So for all of you who have been wondering what I’ve been up to for the past nine months, well – I’ve been growing a baby ;). And I just had the most fantastic home birth, unassisted by a licensed practioner. That’s right, no doctor, no registered midwife. Tell on? I shall!
My most recent birth story really begins at my first birth, which was an emergency cesarean that likely could have been avoided. I went through a typical “pit-to-distress” scenario where the doctors rushed my labour after my waters had broken (likely due to an unnecessary membrane sweep the day prior on my EDD). After I “failed to progress” in the timeline the doctors would have wanted, I was given an epidural and pitocin, both of which inhibited any feeling of the urge to push – so I proceeded to push in a guided fashion for more than five hours before they decided he was “stuck” and took me to surgery.
After he was delivered, I spent two hours separated from him while my husband struggled to figure out where I was or what was happening that was preventing my connection with my newest family member. I remember crying for my baby and receiving zero sympathy from my attending nurse, all the while being threatened with my baby receiving formula if I “didn’t recover from the anesthetic soon enough.” I was denied the initial moments of what would have been extremely beneficial skin to skin contact, which I feel impaired my breastfeeding relationship and bonding with my newborn son. I will never forget the grief that was our separation during this time.
[My first kiddo after the surgeon took him out.]
After this traumatic birth, I was determined to become more informed on birth in general, and not to ever experience unnecessary trauma like this again. I researched and researched, and soon found that the hospital policy of keeping mom and babe separated, along with all the unnecessary interventions I had experienced, were not evidence based practice at best, and unethical and borderline abusive at worst.
So I went seeking registered midwives to attend my birth, as I hoped the experience with them would be less medicalized and more conducive to natural childbirth, with less interventions and more direct support for our family. Like, say emotional coaching and support for both myself and my husband that would leave us feeling more confident in trusting the natural process of birth and coping with the physical sensations and experiences involved.
My experience with the midwives seemed to be going well, but I was disappointed to learn that most registered midwives in the province would not do an out of hospital VBAC as they found it too risky due to increased chance of uterine rupture at the scar site, and a repeat of whatever conditions had necessitated my cesarean in the first place. This made me slightly uncomfortable, but my midwives agreed to attending the birth at a hospital that had more up to date practices that would allow mom and baby to recover together after a cesarean, should that become necessary again. I also looked into my legal rights and had put together a substantial birth plan that would leave me with the confidence to refuse and unnecessary interventions anyone tried to push my way.
However, at 36 weeks, my midwifery team abruptly informed me that they would not be able to stretch their resources to attend my birth at my chosen hospital, and should I wish to continue with my birth plan, I would have to transfer my care to a different midwifery with seven midwives on staff. My trust was broken, as I felt that my midwives should have forseen this difficulty in their practice prior to offering my this option for my birth. I felt, if they are going to back out of this, what other issues am I going to have when it comes time for my birth? And how am I going to connect to an entire new team of seven midwives with only a month before my due date?
I also was unhappy to hear them applying the term “high risk” to my delivery, as from my research, I was actually a very good candidate for a VBAC considering it had been almost three years from my last delivery to my conception date, and that I had gone to full dilation and pushed during my first birth. All of these conditions allowed for a much smaller risk in uterine rupture (which is already a very small risk to begin with), and post cesarean related complications. Furthermore, given that I was basically induced due to the membrane sweep prior to my first birth, I likely had not gone into labour at the right time, which had opened the door for complications in the first place, which had then been exasperated by all the interventions applied. Thousands of women have had perfectly natural, successful VBACs with similar histories to mine. Yet I was “high risk”? This was another red flag for me, as it seemed their classification of me as such was not based in sound evidence, andwould likely lead to more fear based unnecessary interventions.
I left looking for other options, and my immediate thoughts were to contact a private “traditional birth attendant” who would attend an HBAC and approach my birth with evidence based information based in instinctual birth and traditional methods. We had considered this path to begin with, as it was recommended highly from a few acquaintances, but had balked initially at the cost – a traditional birth attendant is not covered by MSP as they are not a registered medical practitioner. A birth supported by such a professional is considered “unattended” in our province.
Well, contact her I did, and what a magical journey we began after doing so! My birth attendant came directly to my home for my pre-natal visits, checked up on baby and I with traditional, non-invasive methods (for example, checking baby’s heart rate with a stethoscope instead of utilizing the possibly damaging ultrasound based audio doppler, and avoiding unnecesssary vaginal exams). We discussed how a hospital birth actually can actually increase health risk and mortality for women and babies, due to the unnecessary and escalating scale of interventions that are applied and encouraged there – induction when going past your due date, treatment with drugs and painkillers that reduce your natural connection to your sensations and your instinctual urges (not to mention crossing the placenta and affecting baby), discouragement from eating or drinking normally when your body may in fact need such nourishment to promote your strength and wellbeing – among many others. Not to mention the fact that you are naturally more comfortable in your own home environment, which psychologically leads to an increased ability to “open” into your birth and push that baby out.
