I believe that the more children you have, the more immersed you become in the world of birthing alternatives and options. Between my first birth and my third, I learned about all the options, and through trial and error (and well, surprise), I found what fit best for me and my family. That's pretty much how I decided that having a home birth was the ideal delivery method for my third baby's birth. Trial and error led me there ... well, here; home.
When my oldest daughter was born, I started labor at a birthing center and after 30 hours of laboring, progress stalled and I was transferred to a local hospital where I got an epidural, some much needed rest, and then proceeded to vaginally birth my daughter. For my second baby, I planned to deliver at a birth center but instead had a fast and furious accidental home birth. For my third go around, I really just wanted to give birth in the location I'd planned! What a treat that would be, I thought, to not be surprised by my surroundings as I pushed a little human into the world.
Early on, I knew my preferred location would be home. Even though my second birth was unplanned at home, there was so much I loved about it. The familiarity, the ease, the control, and the comfort topped the list of reasons I wanted to deliver at home again. For my third and maybe last baby, I wanted to join the elements of my previous births and have a planned, midwife-attended home birth. With a midwife in attendance, I felt a home birth was the best fit for my family. I'd be cared for by a medical professional while allowing my body to peacefully labor without bright lights and unnecessary interruptions. After feeling pressures and judgment I felt at the hospital during my first birth, a more holistic approach at home seemed to be the perfect birth atmosphere for me.
A home birth was what we planned for — and it's exactly what I got.
Very early on January 1, I felt that all too familiar pressure of contractions just beginning. I was a few days past my original due date and fell asleep on the final day of 2015 slightly sad that my tax deduction was still in utero. I laid in bed, mentally preparing for the journey that was to come, knowing deep down that this labor would be different than my first two, just like this baby would be different in many ways from his siblings. Before the onset of labor, baby was already so slow and I had spent a fair amount of time visualizing and praying for a paced labor; not long like my daughter's and not unattended and super fast like my son's. Looking back, I was spot on in my feelings. I felt like my mental preparation and openness to what I hoped my labor would bring made such a difference.
My midwife arrived at our home at 6 a.m and I labored while she set up shop. With suitcases full of supplies needed for a home birth (antibiotics, chux pads, herbal remedies, a pulse oximeter, sterilization equipment, warming pad, and more), our master bedroom transformed into a place cozy enough for me to feel relaxed, but equipped enough to monitor baby and I while ensuring a safe birth.
By noon, I was in the full swing of labor. I spent hours breathing and moaning through contractions. I rotated from bed, to a plush chair, to the toilet. I paced the upstairs hallway and looped all throughout our bedroom and bathroom, pausing to lean on my husband during difficult contractions. I cried. I got mad that things were taking "too long" ... whatever that means in the scope of birth.
Every 30 minutes my midwife checked my vitals and baby's heart tones. She charted the results, offered her care and support, and would then sneak back to the hallway to wait. Labor is such an organic and natural experience, something I felt that I really had to really own and engage with to help move forward; my midwife knew that leaving me alone was helpful to my process. I didn't need an overbearing eye counting down the hours, what I needed was peace and quiet, a chance for my body to do its own work.
Mid-morning came and I had my first-ever cervical check. And when I say first, I mean my first for this entire pregnancy and labor. Not once during my prenatal appointments or during the beginning of labor had my midwife checked me. I had no idea what number or percent I was at; I just knew I could feel a low baby and lots of pressure moving him towards his impending exit. It was enough to convince me I was in labor. A home birth requires a lot of trust in allowing your body to do what it needs to do without assigning it a name. Knowing that my baby's birth was unfolding normally helped to reset my frame of reference. I realized that when I felt hard contractions, that was a good sign. My midwife didn't try to calm or soothe me; she let my body feel its laboring pains. When I was compelled to moan or breathe deep, I didn't need pain relief, I needed a comforting hand and a word of encouragement. I partnered with a trained midwife to help me find a balance between the type of birth that I hoped for and a trained professional who could help me navigate labor and delivery if things didn't go as I'd hoped.
