River was an unexpected blessing for Dan and me. It’s not that Dan and I hadn’t talked about having children, but that children were always futuristic. As in, sometime in a land very far away we would have seven children and live in a cabin in the woods. This would be long after Dan completed residency, and long after we “got our life together.” When we found out we were having a baby, we were shocked. But it didn’t take long to move from shock to excitement. We started dreaming of what our baby would be like, what kind of life we wanted for him. Of course, these thoughts started with dreaming about the beginning of his life. Dan was in his fourth year of medical school at the time, and had spent a fair share of time in labor and delivery wards at hospitals. After discussing our options for the kind of birth we wanted and felt was best for our family, we decided that the hospital just was not the environment either of us wanted for our little boy.
After watching The Business of Being Born, I was convinced that having a homebirth with a midwife was what I desperately wanted for my child. Let me add that Dan and I recognize the importance of hospitals and interventions when necessary (as you will soon read). I mean, Dan is a doctor for goodness sake – we are not against the medical field. However, we do feel that many times interventions are used unnecessarily, which leads to unnecessary complications and risks to both the child and mother. The idea of having a non-complicated, peaceful birth at home with a caring and well-trained midwife felt beautiful and safe. After much thought and prayer we found our wonderful midwife, Beth Overton, and started prenatal care with her.
My pregnancy was rather uneventful. I stayed active and healthy, working hard for the natural birth I desired. Dan and I attended a natural childbirth class based on the Bradley Method (natural, husband-coached childbirth). We were both very involved in working towards this birth. At 36 weeks, Beth, my midwife, checked me and found that I was already dilated to 3 centimeters and almost fully effaced. River was also at +1 station. We were a little worried he would be coming much earlier than expected, so I was told to stop jogging and take it easy for a week. One week passed and no River, but we made the 37-week mark, which meant that we all felt comfortable delivering at home when he did decide to come. Another week passed and no River. During the 38th week, I started to feel contractions more steadily. I had been feeling Braxton Hicks contractions throughout my pregnancy and had even felt him drop around week 32, but these were different. They would come at more regular intervals and sometimes got stronger. Around 10 p.m. on Friday evening (Sept. 30), I started having relatively strong contractions every ten minutes. I waited two hours before calling Beth, and by that time they had moved to 5 minutes apart. I could still talk through them and I wasn’t sure if it was really labor, but Beth came over and we started the process. The contractions continued throughout the night, getting closer together and stronger, but then sometime around 6 a.m. they started to peter out. They were still coming, but not as strongly, and they were farther apart. Around 10 a.m. we decided to take a break. Maybe this was just a little pre-labor and not the real thing. My midwives and amazing photographer all went home to take a little nap. Unfortunately I didn’t give them much of a break.
Around 2 p.m., my contractions started again and this time they were the strongest that they had been since Friday night… or Saturday morning…. The timeline is a little confusing. The troops came back over and this time it felt like the real deal. The baby’s heart tones were checked every fifteen to thirty minutes, and my vital signs were also checked every 30 minutes. My midwives worked hard making sure we were both safe, and Dan worked hard helping me to relax through contractions. I labored like this for the next twelve hours. I hit “transition” (or at least I thought I did) a few times. The first time I hit a transition phase, I was in the birth pool and my contractions came right after another without a break for twenty minutes. I was shaking and crying and I felt like I had reached my body’s max… and then everything stopped. As I said before, the timeline is relatively confusing, but at one point during this I was checked and had progressed to 6 cm and had become fully effaced. When I hit transition the first time I was gearing up mentally to push soon, and then it all faded. It felt like working hard to climb a mountain and then realizing you were just at the valley and you had a whole other mountainside to climb before you got to the top.
