Yes. This is a long blog post. You may want to read all of it, or you may want to jump to the end and skim the F.A.Q.’s. No worries. I hope these words bring you what you’re looking for…education, entertainment, or just satiating your curiosity. It’s all good. Enjoy.
I wanted to write this blog post because I get asked so many of the same questions when people find out I had a home birth. Many people are curious about this option but either don’t know someone who has ever chosen it or have misinformation about the topic. And then others I know just love hearing birth stories of every kind, and I know will enjoy the little details about my laboring experience. Below you will find both my birth story and some F.A.Q.’s.
The month leading up to delivery:
As many friends and family know, I planned a home birth for the entire pregnancy and then when he still had not flipped by 37 weeks my midwife referred me to an OB to have a consult about the different options I had for birthing breech. I had planned for how I would handle lots of different scenarios, but never considered what I would do if my baby was breech. I did the OB consult and cried for the next three hours. I later realized that the overwhelm I was feeling was from two sources. It was not a fear of the hospital or even a cesarean. It was the feeling of a lack of control in the situation and the fear of the unknown. Suddenly a stranger I just met was going to deliver my baby at a hospital I knew nothing about with options I had not researched. I am a planner, and I find comfort in TMI. I over-inform myself about different options so that when I make decisions I know why I chose what I did, and why I left behind the other options.
I spent the next seven days touring the hospital, learning all about rotations, induction after rotation, cesareans, “gentle” cesareans and on and on. By one week later when I went for my ultrasound to see his position and officially plan my hospital stay, I had come to complete peace. I had actually decided I wanted a planned cesarean and was ready to meet my baby on August 20. When she placed the device on my pubic bone, there was the head. He had flipped the day before. All that worrying, stressing, and crying led me back to my original plan.
I am grateful for what it taught me about myself. How I handled that situation shined a giant flashlight on my need for control and information and my fear of asking for help from others. (Because mind you, while I was processing all of that, Brandon was out of town for two weeks shooting, and I was dealing with pubic dysfunction so could barely walk some days).
So, with the date of August 20 off the table, it was now time to shift my energy back to a natural vaginal birth and getting this baby out. That same ultrasound revealed an estimated weight of 9lb 4oz at 38 weeks so I was going to have a big baby. My daughter was 9lb 14 oz and also a water birth, so I had been through this before. However, she was born at 41 weeks and one thing I was certain of was that with the adventure I had just been through and the SPD (pelvic dysfunction…meaning lots of pain and discomfort) I had been facing for months I was done being pregnant. I didn’t have it in me to carry another three weeks. So all the energy I was putting into getting him to flip, I shifted into natural induction techniques. I was ready to birth a baby.
The techniques I used were all recommendations from my midwife. She has specific reasons for which ones were appropriate at 38 weeks and which ones we waited until 39 weeks to use. The day before labor started I spent almost the whole day doing all of them. I had been seeing an acupuncturist who is also a doctor of oriental medicine who had a regime for me. I felt the baby drop within hours of my visit with her on Wednesday, Aug 22. On Thursday I was taking herbs recommended by my midwife, pumping to stimulate the uterus contracting, certain exercises on and off the birthing ball to get his head in the best position, and a few other tips and tricks. I went to bed Thursday around 11:00pm and the rest of this story I will tell by timeline:
Friday, August 24
4:30 a.m.- Woke up needing to use the bathroom. Similar to my experience with my daughter, what I thought was an urge to use the bathroom was indeed labor surges (an alternative word for contractions). I starting tracking the timing I felt the surges.
5:30am I called my midwife to say I was feeling the surges consistently every seven minutes. She told me to eat a solid meal, drink lots of water and try to get rest, that this was probably baby day but to call her when they were five minutes apart.
6:00am- I was eating some yummy leftovers when my daughter woke up at 6am. I realized this wasn’t going to work. She was asking me to play princesses with her and every seven minutes I needed to be left alone to breathe through a surge. So, I called my mom and asked for help. I knew I could wake my husband but my daughter would still want my attention. So off to Ya-Ya’s Eleanora went in her pajamas. My husband helped get her lunch packed and sent her on her way with everything she would need for the day.
