Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Let’s talk about home birth. Full disclosure, I was never going to be the woman who typed that sentence. My first was a hospital birth, and home birth was for 1.) women way more attuned to nature than I am, 2.) fierce goddesses of folklore and 3.) my one really brave friend. So, how did I get here?
Well, we—like many, many others—decided the right time for us to start trying for our second was in the midst of COVID-19. Sounds counterintuitive, but in actuality, my husband was working from home indefinitely, we probably weren’t going to be taking any trips in the near future, and our daughter had just turned one, which felt like an ideal age gap.
That didn’t mean we were entirely comfortable navigating the healthcare scene in its then-current status, especially with pregnancy putting me in the high-risk category during a pandemic. But we knew our midwives’/OBs’ office was diligent and we felt safe in their care, so when they brought up the idea of “out of hospital birth” at our 12 week appointment, it ever-so-slightly cracked the door to our consideration. After all, it meant we’d stay out of the hospital at a time when there was not yet a vaccine and infection rates were on the rise (this was November 2020). Sidebar, have a look at why I am fully “Team Midwife” here.
Now, my first childbirth experience consisted of 27+ hours of active labor. Yikes. With low fluid levels at 41 weeks four days, I was induced with natural methods. These kicked my body into gear before it wanted to go on its own. Entirely natural labor was my goal, but after getting stuck at seven centimeters for 20 hours with said low fluid levels, we finally opted for Pitocin. My second goal, after “a healthy baby,” was no epidural. The midwives helped me achieve this even though it meant an arduous stint at the hospital for all of us.
My cervix got stuck, rendering me 9.5 cm and unable to push through intense back labor for hours. But again with the help of our midwives, we conquered this and I could push. But then, little girl’s heart rate dropped. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by nurses, and a doctor I didn’t know was in the room prepping the vacuum (though we didn’t end up using it), plus I was on oxygen with an episiotomy to try and get my baby out immediately. Exhausting for her and for me, and slightly traumatizing for my sweet husband who watched it all unfold. But we did it, and she was born a beautiful, healthy baby girl with no complications.
Cue our hesitancy for Round Two, right? But ultimately, I had to trust my motherly instincts and the advice of our midwives and the OBs that run our practice. Interesting fact and food for thought, my OB, now in her 50s, actually had all of her children at home and fully advocated the idea…….
And, we learned things like, you and the baby will be monitored throughout your labor to make sure everyone is staying healthy; a lot of the immediate lifesaving equipment and procedures are (made) available at home; and that if a hospital transfer is necessary, most times it’s obvious before an extreme emergency results. And, many women around the world actually have their babies this way. (Also, #DYK, even with our stunning medical advancements, the US actually has the highest maternal mortality rate for developed countries?). Time for us to take charge, ladies and support systems.
We’d have a whole team. In addition to the doula(s) we hired regardless of home or hospital birth—HUGE shout out to Eastown Birth Partners—we’d have the support of two midwives and a labor & delivery nurse. So Nate and I held hands, looked at each other, and said, “Yes.”
We kept it to ourselves, for a few reasons. First of all, should a hospital transfer become necessary, I didn’t want to feel like I was failing anyone’s expectations. I didn’t want to feel additional anxiety about going in. I didn’t want to answer peoples’ questions about why, or field their judgments. Honestly, judgment was the biggest part of our secrecy. Not that I couldn’t handle it, but rather that I didn’t want anyone’s negative opinions or fears to be part of my birth headspace or story. Because “home birth” has a negative connotation in most circles. Which is why I’m sharing here, now.
So here’s my birth story.
Above, you read how slightly untraditional and unexpected my first experience was regarding the general ideas of it all. And to be honest with you, when I floated past my due date once more, I had a sinking feeling my body would have to be “encouraged” again. Plus, according to our team, most times, subsequent babies typically wait as long—or come as early—as the first one did. So we spent the next few days preparing, and I had a NST (nonstress test) to check baby’s health the morning of June 3. She was doing well! So we said a smiling goodbye to our midwife and agreed we’d start with natural induction methods the following Monday.
Nate and I had a few errands to run that afternoon, and my daughter was with my mom, so we decided to check things off. As he ran downstairs to grab something, I felt my first twinge at 5:00 p.m. That’s all it was. For about 30 seconds. I paused, then thought, “Nahhhh.” But my doula’s words from a prior conversation played in my mind: “It’ll start low, either under your belly or in your back.” This was low… so I timed it.
Seven minutes later, same thing. I timed it again while Nate and I talked about nonchalant things. Ran to the store, decided to pick up dinner and eat it at my mom’s condo, all the while feeling these little pulses I didn’t think much of. As we walked into her kitchen, I casually said, “I think I’m in labor??? I donno?” And then shrugged it off and ate a salad to keep things light, just in case. By the time we left at 7:30, the pulses had spaced out even farther. It really didn’t seem like anything was going to happen, but our daughter stayed with my mom, just in case.
