First, let me say that my birth story is very long and incredibly detailed, mostly for my own sake. If you’re not used to reading birth stories, you may want to brace yourself or don’t read it! It was featured on my favorite birth story site Mama Birth, here: A Home Birth VBAC! A Must Read.
Amelie was born at our home in Northern California in our bed at 5:46pm on Tuesday, August 30th after nearly 19 hours of labor. Getting to that point was a long journey, starting with the traumatic unplanned cesarean birth of her sister, my first child, 21 months earlier.
The short version of my first birth was that my daughter was breech the entire pregnancy and during our second external cephalic version attempt at our hospital, they informed me that they couldn’t touch my belly to try to flip her because I was in labor, had been having regular contractions for a couple of hours and was 1 to 2 cm dilated. This was a complete surprise to me. I didn’t feel anything. I was then informed that my options were to have a cesarean right then or come back later that day and have an emergency cesarean. After talking it over with husband, we decided to just have the cesarean right then. Little did we know those were NOT our only options, just the hospital’s options on that Friday afternoon in November of 2009.
They had a no vaginal breech policy and rather than tell us that we could have tried a few other things, like going to another breech friendly hospital, or seeing if the baby would flip before birth naturally because I might have a couple days to go, or any number of other options, we were told a cesarean was our only option. I was very quickly separated from my husband, strapped down to a cold table in a bright room chock full of strange doctors in blue with face masks, given an epidural headache that made my head feel like it was going to explode before they adjusted it, and finally, as I was about to start crying, my husband was allowed to enter the room. He held my hand and stroked my face as I smelled my own burning flesh, felt rough pushing and pulling in my abdomen, and felt her taken from me.
I stared into his steady, loving green eyes, mine wide with fear. His eyes were the only thing that helped me through it. I couldn’t see the birth. I don’t remember hearing her first cry. I wanted to see her face but couldn’t. My daughter was brought over to me after they had done their initial review and wipe down, all red and awake. I felt like I was in a bad dream. I wanted to nurse my child immediately but the bonding experience had to wait until they finished closing me up. I had to wait at least half an hour to begin breastfeeding.
The constant parade of nurses in the middle of the night during our two night stay was uncalled for, unnecessary, and just plain rude. None of the nurses showed love or warmth towards this new person in the world. They handled her like a piece of meat. I wasn’t allowed to eat any real food for a whole day after the birth. I got a UTI from the catheter. Nothing about my hospital stay was welcoming, warm, or friendly for myself or my daughter. How could that be “normal” when everything seemed so wrong?
After my unplanned cesarean birth, I was left with regret that I had not made myself more informed about breech birth and explored every single option to get her to flip or had just tried a vaginal birth anyway. I secretly felt shame, like I was not a real mother because I gave up and let someone else tell me how cesarean was necessary for breech babies, even though breech babies have been born naturally since the beginning. I felt like I had let myself and my child down. I couldn’t talk about how terrible my experience was with family or friends because I felt like the trauma of my experience did not matter to them. As far as anyone else was concerned, my baby was healthy and thriving so I should not complain. At mommy gatherings I wished I could talk about my birth story like my friends who were proud of theirs. I could only feel sadness for those that had unplanned cesareans as well and felt jealous of those who had vaginal births, drug free or not.
When we decided to have our second child, I knew that I wanted a completely different birth experience. While we were trying, I began looking into having a vbac and then looking into a hbac, a home birth after cesarean. A hbac seemed like the most natural way to go, where I would be surrounded by those that I loved and chose to be there, where myself and my newborn would be treated with love and respect and given individual, undivided attention, which was exactly what I wanted. I found out I was pregnant with my second child on my mother’s birthday, December 12th, of 2010. The day was special because I think she gave me a gift on her birthday, even though my mother is no longer with me, having died suddenly and unexpectedly less than 6 months prior. Anyway, I knew that I wanted a home birth and my husband agreed. We decided not to tell our family, in case they did not agree and would be negative about our plans. I began my search for our midwife in January and interviewed our perfect midwife in February. We clicked over the phone and things seemed even more perfect in person. I was confident in her experience, low hospital transfer rate, hbac rates and I knew that her calm, soothing personality would be exactly what I needed to help me move past my anger and hurt from my first birth and allow me to be as relaxed as possible during my prenatal care and the birth with my second child.
Over the following months, I began to feel more confident and secure in myself, my ability to birth naturally, and my birth team. I re-read all the books from my first time around and gathered new ones on home birthing and natural childbirth. I read natural birth stories blogs daily and watched homebirth videos. My midwife visited me at home for all of our appointments, gently touched my belly, and spoke to my unborn child with sweetness and respect, and we talked for a couple of hours each visit. I didn’t have any unnecessary tests done on myself or my baby, monthly vaginal exams, weight checks, or anything I didn’t research and consent to. I valued the holistic care she provided.