6:30am- In preparation for baby, I made my husband a detailed list of what he needed to do when labor started. I learned with the first pregnancy that when I told him it was game-time, my calm, collected and thoughtful husband went into something that resembled Sophia panic mode—hair on fire, confused on where to start and what to do next, and forgetful of details because the brain is going too many directions. So, this time, I had a thorough to-do list that was numbered with what to do in what order. Deep cleaning the corner of the house I wanted the birth tub, prepping my food and drinks, changing sheets/putting plastic down on the bed, getting the video camera ready, etc.
So as he went into baby mode, I could start my hypnobirthing. I laid down in the bed with my meditations in my headphones and left reality. During this period of time the surges slowed down to every 10-15 minutes. I wasn’t actually sure what to do because my experience with Eleanora was once they started, they got more intense and she was born 12 hours after the first surge. So when texting the doula and midwife they both told me to get some rest.
9am- I was able to take a little nap.
As the day went on they went from 10 minutes apart to 20 and 30 apart.
12:30pm- Since we already had my weekly appointment scheduled for that day, my midwife went ahead and stopped by to check on me. I only had two surges in the hour she was there. So we went over the different options I had and we both agreed that the best choice was to let the body do what it wanted to do. There were things I could do to “get it going again” but obviously the body was ready and it was in my best interest to trust my body and not try to force or rush something. Maybe it would pick up in a couple hours, maybe it would be the next day, but she said she highly doubted I would still be pregnant come Monday so just to wait and see what the body did. Her prescription was to relax and have fun. One thing she mentioned was that the labor had begun when it was dark outside and stopped when the sun came up. She said it’s common for babies to respond to the sun/moon and to not be surprised if things pick up when the sun goes down.
2:00- I got bored really fast. I didn’t want to start any projects or things from my to-do list, and I didn’t want to go anywhere, so I found myself just sitting there staring into space. I am not a personality that knows how to “do nothing.” I don’t find much pleasure in television, and I had finished the book I was reading the day before. Finally I texted my mom and sister and asked to be entertained. Mom came over for a couple hours and sat and chatted with me and then when my sister got off work my mom took her toddler so she could keep me company.
5:30pm- We decided that board games and yummy food sounded like a fun evening. Brandon left for Publix in the POURING rain to get my dairy free ice cream and dairy free pizza. We spent the evening playing continental rummy. Sure enough, as the midwife suggested, once the sun went down we were back to every 7-10 minutes. We would play for little and then pause for me to breathe through a surge and then back to playing. We took a break for an hour when I was getting really uncomfortable and just wanted to sit on the couch. Also, turns out pizza and ice cream were not the wisest choices so when I told her that’s what I ate she recommend I drink two quarts of water to flush the sodium from my system.
10pm- We all laid down for a nap knowing baby would probably be coming soon. As I laid in the bed with my guided meditations in my headphones, it became harder and harder to rest. The surges were getting stronger. The more intense they became, the more I just wanted to get into a hot bath tub to ease the discomfort.
11pm- I woke up my husband after realizing not only were they more intense but they were 2-3 minutes apart. I needed all my energy to focus on coping with the surges so I told him to call the midwife and doula and tell them it was time to come over.
11:45pm- My photographer, doula, midwife and mom all arrived within minutes of each other. I was breathing through surges in my bathtub because it’s not only relaxing but the hot water eases the discomfort. If you’ve never experienced labor before, I would describe the surges as really intense menstrual cramps. In between surges I would pour the hot water on my belly and watch the baby move around getting into position.
(From this point forward, time is a blur so I am estimating how much time passed between the events that followed)
12:15am- They finished getting the birthing tub ready and told me it was time to move over. I had been skeptical of the inflatable tub because with Eleanora I had a nice large jacuzzi-sized tub at the birthing center and thought this option was settling since I didn’t have a large tub at my house. Man, was I wrong. That inflatable birthing tub was SO MUCH BETTER. It’s squishy and soft so it felt much better on my hips and pelvis, which is where almost all the discomfort is during labor. And the water can be filled so much higher so I was able to be fully immersed.