I texted our birth team as a precautionary measure, something like, “This doesn’t feel like much, but wanted to keep you posted if something happens during the night.” Our doula advised I take a warm bath and go to bed early. But instead, I went home and panic-cleaned just in case we’d have people in our house the next day. We had nothing prepared because, as we were all thinking, no baby would be showing up soon. It was 9:00 p.m. and Nate hurried to the store for some last minute essentials just in case.
Once my house looked sufficient enough, “take warm bath and crawl into bed” was exactly what I did. I texted my sister and my mom saying, “I still *think* I’m in labor?” while I soaked, timing mild contractions that were still 30 seconds long and six minutes apart. Nate got home, we snuggled for a little, and then he went downstairs so I could get some rest.
And then, at 10:00 p.m., BAM. OW. After the contraction I had in that moment, I knew there was no way I’d be sleeping through them. So I got out of bed and went downstairs to check on Nate’s progress with the birth tub. We’d decided to enable ourselves the option of a water birth, which basically meant filling up a huge inflatable pool in our living room. I bounced on the exercise ball while he did that, suddenly finding that I very much needed to “breathe through these.” Deep inhales, pushing the air out of relaxed lips, moving my legs, nothing could quite slow this contraction-train down.
However, confusingly, they were still only 30 seconds long. I remembered enough from my first labor to know that when things ramped up, contractions got longer. This time, mine never did. The difference was that abruptly, they were only 60 seconds apart from beginning to beginning, lasting 30-45 seconds. I called our doula, because a benchmark for how close a woman is getting to intense labor is how she sounds on the phone. But aside from a few words from behind gritted teeth, and leaning on the bed pedaling my legs like I was high-tailing it up Mount Everest, I could still talk. And laugh. And whatever else. She suggested hopping back in the bath to slow things down because what was happening was a little a-typical.
So I got in the water. Nate followed me into the bathroom, and as I sunk in, the contractions got low. Real low. It was back labor now—just as my entire first labor was—and I looked at Nate: “I think she needs to come, like, now.” But a little voice in my head needled, “This is happening too fast; you're not even close yet!” My fear was that our birth team would be camped out in our living room for 24 hours just waiting. But Nate called the midwives, too, and when they heard about what was happening, they decided to make their ways.
Our first midwife arrived at 11:30 p.m. I greeted her in our room and lamented, “I’m so sorry. You’re going to check me and I’ll be a 2 [centimeters dilated].” My water hadn’t broken, I’d had no bloody show, and I had maybe(?) lost my plug two weeks before. But she checked me and said, “Um, no, you’re a 7-8...!”
My eyes got wide and an expletive escaped my lips. Nate’s eyes were wider than mine and he raced downstairs to fill up the birth pool. Except, from the two baths I’d taken so close together, our hot water supply dwindled. I will never forget the image of him boiling four enormous pots on the stove to make it warm enough. I laughed at it between contractions.
Our doula and the rest of our team arrived shortly after midnight. Our nurse checked baby’s heart rate during one of the contractions and it was good. This was a relief. And then she and one midwife sat in the dining chairs that were lined up along the wall to make room for the pool—we laughed at how spectatorial it seemed. Our other midwife worked in the background while Nate and our doula did hip squeezes and pushed on my low back. I was draped over the exercise ball, completely vocalizing through my contractions. This is not like the movies where ladies scream out of control, but instead a low, long sort of moan that sounds like a caged wild animal. Lol. I wondered if our neighbors could hear.
At this point, I opted for the one medication I’d take during my labor: Zofran. If you know me, you know I am irrationally terrified of throwing up, and the idea of nausea was worse for me than labor pain. This soothed my nerves and helped me keep my head in the game.
And I had been managing my contractions for the most part, until experienced one where I lost myself a little. As it finished, I remember uncontrollably groaning out the words, “Owwwww OW!!” And then asking, slightly desperate, “How will I know it’s time to push?!” I was still scarred from Labor #1 where I'd wanted to for so long but was unable to. Our midwife smiled, “You’ll know.” And I did. It was time.
“Did you want music?” they asked. We turned our Jack Johnson station back on, and as I worked through the most intense contraction I’d felt yet, Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend” came on. Though no one saw, since my face was smooshed into the ball, I smiled. For not only were the lyrics ironically fitting for a labor transition, CCR was one of my dad’s favorite bands. I silently thanked him for his humor, departed from the heavens. And then Nate came over. I leaned on him. And pushed. And it was so different. I hardly had to do anything. My body just sort of tensed and moved her down; I could feel it.
To save myself from sitting in my own pee in the birthing pool (nothing wrong with this, just a personal preference haha) I wanted to use the bathroom and then get in. So I led a small parade down the hall in case our girl decided to make her appearance on the toilet. Alas, she did not, so our parade made its way back to the living room and I took another contraction on the ball. I finally saw blood as I stood, thinking, This is good! And then I wanted to lean on Nate once more, so he sat, and I pushed. And then I declared, “I’m ready to get in the tub.”
