I always really admired women who birthed naturally. I just didn’t see myself doing it. It seemed scary and painful and, to me, unattainable. Malachi’s hospital birth was an awesome experience. We got the spontaneous labor, natural progression, five-star treatment, and luxurious pain relief that we wanted. In retrospect, I realize we were quite blessed it went so perfectly because unfortunately a lot of modern-day hospital births don’t.
I started this birth out just wanting to replicate my first experience. Around the 7th month of my pregnancy with Shiloh it became apparent that wouldn’t happen. I had a different OB than last time and I liked his easygoing nature and hands-off approach to my low-risk pregnancy. It wasn’t until the week 27 visit that he mentioned birth itself. He said based on the size of the baby and the fact that my placenta needed to move up half a centimeter, it would likely be a C-section. “I know that’s not what you want,” he said. I asked if there was anything I could do to prevent a C-section. “Pray the placenta moves,” he said. Of course I would do that, and I trusted that it would. “And if the placenta does move?” “I’ll still want to keep an eye on his weight. I’m not delivering a 10 pound baby vaginally.” This really was a possibility. I was a 10 pound baby. My mom delivered me without a C-section. I knew it could be done. The doctor did a quick ultrasound right there in his office. “If you went into labor today, it would be a C-section. He’s currently breech.” Okay, this was getting ridiculous. I knew as well as the doctor did that I was not at risk for going into labor at 27 weeks, and there was still PLENTY of time for him to flip. In fact, he was head down at our last appointment. Clearly he still liked acrobatics at this point. I went home and cried.
I posted on Natural Mamas, an awesome Facebook group, about my experience that day and got an overwhelming amount of support. Many of the women encouraged me that I had other options. It wasn’t too late to seek out another doctor or midwife. The Birth and Wellness Center in O’Fallon was the most recommended and I had other friends who delivered with them. I decided to call and see if a transfer was possible. Once I did that it was out of my hands, and all up to God.
After some logistics and sharing of medical records I got the call that the midwives could take me. I was so happy – it felt like I had won the birth lottery! It took a fear of my doctor and a fear of medically unnecessary C-section to make me unafraid of the natural route. Josh was supportive and excited. I think he always admired natural births as well, but left the decision in my hands since I was the one who had to do it. We went to meet the midwives thinking we’d still give birth at the hospital. However, after getting ultrasound confirmation that the placenta had moved into safe territory, and Shiloh had flipped into a favorable position, I toured the birth center and saw how beautiful and relaxing it was. “I could deliver here,” I thought. I knew I’d be more likely to accomplish my natural birth goal outside of the hospital. That’s when I started seriously considering a home birth. It was ultimately no different than the birth center, just more convenient. I consulted a couple friends who had birthed at home and they had nothing but great things to say. I liked the idea of everyone coming to me and not having to pack a bag or get in a car. We were close to the hospital if a transfer was needed, and I’d even have access to the food in my own fridge! Once I got over the no epidural thing, home birth started sounding more and more appealing. I prayed about it and felt that once again God was giving me the green light.
Making all these last-minute decisions was kind of crazy for me. I’m a planner by nature. But I’m learning to enjoy spontaneity more and more, especially as it relates to God’s perfect timing. I don’t think I made a huge mistake going to the first doctor. I honestly think things were meant to happen in this order, and that it was all for the best. How perfect that he and I had the pivotal conversation when we did, with just enough time for the midwives to take me. Then we decided on a home birth with just enough time for the necessary preparations and home visit. God is good.
Our due date was the 15th. Sunday the 16th we walked to church and then met with our “Wolfpack” family that afternoon. I was getting discouraged because it felt like spontaneous labor would never happen. I was having contractions every night for at least a week but they weren’t leading to anything. At Wolfpack I got to meet our friend Lisa’s new baby and hear about her birth center experience. It was very encouraging. Then I lost my mucus plug! With Malachi I lost it the day I went into labor. This was a good sign of progress. I gave my family the heads up that it might happen soon. Mimi generously offered to take Malachi that night, even though she’d already watched him the whole weekend. I said yes, please! I missed him a lot, but felt that this was best considering how tired I was, the fact that the mucus plug might mean something, and I didn’t want to catch his runny nose before labor.
We tried to nap that afternoon but were too excited I guess. That night the contractions started like they always did. This time they were a little stronger. They didn’t stop when I tried to go to bed, so Josh and I walked around the house in circles to see if they would go anywhere. We talked about all sorts of things and made each other laugh. It was fun. We wondered how many other babies had been born in our 1908 house. We joked about how this compared to walking the hospital halls last time, past the nurses’ station and the strangers in the waiting room.
At 10:30pm I called the midwife number and Jessica was on call. I wanted to give her a heads-up that I might have to wake her tonight. (She later admitted the mucus plug was often a false alarm for people, so she didn’t take my first call too seriously…but I knew my body!) She said to try to go to sleep and to call again if contractions stayed strong and 6 min apart.
I tried to lie down, but the contractions still didn’t stop like Braxton Hicks. So we walked some more loops around the house…and ate ice cream to celebrate the fact that labor was finally happening!