I leaned over a large yoga ball, rocking back and forth as I tried to stay focused. I pushed with all my might when my body told me to bear down. I toggled between feeling overwhelmed, powerful, fearful, and excited.
For this specific pregnancy, I did reach a point where a cervical check became necessary. I tested positive for group strep B positive at 35 weeks, a bacterial infection that occurs in 25 percent of healthy women, and was deliberating when to begin my antibiotic doses. Being the parent and main decision maker, our midwife gave us the test results and information needed to make an educated decision about this detail of birth. Then, she left it up to us. Knowing how dialated I was gave my husband and I information on how to pursue treatment. Thankfully, I was a five, very soft, and baby was extremely low — perfect data to tell us that it was a good time for the first dose of antibiotics, which was the course of treatment we'd chosen. My midwife and her two assistants popped my IV in with ease and I continued to labor in bed while snacking on a grilled cheese and turkey sandwich.
By noon, I was in the full swing of labor. I spent hours breathing and moaning through contractions. I rotated from bed, to a plush chair, to the toilet. I paced the upstairs hallway and looped all throughout our bedroom and bathroom, pausing to lean on my husband during difficult contractions. I cried. I got mad that things were taking "too long" ... whatever that means in the scope of birth. I said over and over how tired I felt and then, while laying in bed falling asleep between contractions, I felt my water break.
My water breaking meant that it was time for a second dose of antibiotics. I endured that while my contractions picked up speed and intensity. I made it my goal to keep my voice low and my jaw open through each contraction. (There's actually a correlation between relaxed, open vocal cords and a relaxed, open cervix.) I told myself that every pain brought my baby closer to being in my arms; I willed myself to believe that to avoid the waves of discouragement following every contraction. How many more would there be?
Around 4 p.m., I started bearing down. It was time to push. I'd been laboring while propped on the edge of our big chair, covered in a chux pad, but immediately felt like I needed to get on all fours. I offered to move into the bathroom to avoid any potential mess on the carpet, but my midwife assured me they'd just lay down a medical tarp. She thought the carpet would be more gracious on my knees and she preferred that I be as comfortable as possible while pushing.
For 20 minutes I leaned over a large yoga ball, rocking back and forth as I tried to stay focused. I pushed with all my might when my body told me to bear down. I toggled between feeling overwhelmed, powerful, fearful, and excited. The hardest part, in my opinion, was before me: the ring of fire. But just the same, my baby would soon be in my arms.
At one point I remember looking between my crouched legs, while positioned on all fours, and seeing my midwife's head sideways parallel to the ground. She was gently helping to stretch my perineum while watching for baby's head to crown. The physical sacrifices midwives make for their laboring moms amazes me to this day. Never once did she ask me to change positions to make things easier for her. She adjusted herself based on what I needed to properly oversee labor.
Having a home birth deeply connected me with husband, my older children, and my new baby — a birth is always a milestone in a family, but having a home birth made mine feel like something extra special, something only our family of five shared.
At 4:21 p.m., I gave my final push and my son's head and body were born in one fell swoop. My husband caught his newborn son and passed him to me through my legs. I cradled him in one arm while my husband looped his arms under mine and lifted me back into a seated position on our bedroom floor. As my midwife checked all of our vitals, my older children came to see their seconds-old baby brother.
When the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, I rose to my knees so gravity could aid in delivering my placenta and my husband cut the cord. My midwife and her assistants helped to clean me up a bit and I was then bundled into bed with my son snuggled skin to skin on my chest. The following hours were filled with more vital charting, a full newborn assessment, analysis of my minor tear, many priceless photos, and a hearty dinner followed by a placenta smoothie. Yep, I ate a piece of my raw placenta blended into a smoothie and lived to tell (and truthfully, recommend!).
Fulfilling my hope for a planned home birth brought so much of my childbearing experiences full circle. It confirmed my belief that women are powerful and grew my confidence in my personal abilities. I can do hard things and I can do them well. Having a home birth deeply connected me with husband, my older children, and my new baby. A birth is always a milestone in a family, but having a home birth made mine feel like something extra special, something only our family of five shared. It wasn't my easiest birth by any means, but it was still just as special.