We decided on having a water birth in a home birthing pool with zero interventions unless one became necessary for emergency purposes – in which case i would be transported by ambulance to hospital. I had hired a doula months earlier who would continue to support me for my home birth – trained in hypnotherapy and energy work on many levels, my doula would be there to support me emotionally through painful sensations, helping me to feel safe in the physical experience of labour – we discussed how she would be there to help me psychologically open myself to trusting the natural birth experience and avoiding the urge to seek interventions that my body did not need.
We also discussed how important it was for me to have my husband more involved and empowered at this birth. The hospital birth was such a helpless experience for him, feeling powerless to do anything when constantly ordered around and interfered with by nurses and doctors – and then being left alone with our newborn while I “recovered” elsewhere. I wanted him to feel like he was doing something to make a difference in the process – like he was supporting his family and having some control in the experience. Our birth attendant was happy to support us in this way by coaching my husband on what he could do for us during the birth.
My baby “cooked” for a week past my EDD, which was perfectly natural and not a cause for concern for my traditional birth attendant. It is not natural for all babies to spontaneously emerge at exactly 40 weeks – some babies need more time in the womb, and ovulation dates are rarely exactly determined in the first place. So we happily proceeded to wait until she was ready, which was a beautiful, clear spring morning on a Saturday.
I woke at 6 am with mild crampy contractions, and knew it was the day. I made french toast for myself, hubby, and my three and a half year old son, woke my husband up leisurely and told him it was time. Boy, were we excited for this brand new experience! After breakfast, we headed to a local park and spent some time enjoying the outdoors. My friend, our birth photographer, happily met us at the park and snapped some shots.
[Calling my doula]
[Watching my son play happily on the playground]
I called my doula and birth attendant and around lunch time I was feeling like it was time to get home. I ate a small delicious meal on the couch. My sensations were getting stronger, closer together and very regular. Another friend who is also a doula came by to be with us also – my doula, friend and I laboured together in my living room while my husband busied himself tidying and taking care of us. My friend and doula did a beautiful traditional aboriginal smudge with me using sage and cedar, which I felt truly helped me release many of my remaining tensions and fears.
My son played with his Nana outside while my labour continued progressing. It was so important having my son there for us, as we felt that he would learn so much, and feel more comfortable being there amidst all the action, rather than spending the night away at another house feeling curious about the goings on. I also felt strongly that seeing a peaceful, lovely, natural birth would help him heal on some level from the trauma of his own birth. We had prepared him for it by talking a lot about what birth was like, watching birth videos, and very much normalizing the process rather than allowing fear to permeate. He was calm and curious during the whole process, and my doula would help connect him to the birth and to me and Daddy throughtout.
[Big brother staying amused in the earlier stages]
I moved to the bathtub on suggestion of my doula when sensations were getting harder to cope with and impossible to talk through. This helped ease the intensity somewhat, and we had the lights dimmed. I felt an intense pressure in my head, and my doula guided me through a visualization that involved sending light up and out the top of my head, and back in again to swirl around in my belly. This eased the intensity of this pressure immensely! At this time I started also feeling quite nauseous and threw up a couple times. In hospital, this had been a cause for concern which had me hooked up to fluids immediately. At home, we moved past this right away as just a natural part of the process.
[My son stopping in while I was in the bath]
My birth attendant had arrived, and I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by my sensations, although still coping very well through my doula’s amazingly intuitive coaching and the support of my husband who I now had holding my hand through each sensation. He felt happy and confident to be there for me when I needed him close. My doula described later how he was seemingly thrilled that I needed him to be there for support. At the hospital, I had felt so paralyzed in fear and pain that I hadn’t wanted him touching my body at all. At home, if he let go of my hand, I felt like I immediately lost stability.
We moved with some difficulty to my bed where I felt I could labour more in comfort, as I was feeling increasingly exhausted with sitting up in the bath. The sensations were almost one on top of the other at this point and so intense I found myself longing for painkillers! I was however very thankful that they weren’t available to me, as I knew I didn’t “really” need them, it was just old conditioning peeking through. I was glad to be home where I could be in the comfort zone I needed to push through without drugs.
As an aside, I want to speak to the incredible benefit that is having a doula present that you are in tune with. My doula knew just what I needed on a deep, spiritual level, and spoke to it or brought it for me without question, allowing for as peaceful and uninterrupted a labour as possible. All I needed to do was connect with my sensations and focus on being strong in the moment. She was there to suggest to my husband what he might do to assist me, and to support him as well if he needed a break. I can’t say enough how valuable a well chosen doula is for a healthy, natural birth, at home or in hospital.
