I’ve never written a birth story before. Usually the labors are so short, there isn’t much to say! To sum up: My first was a typical hospital birth – generally stressful with an epidural, no coaching, and some unfortunate side effects from pushing with too much (inaccurate) force.
My second was almost born in the car and came out just six minutes after we arrived at the birthing center. They said they don’t keep track of the fastest births, but they’re pretty sure we won.
My third…we forgot to bring snacks with us so my husband went to the gas station a block away, was gone for all of 15 minutes, and almost missed her birth.
And so, after these super speedy labor and deliveries, confidence that my body is pretty darn good at giving birth, and crummy health insurance that doesn’t cover a lick of maternity care, I decided on a home birth for baby no. 4. And I am so glad I did.
The one thing I really disliked about the care during my first pregnancy was that the doctors and nurses made me feel like I had a medical condition, like being pregnant and giving birth was some kind of disease. But Pat and I were unmarried, completely caught off guard, and overwhelmed. I didn’t even have a primary care physician set up – what did I know about obstretrics? So I went with the first recommendation I got, read all the usual books, and followed all the guidelines. My body and hormones were doing things that made me feel crazy. Before the pregnancy was confirmed, I entered all my symptoms into WedMd. I was either with child or had contracted cat scratch fever.
Anyways, after the madness of baby no. 1, I decided to do some research when I found out I was pregnant the following year. I was a crunchier kind of person anyways so the whole hospital scene just wasn’t my style anyways, and thankfully, landed on a birth center 45 minutes from where we lived. Immediately I noticed that instead of a nurse walking me over to the scale to check my weight, at the birth center, they told me to weigh myself and let them know the number – a small difference that signaled my body is my own and this whole pregnancy thing was healthy and normal.
Fast forward to this year. We moved from the Philadelphia area, which had a surprising dearth of at-home midwifery care, to the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which had a surprising plethora of midwives, and I found a wonderful care provider named Erin. The main lesson I’ve learned about my body during the past few pregnancies is that I go past my due date but when it’s time for the baby to come out? Phew! They come fast! So having talked with Erin about my history, I felt confident that being at home with her coming to me, rather than me going to, say, a birth center would ensure that the baby wasn’t, you know, born in the car.
So as to be expected, baby no. 4’s October 11th due date came…and went. A few days later I started doing things that seemed to work to get labor going for my third pregnancy – copious amounts of walking and using the breast pump. I walked over 13,000 steps most days! And…?
After monitoring the baby, I was given the go ahead to continue the pregnancy, but once I hit 42 weeks, the midwife is legally required to consult with a physician. Unfortunately, my health insurance isn’t great and doesn’t cover anything maternity related. I was informed that once I went post-date, the physician would need to see a full anatomy scan. Going 42 weeks AND getting an ultrasound my insurance wouldn’t pay for didn’t sound ideal. With this in mind, my midwife suggested castor oil.
I had built castor oil up in my mind as a real last resort. Based on everything I’d read on it or heard from other moms, this was the worst, albeit effective, way to induce labor. I’ve had pretty horrific bouts of food poisoning in my life; my ideas of what castor oil would do to my intestinal system surpassed them all. But I was getting anxious to hold my baby and so decided to take the dreaded elixir.
The midwife advised that the best way to get – and keep – castor oil down is with an orange juice and vanilla ice cream milkshake. Dump a four ounce bottle of castor oil into a blender and make an orange creamsicle with it. The acidity from the oj cuts the flavor, and the ice cream coats the stomach to prevent any vomiting. So on the morning of Wednesday, October 23rd around 8am, after making sure none of my midwife’s other clients had already gone into labor and after eating a protein rich breakfast of eggs, sausage, and toast, down the hatch the shake went!
I’ll tell you what, for as foul as I’d heard castor oil was, I couldn’t even taste it. The only issue I had was it was just a lot to drink all at once (maybe I was a little heavy handed with the ice cream) so it felt pretty heavy in my tummy for an hour or so.
As directed I stayed close to a bathroom, and by 10am, the castor oil was starting to do its intended work. Again, having imagined this entire experience was going to surpass my worst food poisoning experiences, I was (pleasantly?) surprised. It wasn’t as horrible as I expected. But either way, figuring I might like some privacy, my mom, who had arrived the previous Friday to help with the kids whenever I went into labor, packed up the three littles and headed out on an adventure, taking them to shop for crafts and activities and eat the famous Wisconsin combo of cheeseburgers and frozen custard.