My due date was August 21st and by my 41 week appointment on the 29th, I started to worry. Were my dates wrong? Would everyone start freaking out at 42 weeks and then I’d need to have a hospital birth? My midwife and I carefully reviewed my dates and decided to change my due date to the 24th. Perhaps just that little due date nudge allowed me relax about letting things start when they were ready and I started feeling contractions that night. Boy, was I excited! The day was finally here that I would get to meet my new little girl and experience my first “real” birth and join the ranks of mothers who knew what it felt like to push their baby out the way nature intended and to hold their baby in their arms after climbing that mountain of labor. On August 29th around 11pm after puking up pizza I shouldn’t have eaten, which also cleared out my bowels, contractions started coming every 5 to 6 minutes apart and lasting a minute to 90 seconds long. These were real, I knew it, because I’d never felt them before. I felt a little warning when one was coming, a quick build up, then intense twisting and knotting in my abdomen. Then the sensations died down and everything relaxed until the next wave. I didn’t want to tell my husband right away in case it was a false alarm, but I started drawing out my labor chart to help me visualize how every stage was going to happen, how I would get through it. Then he realized something was up when I got in the shower. My 21 month old daughter woke up at 1am with the noise and excitement and refused to go back to sleep. We filled up the pool in the dining room while Gone with the Wind was playing on Netflix.
During that time, I was losing some of my mucus plug. I eventually got out of the pool and crawled into bed because I was starting to feel pretty exhausted, having only gotten a couple hours of sleep before contractions started. I texted my midwife about the contractions around 5am, rather than call and wake her since I was still not sure they were serious yet since they had slowed down to 10 to 15 apart. My daughter had not been able to go back to sleep by that point so by 7am I decided to nurse her to sleep and the intensity of the contractions immediately became overwhelming and I freaked out. My body did not seem to be ready to handle that level of pain yet so I panicked and I ran down the hall, like I could run away from my pain. Things then began to slow down so I tried to sleep while my daughter was napping but was not able to pass out for longer than a couple minutes at a time because I was still having contractions that woke me up.
I called my midwife to check in around 9:30am that morning to let her know how I was doing. By 11am I felt the contractions becoming much more intense and I couldn’t figure out how to cope with all that pain in my uterus in any other way than to flop down on my elbows and knees, rocking, and moaning or screaming. I couldn’t believe I’d turned into one of those screaming laboring women when I was hoping to have a blissful birth. I kept telling myself that I should not say they are “painful” because every book I’d read said I should be able to think of them as waves or intense sensations or something. They were “not painful”, the books claimed.
I got in the hot shower and bath to get some relief but it didn’t seem to help much, as I kept having to flop down on my hands and knees and the water level was too low for my belly. I started feeling worried that the baby was coming soon when my husband went to take a final at school around 1:30. I was at the house alone with my toddler. I tried to eat some pasta and vegetables to keep my energy up. I called my midwife at 1:41 and said I needed help and she said she would be there in an hour. Are you kidding me? An hour?! I thought she would come too late and I’d have to have the baby by myself in the bath. Thankfully, my husband came home around 2:00, skipping his test when he realized I was farther along than he thought and we waited for my midwife. I continued screaming through contractions while in the bath tub. My daughter kept popping her head in the bathroom, looking concerned, and then leaving to play.
My midwife arrived while I was still in the bath, just before 3pm. I welcomed her by puking up most of my lunch in a bucket. She brought a sense of calm and soothing that made me feel like everything was going to be okay. She listened the Amelie’s heartbeat, checked my blood pressure and heartbeat. All was just as it should be. I felt like I was done with the shower and moved to the bed. I asked that she check to see how far along I was. She checked and said I was at around 6-7 cm dilated. This was discouraging because I felt like I was very far along and now being told I was only 6 to 7 cm dilated made me think I still had many hours to go. My husband called his brother to come pick up our daughter sometime around 3:30. She was doing well with my laboring still but was distracting me by climbing on the bed and climbing on my husband’s back while I was leaning into him during contractions.
I was having a really hard time and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted all the pain to go away. I wanted to give up and go to the hospital for drugs but I didn’t say this out-loud. I just kept saying, “No, no, no” and “I can’t do this anymore.” My midwife and my husband kept telling me I could do it, that I was doing it. I kept my eyes closed most of the time, trying to tell myself to relax and float above all of this. It did not work. I was present in the pain. The only thing that helped me get through it was my husbands strong shoulders, which I threw myself against while a contraction would come on and rock myself on with his back taking the brunt of my weight. My brother in law arrived at 5 to pick my daughter up, having not realized we wanted him to come quickly when we called, not a couple hours later. (I found out later that he was in the middle of a long run and had to run several miles back and then come over.) The assist midwife arrived at the same time. I puked up the rest of my lunch and all the coconut water I had been drinking.
