Jessica shares the story of her third son’s birth at home.
I wanted to write about the birth of Mattis, our third baby boy, but I quickly realized in order to get to the point of my husband and me deciding to have a home birth, it would take a little back ground info; well, actually, a lot. This maybe more of a book than a typical “birth story”, but I wasn’t one of those women that initially desired a home birth or even a natural birth. I think those women that know exactly what they want with their first child are incredible and inspiring, but for me it wasn’t like that. Childbirth for me has been more of a “you live you learn” and confidence-building journey than anything else in my life. I didn’t really know what I wanted, nor did I have the confidence in myself; because let’s face it – labor and birth is rarely talked about in a positive light, and I had no idea how much it would mean to me to have a positive birth experience. Most think, “Hey, healthy baby, healthy mama… that’s all that matters.” But in my opinion, that isn’t true; the way you birth, the knowledge you have about it and having medical professionals that TRULY support you MATTER!
In 2010, my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our first son. He was due on October 17 and I was fortunate to have had a very smooth and easy pregnancy in spite of it being a record-breakingly hot summer that year. Also, we were very fortunate in that my husband was able to be there for the whole thing – every appointment – with the exception of a few weeks away in Florida. Being a military spouse, this is nearly unheard of. We didn’t have to worry about him not being there for the delivery.
October 17th came and went, and like most first-time parents, we were so anxious for our new arrival. Also as a lot of first-time parents, I had very few expectations for the labor and delivery. I knew what I knew about it from friends, movies, doctors and a few terribly written books. So at five days past my estimated due date (which still in my mind was an expiration date), I decided well, I guess my body just CAN’T go into labor… I’ll just settle for the hospital evicting this little guy.
So I asked my doctor when I could go in to be induced; and she said they could schedule me for the next day. We went in and they just acted as if it was the most normal thing on earth – sign this, consent to this, do you want an epidural? Well, of course I did; why would anyone willingly go through the pain? So they hooked me up to monitors, IV, Pitocin, and an epidural all within what seemed like 15 minutes. I had already been dilated to 5 cm and 80% effaced since I was about 35 weeks, so things progressed rapidly. Although the person who did the epidural was a student, he clearly did a great job because I could hardly feel anything.
I thought this was what I wanted, but I felt completely out of control; and it didn’t help that I was shaking uncontrollably. A couple hours in, although I couldn’t feel much, I felt pressure and let the nurse know; she came in and said I could push. She sat on one side, and David sat on the other and held my legs because I couldn’t feel them at all. I pushed and pushed and pushed, all directed by the nurse… and finally, after about 30 minutes of that, she said, “Oh that was it; that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.” I was pretty disappointed and exhausted, but eventually, about 30 minutes later, he was born weighing 8 lbs 12oz, and was 21½” long! We had never guessed he would have been so big; and neither did the doctor; they had guessed around 7½ lbs the day prior. The whole labor was about 3½ hours long.
Birth is special no matter how it’s done, but for me, this birth seemed to lack something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know if it contributed, but about 2-3 months afterward I still didn’t feel anywhere close to myself, or how I anticipated to feel as a mother. I was ashamed to admit I didn’t want to take care of my baby. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, or that I literally didn’t care for him, but I was overwhelmed and didn’t feel motherly to him. I never told this to anyone except my husband; and of course he didn’t understand, so we decided I should start therapy ASAP.
I did, and was clinically diagnosed with postpartum depression; I started several prescriptions of antidepressants and therapy sessions. Over the course of the next several months, and adjusting meds, thankfully I was able to feel like a fog was lifted. I started asking to be taken off the meds although the doctor told me it’s most effective when kept on for a year to ensure stability. I reluctantly agreed, knowing the possible negative side effects of trying to wean myself from the meds. So I decided to trust her, until….two blue lines…again! Just over a year since Abram’s birth. The doctor assured me it was safe to continue my medication while pregnant, but I refused. I told her I just didn’t want to be on anything while pregnant that could possibly have a side effect on our unborn child. So she took me off, and all was well…
…Until we realized that my husband was slated to leave on his third deployment right as I was going to be 13 weeks pregnant and raising our 1-year-old. Well, that’s the military life; if we were to have multiple children, it was inevitable. Next, we found out that he would be scheduled to come home about a month after my due date. Talk about stressful; we lived five hours from our nearest family. Over the next few months he spoke to his commanding officer about of course wanting to be present for the birth if it was an option, so they made a deal of sorts. At that time, David was an osprey airframes mechanic, and his Commanding Officer agreed on the condition that he worked the entire deployment to become a Collateral Duty Inspector and also run the Corrosion Control Shop. Both jobs were something that take a while to learn, and they needed more guys that knew the jobs inside and out. Upon learning these two things they would allow him to leave on an advanced party to return home prior to the birth so he could re-setup shop in the states and wait on the arrival of the rest of the unit. He worked diligently and accomplished both tasks of course, and returned stateside on a Friday. I was 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant.
