I had planned to have my first-born son, Finnegan, at home. But three days after my water broke, I ended up at the hospital. A much un-wanted cesarean section and a rough beginning in the hospital NICU left me with a sense of loss and failure. No matter how much I tried to accept and honor the birth I’d had, I still felt, on some level, deeply inadequate as a woman and mother. My body had betrayed me, and I had failed myself and my child. But as a single mother (with wonderful sperm-donor friend) and professional carpenter, I only had plans to have one child. So after Finnegan was born, I “moved on” from the world of birth. I nursed him for 21/2 years, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and enjoying a natural, gentle, attached infancy with him.
As Finn grew, however, I felt my plans changing. Even by the time he was a few months old, I found myself toying with the “only child” question. I spent the next year obsessing. Was there any way I could handle having a second child by myself? What were the pros and cons? I live with two devoted house mates, and get a lot of help from my family and a very involved donor-Dad. Would my community support me having a second child? Could I afford more time off? More child care? Feeding two teenagers someday?!? Eventually it came down to the fact that when I pictured the future, I simply always saw two children in it. Luckily, my sperm donor was excited to be a Dad again, and after five inseminations, I saw that beautiful second pink line on my home pregnancy test.
Pregnant again, I delayed thinking too much about the birth until I finished my first trimester and the worst of the morning sickness. Then I began to consider my options. A home birth was still my ideal, but I had to decide if it was realistic for me this time. I began to read about uterine rupture (when the scar from a previous c-section opens up under the strain of labor). I had begun pre-natal visits with the hospital midwives who had been my back-up last time, and with whom I’d had my eventual c-section. I met with the doctor of their practice, who told me she was very much in favor of VBACs, and has an impressive 80% success rate. She is not, however, in favor of VBAC at home, and told me bluntly that there was a one in two hundred chance of rupture, in which case “If you’re at home, you both die”.
It wasn’t an easy decision. But I thought it through carefully and ended up feeling like I could in good conscience pursue a home birth. First of all, I didn’t have any added uterine rupture risks; I’d had only one cesarean, a low transverse scar with no history of infection, and plenty of time between the two births. I thought a lot about The Odds of a rupture. One in two hundred, or 0.5%. What does that mean? I didn’t want to take a gamble on orphaning my three-year-old! Then I remembered that when I planned to have my first birth at home, I had accepted that there was about a 98% chance of a normal, healthy out come. I decided that 97.5% is not really that much different. Especially when I considered that things can go wrong in hospitals too, and there is nowhere you can go for a 100% guarantee of a good outcome. Lastly, I vowed to find midwives I could really trust, and to be willing to be open-minded enough to transfer to the hospital with no fuss at the slightest indication of trouble. I mentally promised myself and my son that I would not try to be a hero, and would remain open to a home birth, a hospital birth, or a repeat cesarean – whatever it took to come safely through to the other side.
I started working with a home birth midwifery practice that I had passed up in my first pregnancy because I was afraid they were a little “too strict”. This time, contemplating a VBAC at home (sometimes called HBAC), I wanted the most medically trained home birth midwives I could find. River Valley Midwives, with three skilled midwives and an apprentice, had a good relationship with the local hospitals, and an excellent reputation. I was gratified that they welcomed me as a VBAC client.
My first birth, ending with a hospital cesarean, left me feeling completely powerless, acquiescing to interventions I hated, and later asking permission to have time with my child “Is it OK to hold him now?”, “Am I allowed to nurse him yet?”. He came in to the world while I was paralyzed with the epidural, and with my arms literally tied down. At the end of a week, I took him home as if he was a gift given to me by the medical establishment that made all the rules.
During my second pregnancy, I had some opportunities to gradually reclaim some control over my childbearing self. There was some concern about high blood pressure, which I had had last time, and was starting to have again at my pre-natals. With the wise support of my midwives, I bought my own blood pressure cuff, and started to keep track of it at home, only to discover that it was perfectly normal, and only showed up high at check-ups! We decided not to take it at all in the office, and I simply brought in my records from home for the chart. Later, I “failed” the glucose tolerance test, and was diagnosed according to that test as having mild gestational diabetes (chronic high blood sugar levels can eventually cause big babies and can cause placental problems at the end of pregnancy). Again, I decided to self-monitor, and started checking my blood sugar four times a day. I found that I was perfectly able to control my blood sugar levels through diet and exercise. I continued charting these things through the rest of pregnancy, and it reassured me and my caregivers (including my back-up hospital midwives) that all was well. A few months before my due date I started thinking about pain. I realized that my first time around I had not been prepared for the intensity of labor – I just assumed I would be able to handle it, being a strong and spiritual woman. But in actuality, I think I “fought” the pain a lot, and often felt scared. So this time I did my homework. I was blessed with lots of strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, so I got to practice a lot! I imagined my birth canal opening like an anemone, I imagined a giant whale swimming down and out of me, and I practiced going straight to relaxing and opening at the start of any pain.