Just as I felt I couldn’t handle a single other sensation, and while I was wondering what pushing would be like and when I would know it was time, my body just transitioned immediately into pushing – I pushed without thinking, and my mucous plug loosened and my waters broke on the bed. I knew it was time to push and didn’t even have to choose to do so – my body just did it on it’s own without any conscious input, and it felt amazing! I knew it was time to push my baby out! We had progressed so quickly that we hadn’t had time to set up the birth pool – however, I didn’t feel I could have maneuvered myself in it at this point anyway and was happy staying where I was.
Not once was I checked for dilation – a practice which has proven largely unnecessary and invasive. Not only can you introduce pathogens to the mom and baby if you do so, but you can disturb the natural peace and progression of things without any proven benefit. The only thing a dilation check can do is really promote a questioning of an “appropriate” timeline for your birth, which raises anxieties and creates unnecessary expectations. Not to mention creating a great deal of discomfort.
I immediately felt the need to be on all fours, but was also quite exhausted at this point. We found a solution which had me supporting my upper body on the rocking ottoman from my nursing chair, which was the absolute perfect tool for my experience! I could rock myself gently between pushing, easing tension on my lower back, and keep myself in an all fours position without using much arm strength. My doula put a lovely cool cloth on my forehead which helped ease the heat and preasure I was continuing to feel there.
At this point my husband recalls that he was surprised at the strength in my hand, finding he had to squeeze back so I wouldn’t crush his fingers – all those sitcom births with moms crushing hands had actually found a bit of truth there amidst the ridiculousness of dramatized births. I found myself going into a loud, guttural roar during my pushes and thought “Wow, my throat is going to be wrecked after this,” but not caring at all. I needed to growl! My doula encouraged my son to “make the sounds with mommy”, and he was happy to growl along with me as I pushed his sister out. I truly believe it was a beautifully illuminating and powerful learning experience for my first child.
After about an hour of pushing, we could tell it was close – my birth attendant encouraged me to push gently to avoid tearing. As I felt I barely had any strength left in my body, everyone hoisted me up onto a special birth stool that my attendant brings to all her births. I pushed my little girl’s head out on the stool and my attendant told hubby to “get ready to catch your baby!” Her shoulders came out easily and she slipped gently through husband’s hands onto the towels on the floor – we weren’t prepared for how wriggly and slippery she was! He quickly scooped her up and passed her to me – I almost dropped the slippery little love also but was supported by all the lovely ladies around me. She almost immediately wanted to check out my breast, and she was so lovely to behold. I enjoyed holding her for some moments, and then my birth team hoisted me up to recover and birth my placenta on my bed.
[Hubby watching baby girl crowning!]
[My lovely slippery baby girl!]
The placenta came out without issue, and we delayed clamping her cord until an hour later. It was so wonderful to snuggle up right in my own bedroom with my lovely baby and not to have to worry about anybody poking or prodding us with unnecessary procedures. I was brought beautiful nourishing food, along with a piece of my placenta to swallow. I was so well taken care of that all I had to do was savour snuggling up to my newest little munchkin. A friend came shortly after the birth to encapsulate my placenta right in my home.
I can’t express enough how empowering it was for my husband and I to have our HBAC. My husband continually expresses his amazement with how my body just knew what to do, and how incredible it was to just be supported in trusting the natural birth process. I birthed my lovely 9 pound 6 ounce baby girl with no interventions – only love, emotional support, and very gentle coaching during the last stages of pushing, and my baby was here! She was lovely and pink and wonderfully healthy and alert. Breastfeeding started easily and quickly. A night and day experience from the hospital. My birth attendant stayed with us overnight to make sure my bleeding slowed and that we were comfortable. We were so well supported and loved, and continued to be for the weeks following – having meals and other things delivered and being checked on regularly.
I am so thankful for my beautiful natural birth, which has allowed me to heal from much of the emotional trauma of my first. I strongly recommend home birth to everyone – it is such a wonderfully empowering and healthy experience that I wish every family could have in their lifetime. If it wasn’t for my wonderful traditional birth attendant, this natural birth may not have been possible for me, due to the unreasonable restrictions and unsubstantiated fears of the medical profession. I am eternally grateful for her knowledge and experience which allowed me to have faith and confidence that traditional birth, as nature intended, is possible for most women, and in actuality the healthiest way to have your baby – despite what the medical community may try to tell you. You CAN trust your body to do what it needs to do to grow and birth your baby, and you may just have an enlightening experience if you do so!
Pictures by the lovely Mitra Suri Bullock
Some additional reading:
The Evidence for Doulas
Traditional Midwifery & the VBAC
Educational Articles on Natural Childbirth