From Hospital to Home: The Story of my Babies’ Births
Copyright 2009 Midwifery Today
The birth of my first child, Mia, was a traditional American hospital birth. I prepared for it in a traditional American way, by taking prenatal vitamins from the supermarket, having a few ultrasounds, giving up a lot of blood and pee, and drinking a sugary orange liquid to prove that I did not have diabetes. I dragged my husband to a one-day crash course in childbirth preparation at the hospital, at which we giggled uncontrollably and were warned that one in four of us would end up with a Cesarean section. I counted the people by fours and felt lucky that I landed on number two instead of four, and then consumed a donut and some orange juice concentrate in a Styrofoam cup.
I packed my hospital bag 3 weeks before my due date, expecting an early delivery. My OB assured me that because my cervix had begun dilating and effacing at 33 weeks, an early labor was imminent. I took my college finals early and went home to rest. When my baby still had not been born a few days after my due date, my OB scheduled an induction for the following week. Though I was in perfect health and had no signs of fetal distress, my OB gave me the peace of mind that “no women at his clinic ever have to be pregnant more than 41 weeks.” “Whew”, I thought, and asked him for the first time if he would be present at my birth. “Less than likely,” he replied, because he was off the day of my scheduled induction.
The night before my scheduled induction, my husband Alan and I were summoned to the hospital; what I thought was urine incontinence happened to be an amniotic fluid leak. Upon arrival at the hospital, I was given a large piece of fabric with two strings on it. “One size only!” smiled the nurse, as I awkwardly tried to cover my rear with the gown. The hospital staff warned me that my leaking membranes put me at increased risk for uterine infection. Having no other knowledge on the matter, I consented to induction and got ready for the long night ahead.
Labor was induced with intravenous Pitocin, which soon produced sharp, long, and strong contractions. Having no coping mechanisms, I clenched up, held my breath, and felt desperate. I begged for Alan to ask the nurses for drugs, and he set off to find them and left me alone in the hospital bed. With each contraction, I thought I would lose my mind.
I did not know the risks posed by Pitocin induction; ironically, I had only been informed of the risks of refusing induction. Desperately, I asked for epidural anesthesia and received it when my cervix was roughly 3 centimeters dilated. I signed some sort of an agreement and was briefly informed of the risks an epidural posed to my health (possibility of long-term headache and paralysis) and before I knew it, a long needle was inserted into my spinal column. “Sweet relief,” I thought. The warmth of numbness washed over my body.
I had blindly consented to a situation that often leads to fetal distress, failure to progress, and Cesarean section. Lying on my back, numb, I watched the fetal monitoring system and listened to the beeping of the blood pressure machine and the epidural pump. I ate ice chips and watched my stomach morph into alien-like shapes. Alan slept.
The nurses came in and out of the room to stick their fingers up my vagina, sometimes without looking me in the eye or saying more than “time to check you!” One nurse told me I had a big poop in there. I wondered how a poop could get into my vagina, and she explained if I didn’t get it out, my baby would be stuck inside of me forever. I asked if I could poop on the toilet or get an enema, and she replied, “No.” So I had to poop on the bed.
After a few hours, a nurse informed me that I was fully dilated and that I could push at any time. Since the entire bottom half of my body was numb, I could not move or feel anything, and I certainly could not push. After the epidural was turned off, I finally regained a bit of control of my lower half and gave pushing a try. Pushing felt unnatural and I didn’t want to do it. I had no urge whatsoever to do any work. I felt incapable and weak and secretly wished for a C-section. The nurses yelled “PUSH!” and counted to ten with my every artificial push. The hard, fake pushing caused a long, deep tear all the way down my birth canal and a bruised and swollen bottom. From between my stirruped legs, the OB ordered me not to tuck my chin to my chest while pushing. Eventually we all lost our patience and my baby was vacuumed out, giving Mia a cone-head-with-a-bruise-on-top welcome to the world.
Mia’s cord was cut immediately and she was taken away for some poking, rubbing, and manhandling. She cried vigorously in the distance. She was cleaned, swaddled, and put on my chest. I cried, Alan cried, the nurses went on with their work and got the room cleaned up for the next customer. The OB pulled the placenta out of me while he asked me to give a little push. I was happy, in love, and in disbelief that the whole thing was finally over and that I survived it.
I had the birth I asked for. The epidural had been my Godsend. I had a pretty healthy baby, though she was lethargic, lost weight, and became dehydrated due to a weak suck (most likely due to the drugs in her system and the stress of the hard Pitocin contractions). Instead of setting me up with a lactation consultant, a nurse handed me a syringe of infant formula that I squeezed into Mia’s mouth.