I called my mom and she came over soon after to keep us company. About 11:30 I called Jessica back and said the contractions were averaging less than 6 min apart and staying strong. She was there within the hour, freshly showered and ready for action. “I don’t trust second babies,” she said. We were all under the impression that labor would be shorter than Malachi’s…but anything could happen.
A little while later the nurse Peggy showed up also. She took my blood pressure, checked heart rates, temps, etc. Then we settled down. Jessica had already had a long day, so she went upstairs to nap until things progressed a little. My mom tried to sleep too but was a little too excited. We all hung out in the dining room talking between contractions and having a good time. I was so thankful to be in labor! So in awe of how my body knew it was time and did this on its own. I rocked on the birth ball (thanks Mom for letting us borrow it!) and breathed through contractions. I was familiar with coping during this part of labor because I had done it with Malachi up to this point. My rhythm was good. We were all very chatty and a little slap-happy. Every now and then Peggy checked my temp and the baby’s heart rate. Hours passed, but if there hadn’t been a clock in the room I would have lost track entirely. My mom laughed about how easily I drifted in and out of contractions. I would be in the middle of a story, then pause if I needed to, and pick right back up. “They say if you can talk through contractions they aren’t that strong,” my mom said. “They don’t know how good I am at talking,” I said.
Jessica came down after a while. She had caught a nap and was ready for the next part. It was fun talking with her and learning that she’d delivered SO many of our friends’ babies. Apparently we were a little late to the natural midwifery bandwagon! Josh and I were quite honored to have Jessica in our home and talk about her passion for helping mothers. I’m in awe of the hours she and the other midwives keep, delivering babies all night and taking appointments all day! So unlike the hospital, with nurses working several rooms, and the doctor appearing at the end to catch (in low-risk cases), here we had the attention of these women for our entire birth. What luxury!
We were thankful we didn’t have to decide when to go to the hospital or birth center. Peggy had set everything up to deliver upstairs in our bedroom. We joked about when to go upstairs, hoping we wouldn’t hit rush hour or have traffic on the way upstairs. We consulted Google and learned that sunrise would be around 6 am. Things were progressing alright, but not terribly quickly. I thought it would be cool to deliver at sunrise because our room has a great panoramic morning view. We finally made the trek upstairs around 5 am. Things were strengthening. We thought my water might break soon and we’d be pushing.
I did a lot of kneeling on the bed with support from the birth ball or pillows. I was having to make more noise to cope with the contractions when they came. I didn’t want to know how far dilated I was, and the midwives don’t perform many checks, but it definitely felt like we were getting there. The windows were open and I was a little self-conscious about the neighbors hearing me during a contraction. The sun rose and it was beautiful. But Shiloh still wasn’t here.
We ate some snacks and hung out as the sun rose in the sky. It got warmer in the room and we turned on the air conditioning (which is a big deal for us!) Jessica made some tea and relaxed in the corner of the room. The hostess inside of me was so glad she made herself at home! She mentioned her favorite midwifery quote is about having the experience to know when to sit back and be hands off.
We started to plan ahead. Jessica’s shift ended at 8:30. She really didn’t want to leave us without delivering, but she also had a good friend in labor that day and wasn’t yet caught up on sleep from the last delivery. She said she was itching to know my dilation at this point and make an informed decision about calling the next midwife. I let her check me, but I still didn’t want to know the number. She told me just enough information. “You’re not at a five or anything. You’re moving right along and you’re very soft. But you’re not at a 10. I’m going to call Lisa.”
Lisa, my other favorite midwife, had just gotten back from vacation and wasn’t even on call that night. She came anyway. She was energetic and well-rested from visiting her grandson out of town. She and Jessica debriefed in the hallway and traded off. Jessica really did hate to leave, but in retrospect it worked out perfectly having a fresh midwife for the intense pushing ahead. Jessica said goodbye and wished us luck and asked to be kept updated. Josh, Lisa, Peggy and I kept laboring as the intensity grew. We created a circuit of different positions that worked for me and allowed my body some variation. The contractions really did hurt if I wasn’t in the right position and able to move, but as long as I had movement and breathing I was able to cope just fine. “Pain without suffering,” like we read about in The Birth Partner.
At a certain point I got quieter and the room changed a little. I started to want to be done, and my mind wandered off. I had little mini-dreams between contractions. I knew I must be in transition. That meant the end was near. Good. But it was also a part of birth I thought would be dreadful. This was a point where it really helped to be informed. “I feel discouraged but this is normal. This is transition and transition is progress.”
Lisa asked to check my dilation after a few moments. I really tried not to think about the time, but it was no longer morning…it was probably lunchtime by now. I complied and she accidently broke my water. Warmth gushed down my legs. She apologized several times, but I was thankful things were moving along. She and Peggy cleaned everything up somehow…I wasn’t really paying attention at this point. It was almost time to push. Lisa said Shiloh had rotated during descent and was no longer in such a favorable position. He was lodged in such a way that I couldn’t dilate the last half-centimeter. When I started getting the urge to push she had to use her fingers to push the rest of the cervix away until his head cleared. It was a bit uncomfortable.