I just kept climbing. The contractions started slow and far apart again, and would grow closer and closer and closer. They would grow until a point where I would hit transition, and then they would stop. At 2 a.m., Dan pulled me into our room and said we needed to start thinking about some alternatives. “Alternatives?” I remember asking. Surely he doesn’t mean medical intervention of some kind. I have only been in labor for 24 hours-ish, give me a break! I can totally do this. But, he did mean medical intervention. He explained to me that he was getting a little concerned at my failure to progress. I was appalled. He was suppose to be on my team, my side, my homebirth side—why was he all of a sudden Dr. Dan? It was about that time that Beth came in and we all started talking. I was equally shocked when Beth said she would support our decision to seek medical intervention at this point. What?! Who were these people and why were they turning on me. I obviously realized that they had the best intentions for both me and my baby, and I am so glad they could think clearly, but in my head I was thinking “I would rather break my pelvis than go to a hospital.” Crazy much?
The idea of going to a hospital horrified me. In our birth class we were supposed to write birth plans. Obediently, I did write a birth plan. For my homebirth. Leah, our amazing birth-coach/teacher asked us to write a back-up hospital birth plan. I did not do this because we would not be going to the hospital. When she reasoned that it would only be necessary in case of an emergency or a transfer, I just laughed it off because we would not be going to the hospital. I had decided. That was that.
I continued to labor at home from 2-4 a.m. with still no progress. Dan brought up the “H” word again, at which point I started bawling and told him all the reasons I didn’t want to go to the hospital. He agreed that it wasn’t ideal, but my current situation wasn’t ideal either. I had been up for almost 30 hours over a stretch of three days and I was stuck at 6 cm. I was definitely in labor because though the contractions would occasionally weaken, they never stopped, and they never became weak enough for me to sleep through them. I asked him for two more hours. We made a deal that I could work for two more hours and if Beth checked me and I had made any progress at all, I could stay at home. If not, we would go to the hospital. For the next two hours I did squats during contractions, walked the stairs, squinched my face and did the opposite of relax through them. Instead, I embraced them wholeheartedly, trying to make them come stronger and harder. They did. Beth checked me… and I was still at 6 cm.
This is when I felt like I was in a dream. Really, more like a nightmare. This wasn’t the perfect six-hour home birth I had dreamed about. Surely my dream of having my baby float up to me in the birth pool was not being taken away from me. Surely this was not real. But it was, and I felt crushed.
As we were driving to the hospital I was past tears and went into business mode. “I don’t want them sticking his head with that screw monitor thing. If they pull my placenta out I’ll stab them. What if they take him away instead of putting him on me? Are you going to fight for me?” These were the things that Dan and I talked about in the twenty minute drive to the hospital (in between contractions of course). Dan assured me he wouldn’t let anyone do anything that he didn’t approve of.
The first five minutes at the hospital were exactly how I imagined they would be. Actually, maybe even worse. The charge nurse on duty was extremely rude and short with my very capable and trained midwife. I wish people understood the training and time that goes into midwifery. I also wish they could have seen the little mini-hospital that was set up in our house for the weekend. She was ready and prepared for emergencies, had anything arisen at home. We were taken to a small area to check in, where I was promptly hooked up to two monitors. One monitored the baby’s heartbeat and the other my contractions. I had to lay down for this. Let me just tell you that on a scale of 1-10, a grade 3 contraction goes to a 6 when you lay on your back. Anyone attempting an all-natural labor should never do so on your back. Good gravy it was terrible. (On another note, a grade 7 contraction drops to a 3 when you get in the birth pool. It’s fabulous.)
The first doctor walked in and without even acknowledging Dan or I, he started ordering all kinds of unnecessary interventions, including the fetal scalp monitoring and breaking my water, which was absolutely ridiculous because I was GBS positive, and that would greatly increase the risk to the baby. What was this guy thinking? There were just a lot of things wrong with that situation, and it was at that time that I thought about pulling off the monitors and running out the door (and maybe sneaking some pitocin as I left, just to get things moving when we got home). I probably would have done this if I hadn’t been in the middle of a contraction at the time. Luckily, we had a heaven-sent nurse who supported all of our wishes and requests. And somehow, we had a new doctor in a few minutes. Dan had actually worked with this doctor and he immediately asked Dan what he thought we should do and if Dan wanted to catch the baby. It was like a 180-degree shift.