The entire time he was gone, I had told him that this time I wanted things to be different – that I didn’t want to feel medicated, and that I wanted to be able to move since Abram’s birth felt so unnatural to me; it hadn’t felt like how I thought it should have – it was special, of course, but it was lackluster. He basically said, “Okay, whatever you want.” I had been going to my prenatal appointments and toward the end they mentioned induction, and I just told them no; that I’m not doing that this time, unless it is a true medical need.
40 weeks 2 days rolled around. Exactly two weeks after David arrived stateside, I woke up around 2:45 a.m. and felt cramps. I eventually got out of bed and started timing them. I wasn’t convinced in the least that this was labor. About 30 minutes later, I woke David up and said, “I think I maybe in labor?!” I had never experienced “true” labor, so I just couldn’t believe it.
I called the hospital and told them my symptoms, and they assured me that I could wait at home for at least another hour. So I got off the phone and called my friend Cara, since the plan was that whenever I went into labor she would watch our son while we went to the hospital, until my parents could make the five-hour drive down. She came right away, and by that point contractions were probably three minutes apart. We hopped in the truck at around 5 and made the 15-minute drive to Camp Lejeune. The drive was terrible; and looking back, I know why – I was in transition.
When we arrived at the hospital, we hurried in; stopping along the way for contractions. Finally once in labor and delivery they needed some documents signed, but I had other plans, kneeling in the hallway to push out a baby! Nurses came from everywhere at probably 5:25 a.m. shouting, “Don’t push! Don’t push!” But I was in another world, pushing out a baby. They got me on a bed and checked me, and agreed that yes he’s coming; so down the hall we flew into a labor and delivery suite. The doctor was already in there; he grabbed a pair of gloves, and within a couple minutes, at 5:30 a.m. he handed me my baby. THAT IS HOW IT’S DONE!
Two hours and 45 minutes from first cramp to holding my baby. He was 7lbs 4 oz. and 19″ long. What a sense of accomplishment and empowerment; my baby was here and I didn’t really need anyone telling me how, or hooking me up to machines; I was able to have my baby, just like women had done for thousands of years. In the little bit of time between pregnancies, the more research I had done the more it led me to believe a lot of times “help” leads to complications; and I didn’t want that. To me, this natural birth was a major accomplishment.
Trying to avoid depression
Another thing that I had researched throughout that pregnancy was how to avoid postpartum depression naturally. I found article after article on placenta encapsulation. Gross, right? People have been doing this for centuries; it’s not a new thing; it’s more ancient if anything; but not well known in our medicated culture. In this process someone takes your placenta, which is enriched with tons of your natural hormones, iron, and nutrients that are used to sustain your pregnancy, then dehydrates it, grinds it into powder, puts it in capsules, and then you take it like a super vitamin over the next few months to level out your hormones. It increases milk production, increases energy levels, and overall helps with recovery.
When you’re pregnant your hormones are obviously at an all-time high at the end, then after delivery you plummet back down to a baseline, which can cause “baby blues” or worse: postpartum depression. Some say it’s a placebo effect, but I was willing to give it a shot since the potential positive effects would be great, and there are little to no negative side effects. And it changed my life. My husband thought I was looney for even considering it, but after several months he couldn’t believe how well I recovered and felt, which was a good thing since he was working up to leave me with two kids under two years old for deployment number four a few months later. I rarely talked about this to anyone, because I feared everyone’s judgment. I only shared with a few close friends, or pregnant women I thought that may benefit from it as well. Now I can look at it and say that if it helps one person reading this, then it is worth the judgment of all the others.
Fast-forward to May 2015, when we found out we were surprisingly expecting our third child! I wasn’t sure how to feel about it; I was excited, but it was such a shock, and I had just started a new job. Also, my husband had started a new path in his career as a recruiter, which means he works absolutely all the time – 16-18-hour days. I felt as though this couldn’t be a “good time,” but of course you make plans and God laughs, right? We had no idea how bad we needed this third baby, but God did, and perfectly placed him in our lives.
We decided I wouldn’t be able to return to work after the baby, since the cost of childcare for three children is astronomical; it just wouldn’t make sense financially – not to mention I couldn’t send a newborn to daycare. But guess what? Just as we were getting used to have a double income, then found out I was pregnant and wouldn’t be returning to work, my husband worked super hard and eventually got a promotion; so once again, God took care of it. After we had our second child we decided that if we had any more children, which we planned to have at least one more at some point, we would have them at home. The last labor and delivery was so easy, David said that we could have done that at home! Then we wouldn’t be trapped in a hospital for three days while someone else cared for our other son.