When it comes to labor, you really don’t know what you will want until you’re in the moment. Listening to your body is so important. With Eleanora I wanted complete silence but with Liam I wanted the soundtracks playing in the room to help me relax and remind me to stay in the meditative state. The midwife suggested a few different positions but what felt best was to rest the back of my head on the tub and let the rest of my body float in the water as if I was floating in a pool. When I would feel a surge coming I would let my arms dangle in the water. This was great because it reminded me to not tense up, to relax every single muscle and to let my body use all of its energy to move the baby down.
Hypnobirthing teaches that you don’t “push.” When the surges begin to feel different and you have the urge to push you change to a different breathing technique and you breathe the baby down.
I kept asking Rebecca (midwife) how much longer I had and in her ever-so-patient way she kept saying “every breath he’s getting closer, just breathe your baby down.” So every time a surge would come I would close my eyes and just visualize him moving one more inch. I took it one surge and one inch at a time. I know it was working because in between surges Rebecca was checking the heartbeat and she kept putting the device lower and lower and lower to find the heartbeat, so I knew he was getting closer.
During the final stage of surges I found the most comfortable thing to do was to use a little energy to put my hands on the bottom of the tub and push up slightly to let everything but my fingertips float in the water. I imagined myself completely weightless and breathed through each surge taking it 10-seconds at time. To think about it lasting a couple minutes was too much, but I could count to ten, and then count to ten again until it was gone.
Rebecca kept shining a flashlight to check on him, and I would ask what she saw. She kept saying the water sac was coming but she didn’t see the head yet. My water had yet to open (a.k.a. break) which is actually great news because it works like a cushion during labor and helps provide some relief. In my mind I was waiting to hear the water opened before I heard it was time for baby.
3:05a.m.- I guess everyone was having whispering conversations I was missing because all of a sudden I opened my eyes and everyone was gathered around the tub, Rebecca had on long gloves, my husband came behind me and touched my shoulders. My sister had the video camera. Rebecca said “The head is right here. When the next surge comes, I need you to push with everything you have, it’s time for him to come.” Suddenly I went from this calm meditative state trying to relax to a feeling of “game time.”
She told me I needed to lift my legs and I knew I didn’t have the energy. I told her someone would have to do it for me. I had no idea who grabbed my legs but I felt them lifted.
3:10am- I felt a surge. I reached my hands behind me and grabbed onto my husband for leverage and pushed with everything I had. As opposed to the silent meditation I had been in for four hours, the only thing that felt right at this point was to scream at the absolute top of my lungs. We’re talking lion roar here. I remember shouting “IT HURTS! I CAN’T DO THIS!” and Rebecca saying “I can see him. He’s right here. You can do this.” I could hear my husband crying behind me. I knew it wasn’t out of sentiment. He hated that I was in pain and he couldn’t do anything to help me.
3:15am- Another surge arrived and I did the exact same thing. I felt his head come through. This is one of the most incredible experiences. This brief second with both my daughter and my son of the actual moment they cross through the birth canal is one of the most divine, euphoric experiences of my life. When his head came out everyone was amazed because the water sac was fully intact.
3:17am- This part felt like it was happening in slow motion. I was in between surges, and I could hear them talking about him being in a water sac. I knew his head was out and floating in water but the rest of him was in me. The birth assistant was reporting times to the midwife. 20 seconds…45 seconds….we’re at 60 seconds now. My mind was racing but I didn’t have the ability to speak. I assumed these numbers were how long he was in the water. Logically, I knew he was okay in the water. That he gets oxygen from the cord and everything was fine. Emotionally I suddenly wanted someone to start telling me all the details, reassure me that everything was normal and fine and going according to plan. How many seconds is too many seconds? At what point do we go from okay to panic? This whole he’s in his sac thing…what does that mean? Is that normal? How does that happen? What does it look like down there? So many thoughts racing in my mind and yet I was physically unable to say a word. I just laid there listening to my body.
3:19- “Here comes a surge” I said. She told me on the next surge I would be pushing out his shoulders and to give it everything I had because he needed to come out. (With large babies, this is the “risk”. Shoulders can get stuck and you need a birth professional who knows how to safely maneuver the mom and the baby’s position to allow for safe delivery. This is why she interrupted my hypnobirthing and had them hold my legs for me.) I felt it coming and again, I grabbed onto Brandon and roared at the top of my lungs and “pop” I could feel him leave me. (There are no words in the English language to describe the feeling of a child leaving the birth canal. Pop is the closest I can get but it does not do it justice. It’s the weirdest, coolest, strangest sensation I’ve ever felt) Quite the anomaly, he was born at 40 weeks inside of a fully intact water sac. It broke as Rebecca lifted my son out of the water and handed him to me at 3:20am. Birth truly is a miracle.