Let me pause and go back for just a moment to our heaven-sent nurse, because that is truly what I felt that she was. Not only was she respectful of our wishes, she quickly told us how she was very supportive of midwives and had even had some of her own children under midwifery care. She was understanding, supportive, and always consulted us before changing anything with my or River’s care. We had two major things in our favor at this point: our nurse, and the fact that Dan has two fancy letters after his name. I realize that not everyone can walk into a hospital and have this much control over their care. I know this from speaking with close friends about their experiences in hospitals and from Dan’s own experience working in hospitals. There are standards and procedures that must be met, some for legitimate medical reasons and others for legal reasons. I was so thankful to fall into a different category of people. I realize how blessed we were to have so much control and to still feel like we were managing our own birth, and for that I am so thankful.
Because I was GBS positive I needed to be hooked up to IV antibiotics for 4 hours. We were treating this differently at home, but we wanted to follow hospital procedures, and we also agreed that this was probably best for River. During these 4 hours I received an epidural so I could rest. I had been laboring without sleep for two days, and I really needed to rest. As soon as the epidural kicked in, I passed out. I had no idea how tired I was until I couldn’t feel my uterus pounding in and out every few minutes. When I woke up, I asked them to stop the epidural. I also received a pitocin drip and was quickly ready to push. It turns out little River was in an asynclitic position, which explains my somewhat erratic contractions and failure to progress. I am actually really thankful that I had an epidural because my amazing nurse wound up having to manually move River inside the birth canal so that he would come out straight. I can only imagine what that would have felt like had I not been numb in my lower half.
When it was time to push, I could feel all my contractions but they weren’t painful. I still had a lot of the epidural in my system, but I was thankful to be able to move my legs and toes and feel the surge so I would know when to push. I did not feel the “ring of fire” that I had heard about, and I definitely was not in the position I had imagined I would be, but when I looked down and saw Dan and heard him encouraging me to push and that he could see his hair – it didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered. Soon after, Dan told me to reach down and touch his head. When I felt his little noggin, nothing could have stopped me from pushing with all my might. I heard one of the nurses say that I pushed for an hour, but after looking at the pictures and times, I think it was only 20 minutes of active pushing. I don’t remember pushing for an hour.
When I felt River coming out, I had this rush of feelings, mostly of elation but also a feeling of “oh my gosh, this is that thing that has been living in me and I finally get to meet him”. When I saw him, it was like someone had poured overflowing love into me. I never knew I could love something so much. I just wanted to hold him and never let go. Dan handed him up to me immediately and laid him on my belly. The nursing staff cleaned him and did everything they needed to while we just looked at each other. Dan finished up his doctorly duties and then joined my side, gazing at our beautiful baby as our amazing supervising physician stitched me up. Yes… I tore.
One of my biggest fears going into labor was tearing. I had practiced my kegels and relaxing my muscles to prevent tearing. We had even done perineal massages. But… little River came out with his hand next to his face which caused me to have a pretty jagged second-degree tear. Looking back, I could have guessed he would do this. In all of his sonograms his hands were around his face or he was sucking his thumb. Now that he is out of the womb he does the same thing. Again, so thankful for the epidural. Never thought I would say that.
My midwives stayed with me the whole time, even after being admitted to the hospital. They became supporters and my doulas. My husband became my baby catcher and all in all we had a wonderful birth experience. It’s hard to look at River now and think that it wasn’t perfect because of how it ended. I mean, he is here and perfect and beautiful. Looking back at it, I would have done whatever I needed to do just so I could hold him in my arms safe and sound.
I am still an advocate of homebirths and Dan and I have already talked about trying again next time. But, all in all, as a plan “B,” having your husband deliver your baby is pretty cool.
This is a video that Katie did telling her story.