At 11:30am, I went to the bathroom and something kind of like pee but wasn’t trickled out. My water had spontaneously broken! An experience I hadn’t had with any of my other kids and so it took me a few minutes to realize what was happening. I quickaly called the midwife and she told me to monitor contractions – and most importantly, fetal movement – for the next ten minutes, as once the water breaks, the baby’s environment so drastically changes, it’s important to make sure there aren’t any signs of distress. But after a couple of smaller contractions and the feelings of a few wiggling fingers in my pelvis and kicks to my ribs, it was deemed all was well.
As was the plan, Pat quick ran our dog two blocks over to my in-laws house (I love Lola, but she has a tendency to crowd and whine and I knew if she did either while I was in the throes of labor, my stress level would go through the roof). When he came back a few minutes later, we decided to walk up and down our little street until the contractions picked up steam and I had to pause until they passed. After four or five turns around the block, we came back inside and decided it was time to get the midwife to the house. She lives 20 minutes away and the assisting midwife wouldn’t be at the house for an hour. So while I waited for the cavalry to arrive and not wanting to lose the momentum of the contractions, I grabbed the rosary that was gifted to me by the archbishop of Milwaukee at my confirmation last spring and began walking up and down the staircase. I prayed for the safe labor and delivery and health of my baby, I prayed for my health, I prayed for the steady hands and calm minds of the midwives, I prayed for my husband. But before I even got to the fifth decade, the contractions were coming every two minutes and getting stronger. Neither midwife had arrived yet so I paused on the stair climbing and snuggled up in bed to finish my prayers, slow down the contractions, and catnap between the tough ones.
Getting into bed did the trick. The midwives came, and how typical of moms – even in the midst of discomfort and knowing they were there for me, I wanted to host them and so asked them what I could get for them. Coffee? Water? The women chuckled and waved me off, assuring me that they were fine. My vitals were checked and then I was left to myself.
The midwives quietly chatted with one another while I resumed my stair walking and then hung out in the kitchen with Pat until I had to pause talking in order to concentrate on the deepening contractions. “I think I’m getting close,” I said and the midwives headed upstairs with me.
A minute later, I told them I felt like I needed to push, and in that moment, I knew my prayers for cool, calm midwives had been answered. As I got onto the bed, Erin agreed – I was already crowning.
The contractions, the pressure, the burning feelings all increased in waves, flowing and then ebbing away. Giving birth is painful, yes, but it’s important to remember that, unlike the pain that comes with, say, a broken bone, the pangs of childbirth is purposeful pain – there is a reason, a REALLY good reason for that pain and in the end a beautiful baby is delivered into the world because of it. Keeping that in mind, and knowing from personal experience and the advice of nurses and midwives in the past that when you feel you can’t go on any longer, that typically means you won’t have to; you’re nearing the end.
And sure enough, the pain peaked and I wasn’t sure how many more contractions like that I could handle, and there was a clear, strong, glorious cry of new life! My baby wasn’t even completely born and was already crying out with good, clear lungs! Another quick push, and the midwife was placing my hands on the baby’s shoulders so I could pull the baby out and bring my sweet child to my chest. And as I did, I peeked down and for the first time learned whether we had a daughter or son.
“Oh my, it’s a girl?” I checked again. It’s a girl!” I had correctly guessed the sexes of my other children and throughout this entire pregnancy I was convinced the baby inside me was a boy. Boy was I surprised! Pat still teases me about my reaction – confusion, surprise, and true joy.
The midwives toweled her off and snuggled her against my bare skin. “Hello, Maren,” I whispered
Maren was 8 lbs 4 oz, 20.5 inches long, and with a head circumference that measured in the 95th percentile (!!). The midwife noticed that she didn’t look like a post-date baby, but as the birthing process came to an end and the placenta delivered, how long my baby had been gestating became clear: My placenta had started to calcify. As I looked at it, not healthy and plump but breaking apart, I’m so very glad I decided to suck it up and take the castor oil. In the future, if I find myself at 40 weeks again, castor oil won’t be a last resort like it was this time. Ultimately, what’s a little more discomfort so long as it helps ensure a safe and healthy environment for the baby at the end of the pregnancy?
15 minutes after Maren was born, my mom happened to arrive back at the house with my other three children in tow. Within the hour, they came into the bedroom and met their new little sister. Admittedly they were a little disappointed. All the kids had been rooting for another boy so the girl/boy teams would be even, but alas! My oldest is outnumbered one to three. At least for now. God will give us as many or as few children as He deems best. He’s created a plan for humanity and my children play a part in bringing about the maximal goodness in this world. That’s pretty cool. So yeah, I’ll let God decide if four children completes our family or if we’re not quite done yet.
But with how calm and “easy” this home birth experience was, how good and capable my midwives were, how supportive my husband and family were…having more babies doesn’t make me nervous. It makes me hopeful.