3:30am- After a few minutes they helped me transition to a bed to finish the postpartum aspects of birth. If you haven’t ever experienced vaginal birth then you may not know that after the baby is born you still have to push out the placenta.
So we did that and then Rebecca helped my mom cut the cord. Many hospitals cut the cord as soon as the baby comes out, but most midwives advocate for delayed cord clamping. That means you wait until the cord finishes pulsing before you cut it. This allows all the blood and oxygen in the cord to get to baby first. I don’t know the timeline but it was definitely more than 15 minutes before his cord was cut.
Over the next couple hours they helped me get settled. Liam latched on the first try, which was awesome. Nursing actually helps your uterus contract so it can begin its own recovery process. They did his exam and my big boy weighed in at 9lb 11oz and 23 inches long. He got his vitamin k while I held him. At some point they helped me to the shower to rinse off and cleaned up the mess to give me a comfy bed with fresh sheets and a warmly dressed baby. By about 5:30am everyone was finished and headed home. They cleaned up everything and you would have never known a birth occurred there. We were all absolutely exhausted because it had now been over 24 hours since the surges first began and we had all been up through the night. I finally closed my eyes around 6am with a beautiful little boy sleeping next to me in his bassinet.
Here are the F.A.Q.’s I get the most:
Is a home birth better than hospital?
Absolutely not. I would never answer this question with any birth option being any better than another. The birthing experience is very personal and a woman needs to seek a provider that will make her feel heard, empowered, and supports the laboring techniques she desires to use. This decision is very personal for the mother, her partner and obviously any medical needs that her and the baby are facing. I encourage all expectant mothers to research all the options available and choose the one that brings you peace. You may be surprised how many different choices are out there. Not all hospitals, OB’s and midwives are the same.
Why did you choose homebirth?
There are a few reasons that homebirth was the right choice for me. The top reason is that I wanted to do hypnobirthing in the water, and I needed an environment that would be conducive to relaxation and comfort. I wanted silence and as little interaction as possible. Another reason was that I wanted to be under the care of a midwife. (See below where I explain the difference between a midwife and OB)
I knew I wanted a water birth because not only is it very relaxing to me in my day to day life, but it also helps to ease the discomfort of surges. So if you aren’t getting pain medication, this is one of the few options for relief. In driving distance of my home there is one hospital with one tub for moms to labor in (first come first serve) and they require you to get out once you’re at 7cm dilated. I wanted to stay in the water through birth so there weren’t any hospital options for me. There are many hospitals around the country that now offer this and it’s very common internationally, but here where I live it wasn’t available to me.
That left birthing center and home birth as my only options. I delivered my first child at a birthing center and it was an amazing experience. However, it’s a 45 minute drive from my house and you have to go there for every appointment. The schedule/lifestyle I keep now was not conducive to 3 hour breaks every time I had a checkup. I needed something more convenient. There are a couple birthing centers 30 minutes away but that really wasn’t helpful. So when I found out I was pregnant I reached out to Rebecca. I knew she was a local midwife and did homebirth. I wanted to understand the difference between home birth and birthing center. And it came down to this….either you drive to the stuff or the stuff drives to you. When I realized she could come to my home for every one of the prenatal visits and that there were no added benefits to being at a birthing center, it was a no brainer. This was the right fit for me.
Why did you choose a natural birth?
I chose to go with a midwife for my first pregnancy after I had five friends IN A ROW get pregnant, have very healthy pregnancies with 0 complications or issues and all five ended up in emergency c-sections while in labor. All five described it as scary and traumatic. Their husbands described the fear they felt too. The shiny rainbow at the end of the story is always the healthy baby and healthy mama on the other side but I knew in my gut that I didn’t want that to be my experience. Something didn’t make sense to me how all these friends could have needed emergency intervention when everything was fine up until they got to the hospital. So I started researching what led to an increased chance of emergency cesareans and it all boiled down to intervention.