Two days later, it was time for us to leave the hospital. I felt afraid of leaving; I had little confidence in my capacity to care for Mia on my own. I was still puffy all over, felt weak, and had brain fog. I was sent home with a cooler bag stuffed with formula samples and some bottles and coupons.
Although I was satisfied with my hospital experience at the time, I had a nagging sensation that I’d missed something. I secretly felt like a wimp for having used drugs and for having thrown myself at the mercy of the hospital staff, even though I had intended to do so all along. I told myself that this is the way birth is done now, and I accepted my fate.
I left the hospital not knowing what I’d missed.
In the years following Mia’s birth, I sought to discover the missing piece. I became intrigued by women who wanted natural births, and particularly those who chose home births and unattended births. I wondered why they felt that way and from where they found the courage to give birth so unconventionally. I got my hands on every book about natural childbirth I could find. My mentality began to turn around, and before I knew it, I was a convert. “Ina Mays’ Guide to Childbirth” and “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” made me bound and determined to do things differently next time. Mothering magazine and online forums opened up a whole new world for me. I attended movie nights and talks organized by Ten Moons Rising, a local organization that promotes holistic parenting and education about prenatal and birth psychology. Suddenly, I knew what I’d missed and I wanted another chance at doing it right.
I slowly gained the confidence that my body was perfectly designed to give birth. I concluded that the risks of using drugs and surgery in labor far outweighed the benefits (except for in true emergencies, which are very rare), and all I had left to do what have a plan and prepare for the big event. I also discovered that with low-risk births, statistics indicate that home is as safe a location, if not safer than, a hospital. At home, my desires would be met with ease. I could have all the privacy, peace, and control I wanted. I could poop in the toilet. I could move around. My baby would be welcomed with love and kindness. I could surround myself with people I love and trust and who respect me and my desires. My best option was clear: I wanted a home birth.
For two years before conception, I prepared my body for my home birth. I knew I had to be in peak condition to have the confidence to go through with this, so I met with natural health physicians and asked for their guidance. I reached my optimal physical and mental health and felt better than ever before. I had never felt more confident, strong, or capable. I learned about prenatal psychology, attachment parenting, traditional cultures and their approach to birth and to food, how diet and lifestyle affect genetic outcomes of conception, about the importance of conscious conception, and how a baby’s birth experience affects her for her entire life. I watched films about natural birth, talked with moms who had done it, and became a sponge to positive ideas about mothering and birth. I did not watch television or violent movies; I did not let our cultural fears permeate me. Never before had I put more passion into a project. This was my labor of love.
At 6 weeks pregnant, I developed hyperemesis gravidarium, a condition of severe, ongoing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. I had this condition with Mia’s pregnancy and had hoped that with my improved health, I would feel better this time around. I tried acupuncture, herbs, and supplements to control my condition, but to no avail. After becoming dehydrated to the point of being unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time, I knew I needed medical intervention. I ended up using the prescription anti-nausea medication, Zofran, for eight weeks. It worked wonders; I was able to eat and drink and slowly regained my strength. I tried hypnosis in the 8th week of using Zofran, and one week later at 18 weeks gestation, my nausea completely disappeared and I was medication-free.
After learning that midwives have the best birth outcomes for low-risk pregnancies, I researched my options and hired one. Jeanne was everything I had hoped for: a caring, experienced, calm, and motherly caregiver. Alan and I fell in love with her right away. She was available by phone around the clock. Our appointments were in her comfortable home and were usually one hour long. They were relaxed and personal. Jeanne had dozens of books and videos for us to borrow and toys for Mia to play with during our appointments. We felt important, respected, and cared for.
Statistics show that since the introduction of ultrasound technology in obstetrics, birth outcomes have not improved. I chose to avoid an ultrasound unless an abnormality arose. I did not submit to any testing other than urine screens. My baby’s heartbeat was monitored with an old-fashioned fetoscope, and my midwife’s warm, experienced hands palpated my belly to determine the position and size of my baby. I was always assured that everything was moving along perfectly, even when my baby was in transverse lie–a position in which vaginal delivery is impossible. Jeanne assured me that babies can move into the proper position at any time, sometimes just before being born. Sure enough, this is just what my baby did.
I trusted the natural process and loved my body. I strove to be mentally at peace, talked to my baby and told her I trusted her to know when and how to be born. I received chiropractic adjustments, massage, cranial-sacral therapy, and acupuncture. I completed an intense series of hypnosis to eliminate fears and pain from my past. I did exercises to support optimal fetal positioning. I listened to Hypnobabies hypnosis CDs, practiced affirmations and prenatal yoga. I did hundreds of Kegel exercises every day; I did pelvic tilts and crawled on my hands and knees. After the nausea was under control, I ate 80-100 grams of organic protein daily and ate large quantities of organic, fresh foods. I drank a quart of raw milk every day. I spent time with people who made me feel safe, supported, and loved. I believed that all of my thoughts, feelings, and actions would impact my baby and our upcoming birth.