It took me several pushes to learn how to correctly channel my energy. At first I yelled a little too much. It helped with coping, but was really a waste of energy. Based on Peggy and Lisa’s feedback it was much more productive for me to close my mouth, hold my breath, and grunt. Pushing never felt involuntary for me, but it felt like the effort of pushing out a giant, hard poop. It was work, not “reverse vomiting” like I’d read. It didn’t hurt as much as I anticipated though. It just took so much effort, and I had to wait till a contraction hit for my pushes to have any power. In between I tried to slow my breathing and gain some strength. My body, especially my legs, were so tired and heavy at this point. Someone suggested we try a shower, which I refused. I was nauseous, but Lisa insisted I eat a banana and drink water in between so I’d have more energy. Everything they suggested, even chocolate, sounded awful.
With great effort, I tried several different pushing positions suggested by Lisa. Squatting. Toilet. On the bed. On the bed with one leg up. My body felt like it weighed a million pounds and my energy was definitely fading. I just wanted to be done. I knew we were close, but had no idea how I would find the energy to finish. Josh and I prayed for strength between every contraction. I was covered in sweat. Lisa and Peggy made comments about Shiloh’s position. I half listened. His heart rate was good, but his head wasn’t coming easy. They were optimistic and urged me on, but we kept having to try different things and it was taking altogether too long. My strength and my own optimism was waning. Thoughts started to creep in my mind of other ways to get out of this. Which was worse – trying to leave this far into things, or having to finish without the strength? Every push took all my energy. Every push received encouraging words of affirmation, but still no baby. They mentioned feeling the head, then seeing the head. Lisa tried to describe Shiloh’s hair to me. She said his head was molding into an interesting shape trying to get through. I just told myself that every contraction wave and series of pushes could be the last one. That, and having Josh there holding my hands and praying, carried me though. I know that Josh wasn’t just a passive observer. He was right there with me, sweating and feeling my pain, possibly even stronger than I did. I prayed too. I prayed for perspective. I prayed that I could fast forward the time and that it could all be over. “I need to be done,” I said several times.
It took about two hours I guess, but finally there was a contraction wave large enough and a push big enough. I saw stars. I felt a head. It was halfway out. It didn’t feel huge. About the size of a potato. I had to wait in discomfort for the next contraction wave to dislodge. When the contraction came and felt strong enough, I pushed and heard rejoicing in the room. His head was out. I pushed again and his body was out. I was done. There was no greater satisfaction. “I’m done. It’s over.” I was a little more interested in being done than the baby at first. Then they handed me Shiloh, all large and slippery and perfect. We were still attached. I turned around on the bed to hold him and get a better look at him. “Hi baby. You do have a weird head.” Those were my epic first words to him.
We laid back on the bed and cuddled and started to nurse a little bit. Lisa waited for the cord to stop pulsing and Josh clipped it. A little while later she said the placenta was ready to deliver. One easy push and it was out. She and Peggy informed me it was probably the biggest, healthiest placenta they’d ever seen. Quite the compliment! They also remarked that his cord was thick and healthy. I guess my improved dietary habits with this pregnancy were worth something. He could have been nourished for quite a bit longer in there if he’d wanted to. Things were cleaned up around us. I leaned against Josh for support and cuddled Shiloh for a good long time. Mom put some pizzas in the oven and brought them up. Josh and I devoured it quickly. Shiloh figured out nursing like a rock-star.
Shiloh was born August 17, 2015 at 2:53 pm after approximately 16 hours of labor. He weighed 9 lbs 6 oz and was 22 inches long. I did need to get some stitches, but I felt better and recovered quicker than I did with Malachi, in spite of Shiloh being nearly one-and-a-half pounds larger. Shiloh’s Apgar scores were great. Two 9 out of 10s. His head assumed a perfect, round shape after about 24 hours. He is now four days old and so well-adjusted to the world. He is really living up to his name, which represents peace and abundance.
Yet again, God has shown me his perfect timing. It is not always the same as my timing. I went into labor the day after my due date. That’s not bad at all, but waiting for a baby is REALLY hard! While I would have liked for him to come a bit earlier, I now realize that if I’d gone into labor even a day earlier Lisa would have still been on vacation. As it was, I got to birth with two very special women who I admire tremendously and wanted to be a part of it.
The birth definitely confirmed that switching had been the way to go. My OB probably would have wanted to perform surgery as soon as Shiloh’s head got tilted and my cervix stopped opening. At the very least it would have been episiotomy and forceps delivery. But the midwives had even more confidence in my body than I did! I learned that trusting our bodies coincides with trusting our Maker. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not cursed. Even without drugs, my body’s natural pain relief and flood of hormones did an amazing job! When labor was over, I felt so chipper and awake. I was shaking all over with adrenaline. I looked around and wondered why everyone else seemed so drained. While it took a lot of endurance, I have never felt so relieved and empowered and fulfilled. It more than made up for it! Anytime we come to the end of ourselves, I believe that’s when we see God the clearest. I’m so incredibly thankful for this experience, that required me reaching my endpoint. We persevered and achieved the amazing natural birth I had dreamed of.
Birth photo credits – Sharon Curry