Our philosophy of birth in America is broken. The World Health Organization has found that about 10-15% of births will end up in a cesarean. Complications do arise. Certain mothers are at higher risk. Intervention in those cases is necessary. However, in America, the rate is around 32%, more than double what it should be. There are some hospitals here in the Tampa Bay Area with rates as high as 42%! Now listen to me, moms who have delivered via cesarean are just as bad ass and amazing as any other mom. This is not about saying one mom is better than other. That’s ludicrous. I came days away from having one myself when my son was breech, and I was at peace with it.
I am pro-natural choices because the facts support it. It’s a shame to say, but the US is THE ONLY developed country where maternal mortality is on the rise. This is NUTS! As science advances, how on earth can we be losing more mothers than anyone else? Cesareans are a higher risk than vaginal birth for complications. Not to mention, vaginal birth offers a long list of benefits that you lose with a cesarean.
Sometimes things do go wrong on their own, but if you let labor begin when the mom and baby’s bodies say it’s time to begin and you don’t try to “rush things along”, you significantly decrease the chances. Women have been robbed over the last 100+ years to trust and love our bodies. Your body knew how to create a brain, heart and lungs. Your body is amazing. It knows how to create a baby an appropriate size that your body can deliver, and it can deliver the baby on its own. Seriously….think about it. Have you ever watched a cat deliver kittens? I have twice. They go into a dark corner and in the stillness you hear some moaning and then out come kittens. They don’t have to take classes, have an entourage or need surgery a third of the time. We are mammals too. Think of the stories of women who deliver in cars on the way there, or in elevators trying to get to the birthing floor. For a low-risk, healthy mom and baby there is a 90% chance that your body can do this with no help.
Our approach to birth in America is to treat women like they need to be fixed. Oh, you’re past your due date, let me fix that for you. Oh, your labor isn’t going as fast as we would like, let me fix that for you. Too often medical professionals advise moms to choose interventions when if left alone, the body would know what to do. My daughter was born 12 hours after the first contraction. After being told the second ones come faster, that was not my experience. My son was born almost 24 hours after the first contraction. Labor started and then stalled. I could have chosen interventions to get it going again because TRUST ME, when you are that far along you want that baby OUT. Patience is gone. However, I did nothing because I knew that his body and my body knew what to do. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait days, but I would have.
So, all that to say, I did not choose a natural birth because I LOVED the idea of seeing what it would feel like to push an almost 10-pound human out of my vagina with no pain medicine, lol. I was not trying to prove anything to anyone. This was all about me advocating for what I wanted for myself, which was to reduce the risk of complications. I wanted to make choices that would statistically speaking give me the best chance of a healthy outcome for both of us.
What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?
This is probably the question I get the most. Many people still think these terms are interchangeable and do not understand that these care providers play very different roles. The short answer I give people is that the midwife is the medical professional for mom and baby, and the doula is the mom’s emotional support. That answer doesn’t do justice to either of those roles but it works when you’re having small talk with someone. Below I elaborate about both.
What is a midwife?
A midwife is a trained medical professional who is certified to work with healthy moms and babies for prenatal, birth and postpartum care. Studies show that only about 2% of OB’s have witnessed a natural birth with 0 medical intervention prior to starting their practice. Their JOB is to be trained on what to do if something goes wrong. They have a very important role in births and do save lives regularly. But they don’t take any classes on how to sit back, do nothing and let nature run its course. And if you choose a natural labor in the hospital, the reality is they won’t be there with you for most of it until the very end. It’s the nurses who end up laboring with you and then tell the doctor when to come.
Midwives are trained on how to help and support moms to have natural labor. They know the red flags to look for to know if your care needs to be turned over to an OB. They educate you on how to reduce the risks of complications through diet choices, supplements you’re taking, and lifestyle choices you’re making. During labor they support you with knowledge of a variety of birthing positions you can try. And more than anything, they support a mother’s natural instinct to trust her body and listen to its needs.