Anna’s labor began on Friday, the 13th (just as Alan had predicted), with a bit of blood in the morning. We were 4 days before the forty-week mark. I visited my midwife that day for a regular appointment, and we agreed that my symptoms were inconclusive and I should go about my day as normal. Jeanne considered full-term gestation to be forty-two weeks, so at this time there was no rush to move things along.
That evening, I lost the mucus plug. Contractions began sometime before midnight, gently coming and going. Not knowing what to expect and losing a bit of confidence in my ability to cope with what lay ahead, I started to feel nervous. I called my midwife to update her, and she calmly suggested I try to lie down and sleep.
I lit some candles and turned off the lights. Alan filled the birthing pool. I tidied up the house and gave in to my urge to clean the toilet. After an hour of rest, the contractions woke me up, so I lay on the bed and listened to a hypnosis CD. I was well aware that any anxiety of fear would hinder the birth I wanted; now was the time to let go and let nature take its course. I became extremely at peace and relaxed. My contractions grew stronger and closer together, and labor moved steadily along.
The CD became annoying after a while, so I turned it off. I felt continued relaxation, even without listening to the CD or doing any of the cues in the hypnosis program. All I needed was to feel relaxed in mind and body. Mia was asleep. The house was quiet. I was completely in the moment.
I breathed deeply and kept my body limp. I welcomed the contractions and asked them to become stronger and closer together, and like magic, they did just that! They were not painful, just powerful.
I lay on my left side on a mattress near the birthing pool in the living room, loosening my whole body. From Ina May’s book, I remembered that keeping the throat open and loose would allow the cervix to do the same. During a contraction, I moaned deep, loud moans through a relaxed jaw and throat. That felt so good. It was the perfect outlet for the energy passing through me. At times I felt the urge to tilt my pelvis or slightly lift my leg. This relieved any discomfort I felt. I know now that by doing this, I was opening my pelvis exactly the way Anna needed me to do so that she could easily pass through it. Ironically, the hypnosis program I’d listened to instructed me to lie still during contractions; obeying this would have been counterproductive for me. I listened to myself and didn’t worry about following any scripts.
I instinctively knew what to do and sought no external guidance. For a while, I had my knees on the floor and my chest on a yoga ball. I rubbed my belly during contractions and moaned loudly, and these contractions felt pleasant. Sometimes I positioned myself on all fours and moved my body back and forth and in circular motions. Alan watched the clock and timed the contractions, chatting with me in between. Once the contractions had the right duration and spacing, I called my midwife. Not realizing how close I was to birthing my baby, I told her I was doing well and that she could go back to bed for a while. Minutes later, my membranes released and Alan summoned my midwife, as well as her apprentice, Erin, and my best friend, Alisha.
The water break put me into transition. After experiencing a warm sense of release and having a short hiatus from contractions, a wave of nausea hit me. I pressed firmly on an acupressure point on my wrist and had complete relief from the nausea. Contractions became extremely intense, but still not painful. I moaned so loudly that I thought the whole neighborhood could hear me. I squeezed Alan’s hand as he whispered “relax” and “deep breaths” into me ear. That was exactly what I needed—it was nature’s epidural!
Suddenly I had a contraction that brought me from the bed up to my knees on the floor. The midwives were still unpacking their supplies and scrambled to strip me of the giant-sized diaper I was wearing. I pushed with uncontrollable might and my sense of calm turned into a primal sense of determination. Poop flew out of me and went all over the floor and onto Alisha’s pant leg.
The adrenaline rush took over me and I wanted to be UP! The second phase of labor was in full swing, and I didn’t need any fingers up my vagina to tell me that. My moan turned into a deep, ferocious roar. I sounded like I was heaving. I was a wild animal! I felt hot and uncomfortable and didn’t know if I should get into the birthing tub or stay in the bed. I felt disoriented and felt an urge to find the right place and position immediately. Stepping into the tub yielded nothing more than my yelling: “That is TOO HOT!” although it was only 98 degrees. Another push happened while I was lying on the bed and that felt wrong. Once again I jumped up from the bed and stepped into the pool, yelling, “That feels SO GOOD!” Immersing in that water felt incredible.
Between pushes, I was in ecstasy. I felt soft and fresh, like the calm after a storm. I was able to laugh and talk. I felt so much love for Alan and kept kissing him and telling him how much I loved him. I joked about how big Anna’s head felt and wondered if a bowling ball was coming out instead of a baby! Although I had no sense of time, I later learned that this pushing phase lasted only 15 minutes. My pushing urges were irregular; some were long and hard and close together, some were short and further apart. Pushing felt natural and I felt so strong. An intense and sometimes overwhelming power flooded over me with each pushing urge, and I could do nothing but succumb to it. My body was amazing—everything was timed perfectly and all I had to do was let it happen. My birth attendants watched quietly and offered some words of comfort when I screamed “Help me!” at the top of my lungs. What I wanted help with, I still don’t know. When Anna was crowning, Erin used an underwater Doppler to listen to her heartbeat.
