The story of this birth is a story that actually started many years ago with the birth of my son in 2003. I had planned a “natural birth” with him but, unfortunately, through a series of naïve decisions, I ended up with a C-section. I was very angry, sad, and disappointed but my belief in the design of birth had not changed. Having had a C-section, I knew that next time I’d be fighting an even more uphill battle. When my son was 3 ½ we started trying to get pregnant – it took nearly two years, but in April 2009 it finally happened. We were so excited and I immediately started planning the birth. I felt very strongly that I wanted a homebirth. The problem, of course, is that it’s illegal for a SC licensed midwife to attend an HBAC. So it was clear that we were going to have to think outside the box… I feel very blessed that we were led to an amazing woman who practices midwifery as a calling and was willing to serve us. We also found an amazing doula (Julie, of course)!
My pregnancy, like the first, was completely uneventful. Unlike my first pregnancy, however, I had lots of pre-labor as my due date (Jan. 1, 2010) approached. In addition to all the Braxton-Hicks contractions and occasional spurts of contractions, there were several times that I was sure it was real labor. But each of those times I’d get up and move around and they would stop. New Year’s Day came and went. When I went to bed on January 3rd, a Sunday, I had been having contractions for about seven hours. I tried to sleep but the contractions prevented me and I was feeling really scared. The contractions when I was lying down were not familiar. They were short but sharp and felt like they were right over my C-section scar – uterine rupture was not far from the front of my mind. I called my midwife around 2 am. I was very emotional – worried, frustrated and confused. She was wonderful at setting my mind at ease. She reassured me that everything sounded fine and common for second time moms. She reminded me to have faith and counseled me to pray. We also decided that I should go to see her on Tuesday evening so she could “lay eyes and hands on me”. This really set my mind at ease. The contractions stopped shortly after and I went to sleep.
On Tuesday, January 5th my husband, Jeff, and I drove the hour and a half to see the midwife. I decided to go ahead and have her check me, though I was very hesitant because I didn’t want to be disappointed if I was not at all dilated. I was surprised but very relieved when she said that I was 4 ½ cms! All those contractions truly were doing something! She also discovered that my cervix was posterior so she pulled it forward (OUCH!!!) to make the dilation more even. So, feeling encouraged, we headed for home. I was having pretty regular contractions (made worse by the very bumpy car ride) the whole way home. As we arrived home I was still having regular contractions but I was trying not to get too excited because I knew that, like the times before, this may be a false alarm. So I got in the tub to try to relax. The contractions stayed about five minutes apart and I had a feeling that this was it. At 10:30pm we called the midwife and Julie just to give them a “heads up”. We decided to lie down and try to get some sleep – and to see if the contractions would stop. After about 45 minutes it seemed clear to me that this was it so, around midnight we called back to have everyone come on over. I was very nervous because I was still worried that it might be a false alarm and I really didn’t want to have everyone drive to us for no reason. Still, I didn’t want to be alone, either.
Julie arrived at 12:45am and my contractions were about three minutes apart but were pretty short – 30-45 seconds. She had me do the “rotisserie” from 1:30-2:00am, after which I went to the kitchen for some tea. The midwife and apprentice midwife arrived at 2:10am. At this point the contractions had spaced out to about 5 minutes apart so she gave me the option of going to bed or trying to speed things up – I chose the latter! She had me walk “laps” around the house for about 30 minutes. After that we stood around in the kitchen talking for a while. I remember verbalizing my worry over this being a false alarm and being really focused on the length of the contractions (worried that they weren’t long enough) and if the pattern was “normal”. Nobody else seemed particularly concerned about any of this! Around 3:00am we all decided to lie down and rest. This didn’t last long for me since the contractions became more painful when I was lying down. I got in the tub but the contractions continued to be short and sharp and I felt afraid. They just didn’t feel like I remembered (though maybe they were exactly the same but now that I had a scar I was just more aware). Around 4am I had Jeff wake the midwife to come check heart tones. Again, she reassured me that things were fine – the heart rate was in the 140’s and I felt better after hearing it. I was still asking and thinking a lot about if things were “normal” or “okay” or the way they “should” be. Julie and the midwife were fantastic about reassuring me that this was normal – for ME! After I was calmed down, Jeff went to the couch to sleep and Julie stayed with me. I moved around for a while then tried to lie down again. Around 5:15am things seemed to be picking up – I was starting to make some noise (not really voluntarily, it just felt better to do it so I went with it). I saw this as progress because I never got to that point during labor with my son. Also, these contractions felt like the type I remembered – more like a wave, building, peaking, and subsiding, and lasting longer. Despite the fact that they were getting more painful I actually told Julie that they felt good!
Around 6am I became aware that my son, Jackson, was up and getting ready to go off to school. Jeff fixed him breakfast then Julie went to sit with him so that Jeff could come back to me (I was really wanting him with me at this point). Jackson came in a couple of times to check out the situation. Apparently (I vaguely remember this), he told me “Don’t cry, mom”! I think I was holding it together pretty well – maybe not! I was really trying to get Jeff to agree to let Jackson stay for the birth. In retrospect I’m actually glad I couldn’t persuade him… it was so long and I would have been really distracted.