As my due date approached I had extremely mixed feelings. I felt like I was in a good place, like my mind was open to the different possible birth scenarios. But I couldn’t truly imagine that it would be any different than last time. As I set up the home birth supplies, I remembered clearly how disappointing it was last time, to dismantle the unused tub and give away my unused birth kit. So I tried to focus on letting go and accepting, and to enjoy the last few weeks alone with my older son, toddling around with my giant belly as the snow melted away and we watched for the first spring flowers.
First I went wading in the water. Every few nights, hours of regular contractions, ending with the dawn. Consciously opening, relaxing, breathing. Beautiful spring days spent with Finn. Trying to be patient, practicing for the pain. Keeping an open mind about the process. Finn and I reciting a mantra “we don’t know when, and we don’t know where, but our baby will come”.
A Wednesday night, six hours of regular contractions. Watching the clock. Mild. Every five minutes, but again they disappear with the morning light. Hmmm. Thursday, dinner with house mates and some friends. Below the surface of the conversation and food, my contractions are saying hello again. Slightly stronger? More Braxton-Hicks? I let them be and enjoy the evening. Thursday night I cover the windows, cover the clock. And we sleep soundly in the dark.
Friday, April 23rd
Dawn light, waking up and noticing my body, considering the quality of the contractions I’d noticed dimly in my sleep. Were they regular? slightly stronger? A sudden, slightly painful pop in my cervix makes my eyes open wide. Weird, but nothing follows. I doze again, then decide to count the seconds during the next contraction, just out of curiosity. One one hundred, two one hundred, three one hundred… Suddenly another pop, bigger than the first, as if the baby punched my cervix with it’s little fist! My water has broken.
A flood of warmth between my legs, soaking the pillow between my legs. The feeling of the fabric turning wet along my thighs, an understanding, a hope. Like an early morning positive pregnancy test.. Here we go. I call Kristen, my primary midwife. I have a few contractions while we’re on the phone, but I talk through them with no problem. We decide to keep in touch, but we both assume this will be a slow process. She will plan to arrive by early evening and spend the night – in the meantime I will relax and work on getting in to labor. I call my sister Me; she will come right over and help me focus and open.
I am calm and excited. A definitive beginning – I know I’ll have a baby within a day or so, since a VBAC can’t go on too long. Either it goes smoothly at home, or I go to the hospital. Finn is still sleeping peacefully. I call to Mom (conveniently enough here overnight) in the guest room, “my water just broke, can you watch Finn?”. She squeals, and I head off to the bathroom to have diarrhea, and more contractions.
Finished in the bathroom, I make it back to the bedroom in time for Finn to wake up, a little confused. “The baby is ready to be born! Now I will be doing that hard work to help the baby come out!” Mom takes Finn off to the Creamery for breakfast.
Sitting on the bench at the table, trying to eat some breakfast. Contractions are picking up strength startlingly fast. Meg arrives, calm and loving. I tell her it’s already getting really intense, and can she quick hand me a bowl so I can throw up! I complain to Meg, I can’t relax enough to deal well with the contractions, because of needing to hold myself upright on the bench.
We abandon the idea of breakfast, and somehow make it upstairs. I ease myself down on the bed, on my left side. I don’t quite get my feet on the bed, and they hang off the edge of the bed for the next few hours – I am concentrating too hard, and just never get a chance to scoot myself the rest of the way on.
My sister and I in my den. Dark curtained windows. Contractions taking all my relaxation, with deep breaths and low moans. Even between contractions I am completely involved, completely focused. Meg rubs my back, hums with me. I need to hear her low voice meeting mine. She reminds me where to go, she is my anchor. I can’t bear her to leave me – she has to sprint to the bathroom and back. My body is working hard and fast. We decide to record five contractions and then call Kristen for an update.
Between contractions Meg dials Kristen. She tells her they are every 4-5 minutes, lasting 1-2 minutes each. They talk briefly about how things are going. I take the phone to ask about eating – I am worried about staying nourished since I keep throwing up. She starts to reassure me, and then a contraction starts. I say “hang on, hang on” and set the phone down on the bed. We go through the contraction and Meg picks up the phone. Kristen has heard our labor song, and says she and the apprentice are going to come right now! Meg sends my house mates off to fill up the birth tub in the other room.
Every cell relaxing, every cell working, every cell overwhelmed at the intensity. Pain, pressure, passage, every cell allowing, every cell willing. No fear. Total involvement.
I get shaky. I’M FREEZING COLD, I NEED A BLANKET. I’m sweating and hot, but DON’T TOUCH THE BLANKET! I can’t seem to stay relaxed anymore – instead it starts to feel better to engage my muscles during the contractions. I’m starting contractions with the low moaning, but it keeps spontaneously turning into a strong yell, and then a warrior growl. It suddenly feels great to be loud, it eases and releases. It feels so much better to use my muscles… Am I wanting to push? Could it possible be happening that fast? I want to get in the tub! I want the midwives to come!
Chana Luba, the apprentice, arrives, all smiles and pleased with what’s going on. She asks if she can check my dilation. Yes! I want to know what’s happening. A gloved hand…one finger…two fingers… What is it? Nine centimeters! Oh my god! No long drawn out half-labor this time. No threat of transport as the hours tick by. I AM HAVING THIS BABY AT HOME! The best news. The best news. A victory.