Anna slipped into the water. Her cord was tangled around her and the midwives carefully unwrapped it. I felt disoriented again and did not reach into the pool to pick her up like I had intended. The midwives gently floated Anna to the surface and placed her on my chest. The room was dim and we could barely see, so the midwives used a flashlight to check on Anna’s color and to monitor my bleeding. Anna’s airway was gently suctioned with a nasal aspirator and she was covered in a warm towel. I looked at my baby in astonishment, then looked up at Alisha and said “I can’t believe it! I did it!” Alan, who had been holding me from outside the pool, told me (in his most sincere statement to me ever) “I am so proud of you! You did it!”
The world was crystal clear. I felt raw and alive. The essence of the universe was at my fingertips. It was euphoria.
Anna was peaceful and alert. She gazed at me for minutes after her birth. She was so pink and healthy looking. Her Apgar score was 10. She cried a little bit here and there, but overall was calm and content. I was the first to hold her, and I was the only one to hold her for her first hour outside the womb.
I moaned the placenta out, which was an oddly satisfying sensation. The white, waxy rope of life pulsated while the placenta swam in the water. The cord grew thin and limp and was cut and tied. Someone helped me into my fresh bed. Mia was up and had discovered and announced to everyone that Anna was a girl. We hugged and kissed and marveled at her new little sister.
Anna initiated breastfeeding about 45 minutes after the birth. She nursed well and ferociously around the clock and never lost an ounce of weight. In fact, she gained weight so quickly that she never wore the tiny newborn clothes that Mia wore for weeks after her birth! She was energetic and strong, plump and delicious.
My attendants were chatting and laughing quietly in the kitchen—all of them there just for me. Mia was excitedly running about while Anna and I cuddled in the bed. The midwives made herbal compresses, wrapped my placenta for freezing, and cleaned up from the birth. Alisha prepared coffee and breakfast. I sipped Shepherd’s Purse tea from my favorite mug and Alisha fed me spoonfuls of Greek yogurt. It was utter bliss. While the morning sun spread warmly through my bedroom window, I knew I had found my missing piece.
After the birth, my whole body, particularly my back and core, were sore and weak. I had trouble standing up straight. My crotch hurt, too, of course. The afterbirth contractions were painful, unlike my labor contractions, and lasted on and off for about 48 hours. I did not use over-the-counter painkillers; rather, I used Arnica Montana, a homeopathic pain medicine that I’d purchased as a part of my home-birth kit.
A couple of hours after the birth, I took a shower while Alan held our new baby. Anna and I were then examined on our bed. I did not tear from the birth, but had a small nick close to the outside of the birth canal. My bottom was hardly swollen and only a bit bruised. Mia brought in a toy birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to Anna. We chatted and laughed. Anna was weighed in a soft cotton sling.
My attendants stayed with me for a few hours and then tucked Anna and me into bed. Alan drained the tub water into our backyard under the spruce tree. Red water pooled on top of the melting snow. Our cat quickly discovered the red pool and lapped it up as if it were the nectar of life! The house smelled of birth and blood.
The midwives came back the next three days, and then we met at regular intervals thereafter until my final visit at 6 weeks postpartum. I cried my eyes out at that final visit. It was a bittersweet end to the most life-altering period of my adult life. I spent many weeks resting and being cared for by Alan and Alisha, and other friends and family who stopped by.
The months following Anna’s birth were challenging for me. I sprained my pubic bone in the birth and healing was slow. My body did not regain its strength for a long time. Sleep was poor and rare. I experienced postpartum depression and had difficulty adjusting to my new life. I felt guilt for changing Mia’s life and doubted my ability to handle it all.
Among these challenges, falling in love with my new baby was difficult. I grieved for the loss of my pregnancy and for end of my visits with Jeanne. She had been so special to me and now I had to live without her. I had given my whole heart to this project, and now it was complete; its product was nestled safely in my arms. No more reading childbirth books, no more hypnosis practice. No more quiet drives to my appointments. The space that once overflowed with passion became a quiet void.
I shed many tears, but in time I moved on, got a haircut, and embraced my new life. I learned that pleasure comes with pain and that weakness holds the hand of strength. I learned that nothing heals grief like the passing of time. I found resilience and courage. I saw my true self and followed my inner voice. Most of all, I lived the essence of womanhood. And in all its messy wonder, that is a gift in itself.
Copyright 2009 Midwifery Today
Anna asleep during her newborn exam
one week old