Around 8:30am I was resting in bed and my midwife checked heart tones again – everything was fine. I was back and forth from the bed to the ottoman to the toilet to the birth ball – pretty restless at that point. Around 9:30am I said to Jeff (well, more like whined…) that I didn’t feel like things were changing. He denies it but I’m pretty sure he ratted me out because shortly after I made that comment the midwife swept in, opened up the curtains and told me to get dressed, that she wanted me to go for a walk. I thought she was kidding! It was a beautiful day – cold but clear – but I really didn’t want to go. The contractions were really strong and at that point I was “vocalizing” quite a bit. I remember saying that I didn’t think I could handle these contractions outside. She reassured me that they would be different outside and reminded me to walk briskly! So Jeff and I set off. She (as usual) was right – the contractions did ease up a bit at first. We walked for about 20 minutes. When we got back there was more exercise in store. My midwife had me do sideways lunges through three contractions on each side. They were brutal. I said during this time “I don’t want to do this” – a comment I never thought I’d make. Not that I couldn’t, but that I didn’t want to? I’d been wanting this for years. Reflecting back I felt that this made me a failure but after some processing I came to realize that no one wants to have that pain at the time. It was also at this time that I verbalized my fear that I would be too tired to push. The doctor had actually suggested this to me during the afternoon of Jackson’s labor – that seed of doubt obviously took root… My midwife, however, emphatically told me that I would be able to do it. I argued that I was too tired and she responded that it didn’t matter – when the time came I would have what I needed. Such amazing encouragement – what a difference! Anyway, just after the lunging my water broke! I decided to get back in the tub. Around 1:00pm I felt the urge to push. I got out of the tub and the midwife checked me. I was 8cm but had a pretty significant cervical lip. She tried pushing it back and holding it through a few contractions (OUCH again!). I remember saying that it “didn’t feel good to push”. She said, “okay, then don’t push.” She was so calm and patient and matter-of-fact. There was no drama and she didn’t let me freak out either. I sat on the toilet and the bean bag for a while, pushing gently when I had the urge.
Around 2:45pm I got back in the tub. Julie made me a smoothie and gave me some scented cloths – first lavender then spearmint. They were so refreshing and really helped to refocus me. At some point the midwife told me to try breathing through the contractions instead of pushing for a while. Things were definitely intense and I had started really tensing up – leaning forward, almost trying to run away from the pain, and shaking my head “no”. Julie was amazing and noticed this right away. She reminded me that this would increase the pain. She encouraged me to “welcome” and “greet” the contractions. Once I deliberately relaxed it truly was more bearable. I began leaning into the contractions and nodding “yes”. Between 3:00 and 4:00pm I was mostly in the bed on my left side trying to rest between the contractions. I began giving myself a pep talk, developing the mantra “It’s good, it’s good”. Around 4:00pm I got back in the tub and was checked again – I was 9cm but still had some anterior lip. My midwife read me Psalm 6, a beautiful verse that really comforted me. I tried pushing in the tub but felt like it was not very productive and I was a little frustrated. The midwife had me get out of the tub and get into the knee/chest position on the bed. Then she had me place one leg out to the side with my foot flat for three contractions then switch to the other side for three more contractions. Again, this was very difficult to work through but it was very effective. Julie noted that the pushing “changed dramatically” and that the progress became “very noticeable”. I could feel the difference, too. At 5:00pm, just after finishing the knee/chest, I got down on the birthing stool and started really pushing. The midwives were sitting with me on the floor, waiting, applying counter-pressure. Julie was just inside the bathroom and Jeff was sitting on the bed right behind me so I could lean back against him. By about 5:25 I could see the head when I pushed! At 5:45 the baby was crowning and I remember stroking the top of the head – and being amazed that this baby had hair (my son was completely bald)! I guess this was when it finally hit me that this was really about to happen. At home. Without surgery. With the next push, the head was out! Wow. It was a strange feeling and I asked the midwife if the baby was okay like that (Of course, she assured me that it was fine). The baby was born with the next push at 5:48pm. The midwife caught the baby and handed it right up to me. We didn’t know the sex beforehand and I was impatient… I asked what the baby was, I guess expecting the midwife to ‘announce’ it. Instead she said, “Take a look!” It was a girl!!!
The midwife had us get back in the tub where we just snuggled while they cleaned up and Jeff made phone calls. My daughter nursed for the first time and then we got out of the tub and got settled in the bed. By that time Jackson had gotten home and he came in to meet his sister (who was still wrapped in a towel, not even dressed or weighed yet). I love that there was no rush to “inspect” us and fill in blanks on a paper. There was the knowledge that everything was fine and there was plenty of time for that later. The focus was on being a new family and taking in the beauty of those precious first moments.
This journey taught me so many things: a deeper trust and faith in God and His plan for our lives, the amazing power of our bodies, the importance of following my instincts, patience… It also brought some amazing people into my life. I absolutely feel that God led me to the three phenomenal women that were with me through this, and I know that, without them, this birth would have been very different. I was sure (and still am) that if I had gone to a hospital I would have had another surgery. I am also blessed that my husband, who was skeptical to say the least, gave me such wonderful support through, not only the long labor, but the entire pregnancy. He is now a “convert” to homebirth and says he “wouldn’t do it any other way”. Homebirth was the best, most empowering thing I’ve ever done and I’m in complete agreement with my husband!