Kristen arrives a few minutes later. Now it is a party! Everyone is happy, everyone is smiling, we are on a boat ride. She checks me to confirm, and I somehow get up, undress, and head for the tub. I relax in the tub, go through a few contractions. At Kristen’s request, Finn brings me a spoonful of honey. Very sweet, he tells me “Its OK, you’re just having the baby”. He plays in the swivel chair, sings me Circle Game. He comes and goes with Mom, or plays with Eric (their donor-dad, on site for the birth) downstairs.
KT (the second midwife) arrives, and pushes back a lip of cervix while I give my first deliberate push, and then I’m fully dilated! I ask if I can reach in and feel the head. They say of course, it’s your body and your baby! And there it is. Rubbery soft skin over hard skull. Alien and mine, just a few inches from the air. Could I have felt Finn’s head during that long labor three years ago? I never got the chance – at the end I was in a hospital bed, hooked up all kinds of ways and on my way to get a c-section (at full dilation, but before pushing at all). How different to have this moment in my own home, floating in warm water, touching my baby for the first time while it is still part of me. Another victory.
I do some warm-up pushing in the tub. The water feels nice, but after a little while it’s clear I can’t get in a really good position for effective pushing. We leave the tub and head for dry land. My bed all made with birth sheets. I am a movie star, a hero. My body is working normally! I am unbroken, strong, safe, successful. I am so relieved to be doing this, after three years of feeling like a failure. I am elated at each step of this process. I am a woman in labor, I am at home, and I am pushing!
11 am to 1:17 pm
I rest between contractions. Sip water. Take breaths. My right middle fingertip resting on the baby’s head. Our connection silent, private, alive. Part of me aware of gentle conversation – midwives, Meg, Mom, offering support, ideas, encouragement. Part of me focused totally on my finger on the baby’s head, Hello my baby. We are OK, we are doing this.
Then a contraction comes. A wave building. My breathing changes. The women are attuned, their voices pick up, loving, guiding, cheering. The pain is intense, deep, pure. I take a deep breath, close my mouth, and turn my roar into a push. The power of pushing envelopes me. It feels good, unstoppable, it drives the pain away. It is all strength, it is all surrender. I feel my finger shift as the baby moves forward. The women love it when I give one extra push at the end. I love to hear their cheers.
A rest. I breath a little oxygen. Sip a little water. Listen to the baby’s heartbeat, steady, good.
Slowly the baby’s head eases forward, out and down. Each push a little farther before slipping back again. So much work for such a short journey! I am on my back. Meg and KT hold my legs – knees to armpits while I push. Now they can see the head – it has begun to crown. Kristen massages around the head. Her hand somehow makes me push harder and I let go and just push in to her hands. They hold a mirror, I can see the head peeking!
Now when I push I feel a stretching and burning. I know about this, I’ve read about this. I think, OK, we’ve moved into the stretching and burning phase. I push. They tell me to push in to the strongest pressure, and I do. I am willing, I can continue this phase… And the head is out!
I just felt the stretching and the burning, but the head is out already. Oh my god, really? They are unwinding the cord, twice around the baby’s neck. They invite me to feel. I reach down, I can’t believe it!
How did it happen? Somehow my two hands reach down. I feel not a hard head, but now a whole body! Warm, wet, squishy, slippery. My hands around it’s torso… and I lift it onto my chest.
Oh, the baby on my chest! Wet and warm, clean, pink, wiggling. I absolutely can’t believe it’s over! I can’t believe that’s all there was to it. It was so EASY! And who is this little one, resting on me so perfectly. I am swimming in gratitude, in beauty, in perfection. I did it! I am in awe of this new story, this new beginning. I am re-born with this birth. Triumphant, my body has come alive again.
The room has erupted into cheers, and I join in. There is so much love, so much celebrating. We have worked, we have won, and the world has changed and begun again. Finn comes to hold the baby’s hand. He was in the room to see the head come out and is gentle and happy.
After a while I peek and see that it is a boy. It feels right, my two boys. They are both perfect for me, my children, my chosen ones, my family. We are awash with love, we are cared for, cleaned, held and cherished. The next morning he is named. Welcome, Julien Sage.
Julien is six weeks old now, a sweet, mellow baby. Finn is adjusting admirably, and is a loving, protective big brother. Our family feels complete, and we are well supported by our community.
So that’s my home VBAC story. One last thing that I want to mention is the difference in my self-image following this birth. I’ve had absolutely no sex drive since my cesarean, and the post-partum weight loss last time was fueled by self-loathing. I found my scar disgusting, and could barely bring myself to touch it while bathing.
This time I feel completely in love with my body! I am just as stretched out, and I have just as much weight to lose. But I am so proud of what my body did, that I see it totally differently. I cherish my body now, and I can even imagine having sex again eventually! My post-partum has been really smooth. I was up and about quickly, never bled a lot, and I’ve already started losing weight. I feel like this birth experience gives me a well of gratitude and self-confidence that will stay with me as I go forward as a parent and as a woman. Thank you, Universe!