So I was on the search for a midwife, and met with Nancy Harman on a Saturday in June. I already loved how different the experience started out because I was able to take my whole family to the consultation, at her home office, on a farm, on a Saturday. Yep, that’s not the norm; she worked around us, rather than the other way around. I knew immediately after meeting her she was our midwife. She encouraged David to take the boys outside to see the cows, and her “mud hut” out back while we discussed previous pregnancy experiences. She determined I was definitely low-risk enough for a successful home birth. In North Carolina home birth is legal, however it has to be attended by a certified nurse midwife; and you also do parallel care with a supportive OB – for us it was UNC family medicine, where you do labs, ultrasounds and any further testing.
So we did our prenatal appointments with her, and saw UNC once per trimester, we found out at 19 weeks 2 days, on September 1, that we were expecting our third boy! How perfect! My pregnancy really flew by, and was easy and uneventful. We got down to the last appointments and all had gone so well, the weekend of my due date, our area was expecting our first snow storm! Take that lightly; it’s NC – we are in the south, so “snow storm” is a strong term; however, Nancy lives about an hour and fifteen minutes away, and in snow and ice we started to anticipate the idea of her maybe not making it!
Thankfully, her assistant Edie, who is a fellow midwife, lives about 30 minutes away from us, so we knew she would be first to the house. That Saturday, the day before my due date, I had experienced contractions roughly five minutes apart for several hours. Of course since the storm was hitting it brought on babies and Nancy was attending a birth. She sent her assistant to the house to check and make sure it wasn’t the real deal and that she needed to come after she finished at the birth she was present for. The other midwife came and found that I was at 1 cm. It was sort of disappointing just because I’d been so dilated with my previous pregnancies by that point. We decided it was prodromal labor, or “practice labor”, and she went home. This happened at least two more times over the next week, but thankfully I knew better than to call every time. The next Sunday rolled around; I was 41 weeks, and had been in contact with Nancy discussing what we should do to encourage him, since we didn’t want me to go into the 42nd week just because the hospital really wants you to come in for an induction at that point.
I had set up ultrasounds for 41 weeks 2 days 5 days respectively to check on baby, and I wasn’t prepared to defend my choice not to induce in the hospital. She said we could do a membrane sweep after 41 weeks. In the non-traditional relationship of a midwife and client she told me she would meet up with me on Sunday after church to do that; how convenient! So we went to the appointment and she did the sweep, then informed me that I was now 2 cm. We discussed some other ways to encourage labor; she gave me a labor tincture that has black and blue cohosh, and some other herbs, and told me to take one dropper full in a shot of juice per hour for 3-4 hours, and also if I wanted to use a breast pump 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off three times, then call it a night. I did everything she said, had a few irregular contractions, then went to bed.
I woke up with a major cramp at 12:30 a.m. I lay there for a while, then another came along. I decide to get up and walk around. I came in the living room and pulled up my app to time them; the first two were 15 minutes apart, so I wondered if this is just another “practice”. Shortly after another, I checked the app, which said they was only five-minute intervals. Over the next 30 minutes they remained steady; five minutes or so apart, and about one minute long.
I stood behind the couch and leaned over it, swaying and squatting. I went to wake David up and told him, then called Nancy at about 1:40. She asked me about what was going on, and I let her know; then she said she would call Edie, the assisting midwife, and she’d be on her way. We decided to go ahead and put a few inches of cold water in the tub while we waited; I walked around, stopping wherever a contraction would hit. I drank some water, read my birth affirmation cards that I had written out a few weeks before. I had written some positive scripture and words affirming that I CAN do this, and I HAD done it before. In the midst, I had called our birth photographer also.
Eventually, at about 2:45, Edie arrived; like a ninja, she had come in through the garage with her bags and swiftly started setting up. I asked her if she wanted to check my dilation, just to see where I was; at that point contractions had been about three minutes apart. She texted Nancy and asked if she wanted her to, and Nancy told her she was still about 20 minutes out so if I wanted her to check she could. She checked, and I was at 7cm! What a relief! All this work hadn’t been for nothing!! I jumped up from that bed feeling reenergized and excited. I was so excited to report the news to David!
I bounced back into the kitchen holding up seven fingers, and told him to get the hot water in the tub and let’s have a baby! At about 3 a.m. our photographer snuck through the garage door, and got to work. I informed her that I was already at 7 cm. We all stood around and talked, and they brewed coffee; David loaded the dishwasher just to be doing something. They took turns filling pots of water and heating them on the stove since the hot water heater ran out rather quickly. Every few minutes I would either grab the kitchen sink, sway and squat, or grab David’s neck, and we would sort of dance around the kitchen. Nancy arrived at 3:30 a.m.; things were slowing down some, but intensifying.