It was slightly lukewarm because of our hot water fiasco, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get my body underwater and channel my long-awaited mermaid vibes.I slid in, and another contraction came so I pushed, hard. It burned. More than it did with my first daughter. As our midwife walked out of the kitchen, she calmly said, “Oh, we’re having a baby!” They reminded me to relax and I leaned my body back against the tub as the last contraction peaked. Nate whispered sweet words in my ear as he held me tight and I’ll never forget how much I loved him in that moment.
And with her birth, in all its humble beauty, my daughter's head literally popped out of me. Relief. And then more, as our midwife eased her body from mine and brought her from the water to the surface. She placed our sweet baby girl in my arms at 12:44 a.m. on June 4, 2021. I cried and whispered, “We did it!!” and kissed her little dark-haired head and my husband and thanked God for the experience we’d been so blessed to have. We floated there together in the water until she cried her tiny, precious cry, and then, with helpful hands I gingerly climbed out of the pool. Tears welled in my eyes to see my husband, there waiting with his bare chest in all his fatherly wisdom, to take our daughter and wrap her up in the new love of our family.
And then, we all walked up the stairs. Nate, our littlest love and I climbed into our own soft bed and had a big, sleep-over like party with our birth team, telling stories and laughing about the senior photos Nate and I had of each other on our night stands. Baby girl nursed. After we’d spent enough time to do all the necessary checks and to stamp footprints and to know that we were both doing fine, people gave hugs and slowly made their ways out into the quiet of the night.
I will never forget how surreal it felt to be able to have this monumental experience, surrounded by the love and comfort of home. My support system made me feel, every step of the way, that I had all I needed to bring our girl safely from my belly to my arms.
I had pushed for a little more than ten minutes, through maybe six contractions. I didn’t tear, so different than the first time. Active labor had lasted about two and a half hours. Later, at my two-week appointment, I reflected on how fast it went and our midwife, with a knowing smile, said, “Yes, everyone has to have their first baby.” It is true that your first generally paves the way. But also, many times, things progress faster in the comfort of one’s own home.
People ask me if it hurt, and yes, it definitely did. In fact, the feelings were almost more intense because I progressed so quickly and never had enough time to adjust. But if I had known it would go as quickly as it did, and that my top pain threshold was 18 minutes from holding my sweet baby, I’d have never felt the despair I did (though this desperation is typically a feeling that comes with transition and completely normal). And again, I support women who want to manage their pain—modern medicine exists for a reason!
Now, I’m not telling you all this because it’s a given that your experience will be the same. It’s not even a given—if we were having more children which we are perfectly complete with two—that MY experience would be the same. I am telling you this because I never thought, in my wildest dreams, it would be possible to have a birth like this, especially after the first. I didn’t know births like this actually existed!
There a few criteria you’ll have to meet, at least for my practice, the most important being that you have no risk factors. Because ultimately, the goal is to get your child here safely. Other items include not having a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), and being within a certain distance from the hospital. And then obviously, willingness to have an un-medicated experience—awareness that you will be going into the hospital if you need to be progressed, and no epidural.
When people ask why I didn’t want an epidural, for my first or my second, well, that’s a personal choice, and that’s exactly what my answer is, too: for one thing, I like a challenge; I wanted to know what it felt like to tap into my primal and evolutionary womanly instincts. My mother did this before me, and visions of my great-grandmother who gave birth to my grandfather alone, in a literal house on the prairie, propelled me forward. Plus, once I knew I could do it the first time, I felt I could do it again.
There are also a few health reasons that I chose not to—if you’re curious, feel free to ask. I won’t be listing them here because there is no shame in feeling like you need one. And finally, I used the experience of humbly ushering my father from this life to the next, as illness stole his body from his soul. I thought, if one of the people dearest to my heart could endure pain as he did day in and day out, I could do it for 24 hours. These were my personal drivers.
So there you have it.
My own (absolutely not-medically-sufficient) perspective: Personally, I would not opt for a home birth if it were my first, especially since we are a decent distance from the hospital, and first labors can be long, unpredictable, and exhausting (and no less rewarding because of these things). But for times two and beyond, given you meet the required criteria, home birth is my suggestion all the way!
If hospital births are more your style, I fully support those, too! As a self-proclaimed advocate for women’s health, I’d start your family planning with a search for midwives in your area, because again, they do support hospital births, and again, this.
And for final reiteration, if your birth story(ies) look different than mine, then my answer is, YOU did the dang thing and got your child here one way or another, and you’re a superhero! YOU are an incredible woman and your children are in this world with the ability to thrive and have a good life because of you, whether you birthed naturally, medicated, had a C-section, adopted, fostered or have undertaken any other form of parenting in this world. You’re amazing! And if you want to know more about the way I've chosen to have mine, let me know.
Light & love,