According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, benefits of receiving midwifery care include:
- Decreased risk of needing a cesarean
- Reduced rates of labor induction and augmentation
- Reduced use of regional anesthesia
- Decreased infant mortality rates
- Decreased risk of preterm birth
- Decreased third and fourth degree perineal tears
- Lower costs for both clients and insurers
- Increased chances of having a positive start to breastfeeding
- Increased satisfaction with quality of care
So since my body is totally healthy, and I had 0 risk factors to consider, for me, being under the care of a midwife was the right fit.
Why do I need a doula? I’m going to have my _______ there. (Fill in the blank with partner, mom, sister, best friend, etc)
Whether you are birthing in a hospital, birthing center or at home, I cannot recommend a doula highly enough. I didn’t plan to have one with my first and (spare you the details) spontaneously ended up with one the day I was in labor and she was my saving grace. I told my husband after that experience that I was so grateful for her I would never give labor again without a doula. If you are under the care of an OB then I highly, highly, highly recommend a doula because they fill some of the gap of what midwives offer that most OB practices don’t. Here are a few snippets from DONA’s website (international doula organization):
A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.
Countless scientific trials examining doula care demonstrate remarkably improved physical and psychological outcomes for both mother and baby. Doulas have a positive impact on the well-being of the entire family. Research shows that women who use a birth doula are:
· less likely to need Pitocin
· less likely to have a cesarean birth
· less likely to use any pain medication
· more likely to rate their childbirth experience positively
Some people are deterred by the cost, especially if their insurance doesn’t help pay for it. If you hire a great doula then after your birth you will say “oh my gosh….that was the best money we spent.” So often we don’t know what we need. We don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s when a doula steps in. They can guide you and support in ways you don’t realize you even needed until you are so grateful they were there.
What is hypnobirthing?
Some people think hypnobirthing sounds woo-woo. Like you’re hypnotized during birth. You sorta kinda are. But you’re also in a hypnotic state when you are watching TV. Whenever you check out of reality around you and take your mind somewhere else, it’s a state of hypnosis.
Hypnobirthing teaches you how to fully relax every muscle in your body so that all the energy you have can be used for the birth. It provides you with meditations to do while in labor. Also, they have found that the FEAR of birth increases the pain. So hypnobirthing teaches you how to release all fear of birth, love your body and trust it. My daughter’s birth was a pain free experience for me, despite the fact that I had second degree tears and she was 9lb 14oz. I’m not going to lie…Liam coming out hurt. I endured hours of discomfort followed by about 15 minutes of pain and then it was over. Ironically, he was smaller and I had zero tearing. (Yes, he was smaller. Weight-wise by only 3oz but he was also 2 inches longer so he was a much thinner baby than my daughter)
If you are pregnant, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND reading the book Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method. Even if you choose a different laboring technique, the first half of the book is all about seeing birth through a different lens and removing the fear. I truly believe every pregnant woman can benefit from releasing the fear of the birth experience.
Did it hurt?
I describe labor as the worst menstrual cramps you’ve ever experienced. And then they get more intense as labor progresses. My experience with both pregnancies was that the hours of labor were fine. I was absolutely miserable and uncomfortable, but I was not in pain. The actual pushing out hurt, but it’s the shortest phase of the labor. The craziest part about birth is that literally immediately after the worst part is the BEST part. The feeling of that baby passing through the birth canal and “popping” out is euphoric. Both my children’s births are engrained in my memory in slow motion, and I will never forget that feeling. It’s absolutely amazing. Not to mention, the immediate release of oxytocin helps too. The body is pretty amazing; once the baby is born the body works like a light switch and pumps happy hormones through your body. You get this immediate rush and high that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s pretty amazing.
I hope you found this helpful. If you would like to receive an email anytime I update my blog, then just subscribe on my home page.
Feel free to ask additional questions in the comments section of my blog. Also, I would love to hear your birth story if you want to share it. Every human walking this planet has a mother who is brave and strong!
Links and resources:
My midwife: Rebecca Finklea with Precious Blessings
My Doula: Yamel with One Love Doula
My birth photographer: Running Circles Photography
Birthing Center I used for first pregnancy: Labor of Love
Books I highly recommend for pregnant mothers:
Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
The app I used to track my surges: Labor Signs Contraction Timer
Great app for after baby arrives: The Wonder Weeks
More info about midwives
More info about doulas
Documentaries I highly recommend:
The Business of Being Born
Why Not Home