Then I started feeling like pushing while having a contraction felt better than not pushing, and I knew Amelie was starting to come out, lowering herself. I felt a great pressure in the vaginal area, which felt very different than contractions. My midwife checked me again at my request and said I was fully dilated and good to push! I was so relieved to hear this but her check brought on another contraction so I couldn’t enjoy that thought for longer than a second. I went from 6-7 cm dilated to fully dilated very quickly, less than an hour. I felt like my butt was going to explode and I knew I was giving myself hemorrhoids but I couldn’t figure out how to push without pushing that area too.
The midwives made warm herbal compresses and pressed them in the right places. My middle to lower back was starting to send signals of intense, sharp pain and I felt like my back was going to snap. I cried out and felt hands massage my back and I would instruct them to massage lower or higher or “get away!” I was feeling hot then cold, hot then cold, instructing that the AC be turned on then off and back on again. I spoke in single words, demanding water. At some point around here I remember telling my husband that I didn’t want any more kids. I was dead serious. I was not joking.
This bearing down went on for a what seemed like an eternity, but really was less than an hour, and then I felt a pop and a gush. My water had broken! I knew it was almost time. It kept gushing at each contraction and I felt them intensify. Everyone kept telling me that my body was doing exactly what it needed to do. I was doing perfectly. It sure didn’t feel perfect. I wondered if everyone’s labor was this terrible or if I was just that lucky. I was wet from my water and the bed was gross and covered in pads that kept sticking to my knees and feet.
Finally, I had a couple contractions that seemed to move her along at his point without much pain or help from me. Those few felt so wonderful. Then I felt like I had to push during contractions again and I felt an intense burning and bulging and I knew she was right there. They positioned a mirror so I could see her head coming through for the first time. Her scalp and hair was mushed and wrinkled, covered in brown hair! That wasn’t much of a surprise, since I imagined her with dark hair before her birth but it was nice to see. Little did I know but less than 10 minutes from then, I would be holding my daughter in my arms!
After another contraction, I looked down again and could see her head almost out, just waiting, my vagina bulging with her head. My midwife put more olive oil on my perineum. The push to get her head out was me moaning and screaming her out, and I felt myself stretch even more and I felt a sharp pain (from a small tear, I later found out) during crowning and with one more little push at the same time, the rest of her just slipped right out. My midwife caught her and handed her to my husband through my legs. I was almost in shock. I couldn’t believe it was over. I had done it. And she was beautiful. Time of birth was 5:46pm.
I laid down with the help of my midwives and husband and I closed my eyes to rest for a moment and they placed Amelie on my belly. Then I began checking out my baby while they listed to her heartbeat and checked the little things they needed to. She was very wide eyed and alert and starting to pink up. She started rooting and with a little nudge in the right direction from me, began nursing right away. Her latch was perfect and she continued for quite some time. I didn’t have to move to push out the placenta.
My midwife instructed me to give little pushes to help it along and asked that I “cough” and then the birth was complete. I just rested with my new baby on my breast, head propped up on pillows, and my husband sitting right next to me admiring our daughter together. Contractions continued to come even after the placenta was out, and the nursing made them stronger, but the pain was not nearly as intense as before the birth. These lessened over the next few days and seemed to completely disappear by day 4 postpartum.
My husband, shortly after her birth and our initial breastfeeding experience, put her sweet newborn body on his chest for some father-daughter bonding. Here she is all wrapped up and warm, making eye-to-eye contact. She was very alert!
A couple hours later after the sun had gone down and Amelie was sleeping, my husband brought me dinner in bed. And what a fine meal it was! Chicken, beans, and mashed potatoes with a tall glass of milk. The midwives cleaned my house and washed my sheets. They gently checked me, assessed my small tear and looked me straight in my eyes when talking to me. This meant so much to me. And with regard to how my lovely midwife treated Amelie, I will cherish that memory forever. She held Amelie gently and with the utmost of care, as if she were the most special and precious baby on earth, giving her tiny kisses on her head and speaking softly to her.
Amelie was finally weighed and measured after pooping twice and peeing on my midwife, coming in at 7lbs 3oz and measuring 21 inches. I peed, showered, and returned to bed feeling so much better.What a sweet experience, so radically different that my first time around. Everything turned out just as I wished it would, besides labor being more intense than I imagined. I am now 5 days postpartum and my daughter and I have not had to leave our own front yard. This whole experience was transformative. I feel like an empowered mother, proud of myself, my birth story, and my family.
Did you have a home birth? Share your story!