At some point I did get sick and threw up a couple times; throwing up mid-contraction wasn’t pleasant, but it was over quickly. They told me I could get in the tub whenever I felt like it. Sure, that sounded like a great idea! Before the birth I decided in order to be as comfortable as possible I would wear either a maternity bathing suit top or a tank top and a skirt. I’d heard of other moms laboring in a skirt, sounded like a great idea, so I had bought a knee-length yoga-style knit skirt and had been wearing it and a tank top throughout the labor. I decided to just keep it all on to get in the tub; it may sound a little silly, but even something as small as being comfortable in what you’re wearing can make a huge difference in labor.
I stepped in the water, knelt down on my knees and leaned over the side to rest; I could just let my belly sort of hang down the warm water. It felt so good! Contractions were slower, but when they came, they were intense. Both midwives were standing by watching; I think Nancy was knelt down beside the tub; occasionally she would whisper some type of affirmation: “You can do this; slow, deep sounds; you’re very powerful.” David was directly in front of me sitting on a stool, holding my hands. The entire time I was pregnant we had planned at some point for him to get in the tub and catch our baby, but at that point I didn’t realize how much I wouldn’t want him or myself to move out of that squat position. So I told him not to move!
I asked if one of the midwives would check dilation again. Nancy came over and had me flip over so that she could, then said I was 9 cm, thank goodness! I quickly flipped back over onto my knees, leaning over the tub, and grabbed David’s hands as we said a prayer out loud. I prayed for it to be over soon, so we would have our healthy baby boy.
The next few contractions, I felt the urge to push; so I did with everything I had. With each push I could feel baby moving. Then I felt a sort of pop and gush; and realized, oh my gosh – my water just broke! It was so neat to actually experience that on my own, because in my last two deliveries, even with my natural birth, the doctor broke my water. When my water broke it was in the height of a contraction so I couldn’t speak, but right after I told everyone. Nancy asked to feel what was going on. She did, but nearly right as she pulled her hand back up out of the water I pushed twice and his head came out! She felt again and told everyone the head is out and there was no cord around his neck (remember no one could really see what was going on because I was kneeling, with the skirt on, and it was very dim lighting).
I rested for maybe 20-30 seconds; then one more push brought out the rest of his body. I flipped over so quickly and reached down to pull him up to my chest! He was born at 4:14 a.m. Wow, what a relief. He and I both let out a cry! Nancy and David helped me get my shirt off so he could be skin-to-skin, and wrapped us both in a warm towel. Then all was calm. It was so surreal – I just delivered my own baby, myself!
Nancy said, “Wow, that was fast!” Just a minute after that, Cannon walked in rubbing his eyes. They lit up when he saw what I was holding; what perfect timing. Since Cannon had awakened I told David he should probably go wake Abram up. He went upstairs and got him, although he was sound asleep. Both of the boys leaned against the pool to touch their new brother.
Only a few minutes went by and with a little effort the placenta was passed. The older boys acted as if it was just whatever – it didn’t faze them a bit; in fact, at one point, Abram said, “Mama can you get out of that tub so we can go somewhere?” Yes, just minutes after birth, at like 4:30 a.m.! I sat in the tub for 20 minutes or so and latched baby on to nurse for the first time. Eventually we let the older boys cut the umbilical cord; they each got a snip, then I passed baby to his daddy. They all went to the couch to check him out while the midwives helped me out of the tub, and to the bed.
Nancy did her assessments on me and decided a shot of Pitocin would be good to slow bleeding, which I was fine with, and I felt really good! Meanwhile, Edie drained the tub, cleaned up supplies and got the house probably cleaner than it had been before they arrived. David brought me the baby to nurse and went to cook breakfast, while the older boys went upstairs to watch a movie. He brought me breakfast in bed and we watched Nancy do her newborn assessment, APGAR scores and measurements. He was 7lbs 15oz and 20¾” long, with a head full of dark hair just like his brothers. Once they were done they finished packing up and went over some postpartum instructions, asked if we had any questions, and were out the door by 9 a.m., so we were able to enjoy our new family of five! Our older boys lay down around 1:30 p.m. to nap, and David and I said we were going to too, but we just couldn’t. We sat around and talked about the whole event for nearly three hours – how amazing and how natural and mostly how easy everything was being in the comfort of our own home.
Although David claimed I made it look easy, labor was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done; but of course, it’s also the most rewarding thing also. Even though it’s probably not a good thing, I had so many expectations for this birth; I had talked about it, prayed about it and dreamt about it for months – well, really, a few years. And to my surprise, it really and truly couldn’t have gone any more perfectly. Nancy returned the next day and after she did assessments on us both, she asked me if I would change anything if I could; and I answered, “Absolutely nothing. It was purely magical.”
Photographs by Raleigh Birth Photography.