul Chose the timing of his entry for his own reasons. This boy will have his own way of doing things that will be very important to him!

  • Tami

    What a great story! I loooved it! Had to comment to say that you may be able to get a recording of your 911 call if you really want it! They get them for all those emergency shows; you should be able to as well! We got a copy from my accidental homebirth and I LOVE it — I would have loved a videotape more, but you take what you can get 🙂 I called the fire department to ask how to get a copy of the call, and they gave me the number for the dispatch office, and I had to pay something like $25 and then go pick up the CD. So glad to have it!

  • Scarlet

    OMG! That was my midwife and birth assistant! I love them tons and tons! I also had a super quick labor of 4 hours and Misti was only at my home for an hour before I had my little guy and Shea showed up as I was pushing in the birth pool. I love them both dearly! I’m right outside of OP too! So I know how you felt with that slight worry she wouldn’t make it, lol! Congrats!

  • Flossiebella

    What a story!

    I had to comment as I too had a breech vaginal birth, the breech was only discovered when I was ready to push. My son is now 13 months and has continued to cause havoc ever since!

  • Life Grandpa's Way

    As a brand new midwife I thrive on these great stories of Homebirth success (esp breech, vbac, twins, etc). Great job mama and midwife for getting past the fear and getting the job done right! And I’m so glad the EMT’s got to see the natural breech delivery. Birth is not something they get to see often, so it’s especially nice they got to see a breech birth go well!

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